Jenny is an asshole, and so, of course, am I
Ha, poor "Jenny" from Sunday's New York Times Magazine article on selective reduction in twin pregnancies after ART. I imagine her reading the opening paragraphs of the piece:
As Jenny lay on the obstetrician's examination table, she was grateful that the ultrasound tech had turned off the overhead screen. She didn't want to see the two shadows floating inside her. Since making her decision, she had tried hard not to think about them, though she could often think of little else. She was 45 and pregnant after six years of fertility bills, ovulation injections, donor eggs and disappointment — and yet here she was, 14 weeks into her pregnancy, choosing to extinguish one of two healthy fetuses, almost as if having half an abortion. As the doctor inserted the needle into Jenny's abdomen, aiming at one of the fetuses, Jenny tried not to flinch, caught between intense relief and intense guilt.
As she reads, she feels her stomach sink, her breathing grow shallow, her heart thumping hard in her chest. She continues:
"Things would have been different if we were 15 years younger or if we hadn’t had children already or if we were more financially secure," she said later. "If I had conceived these twins naturally, I wouldn't have reduced this pregnancy, because you feel like if there's a natural order, then you don't want to disturb it. But we created this child in such an artificial manner — in a test tube, choosing an egg donor, having the embryo placed in me — and somehow, making a decision about how many to carry seemed to be just another choice. The pregnancy was all so consumerish to begin with, and this became yet another thing we could control."
At this, she slowly lowers the paper and folds it, slowly, deliberately. Dazed, she wanders into the bathroom, where, under the harsh light of new awareness, she looks at her pallid face in the mirror and whispers, "Holy shit. I'm such an asshole."
I've now read the article three or four times, just to be sure I get the point of it, and I'm still not completely certain I do. I've read numerous reactions to it, though I haven't read the comments on the piece itself — do I look like an asshole? No, I mean that particular kind of asshole — and although I understand some of the outrage I've seen, I don't share the perspective that might reasonably give rise to it. A parent of twins, for example, or an ART patient who would welcome them, or someone willing to risk conceiving multiples to maximize her chance of success, necessarily has a different viewpoint than mine. (For the record, mine was No oh please God no, so much so that during the donor cycle that resulted in Ben, we transferred a single embryo.)
The reactions I've read are largely visceral; many people report that they couldn't finish reading the article, so distasteful was the proposition of terminating half of a twin pregnancy for what the author calls "social indications" — concerns about money, say, or "becoming a second-rate parent." (Jenny feared "twins would soak up everything she had to give, leaving nothing for her older children." Twins: the quicker picker-upper!) Some felt that by having taken on on the risk of multiples to begin with, Jenny and others like her should live with the consequences — a familiar hard-liner argument in the case of high-order multiples, but a startling one coming, in this case, from what I think of as "our side."
To me, though, that wasn't the most compelling point, how lamentable and/or monstrous and/or A-OK and/or Jenny-is-an-asshole we find such an action to be. In fact, those reactions were a good example of what struck me hardest about the article: how mutable, how situational, how conditional our feelings are about abortion.
How many times have you heard someone describe him or herself as opposed to abortion exceptincasesofrapeorincest? Compare the sympathy you might have felt for the young woman working her way through college who gets pregnant unexpectedly while on contraception to the indignation that arises when you hear of someone fresh from her fifth abortion. Or, to bring this back to ART and the story at hand, think about how differently we view a selective reduction from quadruplets to twins from a reduction from twins to a singleton — 50% in either case. What's interesting to me is not specifically what any of these women have done; it's that our reaction to their actions changes radically based on how "necessary" we believe them to have been.
It struck me pretty forcibly how reluctant the article's subjects were to call what they did abortion. When Jenny chooses to terminate one of her fetuses, it's characterized as "almost as if having half an abortion." Shelby, who conceived triplets after an IUI, couldn't find a local doctor who'd reduce her pregnancy past twins, and said, "I just wanted [the pregnancy] out, but because we tried for so long, abortion wasn't an option." (She later flew to New York for the reduction to a singleton.) Almost as if? Half an abortion? Abortion wasn't an option? Another illustration, I think, of the motive — intentionally becoming less pregnant rather than not at all pregnant — being more central to the way we think about these things than the nature of the act itself.
I was remembering a conversation I had with my doctor when we first started trying to conceive a second child. Charlie's birth was still a fresh horror, and I'd been told by my maternal/fetal medicine doctor that the very best way to avoid it was not to have another child, you big dope, but because I am equal parts brave, stubborn, and stupid, we decided to pursue merely the second-best way to avoid it. "I don't want twins," I told my doctor.
And he said a few unflattering things about my egg quality, like, Doctor, I am sitting right here, and how I'd be lucky to get two eggs out of a single cycle, much less two embryos, but that my chances would be diminished by transferring only one. And I hedged a bit, saying that I might be willing to transfer two, depending on quality, meaning maybe two if they were crappy.
"But then you might get pregnant with twins," he pointed out. "What would you do?"
"I'd reduce," I said.
"It's not an easy choice," he said.
"I'd do it, though," I told him simply, sounding either totally badass or totally unhinged, one. (Only later did I remember he had twins himself. My money's on unhinged, and dangerously cold. And a Jenny-grade asshole besides.)
And I would have, for medical reasons. And there are people who would look at that statement and say, Okay, well, but that's different. You'd have had a good reason. A twin pregnancy could have killed you. And that's exactly the point: how we feel about the act stems directly from how we feel about the reasons. Except for the staunchest absolutists, it seems we judge reproductive choices based on the motives behind them.
