An infertile woman’s pet peeves…

I’ve received enough comments throughout October to warrant this reminder to good-hearted, well-meaning folks–if you haven’t been on this side of infertility, please tread lightly when comforting or sharing your news with someone whose sorrow is profound, at times, hidden or downplayed, and rarely acknowledged. No one is to blame. We just need to be reminded.

When comforting an infertile woman, please don’t say too much, period. “I’m so sorry,” works wonders. Otherwise, shut up. Just be there, hold, and listen. Most of us do, but sometimes we screw up and find ourselves contorted in bitter-tasting small talk.

When sharing good or bad news, this may seem like common sense to most of you, but, humor me, and please refrain from telling an infertile woman–

how relieved you are at not being pregnant,

about the birth of your baby while still groggy from labor,

that you’re going to terminate a pregnancy, or

shit, I can’t believe it! I’m pregnant again.

Any others?

An infertile woman’s opinion on renewing the adoption tax credit

I’m following the discussion Room for Debate which posted in yesterday’s  The New York Times. Read it and participate!

Should the Adoption Tax Credit Be Renewed?

“Yes! The tax credit may need revision, birth mothers may need to be included, and private adoption agencies in the U.S. and abroad may need reform, but come on, unless you’ve been on this end of infertility, it’s easy to intellectualize it.

A domestic or international adoption is not for the faint of heart and is an expensive endeavor. I know. I’ve been through both.

We weren’t well off; on the contrary, we were struggling with a start-up company and had siphoned off all of our savings. I chose to live in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico with our toddler sons for five months while my husband commuted every 2-3 weeks to finalize the adoption.

After years of navigating through a quagmire of bureaucracy, my husband and I were overjoyed to learn we were getting the adoption tax credit back in 2002. It felt like Christmas. We were ebullient. it helped us pay down credit card bills and stabilize our finances.

Trust me, we’re not it for the money.”

What do you think?

An infertile woman’s confession

I was playing softball with around two dozen neighborhood kids and my siblings after the water truck had passed, we’d all gotten drenched, and Hereford Drive had become a tamped down oasis ready for play. As I waited my turn at bat, I doubled over from a stomach cramp, called time out, and went to the bathroom.

I never returned to the game. I thought I had gas or had eaten too much bacon at breakfast, but when I lowered my underwear and saw blood, I panicked, and called for La Jefita. My mother teared up, looked at me funny, then took me into the inner sanctum, her delicate wallpapered bathroom, and told me I was now a woman. Me, a woman! A dorky, pedal-pusher wearing ten-year old with a bad haircut had become a woman, all because I got my period?

Yep!  After getting all the equipment and explanation, my mother, my grandmothers, my aunts, their friends, and anyone else who ever found out I was menstruating informed me, I could now have  baby. And you didn’t want a baby until after you were married. It never dawned on me to ask any of them the particulars, so I spent the next four years, on guard, like I was playing dodgeball with all of the school bullies, who loved to throw the ball at me with such force that I’d fly like a bowling pin.

When my classmates in ninth grade gave me the sex low down, I was grossed out at the thought of a penis going inside me; I’d seen my brothers and they peed with it. Then I was horrified that the baby was going to come out of me. I took a fervent oath that day–I wasn’t going to get pregnant or have a baby. Nope. Not me. Never.

Chapter I – December 27, 1991

“I’d spent most of my twenties and early thirties avoiding motherhood and taking all precautions. Truth be told, I wanted to be the center of attention. Maybe being one of eleven had something to do with it. Maybe it was becoming a woman during the feminist movement and thinking that anyone could have a baby, but not a college degree. Maybe it was looking around at my mother, my aunts, my older sister, all saddled at home by endless demands. The only things on my horizon were career, travel, and not sharing the spotlight with anyone. Those aspirations were meaningless now. I wanted a baby and couldn’t have one. I was deeply hurt and humbled.

Anyone who moves away from a large family learns that you can never step back into that family and expect to be in sync with the pack, but I knew I belonged. I shared flesh and blood, memories, and secrets that bound us forever. There’s no better feeling than reconnecting with a brood of people who know you, warts and all.

Now, I wanted in the most esteemed pack of all—the pack of motherhood—but the portal had slammed shut in my face.”

Do infertile women ever get over it?

I didn’t. Not for a very long time. And I had my hands full with two toddler boys, who were healthy  and adorable, yet out of nowhere, the unpredictable, icy drop of doubt stung.  A piercing round of ‘I should’ve, would’ve, could’ve’ brought me to my knees.

It wasn’t enough that I felt sentenced to the regret of deciding against infertility treatments, even though, I was in my forties with one rusty fallopian tube and retirement-aged eggs. Nope, wasn’t enough. Not for me. I also harbored a deeper regret of not fighting for my little girl. We didn’t wage war against the birth mother, we were noble and no, contrary to popular belief, it never made me feel better that we took that route. I felt I’d let my infant daughter down. I promised her, I’d take care of her, I’d be there, no matter what. I hadn’t counted on the ‘what’ being her biological mother.

