madcap misadventures in infertility, pregnancy, and parenthood


Full scribble

I'm feeling reflective today. Maybe it's because this morning I had a moment of perfect happiness with Ben, watching his face uncrumple from sleep as he rubbed his eyes with his fists — such a thoroughly little-kid move that I haven't stopped smiling yet. Maybe it's because Charlie turns ten next week, his birthday coming hard on the heels of World Prematurity Day, when I spend the day thinking, I almost missed this. So many do. (No, I cannot explain this picture. Why are we not holding him?) Maybe it's because a friend pointed me to the latest papal finger-wagging about IVF, and I realized I just couldn't muster much indignation. Which is weird. I'm generally up for taking the Popemobile for a spin. This time around I feel quieter.

I made myself cry in the shower imagining the things I'd say if we took turns at the Thanksgiving table expounding on our gratitude. We don't, so I'll just stare really hard at each child in his turn. I'll touch my earlobe discreetly to remind Charlie not to bellow. I'll gently daub at the gravy Ben will have splashed into his ears. When I catch Paul's eye over the ruin the kids have made of the table, my look will say, Can you believe this? 


You know what's weird? Taking your walking, talking child for a tour of an IVF clinic. I was invited to an open house hosted by former doctors of mine who've struck out on a new venture. I took Charlie with me for reasons of convenience. ...As I type that I hear such a strange echo of the 2003 infertility blogspace. The discussion of whether it was ever appropriate to take a child to a clinic with you was freighted with so much pain that I can't make light of it a decade on.

Easy_bakeBut I can make light of this: you know what's even weirder? Taking your walking, talking, child for a tour of an IVF clinic, repeatedly reminding him not to touch the microscope, the ultrasound machine, or whatever you call those Easy-Bake Ovens used by the embryologist. And introducing Charlie to a staffer, who turned to the doctor and asked, "Oh! Is he one of yours?" (Ha ha ha no.) And having myself introduced with a laugh as "our most spectacular failure." And making this crisp correction: "It's pronounced favorite patient." 

I don't know, it sort of feels like coming full circle at last. Or not as simple as a circle: It's more like I've come full scribble.


It's not like you forget it, the grind of infertility, once you've had children and distance. The best way I can describe it is that it's no longer who I am, but it's still who I have been. (It will never be who I was. I wonder if that's true for anyone.)

These concrete reminders surface every now and then. I cleaned out an old suitcase this summer, destined for a yard sale. In its outside zipper pocket I found an airline boarding pass. May 2004, the trip I took to the clinic where Charlie was conceived.

In the chilly basement closet where we store our wine, I found a package of old-school glass ampules, fertility drugs bought cheap from a pharmacy in Gibraltar. Why I didn't use them, I no longer remember — it was more than ten years ago. Why I didn't pass them along — well, I wonder that myself. Why I'd stashed them with the wine, I do not wonder at all.

This, I still had on my desk, unused in that last cancelled cycle


I wrapped it in a pretty box to give to my former doctors as a clinic-warming present. The note I put inside the box: "Sprinkle liberally to ward off evil."


Eight cycles. Two kids. I wear them around on the spot where the blood was drawn.


Posted by Julie at 11:07 AM in Ben there, done that, Charles in charge | Comments (8)



I have five minutes before I leave for the dentist, where I will be scrupulously honest about exactly how often I floss, so this is going to be what the young 'uns call a microblog. I just wanted to record a few recent observations about life at Hippie Do As You Please School.

  1. Charlie is learning to weld. A parent brings in, I don't know, a travel forge or something, sets it up in a convenient alcove, and...teaches kids to weld. On welding days Charlie comes home incandescent with happiness, full of stories of what thing he welded to what other thing. (The stories...are kind of short: Rod, rod. Bolt, plate. Piece of metal, other piece of metal. But wait! There's a twist! It's two different kinds of metal. Cue dramatic tension, optional shriek of horror. And there...on the door...was a hook. WELDED TO IT!) Now, he may not be learning his times tables, which fact is where any remaining unease I have about HDAYPS seats itself, but I guess that'll be okay. Whenever he needs to combine large sets of numbers, I'll just suggest a big blob of solder.

  2. The other day I picked him up early at school to go get a flu shot. (Outrage! "The nurse hurt me instead of healing me! How is that even allowed?!" Yes! She did! And what's more, she hurt you because I asked her to.) I came in while the kids were reading — some stretched out on the floor, one draped odalisqueishly across an armchair, one improbably contorted, like, I did not know joints worked that way; perhaps they need re-welding. All were quiet and absorbed. I don't know, I guess I don't have a point, except that it's such a small thing to let a kid get comfortable to do his work. It's such a low-stakes trade-off, you know?

