Tuesday, August 28, 2012


I like words. I like manipulating them. I like studying them. I like marveling at them.

And so I had to laugh to myself when I considered a brief stream-of-consciousness moment the other day that ended with a word that is, you might say, pregnant with meaning.  You see, I am staring down the barrel of a deadline – a self-inflicted deadline – my 29th birthday.

I haven’t really thought about it much this past year, strangely enough.  My life has been turned upside down since February, and my five-year plan of 24 months ago really doesn’t hold much legitimacy anymore. But I’m getting ahead of myself.  The deadline. I long ago decided that I should not be any older than 28 by the time I have my first child. 

It sounds completely silly, I know, especially standing where I am now. And that’s part of what induced that cynical chuckle a few days ago. A few months ago, I would have been quite depressed at yet another reminder that I am still fighting this battle, but my point-of-view evolves so rapidly these days.  So I decided I needed to explore the idea of arbitrary expectations in relation to becoming a parent.

Expecting. How fitting this word has become a stand-in for the state of being pregnant. Maybe I should title the blog post “Great Expectations.” But that’s too cliché. “Expecting”? Now there would be an amusing linguistics experiment – how many readers would see that word and assume I was announcing the long-awaited achievement? No, I’ve lived with too many expectations (I’m sensing a theme) about this journey for too long.  I want the title of this post to reflect my end goal in writing it – to break free from these ideas of what should be, what should happen, what check marks are required in order to be what I should be.  (There, now you’ve gotten a glimpse into the inner-workings of my mind.  You lucky ducks.)

So there it is. 

1) Expect – believe strongly; anticipate
2) Pregnant – carrying; expectant; in a family way; with child
3) Abide – stop temporarily and wait for
4) Assume – believe; take for granted
5) Believe – assume or suppose
6) Conceive (no, not that kind of conceive) – understand

These are the first six synonyms for “expecting” from Roget’s online thesaurus.  There are 47, by the way. I was curious where the pregnancy definition would fall, so I casually looked it up. But as I started to peruse further, I realized my blog entry was about to write itself. I have experienced a progression of the definition of each of these along the path of infertility. If I had looked at this list several years ago, these words would have meant nothing more to me than their face value.  What a magical thing perspective is.

So here it is. The more complete version of these definitions that I have learned and now know by heart.

1) Expect – believe strongly; anticipate. This is a multifunctional definition because, at first, I anticipated a very easy fix.  Why not? Modern medicine is a marvel. Expectation = shattered. What I’ve learned is life doesn’t revolve around easy fixes (color me sheltered and privileged). But I now believe strongly in the power of taking what comes and attacking with every tool available, even if those tools are not what I expected them to be.

2) Pregnant – carrying; expectant; in a family way; with child. Well…really. How should I tackle this one? Let me count the ways. Here’s the deal: Becoming pregnant is not the be all and end all.  It is a fragile, random phenomenon that doesn’t care about your expectation that pregnancy will result in a family way. My clock started ticking years ago, and I have been with child mentally and emotionally since then. “Expecting” a child does not have to mean that pregnancy is required. Just ask any childless parent if they are expecting.  We are carrying that child with us long before that first heartbeat is detected.

3) Abide – stop temporarily and wait for. I was impatient two years ago, expecting instant gratification, when I stopped taking birth control and started taking ovulation tests. I was impatient when I visited my OB/GYN and attempted five months of Clomid. I was impatient when I put my faith in Miracle Metformin. And I was impatient when I expected one round of hormone therapy would make my dream come true. I have abided the disappointment inherent in impatience, and I now look forward knowing that life doesn’t accept five-year plans and that temporary can feel permanent from the inside out, but the wait just might make the waited for that much sweeter in the end.

4) Assume – believe; take for granted. You know what they say about those who assume, right? I have been humbled by the intricacies involved with the miracle of life. And I have been beaten down by my delusions of being in control. The day-to-day is one thing, but I did not – could not – understand how small and powerless we humans truly are. One would expect such an epiphany to crumble one’s confidence. But I now understand that it is completely unfair to expect we can take on the responsibility of such a thing as creating life onto our frail, mortal shoulders. It is unfair and it is also arrogant. So many people take for granted the miracle of regular ovulation, of conception, of a viable and then a healthy pregnancy, of birth and the blessing of a child. I not only believe, I know I will not take any of that for granted ever again.

