growing up · letting go · parenthood

“There are no text updates in heaven.”

This Tuesday was my 5-month old daughter’s first day of daycare, as I will return to full-time, in-person teaching on Monday. Though we have left her with a babysitter for a few hours (even went to the actual movie theater on my birthday!), mostly I have been with my girl or within a quick Target-dash drive from her every minute of every day since her birth.

This, of course, has been exhausting. Baby care — all day, every day — is not for the faint-hearted. And, as every new parent I know has echoed, Single parents? “We’re Not Worthy”!

But, being with my girl for such concentrated time has given me a front-row seat to the biggest game in town: the dawning of consciousness. Watching newborn HB stare for minutes on end at the corner where the shadows intersect. Watching as she incrementally begins to understand that our cat, Stella, is also a being — one whom she can pet, albeit with grasping, groping pudge-fingers. Watching her face light up like Times Square when her dad comes nearby…

Front row ticket to the miracle of life.

And now: Leave it.

Leave her. Leave her to be watched and known by those other than us? G U T T E D.

Today is Day 3 and I feel hardly more compos mentis than I did on Tuesday, when I stared into space for minutes on end, my brain molasses as I (not so virulently) tried to kick it into gear.

I mean, What about the night prior when I laughed maniacally at the proposition of getting to nap any time of the day for as long as I want wherever I want?? What about the gossamer plans to “actually do some work” before I show up to school Monday morning? What did I actually do on Day 1 of daycare? Stared at the wall. Took a bath for as long as I could stand not “doing something.” Talked on the phone with a friend for almost an hour, which I really felt as mere distraction from my preoccupation with where and how and what my daughter was doing.

I don’t even think I ate lunch.

So much for the freedom it was supposed to give me! HA!

On the phone with my friend that day, I told her that at least the daycare posted updates about my girl. Her naps, her diapers, her mood. And I got delightful photos of her and another baby her age just staring curiously at one another while on tummy time.

But what I said to my friend, too, was that this is truly the end of an epoch. From now until she’s 18, she will (for the most part) spend 40 hours a week outside the house. Outside the sphere of my ability to observe. Outside my ability to witness. She is already starting to live a life that I am not privy to, one that will include her own joys and challenges and friendships and mistakes. (I joked that I might as well buy her one of those diaries with a lock on it!) She is, starting now, embarking on a life bigger than the circle of our home.

“But,” I told my friend, “at least I get text updates. There are no text updates in heaven.” (To which my friend, a parent herself, cried, Don’t tell me that!)

Yet, of course it’s where I go! I’ve said that as soon as they’re out of the womb, they’re leaving for college. And they are. Parenthood, a continuous — daily, hourly — progression of allowing and introducing your child into the world. How … lonely, yes, and yes, How exciting.

I told J early on (I mean, she’s only 5-months old — how much earlier can it get!) that I am aware that HB isn’t “ours.” She’s not mine. She’s hers. She’s her own person, with her own destiny. In many ways, we are (were?) simply the vehicle for her to get to the starting line; the rest of the path is hers to forge and discover. We are her stewards — shepherding, ushering, guiding — but she does not belong to us. And how exciting that is for her. How exciting — and laden — it is a responsibility to have a life of one’s own.

And, how mournful, aching, and hopeful for me and for J that she’s arrived to claim it.

There are no text updates in heaven. But there are at daycare. And until such a day when I can no longer receive missives about or from this ineffable bundle of cheeks and wonder, I will celebrate the brimful utterance of her very existence.

infertility · pregnancy · trauma

“So, How Was It?” The Feels Edition

I’m part of an online group for people who are pregnant through IVF, and it’s been bringing me back to last December full force. The minute clocking of how many days and weeks along, the agonizing over whether taking your medication early or late or not at all that day will cause an irreparable issue, the wondering, wondering, wondering.

I’ve already written a bit about the early days and weeks of my pregnancy with HB, how worrisome it was for me. There was literally nothing else on my mind. When I had abdominal pain acutely on one side of my belly, I was absolutely convinced I was having an ectopic pregnancy, which mandates “cancellation” of the pregnancy. This fear has to continue until the embryo is large enough to detect on an ultrasound, which means you’re even more pregnant than you were with a potentially non-viable pregnancy, which also means you’re even more invested in it going well, you’re even closer to seeing it come to fruition.

At my earliest possible time, I came in for an ultrasound because I was convinced my abdominal pain was the portend of bad news. She’d told me it was early, that just because they may not detect anything didn’t mean it wasn’t there. My blood levels were continuing to rise apace. Then, the frozen agony as she angles around with the wand like a spotlight in my body, searching, searching for life.

And there it was, a flutter on the black-and-white screen. A flutter in my uterus where it should be. She turns on the sound, and there it is… a heartbeat, an honest-to-goodness heartbeat. Not my own, something new, something hers. Her. New. Yes.

And this is how it was for every minute of every day for me. A terrified conviction that any moment could be the last, as it had been several times before. It was this way until my 20-week ultrasound, an in-depth three-dimensional view of the growing body inside me. I would not, could not with a fox, allow myself to breathe until that 5-month test. I know personally three women who’d had “bad scans” at that critical appointment, all three who’d had to make haunting, heart-breaking choices, and I could not allow myself to plan for the arrival of a baby until then.