Mother's little helper
This morning at breakfast I referred to our kids as epsilons. Charlie, who can effectively tune out everything we say short of Charlie, the house is on fire and if you die Ben gets all your stuff, is by contrast exquisitely sensitive to anything he thinks he's not supposed to hear. So the code word piqued his interest. "What's an epsilon?" he asked.
So I started to explain about noted 20th century mathematician Paul Erdös, whose substantial legacy includes more than a thousand published papers, the so-called Erdös problems, and the amusing notion that mathematicians might be assigned an Erdös number, denoting their collaborative proximity to the blah blah blah blah Charlie, the smoke is overcoming me! Saaave the iPod Touuuuch. He tuned out, of course, long before I got to the relevant part, where I explained that Erdös, in his own distinctive vocabulary, referred to children as episilons, ε being used in mathematics to represent small quantities.
...Little math humor there.
He did pick up on the fact that epsilon is a letter in Greek, and interrupted my learned discourse — I read a book, she said icily — by saying, "Oh! I know Greek! It's the language where the letters go —" and then did an angular hand jive to illustrate.
"I think...yes," I said weakly.
"I can read Greek," he insisted, and I thought, Well, Jesus, I mean, why not?
And then he proved it by pointing to the plastic container on the counter, triumphantly crowing, "PLAIN GRΣΣ|< Y⃟GVRT."
You know what's helping? Ritalin. We don't have the right dosage yet, but we see some abatement. It's better. Not great yet, but better.
Paul and I came to this from opposite sides. From the start, my inclination was to try medication. If ADHD is a biochemical problem, I reasoned, why not try a biochemical solution? He was more cautious, as he tends to be, and expressed the concern that along with any good it did, a drug might mute the parts of Charlie's personality that we find so engaging.
But this is a fact: With all the static — the hyperactivity, the noise, the lack of focus, the poor impulse control — the condition created, it was getting hard to see those good parts sometimes. It shames me to know that, and I feel it as a weakness, that I don't have some magical X-ray parenting specs that make it possible for me to see effortlessly through several layers of bullshit down to the essential kid every time. I wish I could do better: hang on to my patience, keep my sense of humor, tap into kindness and tolerance more, and less into exasperation.
But wishing wasn't working, and although normally I would embrace the chance to make yet one more thing all about me, this isn't. It's about Charlie and his experience of the world. Nothing makes this clearer than something my friend E. told me, about someone she knows who was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult. Her friend, E. told me, remembers her childhood primarily as a series of angry faces.
I don't want that for my kid. Even if Paul and I somehow managed to develop the most exquisite patience, tolerance, and humor — I could read a book, she said icily — there is still the rest of the world.
The drugs aren't the whole of it, not by a long shot, and maybe not even the most effective part. There's still a great deal to do, a lot of teaching, learning, accommodating, adapting. It's just that until we find a way to turn down the static a little, I don't think Charlie can receive much of it. And if medication helps us make him more ready to take it in — well, then, bring on the pills.
It seems the fish were biting, along with everything else
Hey, you know how I always talk about Tyler Place as if everyone there walked around in an unshakeable haze of smiles, relaxation, and goodwill? Well, this summer Ben proved me wrong:
I wasn't there when this photo was taken. I was probably doing something like cooking a meal or scrubbing a toilet or — ha ha ha haaaaaaaaa just kidding; more like kayaking with my spouse or lingering over coffee with new friends or reading a book on a chaise longue in the cool of the morning shade. Whatever I was doing, I certainly wasn't impaling worms, keeping a boat full of preschoolers from hooking each other, or, worst of all, touching fish. But Ben, I am told, had a fantastic time, and indeed he said so later. I can only suppose that in the moment, when the photographer said something friendly like, "Look upon what you have slain and rejoice!" — well, he got a little freaked out. And shrank from his trophy. And clutched at the nearest grown-up.
I'll confess it, because although I feel about Tyler Place like I do about TiVo and the Wacoal 85185, I am committed to a foundation of truth in my blogging: Ben had a tough time of it. Every dropoff with his group was as teary and fraught as if we were leaving him not at a bright, spacious facility packed with amusements, but at, I don't know, a venomous snake proving ground, or, in the evenings, maybe an exclusive poison tasting. ("Complex, mineral, with aromatic overtones of death, remorse, and parental abandonment.") He liked the activities a great deal and talked about them enthusiastically once he was back with us. But as soon as he figured out we were setting out again for the playhouse, the whimpering began: "I want to stay with my fami'y!" As if he thought we were doing something fun instead of cleaning bathrooms. And riding bikes. And taking sailing lessons. And laughing ourselves stupid on the low ropes course.
If we hadn't known from experience and observation that he was in a safe, welcoming place with staff who genuinely cared about kids, we might have been concerned. If the counselors hadn't greeted him each time by name, bringing him skillfully into activities, remembering what he particularly liked to do, we might have had reservations. Because according to Ben, the counselors weren't nice. "They are not nice," he told us solemnly on his second day after pickup.
"Oh?" I asked mildly, examining the backs of my thighs for hammock prints.
"No, they are bad people." Eyes wide with the import of what he was telling me.
"Hm," I murmured, looking forward to that evening's gin and tonics, plural, in the lounge, while aforementioned bad people cared for my second son. "What do they do that's bad?"
Ben paused to think, groping for any credible example of depravity. He finally seized on one, the worst thing he could think of: "They bite."
Nice try, kid, but I'm not buying it. To pry me out of my Adirondack chair overlooking Lake Champlain, you're gonna have to show me some marks.
