Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Banana Stand

adapted from a post on 365 attempts [at life]

This isn’t going to be very well written or funny (unlike my other masterpieces.) Bear with me, and you’ll understand why.  It starts with a banana.

Earlier this week, one of my dearest friends, Trish, who lives in Scotland, tweeted this photo to me, and to a friend of hers:


I enthusiastically responded with the greatest idea of the 21st century.  (Make sure you read the text at the bottom of the image.)

                                               courtesy of The Bloggess, aka my hero 

Trish’s friend jumped on the bandwagon too, and we all began to send photos of our respective fruit creations.




Then, on Thursday night, I am woken up by my husband having chest pains.

If you know me at all, it won't surprise you to hear that I've often wondered how I'd deal with a moment like this.  Tony’s only 43, yes, but he has high blood pressure doesn't exercise a ton and is stressed a lot of the time, and doesn’t exactly live on kale sprouts and kombucha.  I'm constantly worried about his health.  Also, I'm the slightest bit dramatic.  But now, here we are.

This is what I’m thinking as I dial 911 in slow motion, and tell the operator what's happening, and struggle into the clothes I’d been wearing the day before.  I keep talking to Tony, making sure he hasn’t passed out, or worse, as I run around the house, closing windows and grabbing keys.  Within minutes, a bunch of men in uniforms are storming through our front door, attaching clips to Tony’s chest and asking a lot of the same questions over and over: is he dizzy, did he take any medications, how long has he been feeling this.   I sit down next to him and hold his hand, which doesn’t seem especially productive, but it’s all I can think to do.  All I want to say is, “If you promise me this isn’t a heart attack, I promise I won’t kill you.”

But the ambulance technician doesn’t seem to think it is.  From Tony’s heart rate, he deems that the pain is likely not cardiac related.  As they load Tony onto one of those chair stretcher things, it dawns on me that we might be at the hospital for a while.  So, thinking of Anne Lammott’s adage how when the going gets tough, stay calm and share your bananas, I grab one off the counter and sprint after them.  The men transfer Tony from the stretcher chair to the actual stretcher in the street in front of our house, and then into the ambulance, and since I’m not allowed to ride in the back with him, I watch helplessly as they close the doors, clutching my purse to my chest.  And then, in that practical way women do (“must not smush banana while husband might be dying”,) I reach in to put the banana on the top of my purse.  And that’s when I see the one I’ve grabbed.


There were 4 other bananas in the bowl, and none of the rest were marked, and Tony is now in an ambulance, so you can’t blame me for taking this as a sign.  I hold it up to him through the window, and we both try to smile.  Then I get into the front seat with the driver. 

Here’s something you might want to know: when the patient’s condition isn’t serious, ambulances don’t flash the lights or run through stop signs.  They trundle along, waiting for reds to turn green more than any Montreal taxi driver you’ll ever meet, driving like 80 year olds, although I could swear this particular driver is no more than 12.  The journey to the hospital is excruciating, but also reassuring – I figure if Tony was really in trouble, they would have used the sirens.  

Needless to say, he isn’t in trouble.  The people at Montreal's St. Mary’s emergency unit are awesome – I highly recommend them, should you be in the unfortunate position of needing their services – and after a lot of testing, the doctors conclude that it's a really bad muscle strain, which stretches across the left side of his chest.  But we still have a long wait, with a lot of people coming in and questions.  Naturally, somewhere along the way, Tony eats the banana. 

Right now, he’s snoring in bed, full of Robaxicet and Tylenol, as the pain has affected his neck, too.  You know how men are with pain – earlier, when I was trying to get him to eat, I asked what he’d have if he could have anything on earth, and he said, weakly, “Heroin.”  But I’ve never felt more grateful for his complaining; or for a rainy, spring morning.  Or for my faraway friend in Scotland and her lovely silliness, and the synchronicity of a piece of fruit. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

It's Not Easy Being Easy

original version posted on 365 Attempts [at life]

A few months ago, Tony and I were having brunch with this great couple, Ilona and Tom, who have 3 strapping young boys.  Ilona, as a reader of this blog and therefore awesome human being, knows about everything that’s going on with us, fertility-wise.

“Can I make a suggestion?” she asked, as we waited for our eggs to arrive.  “I promise it’s not to 'just relax and it’ll happen.'”

Ilona told me about a machine called the Clearblue Easy, which you use to track your ovulation every day.  She attributed the Clearblue to the existence of 2 out of her 3 children. 

“It shows you exactly where you are in your cycle,” she explained.  “Because after a point, there’s only so much sex you can have.”

Amen, sister.

Ilona still had the machine, although she’d given it to a friend, who went on to have 2 boys of her own. So this month, I decide to give the Clearblue a go.  Of course, I decide this at the last possible minute, 2 days before I have to start using the thing so it can track my cycle correctly.

