It’s Been a Year

July is not my favorite month.

Two years ago, I found out I had cervical cancer.

One year ago (today), we lost our pregnancy to an ectopic rupture.

These are not life events I have easily bounced back from. At the age of 19 when my father died, I thought that was the worst thing that could ever happen to me. At the time, it was. But that grief was different. It stretched like taffy, pulling me to a breaking point again and again. But this experience? It broke me. Shattered me in splinters of my former self.

The last two years have been the happiest and the saddest of my life. Buying our house, finding out I have cancer, marrying Mr. Darcy, discovering I’m pregnant, losing the baby in an emotionally and physically traumatic way, Very high ups and downs. Since October I’ve just been trying to keep things slow, steady, routine, calm. As calm as can be when you’re trying to wrap your mind and heart around the paralyzing fact that you won’t be having biological children.

There are so many things in life I took for granted and having kids was one of them. I worried that I wouldn’t find someone to have them with or that I was too overweight  or I was getting too old and then, after cancer, I worried I about being able to carry it to term. Years ago, before I even met Mr. Darcy, I thought about becoming a foster parent or adopting in that far off way you think about alternative plans. Never concretely. Never a Plan A. It’d be different if I never wanted biological kids, never wanted to experience pregnancy, hadn’t found a person I wanted to combine DNA with to make a baby. But I did want all of those things.

And when, after countless visits to numerous doctors, we looked at each other across the quiet car in a dim parking lot, heavy with medical information ripe with risks, we knew we’d reach our end. It was just far too much- too costly, too risky, too scary, too everything. For the last nine months we’ve let that finality wash over us- waves of grief, regret, and longing-  standing in our own ocean as the seasons have changed, waiting to feel ready to move to shore.

There are always options. But when you’ve lost the opportunity to have your own biological kids, getting excited about the alternatives is extremely difficult. It’s not like we clap our hands and say, well, let’s move on! Because for a brief time we had that singular joy of being pregnant. We had picked out names for a boy and for a girl. We were preparing the nursery. Loved ones knew and were hopefully excited for us. The pregnancy could rupture in a day but the aftermath lasts a very, very long time.

So today, we’re going to spend it together away from work and phones and obligations. We’re going to get ourselves near a big body of water and linger. We’re going to enjoy the sunshine and the quiet as we honor what we’ve been though and contemplate what’s next.

 

Living In the In Between

I haven’t wanted to write. In the last year I’ve closed myself up and tightened my circle of trusted confidantes which has essentially silenced this blog where I’ve (over) shared for nine years. It’s just all been so much, so nuanced, so extremely personal, that I couldn’t find the words to share it with you. But I feel compelled to try because I’ve been looking around for other stories like mine and I’m not really finding them. I know they have to be out there but is anyone talking about it? About what comes after losing a pregnancy and discovering the odds are stacked too high against you ever having a biological kid? Because there is this limbo between cataclysm and resolution. The in between is a whirling dervish of emotion. And it’s really fucking lonely and sad and maddening and worrisome and, at times, cautiously hopeful. Maybe things will work out even if everything I thought I could have blew up quite literally inside of me and now I have to imagine alternatives which remind me of what was supposed to happen.

Suppose to is make believe.

My reality right now is: sometimes I can see a baby and even smile at it without wanting to cry. But then I see a newborn with the name we were going to call our kid and I’m gut-punched all over again. I think I’m getting better but then something reminds me that I am not quite there and I JUST WANT TO FEEL BETTER. These things take time but I’m sick of it. I feel weak for “still” being upset even though I don’t cry as much. I worry my friends are tired of my problems- first cancer then baby loss then realizing we won’t have our own biological kids has really made me a drag (hasn’t it?). Maybe it doesn’t matter because socializing takes a lot out of me now. I don’t want to not be asked about it but I also don’t always want to talk about it.

It’s just so convoluted and messy, you guys.

Even if I believe deep inside me this will all work out somehow, that maybe someday years from now I will see this all as a blessing (really?), right now and for the past year it’s been just terrible, awful, and one of the worst times of my life. But I’m going to try to talk about it more here because what if there is someone out there in a similar predicament who feels frustrated and alone? Maybe hearing my story will help. I need to do something positive with this shitty situation. It’s time to make lemonade out of these lemons.