To be honest, it was only a few weeks to the end of my pregnancy when I was posting in a group about my terror that it would all come crumbling down. This feeling didn’t abate until she was safely, healthfully in my arms in the hospital bed. It’s a horrible feeling. It’s a horrible cloud to live under during a time that many people feel can be the most blissful and abundant.

And this was usually the kind of content I gave when friends asked how I was feeling. The emotional piece. I expressed how difficult it was for me to trust, how I was awaiting the 20-week scan to really believe this would happen, how I was having a hard time wading through my own trauma. Funnily enough, after several minutes of my talking in this vein, friends would often say, “I meant, ‘How are you feeling physically?'” but I knew what they meant. That aspect just wasn’t that important for me to talk about (see previous blog!).

But there she was at 20-weeks, a face, eyes, nose, heart. Four chambers of a heart. All moving blood, red and blue pulses of light on the screen. Pulses of life.

Til the end, this is how it was, checking my underwear for spotting each time I sat down to the toilet. She was still right-side-up as my time came closer, and this worried me. (She did flip on her own eventually.) Two weeks to go, I hadn’t felt her move in over a day. I drank juice, did jumping jacks, drank cold water, and sat quietly in the dark awaiting her movements to confirm she was still there. Really there.

I came downstairs streaming tears. J drove me to the hospital. And she was there, really there, just moving less but healthy, beating, “breathing.”

Everyone does what they can to assure you, assuming things have been going well, that they will be well. Everyone with the best of intentions and with all the love they can muster try to hold your hand, physically or virtually, as you wade, slog, crawl through the darkness that creeps into the side of your vision. The unbidden thought. The momentary arresting of your breath.

So, How Was It?

Pregnancy is a nine-month mental labyrinth, regularly gnarling your joy into a Gordian knot.

Until it’s over. And the knot unravels, cascading open to reveal the most tender pulse of awe and magic this side of the veil.

beginnings · infertility · pregnancy

“So, How Was It?” Pregnancy Edition

At Mom’s The Word in SF. 7 mos pregnant.

As you may have read in my previous post, getting to pregnancy — and a pregnancy that “stuck” — was a long and winding road for J and I. That said, pregnancy itself? I’m reluctant to tell you!

One of the lessons I learned during pregnancy was that when people ask you a question about how it is going, often (though certainly not always!) the reason behind their questioning is loaded. Perhaps they will use your answer as a benchmark against which to compare, at length and with unasked-for advice, their own pregnancy or their partner’s. This looks like: “Well, when I was pregnant it was hell in XYZ ways; let me enumerate in great detail how I suffered.” “You’re tired now, just wait until the kid gets here.” “Better do ABC now because you’ll NEVER BE ALONE AGAIN.”

I really had a hard time with these conversations. And so, I stopped having them, mostly. The best advice I received during my pregnancy, and this lovely advisor told me to throw it out the window if I wanted!, was to Lie Positively. How are you feeling? Great! How are you sleeping? Great! [When the baby comes along:] How are they sleeping, eating, pooping, blinking…? GREAT!

The aim here is to stem the flow of unasked-for advice and the tide of misfortune that childbearers want, for reasons that completely elude me, to dump on you.

And why stem that flow? Why try to distance myself from that muck?

Because my pregnancy really was great. I loved it! (See, I told you you’d hate me for it!) At about 6 weeks pregnant, I awoke from a deep sleep because I was laughing. I personally believe/think/imagine that this was little Hannah telling me a joke or being delightful in the way she is and does. I think it was her telling me she’d come, and that she’d be a dose of sunshine.

I was mildly green around the gills for a few weeks, but I drank ginger lemon tea by the gallon, all day every day, and my nausea would abate. I didn’t retch once. And by week 10, the nausea passed.

I was ravenous. My coworker who’d been experimenting with baking bread (as many did during the pandemic!) brought me a large, circular loaf of crusty, whole-grain. I ate half of it before lunch time. Repeatedly, I took photos of the enormous hoagie sandwiches I bought at the corner store, after I’d already eaten my own lunch. I would text J that I was only going to eat half — this was my “accountability” text. Not because I was or would get fat, but because of the many times I’d already eaten it all and felt so sick afterward! And, inevitably, I would have to send the close-to-upchuck text that I ate the whole thing anyway! But, this time passed, too.

At about 17 weeks, even though I’d been waiting for the 20-week ultrasound to truly commit to “being pregnant/expecting a child,” I had to get new pants. After several fruitless internet searches, and deciding that, No, thank you, Gap, H&M, etc., I will not be wearing stripes throughout the rest of my pregnancy!, I bit the bullet and went to the “nice” maternity wear store and bought some wonderful jeans and a top that fit well and would serve me beyond pregnancy. I came home elated to show J: “I look like ME!” Not a circus tent, not a pastel-shrouded matron. Dark blue jeans, a black top, and bronze loafers: I looked like me. Just with a bump.