But Ilona and her friend are a crack team, and after the exchange of a few emails, the machine appears in my mailbox.   I also have to get the sticks, which you pee on daily and insert into the Clearblue to get a reading.  (I know.  Romantic.)  Those mofos are expensive, so I hit Craigslist and find two boxes for cheap, being sold by a woman who now, thank you, has a young daughter.  She comes by my work the next morning, and I run downstairs to meet her and shove some cash through the window of her SUV, in exchange for two large boxes that say CLEARBLUE OVULATION STICKS in very large letters.  Thank god I’d thought to bring my purse, because that would have been one awkward walk back to my desk, not that most of my colleagues don’t know what’s going on.  (As you’ve no doubt figured out by now, I write about it on a public blog.  My boss even gave me a pep talk in the kitchen the other day, about how I should “just relax” and “have lots of sex.” Bless him, I know he had the best of intentions, but I’m pretty sure my face caught fire, and that the receptionist who overheard had kittens.)


The next morning, still suffering the effects of Clomid-induced insomnia, I try to reset the Clearblue Easy, which I have to do as a new user of the machine.  Not surprisingly, the Clearblue company isn’t very forthcoming about this idea, since they’d rather you spend $200 on a new one, even though they look as expensive to manufacture as a Barbie cell phone.  The reset instructions in the box, which someone has printed off the internet, explain how you have to remove the plastic cap from one end of a stick, insert it into the slot, press and hold a button, wait for a symbol, keep pressing the button for 20 more seconds until you see more symbols, remove the stick, release your finger, wait for a flash and then a baby comes out.  Or something.  Tony is hunched the machine, grumbling and swearing, and I’m getting more and more stressed at him for being stressed (always an effective strategy, I highly recommend it.) Finally, he explodes.

“It’s defective!  The little stick symbol isn’t coming up!  It’s supposed to come up when you turn on the machine!  It’s broken.  Buy a new one!”

Let me pause for a minute here and tell you about my husband’s brand of patience.  


He will spend 30 seconds looking for his house keys before going into panic overdrive, throwing aside coats and couch cushions with steam pouring out of his ears and claiming his keys have disappeared and he must have left them at work or dropped them in the street or accidentally fed them to Ruble, until I point out to him that they’re on the key rack.  This happens, on average, every single day. 

In a foul mood, I head off to catch the bus. And that’s when they appear: the expecting couple.

At first, I'm not sure.  Maybe she just had a big breakfast, I think, trying to avert my eyes.  Maybe she only puts on weight in her stomach.

“So you had a rough sleep, eh?” he asks, looking down at her lovingly.

“It’s okay,” she says, rubbing her bump.  “It’s only going to get worse from here.”

"Have you thought any more about boy names?  I still really like Voltaire."

They kiss.  He checks his Blackberry.  She rubs her bump so more.  I know I am being bitter and horrid, and that they can’t have any idea who’s squished up next to them on the #80 Parc Avenue bus, but it’s too late: I’m crying.  And not little, delicate tears either: a sniffling face waterfall, which I try to hide by twisting around 180 degrees to look out the window in an extremely unnatural way. Eventually I squeeze my way to the door and get off a stop early, but no matter how hard I try or dab my eyes or breathe or blink, I can’t stop. I finally duck into an alley and bawl there for a few minutes, which, let me tell you, doesn’t attract attention at ALL.  Then I go to work.

I arrive to find multiple emails from Ilona and her friend, full of suggestions.  Did I hold the button down?  Did I put in a sample stick?  Do I need a ride to Costco to buy a new one?  They are either being incredibly kind or are incredibly concerned for my mental health, not that I blame them.  Ilona sends this fantastic video showing how to reset the Clearblue Easy (which I recommend you watch, no matter how many children you have or never want to have,) and that night, I go home and follow it.  Lo and behold, the machine works.

Then I sit down to have dinner, and Mama Greek calls, supposedly looking for Tony.

“He’s at work,” I tell her, suspiciously.  My mother-in-law has Tony’s "celery phone" number, and is not afraid to use it.

“Oh,” she says.  “How you doing?”


“I see story on the news,” she begins, and I mime stabbing my fork into my eyes, even though there’s no one there to see me.  “So many women, they try to adopt baby, then get pregnant.”

“Yes, you’ve told me that before,” I say, trying to sound patient, and failing.

“So try not to think about.” 

I look at the Clearblue Easy box, packaging, instructions in English and French and two boxes of sticks strewn across the kitchen table.

“I'll try.”

“Because maybe you think about, make worse.”


“You know how happy I be to be grandmother,” she adds, quickly, in case there’s some confusion. "And I know how happy you be to be mother, but don’t think about.”

“Okay,” I say. 

“Just relax.”


