More than a Handmaid


Last night, after putting Sam to bed and catching up with Kyle and Kat about how their days went, I settled in to watch The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu. The Handmaid’s Tale is one of my alltime favorite books, not just from a feminist perspective (which is hugely important, and I’ll get to that in a bit), but because Margaret Atwood is a fantastic writer, the kind I dream of being. She has such a remarkable command of the English language, and her prose is rich and engrossing. The Handmaid’s Tale is one of those books that, even when you just read a chapter or two, makes you wonder what day it is when you finally put it down; you’re that pulled into the world.

The story, for the uninitiated, features a dystopian world in which the abuse of religion in a political setting has led to severe oppression of women, who are seen as nothing more than various appliances, their function delineated by their societal caste, and their caste determined by their age and whether or not they have functioning ovaries.

In other words: their worth is 100% determined by whether or not they can have children.

A lot of other factors go into how women are treated in this society, but it all revolves around their fertility and behavior. If you’re infertile (as many women in this society are; the society doesn’t allow for the possibility of male factor infertility, which is a contributing factor in roughly a third of all infertility cases), your behavior is everything. “Good” women might get to be Wives; “bad” women are designated as Unwomen and sent to the Colonies to clean up radioactive waste until they wither away and die.

(I’m sorry, this isn’t funny at all, I’m a terrible person)

That said, a “bad” woman with functioning ovaries has a special role in this society, that of a Handmaid. The Handmaid’s only purpose in life is to conceive and bear children for Gilead’s high-powered men. She undergoes testing to monitor her menstrual cycle and, once a month, participates in a Ceremony, in which she lies on the Wife’s lap while her– well, let’s be honest. Her owner rapes her in the interest of conceiving a child. If she can’t conceive and deliver a living child over the course of two years, she’s assigned to another house. If she fails to conceive over the course of three separate assignments, she’s considered an Unwoman and goes where Unwomen go–to the Colonies, to die a slow, agonizing death.

It’s such a rich world, and I could honestly spend hours on end writing analyses of it, discussing it in its overall societal and historical context, marveling in horror that nothing that happens in the book hasn’t happened somewhere in our world at some point in history… but that’s been done. I wanted to talk about fertility and infertility and struggling to grieve my infertility as a feminist.

(yes, a super light topic for your Thursday; tune in next week when we discuss the nuances and nature of the soul and theories surrounding the nature of man based on readings from Plato and Aristotle that I will assign after class)


Part of the truth that The Handmaid’s Tale is set to remind us of is that women are not their ability to conceive and carry children. Throughout the course of history, in various settings (see: Henry VIII and his six wives, a desperate bid for a male heir that saw his rotation of partners not as individuals but as potential brood mares), the lie that women are only as good as their ability to procreate has been told again and again and again. We are not our ability to conceive and carry children.

We’re not even our desire or lack thereof to conceive and carry children. I have a bunch of friends who are childfree by choice, including Kat the Fantastic. They don’t want to have kids now or ever; they’d have the whole system removed, if they could (admittedly, so would I, if that wouldn’t make it… yanno, impossible to have biological kids). Some of them talk about maybe eventually mentoring or adopting older children and teenagers about to age out of the system, but most of them are perfectly content to live their lives without ever raising a child, and that’s awesome.

So I believe all of that, wholeheartedly. I am not my ability to reproduce or my desire to reproduce or just the person who reproduced (though I’m happy to be that person). I’m so much more (writer with a wry sense of humor, imaginative gamer, traveler who wishes that traveling didn’t cost dollars, eventual collector of many cats, wife and friend). I’m aware of all that. I’m aware that I’m good at my job, and I’m aware of how frustrated I am by how much it defines me. I’m aware that I really love food, and I’m aware that I really love food way too much. I’m aware that I make things awkward in my house when I start singing along with Hamilton while wearing headphones and forgetting half the lyrics.

(we get past about this point and I’m like “I can’t hear that fast.”)

I know who I am, and it’s so much more than a pair of ovaries that don’t know what they’re doing, than a uterus that’s an absolute asshole (how’s that for an anatomical conundrum), than wanting to give Sam a sibling or having wanted Sam in the first place. I know all of that.

But it doesn’t make it hurt any less.

I’ve been talking with Kat a lot lately about infertility. She’s childfree by choice, as I’ve mentioned before, and she doesn’t get the desire to have kids. I’ve ended up describing it a lot in terms of a good metaphor I’ve found: climbing Mount Everest.

Look, climbing Mount Everest is 100% not for everyone. For the life of me, I cannot imagine wanting to climb it instead of just reaching out of a helicopter and booping the peak during a fly-by. Training to climb the tallest peak in the world is beyond physically demanding, and even if you’re in peak physical health, the climb is dangerous and stressful. People die on that journey so regularly that the various corpses along the trail have become landmarks (if you have a strong stomach for that sort of thing, google “Green Boots”). I look at it, and I’m utterly grateful that climbing Mount Everest is not mandatory, because I will be A-okay my entire life without doing it.

(pictured: not me)

But some people really want to climb Mount Everest, I mean really want to. They don’t just wake up one morning and say, “What-ho, I think I shall climb this mountain and be done in time for lunch.” They train for years, scaling the most dangerous peaks in the world to prepare for the climb. If and when they eventually get to Everest, they do everything they’ve trained to do, everything they’ve learned over years and years, sometimes even decades of practice.

And sometimes, they still don’t make it.

Sometimes, the weather is just too bad to attempt the climb. Sometimes, travel plans fall through and they can’t get to Nepal at all. Sometimes, they make it partway up the mountain but have to turn back. Worst case scenario, they become another body for future climbers to use as a landmark on their journey to the peak (but let’s hope that doesn’t happen). And holy crap, that must suck! These people put so much time, money, energy, and health into preparing to climb Mount Everest, and then something happens that prevents it from taking place.

(can you see where I’m going with this metaphor? Because if not, I don’t know how to help you, I’m sorry)

So in this context, it’d probably be something of a jerk move to tell someone who’s really wanted to climb Mount Everest and tried so hard and invested so much, “It’s alright, you don’t have to climb Mount Everest” or “you’re more than your mountain climbing.” Like yes, this is true, I get it and agree with it, but as the metaphorical climber, I really want to climb Mount Everest and I am extremely bummed that I can’t do it.

(I should emphasize again that you couldn’t get me to actually climb Mount Everest if you dragged me up there like some sort of freaky human backpack)

(pictured: freaky human backpack)

It boils down to another one of those things that’s hard to navigate about infertility, especially looking at it from a feminist perspective. I’m 100% aware and understanding that even though a lot of my life is currently orbiting fertility treatments (largely by necessity), my ability to reproduce and my desire to reproduce are not the only things about me. I’m also aware that I can and do live a full and happy life without having another child; that if we go through all six cycles of IVF and every single frozen embryo we transfer is a dud and somehow we can’t adopt in the (sort of distant because adoption costs more dollars than we have) future, I’ll be okay. I’ll recenter myself and be alright.