I’d always thought that I would be able to make due without the ridiculous accoutrements of pregnancy, like the pregnancy body pillow. However, on that tack, I was wrong. By the latter months, sleeping on my side wore on my hips, and luckily I was on summer break by now and could scour the second-hand online marketplaces, and found this C-shaped one that took me through the end comfortably.

My back didn’t hurt. My feet didn’t hurt. I didn’t get headaches or sweats or pox! I was just carrying.

The only wrinkle for me was my left knee. I’ve always had trouble with that one, whether when running or working out or skiing, and as my pregnancy progressed, so did swelling and pain. This meant I couldn’t even walk a block without limping and began to see a chiro and acupuncturist. I saw an orthopedist, and did eventually make the decision for a cortisone shot, which helped immensely, though temporarily. However, it also meant that I needed to find an alternative mode of exercise, and I started swimming at a local pool. It was glorious! I loved it. Outdoors, watching the trees pass by overhead, engaging in conversation with the retirees who frequented the pool and hearing about the gossip of which upstart was causing trouble in the fast lane (HA!). I’d never swum for exercise before, and it was quite lovely. Not the same as running, sure, but really nice and easy on my knee.

As the time drew nigh, and J and I moved into new place with more stairs than Coit Tower (ouch!), I hurriedly drove hither and yon to acquire second-hand clothes and other items. As it drew even closer, I finally turned to the internet to just send me this crap.

And, by month 8 and 9, we were ready — or as ready as we’d ever be. (And sure, I’m glossing over the fear and terror that occasionally gripped me solid. But that’s another blog.) 😉

(Forgive typos/grammar; published after one draft; baby calls.)

fertility · ivf · parenthood

“So, How Was It?” IVF Edition

Any regular readers of my blog — assuming I was writing regularly, Oops — will have noticed that I hadn’t posted anything between the blog last December about our first IVF transfer and the one this October about newborn-babying being a blur. Clearly, there were some interstitial events! So, what happened? My intention, as it stands at 6am next to a sleeping bebe, is to write a few blogs that account for IVF, Pregnancy, Labor & Birth, and, now, more on Life as a Family of Three (plus a cat, Stella would have me add). We’ll see how it goes. 😉

J and I were lucky (very lucky) to have been able to create and save 5 embryos from my IVF last summer/fall. We were very lucky with all the numbers, in fact, especially for a then 38-year-old cancer survivor and a 46-year-old dude man. The number of eggs I “matured” each month was high, the number of eggs collected to be inseminated was high, the number of embryos sent to the lab for genetic testing was high, and, finally, the number of embryos that came back chromosomally normal was high.

The whole thing is/was a bit boggling, honestly. Science was enabling us to bypass continued months of trying, and failing, to produce a healthy embryo, pretty much without our having to do… well, anything. Aside from, you know, months of shots (belly and bum, morning and night), pills, creams, blood draws, ice packs, heat packs, internal exams, external exams, “couch” rest, abstention, and more trips across the Bay Bridge in a few months than I’d made in several years — but, you know, aside from that!!!

Aside from that, J and I were able to check our email and have a video visit with a genetic counselor and our doctor and learn that there were 5 genetically normal embryos. 5 potential life forms. 5 potential chances for us to have a family (a larger one, that is, than us two). And 5 potential chances for us to fail. (And, please, I use the word “fail” extremely lightly.)

As you may have read in the blog post last December, our first embryo transfer did not “take.” And as soon as it was healthy to do so, we all tried again with the next embryo on the list. Though, it must be said, I still even now think about that one embryo, the one labeled and now so-named in my head and heart “Number 10.” Number 10 on our chart listing our “products of conception,” as the medical team calls them. It’s as hard as any miscarriage we’d had before, except that this time we knew the gender (or sex) of the embryo. We knew how it would present in the world were it carried to term as a healthy being. We (I) could envision it… could envision Her. And so, Number 10 remains in my psyche. But … she’s gone. And when I talk about her, I use euphemisms like the one I wrote above: “It didn’t ‘take.'”

So much is encapsulated in those three words. And because of that experience, and all the ones prior (See: Pee Stick Dance), I spent much of my winter holiday with J mildly(?) terrified. We went up to Lake Tahoe for the week between Christmas and New Years ’20-’21, ostensibly to ski. But, having just had a new embryo transfer and then several positive pregnancy tests, as J and I descended the ski slopes, every single jolt over the snow set off a shock wave of anxiety. Did I knock the embryo out? Did that wobble over the hill dislodge her from my uterine wall? Am I about to right now have a(nother) miscarriage?

I just couldn’t do it.

I told J that he could ski but I was going to stay in the rental apartment and watch bad tv and drink tea. With the snow falling outside the floor-to-ceiling picture windows, this was not an altogether unpleasant sequestering! Lucky, too, was I that I’d reached out to and begun to see regularly (via Zoom) a therapist who specialized in people facing fertility challenges. And grateful was I that I got to have a session (maybe even 2?) while we were up on vacation. I got to tell her how scared I was, how reluctant to even acknowledge that there was at that moment a bundle of cells oh-so-rapidly dividing and multiplying. How could I hold on to hope, to belief, when so much had happened to make such hopes feel … fruitless? So, yes, luckily I had a person to talk with about and through my fears. And, yes, luckily, I was able to get though to my doctor to talk about and through my questions. And, yes, luckily: She stayed. She took, as it were.

