Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Lessons in Patience

It's been a week since Stan was evicted. The hysterectomy operation happened without any major complications, which allowed me to come home the same day. (I don't recommend that. I was roaming the house at 3am, in excruciating pain, nauseous, weak from hunger and wishing there was a nurse call button). I have 3 small incisions that seem to be healing nicely, and I get a bit better every day, unless I overdo it. 

This surgery is forcing me to be patient, something that does not come easily to me. I'm used to soldiering on, teeth gritted, shoulders squared, pushing through pain, injury and whatever else my body throws at me. I don't do help. I do things myself. This time, however, my body has quietly and firmly said "no."

This recuperation is also forcing me to accept help. My momma taught me to be self-sufficient. I'm the one who supports everyone else, but I tend, as one of my very astute friends observed, to be "cat-like in pain" retiring and making do.  Even coming out of the anasthesia last week, I was saying please and thank you to the nursing staff, and apologizing for bothering them when they had to help me shuffle to the washroom.

My husband has taken over the day to day running of the house. He's competent, he knows how to cook, he's made our daughter's lunches for school and gotten her there on time.  He's had a couple of minor snags, like forgetting to send her water and milk one day in her lunch, or buying the frozen meatballs that I can't eat because they have garlic in them, but he's generally managed fine. He doesn't cook like I do, so the kid has been a little stressed, but nothing catastrophic. He's a good man and means well in everything he does.  He brought me a coffee and donut in the recovery area at the hospital, because he knows how much I love my java, and reasoned I'd be hungry. He nearly sent the nurse into a cardiac arrest, but no danger, I was too nauseated from the surgery to even contemplate sniffing the coffee, much less inhaling it. I appreciated the gesture and the love behind it.

I've had to get help with things this week, and it's been hard. Have I mentioned I don't do help? I'll help anyone who needs it, but take care of my own affairs, thank you. The first time I had a shower after the surgery, my husband had to skulk in the bathroom with me to make sure I didn't pass out. My shower time is precious to me. I ponder things. I visualize worries and stresses washing down the drain. I find solutions to the niggling bits of writer's block. I find inspiration and subjects to write about when I'm not actively thinking about it. I've let my guard down and sobbed in the shower, only to straighten my shoulders and get on with things when I pull back the curtain. To have someone else in that space, no matter how reasonable and logical it was, was tough to take. What was especially hard, was that I was spent by the end of the shower and needed him to help me step out.

I haven't been able to drive, so my husband had to pick up my medications, my new glasses and drive me to the follow up appointment with the surgeon. I'm used to getting in my car and going. He doesn't mind. I do.

I can't lift anything over 5 lbs, including 2 bags of milk (I tried, to my peril).  I can't lift most of the pots in our kitchen, so when my husband returns to work, I'll have to know what we are having for dinner so he can lift the pot out before he leaves.  Our freezer normally has things on top of it. They all have to be moved so that I can get food out. I can't lift any of them. And while stubborn and determined are my usual modus operandi, I am not stupid enough to jeopardize my recovery by lifting more than I'm supposed to. Besides, it hurts.

My mother is stubbornly self-sufficient, refusing help and doing things herself. I am my mother's daughter, and that realization is disconcerting. A couple of my friends have brought us soup or casseroles.  I am touched that they went to the effort, pleased that I don't have to worry about meal-planning and struggling with the notion that I have to accept help because I'm not quite up to it yet.  It's hard when I've often only had myself to rely on. It's hard for me to let my guard down, to be less than super-woman and admit that I am, after all (gulp) only human.

As my brain surfaces from the fog that anasthesia creates, I've been pondering these forced lessons in patience. Why do I have so much trouble accepting help? Is it arrogance-am I so confident that my way is the only way to do things?  I suppose there's an element of that. I have a certain way of doing things- folding sweaters, putting the sheets on the bed, placing the dishes in the sink-that makes sense to me. In honesty, though, I suppose it's because I never learned how. My mother took care of everyone else, but takes care of her own affairs.She stopped driving a couple of years ago when her car died and started walking instead. She hates winter, because it means she can't pull her bundle buggy through the graveyard to get her own groceries, and must take a ride instead. Both my and my daughter's birthdays are coming up and she has no way to get our birthday presents without getting a ride, and the source of that ride isn't driving right now.That is vexing her and causing her stress, which in turn causes me stress because I can't fix it right now. I am fundamentally a fixer.

From the time I was small, my mother did it herself. I learned that. It's ingrained. People love to help, for the most part, but don't like to intrude. It's the asking part that I'm still working on.  It's hard to let down the guard and admit vulnerability, even to my closest friends.  It's hard to be less than self-sufficient.

And so I make do, I ponder and I ask for help through gritted teeth.  And now, I have to go, because my small child needs help with something. I'm teaching her that it's okay to ask for help. It's a good lesson to learn.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Thoughts on Infertility

 WARNING-I talk about reproductive systems and menstruation in this post. If you're squeamish-click away. It's okay. I understand.

