Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Regifting Words

Dear Jane:

After careful consideration, my husband and I have decided that a medically assisted pregnancy is not our choice right now. We both have other health issues to consider and have personal/ethical reasons for not pursuing a medically-assisted pregnancy using ART right now, or possibly ever.

However, it seems that wherever we go, someone is asking about our parenting plans and ends up talking about fertility treatments, whether it is/was theirs or about others. The conversations usually end up with some form of questioning why we aren't seeing an RE. So far our attempts of trying to end the conversation quickly end up with others telling us that we are making the wrong choice or obviously we don't want to be parents since we aren't willing to go through this process right now.

Our choice is a personal one obviously and our reasons are just as personal. We don't really want to be telling everyone about our health concerns. We've tried the basic "we can't have children" all the way to "we haven't been able to conceive due to ---- insert a variety of medical issues here." We've even tried the abrasive "We won't be having children" without luck. Personally, I hate saying that one because it always makes me cry and then the conversation ends up continuing.

Additionally, as more people we know are facing a variety of infertility treatments we are getting questions from others who don't feel the same way we do about certain aspects of ART. Any suggestions on how to politely explain our choice without coming across as judgmental or something else? As so far, "It's not for us" hasn't worked!


Drowning in Advice

Dear Drowning:

If only Jane were here, I'm sure she could give you better coaching since I am sure she ran up against the same wall when it came to the topic of marriage. In a society that pushes pairing off as frequently as it pushes parenthood, I'm sure she ran into many people who wanted to fix her marriageless state. Options existed for her--if marriage was simply her goal rather than a happy union, she could have been married off several times over. But the end goal wasn't her sole focus--the journey to get there was just as important as the union itself which is evident from her exploration of the theme of love within her books. Though I can't ask Ms. Austen nor can I get inside your head, your core reasons could be similar for not pursuing certain paths: "it just doesn't feel right."

I think Jane would be appalled by the lack of decorum that comes with this line of questioning. The fact that you are clearly expressing a desire for the comments to stop and people are continuing regardless points to a complete lack of manners in both Austen's world and our own.

That's what Jane would do.

But what should you do?

The questioning and commenting you're receiving is on par with "just adopt." Every outsider thinks they know how to solve your problems. Just because it probably comes from a good place (most of the time) doesn't mean you have to accept their gift of words graciously by the third helping. Remember that line from Free to Be You and Me: some kind of help is the kind of help / that helping is all about / and some kind of help is the kind of help / we all could do without. It sounds like you're getting a lot of the second kind of help. Let's look at a non-IF example.

Let's pretend someone offers to throw you a party for your birthday. The first time they bring it up, you laugh and kindly say, "thank you, but I really don't want a party." The second time they bring it up, you answer firmly, "really, thank you, but I don't want a party right now. I'm not going to change my mind on this." The third time, you have permission to say anything you need to within reason to get your point across because the party has ceased to be a gift and has become a transgression on your feelings. The other person may be frustrated that you're not taking their gift of a party, but is it really a gift if they're beating you with it?

These kinds of thoughts do usually start out as an intended gift. They see you have a problem; they think they have the solution. But since one-size-does-not-fit-all with infertility, they can't possibly know what is the right gift unless you specifically are requesting an answer to a specific question.

You really have two choices and some of it depends on your relationship to the other person. You can figuratively toss the gift of words over your shoulder and mentally note that you're returning it the first chance you get. In other words, smile at the speaker, thank them for the advice and tell them you'll look into it. And then change the subject. When someone gives me a sweater I have no intention of wearing, I thank them and gush about it for a bit, and then mentally plot when I'll be taking it back to the store to exchange it for something I would wear. They never need to know that their gift was far outside my realm of taste. And unless I sense that more sweaters like it are forthcoming, there's no need to set them straight about my sense of style.

Or, you can address it on these three levels, which sounds like the route you've been taking. You start with kind, "thanks, but we're not really looking at treatments" or "I know you care about us, but we're going to work through this on our own."

You move on to firm, which takes a lot of practice to do well. My mother made us stand in front of a mirror and practice saying difficult things before attempting them with others and even though I felt like an ass talking to myself, I have to admit that it helped to say the words several times before I became tongue-tied in the moment. I have a very difficult time being firm.