“Think about NOT having baby.”


She wishes me goodnight.

And I put the weird little machine on the bathroom shelf where I’ll see it tomorrow morning, and go to sleep.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Why Are You Squeezing Me with Your Body?

originally posted on 365 Attempts [at life]

Mama Greek knows we did IUI.  You may think we’re crazy for telling her, but she’s pretty astute: she knows we want to have a kid, and she can see there’s no kid.  We don’t want her to give up hope, so we feed her crumbs.  If you've ever met an old Greek lady, you understand why.

So a few days after the - ahem - procedure, she calls to check up on me.  Tony’s out that night, and I’m burrowed into the couch cushions under a blanket, watching old episodes of Arrested Development.

“Tony tell me you do the thing, and I want to know if you okay,” she declares, when I answer the phone.

“I’m fine,” I laugh.  “Don’t worry.”

“I don’t know if it’s difficult, or if you have pain or ever.”  (Or ever = Mama Greek Speak for ‘whatever’.)  “Because Tony tell me you have hard time.”

“No pain,” I say.  

Which is the truth, unless you count the fact that I’ve started having insane insomnia.  I’d googled this (always a smart idea,) and learned that insomnia happens to less than 1% of women who take Clomid. But I’ve always been sensitive to drugs.  Not that I know this from experience.

Anyway, the hard time Tony's referring to is that Clomid turned me into a raging lunatic, but thankfully that's over now. (I know what you're thinking, keep it to yourself.)

“Well, I’m glad you okay,” Mama Greek says.

But suddenly, I want her to know that I’m not okay.  I want her, just for a second, to know the sleeplessness I’m going through in the hopes of having a child.  I want her to acknowledge my pain, and my suffering.

“The thing itself wasn’t hard,” I say.  “It’s just that I’ve got -

“Good, good.  I’m glad.”

“Yes. But I’m having -

“Well, Natalie, I’m glad you okay."

"I'm having a really hard time -

"Go relax now, okay?  Kiss Ruble for me.  Goodnight.”

And with that, she hangs up.


On Sunday, we find out that the IUI didn’t work.  Tony and I try to deal with this by taking Ruble for a walk, and mopily eating sandwiches at a picnic table in the park.

“Call your mother and tell her,” I tell him.  “I don’t want to deal with any questions at dinner tonight about whether I’m okay.  And please tell her I don’t want to talk about it.”

He obliges.

A few hours later, we arrive at Mama Greek’s.  Tony heads to the bathroom to wash his hands, and I’m not even out of my coat before she sidles up to me.

“So,” she says, scrunching up her face sympathetically. “It not work, eh?”

“No,” I say, gently, “but I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Okay.” She pats my arm.  “But are you sure it not work?  When I get pregnant with Tony...”

“I don’t. Want. To talk about it."  This time, I say it loudly enough that Tony can hear.

“MA!” Tony shouts from the bathroom.  “DON’T.”

“Okay,” she whispers, “but -

“Shhhh,” I say, cutting her off.  “Go relax now, okay?”

I hold my finger to my lips, and walk away.  


The reason I don’t want to discuss the comings and goings of my womb with Mama Greek is not because I want to annoy her, although I admit it’s a nice bonus.  It’s because I’m starting to learn that it’s really hard to deal with my own feelings when I’m also trying to care of someone else’s.  In this case, I know my and Tony’s feelings are the only feelings that count.  But, although she’s hiding it well, MG is devastated not to be a grandmother, and it’s hard for me not to feel responsible for this.  

So I’m pleasantly surprised at my decision, and resolution, not to talk about it with her.  Less pleasing is how I’m dealing with some of the other stuff.  Reading the fertility discussion boards, where my fellow <1%ers share their experiences with Clomid insomnia, I keep coming across this sentiment:

“I don’t care what I have to go through if it leads to a baby in the end.”

But here's the thing: I do care.  And the more I go through, the more I care.  I hate being tired all the time.  Just recently, after years of restricting 15 zillion variations of gluten, sugar, booze, dairy and grains, I’ve started to just eat what I feel like eating.  It was like getting out of prison, and I was loving every minute of it.  And then yesterday, I had my first appointment with a new acupuncturist, one who specializes in infertility. 

“Stop eating cheese,” she says.  "Also sugar, and fatty meats.  And no more alcohol.”  

Basically, my 4 favourite things on earth.

I have no doubt this is partially fuelled by fatigue, but I’m starting to wonder: not sleeping for months on end, in order to conceive something that’s going to prevent me from sleeping for another 2 (or is it 18) years?  Going back to reading ingredients on every box at the grocery store, and not being able to even have a whole grain spinach organic goddamn turkey wrap when I'm about to faint from hunger? Asking irritating questions in restaurants? (“Do you thicken the sauce with flour? Could you ask the chef if there's sugar in this?”)  No glass of wine on a terrace with a friend on a sunny spring Montreal evening?  Spending unthinkable amounts of money to have needles poked in my face every week?

