Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Joy of Reading, Part 2

I finished Little House on the Prairie today, and I had LOTS of questions.

So I went online and fell down several rabbit holes.

Question One:

What the heck happened with the Native Americans vs. the Settlers in the Kansas territory anyway?

Wikipedia directed me to this article. I found Wilder’s perspective pretty open-minded for its time and Pa in particular shows a lot of respect and sympathy for the Native Americans involved in the story. But I did edit my telling of the tale (never reading aloud Ma’s horrid statements) and I pointed out that the Native Americans were there first, and what happened to them was unfair in many ways and a great tragedy.

Question Two:

I wondered if Pa fought in the Civil War, which led me to this beautiful blog dedicated to Laura Ingalls Wilder. A lot of thoughtful posts and a description of a visit to the New York location where Farmer Boy takes place enriched my understanding of the books, I think.

Question Three:

That “durned” Bird’s Nest Pudding from Farmer Boy: what WAS it?

After my Mom read the post, she sent me the copy of the Little House on the Prairie Cookbook I grew up with and it does have the Bird’s Nest Pudding in it! Then, a reader linked to an article in Saveur about Little House food and I went there. The name of the author who wrote the article sounded familiar: Isabel Gillies. So I googled her and realized she had written a memoir (Happens Every Day) that I had wanted to read when it came out a few years ago. I found an excerpt and decided I wanted to read the whole thing.

Do you fall down rabbit holes on the internet? Do you think it enhances your reading experience or distracts you from it?

11 Comments

Filed under What Say You?, writing

The Joy of Reading

IMG_2513

I cannot read a book to save my life these days.

I have always been the “girl-with-her-nose-in-a-book” type, so this is a strange and unwelcome development.

Has my brain been fried by all of the texting and blog reading I’ve done? Do I need the back light of a screen? The back and forth between comments and commenters? The bells and whistles and rabbit holes? I don’t really know why I can’t read a book. But unless I’m on vacation/have no access to my iPad, I can’t get through a hard-bound publication. Maybe this is why I see people now featuring photos of themselves with neat, olde thyme-y vintage books in pictorials and in Kinfolk: perhaps reading a book is now an aspirational goal?

On the other hand, I can read aloud. That holds my attention properly. The twins and I have been reading the Little House books. It’s a strange thing to revisit a book that you read as a child when you are an adult. I didn’t originally notice Ma’s casual racism nor did I note how odd it was that Pa moved the family around so much. Nor did I contemplate how dangerous so many of their adventures were. But there are many things to admire, too: the stoicism of the Ingalls, the strong personality of Laura herself (she was tough as nails), Pa’s openheartedness, Ma’s formidable cheerfulness. Most of all, I admire how much they made from scratch.

Can you imagine a family moving to a wilderness area today and building their own house from nearby trees and rocks and mud? That’s what the Ingalls did in Little House on the Prairie. Or managing a full, self-sustaining farm, as the more prosperous Wilders did in Farmer Boy? Ten year old Almanzo played a crucial part in growing the family’s food. Of course, he also played a crucial part in EATING a lot of that food, too. So many of the scenes featured a famished Almanzo eating the largest array of food imaginable, including the ever-intriguing “Bird’s Nest Pudding.” (What WAS that, anyway? I still want to know.) My daughter asked me the other day, “Why don’t we make more stuff?” A good question, and something I find myself increasingly eager to do.

Have you re-read any books you loved as a child and noticed nuances and character flaws you didn’t the first time around? Do you also have difficulty concentrating while reading a “real” book?

14 Comments

Filed under writing

Faces of ALI: The Unique Hell of Secondary Infertility

Esperanza

One of the known media narratives, illustrated here (and in the subsequent interview by Terry Gross on NPR) is that, well, men and women getting old causes infertility. There’s a bit of a “blame the victim” mentality here: men and women should forget about societal norms and careers and graduate school and get their family planning on YOUNG.

Esperanza’s story is the real world example of what happens when a well-educated woman in a circle of other well-educated professionals values having a family above all else. And what happens when infertility happens to young people, anyway?

***

A Born Mother

Esperanza’s life has been shaped by two major factors. The first is her love of children. From a young age, Esperanza knew she wanted to be a mother. She loved everything about babies and children, and she was a natural around them. She was the girl who would rather babysit than hang out with friends. All of her after-school jobs were childcare related.

