Wednesday, July 7, 2010

In God's hands

It is July. I have the month off and have spent way too much time on Facebook. Some things are the same as before, and yet, I think some subtle changes have taken place in the way I have been thinking about the journey towards motherhood.

IUI #3 resulted in a BFN, with my period starting quite a bit sooner than expected, while I was still taking progesterone.

IUI #4 happened Friday June 25. My friend E came with me, bringing prayers and good wishes. She also promised to encourage the swimmers, in Korean (my donor is half-Korean), to swim swim swim!

Things felt different with this try, but they always do. Every month you go through this cycle of hope, anticipation, doubt, disappointment, then start all over again.

There has been some slight spotting since day 11, which is odd. It is, as far as I know, too late for implantation spotting, and too early for my period. I never have any spotting, so I know something is going on, but there's no telling what it means. I had a tiny nosebleed the other day, and have been feeling tired, headachy, and sometimes nauseous. I'm not sure any of this means anything.

My friend N has entered her second trimester. In broaching the subject with her parents, she got some unexpectedly negative reactions. I felt bad for her, but also knew that this was par for the course. I think most of these negative reactions stem from anxiety. Parents, no matter how old we are, will worry about how we will handle single motherhood. At any rate, I know her mother will come around and enjoy the excitement of this pregnancy rather than worry about what the neighbors will say about N being single. It was hard, of course, not to think about what my own parents would say should I get to the point of actually entering my second trimester. My father, no doubt, will offer his support by offering me money, and my mother will worry incessantly and share all her anxieties with me. It is no wonder that I haven't said anything yet!

My friend J, another SMC, just had her baby, a healthy girl at 7.5 pounds! It is really exciting news. She is 40, I believe, but got pregnant on her first IVF.

My colleague K, married, is due in a few weeks and has just finished decorating the baby's room. They don't know whether it will be a boy or a girl.

My brother and his wife are having a baby too. This I find out, quite accidentally, on Facebook! My friend K and discussed my feelings about my brother expecting a baby. I don't feel any envy towards him, nor self-pity about my situation. I am really happy for him, his wife, and for my parents, who could use a positive distraction in their lives.

The motherhood issue keeps coming up in my interactions with people. Quite unexpectedly my language teacher arrived for class the other day and asked "Can you recommend an acupuncturist for fertility? I have been trying for three years." She had no idea that I was trying too, and that I could indeed, recommend an acupuncturist. We talked about our respective situations, about adoption as an option, about how sad it would feel for me to never experience pregnancy and childbirth. It was nice to feel so helpful to her, if a bit bittersweet. It is amazing how much information I was able to provide, loaning her my Randine Lewis book on the TCM approach to fertility, recommending doctors and resources, and yet, all the time realizing that all this knowledge that I have accrued may or may not get me anywhere with regards to becoming a mom. This is one area in my life where the amount of research I do seems to have little effect on the outcome.

Still, I have started feeling differently about this process. I'm really quite happy with my life. I figure that if I want to be a mom, it will happen one way or another, perhaps not in the way I imagine. I've started looking into adoption, and in general, I've taken on a very Arjunian attitude towards this journey. I'm hoping to fight the good fight, as it were, but have surrendered the outcome to God.

The insurance question is a big and difficult one, and I constantly find myself asking for guidance. Do I retain a lawyer to try and get coverage? How much do I want to fight them on this? Is it worth the time, the money, the stress? Or, do I place my trust in the universe and know that what should happen will eventually happen? Can I have faith in the fact that if one door is closed, it simply means my path lies elsewhere?

Actually, these are difficult but valuable experiences. More than at any point in my life I feel a sense that I am in God's hands, that there is no need to feel afraid or lonely (even though I sometimes still feel these things), and that the obstacles on this journey only deepen my connection to the divine while making me stronger.

God has shown up in this journey in more than one way.

