Choices, paths, and a new year

Choices, paths, and a new year

As you might have guessed from my silence, our first round of IVF didn’t take. It’s been a hard couple of weeks. I had a couple of big distractions — the holidays of course, and also a HOUSE that we found unexpectedly and are trying to buy — but all the time the grief has been there, like an underground river beneath everything that’s happening on the surface. This weekend is the first time I’ve been able to talk about it without crying.

We have another try, already paid for in the package we purchased up front. We’re taking a couple of months off and plan to start up with a new cycle in late February. I am just coming around to believing that it might be okay. Intellectually I realize that plenty of people have a failed IVF followed by a successful one, and that our chances are still very good. It’s just hard for me to shake the fear, and the belief that because this hasn’t happened yet, it’s somehow not meant to happen.

I realized that throughout this journey, I’ve been fighting off the feelings I’ve seen accompanying infertility with most people. I’ve tried being detached, being focused on the silver lining, keeping my hopes at a distance. It was only this last try that broke me down, that forced me to admit how badly I want this. That yes, it does feel unfair that it comes so easily to some people, while I have to struggle so much for such an uncertain chance. That sometimes I am very angry about that.

Each round we go through, I learn more and have to accept more. It’s tempting to read this as a story: with each struggle she went through, she grew and became stronger and wiser, until at last she was ready, and the thing she wanted was finally given to her. This kind of thinking comes very naturally — I’m always looking for what was “meant” to be, for the shape of events to fall into this neat story, somehow predetermined from the beginning. And at the same time, I’m always looking for ways to earn my happy ending, to make the right choices and moves that will mean some nebulous authority grants me the reward.

None of that matches what I actually believe, though. I don’t believe in a predestined outcome or path that I’m following along unknowingly. It’s easy to think that there is one, because looking back the path is quite clear. I can trace how all my choices and all the things that happened to me led to where I am right now. The temptation is to extrapolate forward, to try to see the path ahead as if it already existed. But it doesn’t. I carve it out of brush and undergrowth, turning to one side or the other if I meet an impassible tangle. When I look back on this stretch of path, one or five or ten years in the future, it will seem just as inevitable, just as predestined. But I am creating it as we speak.

The thought is freeing and frightening. Freeing because I am not trying to discover something, or hit just the right combination of magic words and actions to be finally “allowed” to get what I want. I get to make my own choices, and the person judging them is myself — the deep, secret heart of my self that I am only sometimes quiet enough to listen to. Frightening because nobody has planned my outcome, nobody is protecting me from unfairness, and nobody is responsible but me.

What does all this have to do with infertility? I think for me, infertility brings all these issues into sharp focus, because it is so important to me, so critical to the shape of the rest of my life, and in many ways so beyond my control. With every disappointment, I feel as if I’ve failed some test, that I haven’t found the “right” path, because if I had I would be getting my reward. And at the same time, I’m straining to see what’s ahead, to tell if I will ever get to carry the baby I want, because if not it seems like I should stop pouring my heart and time and resources into it.

I’m trying to shift my viewpoint. Instead of thinking in terms of paths and tests, I’m simply owning what I want: to carry a child. Right now, I’m making choices that will give me the best possible chance of getting that. I don’t have to know what choices I’ll make in the future, or what the outcomes will be, or whether our family is “meant” to have a biological child in it. I don’t have to cope, now, with what it will mean if that turns out not to be possible given the resources we have. There’s a lot of path to be carved out before that time comes, and I will know and feel things then that I don’t now.

My New Year’s resolutions tend to be about attitudes and philosophies, and this is definitely a big one to carry into 2018. I don’t need to ask for permission, or a sense of destiny. I can say clearly, “I want this,” and work for it, and fight for it, and trust that if a time comes when it’s best to let that dream go, I’ll know.

Parenting for four

Parenting for four

We had our embryo transfer Thursday. It was so cool. Blueberry and I went together and they let us watch on the screen as the little tube found its spot and then shot out a tiny white speck that is our embryo. It was graded 6AA, which is the best possible and apparently somewhat rare, so we’re already in “obnoxious parent of an early achiever” mode.