But in the moment, I’m sad and frustrated and disappointed, and it honestly boils down to exactly that: having a child (another one) is something that I really want to do. I like being a mom; I like it a lot. It’s not all of who I am, but it’s something that I thoroughly enjoy, like I enjoy being a wife and a friend and a daughter and a sister and myself as not defined by any other human being. I don’t feel like my inability to conceive and carry a child means that I’m worth less as a person or worthless as a person; I know that it doesn’t.

It’s still frustrating, though. The whole world gives you messages of “you can do anything you set your mind to,” and “don’t let your dreams be dreams” and the truth of the matter ends up being that, no, you can’t necessarily do everything you want to, even if it’s something that doesn’t hurt anyone, even if it’s something that everyone should be able to do.

Getting back to The Handmaid’s Tale, and deviating slightly. It was interesting to me how viscerally the show portrayed the emotional toll of the infertility crisis that’s part of the background of the story (tl;dr – pollution and disease have resulted in plummeting birth rates, something that an Aunt–one of the women in charge of training Handmaids–blames on “sluts”). People can’t get pregnant or stay pregnant, and if they manage both of those things, the babies they have end up having such severe birth defects that they don’t survive. In one scene, the main character–Offred, then called June–has just given birth to her daughter. She makes her way to the nursery with her daughter and her daughter’s nurse and finds it empty, where it was full the night before. “Where are the other babies?” she asks, and the nurse sadly remarks, “Two are in the ICU, and the others are with God.”

Later, a woman–I like to think she was the mom of one of the babies that were with God–tries to steal June’s baby, killing the nurse and absconding with June’s daughter in her arms. The scene is fraught with screaming, June and her husband Luke screaming to get their child back; the baby screaming for her mother; the police screaming at the woman to get her under control; the woman screaming for her lost child.

As June goes into the hospital to give birth, protesters stand around the doorways, screaming and praying and doing general protest things. They’re all desperate to have children.

When June finds out that she’s pregnant, she speaks of it in hushed tones with her best friend Moira. Moira is thrilled for her, but June is having a hard time being excited because her chances of miscarrying or giving birth to a baby that eventually dies are so high.

Once the world goes to hell, June is renamed Offred and serves Commander Fred Waterford and his wife, Serena Joy. The show hasn’t quite gone there yet, but in the book, Serena is desperate to have a child, so desperate that she breaks the rules entirely and allows Offred to sleep with their driver and Guardian, Nick. Most of what we’ve seen so far in the show is subtler (and I haven’t seen the third episode yet–I started watching too late last night to finish all three, so I may miss the mark here); Serena doesn’t do anything yet that’s so desperate or insidious. But she’s still brokenhearted at the violation of her own life going on during the Ceremony, and she’s still feigning happiness when another Handmaid–Ofwarren, formerly known as Janine–gives birth.

And you know, I really appreciate all of those portrayals. No, that’s not a strong enough word. I love the way the show is treating this. If there’s any show in the world that could be called blatantly feminist, it’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and if there’s one single thing that anyone could take from the show (please, if you watch it, take more than one single thing from it), it’s that women are more than their ability to reproduce. But the show takes things a step further; it doesn’t just leave this idea of you are not your ovaries and uterus. It shows us that even when you know that, you can still feel pain at being unable to conceive and give birth and raise a child; and conversely, that just because you really want to have a kid doesn’t mean that you’re nothing but reproductive organs and a body that houses them.

(and because I love it, has a really excellent review of the first three episodes here; be forewarned that this stuff is pretty brutal)

Here I Go Again


This is my second FET cycle and my fifth overall ART cycle. (that’s frozen embryo transfer and assisted reproductive technology, for the uninitiated)

I got the go-ahead to start medications yesterday, so I’m currently on 1mg twice daily of estrogen and 81mg once daily of baby aspirin to keep me from getting blood clots (a serious risk when you start pumping your body full of estrogen). On May 1, I’ll be switching over to 2mg twice daily of estrogen (still just 81mg once daily of aspirin), and then on May 5, I’ll start taking 2mg three times daily of estrogen… and 81mg once daily of aspirin. On May 9, I go in for bloodwork and an ultrasound to make sure that my uterine lining is thickening the way it should be and that my body has enough hormones hanging out in it, and the next day, May 10, I start with my progesterone.

(the progesterone is not a pill)

In theory, this all means that the embryo transfer will be on May 15, which is both earlier and later than I’d hoped. Thankfully, I’ll be insanely busy during that particular two week wait, since Kyle and I are taking Sam down to Texas for a long weekend between May 18 and 22, and travel always gets me running around like a chicken with my head cut off. I’m already anticipating the chaos of the week leading up to that trip: finishing last minute things at work, trying to make sure I’ve got enough cute and summery clothes for a weekend in Texas in May (which is like a weekend in Massachusetts in July, really), packing ALL the things, etc.

I’m trying not to get my hopes up, like I’d said before. It’s entirely possible, in fact based on all the available evidence, it’s likely that this transfer will end in a failure or a miscarriage or both at the same time. I’m trying not to get my hopes up, but I still keep finding myself imagining the good ending, the one where this pregnancy actually ends with a baby.

I imagine finally getting to announce a pregnancy to my family and friends, having no trouble keeping it hidden until whatever date Kyle and I agree on as an arbitrary “hey guess what, we’re finally knocked up” date. I imagine what our announcement will look like… maybe something simple like Sam reading a book about “how to be a big brother” or just wearing a T-shirt that says “big brother” on it. Maybe something like last time, something that employs Kyle and my design knowledge.

(actual announcement when we were expecting Sam)

I imagine feeling movement for the first time, recognizing it as such before I recognized it with Sam. I imagine seeing a viable heartbeat fluttering away on the first ultrasound, the nuchal translucency scan, the anatomy scan. I imagine watching another baby kicking and arching and moving and alive, beautifully alive.

I imagine losing my feet, waddling about in absolute agony with a baby settled between my hips and not moving anywhere for the life of me or itself. I imagine being swollen like a sausage and being able to draw smiley faces in my swollen legs as I countdown the minutes to giving birth. I imagine making excuses for myself throughout the summer as morning sickness keeps me from enjoying company breakfasts and barbecues and much beyond a summer treat. I imagine how incredibly tired I’ll be for the first three months and the last three, how warm I’ll feel, how Kyle will inch away from me while we’re sleeping because I’ll be a little oven of a person.

I imagine the celebratory things that I usually think are way too twee for me but that I really want to embrace this time. I imagine having a wonderful maternity shoot with my friend Melanie (who took our wedding pictures and my maternity pictures with Sam AND Sam’s newborn pictures… what can I say, when you find the best photographer ever, you stick with her), and I imagine somehow managing to score a photoshoot at Boston’s Museum of Science. I’m pretty sure this can’t happen unless you pay them a hefty fee, but I still like the idea of a baby conceived through science being celebrated surrounded by science (ideal shots: me next to an oversized model of a pregnant mom, me among the planets in the solar system, me next to the giant model of a black widow spider looking sufficiently freaked out).

