Barren Bitches Book BrigadeWelcome to the Barren Bitches Book Brigade, featuring It Sucked, and Then I Cried by Heather Armstrong of dooce.com.

(Note: pregnancy and children mentioned.)

If you are in a relationship right now, do you relate to how Heather talks about her husband, Jon, and what a great father and life partner he is? From what she described about Jon, what qualities do you have or want in your life partner?
I truly have the best husband ever, in a thousand ways that I don’t currently have the mental wherewithal to enumerate.

Here is an exchange we had today which illustrates why he is so fantastic. Before this conversation, I was very grumpy from spending the day with an unpleasant NICU nurse plus physical pain.

DH, cheerfully: The babies would have been 35 weeks today.
Me, zombie-like: Oh, I forgot it’s Tuesday. Tuesday used to be the special day. Now Saturday is the special day, because they were born on a Saturday.
DH, almost jumping up and down with enthusiasm: Now that we have babies, every day is the special day!

And then I burst out crying. And then he hugged me, while driving.

I have only watched him as a father for a week and a half, but already he has surprised me so much, all in good ways. I need to write a separate post about the changes I have seen in him — stay tuned.

Heather obviously has a very distinctive writing style that comes across in both her blog and her book. What do you think has made Heather such a famous blogger? Her writing style, honesty, or something else? Do you write with the same passion and honesty that Heather does?

Dooce is many things to many people. My husband mostly cares about the pictures of Chuck and Coco, her dogs. I often enjoy her Daily Style feature and her photography, but the big draws for me are her humor and her posts about parenting. Our personalities are clearly very different, but I think I write with as much passion and honesty as I have to give.

If you had postpartum depression to the degree Heather describes, would you have the courage to check yourself into a psychiatric ward? (It’s hard to say when it’s not actually happening in your own life, but I’d be curious to know if there are some people who are completely against it, some who would do it if they felt there was no other way, etc.)
I’d like to think so. I’d also like to think that I would nip it in the bud more, rather than letting the problem get that severe. In the past week and a half, when I’ve been more emotional than usual because of post-birth hormone changes, my husband has been quick to point out the contrast between that and my usual logical self. If I were to develop severe depression, the further I got from myself, the more I think he’d try to help me pull myself back in.

Heather Armstrong writes candidly and unapologetically about all aspects of her life – the good, the bad and the ugly. What, if anything, in your life that would you like to be as unapologetic about? What’s the first step you could take? What’s holding you back?
Infertility, of course. I’ve already taken the first step: since giving birth, I have straightforwardly explained the babies’ origins whenever anyone has asked whether twins run in the family (which is surprisingly often, given that I haven’t talked to anyone outside the hospital). Strangers are becoming easy, but telling the truth about infertility to friends and family is another hurdle entirely. I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever get over feeling like it’s just none of their business.

The author’s blog is well-known for her biting sense of humor, interspersed with expressions of deep emotion toward her children and husband. Although there was plenty of humor, I found the book to be much heavier on emotion than I expected based on reading her blog. On your own blog, how much emotion do you express? Is that more or less than you tend to express in real life?
This was one of the questions that I wrote. Heather Armstrong offers such an unusual combination of sarcasm and raw emotion. In real life, I am very guarded with emotional expression. On BabySmiling, I am considerably more expressive.

For years I have enjoyed Dooce’s monthly newsletters about her daughter. They combine snapshots of Leta’s growth, snarky humor, and pure love. I think that I will be comfortable expressing emotion directly to my children, but it feels strange to think of writing emotional public newsletters under my real name for friends and family (and strangers) to read. Do I save the emotion for BabySmiling, even though it goes against the mandate of the blog as an infertility blog? Do I write the letters privately? Do I remain guarded and let the emotions go undocumented? Probably not the latter, but I’m still figuring this one out.

Whatever I do, I certainly appreciate the precedent that Dooce has set, in terms of non-maudlin emotional expression as well as acknowledging the hard work of belonging to a family.

The author talks about how she imagined her future children before becoming pregnant:

When you’re childless and young and hopeful, you have this idea of what your children are going to be like, and you make mental notes when you see other kids in public. You say to yourself, “My kid will be cute like that,” or “My kid won’t ever throw a tantrum in public like that little demon.” I had always envisioned a sweet little princess who looked just like me sitting quietly in a high chair, her pressed velvet petticoat creased perfectly as she sat and waited to be handed things in a timely manner. And then you grow up and have kids and realize that YOU HAVE NO SAY…

Before starting to try to conceive, how did you imagine your future children? If you now have children, how did your expectations fit reality?
This was the other question that I contributed. When I wrote it I had not yet given birth, and now I have. I don’t know much about my babies yet, but I certainly know more than I knew a couple of weeks ago. I really had no idea how they would look; it turns out that one of them looks so much like my husband, and one of them rather looks like me. One has hair color and features that I didn’t think could happen on a child of mine. One seems to have their father’s temperament, and one mine. Between looks and temperament, each of them has some of him and some of me. As for the rest of it, I’ll have to get back to you in a few years.

In terms of imaginings, I’ve mostly envisioned my children having the kinds of traits that would enable me to engage in activities like museums and world travel with them at a young age: intelligence, patience, curiosity, gentle demeanors. DH likes to say that it will depend on whether they are “his” children or “my” children. If they take after me as a child, by age 7 they will be leading the way through the Louvre, floor plan and guidebook in hand. If they take after him as a child, they will never make it inside the Louvre and instead will gather a crowd of Parisian children into impromptu game of tackle football in the Jardin des Tuileries. Hey, either way, Paris is Paris, right?

Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at Stirrup Queens. You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.

Barren Bitches Book Brigade Welcome to the Barren Bitches Book Brigade, featuring Moose by Stephanie Klein.

I wasn’t a fat kid; I was a not-skinny kid. The start of puberty was not kind to me (was it kind to anyone?), and my 8th grade yearbook picture crosses the line into chunky territory, but generally others perceived me as “normal.” However, I was often the heaviest girl around, especially because I was involved in all sorts of activities that encourage extreme thinness, like dance, gymnastics, and figure skating. Once, a skating coach said to me, “I think it’s good that you’re healthy, not so skinny like all these other girls.” And that was in the late 80s, when standards for thin were much less emaciated than today.

Still, most girls were skinny, and I was not skinny. So in my mind, I’ve always been a fat girl. I couldn’t trade clothes with other girls. I was self-conscious about wearing shorts. I consumed SlimFast — not as meal replacement shakes, but as raw powder out of the can (just like I ate Nestle Quik, Ovaltine, hot chocolate mix…).

The very first time I ever thought that I might not be a fat girl after all, I was in my mid-20s. My best friend from grad school (who, I must note, is a size 0) was talking about a woman who was a couple years ahead of me in our program. That woman is pear-shaped to the extreme: top half average, bottom half obese. My friend was explaining how the woman’s weight had grown over the past few years and said, “When she started grad school, she was normal. Like me or you.”