I’ve been thinking about my little Chicken Hawk quite a bit this month. We welcomed her into the world on the 3rd of this month, eighteen years ago, and I still remember our brief but potent and cherished time together. She aroused the maternal fire in me. How could I ever forget or get over her?

I wonder if we ever do get over infertility?

Have you?

Assumptions are the mother of misunderstandings # 2

During our first visit back into the fold,  I assumed my family would know exactly what to do and say after My Man and I had lost Sofia to her birth mother. I envisioned a group hug where Marty and I would be swallowed up in sympathy and the loss of our daughter would be at the heart of our visit. I expected my brothers and sisters to read my mind, see the gaping hole in our hearts, and express themselves with precisely the right selection of words that would bathe us in solace. I’d placed my family on a pedestal and then watched with a critical and judgmental eye to see who’d pass muster.

Chapter IV – January 1994 to May 1995

“…While I anticipated the Fourth of July pit stop in southern Arizona with my family, I girded myself for the inevitable: the next generation. Last year I’d daydreamed of Sofia huddled within the pack of newly hatched toddler nephews and nieces, forming a tight bond with her cousins. Marty and I would be in the fray of comparing baby gadgets, contributing our comical missteps, and turning to my mother for advice. I’d salivated years for that moment, but as soon as I set foot in my mother’s house with my backpack and not a bundle of joy, my flight response kicked in. After a boisterous welcome, I ferreted for Sofia’s photographs in my mother’s living the hallway, and her bedroom. They’d been put away to spare our feelings.

My siblings gathered, I doted on my nephews and nieces, praying my lighthearted façade remained intact, but once we exhausted our camping stories, my brothers rehashed their jokes, and my sisters conceded on refashioning my look the visit proved awkward and forced like a TV sitcom with a laugh track. No one brought up Sofia.

My mother, a night owl, kept me abreast of the family gossip late into the night, the two of us alone, sharing her bed while polishing off her stash of butter cookies and See’s Candies. The few times we brushed up against intimate conversation, I was certain she’d at least allude to Sofia, but when fatigue won over, I kissed her goodnight.

“Mijita, do me a favor,” my mother asked on my way out the bedroom door. “Reach into my top drawer.” She pointed to her dresser.

I pulled out Sofia’s silver-framed photograph, my precious little girl smiling back at me, and clutched it to my chest. Without a word between us, we embraced and wept. When I finally went to bed, I placed Sofia’s photograph among the other family portraits and thanked her.”

Me, infertile? No way, I’m a Latina!

I must admit, I gulped that Kool-Aid early on in life–All Latinas ooze fertility. I aIso had bonus credentials thanks to a Mexican mother and Greek father who bred like rabbits. So I was stunned, when my Ob/Gyn yanked me out of my ‘Latina’s are prolific’ world.  At first I still believed it was all a mistake. Not me. They’ll see. Before long someone would come, all smiles, perfumed apologies, and lead me back to my world. Where I rightly belonged. Just ask my grandmothers, who promised me I was merely a late bloomer. We’d laugh about this one day, my mother reassured me. We’d have the last laugh.

Chapter II – Spring 1993

“A year after my third miscarriage, my Ob/Gyn, acupuncturist, homeopath, along with my soothsayer of a neighbor concurred my ovaries had indeed gone into early retirement. The shiftless thirty-nine-year-old eggs slacking around the sacs were out of warranty. Blanks. For long periods of time I’d immerse myself in writing and work, but Mother’s Day brunches and Hallmark cards always lurked around the corner.
One day I got fed up and declared no more. I’d had it. No more nudges or downcast looks for me at tortuous baby showers, baptisms, and birthday parties, where inevitably someone asked if I had children.
No more.
Give me motherhood or give me the right to be a complete pain in the ass about these two empty arms. I’m one of eleven children, for God’s sake. I grew up in a town where I was related to half of the population on both sides of the border. I was entitled to raising my own after helping raise eight brothers and sisters. I was an Aries. I rammed through obstacles. I bulldozed challenges. I got what I wanted….”

Infertile women can only dream…

Sometimes my dreams jolted me awake at night, sweaty palms pushed the blankets away, jaw clenched, mouth parched, and heart beat pummeling my chest while I waited for my eyes to adjust in the dark. Another stress dream where either someone else adopted the boys or I’d given birth to Rosemary’s Baby. I struggled to wake up from those dreams where my newborn weighed more than a Sumo wrestler and had a set of metallic jack o’ lantern teeth. In another I cradled a baby without a face and was told that an older mom couldn’t be picky. Some I scribbled in my journal, others I tried to forget, but once in a great while my dreams revealed the magic portal, and I rushed in.

