August 25, 2015

The Right Way To Build a Family - In 12 Million Easy Steps (W&F IV)

This post has taken me longer to write than I expected. I started, but it very quickly became a rant. It rambled; it griped; it wasn't something I was proud of. So I scrapped it and waited a few days, and here's what I've got now:


I don't have a recipe for building the perfect family. I don't believe in how-to guides for life, or one-size-fits-all solutions.

I'm quite opposed to the idea that such a thing could or should be possible.

There are simply too many variables. There are too many stories.



It's as simple as that. Build your family in the way that makes sense, fits your life. Invest in them. Love them.

I know many of you are doing this, in a myriad of ways....

So. Based on the overwhelming kind response to my last post, and this firm belief that sharing our stories is one of the best ways we can help each other learn, I'd like to invite you to send me your stories around family, family-building, child-bearing, not-child-bearing, or a related topic.

I have 2 more posts planned, and then I'll share your stories.

I'll make them all anonymous (unless you specifically ask for your name to be shared), and I'll edit them for length and clarity. So please, share away! You can message me on Facebook, email me, and if you don't know how to reach me in either of those ways, leave a comment here and I'll connect with you :)

Sound good? Let's do it.

August 17, 2015

Babies Not Guaranteed (W&F III)

This is my story.

From the time I was hardly more than a toddler, I knew I wanted to be a mother. I have loved babies (and kids) for as long as I can remember. Having babies of my own was always an assumption in my life. Until I hit 25. And was still unmarried. And I started thinking that maybe I would never be in a stable, long-term relationship.

And then there was another factor. The biological one.

A friend of mine had stopped getting her period a few years earlier; when she finally went to the doctor, she discovered she was in danger of developing osteoporosis.

When I heard her story, I grimaced internally. My own period had been on the decline over the past few years; I'd never been "regular" and by 25, I was maybe getting it twice a year. To be honest, I didn't mind too much. It's not like anyone I know enjoys having their period. In the back of my mind had been the fear of infertility, but it seemed so remote, so far off. I hadn't thought about other health complications.

Eventually, I decided to take care of my own body and look into what was going on and why... by the time I went for my first ob-gyn appointment, I was 27. I recorded it later the same day:

If you ever want to make a doctor's appointment more stressful, here's a great idea: external construction on the building, so that the ongoing soundtrack to every thought and conversation is the drone of a jack-hammer.

The doctor is a small man who speaks very, very fast. He skims through my file as I sit in front of him and asks if I have any symptoms other than irregular periods. Top contenders are acne & facial hair, but he determines with a glance that my skin is fine, and apparently my errant neck and chin hairs are not located in the danger zone.

A brief medical history follows; Have I been pregnant? Sexually active? Major surgeries? History of cancer? Height? Weight? Has my weight been consistent in the last few years? What is my period typically like? 

One pre-testosterone hormone shows a tiny elevation from my last bloodwork, but nothing to worry about.

In fact, this is his ongoing refrain, "There's nothing to be concerned about regarding your overall health... Irregular periods are very common and you can choose to treat them with birth control if you want to regulate them, but some people choose not to..."

My ultrasound images (which indicated the possibility of polycystic ovaries) were not sent over from my doctor, so he decides to do another one right now. He sets me in the antechamber while the current ultrasound finishes. 

I didn't have the chance to ask the doctor about cancer risks. I've read that missing more than two consecutive months increases the chances of Ovarian cancer. Or is it other lady-specific types? I think, Maybe after the ultrasound, there will be a pause in his thoughts or he will ask if I have any questions.

As he splays the wand through the belly jelly, he has trouble finding my ovaries.

Dressed and back in his office, I barely have time to sit down when he begins speaking, "I don't think you have Polycystic ovaries. In fact, based on what I've seen, I think you are on the other end if the spectrum,” he motions towards his left, “and you don't have enough drive. Your brain is not telling your body to produce an egg every month.”

“Ok,” I nod, taking it all in.

“This has no effect on your overall health – there is nothing to worry about for either diagnosis. If I am right and you’re on this end of the spectrum,” he motions at the not-enough-drive side of the room, “and you meet Mr. Right and decide you want to have children, you’ll need to come see us then because it will be difficult to get pregnant if you’re not producing eggs regularly. But there is no impact on your general health with either diagnosis.”

He stops for a breath.

“Yes,” I say, agreeing with the need for eggs in a pregnancy equation. The middle part of what he said is hanging in front of my face. The speed of his delivery and the incessant construction vibrations have maybe slowed down my brain’s ability to process.

I think he just told me I’m likely infertile. Or on the infertile end of the spectrum. “Not enough drive?” What does that even mean? Is he saying that I have a low sex-drive? If that’s the case, does that mean my entire sexual experience is abnormal? Does everyone else think about/want sex more than I do? Is that what this means?

“I want to take some more blood to confirm things either way, so if you’ll follow me across the hall, we’ll get that out of you right now. I’ll have the results back tomorrow, and by the end of the week, I’ll give you a call to let you know.”

