The Mask and the Shield

It’s been about a month since I posted last. When I began this blog I truly believed this would be more of a ‘pregnancy and motherhood’ blog, not a ‘trying to conceive’ blog. I’ve been through another disappointing cycle since my last post. I have maybe two more cycles’ worth of ovulation tests. I’m running out of drive.

I emailed my doctor last week. To see if Husband and I should have any fertility testing. We’re too young, and it hasn’t been long enough. Their reason for saying ‘no’ was that no insurance company would cover them. God bless America, right? I even fessed up to a few of my close friends about what’s going on. They prayed for me, and held my hand while I cried. I have some of the best friends.

To make it all worse, not one, but two couples at my church have announced their pregnancies in the last month. I’ve skipped church quite a bit lately. I get a bit of a pass because I also work Sundays, and I’ve worked a lot recently. Mostly, I skip because it’s hard to go. It’s hard to see all those babies, all those bellies, and feel like no one can see my pain. I feel like I do when I go to work. I work at a retirement community where my job is to make peoples lives richer, and fuller. When I’m having a bad day I frown all the way to the door, then as I walk up to the building I push my shoulders back, take a breath, and smile, I make a conscious effort to change my face. I waive at the residents, smile and laugh, and joke around with them. From the time I step through the door until I leave, I am happy, or at least I appear to be. When I go to church I do almost the same thing. I don’t make the same effort to change my face before I step through the door, but I still smile when someone addresses me, say I’m fine when asked. I don’t go out of my way to talk to people though.

When did we all decide we must put on a mask at church? Isn’t it the one place we should be able to be honest about our pain, our suffering, and our struggles? It’s 10:35am on a Sunday and right about now the music at my church is starting up and people are beginning to worship, and I’m sitting at home in my pajamas because I can’t bear to show my face while yet another happy couple announces their good news. (Yeah, that’s what’s happening today, thank you Facebook for giving me the heads up.) I know that I won’t be able to maintain my mask during that announcement. Am I part of the problem? Yes, I probably am. If I were up front about my struggles that might pave the way for someone else to be up front about theirs. The thing is, I’m afraid of being so vulnerable. I want that shield, I don’t want my inner turmoil on display. I don’t want that to be what people see when they look at me, “That’s the girl who can’t get pregnant.”

Truthfully, I’m not ready to spill my beans just yet. I’ve fessed up to a few close friends and that’s all I can manage right now. Maybe in a few months, if we haven’t got good news, we will share our struggle with the church, maybe. For now, I’ll cower behind my shield and that’s just going to have to be enough, it’s going to have to be okay.

I have unusually high hopes for the next cycle. After my conversation with the doctor, basically being told we were on our own, we started looking for other things we could try. I’ve heard of a lubricant called PreSeed, that is meant to mimic the fertile mucous that gets the sperm to the egg. Now that I think about it, years ago I seemed to have tons of mucous, now I seem to have very little regardless of where I am in my cycle. I’ve said before my cervical mucous doesn’t seem to tell me much in terms of predicting ovulation. We bought a box of PreSeed and will be trying it out this week. I’ve read so many comments on the baby blogs about how someone used it and got pregnant the very first time. I’m not assuming we’ll be so lucky, but I’m praying we will.

I have to keep reminding myself that God has a plan for this. I always assumed that I would get pregnant by ‘accident.’ That motherhood would be forced upon me. When we decided to start trying I was happy, I was being offered motherhood as a gift. Now it seems motherhood is something I’ll have to fight for, an uphill battle. I have to believe that when I finally hold my baby in my arms, it will all have been worth it. All the pain, the money spent on fertility boosting products, the tears, sermons missed, the masks and shields I’ve worked so hard to maintain, each negative test, each period. I have to believe someday I’ll be able to put this all behind me and I won’t feel the pain anymore.

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Taking a Break

I was almost talked out of it.  But last month when my period came again, I really crumbled.  The pain, both physical and emotional, hit me so hard that I called Husband and begged him to agree to stop trying.  It was too much for me to bear.  It was a very emotionally driven decision, not logical or level headed at all.  We agreed to take a break for a month, to allow some time for rest, and recovery.

We took a vacation (one that we’d already had planned).  It was nice to not think about it, it was always in the back of my mind of course, but it didn’t consume me the way it normally does.  I’ve thrown myself more into my work which has helped to take my mind off ovulation and symptoms.  It was wonderfully freeing to not open my cycle tracking app twenty times a day.