What?!? My size 0 friend and I (size 12-ish, consisting mostly of breasts, plus some extra tummy) were not comparable. I was closer to our pear-shaped classmate, wasn’t I? Wasn’t I?

Reading Moose has confirmed that I am closer in spirit to my size 0 friend (who maintained the 0 through Weight Watchers, having been a “heavy” size 4 before) than to the pear-shaped classmates and Mooses of the world. Many of the emotions Klein describes resonate with my adolescent self, but the desperation she describes for food is totally foreign to me. Anyone could be normal-sized with my take-it-or-leave-it desire for food, just like no one would have a drinking problem if they were as nonchalant about alcohol’s effects as I am. But, faced with what she describes as a true addiction to food, overeating and obesity seem almost like destiny.

Aside from the weight issues, I most enjoyed Moose for three things:

  1. The seamless way she integrates the main narrative with older and newer memories.
  2. The description of early adolescent sexuality, solo and partnered. Even if her desire for sex, like her desire for food, was more extreme than my own, it’s the truest depiction of young girls’ unspoken fascination with sex that I’ve ever seen.
  3. The disingenuity of adolescent emotional expressions, particularly when she starts a big fight with Adam then admits that it was all a show. I’ve seen it so many times, mostly in others but occasionally in myself: acting out a script of the way people supposedly act, as depicted in teen movies, sitcoms, books… One of my sisters-in-law, whom I have previously described as a sociopath, has done this throughout her adolescence. She punches DH on the arm because that’s what little sisters do to big brothers. When she’s away, she talks about how much she misses her friends several times a day, because that’s what people with friends are supposed to do. She temporarily breaks up with boys over minor issues because that’s what teenage relationships are right, or so she’s seen on TV. I never know when she’s feeling real emotion and when she’s acting out a scene from an after school special.

In the first chapter, Klein talks about her reluctance to gain weight during her twin pregnancy as a result of her childhood obesity. How have body image issues affected you during infertility? Pregnancy? Post-pregnancy?
During infertility treatments, FSH injections made my tummy, which has always been out of proportion with the rest of my body, bigger. The scale didn’t reflect it, but my pants were tighter and there was clearly more padding in my lower abdomen. Because I started out not-skinny, no one ever said anything and I don’t know if anyone even noticed, but I didn’t appreciate the side effect — especially when no babies were resulting from the treatments.

But, when I would pass myself in a mirror or the reflection on a window, I’d often pause and imagine my midsection much bigger from pregnancy. Finally I would have an excuse to have a big tummy! I was ready to embrace having an enormous belly, if it came with a baby inside.

Since being pregnant with twins, I’ve actually struggled to gain more weight — not a problem I ever fathomed having. Heartily convinced by the twin books that weight gain is key to preventing premature birth, I have been eating the most fattening foods I can, every couple of hours, for months — and I can barely keep up. Between being a vegetarian and having strong food aversions in the first four months to anything that might help me gain weight (particularly sweets and fatty foods), it has required enormous effort to keep up with the babies’ nutritional needs and put on the amount of weight recommended for a healthy twin pregnancy.

I haven’t stopped catching my reflection in mirrors and windows — in fact, I do it constantly now. It’s vain, really. I am so enamored with my growing belly, stretch marks and all, just as I am enamored with all that’s going on inside. Part of my joy comes from the years of infertility and finally achieving what eluded me for so long. But really, part of it is that I’ve never looked better. Later, I’ll go back to having a big blah tummy, but for now I have a big beautiful tummy!

Stephanie describes how she would picture herself slim, and how that image did not look like her at all. Did you/do you picture yourself slim and if so who do you model yourself on? Are you realistic when you imagine the slim you or do you picture someone you could never be like?
The imaginary slim Me isn’t that different from the normal version of Me wearing the right clothes, such as tailored suits. I don’t think I’ve ever, since puberty, been as slim as the imaginary Me (nor as slim as the BMI charts say I should… but BMI is bogus anyway), but ultimately I don’t know if that imaginary Me is something I even want. There was a point in my early 20s when I thought seriously about how I should approach my weight. I could work out more and watch what I ate, or I could do what I wanted and be satisfied with myself. I have chose and have stuck to the latter, in large part as a conscious feminist decision not to accept poor self-esteem as a way of life.

Stephanie Klein writes “Years later I’d feel slightly superior because I’d once been fat. That’s the thing…when asked if I’d change my past if I could, I think for a moment and always answer no. There’s something…that just makes it mildly worth it. Because a sensitivity is tattooed on a part of you no one else can see but can somehow guess is there. It’s always with you.” How do you relate to this with regards to infertility?

I do feel secretly superior for having gone through this long journey, as if I will truly love my children more than those who conceived easily. I can’t judge whether that’s really accurate (and I know that lots of fertile women — but not all — love their children plenty). I do know that infertility has made me more sensitive to all sorts of difficulties that others encounter, in family-building and in other aspects of life. I can’t say whether I’m a better person than anyone else, but I’m a better person than I was before.

Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at Stirrup Queens. You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: It Sucked, And Then I Cried by Heather Armstrong (aka Dooce).

Barren Bitches Book Brigade Welcome to the Barren Bitches Book Brigade, featuring Navigating the Land of If by Melissa Ford (a.k.a. Lollipop Goldstein, the Stirrup Queen!).

I wish I’d had this book years ago. Unlike my collection of pregnancy books, which was vast and exhaustive even before I started trying to conceive, I never bought infertility books and instead relied on the internet and information from health professionals — most books seemed either too medical or too mushy. As a result, I don’t have much basis of comparison, but considering the quality of the information on Mel’s blog compared to information from other sources, it’s safe to say that this book should become the definitive resource for anyone dealing with any aspect of infertility, loss, or adoption, as well as those who love them (basically everyone).

Probably the greatest strength of this book is the way that it integrates all aspects of the journey toward having children. There are infertility books, and loss books, and adoption books, but someone dealing with more than one of these (as so many of us do) doesn’t have a comprehensive way to integrate them. Mel created a similarly comprehensive resource for children in the form of a music video about family-building, and now it’s the grown-ups’ turn.

One feature that was simultaneously helpful and strange was the Decision List in Chapter 3. It asks for your priorities, and compares those to the different family-building methods. It’s a very rational way to consider and choose different options, but I don’t know that it’s realistic. Donor gametes and surrogacy are presented as equal choices to the others, but it seems very unlikely that someone would choose those options without having tried and failed on their own first. If you went to a doctor and asked for donor eggs without ever having done treatments (lower-intervention treatments like drugs or higher-intervention treatments like IVF), would the doctor comply? Would a surrogate agree to work with a couple who’d never tried any treatments and maybe didn’t have a diagnosis yet? What about the medical mandate to start with the least invasive treatments? It seems like there’s an order of operations that most people follow, and that the order exists for good reasons. But, that being said, I appreciate how the Decision Plan puts all of the options on the table — because most of them seem out of the question for most of us when we’re starting out. I also appreciate the attempt to bring rational decision-making to an irrational process.