 

Freestyle

Sometimes you find yourself cracking at the emergency vet office. It happens. At least, it happened to us.

Because it’s day six of your in-law’s visit and week five of house guests. It’s month nine of your depression and two hours into your puppy barfing repeatedly until all that’s left is bile and fear. You’ve been married a year and seven months and cancer-free a year and six months. It’s been fourteen weeks since one of your best friend’s died. Shit’s been happening. This is an understatement.

It’s hard to stay afloat when you feel like you’re drowning.

So sometimes you have a whisper fight in a room that smells of animal piss while you wait for your dog to get injections and you look at each other, raw, at the end of your rope, and decide to start kicking to the surface. Because when you said “I do” a year and seven months (and six days, technically speaking) you meant I WILL CHOOSE YOU even when life has sucked the joy right out of us and we’ve forgotten who we are, to ourselves and to each other. Because sometimes you have to decide you want to feel differently before anything can shift.

You can still be sad and carry on because, fuck, life is so short.

You’ve lost friends and time and parts of yourself but right now you are swimming and hearing only bits and pieces of the world as your head turns to breathe mid-stroke. But, hey, you are alive and you are moving forward. This is progress.

(hello.)

 

And And And

People ask me how I am coping with everything that’s happened. My answer to that is, I don’t think I am. I feel mostly disconnected from myself. I have angry outbursts, mostly with an audience of my poor husband or the damn pets. I’m a walking raw nerve. Little things that I could normally handle set me off into a downward spiral of anger. I can be going along with my day, the threads of myself barely keeping me together, when one set-back after another takes me to a dark place. The dog was restless during the night and woke us at 12:30 then again at 3:30 only to try to jump on the bed at 5:30. I’m lying in bed trying to muster the energy to face the day when the cat starts barfing on the carpet. These things might be annoying on a good day but when I’m already at my wit’s end, I can’t seem to manage them. Because then my brain is taking me to all the things that have gone wrong and need fixing and are piling up and and and I’m down the hole in the dark place.

One of my best friends died two weeks ago and I haven’t cried about it in over a week. Our basement is leaking again in one area, the space where we put Otis while we are at work. Otis just got neutered and is banging around the house with his cone of shame on, requiring extra attention meaning I’ve been working from home this week when I can. But, I’m in the busiest time of the year at work with the million-dollar-1200-attendee-luncheon so that’s extra challenging as I’m up to my eyeballs in details and the event-related dreams have begun. I haven’t worked out in over a month and I can feel the impact. I’m tired all the time. I’ve gained weight. I feel like a fat slug.

Kaply always reminded me that “feelings aren’t facts” but this fact remain true- I should have been giving birth to our baby this month. That truth pulses inside of me. I know things won’t always feel this hard. It’s just that things have felt really hard for a long time and it’s taking its toll on me. It’s layers and layers of shit to peel back and some days I just don’t have the strength. It’s all I can do to operate in the world as a semi-sane person who has some semblance of a personality most days. So please excuse me. I’m not my best self right now.

An Unexpected Good-bye

Yesterday I got the call that my dearest friend, the infamous Kaply, had passed away. I still can’t believe it. I don’t want it to be true. We always knew that given all her health problems she would not live forever but she always struck me as immortal. That the fragile body she lived in was no match for her invincible spirit.

As I’ve cried, I can hear Kaply, somewhat exasperated, telling me to knock it off. I think in all our years of friendship I maybe saw her cry once. Yet she was always seeing me cry and as much as it was not her style, she knew it was mine, and let me be me with maybe an eye roll here or a comical jab there. There are so many things I love about Kaply. She accepted me for who I am and always encouraged me to be nicer to myself. But don’t call her nice. She had a reputation to protect.

2009 me and kap

This is from 2009. We were happy.