(literally this but the size of a small dog)

I imagine, too, that I’ll give the whole thing a rainbow theme. In miscarriage and infant loss circles, a “rainbow baby” is any baby conceived and born after a loss–the rainbow after the storm. Kat thinks this whole idea is, frankly, silly, but I love it, maybe because it’s silly. I don’t want to do anything really elaborate–no flying with rainbows or running around naked surrounded by rainbows of tulle or anything like that. Maybe just a rainbow of paint or a rainbow in my hands. Something simple.

In the vein of twee things, I imagine doing a gender reveal. I know, I know, gender is a social construct and the genitalia of a fetus does not necessarily determine how said child will identify later in life and does not take into account intersex children and furthers the gender binary and so on. I still want to do it. I still want to go and get some balloons for Sam to discover in pink or blue. I still really hope for pink because my god, do I want to have a little girl. I’m still a little nervous about blue because I have no idea what I’d name another boy or if I could handle two little boys.

(it is my understanding that the more boys you have, the more your life starts to resemble Malcolm in the Middle, and I’m just not cool enough to manage that)

I imagine celebrating in one more twee way: I want to have shirts for me and this imaginary baby that say something along the lines of “made with love and science.” I really want to honor that, the impact science has had on the creation and expansion of this family. It’s something to be celebrated, I feel; without science, there wouldn’t even be a me and Kyle, let alone a me and Kyle and Kat and Sam and maybe one more.

I imagine exhausting late pregnancy appointments, ignoring the number on the scale whenever I step on it, going and going and maybe having another induction or maybe needing a C-section or maybe delivering completely without intervention (except an epidural, I want like ten of those). And then I imagine actually holding this child that I’ve been trying SO HARD to conceive for the past two years and knowing that it’s all been worth it.

That’s what I imagine. And then I remind myself that it hasn’t happened and that the odds are not in my favor, so I should probably get back to work and planning Sam’s birthday and getting ready to head to Texas and things like that.

TTDTY: Gallbladder Edition

So one of the things I really wanted to do with this blog was to write a series of posts about things that nobody ever talks about regarding pregnancy, infertility, and childbirth. It’s always frustrated me that I can learn about all the ins and outs of reproduction and childrearing, but a lot of the apparently really common things I experienced are left out entirely; and so, I’m hoping to remedy that! This is



I first started noticing the pain about seven months into my pregnancy, around the time I went from looking pregnant to looking like I was dying to be asked if I was expecting twins, apparently. The pain situated itself in my right side, around the bottom of my ribcage. Googling told me that such pain is common in late pregnancy as your body parts shift to make room for the growing denizen in your uterus, so I didn’t worry about it too much.

But not worrying didn’t mean I didn’t suffer. For the last two months of my pregnancy, I just could not get comfortable, even beyond the usual late pregnancy misery. The pain showed up late at night, and I always figured that it was just Sam punching upwards or kicking my ribs or something along those lines. I expected it would go away after I gave birth.


I ended up getting an induction at 40 weeks, 3 days, after noticing that Sam was moving less. I had a nonstress test the morning before my induction, and Sam passed with flying colors, but my liver enzyme levels were elevated, as was my blood pressure. My doctor didn’t see the point in waiting. “If we wait much longer, you may have to be induced anyway, so why risk it? Let’s take care of this now.” And so, Sam was born with just the right amount of fanfare and a labor that I’d describe as 99% perfect.

For the first several days after his birth, I was too tired to care about any discomfort I might have felt, either from my body putting itself back together or from trying to sleep in a hospital bed. Even when we got home, I functioned purely on survival mode for a month, sleeping when I could and not really noticing any discomfort beyond what seemed entirely normal to me. I couldn’t tell you, honestly, if the pain was still there in those days and even weeks. I was out of my head with busyness.

IMG_0348(with good reason)

By a month in, Kyle and I had worked out something of a schedule, and things were settling into a new normal. His parents were up visiting from Texas, meeting their grandson for the first time, and things seemed to be going pretty well. One night, Kyle made dinner for all of us–his most delicious, caloric, cholesterol-laden dish, taco pizza.

(not exactly this,  but close)

As usual, the pizza was delicious, but that night, the pain showed up in my back again, the same spot as before. I assumed that it was just my body shifting back into its pre-baby position, but MAN did it hurt. And nothing touched the pain! I took extra-strength Tylenol and Aleve; I alternated between ice packs and heating pads; I slept on the couch watching a Robin Williams marathon so that I wouldn’t wake Kyle or the baby with my writhing. Finally, around 4 in the morning, the agony subsided and I fell into an exhausted sleep.

When I had a free moment the next day, I googled again. Once again, the results led me to believe that what I’d experienced was normal, that my body was just shifting back into place, that the pain would eventually subside.

The pain came again, shortly before my six week postpartum visit, and I brought it up with the doctor I saw–not my usual doctor, who was on paternity leave, but the doctor who delivered Sam. She told me it was perfectly normal and that some people kept having pain until at least six months postpartum. She said that I should notice the pain diminishing over time, and that it should be gone by that fall. That didn’t sound fun, but I still took her at her word and went home, preparing for more agony.


And sure enough, it came. It came twice more, the second time by far the most incredible pain I’ve ever experienced, including childbirth. That second time, around Sam’s third month of life, I’d spent the day in Newport with my family and enjoyed a dinner of pasta with alfredo sauce. Kyle and I took shifts during the night watching Sam, so that we could each get a good ~5 hours of uninterrupted sleep; I’d been sleeping during Kyle’s shift for about two hours when the pain hit. It started out as the usual discomfort around my right floating rib, but it quickly became something far worse. I felt the desperate need to evacuate everything in my body and made multiple trips to the toilet. I couldn’t lie down. I couldn’t stand up. I was in more pain than I’d ever experienced in my life.

orbhzia(on a scale of 1-10, it was about a 300)

Around five or six in the morning, it started to subside, but I’d had enough. Kyle and I called my mother, and she came to the house to watch Sam; as soon as she arrived, we drove to our local urgent care clinic, and I had the first appointment of the morning.

I told the doctor about the pain, how long I’d been experiencing it, when it began, and so on. He sent me down for X-rays, just in case, but added that it sounded to him like I had a nasty case of gallstones and set up an appointment for me to get an ultrasound later that week for confirmation. Sure enough, lying in the same room where I’d learned that Sam was a boy, I learned that I had gallstones, hundreds of tiny ones that kept getting clogged in the duct that led to my liver. Those stones getting clogged caused the agony I’d felt; the ultrasound technician remarked that plenty of people thought they were having a heart attack when they got gallstones. I believed her.

Here was the funny thing, though: everyone who found out that I’d been pregnant before getting gallstones seemed unsurprised. “That’ll do it,” said the doctor, the ultrasound tech, the surgeon, the nurse who took my blood a week before surgery, the OR nurses who took care of me before and after the operation. As it turns out, pregnancy frequently causes gallstones–something about the excess estrogen in the bloodstream. Gallstones can cause elevated liver enzyme levels–something my obstetrician had suspected were caused by intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy–and it’s entirely possible they were causing me that pain and discomfort even before Sam was born.

