Time flies

One year since I last posted here.

Two years since I was last pregnant.

Thirty-three months since I started this blog.

Twelve hours until our next Fertility Clinic appointment.

 

Time flies, fun regardless, so I guess you’d better be having fun or else. But I’d never have imagined this journey through the space-time continuum for us, not in a million games of let’s pretend, that’s for damn sure.

The Hardest Thing

Last weekend we met one of my husband’s distant cousins at a family party. Incidentally, he lives near us with his wife and their one-or-so year old baby, but since he and my husband never knew each other very well, we’d never managed to catch up with them since moving back. We had been told by other family members about their daughter’s difficult birth, and warned about the many problems experienced since, but it was still shockingly sad to see it in person. There they were, a young couple just like us, with this beautiful little girl… who was very obviously profoundly disabled.

Today I attended a funeral, this time for one of my distant cousins. A baby cousin – he died just shy of his fifth birthday, after having spent about half his life battling to live. Incidentally, my cousin’s family also live near us, and due to me not knowing them terribly well, we’d also struggled to catch up with them since moving back. (We are officially the worst kind of family assholes.) I thought I’d been given some idea about the struggle his parents underwent with his cancer in the last few years, but obviously not. I didn’t know about when his mum got pregnant for a third time and couldn’t be with him while he was radioactive after chemotherapy. I didn’t know about when she was also diagnosed with a milder form of a similar cancer. I didn’t realise that she’d been successfully treated so that her cancer is now in remission… while his went on to become terminal.

It felt an incredible privilege to be allowed to bear witness to both of these couples. Their strength, their ability to cope, their resilience, in the face of chronic, disabling illness, in the face of their children’s eventual death. They are such a difficult things to think about – death and illness in children – but they’ve been very present all along, in the back of my mind. With two miscarriages, and indeed only two pregnancies in so many months, I think we’ve both wondered: what if our eggs/sperm are genetically messed up? What if we could never have children genetically similar to us as a result? What if we could, and were to stay pregnant, only to then discover at a scan that something was very wrong with our baby? What if we didn’t discover until birth, or shortly after, that this little one we so long for is… imperfect? Broken, or disabled, or severely ill in some terrible way? How would we cope? Would we cope? What would it mean if we couldn’t? A million uncomfortable questions, all with no right answers.

Maybe questions with no answers at all, bar the palpable pain etched in a mother’s face earlier today.

You can ‘ave zee chicken

Apart from the title, which my husband shudderingly assured me is a misnomer (I presume he was once traumatised by some little Frenchpeople thoroughly besting him in a food fight), French Children Don’t Throw Food (titled Bringing up Bébé in the US) is an excellent parenting read. I don’t really understand all the resistance it’s received across the Atlantic. Oh, wait no, I do understand. If you’re an urban, middle class American parent, helicopter-parenting for all you’re worth while consumed by guilt, and you read a book in which you painfully recognise your tired self, your strained marriage, and your child-king kidlets, and discover that lo! there is another easier, and much more sanity-inducing way in which you could have been raising charming children while continuing to look chic and fancy your husband all along, it’s not remotely surprising that all that guilt transforms itself into vitriolic anger in less time than it takes you to say Baby Einstein. (Plus, British readers have the benefit of feeling smugly superior to the US throughout, since the utterly demented sounding Park Slope type parenting hasn’t caught hold quite as well among our yummy mummies. I’m sure that goes a long way to easing some of our pain.) All of which makes me suspect that the more angry this book makes you, the more likely you are to need to spend some serious quality time holed up with it and a set of highlighter pens.

Basically, I loved the book because it described largely how I was raised, and how I definitely want to raise any offspring that one day come our way. (It turns out that my mother is a Parisienne! Who knew? Actually, it was evident the first time we all visited that city, but I digress.) I also loved it because it was better than valium for soothing my residual anxieties about breeding. It’s tone is immensely reassuring: It’s OK to let go of your anxieties about which parenting theory is the ‘right’ theory, and just stick to one overall common sense approach! It’s fine to relish your adult life, space and time, and not automatically believe that this will have to be completely turned over to your children without feeling like a selfish, unloving prick! It’s downright recommended that women still remain sensual women and not automatically morph into some strange mumsy other being just due to having reproduced! Feel free to take a relaxed approach, and for God’s sake stop beating yourself up with guilt about everything! Just have some conviction in what you’re doing, and it’ll be fine, and JUST STOP WITH THE GUILT, ALREADY! It’s also hilarious in parts, and because the author basically starts off as a hot neurotic parenting mess, it doesn’t feel preachy, or smug. More, if she can do this, by gum, so can you.