Chapter X – February 1998

“…In my dreams, I was fit, showing, and mother-magazine radiant in a hip earth-toned maternity outfit with a youthful hairstyle and a stylish backpack. No diaper bag for me. My dreams showcased the pregnancy I never had the chance to have. Me, swimming at four months and eating tubs of ice cream. Me, assembling a sustainable wood crib, at seven months, a crooked smile splayed across my chubby face. My favorite: me barefoot, and waddling around at nine months. I even dreamt I had a toddler and was thirteen months pregnant in another. A colossal relief to wake up from that one.

I complained and whined about being sick, but was slyly grateful. Sick equaled sleep. Sleep equaled dreams. I could carry on a divine affair with a fetus: a second and third trimester pregnancy. It was luscious. My dream world whisked me away to a brief but gold-leafed past. I’d gotten pregnant before. Three times actually, but never made it past the first trimester. I miscarried twice and the third time a weathered and spent fertilized egg ran out of steam on its way through my right fallopian tube. Like a firecracker dud, it didn’t blossom into a baby, but had enough power to blow through my tube. Messy. Very messy.

The intense desire to turn my body into a factory never wavered, I just didn’t vocalize it any more.”

Assumptions are the mother of all misunderstandings!

Somewhere, somehow I’d picked up on the notion that once we committed to adopting the boys everyone at the Ciudad Juárez orphanage could see the shimmery halo hovering over our noble heads. I imagined a decree from above  had guaranteed our qualification as perfect parents, cloaked us in absolute benevolence, and designated us the supreme couple.

Chapter IX  – January 1998

“…Ms. D waved me into her office, bracelets clinking, as she straightened a pile of file folders then tossed a clump of paper clips into her desk drawer. The shared office with two other social workers was tiny and cluttered, but her compact desk was a masterpiece of organization.

I pulled up a chair and initiated small talk about Santa Cruz and Juárez. Ms. D looked up, with a clothesline of an expression.

She cleared her throat. “Ricardo’s ear and respiratory infection are not getting better. This is after two rounds of antibiotics. The night staff told me he’s having high fevers and more earaches.”

“The mucus seems worse,” I agreed. “Is there anything we can do?”

My questions were answered with cryptic words and little eye contact.

“Thank you for your extra efforts with our sons.”

She looked up and cracked the color on her lips to utter two words, no more, no less: “Así es.” Loose translation: it is what it is. She was done and with two words dismissed me. I’d come to resent those two little words as much as I despised the sight of bureaucratic rubber stamps and ink pads. In my fantasy, I upended her desk as she shrieked, horrified, and apologized profusely. In reality, I was afraid to make her angry. Afraid she’d make a case against us adopting the boys. I also disliked confrontation, but I found I couldn’t stand up.

“Why don’t you like us?”

Her face met mine. I waited for her explanation and apology.

“I don’t trust Norte Americanos—they are frivolous.”

I caught my breath. She didn’t hem and haw or hesitate. Nor did she apologize. She sat there staring at me, triumphant, it seemed, that I had asked the question.

When I took too long to answer she said, “Así es.” She stood up to signal our meeting was over. I didn’t stand up. I remembered my diminutive Nana Herminia, strong as ironwood, stood up to condescending businessmen, who underestimated and chided her for running the front end of the restaurant business. I somehow channeled her courage.

“We adopted a little girl five years ago and gave her up when her birth mother changed her mind. Do you think it’s easy taking another risk like this? The frivolous couple that returned the boys were Mexicanos. Not Norte Americanos.” I could sense my grandmother’s pride at my succinct and tearless speech and sat up straighter waiting for the chink in her armor to appear.

It didn’t. She didn’t even blink, and I wondered if she’d been listening at all. No apology, no condolences over losing Sofia, merely an “Así es.”

Writer’s Block–No You Don’t Just Get Over It!

While writing and revising Stretch Marks, I went through periods where nothing could keep me away from my computer. I would pull out my small notebook and pen, scribbling away while folks tried to reach around my grocery cart for milk, toilet paper, or lemons. I was deaf to the ringing of the phone, ate leftovers or cereal at my desk, and couldn’t follow a conversation to save my life.

Then out of nowhere, a dark cloud descended like a swarm of locusts and ravaged every sentence, word, and idea thriving in my brain. At first I’d station myself at my desk and refuse to budge, writing a sentence, I’d delete hours later. I’d berate myself, pace like a caged animal, and dread that dementia would set in before I finished my book. I’d lie, lie, lie when anyone asked me how the writing was going. I had no qualms about hiding out in my office on glorious sun-drenched weekends to make up for my pitiful weekday performance. I missed parties, breakfast with my girlfriends, and avoided bookstores (envy got the best of me) because I was petrified I’d miss the microscopic moment of inspiration that might spur me back onto the writing track. I was a hopeless mess.