The blissfulness of not worrying ended Monday.  I knew my period was coming any day, but likely not till later in the week.  I knew there was a chance I was pregnant, but not a very good one.  I was content to wait.  Then I noticed some blood on my toilet paper.  I thought it was my period, it wasn’t the normal color for my period but I didn’t think much of it.  I’ve mistaken each period with implantation bleeding and I had to tell myself to stop holding out false hope, it just makes it harder.  I grabbed a liner from my bag and went about my day.  Each time I went back to the bathroom there was less blood until there was none at all.  Could I really have implantation bleeding?  Could I really have gotten pregnant the one month we didn’t try?  Could I be that lucky?  My hopes soared.  I started looking at baby stuff again.  The sight of bellies and babies gave me a pang of nervous excitement rather than a cringe of heartache.  I said nothing to Husband. I didn’t want to make it real in case it wasn’t.

I had a nervous, excited, blissful three days.  When I went to the bathroom before bed Wednesday night I saw the slightly browned yellow color that signaled the beginning of a new cycle.  I shed a few tears, and went to bed thinking I could sill be wrong.  The next morning dawned with the familiar pain of a vice clamped around my hips.  I wasn’t wrong, the dark red blood in the toilet confirms it.  I fessed up to Husband about what had happened.  This month was supposed to be a break for me, he was sorry I didn’t get one.  “It’s okay,” I said, “it was only a few days, I’m disappointed, but okay.”

Now as I’m writing, I’m shedding a few more tears but at least not sobbing into my toast the way I did a month ago. (That’s an improvement right?) I don’t know that I have a conclusion for this post.  I suppose my advice would be to take a break if you need it.  My real advice would be to not try to get pregnant, just stop trying not to.  It’s a little late for me to do that, and if you’re reading this blog it probably is for you too.

I’m back to looking away when I see bellies and babies, and trying (unsuccessfully) to get rid of the baby ads on my facebook feed.  The best part about thinking I was pregnant though, was the hope that I wouldn’t have to go through another month of ovulation tests, scheduled sex, tracking, and false hopes.  I’ve become rather pessimistic about this process, haven’t I?  Husband and I have been doing this for six months now, can you really blame us?

I wanted a spring baby.  Now I’m hoping for a summer baby.  On the bright side, at least I won’t have to buy a maternity coat.

Please, Please, Please, Stop Inviting Me to Baby Showers

I have never in my life seen so many pregnant women. Ever since my baby fever began, two years ago, I have seen more pregnant bellies than I have in the whole rest of my life. It really is absurd. Obviously it’s not that there are truly more pregnant ladies, it’s just that I notice them now. Just like when I was looking at buying a Nissan and suddenly they were everywhere. There are, however, truthfully more pregnant women and newborns at my church than ever before. Most of my life I attended a church that was mostly older people, not a whole lot of babies. Now I’m at a church where most people are around my age and a bit younger. This means a bunch of young Christian married couples. If you’re not familiar with this demographic, they tent to start families young. I’m literally surrounded by babies and bellies.

What’s worse than being surrounded by baby bumps? Being at a baby shower…multiple baby showers. So many baby showers! I’ve been invited to three this month alone! Some of these women I don’t even know! But because the church has my email address I get sent invites to every one.

I know full well that I am not obligated to attend any of these. But getting multiple invites and then reminders of those invites in my email every day kinda sucks. I’m being consistently reminded of my flat, very empty belly. There has been only one of these that I genuinely thought I should go to, but I was at the end of my cycle and just knew there was no baby this time either, I just could not bear it.

I have been frequenting baby forums and blogs and read somewhere that it’s perfectly acceptable to not attend a shower while you’re trying to conceive. I got on Amazon and ordered a couple of baby books to be delivered the day of the shower and went to my husbands softball game instead. Bonus: all the other pregnant wives who were normally at the games were at the baby shower. I got to actually enjoy the game without having to listen to baby talk the whole time!

Each month I get my period it gets harder. I start to question if I’ll ever have a baby, and we’re only on our fifth try. I’m dreading the next pregnancy announcement and praying it won’t be someone I’m close to. A few weeks ago I was nearly faced with just that. We have a group of pretty close friends that includes several couples. One of the husbands announced that they had “exciting news” and they would tell us all when we got together at our apartment the following week. Husband and I went home assuming right away that they were pregnant. I skipped the get together that week and sat at a coffee shop while everyone met at my apartment, Husband made some excuse for me. I skipped because with where I was emotionally at that time, I would have dissolved into tears had I stayed to hear her baby news. I would not have been able to be happy for her, and she truly deserved for her friends to be happy and supportive. It would have been torture for me. Turns out, their exciting news was completely non-baby-related. I’m relieved.

