Thursday, August 28, 2014

Month One

It's been just a little over one month since I lost my job (on July 22nd) and had early retirement unexpectedly thrust upon me at age 53. 

Time has flown. As a couple of my now-retired coworkers told me, you think you're going to get all this stuff done, and...!

When I went to bed that first night after getting my walking papers, I can remember thinking, "At least I can sleep in now!! No more 4:45 alarm clock!"  Naturally, my eyes flew open at 3 a.m., and I tossed & turned for the next few hours before finally getting up at 6:30 (!). Maddeningly, on most days over the next few weeks, I would wake up just before or just after my alarm clock would have gone off at 4:45 a.m... and then toss & turn, trying to go back to sleep again for a few more hours. I might still wake up early to answer nature's call ;)  but thankfully, I'm getting better at falling back asleep again ;) and then waking up at a much more sane hour of 7:30 or 8 a.m.  

Once or twice a week, though, I've been getting up at around 6-6:30 and heading into the city.  I have use of a "transition consultant" for the next while and, although I have no desire or plans to re-enter the working world immediately (if ever -- perhaps something part time or a few freelancing jobs, eventually...?), I've decided I might as well take full advantage of their services. It's been a long, LONG time since I dusted off my resume, applied for a job or been on a job interview. And it's a completely different world out there since the last time I did any of those things. (LinkedIn? What's that?) 

Getting an updated resume together was one thing;  interview prep (which is what I'm doing right now) is quite another. I'm finding it nerve wracking and stressful, even if it is just practice. I think dh thinks I'm nuts for putting myself through this when I don't really have to. But I know it's for my own good. Maybe it's my inner bag lady talking, but I feel better knowing that, if or when I ever need or want to return to work, I will be better prepared than I was before I lost my job. 

I ran into one of my former colleagues there this week. He and some of the others who also lost their jobs that day have been taking some time off before starting their job searches. Even though he is close to me in age, he has a young daughter to support;  he needs to keep working.

I wondered if maybe I should have taken a break too. But I only have use of the consultant's services for a finite amount of time, and it's only one or two mornings a week. I don't have to do any more than I really want to -- they are working for me, not the other way around. And once I polish up my interviewing & networking skills, and set up my LinkedIn profile, I think I will feel better about slacking off more and taking things easier.  

For the past 28 years -- 28 years!! -- my life each fall through Christmas has revolved around -- and been restricted by -- year-end reporting and related activities. I thought I'd get a reprieve in 1998 because my long-awaited baby was due in November;  she was stillborn in August, and I had to return to work in October -- and I bitterly resented it.  I found I was usually too busy during the week and too exhausted on weekends to do so many of the things I wanted to do -- take a trip to enjoy the fall colours, mourn my little girl properly on her November due date (if that's how I was feeling), have a leisurely pre-holiday lunch with friends, attend a Christmas craft show, check out the European-style Christmas market in the downtown Distillery District. I fully intend to do all those things and more this year.

On the mornings that I'm not heading into the city, dh & I linger over our tea/coffee and morning papers, then (if the weather permits) head out for a walk.  Getting into better shape and staying healthy as we age is definitely one of my post-work goals. (I have not lost any weight -- yet!! lol -- but I feel SO much less stressed. The maddening twitch in my eye has disappeared;  my heartburn is much less frequent, and I haven't checked but I am thinking my blood pressure has probably improved.)  Dh goes to see his dad one afternoon a week and, depending on the weather, might return another day to mow his lawn. Another day is spent cleaning the house and doing laundry, and I've started tackling some of the piles of clutter that seemed to have become permanent fixtures in the spare bedrooms. Tuesdays, we trek over to the local farmers' market & come home with fresh produce to enjoy, especially berries. :)  Other days, we might head over to the local mall to shop or just to get out of the house. A former coworker who lives in the area treated me to afternoon tea, with little sandwiches and scones and other treats.  Dh & I are already planning some day trips to enjoy the fall colours, once they arrive, and maybe a slightly longer getaway, further afield.

This is what we've been working and saving for all these years. This is the goal we set for ourselves, once it became evident that we were not going to be parents. It came a little earlier than we both expected, and not quite the way either of us had imagined -- but now that it's here, we intend to enjoy it.

Life is good. :) 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

"Mastering the Art of Quitting" by Peg Streep & Alan Bernstein

"Quitting" is a word I have long avoided when talking about my infertility journey. I stopped fertility treatments, I ended them, I left them, I made the decision to stop/end/leave treatment and live without children, I chose to take my life in a different direction. 

