Monthly Archives: April 2012

Now For Something Completely Different…Classic Romance Novels

I’m not really sure how I missed this post the first time around.

My dad is a serious book snob. For “my” birthday one year, he bought me a leather-bound, acid-free paged, gold-leafed series of Classic Novels. Among them: “Pride and Prejudice,” “War and Peace,” “Great Expectations,” “Arabian Nights,” “The Three Musketeers.”

I could not have been less interested in these weighty novels. But they were PERFECT for disguising the flimsy paperbacks I was REALLY reading.

As always, there was a gateway. My gateway was my friend Wendy, who every year would spend the summer in Florida at her dad and stepmom’s house. Her stepmom had an EPIC collection of historical romance: maybe it was the climate? Wendy would bring a few home with her, each year, and would smuggle them away from her disapproving mom.

When I was 16, she brought home a trilogy by Valerie Sherwood and let me borrow it, one book at a time.

From Goodreads:

“A sweet wild madness swept over Carolina Lightfoot at the sight of elegant Lord Thomas Angevine, reputed to be the most notorious rake in London. The proud Colonial beauty, graced with silvergold hair and flashing eyes, hoped to be his bride. Then, swept into a growing storm of scandal, she was banished to Virginia. Captured by buccaneers on the high seas, Carolina became the Silver Wench of the Caribbean…and the defiant prisoner of the infamous Kells, a brooding man with insolent charm andd a mysterious past.

On the island of Tortuga, where gentle winds caressed the perfumed nights and a lustrous moon whispered love’s allure, Carolina must escape…to find Thomas again, and to flee Kells’ passionate embrace, the rapturous temptation of his…LOVESONG”

I mean, how could boring Porthos compete with a man named “the infamous Kells?” Who, suspiciously, resembled Lord Angevine. Like a lot. Needless to say, the series set my standard for the next few years.

There was a typical plot I stuck to: the hero needed to be a “buccaneer” from the early 1700s. NOT A PIRATE! Buccaneers were English noblemen in disguise who ran rum in Colonial America as a way to stick it to the Spanish. Because nothing was more noble than supplying the colonies with alcohol? And that made the Spanish angry? I was never sure of the particulars.

The heroine needed to be reduced in circumstances, very spirited or “mercurial,” and possessed of a very unusual type of beauty: violet-eyed with platinum hair, cocoa-skinned and emerald eyed, etc.

Extra bonus points if:

– The buccaneer, for all his “roughness,” was actually well-educated in England by a governess, and the study on his ship contained the kind of leather-bound tomes I hid my reading in.
– The buccaneer owned a secret island in the Caribbean.
– There were misunderstandings and “secret identities,” which could be seen from a mariner’s mile away.
– There was revenge upon those who reduced the heroine’s circumstances.
– Action!

In college, I “graduated” to Amanda Quick novels. She was a bit more upmarket: her novels were set in the Regency period, the heroine was generally characterized by her geekery, smarts and wit (not her beauty), and the hero was generally some kind of Viscount or something with a tragic and misunderstood back story. There was often a mystery to be solved: usually about the tragic and misunderstood back story.

From Goodreads, again:

“There was no doubt about it. What Miss Harriet Pomeroy needed was a man. Someone powerful and clever who could help her rout the unscrupulous thieves who were using her beloved caves to hide their loot. But when Harriet summoned Gideon Westbrook, Viscount St. Justin, to her aid, she could not know that she was summoning the devil himself.

Dubbed the Beast of Blackthorne Hall for his scarred face and lecherous past, Gideon was strong and fierce and notoriously menacing. Yet Harriet could not find it in her heart to fear him. For in his tawny gaze she sensed a savage pain she longed to soothe…and a searing passion she yearned to answer. Now, caught up in the beast’s clutches, Harriet must find a way to win his heart — and evade the deadly trap of a scheming villain who would see them parted for all time.”

I adore that her name is Harriet. Nothing says “spirited nerd” like the name Harriet. (I say that with love.)

I eventually read “Pride and Prejudice” and all of the other books my dad gave me and loved them.

But those romance novels really kept my love of reading alive and well when I was a crabby teenager hiding in my room, trying to avoid yard work chores.

(Our house had many trees that shed many types of debris all year-round. Lord, I hated them!)

What books did you love reading that may have been, er, somewhat less well-regarded than Margaret Atwood’s work?

And, are you going to read that book-that-shall-not-be-named here, for my brother reads this blog and he is the BIGGEST book snob around.

(I say that with love.)

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Don’t Ignore: The Secret Life of the American Infertile

The theme of National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW) this year is “Don’t Ignore Infertility.” What does this mean, if you are not someone going through infertility? What is it like to be an infertile in America?