And now, she, Hannah Berlin, has thoroughly taken us. Over the moon. Into vast heartlands. To the edge of sanity, true. But:

She stayed.

memory · newmom · parenthood

“It’s a Blur.”

[Note: This was composed when Hannah Berlin was 5 weeks old… she’s now almost 10. I guess it really IS a blur!] 😉

I’ve asked multiple people how they got through the first few weeks of their new baby’s life. I’ve asked those who’ve had a baby 40 years ago, 20 years ago, even as recent as a year ago, and their responses are markedly uniform (and, frankly, not quite implementable as far as advice goes): It’s a Blur.

Being now in the 5th week of our daughter’s life, I can certainly see why this is the consensus. As I’ve read about people as they get older, the years can whirr by mainly because there aren’t weighstations of events to mark the calendar, to remind them that, “Oh yeah, that was the year that…” As people age, their years tend to settle into the routine of life, which while comfortable, does not lend itself to bold time stamps serving as sticking places for our memory.

And, this is how the first few weeks in BabyLand feel: As though there are no, or few, time stamps. However, being me, and having known this to be the case, I’ve been trying to take a few notes on anything remarkable. While the days themselves do not seem to vary widely, the small moments are the ones that I’m capturing:

  • The first time J. picked up the swaddled bundle of baby and zoomed her around the room like a rocket ship taking off.
  • J. “wrestling” with the baby, taking her tiny (oh so tiny!) balled fists and batting them at him and making “ringside” commentary.
  • Her first sleep smiles, all gums and ridiculous joy.
  • At her first sponge bath, J. towels her down as though waxing a car and, straight-faced, asks her: “Air freshener?”
  • The way her hands began to uncurl and how she stares for minutes at a time at the joining corner of two walls.
  • Her first pediatric visit where the doctor is so darn relaxed and slow-talking, J. and I joke that he’s likely stoned.
  • And, one of my favorites: At 4 days old, we start her bedtime routine, ending with a reading of Goodnight Moon, something we’ve continued to do now for the last month. (Plus the night J. forgot his glasses and so had to make up the words, including “Goodnight Ducati.”)

When taken as a whole, at 30,000 ft, our experience so far could certainly be summarized as an unending and unerring cycle of food, cleaning, soothing — but it will be these small moments, the victories, laughs, and milestones, that will anchor this frankly hallowed time.

evolution · infertility · marriage

Is it bad I’m glad he’s sad?

Sounding like a nursery or Dr. Suess rhyme came the question I asked myself two Sundays ago when it became clear that my embryo transfer did not “take.” After about a week of waiting, Googling “How to survive the two week wait” (so common, it even has a handy shorthand of 2WW), poking and prodding my body, analyzing every change or perceived change — in direct flouting of all the suggestions from the aforementioned Googling… — J and I came to know that this time didn’t “work.”

And when I told him, when I asked him how he felt, he said, “Disappointed.”

A few notes about J. When we met, he was 43, a so-close-to-being-confirmed bachelor that he wondered if he would indeed ever find someone to be with, let alone marry. He was, and is, persnickety, exacting, a creature of habit yet loathe to make plans for fear they may impinge on whatever spontaneous outdoor adventure may, perhaps, possibly, crop up. The rootedness of his idiosyncrasies meant that there was a narrow aperture through which a mate might skate, so narrow that his hope of having a partner felt increasingly elusive — family an order of magnitude more. Being a family man was not a dream of his boyhood or young adulthood; it simply wasn’t on his map.

And yet, when we started dating four years ago now, within the first month I knew that I had to bring up the “kids” conversation as it was on my map. We were eating on the back patio of a burger joint near my old apartment. Plates of sweet potato fries decimated between us, napkins curled up into balls, we sat in the dappled sunshine and I screwed up my courage: “So, what do you think about kids?”

I’m sure his answer was a quick-witted quip that soon turned earnest, as he did and does. He said he was ambivalent.

Not wanting to appear like this was a deal-breaker, not wanting it to seem that this would be an irrevocable rift, I, too, said I could “go either way.” And soon we parted for the afternoon. A few hours later I was on the phone with a close friend. I still remember sitting in the driver’s seat of my car, where I was parked, the color of the October leaves through the windows.

“You want kids,” she told me on the phone, “you’ve been pretty clear about that for several years.”

“Yeah,” I hedged, “but I don’t need them. I mean, I have students I teach and as long as I have children’s laughter in my life, that’s enough.”

“I’m telling you that’s not your truth,” she insisted. “If this is something you really want, you can’t just throw it aside as though it’s not. You will be miserable.”

And she was right. So I called J back and asked if we could talk. I told him that although I’d said that I could go either way about kids, I really couldn’t. And that if we really wanted to see where this would go, he needed to know that in that picture, for me, would always be a family.

He said okay. It was still early days, just a month in — plenty of time, I thought, for him to adjust the way he felt about having a family.

So we carried on. We went skiing, we went on trips, we snuggled and laughed and caught each others’ eye. And every now and then, I’d ask the question about how he felt about kids.