“When I was little I wasn’t all that into Prince Charming. I didn’t really think much about whether I would eventually find the perfect guy. When I fantasized about the future it was children I saw. I assumed I’d have them with someone I loved but I didn’t think much about what that person might be like. I just really didn’t contemplate marriage all that much.”

The second factor is the reproductive history of her mother.

“My little sister died when she was two months old (I was two). She was born very sick and never left the hospital…

After that my mother lost three pregnancies – each at five months. All boys. I’ve visited my sister’s grave often. I don’t know where those babies were laid to rest.”

Esperanza was a girl who wanted more than anything to become a mother, yet she knew how hard this goal might be for her to achieve.

***

The Prom Queen

2010 Teen Choice Awards - Show

Although Esperanza was a high-achieving student, eventually admitted to one of our country’s best universities and was also, literally, a prom queen, she felt different from her other friends and schoolmates who had other dreams. Dreams of exciting careers, romance, love and adventure.

Esperanza’s more down-to-earth dream was having a family of perhaps two or three children. She took a job that would support her goal. She chose to be a teacher because of the flexible hours and vacations. And she looked for a mate, someone who would also want to build a family. Someone kind and gentle and principled who would be a good father. But someone like that was hard to find within her circle of friends in their mid-twenties, who were more interested in partying and traveling and having a good time than settling down. She began to despair. It wasn’t until she was 25 that she met her very first boyfriend, a man she calls Mi.Vida. Mi.Vida was kind, loyal and he loved her. But Esperanza soon found that Mi.Vida was not ready to jump into the parenting waters as quickly as she was. She had to decide: should she wait it out? It had taken her so long to find someone. She decided to let Mi.Vida know her strong interest in having children, so he knew her goal early on. They stuck together and after two long years of conversations (and couples counseling), they decided to start building a family together. They were 28 years old when they went down to City Hall to cement their commitment.

Esperanza was worried when they started to Try To Conceive (TTC) because she had suffered from amenorrhea, which is the lack of regular periods, and this was yet another reason she wanted to start building her family as quickly as she could. To prepare her body, she began a strict regimen of traditional chinese medicine, yoga, whole foods and accupuncture three months before TTC. To Esperanza’s shock and surprise, she got pregnant within six months. But her surprise soon turned to sadness when she discovered her pregnancy was not viable: it was ectopic and life-threatening. She needed emergency medical measures performed. Grief quickly turned into panic as she remembered her mother’s horrible history.

What is an ectopic pregnancy?

It was a blow, to say the least.

It took time to recover from her physical and mental anguish. Making it worse was when she reached out to friends for support, she was rebuffed.

“The struggle to start a family is not something our society shares. We would, and do, share the start of our family with the world when the word struggle is not included; but when that word finds its way into the experience, suddenly we are shut down.”

Gearing up to try again took courage, but anyone who has ever met Esperanza knows she does not lack for that. Four months later, she was pregnant. Nine months after that, she gave birth to her daughter Isa.

She was the youngest mother she knew.

***

Oh, The Places You Won’t Go

September 2007 020

When you have children young within your circle of friends, it’s a more difficult transition. Your peers are out making careers happen, advancing by working crazy hours, networking at parties, building a savings account. Traveling, having adventures. Going to concerts.

Mi.Vida had a difficult time with the transition of being a young parent. Mi.Vida has a passion for indie music, and produces several important and influential music events in their urban area as a volunteer project, in addition to his important work for a non-profit. He didn’t want to give this hobby up: he had after all become a father younger than he would have cared to.

Esperanza thought it was important to give him space. She was settling into being a mother, too. It was a constant struggle to make ends meet. Neither of them were in a place in their careers where they had room to breathe financially. Esperanza longed to eventually become a SAHM. But the area where they live has the second highest cost of living in the country. They considered moving, but all of their immediate family lived in the area and provided help with childcare and invaluable love. It was a tough decision, but they decided to stay.

As Esperanza entered her thirties, she began to talk more about having a second child. The longer she waited, the more panicky she became.

“There is a part of me, the part I believe is driven by my biological imperative, that wants to have a baby right here and right now, come hell or high water. This voice oscillates between a loud shouting and a quiet whisper and is fairly persistant, though frequently drowned out by the day to day.”

