Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Friends of the Infertile

Several of you have asked me before about how to be a good friend to an infertile person. Other of the infertility bloggers, most notably Tertia, have written about this much more eloquently than I ever could. But if you’re not infertile, you may not have found those sorts of blogs yet. So I will give it a shot. Let me start by saying that, as difficult as it sometimes is for me to believe, not everyone is like me. So your significant infertile person may be different about the particulars and you might have to ask for their opinions about some of these issues. But here are what I regard to be some basic things to keep in mind:

1.) Think about who you want to comfort, you or the other person. This is, in my opinion, the most important thing. It’s probably actually an important life lesson in general, because I find myself saying it a lot to clients who say things like “I just don’t know what to say to her,” regarding a friend who has lost a loved one, suffered a miscarriage, etc. In general, we’re all a little uncomfortable when we see someone in crippling pain, be it emotional or physical and we just want to reach out and make it better. And a lot of that is just to make ourselves more comfortable more than it is to comfort the hurting person. I’ve found that the thing Christians say to the suffering a lot is “well, it’s God’s will” or “God’s timing is best” or some other version of “Well, if it’s not happened, it’s because God doesn’t want it to.” And, hey, I have high view of God’s sovereignty and all of that, but there are times when you need to correct someone’s faulty theology and there are times when an excellent theological truth is not what is called for. It may make me, the speaker, more comfortable, and make me feel like I’ve imparted a great gem of spirituality or am very wise, but may actually reflect you’re no really listening to your friend as well as you think. As I walked through the darkest season of our primary infertility, I did not find that sort of statement to be particularly helpful. It wasn’t that God gets to make the plan that I was angry about. It was just the one He seemed to had made for me that was horking me off. I’ll bet you $20 that you can’t offer a compelling reason why Kevin Federline has four children and your infertile friend has none. (Call me if you can and I’ll send you your money). Giving a pat answer that strongly suggests to your infertile friend that God must not think they’d be a good parent, but He thinks Michael Jackson is might be more hurtful than helpful. Remember Job’s friends- sometimes being silent with your friend is much more comforting to her than all the good theology you know.

2.) Open up the discussion. During those days, the friends who were most helpful acknowledged what I was going through and asked me how I wanted them to approach it. Did I want them to ask how things were going? Did I want to bring it up? Did I want them to pretend that nothing was going on? Infertility really showed me a lot about the nature of my friendships. I was surprised at the some of the people who stepped up and met me where I was and some of the people I thought would be supportive just never, ever brought the topic up. Some of those friendships are still recovering. The friends I appreciated most allowed me to talk about my grief and sadness and didn’t try and talk me out of it because it made them uncomfortable (see #1). .

3.) Be sensitive. I so appreciated the women in my life who let me know they would be starting to try to conceive themselves and were thoughtful enough to ask how I wanted them to handle announcing their pregnancies if God blessed them with one. With close friends, I wanted to know before “word hit the street” and not in a big group setting if they were planning on making a group announcement. With medium friends, I appreciated a heads up the day before they stood up in Sunday School. I needed time so that when I was called upon to publicly shriek with joy, I could do so without betraying my own sadness for me. The one friend who had an unplanned pregnancy during this time handled it perfectly. She called and told me “We’re so excited, but wish more than anything that you were calling me to tell me the same thing first. It’s fine if you can’t talk to me until the pregnancy is over.” Because she was so sensitive, it was easier not to “forget to call” her a lot during her pregnancy and allow that to cause a rift between us. Those were my preferences. Announcements of pregnancy, though, are one of the things that infertile women feel violently different about- find out what your friend needs; often, people prefer an e-mail or voice mail message so they can process it alone, others don’t want to be treated any differently than they would if they weren’t struggling with infertility and want you to tell them like you ordinarily would have. When I know there is going to be an pregnant person at an event that I know an infertile person might not know about, I try to let them know beforehand so they aren’t blind sided at the annual Canadian Independence Day party or whatever.