Some general words to practice and tweak for the situation:
  • Again, thanks for the advice. We're actually pretty private about this and I'd rather not talk about it.
  • That may be true but it's outside of our comfort zone, as is continuing to talk about treatments.
  • It's all good advice, but I'm not in a space to hear this right now. Why don't you tell me about...(and change the subject quickly).
Lastly, while I say it's a free-for-all, you don't want to be as rude as the speaker is being. Remember, they believe their words are helpful and no one wants to hear that the words they've chosen as a gift are being returned. But this is the point where you turn the questions and advice back on the speaker or explain in no uncertain terms that the comments need to stop.
  • It sounds like you're trying to solve our problems, but we're really comfortable working through them on our own.
  • Why are you asking these questions?
  • Why? Are you doing treatments right now?
Hopefully you'll be able to preserve the relationship as well as get out of these uncomfortable conversations.

Now you (yes, you--I'm talking to you. The one reading this advice column) need to weigh in. Put yourself in Drowning's shoes and employ a what would Jane do attitude to give her advice on this situation. Leave a comment for Drowning elaborating or contradicting my advice--just do it in a ladylike or gentlemanly way.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Just a Latte

Dear Jane: Here's the problem. I was recently invited to dinner by an ex-boyfriend whom I haven't seen in 10 years, except once, about a year ago. This relationship ended very, very badly, but within the year a truce was called and some semblance of friendship patched together. Contact was infrequent, but always congenial - interactions predicated on friendliness. Nevertheless, there is quite a bit of emotional baggage attached to the past, which I have struggled to come to terms with (what went wrong? Self-recriminations abound).

However, right now, I am very happily married (and TTC). My husband was not included in the invitation, although to be sure he is out of town frequently. He, for his part, will not tell me what to do, although he has--through jokes and indirect comments--made clear that he doesn't like the idea. What should I do? At this point, I am considering downgrading the dinner invitation to just coffee. I don't want to do anything that could hurt my marriage, but I also doesn't want to be rude. Conundrum.


Dear Perplexed:

Jane would sum up this entire situation with a single word drenched in 18th century morality--impropriety.

Thankfully, we don't live in a world where married women are discouraged to socialize with former lovers.

That's what Jane would do (while throwing her hand over her mouth in astonishment).

But what should you do?

There are two types of exes. The ones who have truly crossed over into friends and the ones who are hanging around for other reasons. These reasons range from "I'm still in love with you" to "I just don't want anyone else to fully have you." Either way, the ones in the first category are always safe for a coffee date or dinner. Most of the time, your spouse or partner becomes friends with this person too and after a while, someone asks how you know each other and you have to think about it for a minute.

But your ex sounds like he belongs in the second category of exes. He comes with baggage and brings out certain emotions. He doesn't want to see the real, full Perplexed--the one who is with her spouse and trying to have a child. He wants to see the Perplexed that he knew long ago--the one who didn't have a husband or mothering ambitions. In other words, if the husband comes along, your ex doesn't see the Perplexed that exists in his head. The husband shatters the fantasy.

And even if he is amenable to your husband coming along, what is the purpose of the introduction? How does this ex fit into your life? Exes are attractive in the sense that--like all people--they hold a piece of your life. Once upon a time, this man meant a lot to you and you two share many memories that are only meaningful to you two. You can retell stories from that relationship to other people, but they'll never be able to remember being in the moment like your ex can. Therefore, even the shittiest ex can become somewhat attractive when you're feeling nostalgic and want to take a walk down memory lane.

By asking how your ex fits into your life, I'm really asking what you get out of the relationship. And is it worth disrupting home life in order to have that thing? You mention that your husband has expressed discomfort with this relationship. Is it because dinner with an ex is something that can send even the most confident husband into a sinking feeling of doubt? Or does your husband pick up on something in the invitation that you haven't noticed?

If you're not getting anything out of this relationship, I'd beg off with busyness and talk about rescheduling in the future. Which gives you more time to think. Sort of like packing away old clothes rather than donating them outright. Yes, they sit in your basement for a bit, but it gives you time to decide whether you really need them anymore or if they can be sent to a better home.