The answer remained “Ambivalent.” It remained so through meeting my family, through a 5-month break-up and reconciliation, through our engagement, and even through our wedding.

And I convinced myself that his stance, disappointing though it was (intermittently bordering on heart-breakingly devastating), it was at least not a “No.”

I convinced myself, sometimes rightly, that J had changed so much in our time together, had softened, had loosened, had lightened, that perhaps in time this same opening would traverse into the realm of our having a family.

And yet, his answer remained the same through our early pregnancy attempts, through our miscarriages, and even into the “serious as cancer” business of IVF. I mean, you can’t rightly state that you don’t want to have kids as you’re ejaculating into a cup! But, I suppose you can state that you are ambivalent — if it happens, cool; if it doesn’t, cool.

His answer remained, sometimes cheekily, sometimes frighteningly earnest, “This isn’t going to affect my life in any way, right?” And I would tell him that A) it would, and B) that he would still get to go skiing. And then I would roll my eyes so hard they stayed that way.

But, when, just a fortnight ago, I asked him how he felt and he replied, “Disappointed,” I was a bit shocked (and secretly elated).

I asked him to say more.

He said he’d been beginning to look forward to it, to having a family, to being a dad.

He’d been increasingly wondering about whether the homes we toured had enough space for a family, for kids.

He’d even started watching kids in public a little more, this time without an air of withstanding some unpleasantness or as though watching an alien species. He started to talk about kids’ skiing lessons, about cars big enough for all our gear — he even knew about the Snoo.

He said he was disappointed, that he was looking forward to it.

And so, following our “miss,” in perhaps one of the most bittersweet wins in history, my husband — the love of my life, my collaborator and my irritant, my playmate and my shoulder — begins to look forward to our future as a family.

curiosity · fertility · infertility

Schrødinger’s Baby

'The Annunciation'. 1501 - 1535. Oil on panel. ARCHANGEL GABRIEL. VIRGIN  MARY. Painting by Leon Picardo

Although perhaps not exactly as in the Bible, today I’m feeling a little like The Virgin Mary: Today my own Angel Gabriel will be a UCSF physician. As of about 3pm this afternoon, J. and I will leave the clinic, immaculate, and I will or will not be pregnant.

It’s the scariest, most life-altering thing to ever hope for, I think. To know that you are intentionally, and by appointment, asking to change your life and identity in an irrevocable way. And while, of course, it’s something you (I) say you want… I truly believe that you have no idea what you’re in for when you set these dominoes in motion. I don’t have any clue how I will change as I molecularly evolve from a woman to a parent. I don’t have any clue how I will approach the mess or the cries or the eye rolls or the unbounded love, despite the number of books I read to guide me.

I doubt there are many experiences like this seismic shift, though I recently equated it to an actor desiring to be famous and then having to deal with that fame when it comes! I guess I feel that parenthood is a “Be careful what you wish for” endeavor, but one that you… want(?) to not know how it’ll go! Talk about looking into the Abyss!

Another aspect that has been rolling around in my thoughts is the question of what, or when, is life? As an avowed Right to Choose-r, I have long thought, donated, and voted to support the right of women to make choices that support their needs. I have seen billboards with tiny babies and block letters claiming that a heartbeat starts 9 days from conception and bristled at their rigid, often erroneous, Right to Life dogma.

So it has been a jarring, unmooring experience to be regularly and consistently monitoring the health of my now-frozen fertilized eggs as though they are alive, as though they are beings. To receive a sheet that states how many eggs were retrieved, how many were inseminated, how many survived a few days’ gestation, and how many were reported to be genetically normal so they will be considered for implantation… well, you can see how my consideration of the health and development of these dozen-celled pods might call my long-held understanding of human life into question.

And that, I here report, is dysregulating. While I continue to hold mightily to my stance on a woman’s right to choose, I have to acknowledge that my conception (forgive the term) of What Is Life/A Life has become much more grey and nuanced these last few months. And, for that, I must here admit that I am also grateful. I do think that wherever I may have my own dogmatic clinging, any experience that can help me to open my mind to alternative viewpoints, even if I ultimately disagree with them, is a positive and widening human experience.

But… it’s “weird,” you guys! To know that I’ve thought and crossed fingers over eggs that have become embryos that have become tested frozen embryos … that now have become gendered? Yeah, I know the gender (or sex, rather) of our embryos. I know what they would and could and might and might never become. And that’s startling. It’s startling to celebrate the potential arrival of something that, under “natural” circumstances, I wouldn’t know for at least 5 months. And this specified knowledge begins to create a reality of a human, a picture of a human.

(For anyone curious about statistics, using genetically tested embryos, accounting for my age/health/etc., there is nearly a 2/3 chance that there will be a baby at the end of this. Which, conversely, means that there is a 1/3 chance that there will not be a baby, a possibility for which, while I am not precisely prepared, I am at least aware and not new to.)

And so, here we are, about to be maybe pregnant and maybe not.

To the ever surprising, edifying, and evolving nature of existence — and, for what it’s worth, considering it’s frankly a damn miracle that any of us were even born at all, maybe today do something cool, just because you’re alive to do it.