Out of something like 66 families, that week there were eight sets of twins. Eight. My math isn't great, but I calculate that to be an incidence of roughly 382%, or about 950 twins per 1000. And although I won't speculate on any aspect of that fact, because for some reason everybody hates it when I jump to conclusions about the reproductive capabilities of strangers, as if such a thing were private or something, I will say we were among our people. And that is not an assumption.
When we arrived, Charlie and I went to the inn to check in. As we stood in line, someone behind me said my name. She had recognized Charlie, she said, from reading my blog, and quickly recited her history, which ended, happily, in one of those sets of twins.
It was the first time I've ever been recognized, so I got a little kick out of that, but more importantly, I felt known. I like meeting new people, but I sometimes find it hard to navigate those first few exchanges, when I haven't yet determined just how much myself I can be. Meeting C. instantly relieved that anxiety. It was a real gift, her reaching out to me like that, and I'm so grateful. Even if I'm still jealous that her kids smiled in every photo. (Maybe they had more fun than Ben did. Or maybe the ravenous counselors found them slightly less toothsome.)
Charlie had a blast, of course, and if I could figure out how to rotate my movie of him going down the zip line without asking you to pick up your monitor and cant it 90 degrees counterclockwise, I'd show you. But like with Ben, the photographic evidence of his pleasure is — oh, let us call it limited. The best picture of the week was this one, from pirate night:
...when his homicidal look of deadly murderous lethal killishness was at least thematically appropriate. I know he loved the trampoline, the bounce house, the karate class, the campfire, the pools both outdoor and in-. I just can't prove it. There is no way to show you the gladness I felt with his flashes of giddy joy.
I say this every year, but because there is no horse so dead that I scruple to flog it further — oh, Ben didn't like the pony rides, either, because "they wanted to bite me," which leads me to wonder if there was anything on the property that didn't want a chunk of tasty, tasty boychild. Jeez, kid, bicycles are herbivores — I really treasure the chance to enjoy my kids without the concomitant crap, to feel a whole uninterrupted week's worth of everything I love about being a parent.
It's been painful to come back, as always, and not just because there's no easing in, no halfway house where someone offers you only two entrees at dinner instead of three, and entertains your kids for merely half the day instead of three-quarters. The questions we have about Charlie still loom, and a large part of the rest of the summer will be devoted to devising some sort of plan, both for home and school. Ben, almost three now, has begun experiencing these sudden hopping fits of rage on the flimsiest provocation; that they are developmentally appropriate makes them no less tiresome. And I will just get on with it. Back to life as we know it, rather than life as we wish it could be.
It's been a long time since I posted here. It's so nice to be back on my blog. I have a lot to say but little time to say it, as Charlie is mostly home. But I miss this space, and I'm energized by Melissa's great post about blogging. See you here soon, I hope. Thank you for staying around.
Letters in the mail
A large envelope arrived in the mail, the first of two reports from Charlie's evaluation. Quickly: ADHD.
This particular report runs to almost 20 pages and breaks my fucking heart, not for the conclusion itself but for the details it contains. "Cannot work in a group." "Increasingly socially unengaged." "Did not attend or participate." "I hate all the work that I have to do; it's a bit too hard and I just don't want to do it." "Engages in a great deal of task refusal and expresses a disdain for school that is extraordinary for kindergarten students." "Verbally and physically aggressive." One classroom interaction in particular, as observed minutely by the evaluator, makes me cringe to consider. I'll just say this: I'm very sorry, S., for what Charlie did, and I hope you grow a new leg.
I joke because, oh, God, I don't know what else to do.
The report notes that Charlie is "currently functioning within the 'superior' range of cognitive abilities," but you wouldn't know it from his classroom performance, and that is precisely the problem: "Charlie's functional demonstration of his cognitive abilities in the form of academic performance is significantly lower than would be expected given his cognitive abilities...Classroom observations and teacher reports indicate that Charlie's poor academic performance is predominantly related to his behavior."
The report goes on to deliver a gentle pat of consolation, in case we were feeling guilty: "Charlie's premature birth cannot be overlooked as having a potential influence on his current presentation." The evaluator goes on to cite numerous possible consequences of prematurity; I will summarize this part of the report thus: Don't have your babies early. It can really fuck things up. (Now imagine me delivering this next part really fast, in a low voice, like the voice-over in a prescription drug commercial: Of course, not every child born early experiences these repercussions, and many full-term children experience nausea, anemia, disorientation, hallucinations, unexplained calf pain, irritability, scrofula, quinsy, worm fit, yellow jack, scrimshaw, aaaaand death.)
It's tempting to conclude that what we're dealing with now is the result of Charlie's early birth, thereby absolving ourselves of any part in it. It's also tempting to deliver a few punishing thumps to the chest and wail with the guilt and remorse of it: What have we dooooone to make him this way? I could go to either extreme, I guess, but I don't think there'd be any point. Where it comes from is not an urgent question. I am much more occupied just now with what to do about it.
What to do about it.
We have an upcoming meeting with the school at which I expect -- because they have warned us -- that they'll contend that Charlie is not eligible for special education. The question is one of adverse effect: Does his current condition have an adverse effect on his educational performance? And although the evaluator's report seems to say so in so many words -- "academic performance is significantly lower than would be expected given his cognitive abilities" -- the definition per state regulations is quite specific. He would have to be performing at the 15th percentile or lower in one of seven basic skill areas to qualify. And even given how little he attends or participates in class, that's just not the case. Regardless of how poorly he's performing in relation to his own cognitive ability or his potential, he's not doing badly enough in relation to grade norms.