The book also contains a healthy dose of Mel’s narrative voice — particularly humor, kindness, and quirky metaphors. What other infertility/adoption/loss book is going to give you a recipe for banana cake?

If you don’t already have your copy, get it! Get it now!

One of the funniest parts of the book is the Q&A section about how to respond to inappropriate questions. Mel addressed several of the most common questions, but there are plenty more! Give an example of a rude, ignorant, annoying or inappropriate question you’ve been asked during your IF experience, that wasn’t already in the book, and write your own gentle, firm and free-for-all responses to the question.
The question that we’ve gotten the most is, “When are you going to have kids?” I guess being together for 15 years and being married for almost a dozen of those will have that effect on people.

Kind: When G-d decides that it’s time.
Firm: Not everyone has the luxury of deciding the timing of such things.
Free-For-All (recycled from a post I wrote almost a year ago), family version: Having seen all of the horrible parent-child relationships in this family, we’ve decided not to reproduce.
Free-For-All, non-family version: Actually, we already had a baby, but I had to give it to this guy named Rumpelstiltskin.

Chapters four and five cover the issues of telling others about your IF struggles and handling the comments if you do. What approach (proactive, reactive, evasive, or lying) have you used with your close friends and family? If you have told, have you gotten any surprising reactions, and how have you handled those? If you haven’t told, has this omission created any friction as people make assumptions or comments about your lack of pregnancy?

With family and most friends, evasive and lying. With a few close friends, reactive or occasionally proactive. Since getting pregnant, we’ve told a couple more people, but currently have a reactive stance — if they ask us, we’ll tell them, but we won’t volunteer information about IF until they ask. Given how some of our family members have been dealing with the pregnancy, offering intrusive suggestions and “help” almost daily, I couldn’t be happier that we kept quiet all these years. There have been a few incidents of friction, many of which I’ve blogged about periodically, but mostly it’s been much better this way than it would have been if we’d been honest. Some families are made for honesty, but not ours.

Did you read the book from front to back, or did you turn immediately to a certain chapter? If so, which chapter? Are there any chapters that you purposely avoided?

I turned immediately to my own current neighborhood, Pregnancy After Infertility. Next I read all of the chapters that have at any point applied to me, and then the chapters that have never applied to me but which apply to my bloggy friends (such as the chapters on adoption and third-party reproduction). I stayed far, far away from Pregnancy Loss — not in a place to read that right now, though I would have read it before becoming pregnant and will probably go back and read it after this pregnancy is done.

Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at Stirrup Queens (http://stirrup-queens.blogspot.com). You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: Moose by Stephanie Klein.

Barren Bitches Book Brigade Welcome to the Barren Bitches Book Brigade, featuring The Red Tent by Anita Diamant.

I have a special place in my heart for Anita Diamant. She wrote The New Jewish Wedding, which I memorized practically word for word when planning my own wedding. Thanks to her book (and the rabbi) I singlehandedly planned my own Jewish wedding, without ever having attended one before. My husband had attended a few Jewish weddings, but he hadn’t been paying much attention and had little to contribute. Having attended a score of Jewish weddings since my own, I can say that mine was much more mindful and thought-out than all but one other that I have attended. My first-timer’s take combined with Diamant’s attention to each detail allowed me to bring a unique focus to elements of the Jewish wedding that usually get glossed over.

Diamant brought that same attention to detail to this novel. Usually-ignored adjectives and bits of verse from Genesis get expanded, elaborated, amplified. I enjoyed this book a lot, but it was hard to draw the line between “fact” and fiction. At many points I was unsure whether something was a fictionalization or whether I just didn’t remember it from the original story. And, of course, the female perspective and focus on menstruation, reproduction, loss, and mothering are a stark departure from the usual story.

“The sight of the baby in Bilhah’s arms, day after day, shattered Rachel’s confidence again. She was only the aunt, the bystander, the barren one.” Did you find the author sympathetic or disparaging of Rachel’s barren state? Did she convincingly relate the experience of being barren?

I found the author very sympathetic to Rachel, and her descriptions of Rachel’s mindset compelling, with one exception – there was a sense, via the other characters, that Rachel was too proud and infertility forced humility on her. She probably was too proud, between her beauty and Jacob’s favoritism toward her, but aren’t we all in our own way?

The family trees shown at the beginning of the book don’t include miscarriages, stillbirths, or children who died before weaning. Given the rate of infant mortality at the time, this was a logical method for “counting” children. Now that it’s much more rare (but still too common) to lose children both before and after birth, at what point do you think children should be added to the official family tree? At what point should they be added to the parents’ personal tally of children?

Just this weekend I was speaking to a family friend about family size. More than once she referred to the number of children in prior generations in her family with the caveat, “but they didn’t all live.” For example, “My great-grandmother had 12 children (they didn’t all live) and only 3 of them were girls.” I don’t know whether this included miscarriages and stillbirths or only children who died young, but it was interesting to hear these deaths remembered in this way – casually, but still part of the permanent record.
Personally I would count stillbirths and infant deaths in the official family tree, but not early miscarriages (as my own two miscarriages were).

Dinah is awaited and welcomed by all of Jacob’s wives. The one daughter, the one to carry all their stories, all their voices. In the context of the book it is a literary device that allows the author to tell us stories of Jacob’s wives from their own perspectives. But what does it speak of to you? In your own life, have you felt, as Dinah does, a carrier of living memory? Do you feel your own voice to be better protected in the age of the blog, or do you see an enduring need for connection across generations?

In some ways I do feel like a carrier of living memory, because I am good at listening and good at remembering. I can recount in great detail stories that older relatives have told me; others who were there with me at the time of the telling have no recollection of the stories whatsoever. But, even more, most people were not there at the time of the telling, because they do not have the patience or interest to sit and listen to the ramblings and reminiscences of an older generation.

My own voice may be protected in the blog age, but the earlier voices require retelling from person to person. Their stories are not mine to blog about, but they are mine to tell to individuals within the family — hopefully my own children soon.

Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at Stirrup Queens. You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: Navigating the Land of If by Melissa Ford.

Barren Bitches Book Brigade Welcome to the Barren Bitches Book Brigade, featuring Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at Stirrup Queens. You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: The Red Tent by Anita Diamant.

I really enjoyed this book. I have rarely experienced such a well-orchestrated denouement. (I can’t believe I spelled that correctly on the first try… thanks, Mrs. G., my 7th grade English teacher!) Thought-provoking, touching, haunting, even occasionally funny.

Choosing “Never Let Me Go” as the title of the book makes me almost cry every time I see it.

Hey, did you see the news that it’s going to be made into a movie staring Keira Knightley? Not how I imagined Kathy at all. I’m glad that I finished reading the book before I learned that information.

I will read and comment on everyone else’s BBBB posts as soon as I can, but right now I can barely keep my eyes open, having slept a total of 5 hours in the past 2 days (and also Barcelona is calling).