Love, M.

fertility · infertility · resilience

Don’t Fear the Reaper: A Different Kind of Harvest

Swollen, painful belly. Trouble bending over to tie my shoes. Tired and nauseous. Pregnant? Well, that sort of depends on your definition.

If you’re asking whether somewhere in the world, there are tiny combo cells of my and J’s genetics, multiplying and developing as Nature intended, then yes, I suppose we are making what could be children.

If you’re asking whether those cells are developing within my own body, then no.

Last Saturday, J drove me to UCSF to have my IVF egg retrieval–or, amusingly dark, my egg “harvest”–and though the procedure went quite smoothly and as pleasantly as possible, I now get the equal & opposite reaction of having amped up my hormones and egg-producing parts in the form of the aforementioned common, but highly uncomfortable aftereffects.

On the plus(?) side, I’m getting to see how bloody inconvenient it is to be unable to bend to tie your shoes or sit without hinging at the waist. But. I’m not complaining… too badly. I’m grateful that it’s “Zoom school” for another few weeks for me, during which prep periods I can lay down and take steadying breaths to quell the nausea.

So, how did we get here? How come our genetic combos didn’t listen to all the very well-meaning, if increasingly painful platitudes and advice such as:

  • “It will happen”
  • “These things take time”
  • “There’s always next month”
  • “Have you cut out __ from your diet”
  • “Have you tried __(insert alternative medicine here)__”
  • “Are you taking prenatals”
  • “I have a sister/cousin/aunt/instagram follower who __ but now __” and
  • “At least you know you can get pregnant”??

(Don’t say these things, folks. We all know you mean well, and I’m sure I’ve even said them in the past, but unless they specifically ask for advice, just say something like, “That sounds so hard, I’m so sorry you’re going through this” and give them a squeeze on the arm.)

How come, despite all that and several mild interventions to boot, my body still refused to hang on to a pregnancy? Well, it should be noted that 1 in 4 pregnancies end in a miscarriage and 1 in 8 people experience fertility challenges, so it’s not altogether surprising. But as far as any medical reason? Perhaps my age (therefore my eggs’ age), perhaps the chemo, perhaps just the bad luck of the draw.

I’d said to J before we began “trying” that if and when we needed to talk about other options, we’d know. I said it after I had a chemical miscarriage last October; I said it after I had a true miscarriage this April; I said it after I had another chemical miscarriage in June: When the time comes to talk about other options, we’ll know.

And so it was, in mid-June on the final Zoom faculty meeting of the year that a coworker made an announcement. Coy and stilted, she announced that she, like the school, would be making some changes come the fall. A half-second’s thought of, “She’s not leaving, is she?” followed immediately by her display of a black-and-white photo we’ve all come to know from our social media feeds is a sonogram.

. . .

I smiled tightly for a moment. And then I turned off my Zoom camera and wept. Her little one was due the same month I’d been due when I was BFP (big-fat positive). The same month my pregnancy app community posts were gleeful with messages about Fall babies and pumpkin-toned newborn photos.

Camera off, I doubled over. In my desk chair in my living room, I wailed — with grief, with confusion, with exhaustion, with … well, despair.

When J came home that afternoon, I told him, “It’s time.”

The Universe, and my own soul, were achingly obvious in this message: You said you’d know when? Well, “despair” is when.

It wasn’t a hard decision to go for medical help, since I’d already made it, knowing that I would do what I could to aid a little one into the world. And I’m glad that it felt obvious and neutral. (There’s a book of index cards in the clinic’s waiting room filled with notes from other patients, some encouraging, angry, grief-stricken, even funny, and some telling of how IVF was something they’d never, ever considered and hope they’d still never have to.) But, though J and I tacitly agreed long ago that we’d accept and seek out medical intervention if necessary, we’ve also spoken that there are limits to what we feel, for us, is palatable intervention–or encouragement–of the “natural” parenthood option.

I had initial meetings with one public and one private fertility center. I moved my rainy-day fund from savings into checking. And a few appointments and Zoom calls later, my dining table was littered with syringes, vials, and swabs.

It’s all been a bit surreal, a bit wide-eyed as J and I filled out legal forms: What do you want to do with any frozen embryos if: you die, he dies, you divorce, you both die but within 30 days of each other?! But, it’s been 1000 times better than sobbing.

We’re in a waiting time right now; and any person trying to be a parent–“natural,” “assisted,” foster or adoptive–will tell you how very much of that there is. But, today I’m comforted in knowing that we’re taking the steps one at a time, little petri dishes of hope settled in a corner of an SF lab; comforted in knowing, too, that I’ll know when it’s time to have a new conversation.

life · miscarriage · trying

Quiet Journeys

It’s easy to remember when it happened because it was the late-April weekend I rescued a mouse. I felt like the Universe was underscoring that I was in a maternal mode, with so many living beings happening on one couch at once: myself, my cat, Mr. Mouse, and the tiny seedling inside of me. As I cupped the small being in my palm against my chest and pet its small head, its eyes drooping, its nose stalling its twitching in a pastoral moment of calm in its otherwise hectic life, I felt flooded with shimmering feelings of contentment, rightness, brimfulness.