Always assuming we actually get to BE parents, of this particular genetic entity. We have a week until our official test, and I had written six paragraphs on my decision whether or not to take a home test before that, but I don’t think anyone else is six paragraphs’ worth of interested in whether/when I pee on a stick, so I deleted it.

Instead I’ll talk about something with a little more general interest, which is how we as a household plan to handle parenting roles. People are understandably very curious about this: our society has two conventional Parent Role Slots! And there are more than two of you! What happens next?

I’ve known I wanted to have kids with Blueberry since about our third date. I mean, not KNOWN known, in that I was willing to commit my all to that course of action, because three dates in that would have been real foolish. But I had a strong intuition/inclination, which was only strengthened by further evidence. We were both at the stage of “individually ready to parent, lacking only the partner(s) for that endeavor.” Blueberry has all the kindness and warmth and patience and thoughtfulness that I want in a co-parent, and it just felt instantly like the right idea.

Clementine doesn’t ever want to procreate, and was feeling iffy about the idea of being a parent at all. Avocado wants to be a parent but not yet; she has several years more of wanting to focus on career and school stuff. Both of them feel good about being sort of auxiliary parents to a child that Blueberry and I have primary responsibility for.

So Blueberry and I will be the legal and primary parents. We have been going through the fertility stuff essentially as a couple, and will mostly do the same for pregnancy and birth if we get that far. When it comes to child-rearing decisions and approaches, often it is the two of us talking first, then discussing with the others to get their input. (Or it is me and Avocado because we’re both the most inclined to long-range planning about hypotheticals, and also know the most about children.)

Clementine and Avocado will have equal authority as far as our kid is concerned: their say-so matters as much as ours. They will both take on some parenting responsibilities, but this is going to be more flexible and dependent on what works around the rest of their lives. I think by the time our child is old enough to notice and remember, there won’t be a lot of perceived difference in roles between the four of us. We’ll all just be parents.

This was easy to work out, since the things each of us wanted dovetailed comfortably, and we had the right number of available uteruses and diverse gametes to make it work. If, say, Avocado wanted to be a primary parent right now, and also wanted to be pregnant, we’d have had to do more logistical negotiating. Would we take turns? Try for two pregnancies at a time? (Some polyamorous families do this and I think it’s a fun and also BONKERS idea.) If Avocado and/or Clementine wanted to be Equal Primary Parents, I think that would be a little more difficult but ultimately doable. We are pretty good at discussing and negotiating and taking care of everybody’s needs, so we’d make it work. But I’m not sorry to have a simpler arrangement.

We’ve talked with lawyers and have a broad plan for making sure all four of us get to have a stake in custody discussions in the event our household breaks up — once there’s an actual pregnancy or adoptive process, we’ll make that a concrete and legalized plan. It’s important to me that Clementine and Avocado get to keep having a role in the life of the child they helped raise. I’ve seen polyamorous people lose this in a breakup, and I think it’s cruelly unfair to both the adult and the child. I can’t imagine us splitting up in a way that wasn’t highly amicable and cooperative, but my past experiences have taught me that you want to have that shit locked down, regardless of what you can imagine.

As far as non-resident partners, nobody is currently in line for (or interested in) any kind of parental status. Some polyamorous people use “aunt” and “uncle” for any non-resident, non-parental, but close and trusted-with-the-kids partners. Some find that squicky and/or confusing against actual aunts and uncles. We haven’t settled on any terminology, but that’s the kind of role a number of people will have for our kid.

And then there will be six to eight grandparents (depending whether Clementine’s parents jump on board, dubious at this time), all but one of whom don’t have any grandchildren yet. This kid is going to be SPOILED. And, with any luck, this mum will have a decent chance of some nights to herself pretty regularly after the newborn phase.