At the end of Never Let Me Go, they mentioned “designer babies” had turned people against the whole clone issue.  Now, ABC news featured a story tonight (3/3/09) about parents being able to build their baby (a bit of reality reflecting art).  How does this make you feel?  Do you think PGD should only be used to avoid health issues and genetic defects?  Is it ok to use it to have a baby who can save your current child’s life through marrow transplant?  Is it ok to pick hair type and eye color?

Honestly I think a lot of the worry is overblown. Yes, those who use donor gametes already do this to some extent by choosing certain characteristics. But the rest of us choose characteristics by picking a partner.

I happen to have chosen a very tall partner — not because he was tall, it was just part of the package. If I wanted a short child for some reason, I just don’t think the genes would be there, no matter how many embryos we tried to test.

Blue eyes? Different story. DH has blue eyes — a beautiful shade of blue, in fact. My eyes are quite brown. Some people in my extended family have blue eyes, so it’s possible that I am heterozygous for the trait. If so, each embryo would have a 50/50 chance of being blue-eyed. Would I ever select on the basis of eye color? You’ve got to be kidding me.

Would I love to ensure that my child won’t end up with the heart disease that killed most of his/her paternal ancestors? Of course. Would I use PGD to do that, or to select any other trait aside from preventing life-threatening genetic disorders? No. Especially given that we haven’t gotten any embryos to freeze in two IVFs, selecting out healthy embryos because of whim or preference (and reducing the chances of ending up with any baby at all) is just plain silly. My baby has to play the hand that s/he is dealt, just like the rest of us. The upside of the hereditary heart disease is having many amazing relatives who are smart, funny, and kind. Anyway, my kid won’t eat meat and therefore will be at substantially lower risk of heart disease. Suck it, fate.

If you knew with certainty that you had a child with a shortened life expectancy, would you raise the child any differently? For example, are there certain experiences you’d want to ensure that they had? Are there things that you wouldn’t bother to make them do (flossing? eat healthy foods? go to school?) since they wouldn’t have the same long-term impact as they would for other children? Would it make a difference in your parenting if you knew exactly at what age the child was expected to die as opposed to a general sense of foreshortened lifespan?

I’ve seen this in action with parents of terminally ill children. They seem to try to treat all of their children equally — so if the healthy children have to floss, so does the ill child. If questioned as to the reasons for treating children differently, the explanations would be absurd. “Timmy doesn’t have to floss because he’ll be dead before periodontal disease could possibly affect him.” Instead, everyone flosses, because that’s what the family does. Seems reasonable.

In terms of the reverse, ensuring that the child does have certain experiences, absolutely yes. We already are quite liberal with spending money on travel and worthwhile experiences for ourselves. We have no plans to stop once children arrive (and once we can stop paying for treatments, we’ll have all sorts of surplus cash!). The child’s shortened lifespan would just expedite matters. If my sick kid was fascinated by the Great Pyramids, you’d better believe that we’d be on the next plane to Egypt. If a healthy child was fascinated by the pyramids, we’d probably plan a trip to see them in the near future — just not as urgently.

Short answer to the original questions? In practice, mostly no. But I’m sure there would be all sorts of intangible differences and random bursts of crying and extra snuggles.

If you were a student a Hailsham, would you have wanted to know your ultimate destiny as a Donor? Why or why not? How do you think knowing at that point in your life would have affected you? Does this desire to know your outcome apply to your own real life? In what situations do you find knowledge helpful? At what times can it be detrimental?

Having knowledge of the destiny all along seems preferable to getting surprised with that kind of information. Thinking you will have a normal life, then finding out that the assumption is wrong, is a rude awakening.

One aspect that I have in common with Hailsham students is infertility. It’s unclear whether they are genetically altered to be infertile, or whether perhaps they were all surgically sterilized at a very young age. It is clear that they will never become parents.

As an infertile whose ability to have a child is uncertain, I would have liked to know in advance of my problems, because it would have caused me to stop denying the situation early on, to seek help earlier, and to be more aggressive with treatments. I had no idea about anything when I started TTC, and I wasted years of my fertility on patience.

If it truly were impossible for me to have a biological child, I would want to know ASAP so that my treatment efforts aren’t futile and that I can redirect my energy and time to a more productive method.

One thing that struck me while reading the book is that the characters seem very passive. Although certain knowledge is withheld from them along the way, and they do have questions, they do not really rebel or protest their fate, or try to escape. They seem quite accepting of the future that has been laid out for them. Why do you think this is so?

They reminded me of the underclasses seen throughout various societies and historical periods. The idea that you can escape your designated destiny is pretty recent, and still not universal. They seem passive from our point of view, but their attitudes allow the system to continue. It is part of the greater good.

Along those lines, the idea that someone would fantasize about bucking their destiny by becoming a drone in an office is hilarious.

Barren Bitches Book Brigade Welcome to the Barren Bitches Book Brigade, featuring An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken.

Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at Stirrup Queens. You can also sign up for the next book in this online book club: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

We’re supposed to answer three questions, but I appear to be incapable of limiting myself to three questions. Five seems to be my norm. The only time I’ve stuck to three was the BBBB when I was the only member who read the book and had to write all the questions myself.

Five is the new three, at least around here.

On pages 79-80, McCracken speaks of losing a friend after Pudding’s death. I was struck by the way she wrote this passage because it clearly expresses her feelings about the conflict and about her former friend, replacing the silence that she used to break off the friendship (I suspect the friend in question has read the book by now). Have you lost friends during or after your infertility/loss/adoption? If so, how much of the blame for the loss do you place on communication and/or miscommunication? Does your former friend know how you feel about him or her and the loss of his or her friendship?

I have drifted away (either partly or entirely) from several friends because it has been too painful to be around people with children, and these particular friendships were not worth overcoming the feelings (though several others have been worth it). Since I no longer live near any of them, it’s hard to know if we would have drifted apart anyway. It didn’t help that many of them, since having children, have become immensely boring.

I have also drifted away from a couple of friends because they have not handled my infertility in a way that has been helpful to me. But again, I think that the infertility was just a catalyst, and the friendships would have been doomed anyway. I think they have been mends all along.

I found myself constantly comparing her memoir to loss blogs I have read. In a very real way, blogs in general and loss blogs in particular are memoirs of that specific time. What are your favorite loss blogs and why? (Is it their writing style, etc.) Did you find yourself comparing her book to some of those blogs?

I have not known anyone IRL who lost a child during the time I knew them, but I have known several families that experienced a stillbirth far in the past. Each of them treated the lost baby somewhat differently. At one end of the reaction spectrum, acknowledging the child openly, within and outside the family. At the other end, keeping the child’s existence a secret until the other children became adults and only found out about their lost sibling in the context of gathering information for their own family-building. I’m sure there are others for whom most people have no idea that a loss occurred, sometimes even including their living children.

Cara from Building Heavenly Bridges has completely changed the way I think about losing a child. Initially, I was quite surprised to see the extent to which she incorporates Emma in the family’s daily life. Her daughters consider Emma to be their third sister, who just happens to live in Heaven. Cara has taught them to love their sister in Heaven actively, just as they love their sister on Earth, and everyone in the family works to keep Emma present in their lives. Cara also does amazing work online and locally to help grieving families, but it is her everyday actions within her own family that amaze me the most.