And I've gone through the looking glass seven or eight times so far on this. Good? I...guess? That he's not doing that badly? Badly enough...to get the full range of assistance from professionals who specialize in this stuff? Which is...bad? Or...good?
I don't even know. I don't know what's next. I don't know what the school will propose, and I don't know what to counter with. I don't know what he's entitled to. I don't know what would help. I don't know what we should be fighting for, and that scares me most of all.
The great thing
The kids were riding their bikes in the driveway, a long, smooth stretch of asphalt that slopes down from the street. Charlie was riding down, and Ben was heading up. Charlie was coming down fast, but they were a safe distance apart, and it would have been fine if Ben hadn't suddenly leapt off his bike and started running directly toward Charlie, laughing.
I was down at the bottom of the driveway watching. I could see Charlie's face as he rode, watched him notice his brother, frantically trying to figure out what to do as Ben headed straight into his path. I called to Charlie, I called to Ben, and I ran.
I saw his face, and I watched him decide. Next to a bank of overgrown rugosa rosebushes, Charlie ditched his bike instead of hitting Ben. The bushes broke his fall, a good thing considering the three-foot drop on the other side. Charlie, scared and scratched, was crying.
I picked him up, 50 pounds of brave sweaty boy, and held him. I told him how sorry I was that he'd been hurt, but how proud I was that he'd done it. "You saw Ben coming and you kept him safe," I said.
"I didn't want to be a bad brother," he said. "But I got hurt." He was wailing and cradling his banged elbow.
"You did," I said, "but you did the right thing. You did a great thing." He didn't quite get it when I tried to explain that getting hurt made it mean more. And it wouldn't have been right to let him know that every moment like this is a huge relief: the empathy I've worried about is starting to emerge.
So I dropped the quest for meaning and fretted over his scrapes. Nothing serious, and I will only admit to feeling entirely glad. Because it would be wrong, I know, to wish for a scar, something to point to later, a physical mark of the moment I started to think things would be okay.
My aunt had a helper named Nora. Nora came weekly to clean the house, organize whatever she hadn't already encapsulated in a succession of Ziploc bags, and take care of the laundry. Like Jack Aubrey's Preserved Killick, she was absolutely steadfast and, although hilarious, also a little bit terrifying. When I visited my aunt I'd invariably find these weird agglomerations of stuff, all organized after a fashion, but in arrays that made no sense: a plastic bag containing three rubber bands; several used fabric softener sheets, each folded with naval precision; a plastic bag containing another several plastic bags, nested matryoshka-style; a handful of foreign change; a shower cap from a hotel; and several tiny tubs of non-dairy creamer, like: what? And I'd ask my aunt what those things had in common, what Nora could possibly have been thinking, and she would placidly answer, "Whatever Nora wants is perfectly fine with me." Well, okay, then. Back into the glove compartment it goes.
I only heard my aunt complain about Nora once. "She was sitting on the sofa folding laundry when R. came over," she said, speaking of a male friend of hers. "It was all socks and underwear, and she just kept...on...folding! Nora picked up a pair of my drawers," demonstrating by stretching out her arms to about four feet apart, as if her smallclothes had been gigantic, "and just kept...on...folding!" With that she shook out her imaginary underpants so extravagantly that you could imagine her taking flight, and continued, "Right in front of R.!"
And this has nothing to do with anything, except that I thought about it this weekend when we had houseguests. (God, they are lovely people; they made everything -- everything! -- easier and more fun, and I mean that beyond the carload of liquor they brought.) Specifically, I felt relieved that I'm honest here about our life, because nothing destroys your pretensions like having people in your home, seeing how you really live. It's like those clean-your-house-quick-for-company tips, that involve things like putting your unwashed dishes in the trunk of your car or someplace. That's fine for the duration of a quick cup of coffee, but any more than that and someone's bound to need a set of jumper cables, or possibly flap out your step-ins.
Because -- I am getting to the point, but slowly, as is my way, and excruciatingly, as is also my way -- Charlie lost his shit on Sunday. He and our friends' son had been playing pretty well up to that point, but there had been indications that Charlie was getting a little edgy, and I didn't pick up on them quickly enough. It wasn't that anything extraordinary happened; I think it was just the continuing fact of having another kid around, someone he was expected to play nicely with and defer to in some things, and being decidedly off routine...you know, just. And after dinner, when there was a dispute about a toy both boys wanted, Charlie simply exploded.
It was the kind of wobbly he hasn't pitched in months, but the sort of thing we've seen before. I didn't expect it, but its intensity didn't shock me, especially when I later considered the lead-up. I was embarrassed, not only because it happened but because I agonize over how to handle it even when no one else sees it. Mortified because I didn't see it coming, and by now I should have learned to do that, and to help Charlie by taking some of the pressure off when that happens. Even now I'm squirming a little bit to know we showed so badly. But if our friends hadn't known before, if I hadn't been honest here, how much worse it would have been. I'm grateful that our friends were so kind about it; I'm also glad, for many reasons, that I tell us like we are.
Here is the only thing I have to say about Rep. Anthony Weiner: He repeatedly introduced into Congress the Family Building Act, calling for insurance coverage for infertility treatment. Just thought I would point that out, lest his wang overshadow his work.
Charlie's evaluations continue. Yesterday, on a day that topped 90 degrees, one of the assessors sent him home with Silly Putty, which immediately melted into a runny, sticky web, instantly indivisible from everything it touched. Although Charlie said it was a reward for participating cheerfully in the process, I can only see it as an additional test: how long it takes your mother to give up, saying, "Screw it, it's just a ruined T-shirt. And a pair of shorts. And socks. And his hair. And duodenum."
