Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter odds & ends

  • I know, it's been quiet around here lately... the muse just hasn't been with me.
  • It's Easter. Dh & I have been spending a quiet day at home alone -- as usual (see Easter 2008 20092010 and 2013)(unless you can count Aunt Flo as company :p ). As I said in my comment to Mel, I always start out thinking this year will be different and that Easter isn't going to bother me -- but then people start talking about their plans for the long weekend and what they're going to have for dinner and what they're doing for the kids, and then the photos of egg colouring sessions and candy hunts and Easter finery start flooding my Facebook feed....
  • It's also dh's cousin's son's 16th birthday. He's 6-7 months older than Katie would have been;  I was newly pregnant at his mom's baby shower. It was bittersweet to type out happy birthday wishes for him on his Facebook wall this morning.
  • Today's show on "The Vinyl CafĂ©" this morning on CBC Radio was spring-themed -- and after the story (which usually gets me sniffling at the best of times), they played the Beatles'  "Here Comes the Sun."  Hearing those words, "Little darlin', it's been a long cold lonely winter..." I started sobbing. It HAS been a long, long, dreary, grey, cold winter, and at times it felt like spring would never get here.
  • Work has been a real slog lately. More & more changes to deal with. Part of me feels I am really way too young to be thinking about retirement, and part of me just keeps repeating, like a mantra, "22 months... 22 months..." 
  • (This probably deserves its own post, but for now, this will have to do.)  The government of Ontario recently announced plans to fund one cycle of IVF with single-egg transfer -- something like five years after a blue-ribbon panel on family building issues recommended full funding of three IVF cycles (among other measures). Reaction has been mixed:  IVF advocates are disappointed that the government didn't go further, since just one single-egg transfer cycle will be funded (although I guess even that is progress). Others, of course, argue that IVF coverage is a "frill" that we can't afford in this economically constrained environment.  In fact, the health minister herself was saying not too long ago that the numbers just didn't add up;  suddenly, she's gushing about how she can't imagine life without her family and how the government wants to help more people realize that dream, etc. etc.  Of course, it's all still just a "plan" -- specific details TBA. And of course, there's an election in the offing -- which the government may very likely not win = a promise they won't have to deliver on. Call me cynical, but I'll believe it when I see it. 
  • ETA: I completely forgot to add that Pg Coworker wound up going back for the cerclage. She was off all last week but should be back next week. Everyone at work, of course, assumes that everything will be sunshine & roses from now on... fingers crossed that that is indeed the case...

Sunday, April 6, 2014

"All Joy and No Fun" by Jennifer Senior

Although I am not a parent (in the active sense, anyway), I am fascinated by parenting issues, and by how different childhood & parenting seem today from what I remember of my own experiences growing up. Today's style of intensive, "helicopter" parenting sometimes makes me wonder whether I could have cut it as a mom. (And sometimes makes me very glad that I don't have kids, if this is what it takes these days to pass as an acceptable parent.)

I've always found it interesting how parents could be screaming at their children & complaining about them in one breath, and then in the next ask when *I* was going to have kids and tell me how wonderful they were.  Gee, you're a walking advertisement. ;) 

This paradox is reflected in the title and explored in the pages of Jennifer Senior's new book, "All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood."  This is not so much a how-to manual or advice guide as a study of the challenges of modern parenthood, how those challenges are different from what parents of the past faced, and the impact of parenting on parents themselves. There is a nice balance of academic research (presented in a highly accessible way) and chats with/observations of real-life parents and kids.

Senior sets out and explores three reasons why modern parenting has become such a complicated affair: 
  • First, for the first time in history, parenthood is a choice -- when and whether to have children at all and, if so, how many. In the past, children were viewed as an economic necessity (to help with the family farm or business) or moral obligation;  today, children are seen as crowning achievements and sources of parental fulfillment. “Mothering and fathering aren’t just things we do," Senior observes. "Being a mother or being a father is who we are.”
  • Second, governments and businesses have yet to adjust to the influx of mothers into the workplace. Fathers, too are trying to figure out their new roles. 
  • Finally, childhood itself has been completely redefined in the years since the Second World War. As Senior observes, "Children went from being our employees to our bosses."  
Most of the book deals with the challenges of modern parenting. It isn't until the final chapter that Senior looks at the joy part of her equation.  She delves into the concepts of "the experiencing self" versus "the remembering self" -- which explains to some extent why, as I mentioned earlier, a parent can be screaming at their child in one breath and then a short time later rhapsodizing about the wonders of parenthood and encouraging you to join the club. Senior does acknowledge (albeit briefly) that children are not the only things that can invest a life with joy, meaning and purpose, which I appreciated as a childless-not-by-first-choice woman.