And I had no idea! None of the websites or books I read ever mentioned anything about gallstones as something that could happen during or after pregnancy, even though they’re incredibly common. It was just so weird to me, and I wish I’d known about their likelihood beforehand. I might have been a little more mindful of my pain and a little less likely to dismiss it as “just normal pregnancy discomfort.”

I really have no idea how to wrap this up except by saying that if you have a gallbladder and have recently been pregnant, be mindful of any pain or discomfort you experience, and don’t write it off as “just postpartum pain.” If you’re experiencing pain that wakes you up, that keeps you from sleeping, that won’t go away no matter what you do, call your doctor and insist that they take you seriously. Nobody should live in pain if they don’t have to.

Making a Jackass of Myself

The trouble didn’t really start yesterday until I got home from work. Sam was cheerfully watching PAW Patrol and playing with Duplos. After we said good-bye to my mother, he trotted over to cuddle on my lap, there wanting to play with me and watch videos on my phone, as we tend to do in the afternoon.

And really, it didn’t start until I started playing with the Duplos. He wanted me to build a light saber and fight him, but I was exhausted from a busy day at work and the looming prospect of cooking dinner. I stacked the 1×1 bricks into a tower, light saber style, and then held the tower against my nose. “I’m Pinocchio!” I told Sam and received a blank stare in response.


Oh. Right. My son isn’t quite three yet, and we don’t own Pinocchio, and it’s too popular of a Disney film to be available on Netflix or On Demand. It’s a classic, so they want you to spend lots of money on it, but I’m just not that committed. Pinocchio hasn’t ever been one of my favorites, though until last night, I’d forgotten why. Still, when Sam didn’t understand that reference, I went into Google-fu mode and pulled up a clip of Pinocchio dancing to “I’ve Got No Strings.” Sam thought it was hilarious, particularly the Russian marionettes at the end, kicking themselves in the head and shouting, “Hey!” He wanted more, so I blindly tapped on the next video.

My mistake.


As an adult, you realize a lot of things about “charming” children’s films you watched in your youth. Pinocchio, for example, is about as charming as the latest installment of the Saw franchise. Oh, sure, it starts out innocently enough, with a kindly old man wishing on a star to have a son and a blue fairy granting his wish by giving life to a puppet, but it’s all downhill from there. The living puppet gets kidnapped by an amalgamation of racist stereotypes who threatens to literally murder him if he doesn’t stay in his cage and perform on the road. That “I’ve Got No Strings” scene? It’s immediately followed by Pinocchio’s kidnapper laughing maniacally as he throws Pinocchio into a birdcage and throwing an axe at a pile of splintered wood that used to be marionettes just like Pinocchio. Yikes.

(“this is the axe I will use to tear you limb from limb if you try to run away”)

And that’s just the beginning! The movie ends with a terrifying sequence involving a giant whale that could only be described as “rabid.” The beast, drawn with horrific exaggerated features, chases Pinocchio and his kindly father (and a cat and a goldfish and a cricket) through the ocean before attempting to crush them against a seawall. And he actually succeeds in killing Pinocchio! (I mean, inasmuch as one can kill a child made out of wood)

(a family picture)

AND THAT ISN’T EVEN THE SCARIEST SCENE. The scariest scene, by far, takes place on a place called Pleasure Island. On Pleasure Island, “bad boys” can run wild to their heart’s content: drinking beer, smoking cigars, destroying a house, fighting, eating all the delicious food they want, and so on. The average denizen looks to be between the ages of eight and ten, so you can imagine their propensity for chaos. Things are not as they seem, though, as we’re taken below and discover that this island is magic: it turns “bad boys” into donkeys (“jackasses” per the film). Once they’ve completely lost their humanity, they’re sold into various forms of slavery in salt mines or circuses or various other places.

As if that’s not horrifying enough, we the audience get to watch this transformation take place. Pinocchio, hanging out in a pool hall with his new friend Lampwick, takes a long drag of his cigar and then sees Lampwick’s ears turn to donkey ears. A tail bursts from the back of Lampwick’s pants, and his face becomes that of a donkey. “What do I look like: a jackass?” Lampwick asks with a laugh, sounding every bit like a Chicago gangster.

“You sure do!” Pinocchio also laughs, but his laugh morphs into a donkey’s bray.

Lampwick, still naive to what’s happened, finds this hilarious. He laughs, but his laugh, too, becomes a donkey’s bray, and he clamps his hands over his mouth in horror. AND NOW THINGS GET REALLY FUN. Lampwick realizes that he’s turning into a donkey, and the bravado and tough-guy image vanish in an instant. He panics, as you do, and claws at Pinocchio, begging him for help, but there’s nothing Pinocchio can do as his friend’s hands turn to hooves. Lampwick’s pleas for help turn to only one word, a scream of “MAMA!” as the transformation completes. The donkey formerly known as Lampwick kicks and runs in terror, braying and screaming.

(Walt Disney, are you okay)

It is fucked. up.

So. Which of those scenes did I accidentally show my almost-three-year-old? The deceptively charming opening? The whale? The chopped up marionettes? OR THE DONKEYS.

(it was the donkeys)

I think I’d suppressed how horrifying that scene really is (seriously, Walt Disney, what was wrong with you making that scene), along with its wretched implication that these children deserved this horror because they were “bad boys.” As the scene progressed, I felt a mix of emotions, the most prominent of which was the sinking regret of knowing I’d just created a new phobia for my son.

His tiny hands gripped my arm tightly as the scene played out. When it was over, we sat in silence for a beat, before he said in a quavering voice, as if fighting back tears, “I don’t want that.”


I flew into damage control mode. The first step was to give him some resolution. I showed him the ending scene of Pinocchio and pointed out, hey, Pinocchio’s not a donkey anymore and he’s okay and everyone’s happy!

(except Lampwick)

Then I gave him a hug and told him very firmly that you cannot turn into a donkey. Little boys do not turn into donkeys no matter what they do. This movie is not real. And for good measure, I added that I would never let that happen to him anyway, and if anyone ever hurt him or tried to hurt him, I would kick them and punch them and hit them.

(he liked that quite a lot)

But now he started going on about the donkeys in his room. “Mommy, go upstairs and kick and punch and hit the donkeys in my room,” he ordered. So we had to tackle the donkey issue now. I explained that no, there were no donkeys in his room and that donkeys are actually quite sweet creatures. I showed him cute videos of donkeys and then Donkey from Shrek as comparison. Eventually, he calmed down and hugged me and said, “You’re the best Mommy ever, you’ll kick and punch and hit them,” which assuaged my guilt a little bit.

But of course, that was undone entirely this morning, when Sam climbed up into my lap and said, “Mommy, do you remember the video and he turned into a donkey? That was scary.”

Sigh. All I can really say in my defense is that sometimes, you get a blue fairy to grant a wish and sometimes, you make a complete jackass out of yourself.

Easter and Tradition

Yesterday was Easter.