I'm not often lost for words. Normally, the words flow effortlessly when I've decided on a topic. I'm struggling this time, not so much because of the topic, but because of the delicacy surrounding it.

My name is Lisa and I am infertile. In 24 hours, after the scheduled hysterectomy, the last vestiges of biological fertility will be gone. In truth, they were gone years ago. I never wrote about it. It's time.

I married at 35, and we started trying to have children immediately. We knew we wanted children-plural-and we knew that time was not on our side.  I had always been regular as clockwork. My period would arrive on the 30th day, by 11am. Sometimes it went as long as 5pm that day, but I was predictable. 

And then I was late. 5 days, 6 days, 8 days...other weird things were happening as well. Women know their own bodies, and we know when something is odd or different. This was not a late period. This was something else. 12 days late, and all of a sudden, I started spotting. I'd never done that before. 3 days of spotting, bright red woosh of blood and the odd feeling went away. This happened 3 times that I recall. Another time, there was cramping, the sudden appearance of a round disc of red the size of a silver dollar and then nothing. Twice, I went to the doctor for a blood test. I registered an HCG of 4, but to be considered "pregnant" HCG had to be 5. Both times, as I was scheduled for a follow-up blood test, spotting, woosh and no more symptoms. Because I had never registered an HCG of 5, my family doctor never considered me pregnant. When I was referred to a gynecologist, he confirmed that I had very likely been pregnant, but that the egg had not implanted. His succinct response "women know."

And then the fun began. We started doing fertility tests-both of us-and I started taking hormone shots to boost the probability of success. Intercourse then became something driven by a positive ovulation indicator rather than passion. After a couple of months, we found out that medical issues existed and that we would not be able to have children naturally.

Infertility feels like a betrayal on the most basic, human level. Women are genetically created to have babies. It's what we do. When I couldn't I felt like a failure on a fundamental level. I remember thinking "I can't even have a baby...what good am I?" It's hard to explain the profound sense of hopelessness and loss unless you've also walked through the tunnel. I have never felt so inadequate and useless as when I received the news that I could not have children.

It's funny the things that all of a sudden come into sharp focus. As I dealt with the blow of infertility, I suddenly noticed all the women with multiple children. It was hard to fight the feelings of resentment for strangers who appeared to have no trouble conceiving children.

We chose to go the adoption route. It was not without its own heartbreak, when the first adoption fell through when the birth mom changed her mind and kept the baby. We have a wonderful little girl, and she is the child that we were meant to have. We have only one, but she is the miracle that we often didn't dare to hope for.

My reproductive system wasn't finished with me yet. About 3 years ago, my like-clockwork periods started going wonky.  Some months it was 45 days. Some months 20 days. At first, I passed it off to pending menopoause-I was warned that I would be in full-blown menopause in 3-5 years, and it was right on schedule for that prediction. Then the period didn't stop for a month. It included blood clots the size of marbles, periods that flooded through super tampons, maxi pads, underwear and jeans in an hour, only to do it again an hour later, and drained me of energy. Soaking my pyjamas daily became part of the morning ritual-I became quite efficient at it and soaked them in the shower. I slept on a bath mat when I grew tired of changing the sheets.  I was afraid to leave the house when the periods were at their heaviest. I could flood in an hour, and I was left feeling dizzy and almost passed out driving the car one day. This was more than menopause.

Turns out that although my body couldn't nurture a baby, it had no problem growing uterine fibroids. Mine was the approximate size of an orange and was causing all the bleeding and other problems. I named it Stan because anything that big growing inside me needed a name. I also had a cyst on an ovary that accounted for the pain. Once more my body had betrayed me.

Infertility can be very isolating. It's hard for other women to understand unless they have also blinked back tears at the arrival of a period that was late, but definite. It's hard to explain the envy and jealousy we try to ignore when friends and colleagues show off their bundles of joy. Just after our first adoption fell through, a colleague announced that she was having twins. She already had 2 boys, and although I was genuinely happy for her, I struggled with the unfairness. After all, she was going to have 4 babies and all I wanted was one. Being around babies is like ripping a bandage off an open wound continually. It's sorrow on a fundamental, personal level that's hard to fathom. When we give in to the resentment and envy, even for a minute, we feel like a horrible person.

 I couldn't talk abotu the miscarriages-for that is what they were, even if they were early on. I couldn't talk about it.. 

I have long since come to terms with things. I'm looking forward to the surgery tomorrow, as much as one can look forward to major surgery, because it will solve the health issues that have been plaguing me and ruining my quality of life for almost 3 years. The fact that I am losing my ability to have children is a non-issue. I mourned that loss years ago.

To anyone dealing with infertility, I send you a sympathetic hug and a nod of understanding. There are no words, even though people try to make you feel better.  People can say very dumb things when they don't know what to say and feel like they should say SOMETHING."I'm so sorry" and a hug covers things nicely. I'm so sorry that you are going through this.

With this post, I bid a not so fond farewell to Stan and turn the page on that chapter of my life. I look forward to the next chapter. Infertile I may be, a failure I am not.