Why quibble over "quit"? It's not hard to understand why:  in our achievement & success-oriented culture, quitting has a negative connotation. Nobody wants to be thought of as a quitter -- and certainly not in the infertility & loss community, where people don't seem to want to hear any story except one with a conventionally happy ending (i.e., a living, healthy baby, no matter what the costs or what you had to do to get him/her).

Well, fellow travellers on this less-travelled road, it's time to embrace "the Q word"  ;) (as my sister calls it -- only in her case, she's talking -- or rather, avoiding talking -- about quitting smoking, lol)(as the book says, "the only kind of giving up we collectively accept and support"). And there's a new book to help us do that.

"Mastering the Art of Quitting:  Why it Matters in Life, Love and Work" doesn't mention infertility at all -- but I saw myself and other infertile women I know throughout its pages. I believe its message totally applies to those of us who are at a crossroads in our journey and trying to decide if we should continue treatment or follow another path (and if so, which one).

The book is slightly academic in tone with lots of psychological terminology and studies quoted (I'll admit this did bog me down a bit in spots).  And yet there was something on just about every page that I could relate to or that gave me food for thought. My copy is full of dog-eared pages.

"Quitting not only frees us from the hopeless pursuit of the unattainable but permits us to commit to new and more satisfying goals."  This, in a nutshell, is the message of this book. (You can probably understand why I found it so appealing...!)

So why does quitting have such a bad rap?  "We've all been taught that quitting is a sign of weakness and that quitting is for losers,"  the authors bluntly note. (p. 3)  Persistence and positive thinking, we are told from the time we are children, are the keys to success. Moreover, the authors demonstrate that human beings are hard wired to persist in pursuit of a goal -- even when the goal is unreachable or no longer satisfying.

The book not only promotes quitting as a valid option, it discusses why and how we should quit when something is not working for us. (The trick is to disengage from old goals while setting new ones.)  It includes helpful quizzes and tips to help us make better decisions and to set and pursue new goals in a more realistic way. 

If you are struggling with decisions about whether to stay on your current path or take a completely different direction in your life, this book would be an excellent resource. 

This was book #11 that I've read so far this year.

Monday, August 18, 2014

This sounds familiar... (part 2)

(Continued from yesterday's Part 1...)

After hearing a little Kubler-Ross and discussing the SCARF model, our facilitator offered some tips for dealing with transitions -- in this case, moving forward after job loss, but also applicable in many cases (I thought) to surviving pregnancy loss, infertility and the decision to remain childless/free: 

1)  Accept that bad things can happen. Develop resilience.  Become an expert on your situation.    (For most of us who have lost a pregnancy, dealt with infertility or childlessness, this has probably meant devouring books, blogs and other information to help us deal with our new reality.)  Wallowing in our grief may have a certain appeal at first, but after a while, we need to start focusing on what our next steps could be. We may not have chosen what happened to us, but we can choose how we respond.

2)  "Preventative medicine."  Avoid negative individuals who might push you to play the role of victim ("poor you"). Some people need to confirm to themselves "so glad it's you and not me" and don't really bring anything of value to the relationship.  Also avoid situations you don't like and that you know will make you feel unhappy (e.g., baby showers!). 

3)  "Healthy schizophrenia."  Try to detach or distance yourself from the situation. (This is admittedly hard to do when you've just lost a baby.)  In the case of job loss, try to avoid thinking of your former company as "we" and "us."  Become a reporter and try to view the situation objectively.  What should a person in this situation do? What would you advise a friend in a similar situation to do?

4)  Change the meaning of what is happening;  try to look on the bright side. (Again, perhaps not really applicable when you've just lost a baby.)  This is not always easy to do.  Your brain needs time to think and process what's happened. We can't work full tilt 24 hours a day;  we'll burn out. We need rest, we need sleep, we need to take vacations, we need to take breaks and do something different. That's often when the best ideas pop into our heads. Now is the time (we, who had lost our jobs, were told) to do some of the things you wanted to do when you were working -- and that you won't have time to do when you start working again).

In the same vein, taking a break from fertility treatment can bring a fresh perspective and new energy to whatever you decide to do next.  If you decide to continue to live without children, look at it as an opportunity to do some of the things you didn't have time or money to pursue when you were in treatment -- and wouldn't be able (or might find harder) to do if you had children.

5)  Focus on your strengths.  What are you good at doing? What do you enjoy doing?  Write them down. (In handwriting, not on the computer -- handwriting helps us absorb messages better than typing them into a computer.) 