When I was a kid, we had a lot of Easter traditions. The day before Easter, we all piled into my parents’ minivan and trekked out to Hebert’s Candy Mansion in Shrewsbury, MA, for our annual purchase of Easter delights (Hebert’s has wonderful solid chocolate bunnies and probably some of the best tasting chocolate I’ve had in my life). Once we’d spent way too much money on sugary goods, we’d head home and dye eggs. My mother hard boiled a dozen large white eggs, and my brother, sister, and I sat around half a dozen coffee cups filled with vinegar and fizzing tablets intended to stain the eggs in red and blue and purple and green.


The next morning, we rose before dawn (we had to get all the Easter festivities out of the way before heading off to church) and typically went through an extended telling of the Easter story over breakfast before combing the house for hidden eggs and Easter baskets. The baskets were stocked simply: the candy we’d purchased the day before and maybe a simple gift, usually with a religious theme (one year, we all got Bibles; another year, it was all Christian literature. In contrast, though, one year, we all got small toys–my sister and I got My Little Pony bunnies and my brother got a toy train).

From there, the day varied year by year. Every year, we went to church. Some years, my siblings and I sang in a church chorus that my dad directed (I think they still have the video of all of us shriek-singing “Hear the Bells Ringing,” the congregation falling over themselves with laughter at the sudden bombastic increase in volume as we all exclaim, “JOY TO THE WORLD!”). Other years, we sniffled our way through a simpler service, all reminded that we’d inherited my mother’s allergy to Easter lilies. After church, we often had my mother’s family visit, which meant a lot of cleaning and cooking and prepping of our little house. At some point in the afternoon, my dad and my uncles went out into the yard and hid candy-filled eggs for the little kids to find and money-filled eggs for us big kids. It was almost always cold and rainy.

Kyle and I take a much simpler approach to Easter, owing at least partly to the fact that neither of us are really church-goers… and partly to the fact that Sam is still not quite three and has only the vaguest grasp of concepts like “Easter” and “candy” and “look for the eggs.” We don’t dye eggs because nobody in our house really eats hard boiled eggs, and we don’t really entertain, so those colorful eggs would end up sitting in our fridge until someone got fed up and threw them away. We do Easter baskets and candy eggs, mostly because Kyle and I only have one kid right now and we really like lavishing him with goodies.

(true story: Kyle has to hold me back from overspending on Sam’s Easter basket. I don’t go to the lengths of people who treat Easter as Christmas 2.0, but he’s reminded me on numerous occasions that both of us got maybe one or two trinkets for Easter and turned out just fine, and so Sam will turn out just fine if I don’t fill his basket to overflowing)

(other true story: Kyle really hates Easter grass, but Easter baskets look ridiculous without it. We tried to compromise this year by getting edible Easter grass, but it’s kind of like if raw spaghetti tasted like cotton candy. Sam wasn’t impressed, I’m not impressed, and I think Kyle’s going to end up eating all of it)


So it went this year. Sam had a modest basket filled with mostly candy and a few toys and books (namely, Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker action figures that are exactly the right size for his toddler hands; he hasn’t put them down since he plucked them from the basket). We got some oversized plastic eggs from Target and filled them with jelly beans and pastel M&Ms and chocolate bunnies wrapped in foil. I love dressing Sam up, so I got him some turquoise pants and a striped shirt from Old Navy, and he wore those to my parents’ house, where we all ate spaghetti and meatballs and watched a decade-old documentary on the making of Star Wars.

Oh, and I baked a cake that tasted “okay” and that looked like a frosting factory had a tragic accident. Suffice it to say that I will not soon be quitting my day job to be either (a) a Pinterest Mom, or (b) a baker.

(this happens to me with unerring frequency. Complex decoration is not my forte)

Holidays are honestly one of the more delightful parts of raising our own new family. We consider the traditions that we enjoyed as kids, discard the ones that don’t fit (dyeing hard boiled eggs) and keep the ones that do (the trip to Hebert’s, which is much less crowded at 10 a.m. a week before Easter than it is at 2 p.m. the day before Easter, let me tell you).

We create our own traditions, too. This year, I sort of invented a tradition that Sam isn’t quite old enough to understand yet: the Easter lobster. While we were at Hebert’s, Sam spotted a lollipop shaped like a lobster and dyed his favorite shade of cherry red. I’m horribly indulgent when it comes to holidays and Sam making cute faces at me, and so I bought it. I have no explanation, as of yet, for the Easter lobster; but you bet I’m going to buy a lobster lollipop for Easter every year until the day I die.

All of those traditions wrapped up together create our family identity, and what I really love is that a family identity in that sense isn’t limited to traditional nuclear families. It extends to found families, too. I love reading about my friends in their 20s who just live together as roommates and friends and are still pulling together found family traditions–dyeing eggs and giving each other Easter baskets and the like. And those traditions and identities, in turn, become part of your individual identity, and basically, humans are really cool in that way.

(we’re all Tevye at heart, a little bit)

The upcoming months are free of any major holidays but are absolutely packed with things to do–Sam turns three on May 13, Mother’s Day is somewhere around there, we’re flying to Texas for a vacation on May 18, getting back in time for Memorial Day, then Father’s Day and Kyle’s birthday in June, and throw in a business trip for good measure. It’ll all finally calm down somewhere around Independence Day–a holiday for which our traditions mostly entail going to my uncle’s house for a cookout (for which I intend to bake something else) and then coming home, hot and exhausted, to watch Boston’s Pops Goes the Fourth! on television rather than in person, because I am not braving those crowds thank you very much.

And then long, hot, boring July and August and September, Renaissance Faires and Kat’s birthday and Halloween in October, all bleeding into a holiday season that stretches, for me at least, from October straight on through January. And then it all starts over again.

Other People’s Pregnancies

As a rule of thumb, I’ve become immune to the overall distress that comes with infertility, at least when pertaining to other pregnant women.

I don’t think this makes me special in any way, but it does create some distance when I’m talking with other infertile women. A common sentiment in infertility communities is this sort of bitterness or frustration with seeing other people in your life get pregnant while you try and try and don’t succeed. And… yeah, I get that. I was there when we were trying so hard to get pregnant with Sam, only it was rarely with people I knew. Instead, it was with random strangers I’d pass in the mall or wherever, waddling along with their round bellies in front of them, daring to look happy. I wasn’t mad at them, not really. I only thought, “Why not me?”

This second time around has been pretty different for me, emotionally speaking. I think part of it is because I’ve been through pregnancy, so I’m not looking at them and thinking, “Why not me?” but rather, “Oh man, I hope you get a chance to put your feet up later today.” Pregnancy isn’t easy, and I think a pet peeve arises for me when people act as if you shouldn’t complain about being pregnant, either because some people can’t get pregnant or because you should be happy that you’re having a baby. Look: if I ever get pregnant again, I will be over the moon with joy about that fact. That said, I will also complain about morning sickness, the aches, the pains, the fact that my body will suddenly be the same temperature as the sun, all the swelling, the exhaustion, the Braxton Hicks contractions, the need to pee every 30 seconds, the inexplicable magnetism of a pregnant belly as it acts upon complete strangers, and so on.