4.) Don’t Complain. Not that you literally can’t complain- just choose your audience wisely. If your pregnancy is unplanned, I know it can be startling and can feel like bad news at first. But complaining to an infertile person about it is a little like saying, “We’re just so wealthy. It is such a challenge to decide what to do with this two billion dollars we just inherited from Great Uncle Larry” to your friend whose husband has just lost his job and who is afraid they are going to loose their house. It’s hard for them to work up a lot of compassion for you and it’s a lot more likely to make them bitter, because they think you don’t see it as the blessing it is. And it’s fine if you don’t just yet, but your infertile best friend, no matter how much she loves you, probably can’t hear it just then. Likewise, your swollen ankles and nausea, spontaneous nosebleeds at horrible, inopportune times and inexplicable knee pain are unfortunate side effects of pregnancy. However, your blog readers or your other pregnant friends might be better listeners than your co-worker who desperately wants to be pregnant. It’s strange that this is the thing that many of my close friends totally didn’t get. And that’s unfortunate because this can be one of the things that damages friendships the most. While your friend does, in theory, have an obligation to be there for you, to be a good friend to her during her season of infertility, you might need to let her off the hook about holding your hair back while you have violent morning sickness. Likewise, when you’re the sleep-deprived parent of a newborn or going crazy because your toddler’s favorite new word is “NO,” another parent friend might be the most appropriate choice for the empathy you need. Because your infertile friend may just hear, “It’s just so HARD, keeping track of all of our investments and figuring out whether to buy a house in the Hamptons to summer in or not,” and it might add to her pain, instead of making her feel like you’re including her in your life.

5.) Keep Helpful Suggestions to a Minimum. Sometimes, I really wanted my friends’ advice. Usually, when this was the case, I asked. In one instance that almost made my head explode a friend asked, in all seriousness, about a m onth after my second laparoscopy whether or not we had tried having sex around the time I ovulated. If your friend is telling you she is having fertility issues, odds are good that she’s been charting her cycles, talking to her doctors and wants support, not to hear what she might be doing wrong. Another big one that everyone I have ever known who has dealt with this issue has gotten is the classic “why don’t you guys just adopt?” or the more judgmental version “Well, Joe Bob and I decided that if we ever had any trouble getting pregnant we would just adopt. We’ve always had a heart for kids who need a family.” Now please keep in mind, I felt the need to spend the first six months after we discovered that my endometriosis was causing a problem in the getting pregnant department writing letters to people I’d said some insensitive things to related to fertility in the past. In fact, I still have one left to write. One note in particular I wrote to someone begging forgiveness for having asked that very question. So I’m not writing this from a position of moral superiority. I genuinely believe that the bulk of the time, people say insensitive things out of ignorance, not seething malice- but I was ignorant and if I can save even one infertile person one comment that makes them go home and cry, well, I consider that well worth it. Anyway, the primary problem with that statement is the assumptions that underlie it. There is no “just” adopting. Of the three major types of adoption currently practiced in the U.S. (domestic newborn, international and foster-to-adopt programs), the first two are very expensive. The average cycle of IVF costs around $12,000; the average domestic or international adoption is running people between $10,000(very low end of domestic)-$30,000 (high end of international). But you can quite reasonably expect to pay at least $20,000 to cover all of the medical, legal and travel expenses associated with these types of adoptions. Plus, some countries that permit international adoption have income requirements on the part of prospective parents. Foster-to-adopt is significantly cheaper, but more difficult in terms of odds of becoming deeply attached to a child and he or she being reunited with their parents (which is rightly the typical goal for a child in foster care). All three types require massive amounts of paper work, invasive personal questions, indefinite waiting periods and all three types of adoption are fraught with their own serious ethical considerations that have be thought through in a way that going to a hospital, giving birth and bringing home your new baby definitely don’t require. So a friend who opts to pursue fertility treatment rather than “just” adopting may not have the financial resources right now to adopt, may have some serious questions about adoption law and ethics, or may simply not be ready to give up her desire to have a biological child, to experience pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding. One thing a fan infertile friend always asked when people ask her that question is “Why did you and your husband try and have biological children instead of just adopting?” She’s always so gentle about it, but everyone she asks gets a new perspective on the whole question and, I’m willing to bet, never ask it again. Again, especially in the Christian community, I think we try and shame people into adopting whop aren’t necessarily called to do so. I’ve had countless women make some version of that second comment above, often just within my earshot (and again, I’ve done a version of that “just in earshot” thing myself-not about adoption-but I’ve definitely been a jerk about things in this fashion before. God willing, I won’t be again). The fact is, unless you have dealt with the sadness and grief that comes from experiencing infertility, you don’t actually know how you would feel or what you would choose to do. You can speculate and imagine, but until you are face to face with the possibility that you may never get to see you and your spouse’s genetic material combined and running around your house in only his or her diaper, you don’t really know what how you would react. You might try Clomid. Then maybe injectibles. Possibly even IVF. You would never suggest to a grieving person, “Well, if MY mom died, I certainly wouldn’t carry on for six months or more with the crying and sadness.” Because unless you’ve been there, that’s a bold statement to make. And this is another one of those cases where it’s probably the best policy to keep any feelings you have about what you think you might do in that situation to yourself.