I’m realizing more and more that I don’t need to make decisions based on other peoples expectations, or expectations I place on myself. I am learning to take better care of myself and not feel guilty about it. At least I’m trying. This journey is a true emotional roller-coaster, if you’re not careful it can take you from your mountain top and pull you into a horrible pit and leave you there. There is so much talk about taking good care of your body. Eat well, don’t smoke, don’t drink, take prenatal vitamins, see your doctor, stay active. But there seems to be considerably less talk about taking care of yourself emotionally, even less about how to do that. There’s always the one-liner about not stressing, with a tag that says get a hobby. Really? Get a hobby? That’s all you have to offer me?

Here’s my advice from someone with admittedly very little experience: Take care of yourself emotionally and don’t feel guilty for it. Take a mental health day if you need to, do whatever it is that makes you happy. Don’t make yourself go to baby showers. On the days when you feel the worst, let yourself cry, let yourself be disappointed, and again, don’t feel guilty for it. Find a friend or a forum online to connect with other women going through the same thing, confide in them, let them affirm you and encourage you. Remember, you are not alone in this, and your time will come. A good friend of mine told me just the other day: “I know that God has a child for you. He has a son or daughter for you. Or both. You WILL kiss chubby cheeks and toes one day….When you feel yourself stress or hurt with disappointment, take a deep breath, give it back to God, and keep going.”

Thank you friend.

Stress, the Saboteur

It’s not really a secret that stress can wreck havoc on your fertility.  It can throw off your cycle, keep you from ovulating, screw with your hormones, and even cause you to miscarry in extreme cases.  Stress can affect you in many more ways as well, I’ve heard that stress has the same effect on your body as smoking five cigarettes a day!  (source)  I’m not very good at handling stress,  I never have been.  I’m pretty sure that one of my cycles was sabotaged by stress.

I work at a senior community planning and running activities.  My boss recently announced that he is resigning.  None of my team is interested in his job which means we’ll all get a new boss.  This also means that instead of breaking my pregnancy news to a boss I’ve known for more than a year and am comfortable with, I have to break it to a relative stranger who may or may not be so understanding.  There’s also the stress of getting used to a new boss and new policies.  My current boss has always been very flexible which was a comfort to me when I thought about dealing with a pregnancy at work.  Now I have no idea how a baby bump will be received.  There are laws to protect pregnant women in the work place, but I am not so naive to believe that discrimination can’t happen in spite of those laws.

In addition to that, some decisions have come from the top of the company that directly affect me, and they aren’t good ones.  I won’t delve into it, but these changes will make it immensely more difficult to do my job.  It also tells me that my job is not valued by superiors.  It’s an extremely difficult place to be.

My husband and I live in a big city, and the reality of where we live means we pay more in rent for our one bedroom apartment than a lot of people pay for their mortgage.  Our original plan was to move into a larger apartment when our lease was up.  We prayed long and hard about the decision, considered our options, and finally decided it would be smarter to stay in our one bedroom for another year to save money.  This means that we will (hopefully) be bringing our newborn home to our very small space.  I’ve been driving myself crazy trying to figure out how this is going to work.

To top it all off, my cat, who has always been sickly and was recently put on a special diet, refused to take her medication and stopped eating.  She did resume eating, but we are having to find another method for administering her medication.  Trust me when I say, we’ve tried everything.  I’ve been pilling this cat for seven years and she knows all the tricks.

With all this hitting me at once I was incredibly stressed out, the entire week had been a rollercoaster of emotion.  I was having trouble sleeping and focusing, I was restless but couldn’t find the motivation to do anything.  My boobs were killing me and I started to have really vivid and bizarre dreams.  It wasn’t normal for me so naturally I thought this meant I was finally pregnant.  Then, that Saturday, I got my period several days early.  It started with some spotting, rather than starting with cramping like it usually does.  This made me think it was implantation bleeding which would confirm my suspicions.  Throughout the day the cramps got stronger and the spotting turned into heavy bleeding.  There was no baby implanting itself into the lining of my uterus and if there had been, it was gone now.

