Saturday, November 11, 2017

Chasing Fertility

I'm not actually sure where to begin.  The short version is this: Greg and I have been trying to get pregnant for seven years and no dice.  We found out earlier this week that am once again not pregnant.  Really I just feel lost and empty.  Literally empty.

I think most adults past a certain age know friends and family who have gone through fertility treatment, or have experienced it firsthand.  But for reasons I understand all too well, it still remains a fairly taboo topic.  Because what to say about all of this?  Some of the people closest to us don't even know we're going through this, and even for those who do, they want to support and love us, but don't know if they can bring it up or ask questions or offer advice or joke about it.  Because really, this whole experience is just steeped in so much pain that I can't begin to tell you, dear loved ones, how to take care of me.

To everyone who has been loving and supporting us, thank you.  I am sorry if I have not always been gracious at taking this in.

If I did talk about it, here are some of the things I would say.

I have always wanted to be a parent.  I think I would make a good parent.  I know Greg would.  There are certain core identities that we yearn to take on, perhaps for biological, cultural, religious, or personal reasons.  For me, "mother" is one of those identities.  I'm supposed to be a mom.  But I'm not, and I can't seem to get there.  I feel robbed.  I look down at my body and feel that it's betraying me.  I don't understand it.  This thing which seems to come so naturally for so many eludes me, like my body is playing a trick on me.  I watch as my friends, family, coworkers, employees, and neighbors have one baby after the next, multiplying their families.  And I just watch.

I would say that everyone wants to give the easy answer.  "I'm sure it will work out for you soon."  "Have you considered adoption?"  "Do you know what the problem is?"  "Have you read this book, have you tried these herbs?"  You don't know.  You don't know.  This all just hurts.

I would tell you that this whole process is so incredibly fraught with complications and questions and contradictions.  We've never been entirely comfortable with fertility treatment as a practice.  Who am I to say that I should have children?  If I'm not supposed to have children, who am I to take this sacred process into my own hands and try to thwart the natural way of things?  How are we supposed to decide what to do with potential remaining embryos?  How is that just a box on the page that you check off and sign?  How is everyone so casual about this?  I don't understand.

I would say that I am conflicted about this goal of becoming a mother and the simultaneous goal of being a school leader.  I have 400 children.  At this point in my life, my career is all-encompassing.  I'm the third principal my school's relatively young life, and I sometimes feel that if people knew I was trying to get pregnant they would think I have one foot out the door.  I've worked so hard to grow a strong and stable staff -- I'm afraid to lose that.  It's one thing to be pregnant: everyone is excited for your.  To be trying to be pregnant -- for years -- I don't know, it seems different somehow.  Ultimately I think it boils down to this: our society does not have a realistic and sustainable paradigm for women who want families and careers, especially women in high-powered professional positions.  And I don't want to be caught between the two before I actually am, so I feel that I can't talk about the trying with most of the people I spend most of my time with.

I would talk about the fact that I have never been to the doctor's office so many times over a span of so few days.  It's endless.  It's relentless.  It's constant.  It's at 7am and I still get to school two hours late.  And they take my blood every time.  Turns out my veins roll.  That means that it's not unlikely that I'll be jabbed two, three, or four times in one sitting just to take my blood as a routine procedure.  It means that I end up sobbing against my own will at 7:15am, only a little curtain between me and the next woman over (it's fertility hell for all of us).  I don't sob because of the pain, although it hurts a little.  I sob because the longer I sit there, and the more the needle jabs, the more I think of all the things in the paragraphs above, and I lose it.  And then I have to go to work.

I would tell you how I could get up on any exam table, put my feet in the stirrups and let any old soul who happens to walk by just get all up in there -- probes, wands, catheters, speculums, dye, saline solutions, scopes, blades.  All of this, endlessly.  It's like being a sci-fi science experiment, some alternate reality where everyone around you acts like it's all perfectly normal.  I don't even know if it feels normal anymore.  I know that I can shoot myself full of hormones.  Every day, on the dot.  Needles upon needles, like an assembly line.  Sterile swab, measure out and draw the medicine, inject yourself: in the thigh, the belly, the hip.  The needles are tiny.  The needles are huge.  They leave bruises and sore muscles.  They mutate and manipulate my body.  And for what?  Is it worth it?  This hope, this hope that has yet to go anywhere.

Because you can't get better at it.  It's not a skill one can practice and improve upon.  It's binary: I am either pregnant or not pregnant.  I cannot make progress.  And I am terrified of all the regular things people are terrified about: miscarriage, etc.  But I am more terrified of this lost limbo land of nothing.

And it feels like failure.  All of it.  I feel like a failure.  Greg feels like a failure.  We feel like we are failing each other.  And perhaps it will all be worth it one day.  Maybe.  I would like that.  But the failure is devastating and possibly with no hopeful outcome.  I don't know.