Most people outside of the ALI community seem to distinguish between pregnancy loss in each trimester. When I was reading this book I kept running through my head about my miscarriage, how I felt quite similar to what Elizabeth McCracken described often enough. It still reached me, even though I lost my little one so much earlier in the pregnancy. If you have had a miscarriage, rather than a stillbirth, did this book still resonate with you? Or could you not relate at all to the loss that she experiences?

I’ve had two early miscarriages, 23 DPO and 21 DPO. In some ways I imagine that a much later miscarriage or a stillbirth would be harder than an early miscarriage, but I really don’t know if any loss could affect me more than my first miscarriage. I do know that I was sideswiped in the same way that most people are, whatever the point at which their first loss occurs, since few people imagine anything bad or at least think that they won’t be one of the “few” unlucky ones.

The loss elements of the book resonated tremendously, but of course the parts about having a living child do not. I was quite surprised to learn in my Googling about McCracken that she gave birth to a daughter last month. Clearly, despite her original concerns about fertility issues due to her age, her fertility is outstanding. This aspect of her life makes me feel less connected to her story, because it has taken me seven years to get to zero babies. Not that losing any child is easy in any way, but it must prolong the pain when the next child takes years — even moreso when the next child never comes. The pacing of the grieving and healing process is completely different. But I really don’t know if the pain itself is different, since I haven’t lived all of those different lives. I also think that having a living child reduces the pain of loss for some people but not others.

Going back to the original question, I must point out that one of the things I appreciate most about the ALI community is that different losses are honored equally, which sadly is untrue everywhere else that I’ve seen, in which:
Early miscarriage < Late miscarriage < Stillbirth < Loss of living child.

I was so moved by the writing and emotion in this book, and I wanted to pass it along to many people just because it’s a great book, but I realized that a dead baby book is an awkward and probably inappropriate gift for most people. While reading, was there anybody that you wanted to give the book to? Why? Did you pass it along to anyone? If not, what held you back? Is it more appropriate for a woman who has lost a baby to give out a loss book than a woman who has not? What about a woman who has lost a baby, but the loss is unknown to the recipient — does the gift expose her secret? Would you give the book to a woman that you know has lost a child?

I wrote this question, and I am so curious to hear what other people think, because I’m really stumped. I wanted to pass it along to several people, but it would be outing my fertility/loss status and it would raise discussion topics that I don’t want to address with those people.

I also wouldn’t feel comfortable giving the book to a woman who has experienced a stillbirth or infant death, because I am lower on the loss hierarchy (see previous question).

I feel like I definitely can’t give it to pregnant women, even the ones that I think are too complacent, for fear of freaking them out — or is it better if they’re prepared for the full range of possibilities? Is it a blessing for them to realize how fortunate they are if they make it all the way through to a healthy child? Maybe, but I’m sure they wouldn’t think so.

The author talks about “out-traveling sadness” on page 132. It brought to mind all of the trips we took to forget about IF and how they never worked. What are others experiences/thoughts? Does it work for anyone?

I travel, a lot. In addition to the trips to Europe and Asia last year that I’ve already blogged about, I took several other international trips in 2008, and we visited even more countries the year before. I think it works out to 20 countries in just over two years (with repeat visits to a couple). The fact that I’ve lost count is a pretty good indication of how much we travel.

It seems that most other people dealing with infertility, especially those who are paying for their own treatments as we have been, are trying to save their money and use little or none of it for travel. Some of my trips have been paid for by work, and most others have been at least tax-deductible (and therefore, combined with the career benefits, easy to justify the expense). A few have been pure leisure, either incredible bargains or can’t-miss-it opportunities. Regardless of how we paid for them or why we went, all have been necessary. At this point in our lives, with whatever disposable income we have left after paying the RE, we need to travel. Speaking for both of us, we need to explore as much of the world as possible while we have the time, money, and freedom. Speaking only for myself, I need us to be the people whose lives are full of adventure, whose emails and postcards the fertiles read wistfully. I need to envied instead of pitied.

After last year’s hectic travel schedule, I was actually a little burned out on international trips for a while. Then, last week, the wanderlust returned. I decided that I’d like to spend a few days in a warm Mediterranean country before IVF #3 starts. After December and early January, with relentless winter and the restrictive feeling of being stuck in one place during an IVF cycle, I am feeling compelled to take advantage of this upcoming travel window. DH is thrilled and chomping at the bit to book the trip, but I’m insisting that we get the Trick Up My Sleeve health insurance settled first. If the Trick doesn’t work out, I will be prudent and save all of our money for IVF #3 (and beyond, for as many as we can manage — which, at $14k a pop, is getting harder and harder even as DH and I both take on more and more work). If the Trick does work, I will use a tiny bit of the money that would have gone to IVF and go far away, just for a little while. (We’re still trying to decide among a few candidate destinations — one of the best possible problems to have.)

It’s not about outrunning sadness, though, because the sadness has a tendency to come along for the ride. It’s about living the kind of life that we want to live. Our first choice would be a life with a child, but in the interim, frequent international trips to fabulous places are a pretty good fallback lifestyle.

Barren Bitches Book BrigadeAfter yesterday’s One-Bitch Book Brigade, in which I was the only person who read The Baby Trail, it is a delight to go from monologue to dialogue for one of my favorite books ever, Harriet the Spy.

Oh, Harriet, how I’ve missed you.

If you read Harriet the Spy as a child, what aspects of the book did you still remember? What did you totally forget?

Some parts were so familiar, as if I’d read the book last week. The names — Ole Golly, Harriet M. Welsch, Pinky Whitehead. The tomato sandwiches every day (which I emulated by having the exact same sandwich every day of 6th grade, but with a different filling). The egg cream (which led to me trying my first egg cream at the only old-fashioned soda fountain in town — I was disappointed that Harriet had led me astray). The spy route. Janie’s chemistry experiments. Sport’s good nature. That sketch of Mrs. Golly is forever burned into my brain. But I’d totally forgotten about the bizarre Welsch family dynamics — if they ever registered in the first place, in my childish brain.

What would you have done in Harriet’s position after her friends discovered her notebook?

I’d also forgotten about her notebook getting discovered — a scene which resonates so much more now, after I had a similar episode during adolescence in which suddenly a dozen of my friends were surrounding me, staring at me, and one friend (the one who’s, uh, boyfriend, I’d, uh, stolen… not my finest moment) was asking me pointed questions and not backing down. The kind of scene that I thought would never happen again once I finished adolescence. Until it did, a decade later. Except this time I’d done nothing wrong to draw the stares of two dozen classmates, except for being infertile… but that’s a story for another day.