I had been so sure there was a baby.  I cried hard over the loss of that hope.  I skipped church that Sunday and called in sick to work.  My husband was more than supportive.  He saw how hard the last week had been for me and knew I needed a break.  This was truly a mental health day if I’ve ever had one.  I was so torn up I needed a day to put the pieces back together, to cry, to think, and to rest.  There was so much running through my head.  Disappointment, uncertainty, anger, sadness, shame.  I was mad at and ashamed of myself for not knowing what was normal for my body.   Sad and angry that we had to go through yet another cycle.  Uncertain about what the future would hold for me at work.  It’s been a few cycles now and there’s a tiny voice in my head that’s starting to tell me, ‘maybe there’s something wrong with you…maybe you’ll never be able to get pregnant.’

I’ll never know if we had managed to get a fertilized egg during that cycle, and whether or not my stress that week prevented it from growing.  That knowledge won’t change anything, it won’t bring back the baby.  We still have to try again.  I have learned, and am still learning, that I need to trust God.  Stress is a response to changes in life that are uncontrollable, but I believe God is in control and He will take care of me.  It’s a struggle to shut out that voice telling me I’m defective and listen to God’s voice, but I know His is telling me the truth.

If you’re reading this and are in the same boat, here is my advice: It’s ok to be sad and to cry, it’s ok to need a mental health day, it’s ok to wonder what’s going on in your body  and it’s ok to be wrong about what you think is happening.  Things are always going to happen in our lives that we can’t control, but we can control how we respond to them.  Whatever you’re dealing with, trust God, and do what you need to do to take care of yourself and don’t feel bad about it.  This is hard, but you’re rocking it!

Trying to Conceive is it’s Own Form of Torture

Where to begin?  Well, I live in a huge city with my husband and our cat.  We’re both Christians and our belief and trust in Jesus affect every aspect of our lives, especially this part.  We’re in our 20’s, my husband is a performer (with a day job) and I’m an artist (also with a day job, but mine is part time.)

Up until about two years ago I had no desire whatsoever to add to our little family.  I’ve never been a kid person, I did not babysit in high school and if you approach me with your child and expect me to engage with him/her I will smile awkwardly and maybe say ‘hi’.  Please do not expect more from me.   Yet, something changed in me, God seemed to be giving me this desire I’d never had before,  suddenly I wanted to be a mom.  From there, it’s been a long, hard exercise in patience to get where I am now, to the point  where my husband and I are actually trying to get pregnant.  I’ll begin my story here.  I’ve already found a midwife (or more accurately, a midwife group) that will care for me during pregnancy and birth.  My birth control pills lay forgotten at the pharmacy, and we’ve long since run out of condoms.

Trying to get pregnant is its own form of torture.  I’ve read that it takes most couples 6 to 12 months to conceive.  You’ve got to be kidding me right?!  Six months of this!  I’m trying to pray for God’s will but at the same time praying for this part to be mercifully short!  Every month, on the first day of my period it begins.  I have a nifty little app on my phone (thank goodness for smart phones right?) that I plug information into so I can keep track of everything.  It tells me when I’m most likely ovulating and when to expect my period.  I tell it when I got my last period, then each day I record my basal body temperature, bleeding, cervical mucus, when we’ve had sex, if I have a headache, tender breasts, cramps, backache, what my mood is like, and any fatigue.  It can be even more thorough but I’m too lazy for all that.

Recording all that is the easy part, I also have to be hyperaware of my body.  I’ve seen pictures online of women checking cervical mucus with their fingers…is it just me or does the prospect of handling mucus from your vagina seem gross?  Although, I am also the person who uses a Diva Cup to deal with her period so I guess I can’t really talk.   By the way, my cervical mucus doesn’t really seem to tell me a whole lot.  (Should that worry me?  I don’t know, everyone’s different, right?)  I also have to remember to take my temperature, which you’re supposed to do the second you wake up and without moving.  I often fall asleep while doing this, and this morning I had to do it over again because the beeping that tells you it’s done did not wake me up and the reading was gone by the time I realized it.  Other mornings I forget until I’m already in the bathroom and then it’s too late.

While trying to make a baby seems fun because that means more sex, when you’ve had sex every day for five days in a row and then get up for work every morning, there is nothing you want more than to get in bed knowing there are no expectations.  You get to put on that ten-year-old t-shirt and the baggy pajama pants with the cats on them, sink into bed and drift off.  It’s heaven.  Please allow me to give you this piece of advice, don’t have sex every single day, give it a rest, you need sleep too.  That said, I do enjoy my husband and sex is great, but there is such a thing as too much.

