The Quiet Ticking of the Clock

My first child was born 13.5 years ago, when I was 20.  I got pregnant while using a condom, no shit.  No one wants to believe that, but it’s TRUE.  I got pregnant with a condom. Something went wrong, probably user error, or the condom was old and had been in some wallet pocket getting sat on for years, because when it was removed, it was ripped and leaking.  My BF looked at me with the ‘oh shit’ look and held it out.  I glanced from the leaking slip of latex in his hand to his dumbstruck face, shrugged and said, “What are the odds?”  As in, don’t worry.  As in, it’s so unlikely, it shouldn’t even be a thought.  As in, puh-leaz, it’s not going to happen.  As in, I’m hungry, let’s go get some lunch.  Fast forward 6 weeks and no period later, and you guessed it – I’m Pregnant.

When my husband and I decided to start trying to conceive our second baby (first bio baby for him), I was nearly 31 years old and more than ready.  I had convinced him to stop using protection for the previous year, hoping that we’d get lucky.  I was so fertile with my first baby that I got pregnant WHILE using protection, for goodness sake!  This was going to be easy.  But, after a full year of just-having-fun-unprotected-sex, we had yet to see that coveted double pink line.  We  didn’t worry about it too much, but decided to start paying attention to fertility periods and having planned sex during a specific 10-day span.  I wasn’t getting any younger, and I knew B wanted to have two more children, for a grand total of three.  I began to notice the quiet ticking of the clock.

We had planned sex for the next year.  Some months, we were more diligent than others.  Some months I felt bitter about having to plan sex, and it made me not want to do it.  I was still secretly hoping for the fun-sex-accident-baby.  But nothing was happening.  I started wondering if there was something wrong with me?  I was pushing 32, maybe something had gone amiss?  Maybe I wasn’t ovulating?  Maybe B had slow swimmers?  Maybe we just weren’t compatible for making babies?  Maybe we needed to see a specialist?

Meanwhile, many of our friends were getting pregnant and having babies willy nilly.  Our favorite neighbors had had baby #1 and were pregnant with baby #2, while I was still planning our sex calendar, complete with “fertility period alerts” for B.  Ugh.  We finally coughed up the dough to see a fertility specialist.  We did the cheapest test first, and B had a semen analysis (one of the most uncomfortable experiences of his life – ejaculating into a cup with a fill line in some weird office with magazine pictures of women).  His swimmers were fast and dense, the morphology better than average, and there were no other abnormalities.  Looking at him, we should have been expecting baby #2 by now as well.

Which meant I was the problem.  Me.  The infertile one.  The broken one.  I felt suddenly old and betrayed by my body.  I imagined my ovaries as dried up desert wastelands.  I cursed my hormones as dysfunctional machinery.  I imagined the pH of my vagina to be so acidic, it killed sperm on contact.  I pictured my cervix as a tightly closed fist, incapable of letting anything past.  I knew my reproductive system as faithless and failing.  I was desolate and angry.

We signed me up for my first fertility test, a transvaginal ultrasound, and a fertility consultation.  According to the doctor, there was no reason for me to be having any problems.  I had conceived before, I was healthy, B’s swimmers were good, nothing looked amiss on the outside.  We went into a procedure room for the ultrasound.  It was awkward and uncomfortable to have an ultrasound wand up your vagina for a look around, but everything looked normal.  We saw plenty of dark spots in my ovaries that were ovum, ready to be released and meet their sperm.  Again, there seemed to be no reason we were not pregnant yet.  The doctor reinforced me and said not to worry, and to keep trying.  He gave me the paperwork to call to schedule a hysterosalpingogram, if I wanted further testing.

I went home and tried to relax.  For the next few months, we didn’t think too hard about timing sex, but it was never far from my mind.  I find it utterly ludicrous that people expect you to “stop worrying about it” when you’ve been trying to conceive for 20+ months with nothing to show for it.  There is no stopping worry, it’s always on your mind.  Every month, when your period is due in a week, 5 days, 3 days, and there are already 15 negative pregnancy tests in the trash.  There is no stopping worry, just like there is no stopping hope.

I did become pregnant within the next few months, but I miscarried at 7 weeks, 4 days. It was heartbreaking, and the first of three MC’s before my successful pregnancy.  The worry never stopped, but my baby girl arrived healthy and strong, two years after fertility testing, as the clock tick, tick, ticked away. 