It’s also more than common sense (although, ‘common’ sense ain’t so common anymore, at least not in my professional experience) in that many of the approaches that she puts forward are based in solid child development theory and research. And when in chapter four she started throwing around basic psychoanalytical principles that are thought to underly the development of a secure, resilient, integrated personality, as if they should make up part of every parents’ understanding of how they’re raising their children (they should), I was pretty much sold. The lady clearly knows what she’s talking about. What are we arguing about, then?

And yes, yes, it’s not only French people who parent this way. Pedants. (Case in point: my parents aren’t French. But I’m not buying the argument that small town America does all the same things. Small town America is fat, yo – so there’s at least one very evident, significant difference.) But the observational perspective felt so very true to me. When I wandered round Paris with one of my best friends last spring, both of our ovaries exploding with sap-rising baby fever, we spent an awful lot of time gawking at the women and families around us. They all seemed so… relaxed. The parents looked exactly like the childless adults of similar age. The children were so well behaved, and how on earth did they keep those ridiculously chic outfits clean?

So, even though there was little in the book that felt like genuinely brand new insights to me, that isn’t its point. What it is, is a lot of solid, scientifically backed, sane and soothing parenting sense packed into one well-written, highly readable little book. It makes the whole enterprise of having and raising children seem, well, doable. It shows a way that is straightforward. It highlights that it can be done without guilt and anxiety, and with many an uninterrupted nights’ sleep. Frankly, I don’t understand why we aren’t all moving to France tomorrow.

About turn

The one thing that is readily established from re-reading these posts of mine is how much of a hypocrite I am.

Well… Maybe that’s a bit harsh. Not a hypocrite exactly, but there have been some apparent swings and roundabouts in the position I’ve held as we’ve made our slow way through this. (Just shag and it’ll happen! Keep just shagging, but also do yoga, meditate, change your diet, and have acupuncture and it’ll happen! Right back to my lazy default position of just shag! Ad infinitum…) Ultimately, I’m not too bothered by this. I think it’s all par for the course when you’re dealing with so much uncertainty, while feeling so utterly powerless to make something happen. And after all, despite how unhinged it may have made me seem, the essentially reasonable core position (just shag! Whenever and however you like!) has not changed, it’s just had different trimmings added depending on the season and the state of my psyche.

However, there has been a change lately which marks more of an abrupt and absolute about turn on an issue I thought I was once pretty clear about. A revisiting of a previous value judgement. My first lesson in how much I’d better STFU about my theoretical opinions on any and everything to do with procreation, because whoo boy, things look mighty different on the other side of an experience; certainly the feelings of this 31 year old with 2 confirmed miscarriages bear little relation to those of her naively optimistic self of 18 months ago. All of which to say that we have undergone initial (in)fertility testing, requested referral to a specialist having exhausted the little expertise our GP has to offer, and have thereby started the equally slow and uncertain process of medically intervening in our attempt to reproduce. (While still shagging. Obviously.)

Oh! My words. At least they’re tasty.

___________

In a (probably very related) move, I’ve been reading topical books again. I promised you chat about Half a Wife later this month, and that will definitely be happening, but I’ve also been very enjoyably distracted by French Children Don’t Throw Food (called Bringing up Bébé in the US), and will probably be forgetting my lessons of today and happily spouting my opinions on that as well. (Thus far very positive, so if you haven’t read it yet, and fancy giving it a once-over and wading in for discussion, I strongly encourage it!)