If you're a parent, you will likely find this book a source of validation and insight into your role. On the flip side, one review I read said that if you're on the fence about becoming a parent & read this book, you'll probably run away screaming. ;) (Or words to that effect.) I'm not sure about that -- we all know that parenting is hard. This book may not give you any firm answers as to whether you should take the plunge... but it sure raises some interesting questions. I enjoyed it! 

This is book #4 that I have read in 2014.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Surrounded

  • Back in January, I wrote about the latest office pregnancy (due in early September). At the time, I said: "So far, everyone's been too busy (and I guess it's still a bit early -- and not a lot of people know yet) for too much baby talk. But I know it's coming (especially with Grandma Coworker nearby, only too ready to offer advice)."
  • It's now April... and the time has come. And I am struggling with my emotions -- trying not to let my cynicism -- and my fear -- get the best of me.
  • Pg Cubicle Neighbour has started to show.  A few weeks ago, she went for an ultrasound. "The baby weighs about one pound and is the size of a lemon," she announced triumphantly afterward. 
  • I am surrounded by a bevy of mostly young, mostly single young women, mostly in their 20s or early 30s (many of them young/old enough to be my own daughters -- the youngest is, I think, just 22), & they are eating all this up.  Every day, they congregate just outside of my cubicle. There is lots of noisy, excited chattering, giggling, "awwwww!"s and belly pats.  The baby has been nicknamed, and votes are being taken on actual names. (It's a boy.)
  • Two other (male) coworkers' wives are also expecting this fall.
  • And Grandma Coworker's daughter is expecting her second in October. "Oh, we weren't saying too much, because after all, her first was a miscarriage, but she's seen the heartbeat & everything is fine!" she trilled to me this week. 
  • Then, this past week, Pg Cubicle Neighbour came in late from an appointment... and then left early. I heard her consulting with our manager about the wording of out of office messages. Manager came to talk to me.  I suppose she wanted to give me a heads up as a coworker -- plus she knows my story, saw my reaction when another of our coworkers lost her baby last year. She told me a developing issue had been detected at Pg Cubicle Neighbour's latest appointment, and she would be having "some minor surgery" immediately as a precaution. (Those of you who have been down this path can probably guess what kind.) 
  • Pg Cubicle Neighbour went back to her dr that afternoon for the surgery -- but the dr decided not to do it after all. Instead, she's been referred to the high-risk unit of the hospital for weekly monitoring. "Oh well, everything will be fine now!" all my other young coworkers have concluded. 
  • I wish I could believe that. :(
  • Pg Cubicle Neighbour mentioned something about the heartbeat. "He has a heartbeat??" one young coworker gasped. "Of course he has a heartbeat!" a slightly older & wiser coworker said scornfully -- which made me wince. "If you're LUCKY, he has a heartbeat," I thought silently to myself.
  • I don't want to be a grumpy old lady. I wish I could be as giddy and innocent and full of baby fever and delight as my young coworkers are. But I'm 53 years old, mother of a stillborn daughter, survivor of infertility.  I know more than I care to know about these things, and what can and sometimes does go wrong.
  • I try to join in the conversation occasionally, show some interest and make the odd comment. But it's tough, especially when they congregate right outside my cubicle and there's no escape -- unless I excuse myself, walk right by them all and leave the office for an early or unscheduled coffee break (which I will do, when I've really, really had enough).  Sometimes, I just want to (need to!) get some work done.
  • Heaven grant me patience....

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Saying goodbye to "How I Met Your Mother"

(WARNING: SPOILERS ABOUND!) 