When I was rereading the book now, I thought about whether Harriet was wrong. Wrong to think truthful things? Certainly not. Wrong to write them down for herself? No. Wrong to publish a column in the school paper calling people out by name? Yes. And then I wondered about my own situation, and how if some people in my life ever discovered my blog, a blog which has occasionally said very un-nice things about just a few people, there would be hell to pay. Even though, just like Harriet, all of the mean things I have said have been completely true. In fact, my husband estimates that I have disclosed only 1.2% of his mother’s many faults. So really, I’ve been incredibly easy on her. If she ever discovered my blog, she should thank me for painting her so favorably.

In Harriet’s situation, I think that I would have covered it up by claiming that it was all fiction. Not sure if that would work, but worth a try. Short of that, I think that confronting the kids with the truthfulness of the statements (even if hurtful) could be effective. I’d also try to divide and conquer — go to people individually and try to get them back on my side.

That, or I might change schools.

Harriet’s parents almost entirely delegate all parenting tasks to Ole Golly or Cook. Did you have any particular reaction to their uninvolved parenting style? Was your reaction influenced by your own infertility/journey toward parenthood?

I had no recollection that her parents were so utterly uninvolved in Harriet’s daily life. I think that as a kid, it didn’t seem weird to me. I knew plenty of kids who were raised by the nanny, and it was no big deal. Now, as someone who has tried so desperately to become a parent, I can’t fathom having no idea about your child’s interests or true self, nor can I imagine being so poorly attuned to her emotions. I tried to sympathize with her parents, to share the “Oh, shit!” moments when they realize that they don’t know their daughter at all, but I couldn’t. Age 11 is not the time to start parenting.

Looking at it from this side of childhood, I’m surprised that Harriet doesn’t feel unloved by her parents.

When you read it, do you read it as an adult reading a child’s book or do you forget that you’re grown-up and think of it in the part of your mind that is still 12?

Both. Except that I was 10, not 12.

Her observations on class, child maltreatment, gender politics, and why people do what they do are fascinating now, as a grown-up. But so many feelings come rushing back when Harriet feels them.

How do you think Harriet would have upgraded for the new tech? Would she be blackberrying instead of the notebook?

In this age of ubiquitous information and constant invasions of privacy (whether from cell phone cameras or wiretapping governments), it is difficult to think of a child being able to spy the way Harriet does. Sure, thanks to technology she could set up a teeny remote webcam in a dumbwaiter, but people now almost expect to be observed and I feel like Harriet would be discovered constantly.

I like to imagine that Harriet would go both low and high tech, supplementing her Blackberry with a moleskine notebook. I think that Harriet would enjoy being old-school, and that she also might have concerns about the most secret secrets being electronically intercepted. Plus, a girl who enjoys the flourish of her signature that much could never abandon paper and pen. Sounds like someone else I know… Gotta run, time for my cake and then my route… I’ve said too much.

Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at Stirrup Queens. You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken.

Barren Bitches Book BrigadeDuring my first Barren Bitches Book Brigade outing for Eat Pray Love, I compared the Barren Bitches experience to my history of IRL book clubs:

“I also really like that the Barren Bitches actually read the book and then actually talk about it instead of sitting around gossiping and getting drunk like most IRL book clubs that I’ve attended. I’m often the only nerd who sits there sober, having read the whole book and wanting to discuss it.”

Alas, once again, I am the only nerd. Welcome to the one and only stop on the Barren Bitches Book Brigade “tour” for Baby Trail by Sinead Moriarty. Everyone else read part or none of the book and opted out. Eat Pray Love went great, and I’m sure that Harriet the Spy will go wonderfully tomorrow. But today, I will be a one-woman (or one-Bitch) book club. Sort of like when I was a child and I’d play Monopoly by myself, setting up my stuffed animals around the board. I was always the banker, of course — but I didn’t always win.

Enough pathos — it’s Bitch time. First, let me start by saying that I heard Malky and Aaron interview Sinead Moriarty on the Infertility Podcast and she seems like a perfectly nice person, regardless of what I may say about her book.

Now, here are my answers to my own questions.

Jess describes losing herself when she becomes a mother. But through the course of trying unsuccessfully to conceive, Emma loses herself even more. To what extent did you lose the real you when trying to conceive? If you are a parent, to what extent did you lose yourself after becoming a parent?

I’d like to think that the Real Me has stuck around through the past 6+ years of infertility pretty well — certainly better than the protagonist of this book, who becomes another person entirely. Certain aspects of me suffered when I started TTC. The most obvious was sleep. I used to sleep like a log — in my first 26 years (well, not counting infancy I suppose) I probably woke up in the middle of the night less than a dozen times. When we decided that we’d start TTC, even before we actually began “trying,” I started charting. Even though I was guaranteed to wake up at the same time every morning because of our daily schedule, I’d wake up repeatedly every morning, wondering if it was time to temp. 4am: Now? No. 5:30am: How about now? No. And so on. Between that early morning waking and the subsequent years of late-night insomnia due to IF-related worry or despair, my sleep has never really recovered.

As for the rest of me, another big change has been my willingness to interact with babies and children. This is pretty recent, actually. I’ve always been exceptionally skilled with kids. I used to carry a couple of crayons or a superball in my bag, in the event that I encountered a child (whether friend or stranger) who needed amusement. But now, except for a few select children of close friends, I steer clear and essentially ignore all children with whom I come into contact. I don’t hold the new babies that are being introduced to me; I don’t get down on the floor and play with the kids. Partly because it’s painful, but the biggest issue is that if other adults in the vicinity (either the child’s parents or others who may be around) don’t know about our IF, as most people don’t, I want to avoid the inevitable comment: “You are so good with them! When are you going to have your own?” Several friends who know about our IF have offered a variation: “You are incredible with my kids. You will be such a great parent when you finally have your own.” Better than the former comment, but still not what I want to hear. And so, I have cultivated the image of a career woman who travels the globe and doesn’t have time for kids — a funhouse mirror version of the real me.

As for motherhood, although it hasn’t happened yet, DH and I have big plans not to be like all of our friends who never go anywhere or do anything once they have kids. Given that we have immediate family members spread throughout the continent, and that I have a few trips per year for work that I really need to continue doing (but which allow enough free time that DH and the theoretical baby could tag along), I am confident that we will have a world record contender when it comes to frequent flier miles accrued during infancy.

When Emma starts trying to conceive, she knows very little about the process. How much did you know about the basics of TTC when you started? How informed did you make yourself as the process progressed?

This was probably the aspect of the book that I found most frustrating, as someone who values knowledge and education. Emma knows absolutely nothing! As she gains pieces of information over the course of her journey, she remains totally clueless about everything else. I know there are lots of women like that out there (the majority, probably), and they drive me nuts too. For most of them, their ignorance doesn’t end up mattering because they conceive quickly, but it is doubly frustrating when the ignorance directly results in delays. I know one woman, a hotshot corporate lawyer who is neither unintelligent nor uneducated, who at age 39 started TTC; after a few months of BFN, she half-asked, “My sister said something about having sex 14 days after your period?” Well, sort of, but actually, no. The luteal phase is supposed to be 14 days (though it isn’t always, as is the case for me) but the follicular phase can vary… Arrgh!