Now let me see: card table house...
Yeah. Hey, good thing summer's nearly over, huh? Because I've pretty much shot my wad.
A few weeks ago a note came home from school, coolly informing us that current kindergarteners would be out of school for two days in May, to allow the upcoming class to visit and familiarize themselves with the school. Nowhere on the official calendar did this interlude appear, so I was surprised, and I confess it: I get a little squirrelly when the school starts throwing around official-sounding phrases like, "Jesus, would it kill you to care for your own kid for a couple of days, lady?" Therefore I did the obvious thing and overreacted. I planned a trip to Montreal.
A couple of years ago Charlie and I took a trip together, a quick flight over to Ohio to pick up some furniture from my parents' house and then a much longer slog home in a U-Haul. My time with Charlie was fantastic, but the 14' truck was frankly kind of a dick, so I remembered those 750 miles with ambivalence. But to Charlie, it turns out, it was all good: a hotel pool, carte blanche with the snacks, and my mostly undivided attention -- mostly, because I did occasionally break into his conversation with an expletive or two while I wrestled the truck through, like, one-lane mountain passes and rickety rope bridges and over roiling volcanoes and shit.
But we'd been thinking about how nice it had been to have a couple of days with each other, so we did it again. At the Biodome I watched Charlie vacillate between an assumed hauteur -- That for your frisky tamarins. I distinctly remember being promised there'd be unicorns -- and bursts of untrammeled enthusiasm. Seeing his incredulity when I spoke French, I showed off a bit and inevitably came a cropper one morning when I accidentally asked our serveuse for another cup of René Lévesque was the son of a whore, cream and sugar, ess vay pay. We basked in the history and immersed ourselves in the vibrant cultural life of one of North America's oldest cities. Haaaa, psych, no, as if: We swam in the hotel pool.
But the highlight for us both was a trip in a jet boat. The boat buzzes down the St. Lawrence River, plunges crazily through the Lachine Rapids for about 20 minutes -- crazily, as in GIANT WALL OF WATER HA HA HA HA OH GOD NOT THE FACE WHOOOOOOOO HA HA HA IT'S PROBABLY GOING TO KILL US ALL HEE HEE HEE HEEEEEEEE THERE ARE TROUT MATING IN MY SINUSES AGGGGGGGGGGH ohIhopewedothatagain -- and then buzzes back to the dock just as you start to notice exactly how wet your underpants have gotten. Luckily we'd been advised to bring a change of clothes, including underwear, because by the end we were indeed soaked to the skin, despite three layers of Polarfleece, a waterproof jumpsuit, a life vest, and a poncho. If you happen to find yourself in Montreal, and if you enjoy thrill rides and inhaling ice-cold quarts of river water -- wait, no, metric and French, I meant quelques kilomètres de Celine Dion thumping her chest as if the entire Parti Québecois were lodged in her windpipe frigide -- do check out Saute Moutons [noisy auto-loading video].
And that plug was unsolicited and uncompensated, unless you count the fact that after the ride, when I declined, with a squawk of laughter, to purchase this photo, they kindly gave it for free:
Every once in a while I get the opportunity to do this, to drop everything and appreciate my kid. Oh, on a busy day I can take five or ten minutes at a time, focus solely on Charlie or Ben, and sustain myself with it, sure. Tune out the inessential garbage of our everyday lives for just long enough to reaffirm the whole point of the inessential garbage, the chores, the discipline, the count-to-ten-to-keep-my-patience: to make what's precious possible. But to do it for a couple of days at a time, when my only jobs are to keep my child alive and to delight in him -- well, merci, Montréal, pour le Cirque du Soleil freaks me right the fuck out parfaitement merveilleux.
Okay. I have fifteen minutes to devote to the latest linkbaity sensation: the Canadian parents who have decided not to reveal their baby's sex, as a way to change the world a little when it comes to the way we think about gender.
And mostly I think it's just goofy, the kind of story where you double-check your browser's location bar to be sure you're not reading the Onion. Part of me, however, appreciates where the parents are coming from, if not the way they're getting there; yes, we are fucked up when it comes to our tendency to fall back lazily on gender norms, even -- maybe especially -- at our children's earliest age. But another part of me is irritated by what seems like the parents' eagerness to talk the talk, without a corresponding willingness to walk the walk.
The baby doesn't concern me much. Instead I keep thinking about five-year-old Jazz, one of the baby's older brothers, a kid who wears his long hair in braids and likes to wear a poofy pink dress.
Jazz was old enough for school last September, but chose to stay home. "When we would go and visit programs, people — children and adults — would immediately react with Jazz over his gender," says Witterick, adding the conversation would gravitate to his choice of pink or his hairstyle.
That's mostly why he doesn't want to go to school. When asked if it upsets him, he nods, but doesn't say more.
Now, I know we can't know the entirety of it, but it doesn't sound like anyone was truly harassing the kid; it sounds more like the kind of getting-to-know-you stuff children do. If this is true, why was the parents' response to keep him out of school rather than engaging the issue productively? Why not teach through these difficult moments, rather than absenting yourself from them?
I should say here that I disagree in principle with making a child a mouthpiece for any particular political or social agenda ("some people believe" notwithstanding). But assuming that Jazz's inclinations truly are pretty-princessy, well, don't you then owe it to your kid to show him how to broker these encounters? And if you're not willing to work actively to change the world in this most basic of ways -- by helping your kid learn how to be comfortable with himself in a society that's sometimes hostile, by helping other kids learn how not to perpetuate the problem -- well, don't you forfeit whatever moral high ground you're claiming by grandstanding about a baby's sex?
