Friday the 13th

“Very superstitious. Writing’s on the wall.”

It occurred to me when they told me to come back for my blood test on Friday the 13th that it might be a problematic date. That’s silly, was my next thought.

I’m not superstitious, but I get hunches, feelings. I didn’t feel pregnant, but who knows if I would have?

I went in to the clinic yesterday morning, dressed to go straight to work for a fieldtrip: a day at the theatre, on a bus with 45 students. I was ready for whatever needed to happen, to have a smile plastered on my face all day, while I watched Dracula in the afternoon, and Dancing at Lughnasa, in the evening. Or, conversely, to pull it together if the news was bad.

My weapon of choice was a bold patterned dress, my costume, in case the world went awry. I thought it was ready for anything, but documented the moment with fingers crossed.

For luck and hope.

There’s a part of me, it seems, that wants to bear witness to each step of this, wants a photo to say ‘that was the moment when.’ While so many others get to have stories of vacation-made babies, New Year’s kisses that turn into conception, nights of popped-corks that lead to plans for a future arrival; I want to document, in writing and images, maybe so that on the other side, no matter what happens, I will have a step-by-step guide of how to get through it all.

I was sitting on that bus, in a metal echo chamber full of 45 teenage bodies in various states of caffeination and hormonal giddiness, when I got the call from the nurse. She didn’t mince words, or keep me in suspense, but, calmly told me “you’re not pregnant.”

Okay. I’m okay. It’s not like you can’t be when you’re chaperoning this bunch.

She went on to explain that IVF is the next step for us, our number on the wait list is up, and that I should call on the first day of my next period.

I’ve been told that this is good news, even as my mind races towards worry at the huge, unpredictable price tag, unfixed because it could be ‘just’ a few thousand, or it could be 15 – $20,000. Still, I think to myself: “maybe this is good timing. The chances are so much higher of getting pregnant with IVF.” (but not guaranteed part of my brain chirps)

My mind is telling me, don’t be discouraged, so many people go through this, it’s only, technically, your second try with IUI. But it feels like this is the thousandth. We’ve been trying, together, for 3 1/2 years. And watching your partner go through it isn’t the same, it’s different, but it feels a bit like watching the trailer for a horror movie. Or a period Drama.. . Pun intended.

What does any of it mean? Is there meaning in it at all? When you look? I could hardly sleep last night. When I got the blood taken that morning, I felt anxious, but excited. I was tripping over my own tongue. Choosing a mild mania over stoic skepticism. But in my hopefulness I had trouble doing normal things, like choosing the right door to push as I exited the building, pressing instead for a moment on the door which, though unlabelled, hasn’t been the one that opens for all the months I’ve been coming to this clinic.

I also forgot to push down on my vein, to stem the bleeding after the blood was drawn. But I only noticed – when I felt my inner elbow, the fabric of my dress wet with blood – that I hadn’t remembered that part. That this can all be so messy. Was that my warning sign? Or is none of it a ‘sign’ at all? It feels worse if it’s all just random.

Peeling my sleeve away, there was a still-bleeding hole. 

Does any of that mean anything? I think I need it to mean something because if it doesn’t mean anything, what the fuck?

I could’ve just written one sentence today that said: not pregnant. But maybe I need to pour these feelings out, believe them onto the paper, bleed them. Catharsis. So that I know they actually happened. To examine them, so I might actually learn something. Because if there isn’t a purpose to these feelings, then what’s the point when it feels this bad?

And it’s worse because I’m alone. Home so late last night to an empty house for the next three days while my wife stays at her sister’s, taking care of our nieces. She is surrounded by children and I’m feeling both relieved to just be by myself, and sorry for myself all the same.