For one thing, dancing has completely replaced dating as a distraction, and thank goodness. I'm no longer interested or hopeful on the dating front, and in the context of dance, the interactions with men are just more fun. A few weeks ago local blues dancers hosted CUBE (Chicago Underground Blues Experience), a weekend of house parties and late-night dances starting after midnight. I never thought I would get up out of bed at 2am to attend an all-night dance party, but that is exactly what I did, stopping at 4am only because the speakers broke. It was dawn as I drove home, and not a few hours later I headed out again to Siddha Yoga to make chai for the meditators. This is shocking even to me, the person who used to fall asleep around 10pm every night of the week.

And then, there is the fact that into my life came this young man towards whom I have very maternal feelings. In a conversation a few weeks back I sensed something which prompted me to ask about his mother. He told me she'd left them when he was four, and that his father single-handedly raised him and his brother. She drank, apparently, and had also wanted him to be a daughter instead. I'll never know all the complexities behind this sad story, of course, but it is hard for me to feel anything but pity for this woman, who missed out on being a mother to this cute and wonderful kid who is sweeter, nicer, and more positive than almost anyone I know, not to mention extremely talented. He seems to have made his peace with this; he talked about how grateful he was for his father and how he had no bitterness or resentment for the sad fact of his motherless childhood, and how he did not feel entitled to anything beyond what he had. He told me about the strong foundation in faith his father had instilled in him, and how he knew he had to focus on his blessings and his strengths rather than the things that were missing in his life. I told him that if I had a son I would want my son to be just like him. And so I find myself in this odd situation of making cookies for him, bringing him food when I can, and sometimes, scrutinizing the girl he is dating and wondering if she's good enough for him. (Which, of course, she is. After all, he likes her, so she must be a really nice girl.)

So, I wait for the next pregnancy test this Friday. I was tempted to take one last night, quite a few days early, when the tests are supposedly 70% or so accurate. I decided to keep waiting. As my dance teacher B has taught me, after laughing at me for being too grabby while dancing, sometimes you just have to wait.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

IUI #3

I caught my LH surge on Wed around 11am and scheduled my insemination for 8am today. I stayed out fairly late last night dancing to a live band at the Alhambra Palace with its kitschy faux-Moroccan decor. Dancing was good for the most part, except for one cha-cha (who plays a cha-cha at a swing dance?!) that was less than sublime and slightly embarassing.

Everything went smoothly this morning. In one recent conversation with an RE she suggested that a full bladder was helpful during an IUI, as it can help make it easier to thread the catheter. So this morning I started drinking a fruit smoothie, then some leftover blood orange soda, then lots of water while I waited for my appointment. I wanted to have a full bladder but not be uncomfortable before, during, and after the IUI, which involves quite a bit of waiting.

Today's insem was very easy. Everything was very "open," according to the health worker who helped me today. That means the timing was good. I just hope her aim was good as well, and that I get pregnant this cycle.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Life lessons in lindy hop

I realized around the time of my second IUI that the TTC process, with the insurance problems, the uncertainty, and the interminable waiting were sucking the joy out of my life. I wasn’t frazzled, for the most part. Thanks to yoga and meditation, I managed to stay fairly calm. I did my due diligence: going to acupuncture, taking my prenatal vitamins, doing what the nurses told me to do, and trying my best to surrender the outcome to luck, timing, and divine grace. I cannot say I was miserable. For the most part I was happy to have finally started the process, but it was a time of great apprehension, to say the least.

Going into this I knew it would be a waiting game, but I also knew that I don’t like waiting. In my last relationship I felt like I waited a good three years for him to make up his mind about whether or not he wanted to be with me. He did not. During the thinking stage, I kept waiting until my life felt more stable or I felt surer about my decision. Once I started TTC, I waited for appointments, waited for blood work and ultrasound results, waited for ovulation, waited for the insemination, and then waited for results of the pregnancy test. Once I got a BFN, I started the whole process of waiting all over again.