I guess I just mean that I'm all for changing the world, as imperfect as it is, but I'm also strongly opposed to refusing to equip kids to live in it. Forget what Storm's carrying around in (s)he(is)r(ie')s diaper; that is what bothers me about this story.
What do you think?
Þlightly amuþing Þursday
Three things you might find funny, or maybe it's just me:
A couple of weeks ago I got a pitch in my e-mail for Ina May Gaskin's new book, Birth Matters: A Midwife's Manifesta. (I am not exactly sure what earns that word its terminal A, except perhaps that the book pertains to the vagina, noun, f., and not the testiclos.)
Gaskin, if you don't already know, is kiiiind of a big deal all up in your straining cervix; she's regarded as "the mother of modern midwifery" who has, it is fair to say, revolutionized non-hospital birth in the U.S. And however you feel about birth, whatever you believe about how it is best accomplished, no matter how hard you search for the missing F that makes us say midwifffffery, if you're interested in reproductive topics you don't immediately chuck that e-mail without reading it, the way you would the fourth — seriously, four — message reminding you that May is Pregnancy Awareness Month, Exclamation Point! Thank you, yes: I am aware that pregnancy exists.
So I read the mail, or started to, but I got hung up on the second line, which referred to "the magic key to safe birth: respect for the natural process."
And then sent a nice note back: "My blog is not, perhaps, the best advertisement for that natural process." And did not add any helpful advice about where to shove that magic key.
Speaking of respecting that ol' natural process all like I do, HA HA HA HA 15 EGGS ohhhhh. I love to laugh.
Wait, I'll let you in on the joke. Seems researchers have found that the optimal number of eggs to retrieve in a single IVF cycle in order to achieve a live birth is...15.
We didn't have that many mature eggs total over the course of many cycles, including our donor cycle. I'm glad we didn't know at the time that 15 was some sort of magic number. Otherwise we might have started thinking fertility treatment sucked or something.
And now for something completely different: A million years ago I used to be slightly famous on the Internet. This was back when I was in college, before Mark Zuckerberg founded Apple, when we were all still watching YouTube on 8-track in our Oldsmobile Cutlass Supremes. Men outnumbered women on the net then by about 17,000,000,000 to one, and I was one of those ones. And I was kind of cute, which I guess you could tell in those prehistoric ASCII times by the perky way I typed my @s, so I achieved some popularity.
I also got some dates. When a local gentleman ventured to chat me up online, I was generally willing to meet him, at least, and that is how I met Bloodaxe.
Face to face, he introduced himself by his Christian name, and he was exactly what you imagine when you think of someone who went by Bloodaxe online circa 1990: the sun-kissed outdoorsy type, gifted with an innate social ease, owning absolutely no clothing with wolves on it. Or, you know, exactly the opposite. I want to tread carefully, because he was a really nice guy and I don't want to make fun of him here. (That comes later in the story.) So just conjure a picture for yourself and I promise you won't be far wrong.
And he was perfectly pleasant, if you could get past White Fang there, so when upon our first meeting he invited me to the Founder's Ball, an event my school put on every three years, I accepted with pleasure. I duly poured myself into a beaded cocktail dress and tottered off to meet my destiny, who stood that night a full foot shorter than I in my ill-advised 4" stilettos. Which was only a problem, really, when we began...to waltz.
Waltz. It was that kind of ball.
But he was a sport and I was a sport, so we waltzed as best we were able. That is to say my heel only nearly tore through his Achilles' tendon every time we attempted a turn, and I only mostly died of embarrassment every time my chin brushed the top of his head. I will not speak of the single attempt he made, defying physics, to dip me.
We left shortly thereafter, before the ambulance could get there.
But the evening wasn't over yet. With exquisite delicacy and a becoming diffidence he asked me back to his room to continue this pleasurable congress; he was enough of a gentleman that I agreed, not fearing his advances.
Free advice, my Internet friends: Fear his advances. Fear them.
An unexpected snow had started to fall, disrupting his plans for us to sit outside. Instead he shooed out his roommate, who'd been studying at his desk. Topology mid-term be damned: this night was made...for love.
He dimmed the lights. He lit some candles. He spread a fake fur throw on the three feet of floor separating the room's twin beds and invited me to sit. My spike heels, my sheath dress, and I prudently chose a chair.
He offered me a glass of champagne from his cube of a dorm room fridge. And if I was the woman and this was the wine, could the song part be far off? Alas, it seemed it could not, because Bloodaxe took out a lute and then began to sing.
I don't remember what he sang; I'm not sure I noticed then, so intense was my horror, so loud was the shrieking in my head. Let's say it was olde and mystickal, though, as it would have been in character.
Plinka plinka oh cryngeing lady fairest of alle thinge plinka plinka longinge steales upon me lyk a hœngrye grue plinka plinka strummity strum treue of love, her knyght so bold plinka plinka more comely stille than Deanna Trói plinka plink ye Ren Faire soone attending...
The only saving grace was that he did not crouch on the fake fur at my feet to sing. He sat on the bed instead. The throw lay dead there between us, a lustrous gulf of Oh Hell No that he mercifully did not cross.
It was awful. Somehow I kept my composure, not so much out of kindness — because he was a nice guy, and surely kindness was called for — but because I was frozen by the awkwardness of the entire scene. I don't care how nice you are; you just don't serenade on the first date. Busting out a lute is like third base, dude.