6.) A Few More Things about “Just” Adopting. The correct response when someone tells you they’re adopting is exactly what it would be if someone tells you they are pregnant. This is a big one to the women in my church’s infertility group. If you normally solemnly shake hands and say congratulations, do that. If you normally, as in my case, shriek or do the happy dance, do that. If you normally say something encouraging like “Ha! Get your sleep now, because you’ll need it,” don’t let the fact that someone is adopting stop you from being your discouraging, negative self! Since “When are you due?” doesn’t apply as well, “Where are you in the process?” is usually considered by my adopting friends to be a nice follow-up. Then the usual questions about gender, nursery d├ęcor, and cloth versus disposable diapers follow naturally from there. Even if you know it’s been a fertility struggle that has led a couple to adopt, it’s news to celebrate without asking uncomfortable questions about fertility unless the information is volunteered. (Erin and Rachel, is there anything else I need to add? You guys can probably address this much better than I).

7.) A Few More Things Not to Say. It’s in poor taste to offer to let your infertile friend “take mine” in reference to your children. While it’s usually meant in a joking way, it communicates to your infertile friend that you are ungrateful for the blessing of your children and, if they’ve been discussing their infertility with you, it can feel like you are making light of something deep and heartfelt that’s just been shared. Again, see #1-it might be an attempt to make you feel more comfortable with your friend’s pain, but it’s not sensitive to her. The same is true for warning your infertile friend that motherhood is not all that great and she doesn’t know what she’s getting into. No one having their first child knows what they’re getting into, but almost universally, people want to have children. Back to the example of the inheritance, telling someone they have no idea about how burdensome being ludicrously wealthy is-well, maybe it’s true- but most people I know would be willing to give it a try.

Obviously, this is not a comprehensive list. It’s mostly things I and my closer infertile friends have experienced or things that I have said or done terribly wrong, both to the infertile and to those dealing with other kinds of pain that make me want to stab my own eyes whenever I think about them,. I’d love the input of others who have been down this road, too. What did I miss? What else can people do to show compassion and thoughtfulness in dealing with people who are hurting in this way? What else should people never, ever say or do? Any experiences to share?(Leanne? Lesli? Christy? Erin? Rachel? Nathan?)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

To The Best Daddy in theWorld

E and L love their DaDa a lot. They regard him as quite possibly the funniest human being who has ever lived. And I love Rob a lot, too. More people than I can count have said things like "oh, my goodness! How do you do it with twins?" The short answer is really, "Well, being married to Rob OurLastName is probably the only way I can imagine doing it." He has been the person who has made this past year one of the absolutely most fun of my life rather than the most stressful. Rob usually gets up with the babies first thing in the morning and gets them breakfast so I can sleep for a few minutes more and have time to get ready before he leaves for work. And more times than I can count, he has moved heaven and earth to be home at times when I need him to. One of the things I so appreciate about him is that he is so eager to be involved in L and E's lives; he knows their schedule as well as I do and I never worry about leaving them with him. Last year on both Mother's and Father's Day, our first, we didn't do much. Having four and then eight weeks old had something to do with that, I think. I was just so glad not to have to leave church early or cry all the way home that year because I wasn't sure I'd ever get the opportunity to be a mom- so, you know, that was really all I wanted. But this year we celebrated more. The girls "helped" me make breakfast in bed for Rob and we let him open his presents there. We had a gift from the three of us, and L gave him a copy of That's Not My Bear, while E had selected a copy of Horns to Tail and In Between, the Sandra Boynton classic. Here are pictures of the girls giving their Dad his gifts. Our usual no jumping on Mommy and Daddy's bed rule was suspended for the morning.

I think L looks like such a toddler in that second picture! The last shot is from earlier this week when Rob was playing "animal in the zoo" while working in the kitchen. I couldn't quite capture his elephant motions in the picture, but we've all been working on our elephant noises since that morning.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Breastfeeding Follow-Up

(Just some non-related pictures from a recent post-bath "naked time" for the grandparents to enjoy.)