Whenever I read about an author, always a New York Times # 1 bestseller, who dismisses writer’s block, I flip them off and suspect them of having a cadre of researchers and ghost writers at their beck and call. I admire any author who dares admit they have indeed sunk as low as I have and I faithfully try their remedies. I’m not fortunate enough to know any famous authors like Isabel Allende who has commiserated with Annie Lammott over her dry spell or have an Alice B. Toklas like Gertrude Stein at her side cooing and coaxing her “Lovey” to write.

But I do have a stalwart group of lifesavers–my writing group–who believe in me, my story, and my talent. They tread water with me as I bellyache, throw me a line when I cry during my bleakest moments, and hold me above water so we can laugh at the crazy life of a writer.

Some of My Remedies

  1. Push away from your desk or back away from your laptop. Go on, do it now!
  2. Call a friend, like I had to, who ordered me to clear my desk, put away my notes, and close the door to my office.
  3. Read, read, read–no, you aren’t a sloth, you need to recharge and replenish.
  4. Take a walk. It doesn’t matter where, and preferably walk alone, so you can talk to yourself out loud. I do invite my favorite trio of spirits, my mother and my maternal grandmothers, along who never fail to reassure me.
  5. Go volunteer.
  6. Escape and see a movie.
  7. Surprise your partner and seduce him/her.
  8. Take a nap, same as # 3.
  9. Trust, (I know, sorry, but I do live in northern California) in the bizarre process of writing and the words will gradually drip, trickle, and then flow once again.

What’s your tried and true remedy?

Desperately Seeking Baby!

Within seven years, I’d undergone three miscarriages, two ectopic surgeries, one failed adoption, and been sucker punched when our county adoption agency rejected our application. We’d been naive when the intake social worker pressed us for details and we’d been too eager to recount how the Children’s Home Society in San Jose had botched our adoption and then had shown us the door. Mind you, there were dozens of Latino babies and toddlers waiting for homes, but we were cast as troublemakers and blacklisted. I do have the immense satisfaction of telling the social worker, her supervisor, and then the director where they could shove their application.

My Man and I were researching and gathering the requirements for an international adoption when we received a phone call on our ninth wedding anniversary that enticed us to fly down to Ciudad Juárez, México. We were to meet with the director of DIF, Mexico’s version of our Children’s Protective Services, who might offer us the opportunity to adopt one of their orphans.

Chapter VI – October 1997

“… By nine o’clock most of the people in the lobby had met with one of the social workers. Some walked back out within five minutes clutching papers, their eyes haunted. When our name was called, we followed a social worker and re-entered the world of interviews, forms, and psychological evaluation exams.

After the testing we entered the nursery. Imagine a large rectangular room with a carpeted sunken pit area where eighty-plus children, ranging from toddlers to young teenagers, spent the day with precious little to do.

The second we walked through the double doors, every single child, as if on cue, turned our way. The noise settled down from one corner of the pit to the other. Some of the kids smiled, some looked away, others stared, but the older girls approached us.

One of the girls asked about my citizenship when I greeted them in fluent Spanish. They eyed my clothes. A doe-eyed beauty with a swollen, stitched-up lip gently touched my earring, and the leader of the pack snatched her hand away, reminding her of her manners.

“You speak Spanish well, for a gringa.” They giggled.

“Gracias.” I told them my mother would be pleased by their compliment.

“Do you want a boy or a girl?”

When I said it didn’t matter, they eyed me with what seemed like suspicion.

“Do you want an infant or toddler?”

Before I could answer, they pointed out the favored candidates. Those toddlers didn’t cry much and had light curly hair. A couple of the girls trotted off and returned with fair-skinned babies.

Surreal. These young girls knew their chances of ever being adopted were slim to non-existent. When we asked them questions, they politely stated the rules unless, of course, we wanted to adopt them. Their eyes held hope.

An older girl, a few yards away, seemed to be massaging a toddler’s small head.

When I asked her what she was doing, she answered, without looking up, “lice,” refusing to make eye contact or conversation with me. In a far corner of the room a group of older girls each attended to a baby while little boys ran around playing with and fighting over broken toys. With fierce determination they protected pieces of plastic and metal and wailed when they were left empty-handed.

We wandered into a large, stifling-hot sleeping room filled with rows of metal twin beds on either side. Toddlers everywhere—crawling, walking, crying, having their diaper or clothes changed by women who consoled them and played with them for a few minutes before needing to go on to the next one. The room smelled of soiled diapers, sweat, and baby powder. We held the little ones, who wailed when we put them down to pick up another. How did one choose? Were we going to choose? Was I holding our child and didn’t know it?