On Feminism and Middle Schoolers and Why Princesses Kick Ass 

A Conversation on Feminism with my Teenage Son

Background: A few nights prior to the following conversation, during dinner, my husband mentioned a news headline he read regarding backlash against Emma Thompson after her UN speech on feminism.  I didn’t know anything about it at the time, and my husband had just read the headline.  My son K had heard something about it at school, and our conversation was brief and expressed our disgust with anyone who would disparage equality between women and men.  (This was before I knew how misogynistic and threatening the backlash was, and before I had watched the speech.  I brought this issue back to the table once I had more facts, but that’s another story.)

A couple days after the initial conversation, during our nightly dog-walk, K brought up the subject of feminism again, in the typical roundabout way of teens.

Me: So, you still don’t want to go to the Homecoming game on Friday?

K: No.  I don’t have a date.  I don’t really like anyone right now.

Me: Well, maybe you can just go with friends?

K: No, all my friends that are going have a date.

Me: Maybe you could ask a girl friend to go with, just as friends?

K: Naw, people don’t really do that.  Plus, it’d be way too expensive.

Me: What do you mean?  For the tickets and some food?

K:  Yah, and the mum.  Girls want expensive mums . . . (We keep walking and he’s quiet for a moment.)  You know, some of my friends think about feminism in a way that I don’t agree with, but I can kinda see where they’re coming from.

Me: Like what?

K: Like you know how it’s supposed to be equal between men and women?  Well, they say it’s not equal.  Guys have to ask girls out, not the other way around.  Guys have to buy dinner and pay for everything.  The girls at my school expect gifts and stuff from their boyfriends.  My guy friends say that if it’s supposed to be equal, equal pay and equal treatment, the girls need to step it up.  They need to ask guys out, they need to pay for things, they need to buy their own food or tickets or whatever, or sometimes buy both . . .  I don’t really agree with them, but I can see where they’re coming from.

Me: Hmmm . . .

We walk on, and I am lost in thought.  I think about how it was when I was in eighth grade – just like this, nothing’s changed (shocking!).  I think about how it’s all chivalry and princesses, and waiting for prince charming for many girls in middle school, and how difficult, frustrating and confusing it must be for boys to be expected to play that role.  Then I think about the other side of the coin, that girls are just as smart or smarter than many of the boys in their classes, how they take leadership roles as readily (as I’ve seen as a substitute teacher), and how they’re just as capable as their male peers when  it comes to any of the everyday tasks of middle school.  I think about what a mixed message that must be for boys, girls who seem to be powerful and capable, but who simultaneously seem to want to appear helpless or in need of ‘rescue’.  All this is jumbled up in my head, but I try to (simply) put this into words for K.

Me: Yeah, I can sort of see where they’re coming from, too.  That’s not really equal.  You know, it’s all chivalry and knights of the round table in middle school, and girls romanticize that.  But when they get older, it’ll be different.  They’ll want to pay half, they won’t want to be coddled and rescued.  They’ll find their independence and their power, and want to be an equal contributor in the relationship.  That’s not to say that you shouldn’t buy a girl dinner and pamper her every so often – it’s just that it shouldn’t be the expectation. (In my head is the line: “nor should you expect anything from her, no matter how much money you spend on her!” but I decide to save that talk for another time.)  As you get into high school, some girls will become more independent.  And one of these days, a girl will ask you out and may even want to pay for your dinner.

K: Ha ha.  That would be nice.  You know that video game Destiny that I was telling you about . . .

Thinking back on this conversation, I realize what mixed messages we send to these kids about feminism and male/female ‘roles’.

A Facebook conversation pops into my mind.  A friend posts, in exasperation:  “Please, people, stop calling your daughters Princesses!  You’re not doing them any favors!”  At the time, I was pregnant with my daughter (and reading a lot of Phillipa Gregory), and I thought, The notion of a princess as a damsel in distress is all wrong.  Being a princess is a terrible job with very high expectations, and it’s hard work!  

I hope that by the time my daughter is in eighth grade, she will feel empowered to ask a boy out if she wants to, and that she wouldn’t tolerate being coddled.  I’m going to teach her to change a tire, and her dad will teach her to cook.  I’m going to teach her that being pampered by the one you love is a sweet treat, not the norm, and that both partners need to do the pampering.  She’ll know that her man can think of her as his princess, and she may be her daddy’s and my princess, but princesses are powerful, highly educated, empathetic leaders with courage.  Princesses kick ass.

Princess Catherine of Aragon

Big Brother, Big Sister Gift for Your T(w)een

Only Child: Expired!  You have been promoted!