Now you (yes, you--I'm talking to you. The one reading this advice column) need to weigh in. Put yourself in Perplexed's shoes and employ a what would Jane do attitude to give her advice on this situation. Leave a comment for Perplexed elaborating or contradicting my advice--just do it in a ladylike or gentlemanly way.

Monday, October 1, 2007

The Giving Blogger

Dear Jane:

After this last failed cycle, we are taking a break for a year. If I'm completely honest this break is just an avoidance to saying we are done. I'm more than 90% confident that is where we will be in a year and this saddens me to no end. But we've really come to the end of treatments. I think I need to let go of a board that I've posted on for over a 1 1/2 years as well as reading many blogs.

I feel so guilty for saying it, but it hurts to see so many positives. It hurts to see people come to terms with their bodies because their bodies are redeeming themselves. When mine has only failed me. It simply hurts.

These are the same people who have given me more support than I can say which I always will appreciate. It leaves me guilty in feeling this way. But, I know it is time for me to walk away. These are people who deserve much more than my slinking away into the night never to hear from me again. I wonder if you have any advice on what to do.

Or if you think these feelings are something that I need to get over? Just deal with? Part of me seriously thinks it is self preservation. But guilt is racking my brain. And I am second-guessing everything.

Looking for guidance.

Uncomfortably Reading

Dear Reading:

In Northanger Abbey, Austen writes her famous quote: "Friendship is certainly the finest balm for the pangs of disappointed love" and what is a greater disappointed love than the love you've been carrying for your future children which has yet to come to fruition? Boys may come and go, but our children hold our heart forever--even the children whom we never meet though we work so hard to bring them into this world.

Jane definitely believed in self-preservation and I think she would accept your desire to bow away quietly from friends, even while imploring you to reconsider what you are leaving behind. Good friends and good support are hard to find.

That's what Jane would do.

But what should you do?

You know the story of the Giving Tree. At first, they have a mutual love affair--the boy and the tree and they need each other equally. And then the boy leaves after taking all he can from the tree. And the tree is happy...but not really. A good friend or a good community is going to be like the Giving Tree, happily giving support even when none is taken in return because a community (1) has support coming already from multiple directions so a lag in one direction is not quite so noticeable and (2) it is in the nature of blogging to continue to read and comment even when you are not receiving readers and comments (at least for a short time period). And also, the blogging community, like the tree, realizes that individual readers and writers owe the greater whole nothing. Your blog is your own--you are free to write it, delete it, or do with it as you see fit.

There are those that I know will disagree and say that a blog becomes collective property because it is essentially a group art project, with the comments taking on a similar weight to the actual post. I am not of this belief. If I ever stopped writing, I would probably leave my blog up regardless if I thought someone would be helped by my thoughts. But you own your blog just as I own my blog and we are both free to write, read other blogs, comment, or walk away.

But just because we are free to do so doesn't mean we necessarily should do so. If you are walking away from your blog, reading other blogs, or commenting on bulletin boards because it is hurting you emotionally to do so, then in the name of self-preservation, you should assuage yourself of this emotional pain by walking away. Leave an apologetic message on your blog explaining its end, leave an email address in case people want to check in on you in the future, and taper off reading and commenting on other blogs.

But here's a scenario to kick around in your head. What if you miraculously (run with it now, I said miraculously) became pregnant naturally while on your break. Would your instinct be to blog about it and gain support from the community again? Would you find yourself back on the boards or back on blogs, discussing your pregnancy out of both celebration and anxiety?

If you answer no, the statement is obvious--blogging and bulletin boards are truly a painful reminder and walking away from them is like throwing out the OPKs and Follistim pens. The goodbye is truly shutting a chapter on your life and if you were to find yourself in a new place, you'd probably find a new method for support. Perhaps you'd join an expectant mother's club in your area--something that is the complete opposite to the online support that simply reminds you of infertility.

But if you answered yes, it becomes like the boy in the Giving Tree, coming back whenever he needs something, but not sticking around to support the tree. Part of being in a community is being in that community and giving support as well as taking it. It does not need to be support given at its loudest volume, but it does need to be a quiet whisper here and there to let people know that you're still around. You're still part of the community and you'll hold their hand when they're crying. On a strong day when you're feeling up to it, you'll even celebrate with them too. Post every few weeks or whenever the mood strikes. Comment every once in a while. Read a lot on days when you're feeling up to it and walk away from the computer on days when it's too difficult to see another person's belly shot. It's a middle ground that allows you to remain in the community while taking a rest.