If Dracula can be a metaphor for me in this moment – it explains the sense of hyperawareness, a need to make meaning from death, or the absence of life, and to see its potential for beauty. Last night, I was surrounded by people, but isolated in my own secret – watching the vitality and pulse of youth – a current that, unaware of itself, sustains me. Not parasitically, but in the sense that being surrounded by the energy of young people keeps me from feeling sluggish. I feel like I’m twenty, but also like I’m 80; eons away from the urgency of teenage tears and laughter and drama. Teaching them reminds me constantly of what it was like to be their age and, by extension, how far I’ve come, all the things I’ve gone through and learned from. I was a Smart-Alek then; and I’m wise beyond my years now. I get to watch that learning curve happen in front of my eyes, over and over again, with each new year.

Honestly, I get through my days by living on the incredible gift of working with young people who are vital, and funny, silly, hilarious, sometimes infuriating and oblivious, living in the moment; these kids who can be the sweetest humans, especially in the times when they are caring and effusive – so that somehow, at a quarter to midnight, after seeing the second show of the day, when you are on a school bus full of tired bodies and they ask you questions, when instead they could be talking to their peers, no longer in a classroom, not beholden to ‘pay attention,’ but wanting to talk un-self-consciously, it’s impossible not to feel hopeful. They make me feel like a celebrity, or motivational speaker. Or a parent. They aren’t mine. Except for a little while.

Fragility and strength in the same crush of life; isolation that can be felt when the truth of yourself is felt deeply by you, while others only see the face you put on. I’m happy, because I know I must be grateful. But I’m sad, unrelentingly. A slow, dull ache.

Dracula. Dancing. Living. The Stage. Reality. Long days and nights.

Repressing the feelings that are there can be deadly; expressing them can be deadly too, apparently, but I embrace feeling if the alternative is feeling nothing.

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Am I alone?

I had a dream I was pregnant. Anyone else have this happening?

I just keep busy. Went to Fall For Dance North, a showcase festival with dance work from all over the world, with a Canadian spin. I took the year off from dance – to focus on you know what – and it’s that hard, constant question: how are you? What’s new? How are things going?

How honest do you want me to be? What is a safe amount of sharing?

Small wins

Not gonna lie, I was totally apprehensive when one of the students in my GSA club started telling me, in her gregarious sing-songy voice:

Miss, I totally went home and for some reason, I'm not sure why, I decided to Google your name… And so I read like 200 reviews of you, and like 99% of them are grade 12 boys talking about how hot you are.

Awesome. I guess that's better than the inevitable diss track, celebrities read mean tweets-style alternative. Inevitably, the desire to go down that bleak rabbit hole of "I wonder what people say about me" is a whole lot of ego stroking and pleasant surprises, rounded out (read: cancelled out) via horrifying, William Tell Overture soundtrack in the background comments that rip you to shreds. I don't believe, sadly, that most people go online to write about how much they like things, as much as they go online to vent their frustrations at the world. If that frustration happens to be human, it can be anything from bone chilling to hilarious. So, it's nice to know that whatever my official score, I'm scoring points with someone.

By contrast, one of my former students is back doing a practice teaching placement and she pulled me aside, used my first name (adorable) and told me how much I helped to improve her writing and that she loved my class. That's the kind of feedback I'm keeping track of.

The Gender and Sexuality Club (GSA) is also close to my heart, because I literally see the change that is possible in such a relatively short time. I have kids of all ethnicities, all orientations, faiths, genders and the visibility, laughter and support they have is exponentially better than when I came out in high school. Plus, they have grownup queer folks, like me, in a position to help and support them, and to rally when the going gets tough.

I feel like my job, as much as it contributes to the gray hairs I'm getting, is one of the things that makes me hopeful; first, that if I have kids i'll do a good job of it, especially once they make it to high school. That's where I really excel. Second, if I don't have kids, or can't have kids, these guys will make it OK. They are the tangible results and the sum of my daily efforts. I will channel my energy, as I've done for the last decade, into making sure that the young people I have under my wing will be kind, critical, thoughtful and empowered.

It's what I focus on when I don't know what will happen. Right now…My life feels good.