It became apparent that I could not continue like this, living my life in a state of anticipatory suspense while I waited to become pregnant. I am a planner; I've thought this through for over a year and bought a condo because I did not think I could have a baby in a studio apartment. I realized, especially after my problems with insurance, that all the planning I do can go to hell in a handbasket as quickly as it takes to say "baby." There's not much I can control. I can try my best, but the rest is really out of my hands, and I cannot sit around simply waiting for it to happen. So it was quite fortunate that dance became the major distraction in my life.

I’ve always enjoyed dancing, but avoided ballroom-style partner dancing for many reasons. For one thing, I disliked the idea that I had to wait for the man to lead me. I didn’t trust the other beginners in my ballroom dance classes, and did not appreciate the fact that when I had a bad partner, I automatically had a bad dance experience.

At a dance party a few months back, my friend K and I settled upon the idea of taking private lessons in lindy hop. It felt like a waste of time to go to group classes where you learn one new thing a week and practice with other beginners. So we signed up for lessons through the dance studio May I Have this Dance. We picked things up fairly quickly and started going to dances at Fizz, Java Jive, and the monthly blues dancing event Bluetopia, at which point, the fun came flooding back into my life in a big way.

I won't go into details here, as I know that a charming and witty blog about these and other dance adventures is in the works, but I do want to credit two people for this happy development: first, my dancing partner-in-crime K, who plans her life around dancing and has now learned to lead me in lindy hop, and our very talented teacher B, a fantabulous lindy-hopper and, it must be said, the cutest thing on two feet. There is almost nothing as fun as dancing with him.

I have a feeling he is not aware of the important life lessons he has taught me through dance:
a) You have to trust your partner (especially when he dips you).
b) You have to wait for your partner (especially when he's leading you).
And perhaps most important:
c) You experience something sublime when you move in harmony with someone else.

I do not have a partner in life, nor on the TTC journey, but as one of my spiritual advisors pointed out, my desire for motherhood is simply a desire for oneness with someone else, a feeling that I am not alone and that I am connected to something greater than the limited, flawed self I sometimes, or even frequently, experience in my mundane life.

There are two things I need to say about this. First, I agree that the TTC journey for me isn’t just about becoming a mom. Rather, it is about being in touch with something transcendent, about living for someone other than myself, and what better way than the creation of life to experience this? Still, it does not mean that motherhood is the only way.

Second, that feeling of a limited self is really the product of fear and forgetfulness. Gurumayi would say that the feeling of connectedness is already there within us, and that it is there all the time. Life takes a toll on our awareness, but with a bit of grace and a lot of practice, we can get back in touch with the bliss that is already there to begin with.

Practice, for me, has meant yoga, meditation, chanting, singing, and cooking for other people. Now, it also includes dance. As B has shown me, when you relinquish the idea that you can control everything about your life, when you have trust in your heart, when you tune in to the subtle but unmistakable cues provided, when you’re able to let go of your own small ego and allow yourself to simply become part of something greater, that feeling of transcendence is right there.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

It only takes one

Recently I offered to write something about the very strange situation of dating while trying to conceive a baby through donor insemination for the Single Mothers by Choice newsletter. I gleaned together a couple of older blog posts from here. This is what I eventually submitted:

It only takes one

"Why are you dating?" a friend asked me one day, almost a year after the end of my last relationship. It struck me as an odd question. I thought, "Why shouldn't I date? I'm a human being. Don't all human beings want an intimate connection with someone?” She knew, of course, that I was also about to start trying to conceive a baby through donor insemination.

No more than a year earlier, at age 37, I had been desperately clinging on to a relationship that felt like my last chance of having the “dream,” the one where you finally meet someone, marry him, have children together, and settle into a comfortable domesticity for happily-ever-after. I had ignored warning signs, avoided the nagging question of whether I really wanted to coparent with this man, and dragged him to couples counseling, only to have things end one night when he finally said “It just isn’t working.” I felt this loss deeply. This was it, my last chance gone; I would be single and childless forever.

Months later, still grieving, still angry, still feeling the weight of intense post-breakup loneliness, I crossed the street behind a young couple who worked together to get their baby stroller onto the curb. A wave of self-pity washed over me. “Why do THEY have this? Why don’t I have this? WHAT is WRONG with me that I don’t deserve this?”