    (...Charlie was sitting upright at a desk, as nice as any public school pleases, as perverse as his mama made him.)

  3. As Charlie was packing up his things, having cleaned out his art cubby earlier that day, his teacher approached holding a tiny slip of paper, maybe a half inch wide and an inch long — tiny. The tiniest scrap, but covered with pencilled writing. She showed him and asked, "Is this important? I think it fell out of your cubby." And it wasn't, but it could have been, and she cared enough to check.

(Okay, so I didn't, in fact, finish this before I went to the dentist, but now you can read this post through a cloud of minty freshness. "You have great teeth," the dentist told me. "And gums, too," said the hygienist. "It's because deep down I'm a very good person," I modestly explained. And then they both laughed, like they thought I might be less than scrupulously honest.)

Posted by Julie at 11:57 AM in Charles in charge | Comments (10)


Que la raison ne connaît point

This "news" is not new, now eight months old, but I just saw it this week:

IVF technology is overused and has health risks for babies, landmark article in British Medical Journal argues

Women should ensure they have exhausted all options before resorting to IVF, according to international experts concerned the procedure is being overused. [...]

Fifteen global experts co-wrote the article expressing concern over what they say is the liberal use of IVF in many countries.

The article warns extended use of IVF increases the risk of harm, with multiple pregnancies associated with complications for mothers and infants, and even single babies born through IVF, who have worse outcomes than those conceived naturally.

Concern has also been raised about the long-term health of children born through IVF, the article notes.

Children conceived by IVF may have higher blood pressure, body fat distribution, glucose levels, and more generalised vascular dysfunction than children conceived naturally.

"Until these concerns are resolved, there should be caution about using IVF in couples when the benefit is uncertain or the chances of natural conception are still reasonable," say the authors.

They say there is "a lack of will" to question the perceived success of IVF.

DodoBut in fact, we did question IVF, the process and why we chose it, over and over again. Even now I sometimes revisit the reasons. Here forthwith et cetera.

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time Because:

  1. Finally galvanized by a marathon of Hoarders, I wanted to get rid of the moldering towers of Benjamins that threatened to engulf us. (I was going to set them on fire but my Zippo was out of fuel. I think I used it up the last time I sparked up a dodo.)

  2. My ovaries had become so despondent and disillusioned, so downright anhedonic, that I'd have done anything just to make them take an interest in the world again. ...Aw, now there's that smile I love!

  3. I needed a creative outlet, and Paul wouldn't let me fancy up his jeans.

  4. I live in a pretty small town. I had run out of strangers to disrobe for.

  5. Porn. We did it for the porn. ...What. It was the doctor-recommended kind. Medicinal porn.

  6. Our sex life was so histrionically hot that the neighbors were complaining. Rather than risk their calling the cops, it seemed safer to eradicate my sex drive entirely.

  7. I wanted to have plenty of ammunition for when my theoretical-future children were theoretical-future ungrateful. "I carried you for nine months and gave you life!" is nice and all, I guess, good enough for most occasions, but being able to lean in and whisper, "Chinese hamsters. Nun pee," well, that kicks things up a notch.

And whaddya know, more than ten years in, I still feel okay about it. Even with suboptimal outcomes.



Posted by Julie at 12:21 PM in Ben there, done that, Charles in charge, I've learned a lot...but I'm not sure it's worth it. | Comments (16)


Songs of Innocence and of Experience

Playmobil_reaperYou know, Ben's morbid bent doesn't surprise me anymore. Over spring break we rented an apartment in Boston, the better to let Charlie mingle with his people. As Ben and I explored the neighborhood together, he noticed a cemetery."It's convenient that our apartment is near a graveyard," he said conversationally, "in case one of us dies during this vacation."

He wouldn't drop the subject until I promised to take him there — but not that night, I told him, since we needed to get back for dinner. 

"Tomorrow," he specified. Sure, I said. "In the morning," he insisted. "First thing."

So to Auburn Cemetery we went, chilly, rainy, and early.


He was disappointed to realize, after I'd patiently read about two dozen epitaphs, that there was a pattern — name, birth date, date of death — with no gruesome details on offer, but don't worry! He perked right up when we came to a row of tiny children's headstones.