6)  Create an identity map.  In the centre of a bulletin board or a big sheet of poster board, place your favourite photo of yourself.  Around it, place photos or magazine pictures or other visual reminders (e.g., restaurant menus, theatre tickets) of the people and things you love and enjoy:  family, friends, hobbies, celebrations, travel, music, art, sports, achievements. Jobs. 

This reminded me of a collage exercise we used to do in our perinatal bereavement support group:  we'd bring in stacks of old magazines & give everyone half an hour to go through them and rip out any images & words that reminded them of their baby(s), of what had happened, and how they were feeling now. Then we'd hand out sheets of poster paper and glue sticks, and after another half hour or so, we'd all share what we had created and talk about what the words & images meant to us.

This was always a powerful exercise and it was amazing to see what people would come up with.  Along with photos of babies, pregnant women and moms with kids, I remember one mother had the image of a knotted in a length of rope at the centre of her collage, another had a picture of a big bolt of lightning cutting across a dark, threatening sky.  I did the collage exercise along with the group every time it came up in the topic rotation, and I still have every one I made. It was interesting to see how my collages evolved and changed as time went on.

7)  Energy balance exercise.  What people, places and activities in your life are sources of energy for you? Which ones are energy suckers? (Try to avoid those.)  Which are a mixture?

8)  Apply the Stockdale Paradox.  We heard the story of James Stockdale, who spent eight years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam in the 1960s, where he was brutally mistreated. Said Stockdale later of the experience:  "You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end -- which you can never afford to lose -- with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be." 

In the context of infertility & childlessness, to me, "faith that you will prevail in the end" doesn't necessarily mean that "you will have a baby, somehow, some way." This is where "the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality" comes in. I suppose dh & I could have scraped together more money and more energy to continue with infertility treatment, or try donor eggs or adopt, etc. But the reality, our reality at the time, was that we were completely burned out. The reality was, we were in our 40s, with medical issues that made the likelihood of a successful pregnancy highly unlikely. The odds were not in our favour.  

It was hard to face the brutal truth that we were not going to be parents (to a living child). But we had faith that we could still have a good life anyway as a family of two.  And I think we've been able to do that.

It's not a perfect life, it's certainly not the life we imagined when we got married, almost 30 years ago. But it's the life we have, and on balance, it's not a bad one.  And we're doing our best to make the most of it.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

This sounds familiar... (part 1)

This past week, I spent an afternoon at a seminar on neuroscience -- how the brain works -- and life transitions, and how we can use this knowledge to help us adjust faster to our new reality. 

The life transition in question for most of us present, of course, was the sudden loss of our jobs -- but having previously been through pregnancy loss, infertility and the transition to permanent childless/free living, there was a lot that sounded VERY familiar & applicable. I thought I'd do a Coles notes version (Cliffs notes, for you in the States, lol)(in two parts, since this was starting to get lengthy): 

After walking through a slide on Elizabeth Kubler-Ross & the stages of grief (of course!) we talked about the SCARF model of how people interact -- including five areas that affect our behaviour during a life transition:

Status: Our "rank" or position in relation to others -- how important am I?  This area is influenced by things like title & salary;  comments, criticism or recognition, being included or excluded (or feeling that way).  Obviously, when you lose your job, your feeling of importance to others, to the team you worked with, takes a real beating.

Now -- for those of us who have lost pregnancies -- think back to when you were pregnant -- and then when you suddenly were not. I think most of us realize that pregnant women hold a particularly hallowed place in our society at the moment -- pregnant celebrities & their new babies dominate magazine covers, every other commercial on television seems to feature a pregnant woman or new baby -- and if you (and your extended family) have been waiting to become pregnant for a long time (as I did), your pregnancy becomes extra-special.  For those of us who dealt with infertility before seeing those two lines on the pee stick, pregnancy was not just special -- it was something we'd been craving -- not just a baby, but NORMALCY. We'd finally been admitted to the club that everyone else seemed to join so easily, that had been barred to us for so long.

And then (as my support group facilitator so aptly put it), we "got kicked out of the club."  :p 

And if it hurts to be admitted briefly to the club that most women join without a second thought, and then rejected, think of how it feels for women without children (for whatever reason), who never even managed to get a foot in the door. 

Certainty:  Most of us crave a certain degree of certainty or security. When things are certain or predictable, it's easier to plan for the future and control what happens to us (or so we think).  When things change, when we lose our jobs, the future suddenly becomes uncertain.  We've suddenly lost control of our careers, of our future. 