The IF/pg loss community is a pretty flexible, understanding community because we all get it. We all nod our head in agreement when someone mentions in a small voice how the happiness and success of others is like a dagger through the hearts of those still in the trenches. It's the age-old conundrum that defines infertility--I'm happy for you while being sad for me. No one would think less of you if you threw your hands in the air and said, "I really can't do this anymore." Sometimes people come back too, but you never know what kind of reception you'll get from those who remained in the community.

This situation is similar to the ongoing struggle most of us have with attending baby-centered events. And I think the answer is similar. You don't need to attend these events at your usual 100% of effort. You can bow out of the ones that aren't celebrating close friends or family. You can attend and leave early. You can attend and spend the majority of the time in the bathroom. But if you want people to support you in the future--whatever form that support may take from attending your baby shower or celebrating a different accomplishment--you do need to be there for them even when it hurts to be there for them. Which is to say that you have an obligation to yourself to not make more hurt for your heart. But you also have an obligation to yourself to work through some of your own emotions in order to not leave all communities behind.

Which is a long way of saying that you should do what you need to do, but before you take a step in any direction, consider your needs in the future and don't burn bridges (or even dust away paths) if you're going to need to return.

Now you (yes, you--I'm talking to you. The one reading this advice column) need to weigh in. Put yourself in Reading's shoes and employ a what would Jane do attitude to give her advice on this situation. Leave a comment for Reading elaborating or contradicting my advice--just do it in a ladylike or gentlemanly way.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Spot of Tea?

Dear Jane: Aaron and I tried for 3 years to have a child before essentially giving up. No more charting, temping, opk's, testing, ultrasounds, nada. Just old-fashioned sex. At this point I'm mostly hoping that we won't get pregnant because I'm liking our life as it is. That being said, I still find myself touchy on the subject of having children and sometimes have a hard time being around those that are pregnant. This includes my best friend.

My oldest nephew (by marriage) and his pregnant fiancee are moving into our house. That will take the number of people in this house to 6 1/2 (plus 2 dogs and 3 cats). My best friend is
due mid-October and the fiancee is due in November. The nephew is talking about the idea of living with us permanently. Am I really expected to entertain this idea? Me, live with a baby that is not mine? Listen to it cry and wail and coo and know that I am not the cause or solution to any of it? I think that I might go crazy...yet my husband hasn't told them no outright. He's hoping they'll change their minds and tells me that I have to give them a shot before I decide that. Normally he's pretty understanding and he doesn't really want them here either, but it's family, and he's always there for family. I also don't know if I should introduce my best friend and the fiancee. They're due about a month apart, and the fiancee is really young, where as my best friend is a second-time mom.

I'm so at a loss as to what to do with all this. I want to run screaming, I feel like I'm at my wits end and how dare anyone ask me to do another damn thing where family is concerned--especially the pregnant ones. My best friend is like family too, but at least she's learned to be sensitive. I'm going to have to teach yet more family members what to do and not to do but do I really have the right to do that to them, since we're not really trying any more? How do I move past this stage? Help please!!

The Frustrated Hostess

Dear Hostess:

Jane's characters were not only skilled hostesses, but in Austen's world, family came first. Jane was extremely close to her sister, Cassandra, and this relationship influenced many of the sisterly relationships portrayed in her books. A focus on self at the expense of family would have been considered a major character flaw.

At the same time, manners are everything and the way characters behave towards one another reveal their relationships and status in one another's life. But manners serve another purpose--they help conceal opinions and frustrations. After all, who can tell how much you're seething on the inside if you're smiling sweetly and pouring your guest a cup of tea? When you think about it, manners rarely reveal your true thoughts--instead, they are a dull grey coat you can throw over your bright orange dress, ensuring that you choose who is allowed to see your true colours.

Therefore, if unmarried Jane's nephew moved into her house with his fiancee and wedding planner in tow, she may have been secretly frustrated with the situation and silently cursing the fact that he has what she has been desiring, but she would have prepared him not only dinner, but a huge ball to welcome him to the estate.

That's what Jane would do.

But what should you do?