But my composure would not last. He had hardly finished his song, its plangent nøtes still echœing in the ær, and I had barely begun to untwist out of my involuntary convulsion of embarrassment, when he produced a little book. It was a plain black notebook, its pages much thumbed, and he held it up to show me, before uttering the seven little words that freed me from my chair:
"Would you like to hear my haiku?"
Reader, I married him.
Hahahaha, no. I just slandered him on the Internet 20 years later.
Hahahaha, yes. Well. Because he was a nice person, I left decently, suddenly noticing, my, how late it had gotten! I thanked him nicely for a lovely evening and assured him that he need not escort me home. NO, REALLY. If I am menaced by a bear I will simply gouge its eyes out with the fearsome point of my shoe, which incidentally provides excellent traction in the inch of snow that has fallen, and you probably wouldn't think so but these tiny cap sleeves are actually quite warm, so, thanks, but I wouldn't care to borrow a coat, and NO, REALLY. I WANT TO WALK HOME ALONE. The snow has stopped! Probably! Almost, anyway! It's fyn! Marry, I lyk it welle! The ære out here is só criðp!
And none of this story has a point at all, except as an illustration, I guess, of what a tool I was and still am, that I find this whole thing hilarious. Recently an old boyfriend found me on Facebook, and it got me thinking about those college years. Out of idle curiosity I Googled Bloodaxe and a few other relevant terms last night, to see if he'd left any online traces from that time — a post in the school's Usenet gaming groups was honestly all I'd expected.
I didn't know his last name — hadn't known it even on our date — so I didn't expect to find much. Imagine my surprise, then, when I found him in one of the school's publications, an official document that indicated that Bloodaxe...was his last name. His legal name. The name he actually goes by. Like, when telemarketers call his house, they ask for Mr. Bloodaxe.
I waltzed with a man named Bloodaxe. With Bloodaxe did I quaff the elixir of the grape. I fled the haiku of Bloodaxe, and I lived to tell the tale.
And when I found out that was his real, for-true name — assumed, I am sure, and not inherited, although now probably one of you will tell me that, actually, when your ancestors arrived at Ellis Island in 790 they were known as the Bloodaxekovskeviches — I had qualms about telling this whole story. I mean, who wants to Google themselves and find some asshole laughing at your earnest 20-years-ago self, when your only crime was that you worked very, very hard to show a girl a harmless good time?
But then I realized that when you Google Bloodaxe, really, all you get is results like these:
...not one of which is wearing a wolf T-shirt. And I decided it was probably okay. I think he or his kids or employers are frankly unlikely to find this. After all, I'll never be Ynternet-fæmous ynough to outrank Wikipedia.
Posted by Julie at 12:13 PM | Comments (59)
The Thursday assortment
Is it weird, I wonder, that I don't exactly know how the first part of Charlie's evaluation went? Sure, we went in and met the evaluator, a pleasant guy with a disarming manner. We answered his questions, filled out his forms, and laughed only a little hysterically when he asked whether there was anything unusual about Charlie's birth or infancy. (This is a big step down in intensity from my normal response, which involves falling into a seizure of hilarity, lying on the floor and maybe kicking a little depending on how tough the room is, and then maybe shrieking, "That man stole my wallet!" if I feel the need to create a diversion.)
He took extensive notes and asked good questions, my favorite being "What's great about your kid?" It felt good to be able to reel off six or seven things without missing a beat, which is ridiculous; any parent worthy of the name could do that. Still, it seemed like a useful indicator of how beaten down we're actually not: "Charlie is funny, cheerful, inventive, affectionate, clever, curious, adventuresome" comes easily without a "...but."
And he explained in great detail the kind of one-on-one work he'd be doing with Charlie during the day. He was also going to meet with Charlie's teacher and spend time in the classroom observing not just Charlie, but Charlie in juxtaposition with a representative child, for the sake, I guess, of contrast. All fine, all good, and when Charlie came home he said it was fine, and good: so I still don't know how it went.
Really, that's all he said, beyond showing me the toy he'd been allowed to keep, a water-filled glittery rubber mace. (...What?) And because it felt slightly absurd to grill him — "He had you repeat words back to him? Which words? Do you remember? Try. It's important." — that's pretty much all I got. For the rest, we wait for the next phase of testing; then we wait for results.
So I think it went okay, but it does feel strange to know that someone somewhere is thinking about, tallying up, working on my kid, in a way I'm not currently privy to.
Ben cried in the car the other day, really wailed, fat tears rolling, button nose streaming. Why was our toddler crying? "Because I can't find my eyebrows."
Every year on the first Sunday in May, my town celebrates All Species Day. It's exactly what it sounds like, a celebration of...everything. People dress in elaborate costumes, salute various natural forces, dance around a drum circle, and generally get their grateful hippie on under the warm spring sun.
The suit itself is impressive — rather Acme Bat Man, actually — even though it's mended visibly in several places by what appears to be black electrical tape. I thought about mentioning it and offering a fix but worried he'd peck out my liver.
Oh, and that burning thing there in the foreground? It's a torch. Made of a roll of toilet paper. That's been soaked in biodiesel. Happy flaming Beltane!
The costumes are generally fantastic, really inspired, and represent I don't know how many hours of effort. (Unless you're me, whose creative zenith thus far has been a gray sweatsuit for Charlie supplemented by a long felt tail: "You're a mouse. Or a rat. Or possibly a lemur. Let's hang you from this branch and see." This year I stuffed Ben into a too-small Elmo shirt and declared that my work here was done. Elmo is too a species, pained-looking man whose kid just went apeshit. I believe you when you say you don't have a TV; all I'm observing is that your toddler loves Elmo, too. So stop glaring and blessed be.)