But Mi.Vida was resistant. They went to couples counseling to speak about the difference between them. Mi.Vida was fine having one child, Esperanza was not. Slowly they worked towards closing that gap: compromises were made on both sides. Esperanza agreed with Mi.Vida that they would live in the city permanently (something she wasn’t keen on), and Mi.Vida agreed they would begin to try to conceive soon. Eventually, Mi.Vida expressed his own desire to have a second child:

“He mentioned how much he loves being a father, how he appreciates the challenges of parenthood even if they sometimes feel overwhelming; while he misses the lazy carefree existence of life without kids he also values all he accomplishes as a father. He says he loves the connection he has with Isa and looks forward to nurturing a similarly fulfilling relationship with another child. He also says, for all its nuanced complexities, that parenthood has brought us closer together and he wants to build our family knowing that we, as a couple, will grow too.”

They were ready to try again.

***

Hardcore TTC

IMG_0262

Esperanza quickly took control, using temperature charts to figure out when she was ovulating. She honestly described the not-fun methods of lovemaking and timed intercourse and the stress of having to time it all perfectly. The stress that it took on their relationship. And as each month passed, she began to worry. Why wasn’t this happening for them?

When nine failed cycles became ten, and ten became eleven, she realized that they would soon fall into that dreaded statistic: those who have failed to become pregnant after 12 months of trying. Those couples are advised, if they are under 35, to seek fertility testing. So after the 12th cycle, Esperanza made the appointments for the testing: an Hystosalpingogram for her to test whether both of her Fallopian tubes were open, blood tests to check her hormone levels of CD3, FSH and E2, and an appointment for Mi.Vida to check his sperm counts and motility. She felt pretty confused.

“For the first time since I started building my family I have no idea what to expect. For the first time, I don’t have any expectation of getting pregnant. I haven’t counted out when I’d be due if I got pregnant during the next cycle. I haven’t wondered what I’ll do about maternity leave or taking a year off of my job. I haven’t made any possible plans in my head, I haven’t laid out any probable futures in my mind’s eye. In that place where all those dreams used live, there is only emptiness.”

She thought that the results would probably be normal. She suspected she might be faced with a diagnosis of unexplained infertility. After all, she had gotten pregnant twice in one year only a few years before. She thought the RE would give her a recommendation for a non-intrusive IUI cycle. Maybe a prescription of Clomid.

She was wrong. Dead wrong.

***

Disaster

IMG_3263

The first result they got back was Esperanza’s HSG test. Both of her tubes were clear. Then she got back the blood test results. One of the results (the E2) was on the higher range of normal, and her RE advised her to get the AMH test, which is a more reliable predictor of ovarian reserve. (How many eggs a woman has.)

Meanwhile, Mi.Vida’s results came back and they were not normal. Almost all of his counts: numbers and motility, were low. More worryingly, traces of blood were found in his sample. He was advised to see a urologist.

Then came the deadliest blow: on a Friday morning on a cold January day, the RE called Esperanza to tell her the results of her AMH test. The number was shocking: .59. The RE told her she had the ovarian reserve that he would expect to find in a woman who was 42-45.

“He also said that while he can’t predict I’ll start menopause when I’m 40, it could mean that. This isn’t just about my desire to have another child, this has lasting health consequences.

When I google ‘AMH under 1’ I find a lot of stuff. All of it is depressing. Some of it is terrifying. Women who only retrieve one or two eggs during IVF. Young women – in their twenties – being advised to use donor eggs immediately and not even try with their own eggs.”

Esperanza is only 32 years old.

***

What’s Next?

Esperanza and Mi.Vida will be seeing their RE this week. Their RE has recommended moving right on to IVF.

But IVF is beyond their means. Already financially exhausted by the struggle to be young parents, they are tapped out. They have had to explain to friends and family who have urged them to “just adopt” that adoption is twice the cost of IVF, at least.

What is IVF?

***

The Unique Hell of Secondary Infertility

DSC_0063

Secondary infertility is a unique kind of hell. Many who are going through infertility want one child so badly. You worry you will offend them with talk of your desire for a second child. You have a child already. Doesn’t it seem greedy you want more than one?

And yet in America, almost no one has one child. The average family has two children. So everywhere you go, you are surrounded by families with two kids. Announcements on Facebook of second children (or even third or fourth children) are everywhere you look. Grief is everywhere.