Did anyone else watch the series finale of "How I Met Your Mother" last night? What did you think?

Overall, I was disappointed -- although it had its moments. I liked the points it made about the ebb and flow of friendship and how life changes -- HAS to change -- as you and your friends marry and have kids, focus on careers, and move further away from each other. But that you can still show up for the big moments and remember why you all loved being together so much. : ) 

But there was that ending...! 

Like many, I found myself yelling at the TV set when I realized that we had just spent nine years building up to Ted FINALLY meeting The Mother -- only to kill her off within minutes and have Ted wind up with Robin -- again!!  I know some people felt that Ted & Robin belonged together & should somehow end up that way. And while the two did have chemistry, so did Ted & The Mother. But it all just seemed too pat, too contrary to where the plot had been leading us. (Although I will admit -- I did love it when Ted produced the blue French horn at the very end.) 

And I was disappointed as a childless woman, too. Robin was one of the few childfree-by-choice female characters on television; the episode dealing with her subsequent discovery that she could not have children even if she did want them was so well done (for the most part) that I wound up writing two posts about it (here and here).

Last night, I felt a pang of recognition as Robin ranted to a very pregnant (for the third time!) Lily about why she found it hard to be around her friends: "The gang is a married couple who I never see anymore about to have a third kid, it’s my ex-husband hitting on slutty cops right in front of me and it’s the guy I probably should have ended up with with the beautiful mother of his child."  Even if she didn't want kids, she was feeling unloved and lonely and left out as her friends paired off, started families and turned their attention elsewhere. I think many of us in the ALI community, who have watched as friends effortlessly popped out one kid after another & then gradually drifted away, could relate. 

Robin could never be a mother (biologically, anyway) -- let alone THE Mother (and we knew that, since Future Ted & the kids referred to her as "Aunt Robin" throughout the series).  But, as I noted in my original post about the Robin/infertility episode, referring to viewer comments I read about the episode: 
I got a rueful chuckle out of how many were trying to figure out how Robin might wind up being a mother after all, even if she doesn't have biological kids (adoption? stepkids?)(She just HAS to be a MOM!!! Somehow!!! Right???)
Well, knock me over with a feather -- in the end, she did wind up as the stepmother to Ted's kids. We just can't have a woman on TV, especially the series' main love interest, go completely without children all her life, now, can we??!

Not only that, but Barney (of all people!!), winds up with a baby as well.  And while the scene was nicely played (I adore Neil Patrick Harris), and it was nice to see Barney finally become the guy we knew he could be (having seen glimpses of that guy when he was with Robin) -- the idea that Barney could only truly grow up and be redeemed through fatherhood -- that a baby is the ultimate answer to every problem -- is deeply disappointing. (Although, as one commenter I read pointed out, it was kind of funny -- karmic justice of sorts -- that the supreme womanizer wound up, not just as a doting dad but the doting dad of a baby GIRL.)

Did you watch? What did you think? Do you agree or disagree with anything I've written above?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

"And rest in unvisited tombs"

At the grave of my childless spinster great x3 aunt last fall.
"But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs." -- George Eliot, Middlemarch

I owe the above quote -- and inspiration for this post -- to Brooke, who included it as part of her comment on my recent post about the classic Victorian novel "Middlemarch" by George Eliot and the new book that it inspired Rebecca Mead to write, "My Life in Middlemarch."

Coincidentally, dh & I were visiting Katie's niche at the cemetery this weekend -- as we do most weekends -- and talking about who's going to come to visit us there when we're gone.

Our reluctant but realistic conclusion: nobody. Maybe the nephews once in a very great while, but it's an hour's drive for them, so I doubt they will make the trip very often, if at all.

It's kind of sad to think about. But it's true. And, if you think about it, realistically, how many graves are being visited regularly by relatives 10, 20, 50, 100 years after a person dies (if not for the immediate time afterward)?  (Especially when they don't have any direct descendants -- as will be the case with dh & me.)