The next morning I sat down for meditation and flipped open Resonate with Stillness, a collection of quotes from Gurumayi Chidvidlasananda, head of a spiritual lineage called Siddha Yoga. That day, I opened to a random page and saw these words:

Nothing comes easily. Some people do have a good destiny. It seems that everything comes to them very easily. But understand that they worked very hard for it in some other lifetime. So there is no need to become jealous or envious of others. You shouldn't feel, 'I am going through such a hard time, and everybody else is getting it so easily.' The crux of the matter is, nothing great comes easily. You have to work for it, you have to put forth effort. It is as simple as that. You must make the effort.

As I contemplated this, I reached some clarity about my situation. Perhaps we all arrive in this world with our respective baggage, and most of it we didn't choose to bring with us. Maybe my burden is heavier than yours; maybe mine refuses to fit in the overhead compartment. Still, envy and self-pity are a waste of time and energy. Comparing yourself to others just to feel inadequate is a waste of time and energy. Should I writhe around in the mire of self-pity my whole life, or instead, make my best efforts to become a better person, teacher, and friend, all in service to the universe that has given me not only my unique baggage but my unique set of blessings as well? I resolved to proceed with a positive attitude towards the life I wanted, one with a family. I began dating and TTC at the same time.

I did not really know how to go about this. I wondered, what do you say to your date? When do you say something? Will it become his weird dating story, to be repeated to all his friends? What if TTC is successful? Do you stop TTC if you meet someone you like? Many around me saw these as separate paths. You either try to meet someone, marry him, and have a child with him, or you go ahead with SMC and forget about dating.

This is probably what makes the "thinking" process of SMC-hood so hard. Many of us do feel like we have to relinquish and grieve the dream, then proceed with the hope that we might, if we are determined, resourceful, fertile, or lucky enough, have something that looks a bit different - single motherhood by choice. So, when I started dating and TTC, I had to clarify my priorities, for myself and perhaps for others baffled by this strange state. It comes down to this:

a) I am 38 and do not wish to wait any longer to have a baby.

b) I would regret missing out on motherhood more than missing out on marriage.

c) I am happy doing this alone; it is better than being miserable trying to do this with the wrong person.

d) I still want to meet someone, fall in love, and share my life with him.

e) That person does not have to be coparent of my baby, but he has to be someone I love and respect.

f) Having a baby could take a few years. Meeting a special person could take a few years. At my age it would be a shame to shut down one of these possibilities right now. So, I find myself in this strange situation of dating while TTC. It often feels like I am paddling upstream while straddling two canoes, each with its own separate sense of direction and momentum.

Once I had a cartoon on my fridge. In the cartoon, a mermaid is floating in the sea and speaking to her friend on the phone. Her speech bubble said "Sure, there are plenty of fish down here. There's also some plankton, a couple of clams, and a sea cucumber."

Within the first few weeks of being in this ocean, I had a sense of what was available. Date #1 was a very smart guy, early 40s, with no job security or health insurance. He could not lease an apartment, so he lived in his late grandma's house. Date #2 was an unemployed musician who revealed that he prefers dating Asian women (he himself is not Asian). This I simply found creepy. Date #3 was a nice, self-employed musician who could not spell or punctuate, despite his degree from Northwestern. He also had some body odor issues.

Date #4 was a nerdy, intellectual type. He was sweet and considerate. I genuinely liked his company, but there was no chemistry. He never tried any expression of physical intimacy other than a clumsy pat on my arm. His poor posture bothered me; Ichabod Crane can be hot, but not Igor! After four dates I felt I still knew so little about him.

The most awkward thing, however, was when he asked why I was going to acupuncture. More than once I had to flub an answer. I am not good at lying and do not like being evasive, but I just did not know him well enough to say that I was going to acupuncture for fertility and that I was about to start donor insemination. At any rate, things fizzled out and we both moved on.