Of all the people I have profiled, Esperanza’s story has been both the easiest and the hardest to write. Esperanza is my best friend. I was also diagnosed with premature ovarian failure at age 32. I never thought the same thing would happen to her. It kills me that this is happening to her. She came to help me with my son’s birthday party back in November. While the rest of the parents and I chatted, Esperanza jumped in and played pirates and balloon swords and gave a merry chase while we looked on, exhausted.

My friend Roumi said: “She’s a mom, right? I hope so. She’s a born mother.”

And so she is.

To read more about the remarkable Esperanza’s journey, please go here.

25 Comments

Filed under Faces of ALI, Infertility

Being Authentic

IMG_3198

Great comments (as always!) and an excellent post from Mel with some very thought provoking questions about whether we can call ourselves original and the advantages of writing “sideways”: writing about others works and creating a dialogue. Like what I am doing right now…

A lot of you wondered whether being authentic was the same as being original. That’s a tough question: I think we are each original individuals and we each have different things to say, even if we are writing about the same topics, like April said. So what’s the difference between being authentic and being original? I don’t know if I know the answer, but I’ll present my theory about what authenticity means in blogging. As always, this is a dialogue and I welcome your thoughts.

There’s no doubt that authenticity is definitely a buzzword in blogging and social media right now.

When the trend of glossy blogs with beautiful photographs and images arose, questions of whether the blogger was being authentic were bound to arise. The shift in styles from a warts-and-all approach to the current dominant paradigm of image-based blogging has been a dramatic change.

I would say the shift began around 2008, way before I was even blogging or reading blogs. And I would argue (though YMMV) that one blogger in particular led the way to this change: Stephanie Nielson of Nie Nie Dialogues. Long before her horrific plane accident, she was writing a blog dramatically different than what was out there at the time. (She started her blog in 2005, when the dominant blogging voices were more in the confessional genre, like Finslippy and Fussy.) Nielson, a devout Mormon, was a young mother of four who wrote about finding the beauty in life, the gratitude in small things and who tried to focus on the positive. She was a beautiful, wholesome mom who was a vegetarian and exercise fan, who gloried in being a SAHM and whose zeal for all things motherhood was really inspiring.

Then her accident happened in September 2008, and suddenly the New York Times and Oprah chronicled her story. As she began to recover, readers were amazed to see that her positive attitude remained intact. That if anything, her interest in making life beautiful remained as strong as ever.

(Aside: I read her book, which was very honest about how difficult her recovery was and is, and why her approach to life will always be guided by her strong Mormon faith. I recommend it highly: it’s an incredible read.)

During this time, other blogs began to become popular with their similarly positive worldviews of motherhood. A lot of them were written by Mormons too (which is a religion that most definitely puts a strong emphasis on all things motherhood): Nat the Fat Rat (who has suffered from infertility: this post in particular is VERY interesting), Oh, Joy, Say YES to Hoboken. A lot of them focused on crafting, making things pretty, cooking, healthy eating.

Then this article came out and broke down why these blogs are so appealing to many.

“Well, to use a word that makes me cringe, these blogs are weirdly ‘uplifting.’ To read Mormon lifestyle blogs is to peer into a strange and fascinating world where the most fraught issues of modern living — marriage and child rearing — appear completely unproblematic. This seems practically subversive to someone like me, weaned on an endless media parade of fretful stories about ‘work-life balance’ and soaring divorce rates and the perils of marrying too young/too old/too whatever. And don’t even get me started on the Mommy Blogs, which make parenthood seem like a vale of judgment and anxiety, full of words like ‘guilt’ and ‘chaos’ and ‘BPA-free’ and ‘episiotomy.’ Read enough of these, and you’ll be ready to remove your own ovaries with a butter knife.”

At the same time, design blogs like Design Sponge, Cup of Jo and then the fashion sites like Atlantic-Pacific burst onto the scene.

And then we come to Pinterest: probably the single most important element as to why these blogs are the powerhouses they are. Many of the photos of the crafting and the reupholstered chairs and the quirky dinner parties went viral, so to speak, via the images.

And now, it seems a backlash may be coming, based on the growth and popularity of blog criticism sites. Who knows what the next global trend will be?

So this is the background (as I see it) about the context to why, in general, readers care whether bloggers are being themselves, presenting life as it really is.

In terms of my own reality: I am not as authentic as I could be. I don’t tell the FULL truth of my situation. I gloss over some difficulties. There’s a few reasons for this. One: I am not anonymous, my name is attached to my blog. Family and friends read this record. While I am honest about my struggles with infertility and loss, there are some sacrosanct lines I won’t cross for many reasons. Does this make my blog less authentic? Probably.