Anyway, there are lobsters and centipedes, hummingbirds and jellyfish, trout and birch trees and sunflowers. There are guys dressed as Hobbits and forest gnomes, not so far from their usual look. There are pregnant women in tie-dyed Spandex with their bellies exposed, giant and gleaming, blue-veined white in the sun. There are babies dressed as larvae and one boy dressed as Pikachu.
There are two or three dozen white geese held aloft on poles, my favorites. I squeal to see them every year. They are carried nearly ten feet high, and appear, to my delight, at every parade this town ever has. (Ours is a big puppet area. By which I mean both that we have a lot of them, and they are huge. And certainly not at all creepy. Nope!)
There are marching cows of virtue: Wisdom. Justice. Compassion. ...Vocational Training. You know, the traditional virtues. (Funding for the Arts cow wanted me to tell you that Alternative Energy cow headed back to his car for a minute. No, wait, shit, I mean his bike. His recumbent bike, if you really must know, made entirely from free-trade organic...bicycle parts...and why are we even discussing this, anyway? What have you got against Peace, Tolerance, and Adult Literacy? What are you so afraid of?)
From the fire circle in the park to the leisurely parade down the hill, the whole thing culminates on the state house lawn downtown. There are musicians. A maypole. A flutter of dancers in white. Charlie and Ben tangled on the grass, half-wrestling and half-napping.
I love this day. I love this town. Days later, I'm still smiling, even though I'm also still itching from what I think were probably wood ticks.
Today volunteers from all over the country are in Washington, DC as part of RESOLVE's Advocacy Day. They're asking for a tax credit for infertility treatment costs; for Congress and the CDC to reinvigorate the National Action Plan for Infertility; and for greater awareness of the impact of infertility and the current barriers to care. Thank you to everyone who's there, to everyone who's meeting with their legislators locally, and to RESOLVE for channeling our energy and frustration into meaningful action.
Posted by Julie at 02:57 PM | Comments (32)
I just had this epiphany. This morning I read a piece of celebrity news that irked me. Or rather it wasn't the news itself -- producer/songwriter Kara DioGuardi, formerly of American Idol, is trying to conceive -- but the way it was reported.
At a book signing for DioGuardi's recent memoir, Access Hollywood asked her what she hopes to accomplish next. "I’d like to have a baby," she said. "I don’t know, I've been having a lot of sex, but it's not working. I'd like to succeed at that, if my damn body would get with the program."
Yeah, if only; in this memoir, DioGuardi reveals that she's undergone three unsuccessful IVFs so far. So naturally the story about her attempts to get pregnant begins...
"Kara DioGuardi appears to be having a good time while she and her husband try to grow their family!"
Yeah, boy, Access Hollywood, you sure picked up on the salient point there. Infertility sex is a blast. Nothing more frolicsome than getting it on by the calendar, and sometimes even the clock, and if you're really far gone, the stopwatch. What a romp it is, gazing lovingly into your partner's eyes and whispering throatily, "I know you're tired and need to get up early and have that thing going on with your neck, so you can just lie there while I do all the work"! I mean, what could be better than doing it solely because not doing it is going to make you cry?
My point is, it's hard to think of anything less fun than the sex associated with hardcore infertility, as compulsorily frequent as it is. I don't know, a colonscopy? Performed by a swarm of live bees? While listening to Jack Johnson?
Yet that's what Access Hollywood takes away from it: She sure is hitting it regular. Woooo!
And I was fuming about this when it suddenly hit me. I've been frustrated in the past when celebrities were, oh, let's say less than forthcoming about the fertility challenges they might have faced. (I totally said might, y'all. Progress!) Let me be clear: I don't think anyone has some automatic sacred right to know about anyone else's personal business. When anyone does share, I think it's a gift, so that's not what I'm suggesting. No, what's disappointed me in the past was rather the missed opportunity, the actively declined opportunity, to do a very specific kind of good in the world, one that I know has enormous benefits to people I care about: Be open. Fight the stigma. Disprove the myths, simply by being who you are and owning it.
I don't think we're owed it, but I still wish people would do it, and for that I thank Kara DioGuardi, Carefree Avid Sex-Haver. But reading that article this morning, something new occurred to me, and it gave me an enhanced compassion for people in the public eye who deal with infertility. It was this:
For every one person who says something stupid to one of us plain old normals, there are fifty saying it to the famous. On camera and in print, with headlines like, "Kara DioGuardi Having a Lot of Sex in Hopes of Getting Pregnant." Today for the first time I was moved to imagine what it would be like to open a magazine and read, "Julie Robichaux, After Three Failed IVFs, Is Having the Goddamn Time of Her Life."
That...that's not such a pleasing thought, and inspires in me a new understanding for why some public figures stay quiet. Because it's one thing to hear it from your dumb brother-in-law -- "We want a baby, but we're having trouble." "Well, at least you get to have fun trying," complete with a waggle of the eyebrows and a leer that makes me want to slap him, God, I mean, I'm sorry, I don't care how much money he's loaned you; I've always hated your brother-in-law -- and another thing entirely, I suspect, to hear it from UsStarPeopleToday.com. Plus your brother-in-law. And probably Jack Johnson. And bees.
I didn't exactly bust a myth here (and may even have promulgated one myself, since surely there are couples who do somehow manage to stay matrimonially freeea-kaaay during a long slog through infertility, although, ahem, video or it didn't happen), but in honor of National Infertility Awareness Week a bunch of other brilliant bloggers have. If you're not in the know about infertility, why not find out more?
Posted by Julie at 11:42 AM | Comments (26)