Date #5, a man I never actually met, had an unusual name so I googled him, only to find out he had lied about his age and that a sexual harrassment lawsuit had been filed against him. Date #6 had his own kids and was the only one I told about TTC before we met. He was supportive, and even offered to go see The Backup Plan with me. His taste in movies notwithstanding, he was kind and empathetic. Yet, there was no chemistry and I never saw him a second time. Date #7 was a man with no career direction, and worked only so he could watch movies. We geeked out on films together, talking at length about Sirk and Visconti, but it seemed neither of us wanted to date the other. For my part, I could not get past the fact that he had the face of a 14 year-old and the hands of a 70 year-old.

Through online dating I learned a few things. Men who want to form families look a lot more at women under 35 than over, even if they themselves are in their forties. When I was 34 and online dating, I picked from amongst many men who initiated contact with me. I met my ex-boyfriend almost right away. When we broke up I was 37, and when I reentered the online dating world, the tables had turned dramatically. Almost no men contacted me, and when I took the first step, I frequently never heard back.

Secondly, perhaps I am as undateable as the men I have met, but I am still as picky as ever. Despite the challenges of TTC and dating, I have no regrets about not settling earlier. Sure, I would rather work with fresh sperm than frozen, and have a man around to take care of things that involve furniture, cars, and other large objects. While I am not afraid of doing this on my own, I do feel wistful when I think about never sharing this amazing journey with someone. Yet, I have difficulty seeing myself with someone who cannot spell. While I have the resources to start a family on my own, I still care about whether a man is pursuing a fulfilling vocation and if he can pull his own weight financially.

Of course, I keep trying. What I decided was that if I met someone promising I would tell him when I felt confident that he would treat this with empathy, respect, and compassion. I would consider suspending TTC if we both agreed that there was long-term potential. If he was dating just to date, in that non-comittal way familiar to many women my age, I probably would not even bring it up.

On the day of my first insemination, I was invited to peruse a tiny amount of my donor’s sperm under a microscope. Some of the swimmers were moving quite vigorously, some were completely inert, and yet others were bumping around looking confused, not unlike a person who refuses to ask for directions. As I watched the swimmers I told myself "it only takes one." That is the same thought I have as I navigate the big dating ocean with its plentiful fish, plankton, and sea cucumbers. It only takes one.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

SMC in the news (thanks to J Lo?)

Last week I went on a first date with a divorced grant writer with two children of his own, 16 and 13 years of age. I did something I hadn't done before: I told him even before we met that I was planning on becoming an SMC.

He was very supportive of the idea and even suggested we go see J-Lo's new movie The Backup Plan together. Notwithstanding his taste in films, I found him kind and empathetic. He understood the desire to have a family and why I would consider this.

I haven't seen the movie, but I've known about it for months. Two other SMC-themed movies are supposed to hit the silver screen in the near future. Word on the SMC boards is that perhaps one of those will be better. Some found that The Backup Plan did not resonate, as they had never thought of SMC-hood as Plan B. Others did not care for the caricatures of single moms as militant ideologues on issues like breastfeeding.

At any rate, SMCs are in the news at the moment:

Interview with Louise Sloan, author of Knock Yourself Up

Today Show segment: More moms having children on their own?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Nose bleeds and other indignities

Yesterday, day 8 of the 2ww, was quite an uncomfortable day. I got up early to help cook brunch at the Siddha Yoga Meditation Center. My abdomen felt tense and uncomfortable the whole time, but part of it was the fatigue, I think. I had acupuncture, ran an errand, then had dim sum with my friend G, who was equally if not more tired. She was tired because she'd had too much to drink at a wedding the night before, which reminded me how much we were at different places in our lives.

I'd had a pretty big meal on Saturday at a Jamaican themed potluck, and was in some significant abdominal discomfort on Sunday. It went beyond the bloating I'd experienced last cycle.

And then my nose bled, which was weird. Today, during one of our passing period tete-a-tetes about pregnancy (she's pregnant, I'm trying), my colleague K told me nose bleeds are a symptom of pregnancy, that your nose doesn't bleed profusely, but you do get some blood, which is what happened to me. It has something to do with how your blood vessels are expanding or something.