***
Bodega Bliss

Photo credit: Bodega Bliss

If you were shopping at a certain grocery store in California last May, you may have spotted a striking woman who resembled the actress Vera Fermiga. You might have watched as she carefully chose healthy and varied produce, and pondered what kind of meal she was going to make with her pickings. If you watched her for a while, you probably saw her smile, revealing an even, white row of teeth, as she admired a display of chocolate. Although the smile did not reach her eyes. A mind reader would have uncovered her inner life: she was recovering from her fourth miscarriage in two years.

“Four. I’ve lost four babies. That number is daunting. That number changes everything. At three, there was still a chance, my percentages were still pretty great. But four? At four they’re not so good. At four I have to start thinking that this might not happen for us. At four I have to start imagining alternatives – alternatives I never wanted to face.”

The Devastation of Pregnancy Loss

***
A Child To Call Me Mama

Photo credit: A Child to Call Me Mamma

Across this far flung country of ours a few years back, you may have seen a slender, tall, purposeful young woman perusing the aisles of her local home improvement store. You may have asked yourself, what was causing her lovely brow to furrow like that: what pressures was she under? A psychic could have revealed to you that she was wondering how in the world she was going to be able to raise the $30,000 needed for a domestic adoption. And she was also questioning why someone on Facebook compared the experience of adoption to buying a home.

“(When you buy a house) Does anyone do background checks, inspect your current house, ask you about your childhood, ask you about the stability of your marriage, make you write an autobiography about yourself, question your discipline techniques, get references from friends? No? Didn’t think so. And I’m pretty sure it doesn’t take a couple of years either. Does the average person really think you just fill out an application, they assign you a kid and then you live happily ever after?”

Sarah in Three Acts

***
The Road Less Travelled

Vintage Scrapbook

Photo Credit: Tulane Public Relations via Wikimedia Commons

Infertility is not limited to America, obviously. Up north, in Canada, a dark-haired middle-aged woman with kind eyes peruses the aisle of her favorite scrapbooking store. It’s May, and the approach of Mother’s Day is inching closer. As she walks past a display advertising goods for that coming holiday, a body language expert might be able to see the smallest sag of her shoulders, the way her walk slowed just a bit. That expert might be able to translate those gestures into her thoughts:

“Even after ten years, there is not a day that goes by (& often not even an hour) that I am not thinking about my daughter & what happened to us in some way shape or form. She continues to be present & influence my life. We will visit her niche at the cemetery just about every weekend. It’s often just a brief visit (one particularly blustery day last winter, we didn’t even get out of the car) but it’s a ritual that gives us comfort.”

The Memory Keeper

***

Finally, closer to the California grocery store, a woman stares at her computer. This woman is me. I’ll tell you what I am thinking:

“I finally think I’m blindly heading out of the fog of my grief. I will never not be infertile. But day by day, I really hope that infertility can and will release its hold on me. I keep hoping it will fade, into something I can look at from a distance, like Picasso’s Guernica. I can behold the power and terror it smothered me with and I should never, ever forget its devastation, but perhaps I can become at peace with it and spend more time in the present, with those I love. Guernica can remain in the museum of my heart, another exhibit (along with my wedding, the twins births, my travels) that I can revisit when I need to. But I don’t need to stand in front of it 24/7 anymore.”

The truth is, we don’t have psychics or mind readers around to tell us what isn’t being said. The body language experts work exclusively for the celebrity magazines to translate the slightest movements of the movie stars, not the shrugs and head positions of average people.

The problem is, what’s not being said is being ignored.

***

Faces of ALI

I decided to launch my series Faces of Adoption/Loss/Infertility to really illustrate how infertility affects lives. Because those of us going through it seem to be so misunderstood and yes, ignored. When infertility is talked about at all in the media (with a few notable exceptions, for example Redbook) the focus is often on the extreme cases and ethical issues related to 1% of cases and so often judgement is implied or even explicit in the comments connected to the articles written.

So those suffering from infertility flock online, to the blogosphere. There are thousands of blogs written by those going through ALI, and most of them are anonymous. Why is that?

It’s mostly because of the stigma we feel as infertiles and the lack of support we feel in real life.

***
Why Do We Gather Online?

In the blogosphere, we can share our true feelings with others who have “been there” and who can comfort us. We can reveal the true level of devastation we are suffering from.

It’s because those closest to us often say painful things to us. We know people don’t mean to hurt us. But they do.

“My two coworkers (told) me that they “feel so sorry for people without kids! How empty their lives must be.”

“My SIL who knew we were devastated about not being able to having children looked at us with her newborn in her arms and said ‘You can’t imagine what it’s like to feel this kind of love.'”

“That was a defective baby and you wouldn’t have wanted it.” (As told to someone after a miscarriage)

It’s because insurance doesn’t cover most infertility treatments, and some don’t want to “out” themselves as having pre-existing infertility issues to their employer.

It’s because when people tell us, “Just Adopt”, they don’t understand how much it costs, how long it takes, how difficult it is and how much rejection is involved.