In other words: I don’t think your happiness and gratitude about being pregnant in any way precludes you being able to complain about being pregnant.


When I was pregnant with Sam, my body basically decided it was done being pregnant the second we hit the 40 week mark. The trouble was, it didn’t make this decision by going into labor. Instead, I swelled up like a balloon, gaining 30 pounds of water weight in a week. I couldn’t exist comfortably. Every position possible was miserable for me. My hips and lower back felt permanently misaligned. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I itched (this, I would later learn, was likely intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy… either that or a symptom of my gallbladder quitting). I was miserable, but that in no way meant that I wasn’t grateful for Sam’s impending arrival or happy that he was on his way.

I think the difference ends up being that for me, pregnancy is just a means of getting to the place I want to be, that place being motherhood. I didn’t get pregnant to be pregnant; I got pregnant to have a child. I wasn’t happy about being pregnant; I was happy to be having a child.

And now he’s here, and I’m still happy about it.

With that in mind, it doesn’t faze me in the least when people complain about being pregnant. Being pregnant is hard! It’s one of the most stressful positive things you can put your body through (and I don’t say that to make any martyr statements; training for a marathon is pretty stressful and positive, too. So is climbing Mount Everest and like. Six bajillion other things that I’m like “hey, I’d never do that, but you do you” about). And I don’t really relate to the idea that people shouldn’t complain about the physical stress of being pregnant because “hey! At least you’re pregnant!” Yeah, you’re pregnant. And that means you’re physically uncomfortable. A lot physically uncomfortable. I feel you.


And on the flip side, it doesn’t faze me when people are really happy about being pregnant, either. Dude, it’s awesome! There’s the physical discomfort, sure, but there are also so many cool things you experience, like those first little shivery flutters that turn into movement. And man, everyone spoils you rotten when you’re pregnant. They stop the second the baby is born, but as long as you’ve got that belly, people will open doors for you and help you carry things and ask if you need anything and be overall far more generous than usual. And absolutely best of all, you’re getting a human at the end of it. An actual, real live human that you get to raise. That’s pretty sweet!

I remember the first times I felt Sam move, when I didn’t even realize that’s what I was feeling. It was that sensation of butterflies in your stomach, that light and fluttery shivery feeling. The bigger he got, the more I felt him. The first time I really felt him was, hilariously enough, when we were watching the first Hobbit movie with my family and someone started speaking the Black Speech. Thump, thump, thump went Sam as the infamous script on the One Ring was read: “Ash nazg durbatulûk, ash nazg gimbatul, ash nazg thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul.” It was hilarious!


And gosh, but I love my little human. He and I are baking a cake later today, and he’s been excited about it all week. He keeps running to our supplies and asking if it’s time yet. Every time I go into the kitchen, even just to get a drink, he runs in with me and pulls his baking chair over to the counter so that we can bake together. And I kind of dissolve into a little puddle of momma goo, like, Kiddo, you could literally ask me for anything right now and I’d be like, “Absolutely.”

So joy over pregnancy? That doesn’t faze me. I get it. And I’m happy for you.

The things that do faze me, the things that make me angry and say, “Why not me?” are usually when I see objectively bad parents continuing to have children. I don’t mean parents who don’t give their kids organic food or who are crunchier than I could ever dream of being or parents who are struggling to get it right and mess up sometimes.

I mean abusive parents. Parents who beat their children or sexually molest them. Parents who say such terrible things to their children–that they wish their kids had never been born, that their kids are worthless, that their kids don’t deserve nice things. Parents who see their children as objects to be used and discarded at their whim, abused if they don’t behave “correctly” or otherwise don’t live up to impossible expectations. Parents who let other people harm their children, who don’t listen when their kids come to them for protection, who make things worse. Parents who refuse to get their children medical help because it goes against their personal beliefs, and so they let their children die of easily treatable things.

(that’s a depressing thought, so here’s a kitten hugging a puppy)

I see stories, so many stories, about parents who’ve done these things and have so many kids. And that’s when I think, “Why them and not me?”

I know I’m not a perfect mom. It’s impossible to be a perfect mom. I’ve probably already given Sam’s future tell-all book at least three chapters of material. But my god, I love that kid, so very much. I couldn’t ever intentionally hurt him, not more than the pain that comes with not letting him get his way 24/7 or holding him in place so that he can get a vaccination. The idea of someone hurting him simultaneously breaks my heart and fills me with such preemptive rage that I feel myself hulking out.


I remember when he had to get his first vaccines, at two months old. I am SUPER pro-vaccination; I think vaccinations may be the greatest invention of the last three hundred years. The diseases prevented by the two month vaccines are so terrifying to me, and understandably so: whooping cough, diptheria, polio, tetanus, pneumococcal disease. The idea of watching my baby with any of those was horrifying to me, and I was intellectually super ready to get him vaccinated.

But emotionally, I was not ready. For every moment of his existence to that point, he was able to wholly trust me to keep him from feeling any pain. Whenever he cried from hunger or discomfort, I was there to feed him or rearrange him or do whatever he needed. I kept him warm and fed, safe, and free from pain. And even though I was intellectually all about getting him vaccinated (because duh, Abby, the pain from tetanus is MUCH worse than the pinprick of a needle), knowing that I was allowing him to experience pain kind of broke my heart into a million tiny pieces.

The nurse noticed me tearing up as she got ready to give him the shots. “It’s alright. You’re normal,” she said with a wry smile. “Trust me, this is much more upsetting to you than it is to him. He won’t even remember this.”

And she was right. Sam still trusts me wholly. Kyle is usually the one he calls out for when he’s afraid (because Kyle is 6’4” tall and built like a bear), but I’m his go-to when he’s an emotional wreck.

But either way. It was hard enough for me to let someone cause him pain when I knew it would have a long term benefit. Letting someone hurt him just because? Hurting him myself just because? Seeing him as anything less than the fantastic human being he is?

FUCK no.

(just no)

That’s when infertility feels keenly unfair to me. It’s when I see someone who hurts their children going on to have more and more and more children. It’s when I see someone who’s willing to let their children be harmed, physically or sexually or emotionally, walking around with a baby bump. It’s when I see someone who’s an objectively horrible parent having so many kids and I, who try so hard to put everything into bringing up my child to be the best possible person, can’t manage to stay pregnant for more than a couple of weeks at a time.

That is when it hurts.

The Wait

Anyone who’s ever been involved in reproduction will tell you that the process involves a lot–A LOT–of waiting.

Even in an unassisted cycle, you do a lot of waiting. There’s the Two Week Wait–the week between when you hopefully ovulated and when most pregnancy tests would be able to detect HCG in your system. There’s the wait for the first doctor’s visit, the wait for the first ultrasound, the wait to hear the heartbeat, the wait for the anatomy scan, the wait during gestational diabetes testing, the wait for breakfast after GD testing, the wait for your body to go into labor on its own, the wait for your doctor to recognize that your body isn’t going into labor on its own, the hours and hours of waiting that we call “labor.” You hurry up. You wait. It’s the month before Christmas times a thousand.