I met Tracy Kaply October of 2007 which feels like a lifetime ago. We had many adventures. Being with Kaply was in and of itself an adventure. She could make going to the grocery store a memorable outing. She was hilarious with a biting, acerbic wit and very wise in a matter of fact way. She thought she was always right and most of the time she was but her belief that she was right was the impressive part. She liked to tell people how to do things and had very little patience for idiocy and, in her terms, cuntiness. My sense of responsibility made her tired but she appreciated my ability to plan her birthday parties and bake her whatever her heart desired. She was the kind of friend who would help you bury the body and taught me how to stand up for myself. She was secretly sentimental and for all her gruffness, was one of the most big-hearted people I have ever had the privilege of knowing.

kap at ikea

We goofed around a lot. This is from one of our first adventures together at IKEA.

My friendship with Kaply was life-altering. She taught me so many things- about letting my anger out, about accepting love and deserving happiness, and about not taking myself so seriously. In her unique way she encouraged me to let go of a lot of my bullshit hang ups. She would call me on my shit and hold the mirror up but I always knew she loved me. She had been through enough in this life that she didn’t mince words. You always knew where you stood with her, like it or not. She found humor in almost everything and thought I was amusing which is high praise coming from her. Granted, she was often laughing at me because I took things way too seriously but over time she admitted that she was proud of me for having changed.

kap at portage

Kap was there to celebrate birthdays and holidays. She was family.

She is responsible for the creation of the Boyfriend Review Board which played a hand in Mr. Darcy and I. After hearing so many stories of my past boyfriends and experiencing a few of them first-hand, she was like WE NEED AN INTERVENTION! YOU CANNOT BE TRUSTED! She joked about it in a toast she gave at our wedding- an event she was so happy to attend she even put on a skirt and some make up and danced to Madonna. She heartily approved of Mr. Darcy and they shared a special connection.

kap at wedding

Kap at our wedding with her brother whom she called Fathead on her blog, and our dear friends Long Story Longer and Jeni Angel.

I have a series of phrases that I lovingly refer to as “Kaplyisms”. Terms like stabby, cunty, tit punch, and liarhead were common when talking to her. She also said some pretty poignant things to me over the years, many of which I’ve long forgotten but a few of my favorite things she said include:

“A character defect is just a survival skill that is no longer working.”

“Feelings aren’t facts.”

“You can’t think your way into right action, you have to act your way into right thinking.”

“You cannot reason with crazy.”

“Call in sick of it.”

“You can only take care of your side of the street.”

“I’ve always believed that if you don’t know what to do, you shouldn’t do anything. The universe will eventually make the way clear. Of course, the universe usually does THAT by stripping you of all options but the one it wants you to take. But we can’t have everything, can we?”

“That’s what makes a dick a dick. You can’t expect good manners from a dick. That’s like expecting empathy from a cat.”

“I, personally, hate housework. The never ending aspect of it gets to me… the fact that, even as I do laundry, I am creating MORE LAUNDRY TO BE DONE. No wonder so many housewives default to drugs.”

“It is always best to be yourself & remember that if it’s meant to be it will. Even the most difficult situations will always turn out to your net benefit.”

For a person who told me “Annoyance is pretty much my baseline” she sure knew how to make the best of bad situations. Sometimes in a spastic or roundabout way but still, she persevered. Kaply was not a quitter.

kap with makeup

Kap put on make up to attend my Nintendo party. She was the least fussy girl I knew.

I know that she loved me and I know that she knew I loved her. We told each other each time we spoke for which I am grateful. Looking back on the texts and emails we’ve exchanged since she moved to California reminded me of that. And how she could turn a phrase and make me laugh. One of her texts is “I love you like a hipster loves that band you’ve never heard of.” For as much as she could make you laugh, she could show up in ways few people are able to. She was not afraid to see your pain. When I called her to tell her I had cancer, her reaction was very practical and matter of fact. Something to the effect of, “DUDE, that sucks. You will be okay.” She had been through enough with her own health troubles that she could face the scary stuff in a way many people can’t fathom.

We always knew thanks to her crappy kidneys and compromised immune system, she wouldn’t have as long as most but this still feels too soon. She was only 46. There is never enough time to be with the ones you love. Kaply knew that and lived her life with that knowledge. She rarely indulged in pity parties even though she had ample reason to throw them. She lived on government assistance and yet would be the first to concoct a plan to help a friend out. She really didn’t care what people thought of her which is a liberating way to live.