In one sense, having a baby is the ultimate loss of control.  ;)  But in another sense, when you have a baby, you know there is a certain template your life is about to follow -- a measure of -- certainty -- that the path you're following has been trod by many other parents. BILLIONS of parents.  This is how life is meant to unfold, we think. There is a certain rhythm & predictability to family life for most people. Breast or bottlefeeding is followed by solids;  crawling becomes walking and then running and riding a bike (and then driving a car).  Daycare turns into nursery school, then kindergarten. September means back to school, October means Halloween costumes and trick or treating. Etc. etc. etc.

Losing a pregnancy forever destroys any sense of control that you might have had.  And realizing that a baby is not going to be a part of your life -- ever -- destroys the life plan most of us have had since we were children, and blurs our image of what the future should look like. We suddenly realize that our lives are never going to resemble those of many of the people around us. We have to figure out what our lives are going to look like now, if we're not going to be parents. We have to rethink -- sometimes dramatically -- our life plans.

Autonomy:  Autonomy reflects the need to have control over our lives and our choices. When we lose our jobs, we lose control and the choice of if/when we want to leave our workplace is taken from us. 

On the other hand, with the future wide open ahead of us, we may suddenly find ourselves faced with too many choices:  I can do anything with my life now!  What should I do??  This is also the dilemma facing those of us who find ourselves facing a childless/free future. If we're not going to be moms, what are we going to do with our lives?

The prospect can be exhilarating. It can also be terrifying.

Relatedness:  "Relatedness" refers to the need to belong to a group and receive their support. When we lose our jobs, we're suddenly cut off from the people we've been working with every day, in some cases for years. We were part of a team -- and now we're not. Now, there are insiders and outsiders.

As I mentioned earlier, getting pregnant means admission to the Mommy Club. Everyone is anxious to rub your belly and give you tips and tell you their birth story and throw you baby showers and pass down their baby clothes and paraphernalia. They want to know what you're going to name him/her, breast or bottle, cloth or disposable, and if you're going to take the full year of mat leave.

Losing a pregnancy means getting kicked out of the club. Suddenly, nobody is anxious to talk to you. Nobody has tips to offer on how to organize the baby's funeral or what you should put on the cemetery marker.  Some will call -- once -- or send a card or bring over a casserole, but very few will offer to sit at the kitchen table while you cry & hold your hand, or ask to hear your delivery story. (Hang onto those people!)

Being childless means you'll never be part of the club, period. But people will still ask you when you're going to join, because having kids is one of the easiest, no-brainer ways to relate to other people, and when you don't have that common link between you... well... sometimes they just can't relate, can't fathom what your life must be like, can't think of anything else that you might have in common to talk about (try: the weather, sports, your latest vacation, your aging parents' health, work, the latest movie or Downton Abbey....). 

It's hard not to feel like an outsider sometimes.

Fairness:  We all have a powerful need to feel that we are being treated fairly.

Losing our job for no good reason offends our sense of fairness and justice. 

Losing a baby REALLY offends our sense of fairness and justice.  :( 

Being involuntarily childless while other parents complain about their kids -- or worse, mistreat or neglect them -- also makes the universe seem unfair and unjust.

Coming next:  transition tips.  

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Scene at the supermarket checkout

Recently, at the supermarket checkout: 

Me (pointing to tray of meat on the conveyor belt):  "Could you please wrap that up separately...?"

Clerk (nodding & smiling at me as she puts the meat into a separate plastic bag, and then into the reusable tote with the rest of the food):  "I know, hon... I'm a mom!"

(Me, thinking: "I'm NOT a mom, but I still thought of it. Should I NOT know this because I'm not a mom?  Is motherhood a prerequisite for knowledge of food safety practices? Shouldn't you know this because you handle food as part of your job?  Isn't it really just common sense?")   

Oy. :p 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Childless/free living in the news

Childless/free living has been in the news lately!

The past two Fridays, I've enjoyed two really great recent podcasts with some excellent spokespeople from this community:
And in today's Globe & Mail, Leah McLaren discusses "No-Mos" and Melanie Notkin's latest book in "There are other options to motherhood."  I don't always like McLaren's stuff, and the last line made me cringe (so who cares if we don't have kids? we look hot!!)(she obviously hasn't seen the number on my scale lately... :p). But on balance, she brings up some good points, and I appreciate the column space given to this topic. And I found myself nodding as I read:
"That growing sense of emptiness you feel in the pit of your stomach? No soulmate or cherished baby is ever going to obliterate it for you. The only person who can content with the deep-down scary you-ness of you is yourself."
Yep.

