Kirsten “Kir” Piccini believes she was born an “old soul.” Her maturity at a young age was quickly recognized by everyone around her. By the age of six, adults were calling Kir “Little Mother” and giving her responsibilities like handing out food and filling drinks at family functions. In gatherings with children her own age, she was always anointed the leader. As she grew older, she became the one the other children sought out for answers and guidance. She enjoyed her role as the worldly and adult-like figure. She wore her mantel of authority with both gravity and levity.
In college, she rebelled for a while and tried to be “just one of the students,” but it didn’t feel right. She eventually became the Resident Adviser in her hall, then finally the Resident Director of the college she graduated from.
“I loved living in the halls with the kids. I worried about them, I fought with them, I disciplined them. I had young women coming to me when a test went bad, when a relationship ended and when it began; I got to experience everything with these young people like it was happening to me. I was honored and shell shocked and always available.”
Kir received letters from parents of her students thanking her for “mothering” their children and being a good role model to them. Once she joined the workplace, she continued to be the one other co-workers came to for advice and support. When Kir met and married her husband, John, she was so excited to finally become a bona fide mother to their children. But she soon ran into the roadblock so many of us face: infertility.
“This, my friends, is irony of the most horrible kind. I never knew growing up if I WANTED to be a mom, maybe because everyone treated me like I was one already. I never doubted that I would be; I was not prepared to Not be.”
Suddenly Kir wasn’t the one with the answers. It was a difficult and unfamiliar place her to be in.
The Light That Dimmed
Kir loves many things in life: her husband, Aruba, Law & Order reruns, beautiful high-heeled shoes, giving the perfect gift, cheering people up, cupcakes, beaches, red lipstick, sunflowers, summer, makeup, the Today show, being on TV and the stage, the ocean, the color blue and reading women’s fiction and magazines. She HATES Halloween and the game “Hide and Seek” because she is afraid of the unexpected and she doesn’t like to be scared. She pretends to like her husband’s beloved New York Rangers, because she gets to spend more time with him that way. In every picture you will see of her, she is smiling: her American row of teeth straight out of a dentist ad gleam and her eyes blaze with a sense of joy and mischief. You want to know what her secret is: how someone can glow with light in a mere image. There’s no bushel near her.
Credit: Kirsten Piccini
The truth is: her illumination was dimmed during her battle with infertility.
Kir dealt with the pain and frustration of infertility by becoming a den mother within the ALI world online. She became well-known for her knowledge, cheerfulness and support among those blogging and on the infertility bulletin boards. And she doggedly defended those going through infertility and their rights to pursue treatments. In response to someone openly wondering on a board what the big deal was, someone who posited that not having a child doesn’t kill people, she said:
“…how can anyone tell me that Infertility hasn’t killed a little part of me already? What kind of test can you give me to determine if some part of me isn’t dead right now because of going through this? I can say for me, in no uncertain terms, that is has. I have lived through some awful things in my life, I have scars that are deep and constant and these things, even though I survived them killed a little part of me. Infertility has done this too, it has on more than one occasion murdered my hope, slayed my faith, assaulted my mental health. All of these things in the real world mean that some part of me is gone for good.”
When Kir and her husband were unable to get pregnant, they moved on to fertility treatments. They were diagnosed with that tough beast: unexplained infertility. Having no answers as to why you can’t get pregnant is a surprisingly common diagnosis. Their doctor recommended IVF. But they would have to borrow money to pay for it.
“I think that the money issue is a topic that Mr Kir and I are hoping to avoid. We could do a home equity, we could get a loan …an IVF is possible for us and for that I thank God for being able to even have the discussion.”
In April 2007, they decided to bet all their chips on one cycle of IVF. Kir was hopeful but frightened. What if it didn’t work? What if they bet the farm and got nothing?
The house didn’t win this time. Kir was pregnant: with twins.
But she was deeply frightened.
“Plus this is a scary time too…even though my OB and her staff are beyond excited for us and they told us they would see us as early as next week, the part of me that trusts the clinic is still scared that something will happen before then. I know it’s silly, but hey so is Pregnancy. Nothing about me feels ‘real’ or ‘for sure’ anymore. Many times I just feel like I am play acting at being Pregnant. I won’t read the books, I won’t go to the websites and talking about it is just hard. Almost like I’m a ‘little pregnant’ but let’s not discuss it for about 35 weeks or so, Ok?”