Case in point: while dh is happy with our weekly trips to Katie's niche, he rarely visits the grave of his mother, who died more than 30 years ago (before I ever met her).  Part of it is distance -- it's about a half hour drive away, not an area of the city we often visit these days. I also suspect that visiting brings back some painful memories that he still has difficulty dealing with.

As another example, my grandparents are buried in a family plot with my great-grandparents & my grandmother's younger brother. But I -- one of the family genealogists -- had NO IDEA until about 15 years ago that both sets of my grandmother's grandparents -- i.e., my great-great grandparents -- as well as grandma's uncle -- were all buried together in yet another family plot, not far away. My mother & I found this other plot almost by accident. My grandmother had always made a fuss over her parents' graves, cleaning and planting around them on the U.S. Memorial Day weekend, but I don't ever recall her mentioning this other family plot or showing it to us. Go figure.

I know a lot of people -- even the other bereaved parents we know, online & "in real life" -- are surprised that we are still visiting Katie at the cemetery every week, almost 16 years after her stillbirth. The only weeks we've missed have generally been when we're away or when the weather has been really bad.  It's just a habit we've gotten into. The cemetery is a 15-minute drive away, more or less along the way to our usual weekend shopping, dining and movie spots. We'll stop by on our way to dinner &/or a bookstore visit on Saturday night, or en route to a movie on Sunday afternoon. We don't usually stay very long, but we miss it if we don't go.

We've brought other family members to Katie's niche over the years. FIL used to come occasionally by himself, in the beginning, but I don't think he has in many years now. Occasionally, our bereaved parent friends from support group, whose children are buried nearby, will come by to visit, just as we will occasionally stroll over to visit the graves of their children. Once all of us are gone, though....

But sometimes, people do visit.  

I've written before in this blog about my fascination with genealogy.

(As an aside -- I've often noted, and wondered, how it is that so many people who are keen on genealogy have no children themselves. I suppose the smartass answer would be that we're the only ones who have time for such things. I like to think that we're still contributing to the family history and growing the family tree... just in a different way. Most people add branches by sprouting new ones of their own.  People like me go looking for branches that have been lost in the mists of time, and reattach them to add to the fullness of the family picture. I find myself wanting to know more about these people, who they were, what they were like, what their lives were like;  what, if anything, of them, has lived on in me & the family members I know today.)

Last fall, we drove an hour & a bit north to enjoy the spectacular autumn colours and visit the graves of my great x3 grandparents & their daughter -- my grandfather's great-aunt -- the younger sister of my great-great grandmother, or, I suppose you could call her my great x3 aunt. I first visited there 30 years ago with my parents and, since it's really not that far from where we now live, dh & I have gone back several times since then -- often in the fall, when the leaves are at their prettiest. (My great x3 grandparents aren't even listed in the cemetery records as being buried there -- but my great x3 grandfather's newspaper obituary says he was buried there -- and there is enough space and, half buried in the grass, two tiny marble corner plot markers bearing the family name, which tells me they are indeed there.)

My great x3 aunt  -- unmarried & childless -- has been dead almost 65 years. I am willing to bet that my parents, dh & I are the only relatives to have visited her grave in the last 30 years. She's someone who could so easily have been forgotten, fading into the fog of history. And yet, as we (or at least my genealogist cousins & I) have come to realize our family, and our knowledge of our family's history, owes a great, great deal to this woman.

(Perhaps even more amazingly, as we have learned through our research, she was not actually related to us by blood at all, but was taken in as an infant by my great x3 grandparents and raised as one of their own.)(We've even managed to hazard a pretty good guess as to who her birth parents might have been.) 

While my great x2 grandmother and her family moved west in the late 1870s, great aunt x3 stayed on to care for their aging parents. After their deaths, the western branch of the family urged her to join them -- but she chose to stay in the little town where she had spent most of her life. She lovingly saved the letters that my great-great grandparents sent to her and her parents over the years -- letters that would be found after her death, copied and circulated among the extended family, pique my interest in the family history and provide invaluable information and clues for further research. 

She lived to be a very old woman, almost 90 years old, outliving most of the family members who knew and remembered her. She lived by herself, in a simple wooden house with dirt floors (!), supporting herself by weaving rag rugs for the townspeople. It's sad to think that she might have felt forgotten by her family near the end of her life. The letters she had once received from the west dwindled as the generation who knew her passed on;  occasionally, a great-niece or nephew would make a special trip to visit her.