He is already at the door, and I pick up my jacket and cross the hall in twelve steps.

“Have a seat here,” he motions into a closet of a room.

“Thank you,” I say, although I’m not sure why.

He leaves. There is a desk radio, but I can hardly hear it under the ongoing DRRRRRRRR-DRRRRRRR-DRRRRRRRRRRR of invisible renovations.

“Hello! How’re you today?” the technician reaches for an iodine swab as he steps into the room.

“Ok, thanks,” I answer instinctively.

Does this mean I’m infertile? And what about the cancer risks? I just wanted to know about the cancer risks.

My body never gives up its blood easily and happily, and I repeat these questions to msyelf in five different ways as I wait for the little vial to fill up. 

He leaves with my blood. I press the cotton swab into my arm and try to count to sixty, the full minute I've been instructed to wait. I give up at twenty-five, gather my jacket and purse and walk down the long corridor.

No one addresses me as I pass reception. No "Have a good day" on my way out.

I stare at the red elevator button, my mind entirely focused on the slightly fainter thrumming of renovations. As the door closes me in, the incessant drilling is muted and I finally manage to exhale.

--

I never returned to that doctor. A year later I went to another ob-gyn, who did another round of blood tests and ultrasounds and concluded that there is no obvious reason for my non-existent period. She strongly suggested I begin some form of birth control so that I decreased my chances of a "massive hemorrhage."

As for fertility; "You won't know until you try."

All of this happened while I was still flying solo. I was processing it, letting it settle into me, and I carried it with me on every first date. As I wondered whether each man across the table from me had a future, I wondered when I would tell him that I might not be able to have kids. I wondered how I would phrase it. I wondered whether he would understand its weight for me, and yet be able to say, "It doesn't matter."

--

I'm married now. On our first date he asked me about a line in this blog post, and I told him my story (in an abbreviated form). He responded well. We went on more dates. And here we are.

We talk about building a family, about creating life together. We talk about timing and numbers and names. And we talk about if. We know that there might be more grief than joy in our childbearing journey. We know it might never happen.

--

This is my story. And each woman has her own. Her own level of wanting (or unwanting) of children. Her own relationship journey. Her own body, with all its complications.

Each woman has her story, and you might never guess it. You might never know; she might not want to share. But her story is no less real, no less respectable.

I was naive as a child. Babies are not a guarantee. They're not a standard for good womanhood. And they're not the only way to build a family. Which is what I'll write about next time...


August 6, 2015

All Families Are Messed Up (W&F II)

In the fall of 2006, I moved to Vancouver. My first weekend there, I made an IKEA run with a friend to purchase furniture for my tiny new bedroom, as one does. We were walking out of the store, pushing a trolley with a stack of boxes, when my phone rang.

It was my older brother and his wife, calling to tell me that they were pregnant. I remember being so excited, but also very aware that the distance between Vancouver and Ontario was significant enough that I wasn't going to be present for most of the milestones this would lead to. I wondered how to involve myself from far away. I started realizing that it's my responsibility to contribute to these relationships, that I needed to be intentional in what I wanted to build.

This phone call kick-started a change in how I think about family. It was the first moment that I realized being an adult in the family is completely different than being a kid.

(this post, I realize, is less of a woman's issue and more of a grown-up issue, but I'm a woman grown-up, and the topic leads into all the other lady topics, so I'm sticking with it.)


My family has its share of problems and complications. We have conflict. We've had crises, and they have been tough. Terrifying. We don't always see eye to eye, and quite frankly, we drive each other batty at times. But in the nine years since that phone call to Vancouver, I have seen our family grow - not just numerically, as we've added 2 more spouses and 4 babies - but but in depth, in honesty, and in friendship.

Because this is the main thing that I believe about families: if you want healthy, grown-up relationships with your family of origin, it requires work, relearning, and a whole lot of forgiveness.
That's me in the floral one-piece, in case you weren't quite sure.
(Caveat: I believe that there are situations and families where the best choice someone can make is to remove themselves from an unhealthy environment. Unfortunately, not all families are safe. Maybe some members are, but others aren't. Maybe no one in your family of origin is. If there is any sort of abuse - physical, sexual, emotional, or spiritual - my strong belief is that you need to get out of Dodge. And find professional support and help to figure out how to proceed and heal.*)

Here are a few things I value as I build grown-up relationships with my family:

1. I want to be myself with them. A few years ago, I was having a conversation with one of my siblings about a topic I have strong opinions and convictions in, and it occurred to me that they had no idea about my experiences in this area, or how I'd wound up with the beliefs I hold. I realized I could be annoyed by this, or I could open myself up to share more of who I am and what my life holds when we're not stuffing our faces full of home-cooked goodness at a birthday or holiday celebration.