As always -- beware the comments section. :p  (I love how they always degenerate into a "have kids or don't have them, don't whine to me" rant.  Ummm, you all kind of missed the whole point here, lol. I often wonder if the people commenting actually read the articles or listened to the podcasts.) 

Monday, August 11, 2014

A kindred spirit


Back in 2008, I wrote about a new biography of Lucy Maud Montgomery that had recently been published, which reminded me that "Anne of Green Gables -- and her author -- were stillbirth mothers."  I STILL haven't read the book (erk!) -- but I was reminded again this past weekend that LMM was "one of us" -- or, as Anne might say, "a kindred spirit."

Dh & I spent Saturday afternoon in Leaskdale, the tiny Ontario community where LMM lived between 1911 and 1926, and where her husband served as the Presbyterian minister.  Leaskdale is a little off the beaten path (albeit not terribly far from Toronto -- about an hour's drive north and east of the city, perhaps a little more or less, depending on your starting point) and certainly not as well known a LMM destination as Cavendish, the Prince Edward Island community where she grew up and where so many of her novels are based. (She also lived in Norval, northwest of Toronto, and spent her final years in Toronto itself.) 

But in recent years, Leaskdale has begun to assert its connection to Montgomery. The Lucy Maud Montgomery Society of Ontario has taken ownership of the historic Leaskdale church, as well as the nearby manse where LMM and her family lived.  The manse has been restored and redecorated with period furnishings to match how it looked when LMM lived there as closely as possible. Both buildings are open for tours during the summer & early fall months, and for special occasions and by appointment at other times during the year. The society receives no government funding, relying on private foundation grants, donations and fundraising.

After taking the tour (for which we were charged a mere $5 each), and a look around the well-stocked gift shop in the church basement, dh & I headed upstairs for an afternoon performance of "Maud of Leaskdale,"  a two-hour, one-woman show based entirely on the journals LMM kept during her years in the community (i.e., every word uttered onstage comes directly from the journals).  The young actress (from nearby Uxbridge) playing Maud (as she preferred to be known) is absolutely wonderful in the role ("Sometimes we think she really IS Maud," the volunteer who introduced the play told us, laughing, and it was easy to see why). Dh, who basically came along to humour me, admitted he thoroughly enjoyed himself, far more than he expected.

I think both of us visibly winced when "Maud," confiding to us her delight in finding herself pregnant for the first time in her late 30s, commented, "I always thought a childless marriage was a tragedy." (Ouch.)

But I forgave her, because (a) at that time, it WAS a tragedy for many women, who had no other outlet in their lives beyond family, and (b) I knew what was to come.

Her first son, Chester, arrived safely in 1912.  A while later (fall 1914), Maud told us that she was expecting Chester's little sister or brother... and shortly afterward, her face contorted with grief, cradling a small empty wooden cradle in her arms, she sobs as she tells us about how her baby (another son, Hugh Alexander) was born dead, how she never ever imagined this, how much she wanted and would have loved this child, while so many other children in the world go unwanted and uncared for.

As tears welled in my own eyes & I squeezed dh's hand, I marvelled at how, despite the century between us, the words Maud wrote/spoke could so easily have been written by any stillbirth mother today.  I knew about little Hugh; I had read the journals the play was based on. But there was incredible power in hearing those words spoken aloud, in having Maud's experience -- my experience, your experience -- given voice.

Hugh's death coincided with the beginnings of World War I, and both events cast a dark cloud over the next several months for Maud. No doubt she worked through some of her feelings as she wrote "Anne's House of Dreams," in which Anne & Gilbert suffer the loss of their first child, a little girl they name Joyce -- but as she finishes the novel, she admits to us that it has taken a lot out of her. (No kidding!!)

Maud refers to Hugh several other times during the play, including on his 9th birthday, wondering what he would have been like. (She had one other son, Stuart.) 

I was so pleased that the producers chose to include so much about this part of Maud's life in the play. It's not the only aspect of her life explored, of course, and there is laughter as well as tears to be had.  If you are in the Toronto area and are a LMM fan, it is well worth the trip -- but note that the play is only on through the end of August, and only on certain days.  See the society's website for further details. This is the third summer the play has been performed at the Leaskdale church;  with any luck, it will continue in summers to come.