We only left when he fell to the ground, thrashing in misery. If passersby had seen him, it would have looked like he was flinging himself about in abject woe, perhaps over the loss of a loved one — too soon, too soon! — but actually he was raging. "WHY would they want to lock off the MOST INTERESTING PART of this graveyard?!"

I don't know, kid, but may I say I approve of your choice of mourning attire?

So knowing his fascination for what other people might consider, you know, kiiiind of creepy for a six-year-old, I wasn't concerned yesterday by the heap of Playmobil bodies in the playroom. It did give me pause that they were situated right next to where the digging happens...

Photo 1

...but that mild concern was forgotten once I noticed they'd all been scalped.

"Ben," I asked him, "where'd their hair go?"

"Wig dump," he said nonchalantly...


...and went about his ghoulish business.

Posted by Julie at 12:42 PM in Ben there, done that | Comments (21)


Nor custom stale

Rough morning. Charlie's rocking and rolling, objecting to everything, construing even the mildest guiding word as a slur against his honouuuur. After sixty or seventy gentle remonstrances, quiet redirections, and calm changes of subject, I'm starting to lose my cool. I finally fling away my patience with both hands and tell him to go, just gooooooooooo. GO get in the CAR before I go all cannibal hamster and eat my tender pink young.

His parting salvo is "Ben never has to get sent anywhere when he's behaving badly!"

The door slams and Ben runs over to it. Ben, you see, is helpful.

He opens it, leans out, and calls after Charlie, "I did! I got sent to my room yesterday! When I said that mean thing to you!"

And repeats that mean thing once more. Ben, you see, is helpful.

And I say to Paul, ignoring Charlie's sputters audible from the garage, "You know how some people look in despair at their lives and ask, 'When did I turn into my mother?' I'd love to be like my mother." My mom was in every way better than this.

Ben, behind me on the stairs, struggling into his snow pants, says, "If you want to be like your mom, just buy some fake wrinkly skin."

And typing this now, I have to laugh. Not only am I not momming right, I'm not even momblogging right. If I were, "fake wrinkly skin" above would have an affiliate link.

Posted by Julie at 09:49 AM | Comments (19)


Short list, long post

A Brief List of What Has Improved Since Charlie Started at Hippie Do As You Please School

  1. Everything

There. See you again in six months!

...Perhaps I'll get more specific. But first I'll have to work hard to cast my mind back to where we were at the end of second grade. It's a little hard to remember, because human consciousness mercifully retains only the outlines of past agony instead of actually recreating the sensation of repeatedly dropping an anvil on your foot every time you recall it. Just, K through 2 were hell on a pedicure, is all I'll say about that.

This year is different. Instead of tears, anger, and outbursts in the morning, we have...okay, tears, anger, and outbursts, but those are mine and occasioned only by five-year-old Ben's insistence on putting his boots on before his snow pants. (That's not true. I don't cry. No, at times like that I merely lean on the newel post, wearily wait for the storm to pass, and think about adding Drāno to my second cup of coffee.)

This year, Charlie's happy to go to school. Once he's there, he's involved, engaged, productive, and — this is the part where the tears do well up — a part of the community. Not the bullshit kind of community, where the teacher stations him next to the class's most compliant student and tells him to watch, learn, and do juuuust like she does...thaaat's right..., but the kind where, when he walks down the hall, kids call out his name, tell him his glasses look cool, and want to work with him on projects. What's even more remarkable is that he wants to work with them.

He's come a very long way socially, too, and while I can't say that that's entirely due to a change in schooling, since he's another year older and presumably more mature, and since we also compel him, over his protests, to serve time at a Weekly Hateful Social Coaching Gulag, I do see positive changes that have their roots in HDAYPS. If I had to guess, I'd say the most obvious factor is the council meeting — the school's community-based, consensus-building method of conflict resolution.

PiggyI will pause for a moment to let you wave a fond goodbye to Piggy as he plunges off that cliff. And may I say that loincloth really brings out the color of your eyes?

All right. Now back away from the precipice, if you please. The idea isn't quite that hippie-do-as-you-please. As with so many aspects of this particular HDAYPS program — and surely others, but they're beyond my ken — there's a thoughtful, consistent set of principles quietly at work, giving heft, if you will, to the loincloth.

Here's how it works. When you have an issue with someone and ordinary methods of problem-solving have failed — meaning you've already tried to work out your differences directly with that person; you've enlisted the help of a teacher or older student to achieve resolution; and you've asked the person to stop the problematic behavior — any student or teacher can call a council meeting.