(Linda Belcher understands me)

When you bring assisted reproductive technology (ART) into the picture, there’s even more waiting. You wait to get results back from the battery of tests (blood work, semenalysis, hysterosalpingogram, hysteroscopy, sonohysterogram, karyotype screening, etc.). You wait for the doctor to determine which line of treatment works best for you. You wait for insurance approval. If you don’t get insurance approval, you wait to have enough money. You wait to get your blood drawn again and again and again. You wait for an ultrasound and another and another. You wait with IVs in your arm to be taken back for your egg retrieval. And then you do the normal pregnancy waiting, only this time, with less optimism and more medication.

(everyone around you is getting pregnant and you’re just like :|)

Kyle and I are moving into our next FET cycle straight after the most recent one ended in a miscarriage. I was, frankly, tired of waiting. So much of infertility is putting your life on hold because you’re actively doing all of this stuff and putting all of this effort into getting knocked up but you never know if it’s going to work. Should you go on that vacation? Should you dive into an intense fitness plan? Should you work towards that promotion? Should you buy that car? Who knows?

At this point, I’ve been putting a lot of my life on hold for two years in the interest of getting pregnant. I’ve been hesitant to really jump in at work because I don’t know if I’ll need to leave for maternity. I’ve been holding back on trying to really lose weight because I don’t know if I’m going to be pregnant sooner rather than later. I’ve been planning everything for the short term because I don’t know if I’m going to have to plan for a baby in the long term.

And, I mean, nobody does, but I think it feels different when you’re putting this much time, money, and effort into the process. You want to make sure that you’re going to be available, and you don’t want to overextend yourself to the detriment of your body and your potential baby’s health.

So you wait. I wait.


This time around, I was waiting for my period to start, and it did yesterday. I think the entire neighborhood heard me yesterday morning when I exclaimed, “Finally! Thank GOD!” right next to the open window in my master bathroom (I have a master bathroom, I’m super posh, it’s in desperate need of a good cleaning). I figured that aspect of waiting was over, but I still went for the testing I had scheduled for yesterday morning, just to make sure nothing was super chaotic.

And nothing was. The nurse called me right before the lunchtime meeting I had scheduled for one of about half a dozen projects I have coming up in the next several weeks. She started to give me my calendar (basically, with a FET cycle, you have to switch your medication dosages on specific days; when the nurse tells you what days you’ll be switching things, it’s called “giving you your calendar”) but then noticed that the system wasn’t showing that we had insurance approval yet.


A bit of insurance backstory. When Kyle and I were trying to get pregnant with Sam, Kyle worked through a staffing agency that didn’t offer insurance benefits (this was before the ACA passed and such things were mandatory). We live in Massachusetts, so we were able to purchase coverage through MassHealth, and it was ridiculously expensive–half the reason we were so broke for that year he worked through the staffing company was because of the insurance payments we had to make.

(exactly like this)

The insurance we got was bare bones, too. We could go to the doctor again, and that was nice. We could pay for medication without going broke, though our copays were much higher than those of many people we knew. We could not get an ambulance if we needed it (during the first month of my pregnancy with Sam, I had to take an ambulance to the hospital because I fainted at a Renaissance Faire–long story–and we ended up paying for it for the two years). We could not get any infertility medication unless we were willing to pay out of pocket (clomid, the medication I was on, costs about $6 a pill, making me very happy you only get five pills at a time).

When Kyle started his current job, they gave him fantastic insurance, some of the best I’ve ever seen. I love this insurance; it’s covered all but probably a tenth of the cost of our IVF cycles. It doesn’t cover PGS, but not many carriers do. Ambulance rides and medications are all taken care of, and I am ridiculously grateful.

But. In order to start a fertility treatment cycle, you need insurance approval. They want to make sure you’re not gaming the system, which is fair. Usually, our insurance carrier approves treatment cycles within about 24 hours; we’ll go in for a meeting with our RE, we’ll settle on a treatment plan, and then they’ll call our insurance carrier and get us approved.

Apparently, though, this speedy approval process has vanished into the ether. Lately, our insurance carrier has been taking three weeks to process approvals rather than 24 hours.


I don’t want to sound ungrateful; I’m not. I know that a lot of insurance carriers don’t cover infertility treatments at all (I was on one of them for a while). I know that we’re lucky to have insurance that isn’t causing us to go completely broke on a monthly basis. I know that we’re lucky to have insurance at all.

But the wait.

We went in to figure out this cycle on March 30. If I’m counting correctly, three weeks for insurance approval should take us to about April 20, another week from today. It’s not the end of the world, not by a long shot.

But it’s another wait in the process that, while objectively a short amount of time, feels like an eternity.

I’m trying to pass the time as best I can. I have a lot of distractions. Work has picked back up after a month or so of being slow as molasses (the nature of the field I’m in is such that you’re either drowning in projects or spending every work hour reorganizing your desk to make yourself look busy). Sam has a doctor’s appointment next Wednesday, and Easter is this weekend. I’m going to bake a cake (a butter cake, from scratch, and I’m going to fill it with candy).

And I wait.


I love getting my hair done, and I am absolutely blissful about the way mainstream fashion has embraced funky hair colors.

From the time I was about thirteen, I’ve always wanted to have purple hair in some way. When I was thirteen, that way recalled various anime heroines–a short black bob with long purple pieces in the front. Think something akin to Mako Mori in Pacific Rim. I just thought that was the absolute pinnacle of coolness (because it is), and though I wasn’t allowed to put purple streaks in my hair back then, I dreamed of the day when I could go absolutely nuts when it came to hair color.

(were this a movie blog, I’d tell you how this movie taught me SO MUCH about visual storytelling, but it’s not a movie blog)

Purple was out, as I recall, because this was back before wild hair colors were mainstream enough that you could wear them to school or work without getting in trouble for being a distraction. Purple was out, but somewhere around my sixteenth birthday, bleach blonde was in. I remember sitting in the hair salon that I’d visited since I was eight, tears streaming down my cheeks as my hairdresser plucked strands of hair through a net to give me highlights. She kept accidentally stabbing my scalp, and oh my god, it hurt like you would not believe.


But the results were utterly cool, in that late 90s, early 2000s way. Back then, everyone frosted their hair (that’s what we called it–frosted tips, which sounds so wrong now for some reason), and I was part of everyone. About five minutes into my freshman year of college, I chopped off the damaged bleach blonde hair, and the next year, I dove into the world of lowlights. In my mind, I wanted to look a little bit more like Kelly Clarkson at her Kelly Clarksonest.

(she is awesome, but why any of us late 90s, early 2000s kids thought this was a good look is beyond me)

Instead, I ended up with a deep mahogany wash that was SO CLOSE to the purple I’d always imagined. I loved that hair, and I stuck with the deep red for years after that. It was fun to play with, the color of cherries when the light hit it, almost black in the shadows. I could wear it all gothic and serious or I could wear it elegant, which I did for my wedding in 2011.


