Surprising no one
So I was sitting at the dining room table, feverishly always-sometimes-rarely-nevering, when Paul asked me if I wanted something to drink. "Please," I said distractedly, gesturing over into the kitchen. "I already have one started."
I meant the half-finished cup of coffee right there on the counter, but bless that man: instead he brought a half-finished bottle of wine.
The pediatrician had been kind of tenacious about it. "Have you had Charlie evaluated?" Yes, but the verdict was inconclusive. "Have you had him evaluated recently?" No, because we think we know, and we doubt it will make a difference. "Did you ever get the forms I asked the clinic to send you?" Yes, and I set them on fire, if you really must know. Ha ha, that's a funny thing. See, I think I must have...lost them!
In truth, I'd read them and I got mad. Most of them were standard psychiatric intake stuff, the kind where you read the questions and know what they're meant to elicit. But there were these two thick packets that made me angry: detailed questionnaires for Paul and me to fill out about each other. Does she enjoy life? Does she drink? Does she have friends? Does she love her child? Can her ass be rolled out of bed most days, with or without a pry bar?
It seemed like an intrusion. Good God, if I don't talk about my husband to strangers on the Internet, I'm certainly not going to talk about him to a trained professional bound by confidentiality laws.
I resented it disproportionately. It felt like a callback to those years of questioning whether we would make fit parents, whether we wanted it badly enough, whether we had what it took. No matter how much I told myself that these were the standard forms they give all families seeking services, I couldn't shake my indignation: What does this have to do with it? I'd think as I eyed the papers. Why does how we feel matter? We didn't make this happen. And then I piled more papers on top of those, and more on top of those.
"You know, if you'd filled them out when you first got them," she said, "your appointment would be soon. But the clinic runs at least nine months out, so now you're a year behind."
Does she feel a sudden crushing guilt? Always, sometimes, rarely, never?
The doctor called in a new referral, and we settled in to wait. And not a week later — last week — we got a call late Tuesday afternoon. The clinic had had a cancellation; could we be there Wednesday morning?
And that's what had me filling out forms, and Paul passing me the wine.
Always-sometimes-rarely-never. We read the questions, we checked the boxes, and I thought about what we know. I thought about what we've seen for the last ten years. When people asked, I'd tell them, Not officially diagnosed, but, you know, we're pretty sure. So it was no surprise to hear the verdict: Charlie has an autism spectrum disorder.
Practically speaking, at this time in his life, the words mean very little, and I doubt they'll have any great impact on how we shape his days. He's already getting social coaching; he's in a supportive school. We have reliable routines, but we reward flexibility. Charlie's doing really well — he's funny, he's bright, he's charming, and I'm proud of how hard he works. I'm awed by how far he's come. And Paul and I have learned, too: We can now power through most moments of trouble with some degree of Zen. "He isn't doing it to us," we breathe. "He's just doing it."
ASD, autism, or the apparently-not-a-thing-anymore Asperger's. Whatever you want to call it, we've been acquainted with the facts for so long, the words don't make much difference. What they mean for the future, though, is anybody's guess.
I got this lovely message on Facebook the other day asking me what my plans were for my blog. I laughed merrily, because that is what I do when I find something gently hilarious — oh ho ho, goodness me, plans?
It sounded a little like bells.
Fact is, true as ever to mine own self, I don't have a plan for my blog, beyond opening its creaking hinges to post now and then when something amuses, baffles, or concerns me. Today I am amused, still laughing days after the fact, because in the sheaf of papers Ben brought home from school last week was this:
"My snowman is named Murdertron ."
Which reminds me of the snowman Charlie built last winter when we forced him to stop using the computer and go outside.
Because of course that's what he built. Of course.
I hope this winter finds you and your special snowflakes well.
As I kissed Charlie good night on this, his Thanksgiving birthday, he said, "I think I smell creamed corn on your breath."
Mortified, I apologized.
"That's okay," he told me kindly. "I really like creamed corn."
I really like my kid.
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, and 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.
But 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 all around on the spot where the blood was drawn.
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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.)
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.
It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time Because:
- 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.)
- 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!
- I needed a creative outlet, and Paul wouldn't let me fancy up his jeans.
- I live in a pretty small town. I had run out of strangers to disrobe for.
- Porn. We did it for the porn. ...What. It was the doctor-recommended kind. Medicinal porn.
- 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.
- 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)