——-

And my ovaries look good, too. I have one follicle at 18, and another at 14, third runner-up is at 12. Nicely spread over both sides. Let's just hope there are only one or two try to finish this race.

Hey Again. Ps. Don’t Give Up.

I haven’t said anything in a while. I’m here. Just menstruating. Got some feedback re: the last cycle (the one where the clinic wouldn’t go ahead with an IUI procedure (refused) because I was ‘too fertile.’ I had three big, juicy follicles. I know, some of you are thinking, ‘shut up!’ it’s a great problem to have, but the needles, and the time and the hopes and the aging, and the constant revolving door of feelings… I feel like the entire summer was a write off. I feel the sand draining through that narrow hour glass, like the sands of my uterus, slowly pouring out of me as I become decrepit.

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This is how I am picturing it (my womb) by the end of this year. Please don’t be mad. It’s how I’m dealing with my disappointment. Feeling jaded and imagining hornets making a nest in there seems better than focusing on things beyond my control.

I keep hearing that number: 35. The tipping point. Fuck, it’s depressing. I don’t feel old. I don’t think I look old. I feel like my ovaries are still kicking up their heels, putting on a party dress and making eyes at strangers in bars. I was looking at Jason Mamoa’s feed on Instagram today and felt for sure like I could have a baby.

Does anyone else waver between extreme confidence and crippling self-doubt from moment to moment? I’m managing that by staying very busy.

Early Monday morning, before being almost late for work, I was at the clinic and found out from the doctor that, in addition to 3 over-eager, tarted-up follicles that looked way too desperate to take into a procedure room (triplets anyone?!) my estrogen was at 4000. That was the real concern. No wonder I’ve been a basketcase.

I’m keeping it all in, but like Ani Difranco says (I can’t help the nod to my tween lesbian days), “Every pop song on the radio, is suddenly speaking to me.”

And every person I pass is pregnant, or has a parade of ducklings behind them. Or those damn ‘First Day Back to School’ chalkboards all over their social media. And I work in a high school (which you would think might have the opposite effect on me and cause me to reconsider….), but they are the loveliest, most adorable people and I feel pretty confident that we’d raise a good one. When I’m looking out at my motley bunch of charming, smart-alecky, naive, strange and clever students, I think: this is why we (and YOU, you amazing internet community of brilliant, passionate queer folks who will make the best, most sincere and fierce parents) need to have kids. We will be filling the ranks of future classrooms with kids who are wanted, beloved, with a sense of self, of advocacy, of dignity and who will be the kind of humans we will be so proud to have helped get there. We can’t give up. It will happen.

Rambling. Restless. I am sitting on the couch, being stared at by my cat. Drinking scotch (cause I can). Thinking about this, reading your stories, trying to be more ray of sunshine and less doom and gloom; trying to think of the up sides.

It was tough luck to get told I couldn’t go ahead with IUI try number 2 (for me). *For new friends to AsquaredMamasquared, my wife and I tried for 3 years, with her as the carrier. So now we are hoping that, having scaled back my medication to half the dose they gave me last cycle, two things will happen:

  1. I will have the right number and size of follicles to put me squarely in the middle of the ‘go ahead, runway is clear, let’s land this thing’ territory
  2. My wife will not have to deal with quite the same experience as last time (from me, hormonally)

Good Body, But Still Waiting for Good News

At my clinic appointment this morning there was good news and bad news. The good news is that I am progressing well: my body responded very well to the drugs and it looks like I would have a great chance of getting pregnant this cycle. BUT. My probability is also the problem. The bad news: I have three follicles, one at 18,19 and 20 respectively. One Burlington has a policy against inseminating if you have more than three follicles over 15. They're going to call to see if there's anyway to make a judgement call on this one and do the insemination. I'm off school right now, and so ready for this to start. I've paid for the medication, but now I have to figure out whether to do the hundred dollar shot that prompts me to ovulate so we can do the procedure tomorrow, if it's a Go. If I get the shot and they say no, I am totally out of luck. And it will take them up to two hours to find out whether I will be allowed to do the procedure. Now, I don't know what to do – because I don't know if I should get more money invested via the drugs before and the shot today. It all rests on the clinics and whether or not I will be able to do the procedure. And I have to come back to the clinic either way to get the shot, either in a few hours or later this afternoon, but I'm heading out to the school to start prepping for classes that start in less than a week. So, cross those fingers. Let something go right today.

