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!   

Hey!

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,
Molly 

 

SOME BASICS:

“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.

 

SAVINGS ACCOUNTS:

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.

 

OTHER WAYS TO MAKE YOUR $$ WORK FOR YOU:

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.

 

OTHER THINGS TO NOTE:

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!

 

 

 

Jewish · marriage · tradition

balabusta.

larryWhile many Jewish outlets and friends have been answering the central question of Passover, “Ma Nishtana…?” — “Why is this night different from all other nights?” within the sphere of the coronavirus (see: Zoom seders, or “Zeders”!), for me and my family of two, the answer is separate from today’s pulsing pandemic.

For several years now as a mostly-grown-up person on my own, I’ve honored the holiday by purchasing one token box of matzah that sits nearly full in my cupboard until the next year when I try to determine if there really is such a thing as stale matzah.  Sure, I’ll eat a piece or two with some tuna salad, maybe even soften some butter to slather it and eat with my morning eggs, but that’s really the extent.  I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to several seders (the traditional Passover meal) over my years as a wandering Jew — from a 4-hour long one with amusing, hard-of-hearing relatives one-upping each other vociferously and with Eastern European accents about the horrors plane travel to a child-friendly seder replete with plastic finger-puppets and frogs to throw at one another during the recitation of the plagues that befell the Egyptian people.  

But, for me, the days of a “family seder” are long-past since my parents parted in my late teens.  My mom has made her efforts of seating folks around a collapsible table in her Manhattan studio apartment and my dad had enjoyed his seders in the company of his soon-to-be ex-wife’s family, but these all took place 3,000 miles from their California-rooted daughter.

And so it was, with not a little trepidation, that I undertook the creation of a seder of my own this year.

Those familiar with the holiday know the layers of family tradition, family bloopers, and family reminiscences that weave throughout the making of this “dinner.”  You know the arguments and boasting about the best consistency for a matzah ball, about the trials and lamentations of roasting a brisket to moist tenderness, and you know the general air of activity and festivity that emanates from a home where seder is being prepared.

And while J, a goy, can’t tell me whether his family falls stalwartly in the dense or airy matzah ball camp, I can surely tell him that the right way is dense — and he cannot contradict me!

I wasn’t altogether sure what my observation of the holiday would be as I walked into the local kosher butcher last week, replete with face mask and latex gloves.  But, as I walked the teeny aisles trying to not freak out about others’ proximity, I picked up a few items and a few memories of seders gone by.  I picked up items that I put back, imagining that, no, I wouldn’t be attempting aforementioned matzah balls — too risky — and deciding I wouldn’t subject J or myself to some staples of my own childhood seders, like the ubiquitous chocolate-covered jelly rings or jelly-suspended gefilte fish.

That said, I did come out with some “gesture” Passover foods: matzah (egg, of course), chocolate-covered matzah (dark, of course), and coconut macaroons (no, not those French sandwich cookies!).

I set them on my mantle at home, took a stylized photo to send to family and friends, and captioned it my “nod to the holiday.”

But, as day turned to night and day again, I wondered if I myself could cook a holiday meal after all.  My chief hesitance was that the food wouldn’t turn out well, but with only J and me to choke down whatever #epicfail would result, why the hell not?

And so, I looked up recipes for Instant Pot brisket and Instant Pot chicken soup, and went Sunday morning back down to the butcher for a 3-pound kosher brisket(!) and a box of matzah meal.  I bought an honest-to-god horseradish root as stores were completely out of the prepared kind.  I googled “How to make your own prepared horseradish” and “How to make your own charoset” — and I did my best to find recipes that most closely resembled how my mom used to make them.

And finally, on Wednesday morning, the first day of my Spring Break from teaching and the day of the big night’s meal, I opened the Haggadah.  It’s one my mom mailed me a few years ago with cartoon illustrations and transliteration — plus it’s super short, which I knew would please the husband (and myself if I’m being honest!). 

I flipped to the back where it very nicely taught you “How to set a Seder table” and began to assemble the pieces I’d need for the seder plate, gathering the smallest bowls we own to set on the largest plate we own.

And I began to cook.