I've been joking recently with Greg about becoming a stand up comedian.  I fancy that I might be able to exploit the gallows humor and do a few good bits about all of this.  Because I'd rather laugh about it than cry about it.  I'm still working on the first joke. I'm sure it will come to me eventually.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Uprising of Love

I recognize that there are people and communities who agree with many of Trump's actions and stances taken since his inauguration, or at least not completely terrified and outraged by them.  But my community of friends and I are generally beyond appalled and aghast at the fact that Trump was elected and the incredible executive actions he's taken in the mere first week of his presidency.  Since November 9, there has not been a time I've gotten together with friends that this hasn't been one of the main topics of conversation.  We're trying to figure out what happened, what to do next, how to organize, how best to resist.  Last weekend I put on my pink hat and marched with millions across the country and world to protest, to give voice to resistance.  And let me be clear: these types of protests and demonstrations are necessary and must continue.  We cannot be silent in the face of so much harm being done to those with less power, privilege and voice.  

But since Trump was elected, I continue to be concerned that we are missing something.  Those of us who did not vote for him keep asking, Why? Who would vote for this man? How could this happen? What do we do now?  At which point it becomes altogether too easy to villainize Trump voters as hateful, uniformed, unintelligent, or worse.  This doesn't sit easy with me.  It doesn't make sense to me to make that type of generalization about nearly half the population of our country -- it seems like folly.

In this interview with Kathy Cramer, a political science professor from UW Madison, she discusses her book The Politics of Resentment.  She explains, "Now you have liberals saying, 'There is no justification for these points of view, and why would I ever show respect for these points of view by spending time and listening to them?'"  In fact, I think that the answer to the question Why would anyone vote for Trump? is the key to What do we do now?  I think we need to better understand why folks -- intelligent, informed, caring, decent people -- voted for Trump.  To ignore, dismiss, or misunderstand their perspective does nothing but further alienate and divide us.  And the chasm of this divide -- this chasm is where the terrible destruction lives and thrives.

I've been having a hard time putting my finger on this, but then I came across this article, "How to Culture Jam a Populist in Four Easy Steps" by Andrés Miguel Rondón, published again yesterday in the Washington Post, slightly revised and under a different title.

Rondón, a Venezuelan economist, applies lessons learned from failed attempts at resisting Chávez to our current predicament in fighting back against Trump.  He explains, "In one way, Trump and Chávez are identical: they are masters of Populism."  He writes that, "Populism can only survive amid polarization. It works through caricature, through the unending vilification of a cartoonish enemy. Pro tip: you’re the enemy. Yes, you, with the Starbucks cup. Trump needs you to be the enemy just like all religions need a demon. As a scapegoat. “But facts!”, you’ll say, missing the point entirely."  Being indignant at this characterization will do nothing aside from reinforcing it.  We must come to terms with the fact that this is how we are being portrayed and perceived.  Again, ignoring or dismissing this only serves to widen the chasm.  Cramer's research supports this as well.  She explains, "People are only going to absorb facts when they’re communicated from a source that they respect, from a source who they perceive has respect for people like them.  And so whenever a liberal calls out Trump supporters as ignorant or fooled or misinformed, that does absolutely nothing to convey the facts that the liberal is trying to convey."

Rondón writes, "It took our leaders ten years to figure out they needed to actually go to the slums and to the countryside. And not for a speech, or a rally, but for game of dominoes or to dance salsa – to show they were Venezuelans too... That they could break the tribal divide, come down off the billboards and show they were real. And no, this is not populism by other means. It is the only way of establishing your standing. It’s deciding not to live in an echo chamber. To press pause on the siren song of polarization."  Here we are, two sides divided, entranced by the hypnotic song of the siren, calling to us, telling us we and we alone are the righteous, correct, and just. And we are lured, crashing on the shore, impaling ourselves on the jagged rocks of righteousness. 

This will not get us where we need to go. Don't misunderstand me -- the reporting, sharing of true information, protesting, running for government positions, showing up and being heard -- these actions are imperative and must continue.  But we also must bridge the gap between urban and rural, between liberal elite and working class, between ... you can fill in all the other apt clichés  here.  Cramer shares her experience of researching in rural Wisconsin: "Even at the end of my first visit, they would say, 'You know, you’re the first professor from Madison I’ve ever met, and you’re actually kind of normal.' And we’d laugh. We got to know each other as human beings. That’s partly about listening, and that’s partly about spending time with people from a different walk of life, from a different perspective. There’s nothing like it. You can’t achieve it through online communication. You can’t achieve it through having good intentions. It’s the act of being with other people that establishes the sense we actually are all in this together."

We cannot continue only stand at the edge of the chasm and shout into the void, letting the wind carry our voices back to ourselves.  We have to reach across to the folks who we do not yet understand and say I want to know you better. Teach me, I want to learn.  

To me, this is an essential part of the organizing that we need to do, and the best way to change Trump's narrative of what ails and plagues our country.  This is difficult work; we are stratified and segregated in our geography, our social groups, our social media networks.  This requires humility and time.  

One of the speakers at the Women's March in D.C. spoke of this movement as an "uprising of love."  This framing struck me in the moment as uniquely powerful.  Fierce love requires that we care, listen, come to understand the perspective of others.  I don't say this lightly. I don't sprinkle it with glitter and fairy dust. I say this because in my experiences as a teacher, a principal, and a community organizer, I have time and again witnessed opposing sides work through their impasse -- almost magically, organically, surprisingly-- by courageously opening themselves up to vulnerability and hearing each other's needs. This is how the uprising of love begins.