But one of my cousins has a letter written by a neighbour (and sent to my cousin's grandmother), providing the details of great x3 aunt's death. She had reluctantly closed up her little house, moved into a care home for the winter, and became ill.  The neighbour wrote that she had been at great x3 aunt's bedside when she passed. The funeral would be held from the parlour of her own home, and how sad the community was to lose one of its oldest and most respected citizens. The neighbour later wrote a history of the town, crediting great x3 aunt in the introduction for her invaluable assistance. Apparently, the community owes great x3 aunt a great deal too.

I cried when I read that letter.  Great x3 aunt hadn't been alone in the end, but surrounded by neighbours who loved and respected her. 

Did she understand the positive impact her one, quiet life would have on so many people? Did ever imagine that, some 60 years later, her great x3 niece would be standing by her grave? Probably not.

Before dh & I left town to make the drive north that day, I asked him to stop off at the supermarket, so I could pick up a chrysanthemum plant to take and leave at the cemetery. He grumbled, impatient to be on the road -- but as I placed the pot beside the headstone, patted the granite & said, "Thank you, Aunt M.," he gave me a hug. "I'm glad you brought flowers," he said.

Unvisited tombs? You never know.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

"Otherhood" by Melanie Notkin

Melanie Notkin, founder of Savvy Auntie, has a marketer's knack for identifying and catering to a neglected market segment -- in this case, the growing number of women who don't currently and may never have children -- and coining catchy new terms to describe them/us -- including "PANK (Professional Aunt, No Kids)" and "circumstantial infertility."

Now Notkin has coined another catchy new term for those of us who are not moms. If you're a PANK, and not experiencing motherhood, you're part of the "Otherhood."

"Otherhood" is also the name of Notkin's new book. In her own words:
"We have gone without definition or visibility for too long. I am offering "Otherhood" as a name for our misunderstood group of women doing our best to live full and meaningful lives despite the frustrations of some of our most cherished longings. We, the Otherhood, who have yet to find our rightful, equitable, requisite place in society, deserve one....  
"Otherhood uncovers, explores, and examines this overlooked and misunderstood segment of contemporary women. Part anecdotal storytelling, part inspiration, part reportage and part manifesto, Otherhood sets out to get to the heart of the issues, enliven the societal consciousness, and trigger conversation in and around our tribe."

(Ironically, I found this book in the bookstore on a shelf along with "The Mom Shift" by Reva Seth and "French Parents Don't Give In" by Pamela Druckerman. ;)  )

I really wanted to like this book. I was predisposed to like it. After all, I'm part of the Otherhood.  It's a subject near & dear to my heart. And overall, it's a good book that makes some important points.

But I have a few reservations.

First: Notkin uses composite characters throughout her book -- "women and men whose identifying characteristics have been modified or blended with others to protect their privacy" (with the exception of the experts quoted). Some experiences and events have also been modified, compressed or out of chronological order. Notkin is, at least, upfront about her use of this literary device -- there's a note about it at the very start of the book. Even so, perhaps it's the journalist in me, but this does tend to make me a little uneasy.

Second, while Notkin's description of the Otherhood is inclusive of all childless women, and the book's introduction talks about the rise of childless women generally, the book is primarily directed to Notkin's own particular segment of the Otherhood -- women like herself, who are not just childless but childless because they are single and looking for love and marriage before motherhood (even if that means they never become a mother at all). If you're single, childless and hoping to be a mother, this is definitely the book for you. If you're married, some of the content might not be quite as compelling. 

That said, the final third or so of the book does move beyond the problem of finding a man to procreate with and delve into other reasons why women might find themselves childless as they enter their 40s. 