I would say the blogs that might be the most honest, the most fearless, the most real would be the anonymous blogs, like Esperanza’s. I think those blogs are unfettered by some conventions.

But is it just honesty that makes someone authentic? I’d say no. I think a blog with a voice that is consistent, thoughtful, full of a viewpoint that is carefully thought out and expressed is also authentic. And so, I think Nie Nie Dialogues is authentic, I think LavenderLuz is authentic, I think Stumbling Gracefully is authentic. I think Stirrup Queens is authentic, I think R. Savitus is authentic.

There are some blogs I don’t think are authentic, and I don’t read or comment on those blogs.

As a reader, bloggers who write or present things in a manner that does not ring true to me are inauthentic in my eyes.

But you may not agree 🙂

How important is the authenticity of bloggers to you? Do you strive to express your reality? How would you define authentic?

13 Comments

Filed under Blogging

Being Original

DSC_0017

First of all, thank you. Thanks for the incredible response and the dialogue in the comments box on the last post.

I am floored.

A lot of the discussion got me thinking about why originality matters so much, since this seems to be a key issue in this next generation of bloggers. What makes writers or artists truly a special snowflake?

I’ve been thinking about two special snowflakes in history in particular: my favorite American composer, Aaron Copland, and Emily Dickinson, whose writing was edited right after her death to fit more in with the norms of the day. To the detriment of everything that made her poetry so unique and punchy. (Thanks to Outlandish Notions for reminding me of my affection for Dickinson.)

As a writer, I am not as original as I’d like to be, in great honesty. I think Faces of ALI is probably my most “original” idea, and even it is a careful retelling of other people’s stories. There’s probably a few reasons for this. At my middle school and high school (as I’m sure was the case for most people), uniqueness of any kind was jeered and shunned. I had some mild mean girl experiences and learned to keep quiet and not make waves in order to survive. At my beach-y, paradise college, I played up my mellow, fun side to maximum effect to fit in. (Which was not terribly difficult, I must say.)

It’s fascinating for me to see a world where originality is awarded and closely scrutinized. Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, blogs: all of these places are outlets to “express” creativity, yet so few writers/artists truly do have anything new to say or show.

Another reason I have been thinking about this a lot is that my daughter shows signs of having no interest in following trends, whether it be clothing, hair, music or, well, anything really. The way she dresses is starkly different than her friends: she cut her hair into an artfully styled bob (and actually set a trend with that), she loves fashion from the 20s and 30s. I cannot dress her. She won’t let me. I try really hard to not mold her but instead allow her to heed her artistic whims. Even though my instinct is to not let her do that.

I guess the instinct to conform is itself deeply rooted in my personality. Or it was, at least, until infertility hit. By no longer fitting into the norms (all my other friends were mostly building their families according to exact plans), I became “other.” Being different was somewhat liberating. I sort of went in an eccentric and reclusive direction, becoming a mysterious figure.

IMG_1244

This is a small example, a seriously small example of being different, but no one I know bakes much. I was a hostess for a baby shower and I wanted to do something thoughtful and cool for my friend who is awesome. So I baked the cake and cupcakes myself, from a frosting I’ve perfected from another blogger (NOT ORIGINAL!) and I graduated the favorite color tones of my friend who was being honored into different cake layers. (Confession: that terrible photo has been photoshopped.) This is not unique either: you could argue (successfully) that if anything, ombre is on its way out. But no one at the shower could believe that I had made (BAKED!) this really cool cake. It blew their minds. It also tasted really good, so that helped. I think they thought it was REALLY WEIRD (original?) that I had made that cake.

IMG_1250

Anyway, I think it takes a lot of time and energy to truly think long and hard about making your work, whatever it is, stand out. Emily Dickinson didn’t have much of a personal life and lived with her parents. She rarely left her home after her early twenties. Aaron Copland traveled and studied with various muses and with different mentors, and even he struggled because his music very much went against the grain during the Depression. Emily Dickinson was never recognized during her lifetime. Aaron Copland had a very brief period in the 40s of writing brilliant music that blazed a new trail. Originality, it seems, has a short shelf life. Unless you are Picasso.

Do you strive to be original? Or do you prefer to write within accepted norms?

17 Comments

Filed under Blogging