It’s because people are scared: infertility is increasing among people in their 20s.

***
Crunching the Numbers

A huge chunk of the population, an estimated 1 in 8 of us, is classified as infertile. Being infertile is a medical condition.

Here are some numbers:

In 2012, the population of the United States is about 313 million.

Approximately 10% of us are infertile.

That means about 31 million of us in the United States are suffering from infertility. 31 million! That’s more people than the total populations of Belgium and the Netherlands. COMBINED!

And so many of us are sad and upset. Women going through infertility suffer from higher rates of depression.

***
I Don’t Want To Ignore Infertility!

You CAN help us and make a big difference to many! If we approach you about our infertility, you can be supportive and listen to us. You can acknowledge that we exist, and ensure we are not ignored. You can show us you value us: that you value your sister, your fellow churchgoer, your co-worker, your friend, your neighbor.

How?

1. Be kind. There are things that people say that they may not know are hurtful. Listening, saying you are sorry: these two actions help immeasurably. Don’t feel compelled to give us advice or tell us a hopeful story. Trust us: we are considering ALL of the options available, and chances are we know way too much about the statistics and where we are on our journey.

2. Help raise awareness! Post this aticle on your Facebook page. Go to Resolve.org to learn more about infertility.

Please help us feel less alone. Please help us feel less ignored.

Thank you.

For more information, click here:

(Basic understanding of the disease of infertility.)
(About NIAW)

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Filed under Adoption, Faces of ALI, Family, Infertility, NIAW, Parenting After IF

The Sahara, The English Patient and Adventure

Libya 4608 Idehan Ubari Dunes Luca Galuzzi 2007

Photo credit: Luca Galuzzi via Wikimedia Commons

In 1998, in the early days of our courtship, Darcy brought over a movie for us to watch in my apartment, which I shared with roommates. Luckily, they were out, so we stretched across the pink and white striped couch in the living room and began to watch The English Patient. Instead of bringing me popcorn, Darcy had procured a brown paper bag full of English peas, one of my very favorite foods in the world. And with that gesture, my love for him was cemented.

As for the movie, well. It is so dreamily romantic and lushly filled with desert vistas, burnished reddish blond sand and burnished actors and actresses as well. The tale of an adulterous passion of a Hungarian Count (Ralph Fiennes) for an aristocratic and adventurous Englishwoman (Kristin Scott Thomas always looks impeccably coiffed and dressed: her clothes blow in the wind in such a neatly, sensuous manner) is very scandalous, and yet very beautiful. Mostly, the movie is in love with maps: the map of someone’s skin, the maps of the desert and ultimately the notion of whether any country or nation should own any land.

Also, the pre-war period, with its spies and alliances and glamour juxtaposed with the violent events of the war itself is quite jarring. But the film got under my skin: I dreamed of wearing beautiful evening dresses while being intermingled and being involved with intriguing and important events. We moved to London less than a year later.

Of course, there are some serious moral questions: what of the husband, who takes his awful revenge? What of the advantage gained by the Nazis after the Count gives them the aerial maps of the Sahara, in exchange for retrieving his love, who had died while waiting for his return? What of the thousands who suffered because of that decision?

I don’t have any pat answers for these questions. In Casablanca, another desert-set World War II tale, Rick Blaine gives up his love for the good of his country and to oppose the Nazis. The English Patient’s hero goes back for his love and is consumed (punished?), literally, by fire.

On our way back from our honeymoon, we flew over the Sahara. Never has a landscape made so much of an impression on me. The distinctive sand can be seen in such a vibrant shade of reddish gold, even 36,000 feet above. The plains undulated beneath, as sensuous as the curves of many women. I stared at the desert, transfixed for an hour as we flew over such a parched, desolate and stunning landscape. I will never forget that as long as I live.

Has there ever been a book or movie that inspired you to travel or live elsewhere, or even inspire dreams of living there one day?

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This Is Your Life: Reading Your Blog In Full

I’m doing some housecleaning over here, and as a result, I have re-read every post I have written, up until July 2011.

One word comes to mind: Angst.

It’s not that there weren’t real challenges that I faced: there were. But this blog mostly unfolds (so far) like a painful year-long infertility and loss hangover.

I know that I delayed grieving and dealing with my losses and treatments until 2010, three years after the twins were born, and right after my second miscarriage. But why did the confrontation with grief have to be so long and pronounced and confidence-killing?

Reading my blog made me realize that I have pretty low self-esteem. Nothing I do seems to be good enough for me, while I’m constantly building up other people. In a way, this blog is the exact opposite of my overly-confident, pretentious European travel journal from my early 20s. Why did I think I knew everything then and why do I think I know nothing now, in my late 30s?