If you’re about to have a baby and your oldest is a teen or tween, you may be looking for a big brother/sister gift for your firstborn.  Here is one idea:

You Have Bee Promoted
Big Brother Box
The following five items can be placed into a box that you create.  Decorate it to make it special, cheesy, or fancy – whatever your style.  Feel free to modify the items to better fit your t(w)een:

  1. Earplugs!  These are meant to be funny and useful.  Babies cry a lot.  We used these from LiveMusic, because our son is taking drum lessons as well.  They have worked to muffle bass and baby screams.
  2. Gift cards to favorite places: this can get expensive, so whatever is in your budget. Doesn’t take much $ to munch out at FroYo or Taco Bell!
  3. “Get out of the House FREE” cards.  These are simple index cards with punch-out squares marked.  You can offer a variety of things.  A trip to the mall?  Movies?  The arcade?  A bookstore?  Pick the places your oldest likes to go and give them a ‘ticket’ to get there (with you, and without the baby if possible).
  4. A few pictures of you with him/her when he/she was born and some baby photos of you adoring him/her (a sweet reminder that they were once in the new baby’s shoes).  This can work even for teenage boys, who may protest the sappiness.  Underneath that mature, too-cool front, they need to feel loved as much as anyone.
  5. A letter to your t(w)een: This is personal to you – you can tell them about when they were born, tell them a story about you, remind them that things will be different for a while but you’ll always be there for them, etc.  Make it your own, and write from the heart; say whatever you feel will be the most important things to say during such a transition.  (I wrote a letter to K to be opened when he is 26, the age he will be when his little sister is the age HE is now.)

*An alternate idea is a photo memory book: scrapbook, apple-book, or photo album. This can be a loving memoir of your life so far with your firstborn!  We saved this one for the big 1-3 birthday, but the birth of a sibling is just as monumental. Have fun and good luck!

No More Only Child!

I gave birth to my second baby thirteen years and four months after giving birth to my first.  Needless to say, for the child that will always be my baby boy, this was going to be a big adjustment.

A lot of speculation occurred around what our son thought life would be like with a new sibling, a little sister so much younger than himself.  Our son’s first bit of research started when my husband and I announced we were going to try to have another child (long before we were successful).  He was about ten then and started polling his friends with little siblings.  His conclusion?  That all the (regulatory) attention would be off of him (yay!), and we would be so busy with the new one, that he could fly under the radar and essentially play video games all day long and eat cheetoes for dinner.  With that in mind, he gave us his blessing.

That attitude made it through the end of his fifth grade year, and into the summer, but once the holiday season came around, he discovered a new downside to siblings: half the Christmas presents.  Oh, oh, no.  No, never mind.  Sharing?  What?  Why would I want to do that?  This child had never had to share anything in his life (outside of school): not his parents’ attention, his toys, his food, clothes, his space in the car, on the couch, or at the dinner table.  The world was his world and he did not want it to end.  Of course not.  Who would?  The little brother/sister idea became tainted.  He asserted that he did not want a little sibling after all.  No thank you. 

My husband and I listened with a smile and tried not to laugh at some of the horror stories he told.  A friend’s little brother who ruins his gaming device by shoving a cookie into the disk hole (the terror!).  Another little brother who screams ‘woe is me’ at the top of his lungs every time he is in time-out – which is funny at first, but always ends up giving everyone a headache.

By the time I was pregnant with our daughter, K was 12 and had a good sense of humor.  We joked about the idea of a baby’s presents eating into his Christmas loot – eyes rolling. My husband and I laughed to ourselves and thought, ‘oh, how the world will change for you, our son.’  

It couldn’t have happened soon enough.  No matter how much we exposed our only-child to others, put him in situations where he had to think of others’ needs and share, no matter how many cousins and neighbors and sleepovers he had – nothing can slap that selfish omni-importance out of a person like the ever-constant presence of an irritating, needy sibling.  I was looking forward to it with the glee of a mom who looks forward to any ‘hardship’ she knows will make her child stronger, evil laugh aside. 

While I knew that having a sibling would be a positive aspect in his life in the long run, I also felt apprehensive about his short-term feelings of love and security.  Middle school is rough in any situation, much less entering eighth grade with a new baby sister.  I searched the internet for ideas and advice, and found very little.  I pocketed the good advice, discovered the term ‘split-mom’, and trudged on.

This blog is my first attempt to (publicly) wade through the parenting of two kids born more than a decade apart.  The trials, the growing pains, and the failures. Here we go!

Good luck to all you split-parents out there, and to your (future) expired-only-children!