When last I left my overly detailed description of our breastfeeding saga, it was about nine and half months postpartum and I was pumping about ¾ of the girls’ milk. In February, I dropped to pumping 5 times a day for 45 minutes each session; then, two weeks later, to 4 times a day. Amazingly, this didn’t affect my milk supply much. It felt so indescribably freeing to be pumping so comparatively little. At the beginning of March, I dropped to three times a day; and again, two weeks later I dropped to two a day. It was fairly uncomfortable, but by the end of March I was dropping two minutes a day from each of my 45 minute pumping sessions so that I was completely done on the girls first birthday. I had a little milk frozen because as they were eating more solids, I was finally having a little leftover to freeze, so they had their last breast milk bottle sometime at the end of April. It felt a little weird stopping; the girls haven’t been seriously ill this year and the colds they got were so minor, that I knew they were benefiting from some of the immune components of milk even if I wasn’t able to supply all that they drank. It didn’t make me feel any better that they became very sick the weekend of their birthday when they were getting far less breast milk. I know in my head the two things probably weren’t related, but it certainly didn’t making quitting any less guilt inducing. Plus, you know, I want them to be happy adults who don’t end up in prison and we all know that if you don’t breast feed your kids will spend at least some time in jail. That is, if they don’t succumb to scurvy first. It says so in all the breastfeeding books. A friend from college, let’s call her “Jenni,” was weaning her younger son around Christmas. At a party we were at together, she mentioned that she had been feeling guilty because, as she looked up information about weaning she ran across a website that said that it was important to be very sensitive to a child you are weaning because he or she is probably feeling that he or she is no longer loved. Rob was standing behind her as she said this and he was nodding his head as she spoke. When she finished talking, he said “Don’t feel bad Jenni- just imagine our babies, who have never known love.” So when I felt guilty, I would just imagine that moment, have a good laugh and remember that being a good mother is 99 percent of the time, not about what my children are eating.

Actually, breastfeeding/pumping is a fantastic way to suppress endometriosis and it had done such good job of doing that I was reluctant to give up that side effect as well. That and the oxcytocin and prolactin hormone cocktail that allow you to lactate are natural relaxants and feel good hormones that I was sad to part with, too. But, on the other hand, I gained back approximately FOUR HOURS a day that I had been devoted to expressing milk and that went a long way to making me feel good, hormones or no. One can do a lot in four hours-like clean the house, cook a meal, take two naps, work out, go to the mall without having to pump in the car. The possibilities really are endless. I hadn’t realized how physically exhausting making milk was. In the past month and half that I’ve been done, my energy level has increased 100% (as it turns out I can’t, but I FEEL like I could run ten miles) and I am finally loosing my baby weight. So while, I’m finally done with the breastfeeding, I feel like I’ve gained a lot more time in my day to focus on the more practical aspects of mom-ing, like keeping the girls from eating smooshed bananas off the floor or from poring olive oil all over the kitchen floor or programming our stereo to go off at 2 in the morning, as E recently did. It caused our Killers CD to come on at top volume and we are only now recovering from the cardiac events it caused to hear “Mr. Brightside” out of nowhere in the middle of the night. When you’re lactating, studies show you don’t reach deeper levels of sleep as often because your brain on some level is listening for your baby in case it wants to eat, so I’m finally sleeping deeply again, which is nice, too. People ask me a lot if God were to bless us with more children whether or not I would do the same thing again. The honest answer is “I’m not really sure,” followed quickly with “if that happens, you must fast and pray that the breastfeeding goes perfectly smoothly next time.” I’m so glad that I did it, but it was so enormously hard physically and because of the sadness I felt about the nursing thing not working out the way I’d hoped. Anyway, that’s the end of that story (I hope) and thanks so much to everyone who was so supportive during the whole thing.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Update on James

I'm just writing a quick post to update all our family and family friends about Erin, Elliot and James. They were released from the hospital on Friday afternoon, but at their first pediatrician visit on Saturday, James informed the doctor about his parents' inadequate tanning bed facilities at home and their refusal to let him lay out by the apartment pool without sunscreen. Naturally, the pediatrician was upset by this as well and readmitted James to the hospital where he could bask in the tanning bed like atmosphere of the bili-lights until his jaundice had resolved a little. With the mediation of the hospital staff, Erin and Elliot agreed to let James have a tanning apparatus at home, so he in turn agreed to come back home with them on Sunday afternoon. Everyone is still exhausted from the whole ordeal, but promise that when the grown-ups in the family have gotten more than four solid hours of sleep and aren't having to take the baby to the pediatrician daily for bilirubin checks that there will be more information and pictures on their blog.