We were unlikely friends who ended up sisters. She was my champion, my guru, and a sister of my heart- one of the best friends I’ve ever had. I cannot imagine life without her snark and wisdom but I am so eternally grateful that I got to know her and love her.

Hope you’re raising hell wherever you are now, Kap, pants-free and with plenty of Coke Zero.

A younger, healthier Kaply.

A younger, healthier Kaply.

Swan Song

I’ve thought about writing many times in the months this blog has stayed silent. Each time I went to post, I would talk myself out of sharing. I would ask myself what’s the point in saying anything when things feel mostly the same? Or even if they are different, they aren’t different enough. I’m still sad and angry and struggling to make sense of my new reality. I’m cautious about what I share and who I share it with which is a shift for me. I feel tender to judgment and beat up by my own ridiculous standards to be further along in my grief process. I worry people are annoyed by my lingering sorrow, That no one wants to hear me try to make sense of the fear and the anger, attempting to wrestle my feelings into something that makes any sense whatsoever.

Right now it’s really painful for me to see pregnant women. In particular, ultrasound images, pregnancy announcements, and baby bump progress photos really punch me in the gut, They catch me off guard like a slap in the face. My happiness for the pregnant person is completely tangled in my own sadness that that will never be me. I will never carry our baby inside of me and feel it grow or give birth to it.

Never.

The finality of that is hard to swallow and yet I must try to again and again. I’m not trying to be dramatic. The life we had thought would happen isn’t going to happen the way we planned. And yes, we could adopt. And yes, we’ve looked into surrogacy. And also fostering. We’ve considered being childless, having pets, and possibly an expendable income. We think about all the options. It’s just that we are profoundly sad and aren’t in a place to choose a direction yet. So we feel our feelings, have good weeks and bad weeks, and try to keep talking to each other about where we are at because it’s not always the same place.

It’s getting close to what would have been my due date. That feels strange to say. I feel sad for our baby that didn’t make it and along with it, our lost hope. Some days I just can’t think about it and other days it consumes my thoughts. I wanted to do something to… commemorate seems like the wrong word…mark the experience of having suffered a ruptured ectopic pregnancy and subsequently being unable to have biological kids and the transformation that’s taking place internally so I got a tattoo. Two actually- a black swan and a white swan- that sit above the bend in either arm.

swansHave you heard of Black Swan Theory? It’s a metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise and has major impact. So I put the black swan on my right arm, the side where the I lost my fallopian tube and pregnancy to the rupture. The swan image shatters into tiny fragments which feels symbolically accurate to me. The white swan, my transformation symbol, is on the left side, my heart side. I can’t have babies but, hey, I can get all the tattoos I want I guess.

I’m not sure I want to continue blogging but I also feel compelled to share for that small group of women who might be in the same boat as me and feeling alone in their experience. I’m still thinking on it.

(Special thanks to my husband for rendering the swan drawings, to Leslie at New Rose Tattoo in Portland, and my sister and friend C for going with me for moral support.)

Doors

It’s been quiet here. I just haven’t known what to say. So often I feel like I’ve been dragging around my problems, always with some new story about a doctor’s visit or trouble to share, exhausting everyone who comes in contact with me by talking about what really is going on. I sometimes think, when did I become that girl? I don’t want to be that person people feel sorry for or avoid because their reality is just too heavy. I vacillate between feeling sad about this and feeling angry. Sometimes I feel numb which is an odd reprieve.

But the thing is, I went through a door and I can’t get back. Because once you go through the proverbial door, it’s gone. I went through one door when they found the cancer. There was no returning to the person I was before those words were spoken. It changed me in such profound ways that a year and a half later, I still don’t comprehend the breadth of it. I went through another door when we lost the baby. I feel like I’m still stuck in a room with no way out after that experience. I get flashes of it from time to time- like full-body remembering when I was writhing in pain and scared out of my mind while machines beep and Darcy looks at me with complete and utter anguish. That shit was real and awful and even my body isn’t done processing it all.