Only Rich People Should Reproduce

Find that statement hard to stomach? Yeah, me too. But the further into this journey we go, the more I see that this system is designed in a way that really doesn’t equally support all hopeful parents. If you are queer, the cost is astronomical. It’s expensive for ANY person who doesn’t get pregnant without assistance. If you are a woman struggling with fertility, for any reason, it’s not fully-funded (in Canada), like other illnesses or conditions. Fertility is seen as an elective procedure.

It’s not really a ‘choice.’ It’s not my choice not to be pregnant – if it were I’d be pregnant right now. Some people (idiots) talk about ‘choosing’ to be gay… if that were true, I’d quickly be choosing some healthy stud to knock me up. Crass, I’m sorry. But when it comes to this: elective is a slippery word, because it isn’t about choice, it’s about need.

Yes, it should be ‘elective’ to have children. You should choose it (whether you wanted to become pregnant or not), you should know on some level as you carry the child to term, that you want to create a human being (or a few). But not being able to have children as simply as some shouldn’t mean that you have to choose between that… and rent.

Don’t even get started on the price of baby THINGS once you have them. As soon as you put ‘baby’ on the label it’s 50x more expensive. Sort of like a terrible sequel to the consumer blockbuster “The WEDDING,” where everything is way more expensive than it should be because it’s someone’s ‘big day’. That means the beer costs more, the venue costs more, the dress costs more, the cake… which obviously knows it’s ‘wedding cake’ …costs more.

I’m getting off topic. Two days ago, I got a lovely note in the mail from a friend, thanking us for hosting an amazing weekend away in Ontario’s wine country. We had a fab time. I didn’t drink. I was conspicuously booze free. They were invited in on our secret. So, when the card came and I spoke to the sender they said, ‘Good! It arrived!’ and I felt compelled to mention what else had arrived:

My period.

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Inside my body, it’s total assault time. But it’s also an assault on our wallets, at our most vulnerable, unpreventable moment. No, I’m not talking about the 17% hst (tax) on essential ‘feminine hygiene products,’ I’m talking about the failure of our government to provide access to subsidized IUI and IVF. But Viagra is covered, fully, by my work’s drug plan.

Which brings me back to a system that is systemically designed to privilege some, not others. Today, at the clinic Nurse N, always the beacon of joy and pleasant updates was there when I went in for my blood work, external and transvaginal ultrasound (the one where with a full-bladder they press the jelly-lubed wand agains your pelvis, then after you pee they put it inside and stir it up, all while on day three of your period)…

She lets me know: they are closed for the Labour Day (ironic, no?) weekend… AND… wait for it…additionally…

They’ve changed their policy on subsidized IUI. The cost of the subsidized procedure is currently $500 (plus drugs and the cost of the sperm $750).

Now, she says, all patients will only have 3 partially-funded IUIs.

So, I asked, ‘how much is the procedure without the subsidy?’

‘$1200’.

Deep breath. But, she tells me (cause remember it’s all about the bright side here), ‘I have some patients who have been here forever and they’ve had like 5 cycles and now we have to tell them they are out of subsidized ones.’

Great. That really puts it into perspective. And, she continues, ‘You’re coming up in October for your subsidized IVF cycle’. That’s awesome… except that even with the subsidy we could be looking at $10,000 for that. The ambiguous enormity of that pricetag looms over us…

To be fair, they are limiting it to 3 per patient. That is fair, but it isn’t equitable. Some people have a way harder time than others. Some of us have our significant other come and ‘cum’ in a cup, for free… while others have to buy, ship, store, freeze, thaw and test the sperm.  And others have seemingly insurmountable difficulties… none of it is fair. This funding change happened when we didn’t see it coming.