Prayer-flagWhen a meeting is called, everyone in the school drops what they're working on — do you know how hard it is for me not to suggest six to ten hilarious examples? — and gathers. By vote, the group selects a moderator, who then guides the meeting, asking questions like, "Who called this meeting?" "Why did you call it?" and "Why didn't you stop when she asked you to?" Interested parties raise their hands to speak; people discuss how the behavior or issue at hand affects the community; brainstorming sometimes takes place; and usually the person who called the meeting is asked what they need in order to feel that the matter has been resolved — an apology, for example, or a rule change. There may be motions made and voted upon, and eventually the meeting is adjourned. ...You know, so the kids can get back to making unicorn bridles out of fair-trade hemp dyed with windfall nutshells and festooned with Tibetan prayer flags LOOK YOU PEOPLE I AM NOT MADE OF STONE.

And there's a lot that can be taken from this. What I see Charlie internalizing is the recognition that one person's behavior has an impact on his community. That people have opinions — often strong ones — about the way we act. That those opinions influence whether they want to spend time with us. These are things he's been told before, of course, but never really heard. Now it seems he's listening.

The other thing he seems to be developing is the confidence to take responsibility for his actions, to accept that he's accountable to others besides himself, and to trust that nothing really bad is going to happen if he owns up to making a bad choice once in a very great while. The council meetings are teaching him that, by example if not directly. (His sole council meeting star turn thus far has had to do with blurting in class. "Of course it did," I said to his teacher, interrupting her mid-sentence.)

His learning is evident when he talks about the meetings he's attended, just in the language he uses. "Wasn't very considerate of the people who were trying to concentrate." "Weren't going to play that game with him if he chose not to follow the rules." "Didn't know it was bothering so many people, but it was." "Asked us to help by reminding her if she does it again."

And I could go off on a whole long angry sputter about how his public school disciplinary experience suggested pretty much the opposite of every single one of those things, but how 'bout I just skip that anvil because, hey, look! my toes have healed.

There's more to school than belonging, certainly, and other reasons we send kids there beyond fostering emotional self-actualization: academics, right? Those achievements and abilities we measure with tests, grades, and standards...?

And that's where I feel on shakiest ground when I talk about HDAYPS. What can I say? I fight my own prejudices every day when I don't ask, "But what are you learning?" I've seen enough of Charlie's work product to know that he is doing what anyone would recognize as traditional academics — but not only that, or even primarily that, and certainly not in the quantity he did at public school.

So how will we know that he's learning? This is the question I ask myself often, worrying at it like a hangnail I must...keep...picking. But it's not really the right question for me to ask about Charlie, who, like most kids, can't help learning if you get out of their way. He'll learn. The more relevant question is what exactly it is he needs to learn.

To give that question rhetorical zing, I could put any handful of things in inflammatory opposition to each other. What's more important to learn: which animals are indigenous to Africa, or the rewards of successful collaboration? decimal division, or that his curiosity is precious and worth celebrating? writing in cursive, or his own inherent value to his community — and the value of each of us to one another?

He needs to learn it all. It's all important. It's just not all important right now. The way I feel about it is similar to how I felt about giving him ADHD meds: you have to turn down the static before he can receive the teaching. What's important right now, we think as we grope our way through it, is that Charlie feel good about learning.

And he didn't. I feel very small admitting this, but since exposing one's own ass is basically what the Internet is for, I'll go ahead and confess it: I had no idea how deep an impact his negative school experience was having on the rest of his life. He never articulated it as such, but in retrospect I see that he must have felt terribly anxious. I mean, maybe post hoc ergo propter hoc and all that cautious Caesary hand-waving, but once that pervasive stressor was neutralized, everything else improved. He's sleeping better. He's more helpful at home. He's more patient with Ben, more flexible, more cooperative, and more receptive to correction. Why, he's become the easily-manipulated designer-baby accessory child we always dreamed of!

He is also doing better by his own measures. He sees that his gifts are appreciated. He feels respected, encouraged, and coached instead of hectored and disapproved of. He gets to work on what's important to him, at least for part of his day. He looks forward to tomorrow instead of meeting it with dread. They let him use a glue gun, y'all — do I need to say more than that?

Wait, turns out I do need to say one thing more. At our most recent conference, Charlie's teacher told us, "I'm so glad he's in our class." Another teacher stopped us in the hall to say, "I love your son." Until it was relieved by a few simple words, I didn't know how deep my own anxiety ran. Now let me borrow your loincloth — I've gone all teary again.

Posted by Julie at 02:12 PM in Charles in charge | Comments (52)