2 weeks, 5 days

2 weeks, 5 days

Here’s a thing most people don’t know unless their life or work involves pregnancy and birth: nobody is ever actually 1 or 2 weeks pregnant. The 40 weeks of pregnancy are counted starting from the beginning of the last period, so by the time egg meets sperm, we’ve already logged around 2 weeks of the pregnancy countdown. Back a couple of years ago, when I was trying to conceive the old-school way, it was a heady thought: as soon as my period started, I’d think, “This could be the first week of my pregnancy!”

After enough negative test results, that thought became crazy-making and I avoided it.

Week 3 is even more wild, because there might, by that point, be a wee zygote making its way toward the uterus. For the first time there’s an actual difference between a pregnant cycle and a not-pregnant cycle, but the difference isn’t actually connected to the body so much as contained within it. Just a free-floating little cluster of cells busily dividing and hopefully maturing enough to implant in the uterus and keep growing. And the not-yet-pregnant person, if pregnancy is a thing they’re thinking about, can only wonder, “Is that a thing that’s going on right now, inside my body?”

I never did manage to avoid that thought. How could I? The cells that might become my child, already genetically determined, could be floating inside me on their way home, and I had no way of knowing. I don’t know what, exactly, I believe about souls, and I certainly don’t believe a zygote or early embryo is in any way sentient yet — but I also reflexively bestow personhood on my car, and my teddy bear, and my plants, and many other demonstrably non-person objects in my life. So there is no way I’m not going to think of my own, much-wanted zygote as already sort of a person, and talk to it in my head, and imagine what is happening to it right now. Which is a weird thing to do when you don’t even know if the thing exists. (Although, having passed through many stages of belief/unbelief/agnosticism regarding a deity, talking to someone I’m not sure exists is familiar territory.)

And now I’m in a position that’s both weirder and less weird. We’re doing IVF, and our first egg retrieval cycle resulted in one viable embryo, which is currently sitting in a freezer somewhere while I go through the meds cycle to get my uterus all comfy and ready to receive it. If my body responds as expected, we’ll thaw the embryo and plant it on December 7th. I have a countdown widget on my phone, for that day and for the day when we’re scheduled to test for pregnancy.

So we know there’s an embryo (technically, right now, a blastocyst), and we know it’s as healthy as a blastocyst can be, and the only question is whether it will get along nicely with the uterine lining I’m fluffing up for it. This makes it easier to talk to it in my head, and you can bet I am, and will ramp that up to 11 once it’s actually placed inside me.

But it sure does make the timing wonky. Counting from my body, we’re one week into the not-yet-pregnancy. Counting from the embryo, we’re 2 weeks and 5 days. It might make more sense to think of it from my body’s point of view — but I have something that most people who are one week not-pregnant don’t have, an existing, genetically determined possible future child. So I can’t help thinking as if I’m 2 weeks and 5 days into my not-yet-pregnancy, but I’m going to keep being exactly that far along until the clock starts again on December 7th.

And if I don’t end up pregnant after all, I don’t think I’ll feel as though I had another cycle without a pregnancy. I think I’ll feel more as though I had a pregnancy loss. Let’s not talk about that right now.

The best thing about weeks 1 and 2 of pregnancy is that, because you are not actually in any way pregnant, you still get to eat sushi if you enjoy that, and drink bourbon if you enjoy that. I’m taking every reasonable opportunity to do both those things, for 12 more days.

Empty House

Empty House

Yesterday evening and this morning, I get to experience the rarest of treats: being the only human in the house. With four of us living here, and close friends and partners coming over regularly, there’s just always someone here, usually multiple someone, usually talking and laughing and being sociable. I both love and hate this. I grew up in a family of six, so it feels natural and happy to have other people moving around in my space. Every time I go from living alone to living with others (that I don’t share a bedroom with) I have a little “ahh, yes, this is right” feeling when I hear people getting up and starting their day.

I’m also an introvert, though, and I get stressed and annoyed and overstimulated when there is a constant stream of people around saying words and doing things. It feels like there are subroutines that my brain can’t execute unless it has long periods of quiet without external stimulus — and these subroutines are vital to the processes that keep me calm and able to roll with punches and feeling like myself. Without that space I get increasingly irritable and territorial. Things that normally don’t bother me become Assaults On My Very Being and I feel incredibly put-upon by the fact that other people keep existing near me.