Third, the book isn't just heavily focused on single women, but on a very particular subset of them. As Publishers Weekly noted in its otherwise positive review: "the affluent Manhattan-centricity of the author's cohort may alienate less-privileged readers."  Even though Notkin laments that "'Sex and the City' remains the dominant pop cultural portrait of our supposed lifestyle," many chapters of the book read like... episodes of "Sex and the City," revolving around Melanie and her 40-something single friends -- who invariably have fabulously glamorous-sounding careers (there's Wynn, a fashion PR executive;  Rachel, a beauty industry executive; Stephanie, founder and CEO of an advertising agency;  Meredith, an Ivy League-educated attorney... you get the idea...) -- meeting at a lengthy list of chic Manhattan bars and restaurants (the book could also double as a NYC bar & restaurant guide) to sip cocktails, eat brunch, and talk about the men they've met and why they won't take responsibility for planning a single date, nevermind committing to a serious relationship.

I suppose she is just following that old piece of writerly advice, "Write about what you know" -- but the Otherhood isn't just a neighbourhood in Manhattan. It might have been nice if she had gone slightly outside of her comfort zone and made an effort to talk to childless women elsewhere in the U.S. (and in the world, for that matter) -- maybe in some smaller cities or even rural communities, where the pool of eligible men is a lot smaller. Maybe a few more secretaries, teachers, human resources managers, accountants, retail clerks...

With these caveats aside -- the book is worth a read. While some of the content is narrow in focus, it covers the issues facing single women who want to be mothers quite thoroughly. The introduction sets the stage well, outlining the reasons why so many 40-something women today find themselves without the children they wanted, and the final few chapters move beyond discussions of finding a partner to other issues such as infertility, egg freezing, single motherhood and dealing with partners who are reluctant to have children, or more children (as is often the case with men on their second or third marriages). 

With women like me, Notkin is obviously preaching to the choir. Hopefully her message will reach outside the Otherhood and provide some food for thought.

If you read "Otherhood," I'd be curious to hear what you thought of it!

This is book #3 that I have read in 2014 to date.

Article: "The no-baby boom"

This week's issue of Macleans, Canada's national newsmagazine, features a story called "The no-baby boom" by Anne Kingston -- illustrated with a large photo of everyone's favourite "will she or won't she (procreate)" poster girl (or, as the article dubs her, "the mother of all non-mothers"), Jennifer Aniston.

Macleans has run previous articles on pregnancy loss and childfree living that set my teeth on edge. This time, though, I think they've (finally!!) got it right.

Recent mainstream media articles on childfree living have tended to focus on the childfree by choice (case in point: the infamous Time magazine cover story from last summer). The Macleans article actually shines the spotlight (for once!!) on those of us who are childless/free-not-by-choice. It also talks about the often-neglected matter of "social infertility" or "circumstantial infertility/" (I don't particularly like the term -- I think it's hard enough to get people to take true medical infertility seriously as a problem without muddying the waters.  But I do agree single women who want to be married and have children are a segment of the childless/free world that tends to be ignored or left out in the kids/no kids discussion.)

For the most part, I think our stories have been presented thoughtfully and with respect. Maybe that's because the author has consulted and quoted some of the leading spokeswomen of our community -- including Jody Day of Gateway Women, Melanie Notkin (the Canadian-born founder of Savvy Auntie), and Lisa Manterfield of Life Without Baby, as well as francophone blogger Catherine-Emmanuelle Delisle of Femme Sans Enfant. She also mentions bloggers Pamela Tsigdinos & Tracey Cleantis.

Topics covered include:
  • The lack of positive role models for childless women.
  • There are many reasons why women might end up without children.
  • Childless women are a large and growing segment of the population.
  • The impact of "social infertility."
  • PANKs (Professional Aunts, No Kids) and their growing economic clout.
  • Some choices (to become a solo mother, freeze your eggs, rely on IVF, etc.) aren't true choices and are more complex than most people realize.
  • Discussion about childlessness is framed in terms of personal choice, failure and medical infertility, as well as cultural narratives of motherhood and womanhood, which tends to shut down conversation.
  • Women outside the maternal matrix are suspect, a threat to the status quo.
  • Things are changing and childless women are becoming increasingly vocal.
  • Rising childlessness and the fetishization of motherhood are linked, and the result of fundamental societal shifts. New models are required and being shaped.
Read it and let me know what you think!