There are moments where I feel okay. I’ve got my brave face on with only a few cracks here or there, mostly around the eyes, where people might glimpse my sadness. I go out in the world, make small talk, work, run errands, and try to be a functioning human. But mostly I’m at home with my husband and our pets, where it feels safest. Where I don’t have to be “together” and okay with the fact that our baby ruptured inside of me and we’re not going to have our own biological children. I can cry in the kitchen while making Thanksgiving stuffing because I’m overcome with sadness about not passing on our family traditions to our child. I don’t have to pretend it’s okay for the sake of everyone else’s feelings. Because it is not okay and it probably will never be okay and trying to swallow that reality pill is huge and it’s stuck in my throat.

I’ve learned a lot of things these past two years having gone through my own personal tragedies. And mostly what I know for sure is I know nothing is for certain. I will never understand why life unfolds as it does or why bad things happen to good people or why we think qualifying a person as bad or good means they deserve an easier or better life or why we put so much pressure on ourselves to live a certain way, so busy striving for it, we hardly get to enjoy it or why some friends disappear when shit gets hard and others show up at your doorstep to hold your hand while you cry or why some people get to have babies but don’t want them and others can’t but want them desperately or why most of us are so scared of saying the wrong thing we say nothing at all. . .

Lately, I don’t trust all my reactions because I’m raw and easily hurt. I’m quick to frustration and easily stressed. My memory is shot. I make simple errors because I’m not operating at 100%. I sleep fitfully and feel tired a lot. It’s not pretty. I miss caring about pretty. I miss the me that didn’t know what I know now.

The holidays feel tough this year but then again most things feel difficult. We’ll get a tree and maybe the twinkling lights will bring some cheer. We’ll go back east to visit family and maybe the togetherness and change of scenery will do some good. I’m taking most of December off from work to regroup, disconnect from the daily grind to reconnect with myself, and hopefully move through some of these stuck places. As if unsticking your stuck places is as easy as that. “I’ve scheduled time to get unstuck- let’s do this!”

We’ll see what happens. I have no idea what’s next. When I find the door, I’ll let you know.

Life with Otis

It’s hard to believe it’s only been a month since Otis joined our family. It feels like so much longer. Partly because we’re so exhausted and partly because he’s just such a joy. The cats don’t wholeheartedly agree yet but they are coming around. They actually will enter the room now if Otis is there which is a far cry better than when he first arrived and they recoiled in horror at the sight of him.

otis's first day home

Baby Otis on his first day in our home.

We manage our time differently now and take into consideration that there’s a wee pup at home waiting for company when we make plans. We get up early to play with him and spend hours after work avoiding his puppy nips and relishing in his sweetness. I take him to the office some days where he has won over the hearts of all my co-workers. I have never had so many people come by my cubicle. When I leave him at home, they inquire where he is and make pouty faces. Pretty soon I will need to come up with a better barricade because he’s growing so fast. I swear every morning I see a change.

Otis is very popular at the office but he's not very good at filing or data entry.

Otis is very popular at the office but he’s not very good at filing or data entry.

Last night Mr. Darcy took him to his first puppy training class (I had a work function, sadly) and he was a star. He learned to sit in one class! This gives me great hope that potty training him outside will not be arduous though we anticipate some accidents and sleepless nights in our future.

Otis loves toys. And ankles. And jeans. And stray socks. And hands.

Otis loves toys. And ankles.
And jeans. And stray socks. And hands.

We’re so grateful to have such a lively, sweet pup in our family. We’re anxiously awaiting his second round of shots so we can have puppy play dates with our friends and go on walks.

I will miss this piglet belly when he gets bigger and outgrows it.

I will miss this piglet belly when he gets bigger and outgrows it.

Milestones

A year ago today Mr. Darcy and I donned fancy clothes and in front of our nearest & dearest, vowed to choose each other every day for the rest of our lives.

toasting

That was the best day of my life.

It has not been a carefree year for us. I look at this picture and remember how incredibly happy we were despite a year where we fought The Cancer, started a new job, bought a house, and moved all while planning the wedding. We thought that we were on an upswing after all that stress. And we were but it didn’t last long enough. Upswings rarely do.

The thing is- even though we have had a rocky first year, we as a couple are not rocky. Despite all the sorrow, we have done our best to navigate it with tenderness, grace, and humor. It’s often been downright brutal and we’ve fallen apart and put each other back together again and again. If there’s one thing I can say that’s good from all the bad it’s that we are stronger for our troubles. I would not wish anyone else by my side than Mr. Darcy. Even when we’re fighting, even when we’re lost in our own grief, and especially when we’re laughing. Marrying a guy who can make me laugh when I’m crying is among one of my smartest choices in this life.