Clearly, I was the exact opposite. Even before starting TTC, I had read a book on fertility awareness, memorized the stages of fetal development thanks to the beautiful photos in A Child Is Born, and read several books on pregnancy cover to cover, with half a dozen more waiting in the queue on my nightstand. Looking back, I was probably a little too eager, but no one can ever say that a single day of the past 7 years of waiting has resulted from being uninformed. It’s no coincidence that all sorts of women have come to me for advice on TTC, their pregnancies, their babies. It never occurs to them why I might know so much.

What did you like about the book? Dislike?
First of all, The Baby Trail contains the single most spot-on description of the life cycle that I’ve ever seen.

You’re tormented when you’re single, then if you get married, you’re constantly quizzed about having a baby, and then if you’re lucky enough to have one child, you’re asked if you’re going to have another and if, God forbit, you have two children of the same sex you’ll be asked if you’re going to try for another child in the hope that it will be a different sex, and if it isn’t, everyone will look at you with pity and say, ‘Ah, well, maybe you’ll go again.’

In response, the protagonist’s husband offers a helpful solution that I’ve wanted to use many times.

Well, next time anyone asks you if you’re planning to have kids, tell them to fuck off.

Other good aspects? The book is funny, at times. The side plot with the best friend was pretty entertaining, and I found it much easier to relate to the friend than to the protagonist. This actually was the case with Eat Pray Love as well — I identified with the sister much more than with the author. I pointed out to my husband how secondary characters are always much more like me than protagonists. He observed that people like me don’t make for a sympathetic heroine — something about being insufficiently flawed. I think that’s a compliment.

There were, however, a lot of things I didn’t like about this book. It was frankly maddening at times. Emma’s poor command of her own emotions, her incompetent interactions with everyone in her life, her obsessive pursuit of a baby for not-all-the-right-reasons, her aforementioned ignorance of every facet of trying to conceive. And then, at the end (spoiler alert! not that anyone else apparently has any interest in reading this book, if the BBBB tour outcome is any indication) when you think that she’s finally gained some wisdom after this whole struggle, she and her husband spout the most ignorant drivel about adoption that you’ve ever heard. I actually yelled at the book. Apparently the sequel to the book debunks these falsehoods that adoption is so foolproof, but the third book in the series reinforces the old wives’ tale that as soon as you adopt you will get pregnant. I don’t plan to find out for myself.

Stepping back from my visceral reactions, it’s possible that the author was using the character’s ignorance as a device. That’s fine, except that many readers won’t be fully informed about infertility and/or adoption (even those who have some firsthand experience) and therefore won’t be able to differentiate what is untrue and what is true. I imagined the reaction of non-infertiles reading the book, people who just happened to pick it up at the bookstore or library.

“Wow, infertile women are crazy.”
“Wow, infertile women are selfish.”
“Women will do anything to have a baby.”
“If you have a friend who is infertile, she might become such a psycho that you should stop being friends with her.”
“Some people aren’t meant to have children.”
“Some people should not have children.”
“Adoption is so much easier; they should have done that from the beginning.”

See? Maddening!

It’s not that we haven’t all gone a little crazy, or a lot crazy, due to infertility. But I’d like to think that most of us were able to maintain some level of civility to the people around us, and hopefully a modicum of perspective. My own opinion, which I can throw around for a fictional character but wouldn’t actually say (out loud) about a real person, is that this woman has no business bringing a child into the world when she has such a poor grasp on reality. It’s not like resolving infertility means that everything will be smooth forever after — the bumps in the road will continue to come. Just as I see weddings as a test for your ability to endure marriage, TTC can be a test of your ability to handle the difficulties that may come with child-rearing (even if, hopefully, nothing about child-rearing is as troublesome as getting the baby can be for many of us). Emma fails the TTC test miserably.

You might argue that it’s only a book, that it’s a fictional character. But I think that when a realistic character (as opposed to an obvious fantasy character like Bilbo Baggins or Bigwig from Watership Down) does inappropriate things, it legitimizes them for readers. Especially readers who may be feeling confused and vulnerable, and who may not know anyone else who’s ever been in their same situation.

I don’t read all that many books, and so I tend to make each one count. This book was the first one in years where I felt like I’d wasted my time. Save yourself the aggravation and read Harriet the Spy instead. I bet I can name 100 other books off the top of my head that you should read before The Baby Trail. And very few of them will cause you to yell out loud at the book.

Hop along to another stop on this blog tour… oh wait, this is the only stop. Instead, you should come back tomorrow for the Harriet the Spy book tour. I promise that I’m not the only Barren Bitch on that tour.

Welcome to my stop on the Barren Bitches Book Brigade!

My first exposure to Eat, Pray, Love (aside from my mother-in-law telling me that she found it “whiny”) was a quote that Lollipop Goldstein used in Barren Advice Nine in response to my question about whether I should pee on a stick. Through Gilbert, she advised me to “grab onto the ankles of that happiness and not let go until it drags you face-first out of the dirt.” I followed the part of her advice that instructed me to pee on a stick, but I didn’t manage to follow the happiness part.

Now that I’ve actually read the book, I may be more receptive to some of its wisdom. In fact, I had a transformative realization while reading the book, but you’ll have to wait until Show and Tell this weekend to hear about that. Please come back to see it! For now, I’ll answer some questions posed by other Barren Bitches. Can you tell that I really like that moniker? I also really like that the Barren Bitches actually read the book and then actually talk about it instead of sitting around gossiping and getting drunk like most IRL book clubs that I’ve attended. I’m often the only nerd who sits there sober, having read the whole book and wanting to discuss it. Now, we can all be nerdy Bitches together.

At the start of the book, the author states that she will not go into the details of her divorce. Could you accept this and move on to the rest of the book, or did this lack of explanation influence your opinion of the entire book?
Fine with me. I didn’t come here to read a book about divorce.

Which of the three settings (along with associated activities — eating, praying or loving) resonated most for you? Why?
Of the three, I would most want to spend time in Italy. I have been to Italy, but not to India or Indonesia, and there is a reason for that. Italy is the kind of travel I am into at this point – culture, art, wonderful food, a language that I understand enough to read menus, first world. DH also happens to be so freaked out by India’s downsides (poverty, disease, lack of roads, and so much more) and by Indonesia’s strife (even if that doesn’t apply to Bali) that we will end up going to many other countries (and back to Italy half a dozen times) before we ever consider going to either locale.

It actually took me several trips to Europe before I made my way to Italy. DH wanted to go very much, but I thought that it couldn’t possibly live up to the hype. I was entirely wrong, and Italy was even better than its reputation. I like some cities more than others (Rome is not my favorite), but I would rather be anywhere in Italy than in most other countries in the world.

However, I also feel certain connections to the other two settings. When I was a child my family had a guru from India, and I became very familiar with mediation and Hindu-influenced spirituality. However, I have not meditated since I was a kid, and spirituality is something that I mostly choose to put out of my mind at this point. I still believe in reincarnation… I think.