So, the deed is done and now comes the waiting game.  That time between ovulation and the magical test day, it’s what I’d imagine purgatory is like (if I believed in purgatory).  Waiting, hoping, praying, looking for any sign of bodily changes, and Googling every minute detail to see if it’s an early pregnancy sign or just gas.  When I was little I remember seeing a commercial on TV for a pregnancy test, the one that tells you 6 days before you miss your period (3 whole days sooner than the competitor!).  I thought it was stupid,  why can’t you just wait?  After all, 3 days is not that long,   I am currently in purgatory with 2 days to go, if you told me I had to wait another three days I might just rip out my hair and use it to strangle you.  Three days is in fact, that long.  Oh, and don’t test too soon, you’ll more than likely get a negative whether you’re pregnant or not because the hormones haven’t built up in your system yet.  I KNOW it’s tempting, but you’re not doing yourself any favors, it’s a wasted test and those things aren’t cheap.

Are you ready for the longest two minutes of your life?  That’s how long it usually takes for the test to work.  I’ve taken a few so far and they’ve all been negative.  The first one I ever took was a whopping one month into my marriage.  My husband and I were naturally elated to see that one lonely little line that meant we could go ahead with our plans to move to the city.  But now that we’re trying, that lonely little line looks more like a dagger bound for my heart.  I bawled my eyes out the first time.  I can take one in a few days and even though I feel something inside me, some nervous excitement that a precious life is growing in me, I keep telling myself there’s not, so maybe it won’t hurt so bad if it’s just one lonely little line.  Everyone says it’s no biggie, you can try again next month, but I think it’s ok to be a little heart-broken and shed some tears.

I’ve crocheted a dozen hats and booties, little sweaters and blankets.  I have a stack of kids books in my closet and a stroller picked out.  I have a stuffed Peter Rabbit doll for my mom, a song book for my dad, and a scrapbook for my in-laws all ready to reveal they’re going to be grandparents.  I am ready for this baby.  No, I don’t have it all figured out, I’m not even sure where we’re going to be living when this kid’s born, but I am ready to be a mom.

In a Wild State

Hi.  Welcome to my blog.  I am a self-proclaimed ‘feral’ mom.  ‘Feral’ is defined as being “in a wild state, especially after escape from captivity or domestication.”*  In many ways this definition does not apply to me.  I live in a city, sleep in a bed, I go to work, and dress in normal clothes.  It does however apply to me in other ways.  I do not adhere to the ‘standard American diet,’ (I follow a plant based diet) I’m an artist, I enjoy the great outdoors, and (as the addition of ‘mom’ to my title would suggest) I view child-bearing in a much different way than I was taught.  I am not feral in all ways, but I am a feral mom.

For most of my life I’ve heard the same story about pregnancy and birth.  A story that includes vomiting, swelling, stretch marks, gestational diabetes, excruciating labor, defecation, epidurals, episiotomies, c-sections, screaming, and pain, somehow followed by a magical moment with someone who looks way too much like a lizard.  I’ve done a lot, like, A LOT of reading in the past months to prepare myself for this journey and I am daring to believe this does not have to be my story.

It is my goal here to talk honestly and openly about my journey to motherhood.  My husband and I are currently childless, but are in the dreaded ‘trying to conceive’ phase.  (You will also not find me using any of those acronyms that other ‘mom blogs’ use, I can’t stand them)  I will share everything I’ve learned about pregnancy, birth, and child-rearing.  I’ll share what I’ve learned from books and what I have and will learn from my experiences with the hope that someone out there will benefit from it.

I’m tired of the “everything is wonderful and being a mom is magical” story.  I’m tired of hearing “it’s worth it”, I’m sure that’s true but I don’t know that for myself yet.  I’m also tired of the attitude, sass, and alcohol induced honesty approach I’ve been hearing more and more of lately, it always had a way of making me feel inferior.   All these things may have their place, but it isn’t here.

This is a place of honesty that comes with understanding and compassion, everyone has their own experience and I offer no judgment.  The only thing I won’t be honest about is my name.  I am writing anonymously for a few reasons.  I haven’t told my family I’m planning on having a baby yet and wouldn’t it be terrible if they found out from my blog?  Also, I feel that to be 100% open about this very intimate subject, I can’t tell you who I am.  If I think people from my life might be reading this I would not tell you all the gory details, I’m just too insecure for that. My fingers would linger over the keys, maybe type a few words just to hit the delete button.

So, with the alias: Feral Momma, please allow me to give you my unedited, gross, horrible, wonderful, sober, and completely honest story of pregnancy and birth.

*Definition provided by Dictionary.com