5) Believe – assume or suppose. See Number 4. And add my deep belief that parents can be made in a number of ways, and families can come in all shapes and sizes if true love and humility lie at the heart. And my belief that my child is patiently waiting to join our family.

6) Conceive – understand. What I understand today – all of what I have written in this post and throughout my brief history as a blogger, plus everything unspoken – I never conceived of two years ago. And I am pretty sure it would be impossible to conceive of what this journey is – what it means, what it feels like, how it shapes a person and a couple – without going through it. I never knew I could withstand such pain - a pain that will never truly go away.  The wound may scar over, but that scar remains as a reminder of all I've learned and all I cannot conceive of that is coming my way and that is still yet to learn. I also never understood what a beautiful camaraderie and silver lining could come out of the most difficult experience of my life to date.  (Little known irony as a side note to 5 & 6: My husband and I wear matching lime green advocacy bracelets for infertility awareness.  They read “Believe – Conceive.” Visit www.momatlast.com to get yours today!)

So the lesson from all this, I suppose, is expecting can take many forms, including but not exclusive to the “What to Expect...” variety. The greatest lesson I’ve learned is not to expect anything when it comes to this journey. Doing so has brought me great disappointments and pleasant (you heard me right) surprises, but never the results I anticipated.

And so it is ironic and fitting that an expectation I placed on myself years ago would come back to me on the figurative eve of my 29th birthday and help me realize I’ve reached a turning-point at which I must articulate one more expectation.  But I think I’ll call it something different this time. Let it instead be an aspiration (Roget’s: “goal; hope”). Out of fairness to myself and the millions of to-be families, I give up all expectations surrounding my ideas of “family building.” Instead I will dare to hope but also attempt to keep my mind open and uncluttered by the details along the way to my goal.

So bring on Year 29.  I expect it will be full of the unexpected.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

My "Babies"

Today’s Facebook community question from RESOLVE:The National Infertility Association: How do your pets help you through the infertility journey?

Needless to say (if you know me at all), this topic screamed “blog post” at me.  But before I get ahead of myself, there are a few things you need to know about our two cats, Dante and Subie (pronounced SOO-bee). In my small circle, these cats have become…well, let’s call it like it is…legendary.

I adopted Dante more than six years ago from a college friend (whose previously stray cat happened to be pregnant when he took her in) upon my graduation. All of the kittens in this litter were pitch black, despite their creamy-white Siamese mother. My sister and I picked Dante up on my way home from college in McMinnville, Oregon, for the last time, and we spent the whole trip trying to christen him with the perfect name.  We finally agreed on Dante Andrew Mao.  There are very specific reasons for each of his three names, but I’ll try to keep the tangents to a minimum.  Just keep in mind Dante Alighieri once wrote a little poem about a very southern clime. 

Dante is a tough character to describe.  He likes to talk – a lot – in many voices that my husband and I can distinguish to the point of near-conversational, inter-species communication.  He is smart – creepy smart at time.  He’s very adept at opening doors, and he plays obnoxious games (such as “Run out of or into any door as soon as it’s opened just because I can make the humans chase me”) just to be obstinate.  A cat should not be able to comprehend obstinacy, but I’d bet my next paycheck Dante does.  Example: He once stole a dollar bill from my cousin’s pocket as she was lying on the couch and proceeded to run away with it.  She followed him and found it jammed under his litter box as if he were stashing it out of sight before she caught up to him. 

Dante is goofy beyond all description, always doing something to make us question his sanity, like standing as close to a wall as possible, looking up at the ceiling and howling in his “talkin’ to walls” voice while lolling his head back and forth. But then I remember – he’s a CAT.  But he’s the most human cat I’ve ever met, and I’m pretty sure there are degrees of sanity when it comes to the feline species. 

But as ornery as he is, Dante is all bark and only rarely bite.  He’s a giant (and I do mean fat) ball of black fluff and yellow eyes. And he loves me unconditionally. He’s been known to show affection to others if the mood so strikes, but he is definitely a mama’s boy, and, in his eyes, I am his mama – his one, true love. 

Subie is a beautiful white and gray four-year-old tabby who we not-so-reluctantly adopted from my cousin after she discovered his fondness for climbing her months-old daughter like a scratching post.  That should have been a sign of the emotional instability to come, but as soon as we saw him, we were hooked. 