The reality of infertility is that the emotions almost never end with any of the paths out of the situation. Children cure childlessness, but they don't cure infertility. The problem still exists whether you're trying to conceive or not.

You're really between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, this is family. While friends come and go, family is a lot more complex to navigate--we're judged harshly for our actions and the expectations run higher. At the same time, you need to take care of yourself because no one but you knows exactly what you need. Though John Donne wrote, "no man is an island" we do have to put ourselves central if the goal is to maintain our own sanity and happiness.

Putting yourself central means setting some limits. The situation may not make you ecstatically happy, but you need to find a space where you can balance the expectations everyone has about family with your own peace. And this means being upfront--pleasant, but firm. Being too vague or letting things unfold too much removes any control you have for directing this cohabitation. Once you make the decisions with your husband behind the scenes, they're not really up for discussion and they're stated in such a way that doesn't leave them open for discussion. Perhaps you can live with a two week visit while they get their bearings, but you need them out of the house after that. I would kick off the visit with a dinner telling them how happy you are that you can put them up until they get their bearings and you'd love to help them with any aspect of house hunting since you know it's difficult sometimes to do things when you're pregnant.

It sends a clear message as you serve that roasted chicken and potatoes--welcome to my house, we're happy to have you while you look for your house. The chicken is the grey coat hiding the orange rage underneath a cloth of manners.

If having the fiancee in close proximity is one of the stressors, introducing her to your best friend only provides more entanglements. This introduction probably won't relieve you (at least initially) of interactions with the fiancee--instead, it will make it more difficult to create a child-free space for yourself when you need it. Not only will you be inviting over your best friend, but when you're not up for the company, the fiancee could still be inviting her over too.

Your obligation to family is to provide the essentials: food, housing, and, at times, emotional support. You do not have to be her social director or feel guilty that you're holding apart two pregnant women. Family is not code for all limits flying out the window. You need to navigate a child-filled world every day--your home should be a sanctuary and not an additional stressor in your life.

Now you (yes, you--I'm talking to you. The one reading this advice column) need to weigh in. Put yourself in Hostess's shoes and employ a what would Jane do attitude to give her advice on this situation. Leave a comment for Hostess elaborating or contradicting my advice--just do it in a ladylike or gentlemanly way.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

O. Henry Conception

Dear Jane:

Eight years, $90 thousand dollars, five lost babies and I am crazy enough to want to try again. Months after finding out that our previous egg donor has a rare genetic defect and all frozen embryos needed to be discarded, the donor agency has finally come up with another potential donor for us. She's not an ideal match as she has hazel eyes and both my darling husband and I have blue eyes, but she is a proven donor with a fairly good track record. We are also currently on the waiting list for donor embryos through our RE and have moved up to number 6 on the list. A few more months and we will have first choice on embryos as they become available.

Here's the question part: Should we try one more time with the egg donor and have the chance of having a baby who is biologically related to at least one of us or should we just wait for a donated embryo to become available? The RE is waiving his cost of either procedure but there is still a significant difference in cost. The egg donor process will probably be close to $10,000 while the donated embryo will only cost us the meds to get ready for transfer.

I'm struggling between wanting a baby who at least is related to my husband biologically and feeling like it might be easier if the child isn't related to either of us. I had the long night's grieving over the fact that I will never look at my child and see my mother's eyes or my father's smile. Is it selfish to feel it isn't fair for my husband to have that connection when I don't? That somehow the baby will belong more to his family than to mine? Don't get me wrong, I will LOVE any child who comes into our lives and will never doubt that they are mine in my heart. I'm just feeling so conflicted about which way to go at the moment. What would you do?

Mourning My Genes

Dear Mourning:

At its root, your question isn't really about donor gametes (about which Jane would have shook her head in confusion--poor Jane, woefully ignorant of the leaps in medical knowledge that will take place in later centuries). It's about marriage and the negotiations that take place between couples. There are the small ones that everyone does--the often-quoted one involves toilet seats that are left up or down. And, unfortunately, you've entered a realm that few ever reach--decisions that will define not only the rest of your own life, but that of generations to come. There are great books out there such as Mommies, Daddies, Donors and Surrogates by Diane Ehrensaft that can help you sort through your feelings. But because it is outside most people's base of understanding and experience, the decision requires you to be trailblazers, cutting out a new path. As I've said before, take only my advice that speaks to your heart and disregard the rest--these types of decisions are extremely personal and while others can help you sort through the pros and cons of the choices, only you can know how you weigh each reason on the list.