And Kir’s pregnancy was anything but routine. She was afflicted with the dreaded hypermesis: excessive vomiting and nausea. Then she had to go on bed rest and had pre-term labor contractions. Finally at 35 weeks, her twins, her sons, Giovanni and Jacob were born.
“…I knew me before Infertility, and for all the things in my life that hurt me and threatened to do me in, I never once felt the pain I do now. I never felt that empty place in me that Infertility has left in me, the small place where I know I am now dead. We talk about it all the time, the fact that even as we move out of Infertility and become parents, we take this part with us. We all agree that reaching the other side of parenthood doesn’t mean we will ever recover from the pain it took us to get there. Many of you have used the words I use now..that some small part of you is gone forever, whatever you called it, it was the heart and soul of you, the naive and optimistic little girl in you; the one who hoped and when she prayed she thought it would come true.. All she really needs is a memorial service because she’s not here anymore.”
The Treacherous Waters
Credit: Kirsten Piccini
For all of the research we know about the effects of infertility (we know it causes depression among those who suffer from it comparable to those who have cancer, for example) there has been little focus on the after effects of infertility. What do those who give birth to live children go through?
Kir’s cheerfulness and zest for life were both tested and enhanced by the arrival of her sons. Twins parenting is a unique parenting experience: a heightened and extreme version of being tasked with caring for all the needs of two precious lives at one time.
“I can’t believe I am going back to work next week…oh the tears lately. I can’t stand that I have to leave these two…they are getting to be more fun every day. The SMILES are real lately and they love their tubbies and recognize us. I fall more in love every single day.”
Because Kir had wanted so much to be a parent, because she had gone through so much to become a mother, she held herself to higher standards. She expected to be the very best mother ever to her precious boys, because she felt she owed them that. That she owed the infertility community that. She found herself comparing her mothering skills to many others, often mothers who conceived easily and had all the confidence in the world in their parenting decisions. She was very hard on herself.
“But as they grow, as they move and reach milestones and learn to pick things up, you realize that little by little they are taking little pieces of you with them. Your Heart IS outside your body now and every single decision you make now, from taking a shower to how much insurance coverage to get, to ‘What if I want a Saturday to myself’ is measured against every other mother who ever lived and you know that those decisions, however minor before children, are HUGE. They are life changing. For everyone.”
Many women in the ALI community don’t feel comfortable talking about the challenges of parenting, and feel that only gratitude and wonder should be expressed. Kir did a brave thing and was very honest about how difficult she was finding being a mother.
“It starts to become even more exhausting and sometimes in dark times, on bad days, you wish for those days when you could come home, take one for the team and head to the couch at 6pm with the TV on and have Diet Coke and Pringles for dinner. Of course that would mean that you were still TTC and all the crap that goes along with those evenings too, but just once in a while you do wish for that. Quiet, Peace, a place inside that is empty but content. Lately my insides are in mass chaos.”
Kir began to get chronic migraines and was eventually diagnosed with fibromyalgia. She struggled to find a way for the joy to overcome the difficulties and pain she was experiencing. One day in February of 2011, she accepted a writing challenge to try to tap back into her joyful spirit.
That day changed her life. She began writing fiction on her blog, serializing the romance of Kimmy & David. She drew a big crowd of fans who devoured her wonderful and fun writing. She created Proud Mamma Moments, a place to celebrate the small victories of parenting. She began her second romance, Gathering Buttercups. She’ll be one of the featured panelists at BlogHer this year. And, she was one of the very few chosen to speak in NYC at the “Listen to Your Mother” Broadway show. That one day in February sent her on the path to being the popular writer she’d always dreamed of being.
At the “Listen to Your Mother” show, she read an essay about the simple and complex joys of walking with her twins in Manhattan.
But infertility is never too far away from her thoughts. This Mother’s Day was a conflicted time for Kir.
“Sometimes I just want those miracles for the people I love; I don’t want anyone’s hearts to hurt like that during this time of the year.
And the hurt comes, the tears flow, the ache spreads, the guilt of having my children in my arms consumes me, making me question the worthiness of me instead of someone else.
People would like to tell you that once you hold your babies, no matter how they come into your life, that the pure pain of infertility will subside, it will stop throbbing and devouring your hope.
But they are wrong, because sometimes 8 years later, infertility still hurts.”
To read more about Kir’s remarkable journey and escape into her comfortable and fun world of writing, go to The Kir Corner.