Subie is the quintessential cat – with a twist. He is prissy – a constant groomer – and he is a comfort creature to the max. He’s stand-offish unless affection is granted on his terms.  He loves to play with anything and he loves to rough up his “brother.”  That is, when he’s not grooming him instead. We joke that Subie should have been a mama cat.  

The twist, you ask? He requires twice-daily doses of Prozac.  I’m not being witty when I say that – he really does take Prozac – the same formula prescribed to humans only chicken flavored. You see, Subie has a little anxiety problem.  And by little, I mean spraying-the-walls, making-himself-sick-to-the-point-of-pet-ER-visit anxiety.  Oh, not to mention special-prescription (i.e. expensive)-food anxiety.  We can’t pinpoint the causes, but, let’s face it, all that really matters are the effects. But when we weigh the options of dealing with and funding his kitty mental health or living without him, there’s only one way we could go. One look at him splayed out at the foot of the bed, basking in a bliss only he seems able to achieve, and your heart completely and irreversibly melts. 

That’s a long way of saying our cats have a very special place in our lives and precise roles to play in our home.  So it’s a little hard to differentiate how they’ve helped us along our “infertility journey” from how they’ve impacted our lives in general. Here’s my take on it.  

They are a diversion from the frustration and drudgery. Whether it be the new, off-the-wall weird thing they are doing at the moment or the unpleasant duty of cleaning up their bodily fluids, they are a distraction, a reminder that everyday life continues on.  There is a world outside of myself.  Here are these small, seemingly insignificant life forms that need our attention and care right now.  They don’t care if my ovulation test was positive or negative or what dose of hormones I need to inject today – they just want their nightly crunchy food and will whine until that manna is delivered. 
They are comic relief – all the time.  I can’t remember the last 24-hour period to pass during which one or both of the little beasts did not make me laugh out loud at least once.  Even when I’ve been in the depths of despair, I was guaranteed to crack a smile or let slip a chuckle at watching Subie’s “wind-up” butt wiggle as he stalked a scrap of paper or at hearing Dante “chatter” with the pigeons that roost on our neighbor’s house, the would-be companions he so longs to befriend. 

They are training ground for parenthood, some have said. Let me say up front that I know taking care of a couple of cats is nowhere near what caring for a child is. I’m not delusional. But consider the following: they are completely dependent on us. I am positive they would not make it in the wild. Well, maybe Subie, but definitely not Princess Dante. We change their diapers (litter box), and they have scheduled feedings. We have to take them for check-ups and the occasional (God forbid frequent) ER visit. We try to teach them to share their toys and not bully each other. We have to arrange for a babysitter when we’re out of town.  No, it’s not to the degree of caring for a child, but being a (responsible) pet owner has to count for something in the life experience column leading into parenthood.  Especially being the pet owner of two very high-maintenance felines. 

They are a vast comfort along the wasteland of this path. All true animal lovers (sadly, not all pet owners can be classified as such) know the magic of that unique connection between the human soul and the soul of a beloved furry (or not so much) creature. Many of us have undoubtedly experienced the healing power of that warm, breathing lump of fur sitting in our lap, ignorant of all of life’s injustices and pain, simply soaking up every ounce of affection, and in return, loving us the way only they can. How many times in the past six years have I sat lost in my own despair only to look down and see Dante gazing up with complete adoration (the kind discriminatingly reserved for dogs) and communicating to me that no matter what happens in this life, he will always be right there ready to head boop me and purr at my slightest touch?  Chicken soup for the soul, indeed. 

And so now, as I traverse the greatest physical and emotional challenge of my life, here is yet another silver lining: true acknowledgement of just why we put up with what “outsiders” may consider ridiculous devotion to our pets. Yes, they can be (are) dirty. Yes, they can be expensive. Yes, their behavior baffles the human brain at times. But nothing can replace how Subie and Dante, my “babies,” have enriched my life and strengthened my soul at a time when circumstances threaten to strip it bare and leave it for dead. 

There has never been a time in my life when I’ve lived in a pet-less home. Even in the dorm days of college, my aquarium always contained at least one fish (rest their toilet-flushed souls).  And I never intend to be pet-less. With a little luck, a lot of money, and the perfect storm of treatment options, I will soon have a child who will grow up with these two little fur balls who, unbeknownst to their oblivious little beings, have been a part of my infertility journey all along.