As I stood up later that Saturday from petting Mr. Mouse in his temporary shoebox, I crossed the room a few steps and was struck. I doubled over, eyes squeezed tight, clutching my abdomen, my wind knocked out of me in my living room, my husband asleep on the couch nearby, still bathed in the warmth of the lazy afternoon. As I blinked myself back into the room, I breathed slowly, deep inhalations, attempting to abate the pain, attempting to forestall the dread and disappointment of what this sudden stabbing might be.

But, nature, whether the furry or fetal kind, will do as it bids.

Together we got in the car to the animal hospital: myself; my husband; the quiet, adorable, softest-fur-you’ve-ever-touched mouse in its? his? her? shoebox; and the 6-week old quiet, rather freakish-looking, hairless being in its? his? her? amniotic sac.

I was spotting by now, and the joint surrender of the mouse we’d housed for two nights after I found it hurting but responsive in the woods plus the embryo we’d known about for two weeks after several more months of timed trying felt staggering.

It was my first time, you know–getting that positive test. I’d had some kind of miscarriage in October of last year, and here were those symptoms all back again, but this time I had the proof to back it up. I was so excited. Of course, we all try not to be — but you know what Yoda says about trying. I’d lined up the test strips from the past week on the bathroom counter in order of increasing darkness of the positive test line. Because, wouldn’t you know, I’d been so impatient and instantly disappointed for the week prior that the line wasn’t coming up positive right away that I’d thrown the test strips in the trash… for 6 days! Six positive tests in the trash.

But there, on that Saturday morning, two weeks before surrendering a mouse, there it was: a BFP, as they say in the forums.

Seeing that line, I paused, wondering… I’d nearly thrown this one in the trash as the answer wasn’t immediate… did I do the same already?? Luckily this quarantine thing meant that we hadn’t yet emptied the trash and so I dug them out, these little strips of hope and disappointment, and lined them up and for f*ck’s sake–there it all was. A whole week’s worth of “You’re Pregnant.”

It was a hugely amusing and exciting morning, with J half-awake as I dragged him into the bathroom. (He later said his first thought was, “Why did she take so many tests??”) I explained my hasty discarding, my eyes lit up like Lincoln Center. I squee’d. I squealed. And I tried my best to remember the statistics.

I diligently called my doctor’s office. I confirmed how “far along” I was and made that first appointment when they’d see the heartbeat in just a week or two. I took a very long phone survey about my and my husband’s medical history. We watched videos on choosing which prenatal tests we’d want to opt for. We spoke soberly about decisions we’d agree to make if we had to.

I researched the best “baby tracking” apps, and downloaded three! I signed up to be a part of the “Due in December” message board, and began to research birth plans. I showed J the most fascinating, borderline disturbing 3D video of the development of an embryo up to the date we were at, when it really truly does have a freaking tail! I rewatched it several times, loving my lizard, hoping for my lizard, wanting to meet this, our very own lizard.

And then, the Saturday of the mouse surrender arrived. I spotted in the car, the mouse huddled in the shoebox, both of us quiet.

I delivered the mouse to the Lindsay Wildlife Rehabilitation Hospital, and filled out the card about how he’d been found and what care I’d given him (loved clementines and bananas, not so hot on celery) and lied that I hadn’t handled him… much.

On Monday, the doctor looked inside and saw the waning amniotic sac. In the apps, I marked the designation, “I’ve experienced a loss” (which I felt was a nice option so they would remove me from the “Your baby is as big as an orange seed” emails) and I moved the apps to a screen on my phone that I wouldn’t see regularly. Later that week, the wildlife center emailed me back to tell me Mr. Mouse’s injuries were too great and he hadn’t made it.

But I’ll tell you what I remember most, aside from the exalted morning when J, my mom, and I knew something new and fresh and remarkable had happened. What I remember most is that sun-warmed afternoon on a lazy couch with four souls entwined, compatriots for a time.

investments · money · savings

Some financial info resources. (TLNR: Out from under your mattress and into an ETF)

scroogeI spent a while this morning composing the below email to a family member interested in doing something more with their money.  I figured since I wrote it and it’s (potentially) useful, it was worthy of posting here!   


It’s exciting that you are thinking of getting into some new “products” (or tools) for your money.

Though I’d been listening to Marketplace daily for many years (and still do!), my true start to learning about money was when, about 3 years ago, J explained to me what inflation was. Though I’d nominally understood it before, what clicked for me—and spurred me into immediate action—was that for several years I’d been putting my savings into Bank of America or Capital One (formerly ING) “savings accounts.”  What J’s story informed me was that, despite several years of diligent saving (“Look at me, I’m saving!”), my “savings” accounts were not keeping up with inflation at all.  This meant I was in essence losing money (actually, losing “purchasing power”).  Every minute I kept a dollar in there, it was worth less and less in the real world!

Thus began a mad dash to get my savings into a higher yield savings account as I continued to learn more about where my money could be most profitable.

