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Why People Shouldn’t Ask if a Woman Will Get Pregnant Again.

There are many layers to this blog post as I write it. I write it not only as a woman who has struggled with fertility but as a lesbian mom. I also write it as my two darling boys are screaming outside because they don’t want to come inside from playing in the snow. They would honestly let their fingers freeze and fall off. The screaming ambiance makes it easier to write this.

For those of you who haven’t read my previous posts you can look here and here for posts regarding my struggles with fertility, pregnancy, and birthing of twin boys. Suffice it to say it was a long hard journey initially more challenging because we are lesbians made more challenging by underlying endometriosis. Once I got pregnant I puked every day for 36 weeks and two days. That’s right. There was not one day I didn’t puke. I puked at work, I puked at 2 A.M., I’d literally open my eyes in the middle of the night puking already. I puked on almost every single doctor in my OB-GYN practice. I also had horrible insomnia and didn’t sleep for more than 2 hours at a time for the second and third trimester. Pregnancy sucked. I never felt good until three days after they came out. I had pre-eclampsia the day I delivered and spent the first 24 hours on a magnesium drip, still puking with a fresh incision. In the midst of my puke laden pre-eclampsia nightmare I lost vision in my eyes (which I got back), and I had people sticking two newborns on my boobs. So there was that.

It was ultimately successful and worth it in so many ways but when I tell you I was traumatized by my pregnancy I am not lying. The thought of being pregnant again could bring me to tears if I thought about it.

I remember returning to work after an 18 week maternity leave. At that point I had not been at work for four months since having the boys and not at work without being pregnant or undergoing fertility treatments for over a year. I felt like I was returning as a different, calmer, more sleep deprived, happier individual. I was still breastfeeding and had to adjust to pumping multiple times a day and picking up and dropping off at daycare. I remember the first week back one of my co-workers asked me when I’d have “the next one.” My sleep addled brain could not quite comprehend what she was asking. When I politely responded, “Funny,” and tried to move the conversation onto another topic she didn’t let it go. I had to get somewhat defensive and say, “I’m not having another one.” Then I was told how wrong I was and that in a year or two I’d change my mind and have more. As if I couldn’t possibly make judgements about my body and my future in that moment.

It felt very wrong to me for many reasons. First off, I am very private, and I did not feel that was any one’s business. Second, that particular person knew the horrible journey through infertility and pregnancy I endured. To casually suggest I go through that all over again made me want to vomit. Third, once I said a very overt No, I should not have been pushed or pressured or shamed to feel that was the incorrect response.

Since that day multiple people have asked me if I will have another child. Friends, family, strangers, clients, and co-workers have all asked me. When I have emphatically said No I have been told on multiple occasions that I am wrong and will change my mind. I’ve been told by straight women who do not know I’m married to a woman, “That’s what I said after the first, and whoops!” I haven’t quite had the heart to say “Actually I’m a lesbian so I’d need a lot of whoops’ including a man shooting sperm that somehow accidentally lands in my vagina. Then that sperm would need to make it through my endometriosis filled tubes to my potential eggs which by the way required IVF previously to bypass the tubes. That would be one of hell of a whoops.” But I think it. Every time.

If I was married to a man and all it required was a “whoops” then who knows maybe I would get pregnant again? Most likely not intentionally as twins did a number on my body and I hated having a C-section and would not care to repeat the entire experience. But I’m married to a woman. So being pigeonholed by heterosexual women into a female who can’t possibly feel fulfilled with one pregnancy (which by the way yielded two kids) kind of pisses me off.

It makes me feel mad because perhaps I would have more perhaps I wouldn’t but don’t presume to know my past and my future just because you had multiple pregnancies. Underneath my initial defensive response is pain and uncertainty. I feel like I’m being scraped a little raw during these exchanges.

I also feel for every other woman who struggled to have one pregnancy because I’ve been there. To poke and prod at those wounds by telling them they should have a second pregnancy, when perhaps they do want more than anything to have that, but they can’t, I find that just plain mean.

There are women who have emergency hysterectomies during their first delivery due to complications with bleeding and so while they may want more than anything to have a second pregnancy they physically can’t. They could be lesbians. Finding sperm can be challenging and expensive and then simple at home inseminations don’t always work, turning into expensive fertility treatments.

