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?

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Filed under What Say You?, writing

The Joy of Reading

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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?

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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Filed under Faces of ALI, Infertility

Being Original

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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.

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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.

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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?

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Filed under Blogging

Kinfolk Magazine and The New American Aesthetic

Kinfolk-Magazine

As always, my super younger brother is the only reason I am tapped into the whole hip/new/trendy aesthetic. By the way, if you are into being trendy, it’s all about being Southern and into reading old, hardbound books while growing your own food and eggs and meat. Read Kinfolk for more.

I get it.

I’m in the process of reading the “Little House” books to my kids, and I have been seriously considering home schooling my kids. If I were a hardier specimen, I would do just that. Truth is, I’m not stout. I could never feed the endless appetite of Almanzo Wilder with relentless doughnuts, bird nest puddings, homemade bread and butter, roast beef, ham and turnips.

I just watched The Hunger Games, and damn, if it doesn’t promote a similar way of life.

I read somewhere that all wise people know how to garden and live off the land.

I am frail and tired.

However, my parents live in Arkansas. Feel free to jeer and be weird about it: everyone I know does just that. They lived in the country’s most prosperous suburb and hated it and moved. And when I drive around their new town, I find myself driving around singing Fleet Fox songs at the top of my lungs (those Brooklyn posers?) and feeling at home. God, I LOVE The Fleet Foxes.

You see, for all my sophistication, I am helpless before the appeal of that self-sufficient Southern life.

There must be some strong Scots Irish in me, after all.

Have you tried to overcome family roots and found it fruitless? Do you romanticize an agrarian sensibility?

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Filed under Discovering joy

How to Dress: The Handbag

You might have guessed from past posts that my approach to fashion is one of less is more. I like to buy things that are high quality, so they will last.

There are a few reasons for this. First, I’m a creature of habit. I’ve had my Ugg boots (yes, I own a pair ;P) resoled and dyed numerous times over the years because they are so wonderfully comfortable and I don’t want to throw them out. They are like old friends. Second, I don’t have an enormous closet. Third, if I have to chose quality over quantity (and I do, because, well, budgets!) I pick quality. I certainly understand why others don’t make that choice and I get it 🙂

Handbags are the most important items in my wardrobe. An excellent, high quality handbag is an essential for me. I use one every day. Even if I’m in yoga pants and a ponytail, I’ll look down at my bag and it will cheer me up. A quality handbag dresses up almost any ensemble.

Handbags are also a highly personal item. They can reflect your sense of self.

You can use a messenger bag (like this Kate Spade model) if you have a sporty style:

Messengerbag

A stylish Johnny Was for that boho feeling:

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A studded purse to reflect your edgy side (like this Burberry model):

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A leopard print to express your wild side (shown: Dolce & Gabbana):

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A Birkin bag to emphasize your ladylike manner (the iconic Hermes version):

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OK, I totally am crushing on ALL of these.

I have kept and restored every handbag I’ve ever bought, except my Coach bag from the 90s. (Which is now totally back in style. GRRR!) I have a few vintage bags from the 20s-50s from family members who have passed on.

Don’t get rid of a good bag!!

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I tend to treat purses as investments, and buy the best one I can afford. I buy an everyday purse every 5 years. It’s the single biggest expenditure of my wardrobe. Once I am done using one for everyday, I “retire” it, restore it, and keep it for my fashion-loving daughter.

Purses

I have an everyday purse (currently my brown Prada bag, formerly my black Chanel tote) which in my case, needs to hold a lot of stuff. I used the Chanel tote as a glorified diaper bag for years. Because the Chanel tote is so well made and black, it held up beautifully through the most undignified of incidents. You are probably shaking your head in disgust that I used it for the twins when they were babies, but I’m not one to hide “the good stuff” and never use it. Five years later, it is still in great shape, although I will be sending it to a purse spa soon for “rejuvenation.” The Prada purse I just bought I chose because it’s huge and holds a bunch of crap and looked the best of all the bags I tried. (Many, many, many.) It’s also patent leather, and doesn’t get beat up easily. I’m tall, so bigger bags generally work better for me in terms of aesthetics. It will get me through the next 5 years.

Then I have some fun bags to jazz up outfits. Those I generally get on sale, like the coral bag I scored for $29.00. (Inspired by my favorite outfit last year.) I also have smaller handbags that I used extensively, like my Kate Spade purse. It’s from the late 90s so it’s not vintage. YET. For really dressy occasions, I use the small vintage bags.

What’s your handbag philosophy? Do you have a lot of purses or just a few?

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Filed under My Favorite Things, personal style

Submerged

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Some blog posts provoke me, some make me think, some I remember for years, some make me laugh.

No post I’ve ever read since I started blogging in 2010 has ever gotten under my skin like “Submerged” has. I think it’s the single most powerful piece I have ever read about infertility.

PLEASE, go here and read this extraordinary essay. I will wait.

Esperanza alerted me to “Submerged” earlier today. We have both been marveling at its power. Obviously Tutti, the writer, is in a really sad and tough place, and expresses her story so eloquently and empathetically. But it’s more than that. Much, much more.

I think “Submerged” touches upon a universal truth that so rarely comes across. This truth is obvious but often obscured by the secrecy inherent in the disease and it is simply this: infertility is completely fucking tragic. It’s so tragic that the greatest romantic love might not be enough to withstand the heavy burden of loss and devastation that accompanies it. It’s so tragic that people so full of promise and life and beauty and love become invisible, caught beneath the surface of life.

Part of the power of “Submerged” certainly comes from the image of the author and her husband underneath the water. They look incandescent, not of this earth, timeless, eternal. It’s a haunting picture I will never forget.

I’m sure like great art, “Submerged” will mean different things to different people. Some will take away the metaphor of infertility being like you are underwater, suffocating, removed from life on the land. It reminds me of the great Hans Christian Andersen (not the Disney) story about The Little Mermaid, destined to watch her dreams and desires but always from a great distance, under water or at the surface.

For that is how infertility felt (and still feels) to me. I guess as an infertile, I am like a mermaid. It’s not possible for me to walk on land and do things that come naturally to the mortals who are earthbound. Bargains needed to be made, lessons learned, relationships tested in the most severe of ways for me to achieve my one dream of happiness. Infertility is a curse. And worse, so often it is a silent curse, one that cannot be revealed to those around us. So those who suffer from it are doubly afflicted.

I wish that the mortals happily walking the land could read this story and comprehend its truth. For infertiles are so often at the mercy of fate, of sea witches.

And so often, no one knows.

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Filed under Blogging, Infertility