The seder itself was lovely, my husband and I taking turns reading from our one copy.  Him calling “A-mein!” whenever I poked or eyeballed him at the end of a prayer.  Us pretending to wash our hands in non-existent water (swish swish drip drip).  My hiding the afikomen from him but giving a too-obvious hint!  There were “oops”es like the omigod-too-salty horseradish, and when I forgot to leave the cup for Elijah at the start of the seder, like my dad did.  And telling J, also per my dad’s tradition, to retrieve the cup and drink it on the way back to the table, pretending innocently that Elijah the prophet really did come and drink it!

Over the meal, we shared answers to Passover-related questions: What habits, of mind or body, do I want to be free from?; What has changed since last year’s seder (Hint: We got married!); and Where do we still see a lack of freedom in the world and what efforts will we take to help rectify it?

As the candles died down and our can-I-say delicious meal digested in our bellies, I felt a pride of accomplishment that I hadn’t known before.  I was, for the first time, a real Jewish wife.  I was a balabusta.

 

 

community · infertility · uncertainty

Here’s hoping for a different set of flowers.

pink-stargazer-lilies-nancy-watsonOver Winter Break, I spent several days sorting through papers and boxes in preparation for our move back to Oakland right over New Years (yay, diversity!).  In those sortings, I came across much of my writing from my graduate program in creative writing, one part of which was apparently to define and refine what my purpose was in my writing.  In one notebook or another, I repeatedly recorded that my purpose was, in essence, to illuminate my own experience that I may grow and heal, and that it may inspire others to grow and heal as well.

Apparently, that’s still my purpose in this writing.  As, in that spirit:

J. bought me flowers on Monday.

Before you die of envy, to be specific, he bought me “I’m sorry you’re not pregnant” flowers.

On Sunday, 40 days into my cycle (yes, late for me), with the repetition of October’s “boob heaviness” and fatigue and slight baby pudginess, I experienced some pain in my low abdomen. It went on throughout the day and I knew that sometimes there is cramping when a fertilized egg implants into the wall of your uterus.  I kept my spirits light (also knowing that it would be a little bit late if that’s what was happening), and when some spotting came in the afternoon, I spent time on the internet reading about implantation spotting… hoping.

It became clear the next morning this was not what was happening.  And so, as my body flushes out whatever may or may not have existed, and my temperature dips back to its normal level and my boobs return to their still awesome shape I assure you, I made an appointment with a doctor and will follow up with their fertility specialist today.  And have been relatively going on with my days.

But yesterday at the end of my workout class, the teacher asked us to bring our attention into our bodies. What were we feeling?  What was our body saying?  I closed my eyes, breathed in.  And my body swarmed with emotion from my feet and nearly out my eyes. I welled up; I nearly cried:  It appears my body was sad. I was sad.

It’s been a pell-mell dive into the new year, with the resumption of school and also did I mention a cross-county move?!  It’s been a week of writing things on and ticking things off a to-do list (where is that bottle brush anyway?).  To feel last night that I am experiencing some emotions was a bit of a surprise, frankly.  It’s natural, if not easy, to feel busy.  It’s hard to slow down and ask what’s really going on.

So, I’m grateful to that workout instructor who went off-script.  I’m grateful to J. for being such an understanding partner.  And I’m glad that I do have a purpose — to share, to shine light, to heal, and to create community through that sharing.  I’m not grateful for the hardship I go through, but I am grateful that I don’t ever have to go through it alone.

Namaste, b*tches.

 

hope · miscarriage · pregnancy

Maybe Baby.

11.19.19.jpg

It was about a month ago.  J and I had returned from Berlin, our honeymoon destination, a week earlier and I finally mustered the courage to ask him,

What if I told you that my boobs have been hurty for the last day or so?

A larger part of me than my pride cares to admit didn’t want to tell him.  There feels to me a dangerous assumption in our world that women cry wolf.  But considering we’d been trying for a pregnancy for several months, taking tests, checking out my belly in profile, wondering if maybe, maybe now… Questioning to myself, Am I just fatter than usual?  Is it just that I have burrito belly?  And I would say to him, Maybe I am.  And he would say, gently, it’s not likely to show up in evidence there that quickly.  And a week later, my body would concur by making it clear I was not.  Nope, my body would tell me, just cake belly.

This would go on for several months, several months of buying pregnancy tests in bulk, of the check-out counter girl telling me she hoped the results were what I wanted.  And I would go home, hold my breath, pee on a stick, and hope.  Then, results in, I would despondently cap the test, re-wrap it in its plastic sleeve and deposit it in the trash quickly, ashamedly, as if it had exposed some deep vulnerability.  Which, of course, it had.