And yes, I hear some of the eye-rolling internal narrative: at least you have health care. At least you have a government that subsidizes any of it. At least as a lesbian couple you are allowed to have a marriage and babies. At least this isn’t Trump-land.

Yes, but stop there; it is possible that way worse things are happening right here, and far away, in perpetuity. But are we really going to content ourselves by aiming for the lowest common denominator as a goal?

That is where we tend to go, when things get tough. (Skip this part if you aren’t interested in a little rant about the parallels between the past teacher strike action and lack of funding for fertility): I remember the mentality that was swirling around a few years ago, with all the vitriol and teacher-hating, when we challenged the Ontario government who imposed a contract on us and took away our right (protected by law) to negotiate our contract. People immediately started the sing-song of ‘lazy teachers/summers off/paid too high already/look at their benefits/they only work ’til 3/I knew a totally terrible teacher once/I work a real ‘hard’ job’/how dare you take away your voluntary after school coaching and extra-curriculars when my kids needs them to get into university? … and the like; mostly what people failed to realize was that they remember what their adolescent self remembers about teachers (and since everyone went to school, they think they know with some accuracy what that job entails). What they didn’t realize is that we weren’t fighting for more pay, we were protesting slashes to our contracts and to protect collective bargaining (a right that future generations will enjoy unless the government erodes our ability to stand up for these gains). What kind of laws do we have, and what do they mean, if the government can choose to disregard those laws when it suits them? We were protesting the stripping of our contracts, the devaluing of the job we get paid to do and work very hard to do well, often in conditions that are adverse and made more difficult by policy makers who have no idea what we actually do. The biggest complaint I heard was: teachers have a cushy job with great pay, vacations, amazing benefits and retirement plans. We should stop whining and take a pay cut/benefit cut/pension cut… because lots of other people have none of these ‘good things’. But… Rather than begrudge many hard-working (99 percent of the people I work with are passionate and do this job so well) people the things you don’t have, why don’t we strive to ameliorate the systems that prevent ALL of us from having these things? Shouldn’t the goal be to avoid raking back the policies, pay and benefits that maintain a stable middle-class, and healthy and well-supported professionals doing their jobs well? All of us should have retirement security, health care, time off when we are sick, bereavement leave, mat leave, access to a fair income to be able to create stability for ourselves and families. That is what progress looks like. P.S. The Supreme Court found the Government GUILTY in the suit against them for the very the actions we were striking over. When you get pushed, sometimes the only way to not lose any more ground is to push back.

Government cuts to fertility mean that my clinic, the 4th my wife and I have been to, now has a new policy, unceremoniously dropped on us today, that limits our access from a previous ‘no-limit’ to a ‘for fairness sake’ limit of 3. This leaves us to ask: what will we do when the money runs out? By ‘we’ I mean my wife and I, a dual-income household. I have three degrees and have worked for almost ten years in my field; my wife has 13 years in her industry and just took a contract position in the face of massive layoffs in the media sphere. We own a house, purchased before the huge skyrocket in prices in the GTA, which we will be paying off for 27 more years. If we, the people who should fall squarely into the middle class, are struggling – how on earth could we do it as single or low-income earners? As people with student debt? If we were also faced with precarious employment?

On one hand, yes, I was sad for myself when I found out I wasn’t pregnant this past Monday. But I know we can scrape together money for a few more tries. I’m saddened for the whole process, which is so much less crucial or vital than the crushing and immense problems occurring globally; I talk about that in real life, in my newsfeed, at art and activism events, in my classroom. But this is my real. This is where I talk about how hard it is to still muster the optimism that everyone thinks I have. Because on the outside I do seem to be taking it in stride. But part of me is indignant about the injustice of putting myself into debt in order to do what others can do for free. When an arbitrary decision about three tries, might mean ‘three strikes and you’re out.’