The abdominal pain could be an ovarian cyst, something that happens to about 10% of women who take Clomid. Since my insurance won't cover me for fertility treatment, I'm not being monitored by ultrasounds, so there's no knowing what's going on inside me. I will just have to wait and see, and assume things are Ok until I feel something different.

Lately, I've been thinking about how sometimes gut feelings come from fear, desire, or greed. And then there are times when gut feelings are prophetic, perhaps because some part of our minds tap into a greater wisdom. I've not yet mastered the ability to tell the difference, but for what it is worth, my gut feeling tells me that either a) I'm not pregnant and won't get pregnant, or b) I might have a boy.

With all the difficulty I've had with boy names, I've been thinking about Thelonious (after Monk) quite a bit. It is a mouthful, but Theo for short sounds good.

Incidentally, on one of my dates with the half-Greek librarian the name "Monk" came up. Of course, he was talking about the TV show and I was thinking about the jazz pianist. Perhaps that was a sign that it was definitely not meant to be.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Mommy brain?

My colleague K, now in her fourth month of pregnancy, suggested I might already have mommy brain. Apparently, pregnant women are very absent-minded.

It is way too early to say, of course, but this morning I realized I needed gas for the commute. When I got to the gas station I promptly threw my credit card into the trash can, along with a banana peel and used coffee cup (not mine).

I looked under the car and car seat, and eventually had to stick my head into the large plastic trash can and fish around until I found my credit card.

I popped open the gas tank cover, but also popped open the trunk. I pumped gas, then got on Lakeshore Drive and cruised for a while before I realized my trunk was still open.


IUI #2 was Apr 3, Saturday, around 630pm. It is hard to say when I detected a surge; it seems to have been sometime between 730pm and midnight Friday. I was out dancing, and at the dance studio it is hard to wait in a bathroom for ten minutes for the results to show up. I scheduled the appointment, then panicked when I thought it might be too early, and then panicked again when I thought it might be too late. The poor on-call health worker at CWHC tolerated my multiple phone calls, one waking her up shortly after 7am on Saturday morning, and was very patient and flexible.

The insemination itself was a bit uncomfortable this time. I actually felt it when she pushed the plunger, forcing the swimmers through the catheter. I hope everything ended up where it was supposed to. I did feel much calmer this time around, and was able to lie back, relax, and meditate for a bit before and after.

After the insemination I went home and watched a DVD, falling asleep and forgetting to take my progesterone. I woke up in the middle of the night with uncomfortable abdominal pressure on my left side, which has also been very sensitive during acupuncture. I hope it was ovulation pain, in which case the timing would have been good.

Easter Sunday I was eager to go to lunch with a large and loud Italian family, and also to see the Tony Kushner play The Illusion at the Court Theater, followed by dinner with friends M and F. I felt bloated and quite uncomfortable, so canceled all plans so I could lie around watching Masterpiece Mystery and making pad thai at home.

Thus I enter another 2ww.

Right before I left for my appointment, I sent an email to a handful of people in my study group at Siddha Yoga letting them know what I was doing and asking them to invoke some grace for me. In response, my friend J sent me this passage about courage:

…having courage means engaging in every single situation as a blessing from God, as a loving gesture of nature. Courage means rising to meet the demands of each moment with total delight, knowing you are equal to it. Courage means having faith that within you is an innate force whose essence is never depleted by external events. Live your life courageously, dharmically, knowing that whatever you are faced with is not stronger than you are. You are equal to each other…

-- Gurumayi (Courage and Contentment, pp. 7-8; also in Sadhana of the Heart, p. 52)

And that, more or less, fits with what I've been thinking about the TTC process lately, that it isn't so much about making up for some lack or loss in my life, but rather, an act of love and courage, and possibly, an act of service to the universe. No matter what the difficulties and challenges, I will do my best and act with joy, fearlessness, and a sense of my dharmic duty with every step of this journey.