But back to marriage.

In Mansfield Park, Jane writes on the topic of marriage, "...there is not one in a hundred of either sex who is not taken in when they marry. Look where I will, I see that it is so; and I feel that it must be so, when I consider that it is, of all transactions, the one in which people expect most from others, and are least honest themselves."

Negotiating life with another person requires us to sometimes make choices that we would never make on our own. They're not necessary dishonest in the sense of lying, but dishonest in that they don't really represent what we are thinking or feeling. They're necessary because we compromise out of love for another person. A spouse or partner is that ultimate love that makes us transcend our selfish impulses and consider the other person first.

That's what Jane would do.

Now what should you do?

Everyone in Jane's novels has a series of confidantes, and I deserve a few too when I'm thinking through your questions. I put my head together with the brilliant and beautiful Perspicacious Babe. We both read between the lines of your question and came to the same conclusion--your heart wants to go the donor embryo route but, at the same time, your heart doesn't want to want to go the donor embryo route. There are two main reasons I can see for why you wouldn't want to admit that desire outright.

I suspect that one reason is that you feel yucky having these thoughts--these thoughts about biology and belonging and ownership that are completely natural. I imagine there are few people in this world who are mourning the fact that they are not passing along their genes who don't pause to think about the inequality this situation could create (emphasis on the could because from what I've observed in life and read, it doesn't actually seem to be the case the majority of the time).

The second reason is that you want to know definitively that your husband made the decision with you instead of because of you. If he were to read this question, he may pick up on your wishes and go the donor embryo route not because it is the route that sits best with him, but because he wants to make you happy.

You have three sound reasons for wanting to do donor embryo: timing, cost, and equality. The timing is a bit better, the cost is definitely better, and the equality that donor embryo creates is possibly the peace of mind you need at this juncture of your journey to parenthood. Donor egg felt right at some point (and maybe it still does), or perhaps it has always felt a bit wrong but you did it for the same reasons you fear your husband would act if you admitted your own feelings. However you viewed donor egg before, donor embryo has since become the more enticing option. That's not to say that you're anti-donor egg. You state the benefits of remaining on the same path. I think you will ultimately be okay with whichever path you end up choosing. But having to make the choice is excruciating. Especially when you want to make sure that neither of you will have any regrets or doubts.

Without communication, the most thoughtful marriages can turn into an O. Henry story a la "The Gift of the Magi". Yet instead of selling your hair to buy him a watch chain while he sells his watch to buy you combs, the modern day donor gamete version of this story would have the wife saying, "I didn't tell you that I wanted to do donor embryo because I didn't want to hurt your feelings or have you mourn the loss of your genetic material as I did!" while the husband replies, "I only went with donor eggs because I thought it was what you wanted to do. I would have been happy with donor embryos and becoming a parent through any path."

Even the most thoughtful partner needs information in which to form all those thoughtful actions. You may be surprised that when you present why you prefer one path over another that he counters that it doesn't matter (or perhaps it does, but at least you can enter into a conversation about it and get to a better place of understanding).

So how do you have this conversation?

Perspicacious Babe points out, "she'll feel better if she doesn't have a reason to feel that she has pressured him into it. So the trick is to arrange a discussion where she gets his honest opinion on the subject. It's harder than it sounds, when you get tangled in this web of 'but are you just saying what you think I want to hear?'"

Therefore, you'll have to exchange information at the same time (and this is a method that anyone can use if they're trying to make a decision without influencing the other person). It obviously won't work if you sit across a table and talk simultaneously, therefore, it's time to take out your pens and a piece of paper.

Each person will answer the following six questions (in complete sentences using proper MLA format...) on a piece of paper. They will fold and seal their answers until both people are finished. Perspicacious Babe has given you the added assignment of this: on a separate piece of paper, each person will write down any additional questions they want to ask the other person directly. They will exchange the paper with the additional questions. Each person will answer the additional questions and fold over this paper as well. When everyone is ready, they will give each other their two sets of answers and separate for a moment to read them. Why separate? Because you need to focus on the other person's words and not their visible reaction (or lack thereof) to your words. Once you have given their side some thought, come back together for the discussion.