Then there are people who are completely fulfilled with one pregnancy, one child (or two), and simply don’t want more kids. Yes we exist. Stop telling me we don’t. It’s annoying.

I’ve never had much of a filter. But I was raised to be polite. I would never ask a woman if she’s wanting anymore children unless it’s professionally related as a health care provider and need to know if she’s planning a pregnancy because that would change the medication choice I make if prescribing for her. I would never pass judgement on someone for wanting or not wanting another pregnancy. It may seem like a casual friendly inquiry, but for many women it’s anything but casual and can bring up many painful emotions.

My advice is to operate on a need to know basis. Do you really need to know if this woman is planning a second pregnancy? If the answer is No, then don’t ask. If the answer is Yes then ask but then stop talking. Let them answer, respect their answer, and move on. And straight people…not everyone is straight. Some women sleep with other women. They can’t get pregnant by accident.

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Grief.

I’ve counseled people through grief. Acutely and in the moment when I worked in the emergency department. Then working in psychiatry I treat it sometimes years later. It is remarkable to me how many people have not properly grieved. But now that I am going through it I understand why. Grief sucks.

Acutely in some cases death is a “blessing” or a “relief”. In other cases it is a tragedy.

As I face my Nana’s death…even writing those words being tears to my eyes…I reflect on all the times in my life that I have truly grieved. They are, thankfully, few and far between. They include the deaths of my Grandpa, other Grandma, and the death of my cat. The other time I truly and deeply grieved was during my year of fertility treatments.

I’m not a crier. It takes a lot to get me to that point (at least it did before pregnancy hormones, now it only takes anything having to do with children). Previous to pregnancy though I truly and deeply cried when my Grandpa passed, when my Grandma passed, and when my cat died.

My cat adopted my family when my mom was pregnant with me. He ran inside on a rainy Halloween night. I was born the following January. Cookie was black and white and quite possibly the smartest and most loving cat to exist. We put him to sleep when I was a month shy of 18. He was three when he adopted us. I grew up with him sleeping in my bed every night. He went outdoors and would follow me to neighbor’s houses and wait for me and escort me home. He sat with me as I cried when I was bullied daily in fifth grade. Some days he was the only reason I survived. He was big, and his fur was coarse, and he had a big sturdy head that loved to be scratched.

He was my best friend.

I remember knowing something was wrong with him. My mom brought him home from the vet that December day and I knew it would be my last afternoon with him. I held him as our vet injected him and he took his final breath. We ended his suffering. He let out a final meow with his last breath, and I shook as my body was wracked with sobs. That was ten years after my Grandpa passed, and seven after my Dad’s mom.

I remember seeing a therapist in college and he asked me when I truly cried. I told him about those three deaths, and he specifically asked me to describe the death of Cookie. I did. I looked up and he had tears streaming down his face. Like my Nana said, I do things big or not at all. That was my first time in therapy and I made my therapist cry.

Grief is so hard because it is elusive. I think I am fine with something, and then I light a fire and think my Nana would have liked this and it hits me like a ton of bricks. I think I’ve laid Cookie to rest and then I look at my two current cats, Rajha and Maddy, and it tears me up to think of living without them. Rajha also is obsessed with me, and I’ve always thought she is Cookie reincarnated.

For women in my practice the most common unresolved grief I see is due to miscarriages or infertility issues. I remember receiving the phone calls from my fertility doctor’s office after our pregnancy tests and it feeling like a punch in the gut when they would tell me it was negative. Then I would just carry on with my day. No time to grieve.

Grief is realizing I will never hear my Nana’s laugh again. Grief was my deep pain in thinking I might never be a Mom. Grief was holding my best furry friend so he would enter death knowing he was loved and that I would never abandon him. I had to give him at least a fraction of the comfort he provided me over the years.

Grief at the core is a sadness and a heaviness that almost defies description. It hits me in the pit of my stomach. I’ve had to sit with clients as they process grief. It’s an ugly process to bear witness to, but it is powerful to be trusted that much by others.

The best part about grief is that it passes. If you can sit with it, tolerate it, feel it, and let it go, then it will pass. But it sure does fucking hurt.

Death always puts life into sharp perspective. It serves as a reminder that our existence is fleeting. That we too will leave our loved ones one day and they will grieve us.

Grief reminds us to enjoy our lives and to love to live.