Read, reflect, rant

I also think the very concept of ‘having it all’ is a terribly unhelpful one. What does that even mean? It’s an impossible ideal that keeps us all in a state of unhappiness as we’re constantly yearning for something ‘better’. Also, I think that starting from a position where one thinks of career and children as mutually exclusive concepts is a limiting one. From what I’ve seen of friends who are parents, parenthood is a game-changer. Your whole approach to life changes – I’ve certainly known both male and female friends with kids become remarkably more focussed and efficient after procreating, something that would only help my work!

…………………….

I was thinking of the overall consumerist focus of society, and how we’re all constantly being pressured or persuaded to spend on things that we don’t necessarily need. (You know, like BUY ALL THE THINGS in wedding-land, but it’s everywhere else too, really.) And how once you commit to a certain way of living, that then pressures you to earn a certain amount to maintain it. And then when you’re spending all this time and effort earning this living, you then need to spend on time-savers or leisure. And oh look! You need to earn more to pay for that, and so on and so forth. I don’t think we personally are very caught in this cycle (or at least I hope not!), because we’re aware of it and thoughtful about how we lead our lives. But I’m pretty sure ‘society at large’ is caught up in a lot of that, which to an extent drives a lot of people’s current need to earn.

…………………….

I have been getting all kinds of chatty and opinionated up in other people’s internet space about issues around working parenthood and balancing career and children. Not because I have any big news of my own to share yet (don’t get excited, chickens, we’re still working on it), but clearly it’s something that resonates for me, and by the looks of comment threads everywhere, also for a lot of us, whether we are currently knocked up or not.

Now, I enjoy an uninformed exchange of opinions as much as the next bloke down the pub, but I really like getting my thinking processes on an issue properly greased by reading a well-researched, thought-provoking tome on the matters at hand first. Hence, my invitation to all of you to join me in reading, thinking about, and then hopefully vigourously discussing the whole Pandora’s box of topics that I suspect Half a Wife may throw open for us about working parenthood. I have the book in my possession, though I have not yet started reading it, but this article (which I really hope you read before the Guardian took it down), coupled with all the interesting good sense that Gaby Hinsliff usually speaks on these and other related matters over at her blog, make me almost certain that it will not prove a waste of your time, whatever your views, and wherever you happen to currently be on the reproductive spectrum.

So, a show of hands from all who are up for some engaging discussion on this most thorny of issues in a couple months’ time, please! I am pretty sure that this is guaranteed be a good one.

P.S. If Amazon US is being a dick, Amazon UK might ship it to you. Otherwise, I’m reliably told that the Guardian Bookshop is shipping it overseas, and speedily. No excuses, ladies. None.

Half a wife

For all the shifts in working life over the past couple of decades, the ideal career track for ambitious professionals remains broadly unchanged from that of their parents’ day: a relentless upward trajectory through ever-rising levels of responsibility, rung by logical rung. It’s often referred to as a male career path, reflecting a common and erroneous assumption that only women’s lives are changed by having children. But the trouble is, fathers are now beginning to rebel against it, too. And I think that’s because it is really a sole breadwinner path, rather than somehow a biologically “male” path.

Unsurprisingly, this bit of Gaby Hinsliff‘s brilliant extract from her seemingly excellent, soon to be released book particularly resonated with me right now, but there is just so much goodness in there. Trust me, and go give the article a read. Based on the extract, this book looks to be a very good one for stimulating thought and discussion on navigating the perils of modern working parenthood.

Off guard

Last night, I got home late from work. As I came in the door, the Boy handed me a package. “Look, a present came for you in the post. What is it?”

As I opened the box and sifted through the beautiful prints, the image that had been secretly stashed in the back of my mind when I placed the order months ago came rushing back. “Just some pictures”, I whispered.

Our tiny second bedroom, made a nursery. A chair in the corner under the window, with a cushion bearing an illustration of a Paris street. On the wall above, a series of photos of that same city. A way to take a girl back to a place she loved, to a time before nighttime feeds and endless diaper changes, whenever she felt it becoming too much. And a way to introduce the little person in her arms to that very city she hoped to explore with them one day, discovering it afresh through eyes filled wonder.

I held the prints, beautifully captured, baby soft empty dreams, and I wept.