This is the time to be as honest and open as possible. At the end of the conversation, you'll hopefully have a path set that both parties feel comfortable walking. And, as said by the ever-perspicacious Perspicacious Babe, "you might be ready to cycle and be pregnant again, but if you're not ready to choose a path, you're not ready." I'm sending many good thoughts to you that you find your peace soon.

The Questions

1. What do you see as the benefits of donor egg?
2. What do you see as the benefits of donor embryo?
3. What do you see as the drawbacks of our current donor egg situation?
4. What do you see as the drawbacks of donor embryo in general?
5. What is your understanding of why we choose the donor gamete path over adoption? Do you still want to be on the donor gamete path and why?--I ask this question because it could reveal that he's tied to the idea of control over prenatal conditions and not the genetic ties DE would afford him. Oh...and cut my "why" out before you put this question on the question list...
6. Based on gut instinct, what do you want to do next?

Now you (yes, you--I'm talking to you. The one reading this advice column) need to weigh in. Put yourself in Mourning's shoes and employ a what would Jane do attitude to give her advice on this situation. Leave a comment for Mourning elaborating or contradicting my advice--just do it in a ladylike or gentlemanly way.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A True Celebration

Dear Jane:

The evil diagnosis known as PCOS runs very strongly on my dad’s side of the family. Almost every female in my generation has PCOS and has had trouble getting pregnant, from having to take Clomid, to injectables, to IVF. For whatever reason, I have never felt jealous of any of my cousins who have been able to conceive, perhaps because I had first-hand experience with the battle they had overcome.

My question is this: After three long years and a miscarriage along the way, I am proud to be expecting twins after IVF. During the whole infertility/miscarriage phase, I drew lots and lots of support from all of my family, but particularly from my cousins, who have also suffered and knew what I was going through. Now that I am somewhat safely in the third trimester, I feel like celebrating.My mom has planned a huge double baby shower for myself and my sister (who is expecting after using Clomid to overcome PCOS), and I am really looking forward to it.

The problem is that there are still two cousins who are down deep in the trenches of infertility. How do I make them feel comfortable? I have only spoken to one of them since becoming pregnant, and I know it was a very hard meeting for the both of us. She was happy for us, but at the same time, sad for herself--a totally normal experience. I was also fraught with worries about another miscarriage at the time, so that colored the meeting as well. I would totally understand if they did not want to or were not emotionally able to attend the shower, but at the same time I do not want to exclude them if they want to come. So my question is, if they do come, how can I make the day easier for them, yet still enjoy it for myself? And if they don’t come, should I offer a word of support or acknowledgment that it’s okay, or should I just leave well enough alone?

Sensitive Mama-to-Be

Dear Sensitive:

Showers of any sort--bridal or baby--have the potential to fall into the dual extremes of sense or sensibility like Jane Austen's famous novel. On one extreme you have the neoclassical "sense" which includes moderation, sensitivity, and thoughtfulness sometimes at the expense of personal enjoyment. On the other end, you have romantic "sensibilities" of passion and excess sometimes without being mindful of how your guests are enjoying your joy. Jane would caution you against either extreme in any aspect of life--the best celebrations come from those that balance sense with sensibilities and set-up their bottle-shaped balloons and onesie painting stations somewhere on the middle ground.

That's what Jane would do.

Now what should you do?

I think you should take a page out of Jane's book. Sense is whispering to you that you shouldn't hold a party at all because you're thoughtful enough to realize that it may upset your two cousins. But sensibility is telling you that you've waited long enough for your turn and it's time to celebrate your hard-won children-to-be. How do you find that middle ground?

You have the unique ability to easily slip into their shoes. You know how sad you can be for yourself and your own situation while simultaneously being happy for another person. You also know from being in the infertility world that not everyone has the ability to muster up that happiness for others and it's not a reflection of the love they have for that person. It's simply infertility kicking their ass a little too hard and different coping mechanisms. Infertility teaches us quickly that we gain nothing by judging another person.