The only time I seem remotely self-confident here is when I am railing about the way the Adoption/Loss/Infertility community is treated. Then I sit atop my high horse, guns a blazin’. There is an undercurrent of anger in my writing that is surprising.

No matter how you resolve your infertility, there seems to be a reckoning period.

***

The Smartness wrote a series of posts about Emotional Infertility that I really connected with. At the heart of the series were these statements:

“Mental infertility is a continuum of emotions. Your position will fluctuate depending on where you are in your current journey and how you are coping with that place.”

I finally think I’m blindly heading out of the fog of my grief. I will never not be infertile. But day by day, I really hope that infertility can and will release its hold on me. In Mexico, I felt an ebbing of its power. I keep hoping it will fade, into something I can look at from a distance, like Guernica. I can behold the power and terror it smothered me with and I should never, ever forget its devastation, but perhaps I can become at peace with it and spend more time in the present, with those I love. Guernica can remain in the museum of my heart, another exhibit (along with my wedding, the twins births, my travels) that I can revisit when I need to. But I don’t need to stand in front of it 24/7 anymore.

It was moving and beautiful to read the comments readers left. So many “I get this” statements, gentle reassurances, sometimes some kick-in-the-asses. (Sorely needed, no pun intended.) Somehow, though, I had missed reading one comment when it had originally come in, from May, at Problem Uterus. Maybe I hadn’t been ready to accept it, maybe I just didn’t comprehend what she was saying. But I think I am ready to, now.

For me, the key to letting go of the past was to fill my life with things that make me happy, in addition to my children. My friends, my book club, my part time teaching job, spending time getting to know my neighbors and become part of the neighborhood, volunteering at my daughter’s kindergarten…I am a people person, and I surrounded myself with fun people in real life, as well as the blogosphere. Now my horrible stories are more of a Murphy’s Law Funny Anecdote than a The-World-Is-Out-to-Get-Me kind of thing. It took years, though. So I guess time was a big factor as well.

There is a post I think of often, by Lori. It’s a story of many women of many ages gathering in a meadow. One is starkly different than the others:

A very sad woman enters our circle. She’s in her 30s and she’s been crying, crying, crying. The losses she has endured have sucked the very life out of her. She has beautiful, glorious child-bearing hips, which are going to waste. Her dreams have evaporated. She feels alone (although, still well-loved) and without hope. We instinctively move toward her, trying to sense if she will allow us to comfort her. I barely recognize this woman — the toll has been so drastic. Can’t she see that this chapter, like all the others before, will end? Her hands hold only tissues full of tears.

Gradually as the story concludes, we realize that the women are different versions of herself, at different times of her life.

These are my Selves. They have come to honor the fact that I have been on the planet for another turn around the sun. They bring me their tokens and dreams and insights. I envelope them and am enveloped by them. One by one, I welcome each into my heart, accepting the gifts they have brought. I acknowledge the gift she is, she is, she is, she is, she is, she is.

I am.

I am. I think it’s finally time for the sad woman to be surrounded by the others, comforted.

And that’s what I’ve learned today.

What would you discover, if you were to go back and read your blog in its entirety?

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Filed under Discovering joy, Family, writing

Odds and Ends

Shamelessly wishing we were back here…

This weekend was punctuated by the good (seeing Esperanza) the bummer (not seeing Bodega and Izzy) and the ugly. (Me getting food poisoning from a restaurant. Tip to the wise: don’t order anything called “Pink Beans.” Ever.)

This week I dealt with: a sketchy back, a husband still away for work (two weeks), no school for the kids, no relatives around and then food poisoning: yikes. All yesterday, as I prayed to the porcelain god, I blamed myself for my fragile physical condition. Why am I not of the excellent stout peasant constitution I desire so badly? What foods can I eat that would improve things? What additional vitamins can I take? B-12? I now am even doing YOGA, people! ME! To try to improve things.

Anyway, suggestions welcomed.

Lest this blog become “bummer corner,” I’d like to highlight some RAD stuff.

1) First off, only a lucky few have entered the “Faces of ALI” sweepstakes to win Hunter boots, books and crafts. Seriously, your chances of winning are EXCELLENT! Contest closes this Friday.
2) Remember when I announced The Pomegranate Society, which was trying to help ALI bloggers to publish their work, then never really talked about it again? Sorry about that…honestly, the organizational aspects of it totally flummoxed me and I was never able to work out a plan that would work for everyone. HOWEVER, great news: Stirrup Queens launched MFA Sundays, and I highly recommend you all go over there and check it out. I’ll be enrolling: it looks totally amazing.
3) I absolutely LOVED this series by Kathy about the enduring story of the Titanic. Life-affirming, fascinating, with photos of the menu served the day the ship went down and the original New York Times articles BEFORE and after the disaster. Powerful stuff, especially for a history geek like myself. Kathy’s series is what I love most about blogging: the combination of the personal intermingling with the mysteries of life.

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