This past weekend we got ourselves an anniversary gift.

otis sits

His name is Otis and he is a seven week old Australian Shepherd and Catahoula Leopard mix.

As we drove home with him, I cried. I was just overcome with how much I needed him. We both need something happy to turn our attention to and to love together. A salve for our wounded hearts. Enter Otis, the best present ever.

otis comes home otis sleeps

We’re hoping year two has less troubles and more joy. I think Otis might help with that.

I love you, Darcy. Thank you for being my person.

The Answer to the Question

“How are you?” is “I’m not okay.”

The fundraiser I worked on- worked three weeks time in the past two weeks- was Saturday. It was apparently a success. We raised money. People had a good time. I can’t even wrap my head around it because I’m exhausted to the bone. I spent the last few weeks living and breathing that event, working 12 hour days, attempting to push down my feelings about the reality of my personal life while giving work 120%. I wasn’t always successful at keeping a lid on my emotions as evidenced by the crying jags in my cubicle and the meltdowns I had in my car. I wasn’t handling stresses I normally could roll with in the same way. I went to my boss on a daily basis and tried to quit. I hit the bottom of despair and convinced myself that I am not good at what I do. On top of everything I was sitting there sobbing, thinking how I now have to find a new career at 40 years old. Everything was overblown for me. All my rational thoughts were used up on the planning of the event.

Then yesterday, the Monday after the event, I had to go to the doctor before coming into the office. That appointment was with a surgeon, one recommended by other doctors, one that could perform the removal of my fibroid. Except, after talking to her we were even more convinced that trying to get pregnant is not in the cards for us. The surgery is risky- they could try to do it robotically but it’s very likely they would have to open me up if it started bleeding too much (opening up means longer recovery) plus the fibroid penetrates the uterine lining so sewing me up is challenging and later if I did get pregnant (most likely after costly IVF), I run a risk of rupturing while carrying our baby which could endanger both me and the child. My left tube may or may not open up with the removal of the fibroid. Darcy has had some time to process all this while I’ve been buried under work and he’s still very sad but he’s also more sure the right thing to do is to look for alternative ways to be parents. After watching me rupture, lose our baby, bleed internally, and get negligent care, he’s very hesitant about me having any more medical interventions. I can’t blame him. If I had to go through watching him be in distress like I was? I wouldn’t want him doing anything drastic either.

So yesterday I arrive at the office after the doctor’s appointment where I had spent the entire car ride over bawling my eyes out and everyone was smiling and saying “congratulations” and saying positive things about the fundraiser. Except I didn’t care. In fact, every congratulations felt like a punch in the gut because the only thing I was thinking about is how I will never get to be pregnant or have a child that is made up of Darcy and me. I kept trying to hold it together and smile but I have no poker face and, well, it’s kind of hard to hide the fact that you’ve been crying when your skin gets all blotchy red and your eyes are big puff balls.

I don’t know how I will get through this though I know I have to somehow. I’m the most sad I can remember ever being. It’s different from when I had cancer because that was a scared sad. This is just a deep, deep sorrow that feels like something is tugging on my heart. And I know I have to feel it all to keep moving through it. And I know that someday it won’t feel so tragic, that maybe a happy ending could find us after all. But right now I am worried that this is going to break me in so many pieces I won’t be able to put myself back together. That I will be changed so much I won’t recognize myself. That I will become a shell of my former self- all hallowed out and sad and jealous of women who get to have babies. A part of me has died and I’m trying to figure out how to survive the loss.

I’m writing because I don’t know what else to do. Talking about it hurts. Seeing the look on people’s faces when they hear about it is too much to handle right now. It just reflects back to me the reality of what I’m trying to swallow.

I don’t want any of this to be true. But it is.

(I’m turning off comments on this because I don’t want anyone to feel like they have to say something comforting. It’s an awkward situation. A fucking shitty, awkward situation. And you’ve all been so nice to me already. You don’t need to do more. )