The last two times I’ve peed this dance, I’ve felt the compounding nature of months of disappointment.  Earlier, it was easy(er) to say, “Well, we haven’t been very ritualized about our timing,” “We haven’t really been trying diligently,” and I would watch the calculations on my mental calendar extend.

Because I’d had it all worked out, you see.

Counting months from the summer attempts, it would be a Spring baby (if all went well) and that would be so great for a teacher’s timing — deliver at the end of the school year, have several months at home over the long summer, and desultorily return back to school in the Fall, delivering my child this time to the care of another.

It was the optimal timing.  And besides, it worked for my friend Jess who’s a teacher.  She got pregnant on her honeymoon in August and followed the gestational plan like a Swiss watch.  Surely, if she could do it, so could I/we.

Yet, as the months ticked away this summer with another negative line, another round of menses, I would have to recount and replan and force this new plan to be acceptable in my mind.  A summer baby is okay; we’ll have a 1/2 birthday for them so they can celebrate with their peers at school; school birthday parties are so important when they’re young.  … Okay, well, Fall birthday, okay, well the school age-start, we’ll have to decide if they’re to be a year ahead or a year behind their classmates; no worries, I have friends who’ve made either decision, just like my brother and I took either route.

New and revised plans laden, too, with disappointment, curiosity, worry, and damnable hope.

If it doesn’t work out to have natural children, I told my close friend before it all began — as J and I are older, I have chemo’d ovaries, we both have mental illness in our families, plus the myriad of reasons why a zygote decides not to become a person — then we’re open to the adoption conversation, or the foster one, or the refugee family hosting conversation.  J and I are very fortunate and we have a lot to give.  I’m open. 

And… I am.  But I would not be without a feeling of loss.  I am honest enough to know this about myself.  I am honest enough to admit that the idea of seeing what our DNA creates thrills me (as much as it worries me).  To admit that carrying on a lineage, a descendancy, feels important to me.  To admit that I know the hill of adoption and fostering is rewarding, as I’ve seen it be beyond measure for friends and family, but I know, too, that it comes with baked-in abandonment issues that can create ripples.

And so, when a month ago I turned to J in bed and asked him how he might feel if I told him I was having a sign of pregnancy — one that wasn’t on my mental list of knowns, one that I couldn’t have made up because I hadn’t known of it, one that could not be cried wolf — it was elating.  Thrilling.  And harrowing for how it could turn out at any which point.

For that week-long period, we examined the different changes, weighing my breasts in our hands, noticing they felt not only sore, but full, like a laden water balloon, wresting from our memory the way they’d felt before that week.  And indeed, they were different.  And every day I felt and cupped and squoze, and imagined.

I told my mom, with the preface to be cautious in her reaction, that my boobs were hurty, and she said that was her first sign, too.

A few days after my initial inquiry, I built up the courage to show him the darkening line on my lower abdomen, the one I’d colloquially heard as the “climbing line,” that pregnant women get — some say as a guide for a birthed person to climb up to the milky breasts upon birth if the mother is unable to guide them.  I checked it, this amber-colored stain we were both sure was new, in the mornings when it was certain it couldn’t be an imprint of my jeans’ zipper or a seam.

I began to notice that my jeans were fitting differently around my thighs, the cloth feeling tighter, and I looked it up online.  It is an early sign, the thickening of the thighs as they begin to store fat to become milk upon arrival of the baby.  I added it to my growing list of evidence — and I took the pregnancy tests.

But.  They told me: No.  They told me what I was experiencing in my body was not a pregnancy.  And I told them they were wrong, that it was too early, maybe, just hardly two weeks.  I told the blood test at the doctor’s the same thing.  No, you’re wrong.  Touch my breasts, look at this line.

But my body had the final word, too: the flow came, and I sat on the toilet in our tiled-white bathroom and I wept.

 

I know that our bodies are limitlessly wise, and I do not fault the Universe for sorting this one out because I know its reasons are always(?) legitimate.  DNA melding and dividing is a probability crap shoot, and sometimes the house rakes all our chips back in and tells us better luck next time.

So.  Here we are: “Next time.”  With hurty boobs.  A week to go before the jury releases its decision.

And I am yet to know how much heartache I will endure.