But we are all grownups and know: life isn’t fair.

HSG

HSG. Holy Shit Guys.

Also the name of the procedure where they fill your insides with liquids to make sure it’s smooth sailing for the little travellers to make their voyage to your egg. This fun experience happens in hospital and I cannot wait.

But with all these appointments and hurdles, we routinely have the ‘we still want to do this, right?’ conversation. Which is sometimes just a look. We think about how much effort this is all taking and, rightly, whether this effort is still what we want for the life we have together.

Think of all the things that might happen if we don’t have kids: we’d be rich (comparatively), we would save hundreds of thousands of dollars over the lifespan of the future offspring; we wouldn’t have to move and our current home would feel like a palace… and keep being a spacious, tidy, often immaculate and tranquil abode; we could just be really amazing aunts; we could travel whenever we wanted; we could get a whole whack of pets (if we decided living spotlessly was no longer our thing); we could keep our pre-pregnancy bodies; we could eat for two for fun, then go work out vigorously without worry of upsetting a budding babe-in-the-making.

All of these are the fantasies I lubricate my brain with – mostly because I like to imagine I have choices – likely the self-preserving kind of self-talk that helps me feel in control when so much is out of our control. I can hardly imagine how any autonomous person hands over their body to tiny aliens that just get bigger and bigger then absorb your entire life, heart and savings. Except that we see this as the norm. Some do it better than others. Some people even make it look easy. Instagram helps. But I really do love those ‘Asshole Parent’ posts, because I feel that there must be a happy medium  – between heavily curated ‘I make my own homemade organic baby food on my hobby farm where my organic produce grows in the rose-smelling shit of my Angora rabbits’ and the ‘I am being terrorized by my toddlers and held-hostage by my entitled, social media zombie teen’ posts.

Does everyone go through this range of emotions?

It reminds me of when I was a student at the National Ballet of Canada – the summer intensive – and they did psychological testing on all of us to see if we would be good candidates for the full time program, should we pass all the other barrage of tests; they asked us leading questions, like ‘What would you want to be if you couldn’t be a ballerina?’

The answer they wanted was ‘what do you mean? this is the only-thing-i’ve-ever-wanted and I would die if I couldn’t dance’ delivered through hysterical sobs, or saucer eyed bambi blinking lashes.

My answer: I’d be a vet. Or a teacher. Or I might design houses, or write a book. Can I still horseback  ride if I make it into the program? What about jazz? Will I have to just do ballet?

I didn’t make the cut.

But I feel like my answer is the same, at least in theory, here. If I can’t be a mom, will I be a shrivelled waste of human womb and potential? I hope not. I would never let myself be defined by one component of myself. I just wouldn’t. But, like anything, if someone tells me I can’t – I rebelliously challenge that idea, too. Then decide for myself it I want to be that thing: whether it’s ‘being sporty,’ ‘looking like a lesbian,’ ‘not looking like a lesbian’ or ‘being handy.’

Tell me what I am and what I’m capable of. I dare you.

But all of this, too, might be a coping mechanism for the doubt I have in my own capacity; to do it well, or to do it at all. There needs to be a trap door of doubt, so that if things don’t work out – I will know that I can overcome this, or fall down a passage way and claw myself out from under it (if we are going with that trap door analogy).

Either way, I don’t think that a healthy amount of questioning, or a screechy ‘I must be a mother’ reaction is a good fit for me – like my marriage, my career, my breakfast; every day is a choice and I want to do things because, yes, I still want and am committed to them every day, not simply because a while ago it seemed like a good idea or everyone thought it was a great plan.

For now, we are off to the hospital, for a bunch of stuff to go on up there, so that a bunch more stuff can go on up there… and that’s where we’re at. And if tomorrow the news is bad – we’ll go from there.

Does anyone always know, with certainty, what they want, without question?