2. I want to be my best self with them. For the first 17 years of my life, my family got to see all the glorious weaknesses, inadequacies, and flaws that young Beth had. It's easy to revert back to how I was at 17 (and sometimes even 7...), to assume the roles and patterns that defined my childhood - but that's not who I am anymore. At least, that's less of who I am. I think. I hope. So am I making a conscious effort to treat them with the same courtesies I treat the rest of humanity?

3. I want to look for their best selves. This is the other side of the coin. I have seen a lot of glorious flaws and weaknesses in my family. But do I believe that is the sum of who they are? Or do I look for the good, the unexpected, the encouraging, and the surprising in them? Do I expect them to be the 17 year-old version of themselves that I loathed, or do I give them room to grow in the same way I hope they give me space to change?

4. I try to remember that they also have wounds and memories and lives outside our little circle. My sister has explained to me more than once what the company she works for does, but if you pressed me, the best I could come up with is that I think they sell pressure gauges to factories? I don't even know. As for what she does there... I think she does some officey stuff. And maybe payroll. My younger brother is the baby of the family; at twenty-six, I'm quite sure he's sick of being called "the baby." When I tease him about this, I imagine it might invoke the same sort of fury that I feel when I'm called "the sensitive one." We all have wounds from our childhood. We all remember different things in different ways from our growing up years. And we all have lives and do things and know people that our siblings and parents don't understand. In this, we're all the same.

5. And finally, I remember that space is okay. It is okay if I don't communicate with my parents every day (I have never been this sort of daughter, and I have felt much guilt about it - but there is no one I communicate with daily, outside of my roommate-at-the-time). All my relationships have space. There are ebbs and flows, there are rocky patches and there are phases, and there are deep bonds that bring us in more frequent contact for a time, and there are shifts, and there are fights - and all of that is normal.


Reading back through all this, I guess I'd summarize my family philosophy in two statements: be intentional, and treat them like they aren't your family. Treat them like the rest of humanity, like colleagues, or friends, or people from your ultimate frisbee team, or faith community, or wherever else you interact with humans.


What about you? What shapes your interactions with your family? How do you navigate these strangers whose lives have been plopped down next to yours? What's been the best and the worst of it? What nuggets of truth have I overlooked?
*Actually, I'm a big fan of professional support in most situations. It's been very helpful to me to have an unbiased sounding board with whom I can process my stresses and fears. I've definitely talked about family things with therapists; it has been profoundly insightful and a catalyst for change.

August 4, 2015

Real Talk: Women and Family

Y'all know I'm not afraid to open up the big ol' taboo box and pick a topic and then wave around a brightly lit flag that says, "OVER HERE! LOOK OVER HERE AT WHAT WE'RE TALKING ABOUT." I've done it before. And I want to do it again.

--

It's the start of August, and the closest I have to vacation time this year, so I think it's time for some straight talk about big things, thoughts that have been rolling around in my head for awhile, questions that keep me up at night, and dilemmas that, quite frankly, need more attention.

Let's get real.

Let's talk about some lady things.

Now before you men run off and say, "OH, OKAY, SEE YOU LATER," I'd like to ask you to stick around. Because all men have women in their families, and likely have lady-friends, and lady-colleagues, and other kinds of relationships that involve ladies, whether professional or personal. And  I (almost) guarantee you that these posts will help you understand women better. At the very least, I guarantee you that there will be valuable information that has the potential to make you a better son/brother/friend/colleague/listener/lover/human to the women in your life. Depending on how you choose to use it, which is entirely up to you. As is the choice to read along or bow out of the planned dialogues ahead of us.


The Context: Three years ago, I was in my late twenties, riding solo in a vast wasteland of romance, navigating grown-up relationships with my family of origin and contemplating what building a family might look like if my future remained entirely my own. Today, I'm married, still navigating grown-up relationships with my own family, getting to know a second family, and contemplating what building a family might look like with the two of us planning our future together.

It's a lot. And within this shifting framework, there are several big issues/questions/dilemmas that tangle themselves up together and all follow this thread of women and family. So these are the things I'd like to discuss...


The Topics:

  • All Families Are Messed Up; Learning to Love Yours Anyway 
  • The Right Way To Build a Family - In 12 Million Easy Steps
  • Careers & Motherhood: Are They Totally Incompatible?
  • Babies Are Not Guaranteed (That Time A Doctor Told Me I Can't Have Children Without Help)
  • and maybe more?

The Format:

I'll write a blog post with some of my own life story, some of my big questions, and any quasi-answers I've come up with to said questions...Then I'll share the posts and invite you in -


The Invite:

Join me?
Read along?
Ladies, share your stories/questions/concerns!
Menfolks, share your stories/questions/curiousity!*

You're all welcome to leave a comment on the blog itself, or on the Facebook post, or in a Twitter thread, or in a private message. Depending on the feedback, I may make all your content into a post or two of its own! (never without your permission, of course).

I'm looking forward to this!! At the very least, I think it's going to help this tired-out-soul to think a little more clearly :)



*(Mansplaining will not be tolerated. I will edit/delete/respond to comments that diminish or make light of the honest conversations I'm looking for.)