Is it really worth it?

Those of you with kids will probably tell me it is.  Or, you might reassure me that you shot crack cocaine for the full 9 months of your pregnancy and your child is now graduating from law at Harvard.  I’m open to all advice (as long as it’s not “just relax and it will happen,”) but for the first time since this whole thing began, I’m drawing a line.  


I’ll decide where as soon as I'm done this cheeseburger.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Fun with Fertility*

*not that kind of fun. RUDE.

a version of this was originally posted on 365 Attempts [at life]

It’s 9:40 - 20 minutes until blog deadline time - and I’m panicking .  I’ve been putting this blog together all week, but somehow it’s just not clicking for me.  I blame the Clomid.  This week, I blame everything on the Clomid.
I took my first pill last Friday night, because I’m doing IUI this month.  But the thing is, when it comes to health, I’m a crunch-fest.  I LOVE health food stores.  I read books about vitamins… for fun!  I haven’t taken so much as an antibiotic since 1995, and if you’ll let me, I’ll talk your ear off about all the pitfalls of Western medicine.  But I also want to get pregnant, and I’m 36 years old.
Obviously, I did my googling.  What I learned is that Clomid might help me get pregnant, yes, but it could also cause me give birth to a horribly deformed Elephant child, with no brain. I went back and forth for weeks, until I finally consulted two of my closest friends.  One took Clomid for 7 months, and is one of the most scientifically-minded people I know.
“It’ll make your boobs bigger,” she said.
The other friend pointed out that if something does go awry, I’ll never know if it was because of the Clomid, or just because of the risks of having a baby in my (gulp) “later years.” 
“You’re right,” I told her.  “Also, I’d love to no longer be able to fit into t-shirts from the girls' section at the Gap.”
And so it began.
The first few days were pretty okay.  My crack research skills also uncovered the fact that if you take Clomid at night, you supposedly miss out on most of the side effects.  I actually started sleeping better, which was a thrill.  Hello, a drug that can knock you up and knock you out?  What took me so long?
Yeah, there were a few hot flashes, but nothing I couldn’t handle.  In fact, hot flashes have their benefits.  On Saturday night, I left my brother’s show at 1:30 in the morning and strutted down Parc Avenue without a jacket, feeling pretty pleased with myself.
The nausea came, but even that wasn’t so bad.  I texted my friend, and told her that Clomid was like being pregnant without actually being pregnant. 
“What about the hormones?” she asked.  “Won’t this cycle be a little Keith Richards for you?”
“Nah,” I replied.  “It’s all physical for me.  I’m good.”
The next day, I was Keith Richards. Also, Sid Vicious, and Simon Cowell. 
I’d woken up 300 times the night before, either bathed in sweat or freezing cold. In the bathroom in the morning, I said something not very nice to Tony, and, because he hadn’t yet put two and two together, he said something not very nice back.  I retaliated.  He (wisely) retreated downstairs.  I followed.  
I could hear myself yelling, feel myself crying, see in the mirror that I had become that woman -  the one with the crazy hair and the mascara streaming down her face before 8am.  But there was nothing I could do.  Tony, who still couldn’t figure out why his wife had turned into Linda Blair, asked what was wrong.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.  ”WHAT’S WRONG?” I was too angry to answer.  How could he not know? Why did this have to be me and not him?  WHAT IF I WAS LIKE THIS FOREVER? 
Somehow, though, I calmed down, made it to work, and got through the day without killing or eating anyone.  
“The storm has passed,” I thought, that evening, and sat down to meditate.
Oh boy.
You know how you’re not supposed to sweat the small stuff?  Apparently, on Clomid, I sweat the incidental stuff.  I hated our house.  I hated how we have so many walls without pictures on them. I hated our bed, and our bed sheets, and my hair, and basically everyone.  I knew it didn’t make sense, but there was nothing I could do - I felt totally disconnected from common reasoning.  
“You better sleep downstairs tonight,” I snarled at Tony, when he came into the bedroom.  But he was now wise in the ways of Clomid, and hugged me, and let me cry about Ebert and my cousin-in-law’s cat and other sad things, and then told me a story about a guy in the metro station and a salami, which I will do you the favour of not sharing here.  It made me laugh hysterically, and then I passed out for 10 hours. 
And that was it. Well, yesterday I had the worst headache of my life, but I’ll take that over batshit crazy any day of the week.  I really don’t think I can handle another round of Clomid if this doesn’t work out, but I’m not going to think about that right now.  Some days, you just gotta be thankful for what you got.  And on that note, if you’ll please excuse me.  I’m going to put on my Gap girls t-shirt and watch some TV.