Here are some resources I’ve found helpful as I’ve continued on my path to NOT LOSE MONEY TO THA MAN!!!  This is a long read, though is certainly not an exhaustive or complete survey. My hope is that it piques your curiosity, rather than overwhelms. 🙂

Good luck, and remember: There’s always money in the banana stand.
With love,



“Money: Master the Game“ (book by Tony Robbins): Gives a comprehensive look at different types of investments, what they mean, why people use them.  This was my textbook as I began learning (read: highlighter and marginalia!), though it’s had its detractors. He does try to push his own products but he also has a philanthropic lens that I find refreshing.

Ray Dalio’s “Economic Principles”: A medium-length animated video about how the economy works; also, I just like him.

Investopedia and NerdWallet (also MotleyFool) are great sites for researching any financial topic and getting a layman’s answer.



High-Yield Online Savings Accounts: Read up on which accounts have the highest yields and other parameters, and open an account!  It’s very simple to do. Yields are not very high right now because interest rates are falling, but because inflation is not climbing either, it’s kind of a wash.  (I’m currently in Marcus and Synchrony.)

In normal times, inflation is about 3% (hence why many people get a “cost of living” increase of 3% to their annual salary).  My online savings accounts have been as high as 2.55% during our more robust economy years, though right now they’re down to 1.55%.

By contrast, right now the Bank of America savings account rate is 0.03% (!!!) and Capital One 360 is 1.5%.  You can imagine my chagrin when I learned I’d been keeping all my hard-earned cash in such measly accounts under the illusion that it “at least was something.”

These types of accounts are where I keep my 6-9 months of emergency funds (or “Prudent Reserve”) as the money is insured and safe.



If you’re not needing the cash right away, and you already have about 6-9 months of Prudent Reserve/Emergency Cash in a savings account, you can look at putting the “extra” into other products.  A few that are relevant are here, in order of payoff from least to most: 

CDs: It’s funny that this is one of your first ideas, as it was mine, too! And while it is entirely true that your cash is completely safe, this also means that its returns are inversely beneficial — read: totally safe = hardly existent returns.

I did “experiment” with putting some $ in a 12-month CD at Marcus at 2.1%, and at the end of that year I moved it to their savings account — which was then  earning 2.25%! Moral: interest on a savings account will change throughout a year — sometimes down, so your CD money may be “winning the game” but sometimes interest will go up and your CD money will be “losing the game.”

Personally, I won’t be using a CD anymore as there are more advantageous places to put my $$. (Unless I use a CD ladder, which is a specific strategy.)


Short-term Treasuries: One way to get your money into “the market” with very little risk is to purchase a US Treasury bill, note, or bond (listed in order of length to maturity from shortest to longest). One recommended to us by our financial advisor is USFR, which is currently yielding just shy of 2%.


ETFs: Exchange-traded funds are one of the best tools to take advantage of the stock market.  This means that you are purchasing a portion of the entire stock exchange, such as the S&P 500.  One advantage of this is that the exchange (and therefore the fund) is constantly adding and subtracting companies who fall into the top 500 earners, so you’re never saddled with a losing company and you don’t have to keep track of which individual companies you’re holding.

Because this strategy is relatively simple for the investment company to manage, ETFs generally have a very low expense ratio (see below; and if your ETF does not have a low expense ratio run away quickly!)

Another advantage is that they’re relatively cheap to purchase.  Some examples of common S&P 500 ETF stocks are SPY (~$280) and VOO (~$250).  Anything owned by Vanguard or Fidelity are generally good bets.

Owning an ETF is one of the top strategies for investors, as is discussed here on Investopedia and at length in Robbins’ book.



Expense Ratios

All investments, from retirement to stocks, have an “expense ratio.”  This is how much the company that’s investing your money is taking from your earnings.  As Tony Robbins goes into at great length in his book, while a 1% expense ratio seems tiny, the amount they take is compounded (read: exponential), meaning that 1% can be an exorbitant amount in the end. (See the chart in this Investopedia article.) You always wants the lowest ratio possible and below 0.30% is one watermark for me.

Real-life examples:  My employer-sponsored 403b expense ratio is 0.45% which I consider to be very high, but it is the lowest one I found on offer.  I investigated which fund they’d automatically put me into and the expense ratio was even higher. I researched what other funds of theirs I could go in to and moved into a lower expense fund.  Yet, when I met with my 403b representative she was crowing that their 3% products were “so low” — luckily, by then, I knew that was WRONG!

By contrast, my Fidelity Roth IRA has an expense ratio of 0.015% (and yes, those zeroes are correct!).

Therefore, it is critical to look at what the expense ratio is for your investments.


How to buy a stock

Simply open an account!

I’m using Robinhood (an app with website access, too), which has 0% commission, meaning that I don’t pay Robinhood anything to buy or sell a stock for me (another important “hidden” fee to look out for).  It was easy to set up and to fund from my bank; it’s easy to monitor, buy, sell, etc. You can buy specific companies’ stock or an ETF.

For a more robust tool, etrade is a strong choice.


Bonus Read:

Quit Like a Millionaire.  Even though J and I are not in this boat (yet??), reading their strategies is helping us to frame our financial future.  We started down this line of thought by reading from others in the FIRE (financially independent retire early) movement.

* * *

These are some basics for how to take your money out from under your mattress safely.  And, perhaps it goes without saying, but: I am not a financial professional by any stretch and YMMV — your mileage may vary!  Carry on!