When I was very young, my father took a trip to Bali. He came home with some vibrant batiks that decorated our house for years. He also came back with a story about walking along the beach and stepping on a deadly jellyfish. His local friend immediately sprinted into the forest, located some magical healing herb, and instantly cured the sting, saving my father’s life. The healing wisdom of the Balinese, the incredible natural beauty of the island, and the sense of peace that one feels there are part of the mythology of my childhood.

As for the associated activities, I guess you can sign me up for Loving over Eating or Praying, in that order. I’m actually not a big foodie, but several of the meals I ate in Italy are among the best of my life — and comparing the average meal in Italy to the average meal here is a joke.

On pages 94-95, Elizabeth discusses the continuity of and our positioning in our family as it relates to fertility/childbearing and the idea of finding purpose and the feeling of “being relevant” if we choose to not have children or are not able to. Does your infertility struggle affect your perception of your position in your family hierarchy? Why or why not? Has this affected your involvement with family events? If so, how?
Depends which family. In my own extended family, there are the breeders and the achievers. The cousins who have not been successful (poor or no job prospects, little education, debilitating mental illness, serious substance abuse) all have children, and all are divorced. Those of us who have gotten educations and pursued big-shot careers are all currently childless (actually, now that I think of it, all of them are divorced too except for me – my family doesn’t do marriage very well). In my family, my job is to be educated to an unprecedented level, and extremely successful, and well-traveled to places that others can only dream of, and fabulously happy in my marriage. I haven’t heard a word from anyone in my family about my childlessness, except for the annual hints my father gives in the form of holiday gifts for his future grandchildren.

(Don’t get me wrong. My “unsuccessful” cousins are mostly really good people, and by no means are their problems related to having had children, and in fact I think most of them are better at parenting than they are at the rest of their lives. My “successful” cousins are even better people, some of the very kindest people that I’ve ever met in my whole life, in addition to being smart and ambitious and athletic and unbelievably attractive and humble… the kind of people that you would hate except that you absolutely can’t because they exude goodness yet are also wonderfully sarcastic.)

In DH’s family, it’s another story. We are also considered successful and educated, but for the past decade our role has been The Married Ones (with the other siblings either too young or too immature). We still go to family events, but more and more over the years I have started dreading them (even when they turn out to be not so bad after all). In the old days if I happened to be in my in-laws’ city around my birthday, they would throw a big party for me with the entire family and all of our friends. It was generous and thoughtful and a lot of fun. I’ll actually be there around my next birthday, but I won’t mention anything about a party. I’m not in the mood for our friends to bring over their babies and preschoolers, and for my in-laws to fawn over the babies and display their obvious yearning for grandchildren.

Our parents must either…

  1. suspect we are having trouble conceiving but they are refraining from asking directly
  2. assume that I am too focused on my career for children, which is the impression I’m trying to foster at this point
  3. think that I absolutely cannot take a hint.

In chapter 13, the author talks about what type of traveler she is and other traveling personalities. What type of traveler are you? Does it vary based on the trip or do you approach every trip the same way?
Ideally, I am the best prepared traveler around, full of what Gilbert calls “due diligence.” I am nothing like Gilbert in terms of travel style or personality; instead, I am much more like her sister Catherine on both accounts. When I have time, I try to learn a bit of the local language (if I don’t already speak it), research the perfect hotel, the best restaurants, the local delicacies, the can’t-miss sites, maybe even brush up on some history. When I am being extra-prepared, I rent some movies from that country or read novels that take place there, to get a feel for the culture. That’s what kind of traveler I am when I travel infrequently and have free time.

Lately, I have been traveling more than I ever imagined possible and have had very little free time (partly related to the travel, partly unrelated). I still manage to figure out a hotel in advance, and usually how to get from the airport to the hotel, and download a few restaurant recommendations to sort through later, but for the most part I’ve been doing my research on the plane or even in the hotel room the night before, just planning one day at a time. I’m embarrassed when I don’t know how to say “thank you” in the local language, but I have traveled so much lately, to countries whose languages are so different from any that I speak, that I have been slacking off. Luckily DH is great at languages and can instantly learn the key phrases, saying “thank you” for the both of us in an impeccable accent.

Unlike the author, whether I do a little or a lot of research ahead of time, I am the one in the train station who looks like she knows where she is going. I carry my little compass, and on the train I try to memorize the route to my destination, with a tiny map folded in my hand just in case. I don’t have the easy people skills of the author to elicit help from anyone who may pass by, and I don’t particularly feel like getting pick-pocketed because I am an obvious tourist.

I also try not to be an obvious tourist by being the opposite of an “ugly American”: I speak softly, follow the locals’ lead in my comportment, carry an unobtrusive camera, wear nondescript clothing instead of “USA” t-shirts, wear European comfort shoes instead of sneakers. In fact, I try to do all of these things in any country, including my own.

By nature I’m not someone who starts long conversations with strangers, but when I have the opportunity for an extended conversation, such as a one-hour shuttle ride or a meeting with a friend of a friend, I seize it as an opportunity for cultural exchange. I try to learn all about their way of life and connect on a personal level, preferably in their own language if I can manage it, though their English is almost always better than my command of their language.

I’ve only had the opportunity of living in another country for an extended period once. Even though it was a big city, I experienced a sense of community I’ve never encountered before. One day, the produce market didn’t have an ingredient I needed; the next day, the grocer had procured it and eagerly ran up to me when when I walked through the door and presented it to me. Nothing like that has ever happened to me in the States. I really should figure out a way to live abroad again…

In the Ashram, Richard points out to Elizabeth that “nothing pisses off a control freak more than life not goin’ her way.” He counsels her to “let go” or she’ll “make herself sick” and “toss and turn forever, beatin’ on yourself for being such a fiasco in life.” Are you a control freak and, if so, how do you manage when life doesn’t go your way?
If you couldn’t tell from my detailed description of my travel style, yes I am a control freak. Infertility was my first big encounter with life not going my way. Over time I’ve come to a teetering place between continuing to attempt to exercise control (mostly through pursuit of aggressive Western and Eastern interventions, but for a while I exercised control by opting out of TTC) and accepting that my control is finite. In some areas of life, I’m working on reducing my controlling tendencies. In other areas, I embrace my control-freakiness.

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I will close with some advice in case you are ever in Rome. I disagree with the information from Gilbert’s friendly bus driver about San Crispino having the best gelato in Rome. It is excellent, some of the best gelato you could possibly have in this world (and is worth a stop if you are on a gelato-a-day tour of The Eternal City), but the gelato is even better at Giolitti. I don’t even like ice cream! I do make an exception for gelato in Italy — I’m no fool. Just imagining the shop, the feeling of anticipation, looking at all of the flavors and being faced with such marvelous indecision, puts a huge smile on my face.

Hop along to another stop on this blog tour by visiting the main list at Stirrup Queens. You can also sign up for the next book on this online book club: Baby Trail by Sinead Moriarty (with author participation).