With this sensitivity to not-alone-time, one might wonder why I choose to make my home with three other adults, and why I’m trying so hard to make a fifth person who will undoubtedly be much noisier and less regulated than anyone who currenly hangs around the house. I wonder it myself sometimes. But, see first paragraph, as long as I’m getting my Recommended Daily Allowance of quiet time, I really love living with other people. I love looking around and seeing the imprint of each of us on our space: art that Avocado picked out, the yarn that Clementine’s knitting with on the chair, the book Blueberry’s reading on the side table. I have never felt deeply invested in a home that was just mine — I always end up spending most of my time at friends’ or partners’ houses. My most comfortable and happy state seems to be in the middle of a big family, but with a quiet place to escape to at will.

So we’re planning our next house with that in mind. Extra living space, a bigger and more comfortable bedroom for me, and less good at carrying sound from room to room and floor to floor. (Our current house is efficient and compact and lets you hear conversations in normal tones from two floors away. Conversations in the room next door might as well be happening right by my bedside.)

As for the prospective wee one — I’ve been taking care of babies and toddlers since I was in grade school, and being around them has never felt draining in the way being around older kids and adults is. I know that being a parent is different from being a big sister or a nanny, and I am quite sure that I will go BONKERS from having an infant attached to me basically every single moment of my life (and also go bonkers when they are away from me). Between lack of quiet time and lack of sleep, I will probably hit lifetime highs on the Crankiness Meter. But we’ll manage. The thing I love most about this household is how we all adjust and cooperate and communicate to make sure everyone is taken care of. We’ll make it work.

But for now, I’m sipping my coffee in a perfectly quiet house, and it’s glorious.

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving

It’s the first day of my four-day break, and I should really be catching up on NaNoWriMo, so naturally I’m starting a blog instead. (Current wordcount: 30,603. I still think I can make it.)

It’s also Thanksgiving! We are following the same Thanksgiving tradition that we did last year: early afternoon with my girlfriend Honeydew, and then to Dinner Proper with Avocado’s family. It’s this kind of thing that makes me wish I had a spare stomach. Honeydew throws an amazing, glorious Friendsgiving with dishes provided by herself and a few like-minded foodie friends. Things like roast goose happen, and goat-cheese-stuffed sweet potatoes, and it takes A LOT OF RESTRAINT to save any room at all.

Avocado’s parents also throw a big beautiful feast to which all friends and strays are invited. It’s the kind of crowded, boisterous family gathering that I love the concept and overall existence of, and also enjoy the actual experience of as long as it doesn’t happen too often or last too long. A few hours every Thanksgiving is just right.

I am very very hopeful that next Thanksgiving we will have a wee infant, say about 3 months old, in tow. So I will probably spend a lot of today anticipating what changes that might make in our traditions. Will I skip the boisterous family affair? Ask them to have a room that I can go to if the baby needs quiet? (I plan on using “the baby needs quiet” A LOT regardless of the baby’s actual needs.) We’ll hopefully also have a bigger house by then so will we host, and I can use the Baby Excuse to do very little work and also to go hide in my room as needed?

This kind of anticipation is pretty much my favorite thing. It feels risky to do about something I’m hoping for so much, and in fact I’ve spent a lot of our baby-planning period avoiding building such hopes. But now we’re looking at the end of the line, one way or another (I’ll write in more detail about it later but basically we get this shot, and then one more, and then that’s it), and I’ve learned that in this case “not getting my hopes up” in no way prevents my heart from feeling utterly crushed, so I’m switching to the Anne Shirley philosophy:

“Oh, Marilla, looking forward to things is half the pleasure of them,” exclaimed Anne. “You mayn’t get the things themselves; but nothing can prevent you from having the fun of looking forward to them.”

And in the spirit of the day, I’m thankful for the medical science that brings our chances of being able to have a baby up from “miniscule” to “more likely than not.”

Also in the spirit of the day, I’m donating to the Cheyenne River Youth Project.