If you don't invite the two cousins, you set them apart as pariahs of the family. At the same time, once you take a step on that path, you may take people off the party list who really wanted to celebrate with you and leave on those who would rather be anywhere else than a baby shower. The reality is that you don't truly know how other people--even those with children--are viewing your shower. Perhaps they had to stop before their family was finished and they're still mourning their fertility though they have children. Maybe they wanted twins and are jealous that they had a singleton while you hit their jackpot. Maybe they simply hate parties or when anyone else is happy. You just don't know.

Which is why I would extend the same "out" to anyone I invited if I had fears about how they were going to react to my celebration. I would do it lightheartedly because this is a party and I would make it an insert that you stuff into certain invitations. Perhaps everyone who is of child-bearing age if you want to be really thoughtful. I've included an example below--feel free to take it and personalize it (and perhaps shorten it) and use it with invitations. And after you've done your part, relax and enjoy your shower. Many times when I have done this, I haven't changed a thing about the party, but people view it differently because they know they are there by their own volition instead of through social or familial pressure. So keep the baby-bottle balloons and onesie station for yourself--it's still a celebration and it's your hard-won celebration.

The Longest Baby Shower Invitation Addendum In the World

This is the baby shower invitation addendum we all wish someone would send us when we're in the throes of cycling. Trying to conceive with PCOS just sucks. It doesn't matter if you need a little assistance or IVF: seeing that period month after month is heartbreaking. I have spent too many times dreading showers or having a brief cry in bathrooms during parties to subject anyone else to that. Therefore, this is your out.

There, I said it. You have an out because I completely understand. I know if you don't come that it's not a reflection on how you feel about me--it's just hard to see the big belly and pink and blue balloons without thinking about how much you want it too. If you already have children, it may still dredge up painful memories from the past. I know that it's the baby shower and not the person. In other words, I know you love me and I love you too.

That said, I'm inviting you because I really want you there. Because you're my cousin and I love you and I want to celebrate with you. I'm not telling you this so you feel guilty if you use the out--I'm telling you this precisely because I want you to use the out if you need it.

You have given me so much support already and even if you don't feel up to the shower, you're with me all the time through the sensitivity and concern you taught me through your support. If I'm being overly sensitive right now, it's because I was bombarded with thoughtfulness.

I'll never be offended if you can't be there. I'll miss you a lot, but I'll never be offended.

Now you (yes, you--I'm talking to you. The one reading this advice column) need to weigh in. Put yourself in Sensitive's shoes and employ a
what would Jane do attitude to give her advice on this situation. Leave a comment for Sensitive elaborating or contradicting my advice--just do it in a ladylike or gentlemanly way.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Advice Life

We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.
--Jane Austen in Mansfield Park

Giving advice would be much easier if I kept it to the bare essentials: go with your gut. It rarely leads you astray. More often, when you're getting off-course it's because you've thought everything through too deeply. Go back to the beginning--what was your first instinct? That is usually the correct one.

But since you've taken the time to write out a detailed letter, it feels only right to provide a detailed response going through the whats and whys of it all. But here's the problem with giving advice--I'm limited to the information you've given me. I don't know if your friend is someone you met a few days ago or has been in your life since kindergarten. I don't know if she is part of a larger circle of friends or if she could be excised from your life easily. And, most importantly, I don't know all the complex emotions that go into painting the larger picture of how you feel about her. Has there always been something about her that has grated on you or are you confused because until this point, you've always felt that she was more like a sister. I just don't know.

It comes down to the fact that while I'm proficient in general social codes, I'm not fluent in the unique idioms of your life. Even if I spent every single day with you and you told me everything you thought and felt, I would still never know you as well as you know yourself.

Therefore, here is the key to take away from all of this: another person's advice is only as good as how much it speaks to you. In Mommies, Daddies, Donors and Surrogates, Diane Ehrensaft quotes Flight of the Stork author Anne Bernstein, "as you cut the suit to fit your body and not your body to fit the suit, take expert advice only when it fits." Therefore, if my advice goes against what your heart was telling you to do when you wrote me the question, go with your heart.

Then why even ask for advice? To get confirmation that you're on the right track, to gather ideas on how to approach a problem you already know you need to tackle, to hear how an outsider sees your situation. And sometimes, your heart is simply whispering too softly and it's impossible to hear the message your gut is trying to send. Those are the times when hearing another person's words can help you form your own and send you on your way towards a solution or peaceful acceptance.