Monday, November 23, 2009

Rambling Questions, Meaningless Answers

People assume I'm on a second marriage when they I say that I have an eleven year-old, too. It's not that I even care what strangers think, but I know I'll have to deal with this, so I've been practicing different responses on random people in the checkout line.

1. The straightforward answer: "We kept trying, but I had a lot of miscarriages. This one took $38,000 of high-tech intervention."

The thing is, if you're that point-blank about it, you're pretty much opening yourself up to a lot of follow-up questions. Which could be good, if you feel like being the infertility ambassador and maybe counteract the myths about relaxing, etc. But it's hard to have that information out there amongst, say, the parents of your kid's school. Gossip can be vicious - and if your kid has any kind of quirk there will be rumours about how he was an IVF baby and maybe that explains why he's so (fill in the blank.) Believe me, even people I generally like have accidentally made comments about "only children" in front of me - always followed by a disclaimer that my child was of course an exception.

I've heard other parents mention only children, adopted children and single-parent (as in true single parents, not divorced) children in pitying tones. The thing that sucks is that even if only a few people that would even think of commenting on something like that, it becomes a part of the child's gossip-resume among the other parents. I barely knew one mother but had heard for years that her daughter by a sperm-donor had "identity issues." Another mom was commonly referred to as "one of those older parents with an only child." What does that even mean?

2. The shock-value response: "Yeah, it took us a while - I had to get over my tendency to have spontaneous abortions."

Shock is always good for getting people to just shut up. Most people I know are pro-choice, but the word abortion is a conversation stopper anyway. Good for if you just want to get away. Again, maybe not the best choice for parents at school...

3. The vague explanation: "Well, things don't always work out exactly like you thought they would."

If you can pull this off without adding any platitudes about how things are "meant to be" or whatever, it might let the other person know that prying is often considered rude, and maybe it's time to change the subject. The worst part of the vague answer is that it implies that the pregnancy was an accident, and given the truth about pregnancy after 40, I hate to contribute to that idea.

4. The deflection: "They say things happen for a reason."

Also vague, but buys into the demand for some kind of grand scheme for our happiness. People seem to like that. It's disingenuous, though, because the implication is that the reason has some reflection on our lives or our worth, and I hate that idea even if I'm just saying it to get out of a longer conversation. I can't believe in any kind of "reason" that has put the women I've come to know through the years of heartbreak infertility can cause.

In general I hate the idea that we aren't to a larger extent masters of our own destiny. I do blame myself for letting years for letting so much time go by without demanding better explanations for why I wasn't getting pregnant. But even women who do get thorough treatment and better options than I did can spend years trying to find success. That's why I don't like the idea of "working hard" to get a baby - it isn't fair to someone who has tried IVF again and again, gone to the best clinics, changed lifestyles, undergone surgeries and still doesn't end up with a baby.

I wish it hadn't taken me so long to figure out what secondary infertility even was, and that it really was a problem for me. I wish my kids weren't going to be growing up in practically different generations. I'm still mad at myself for letting so much time go by before I realized that I needed an aggressive clinic and a heavy-duty treatment. A lack of information and a lot of confusion about infertility is probably why it took me so long to figure it out on my own - so why is it so hard for me to just be honest about it when other people ask?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Gender Neutral

So. I've been thinking. And it turns out that I'm not as enlightened as I thought I was, I guess.

I am one of those secondary infertiles who meticulously saved most of my first child's things in desperate hopes of someday having another baby. I have a trunk full of clothes in zip-loc bags categorized by size and season. I have all of her wooden toys in bubble wrap and boxed according to age-range. I have a beautiful library of children's books, which I would give to her without the jackets. I would reunite them with their jackets and pack them in small boxes of themed groups, like gift packages for an unknown recipient.

Now, it helps if you know that my daughter was very precise and delicate with her toys. She wasn't the sort of kid who pushed the limits of things - she was tentative and gentle, so much so that I sometimes wondered if she shouldn't be testing out some boundaries a little more aggressively. In any case, some of her things look brand-spanking new.

All of which would be fabulous news if it weren't for the fact that I have just now realized that I don't think I can populate my boy's childhood with Madeline dollhouses and Eloise books. I do have a nice set of those wooden train-track pieces, and some beautiful plain wooden blocks. There are a few things that are truly gender-neutral, but other than that my carefully packed collections are unbelievable feminine. And the crazy thing is, I never realized it. I thought I was raising my girl without those stereotypes. Sure, a lot of her toys and super-girly outfits were gifts, but I obviously contributed heavily to the overall vibe and it is decidedly feminine.

I should also point out that I will be perfectly happy if I have a boy who wants to wear a tutu and play chef all day. I have a very gay-friendly life and in some ways I might be better suited to having a gay son than a macho football kind of child. But, that's not really up to me - it's not the kind of kid I end up with that I'm thinking about now - it's the kind of parent I obviously am, without even knowing it. And yet...

Do I have boxes of rag dolls because I let my child be her own person, and that's the person she turned out to be? I would love to believe that's true. She is sort of dainty and quietish and, well, girly. Not pink-lacy girly, but still. Anyway, the whole thing is just getting to me because I am finally realizing that if I am actually going to have this boy I might have to get some baby stuff together at some point. And I am gravitating to the decidedly "boy" colors and prints. Stripes seem good, maybe an olive green, or a turquoise...

What do you think? Am I just responding to a lifetime of marketing campaigns, or is there something innate about these choices?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Carefully Orchestrated, Yet Unexpected

I told my mom.

I had agonized for months about this, given how she reacts to just about anything I ever say. And I had gone over every possible option as far as setting up the conversation for the least chance of her saying anything dismissive or judgmental. It took me this long to come up with the one sure-fire way to get her out of her negativity for at least a few seconds while I told her about the baby.

It was simple. It was easy. It was brilliant, if I do say so myself. I used that negativity to my advantage, setting her up against her least-favorite sister in a way that let her be the one who could "win" in the good-news contest. It was so obvious, I can't believe that I didn't think of it before. In any case, it worked, its done, she said most of the right things and now we can get on with it - she has staked a claim in the happiness of this situation, and I know her well enough that she will not deign to reverse that position now.

I just wish I had a mom that I could really share these things with. I'm so wistful about other people's wonderful relationships with their mothers. I don't need any more therapy to see that she is doing her best, that she can't help it and that she has so many other things that get in the way of being the ideal mom that I can't expect anything more that what she does try to give. But I'm still nostalgic for a mother-daughter relationship that I never even had, if that makes sense. I remember reading Little Women for the first time, and being sadder for the fact that I would never have a beloved mother like Marmee than for Beth dying. Completely selfish interpretation of a classic, but it's true.

Still, my mother came through today. Even if she needed a little manipulation to get there, she did seem to be genuinely happy for me. She asked if she could be the one to tell her mother, of course, which was fine with me - why not encourage the mother-daughter relationship where I can? Now that she knows, everything seems less fraught, somehow.