But. It still wasn’t purple. I loved it, but I still dreamed of purple, and that remained an impossible dream for a long time. Up until recently, the idea of working in corporate America with an unnatural hair color was absurd, to say the least. My dreams of purple hair were desperately at odds with my need to work for a living. Red was elegant and professional enough to allow me to blend in, but purple? Not a chance.

Things happened, though. My career came to a sudden halt when I was laid off from my first post-masters-degree job. I spent the next four years focused almost entirely on the business of getting pregnant, being pregnant, and raising a gleeful child. I couldn’t really afford to get my hair done for most of that time, and when I could, I stuck with a wash-cut-and-dry rather than anything particularly memorable. I didn’t see the point in doing much more, since my life was almost entirely indoors and away from anyone who’d care what my hair looked like.

(in case you are wondering, this is what experts call “depression”)

Last winter, prompted by Kat’s enthusiasm for getting her hair done (her hair is PINK. It’s also enviably thick and falls past her waist because Kat is unfairly gorgeous) and with Kyle’s encouragement, I finally made an appointment to get my hair purpled at a salon near my house. The whole process took a couple of hours, and my GOD, I was so happy with the results! It was a tame purpling, by most people’s standards: I just had them put a wash over my normal hair color, making it glint amethyst in the light. Still, I finally had my purple hair, and I was pleased as punch about it.

Meanwhile, there’s Sam.

Sam had his first haircut a couple of days after his first birthday. He has thick blonde hair that grows like a weed; by the time he turned one, you couldn’t see his eyes anymore. With his Nana along for moral support (and handholding), I took him to a cute kids’ salon in the same plaza as my usual salon. He cried the whole time, mostly out of confusion and concern, but afterwards, he looked so grown up and so handsome.

(I’m biased, I know)

We’ve taken him for regular salon trips since, roughly every six months to keep him from looking completely ridiculous. Our most recent hair salon trip was this weekend, and in excitement for that, he told me that he wanted to have red hair. Not ginger red, mind you. Fire engine red. Crayola red. Darth Vader’s lightsaber red.

(Ariel red, I would have called it, but he is not me)

And, well, I obliged. 2017 is a rough time to be alive for a lot of reasons, but it’s also a pretty great time to be alive, if only because people have, by and large, stopped caring if you have funky hair, whether you’re almost-three or thirty-three. Sam wanted bright red hair, and he got it (albeit in the form of hair gel that washed out in the bath later that night, but still). If he wanted bright blue hair, I’d be happy to oblige him there, too. I love seeing him express himself, whether it’s by wearing three shirts to school (son, I have a lot of questions, but you do you), by taking fastidious care of his (and our) toe jam, or by getting streaks of primary colors in his hair.


As for me, I’ve been watching a woman who works in the same building as me for a couple of months now. She drives a bright yellow car with a license plate that says “B HAPPI,” and her hair is a fantastic shade of turquoise. I figure I’ll take her car’s advice, and with any luck, the salon will have an opening this weekend, and I’ll have purple hair again by next week.

One Size Fits None

Realizing that you’re infertile is a pretty long and slow process, a process during which you do some pretty weird stuff in a vain attempt to get pregnant without medical intervention.

Kyle and I first decided to try getting pregnant a little less than a year after we were married. We were in an okay spot financially–Kyle had just gotten his bachelor’s degree and was looking for work, and I’d been working for a couple of months as a marketing assistant at a construction firm. We had health insurance of our own for the first time ever (Kyle had previously been on his parents’ insurance; I was uninsured until I got the job), and we had a darling apartment in a nice complex.

In truth, we weren’t really trying in those early days. We just stopped trying not to get pregnant. I wasn’t on hormonal birth control, so we just stopped using protection and enjoyed ourselves. My period was late the first month we tried, and the ladies in my office were all of a dither. My boss went out and bought me saltine crackers to cope with the nausea I had one day and promised, “We’re going to spoil you and this baby when it’s born!”

(no complaints here)

And then I wasn’t pregnant at all. “It can take some time, don’t worry about it,” everyone said.

We went through a series of major life changes over the next several months. The economic crash that had wracked the rest of the country finally hit Dallas, and I lost my job because they couldn’t afford me anymore. With no prospects in Texas, Kyle and I moved up to live in the in-law apartment in my parents’ house, spending our days sending out resumes to anyone who would take them. Pregnancy was, for the most part, the last thing on my mind. Still, after our first anniversary in May, we decided to start actively trying to get pregnant. Sure, we weren’t in the best place financially, but we had a fantastic support network, and Kyle’s resume especially had been getting plenty of attention.

It happened in June: I was pregnant.


I wasn’t surprised. My maternal family lore holds that women in our family get pregnant without any trouble, and here I was, pregnant the first month I actually tried. I didn’t know then, about loss and about trying for months and months on end without luck. I told my parents and Kyle told his. I told my grandmother, my aunt, and my uncle. I went to Babies R Us and tried to imagine squeezing cribs and bassinets and baby things into the tiny in-law apartment Kyle and I called home.

A week later, I started bleeding. My pregnancy tests no longer turned up positive. A quick session of Google-fu taught me that I’d experienced what’s known as a chemical pregnancy–basically, the egg fertilizes but doesn’t implant. Instead, it just gets flushed out of your system with any other menstrual waste. It’s remarkably common, to the point where plenty of people have likely experienced a chemical pregnancy without even knowing it; if you’re not expecting to get pregnant, it can just seem like a late period.

The good news was that plenty of people went on to get pregnant easily enough and have normal, healthy pregnancies immediately after having a chemical pregnancy. I was disappointed in the loss–not really heartbroken, just like if it rained on an expected beach day–but I thought I’d get pregnant again easily enough. And so, we kept trying.

Several months passed. Kyle got an amazing job, one that would eventually allow us to move out of the in-law apartment and into our own apartment–a decent-sized place with a living room that had a big picture window overlooking miles of rolling hills. I didn’t find work myself, but I kept busy cooking, running errands, and writing the manuscript for a novel. We visited Texas and had Texas visit us.

And we didn’t get pregnant.

(I was honestly starting to feel like Charlie Brown)

By around September, I started to wonder if something was wrong. I spent a lot of my free time on various forums and websites, learning about the process of trying to conceive. The first step I should take in the process, the forums and websites advised, was to monitor my basal body temperature (my temperature when I first woke up in the morning). A spike in my basal body temperature from one morning to the next meant that I’d ovulated, though the overall goal was to establish a predictable pattern.

I was also to monitor my cervical mucus. Fun fact: cervical mucus changes consistency over the course of your menstrual cycle. When it’s the consistency of egg whites (yes, that is the exact consistency you’re supposed to look for), you’re ovulating and should do the do in order to get pregnant. There’s a fantastic scientific explanation for this, but instead of copying it all here, I’ll just recommend watching The Great Sperm Race, a BBC documentary that explains all of this in great detail (and is narrated by Richard Armitage, who is lovely).

(I could look at that smile all day…)

I monitored these things religiously, using a little app to track both my temperature and the consistency of my cervical mucus. Kyle, bless his heart, got to hear all the gory details and pretended not to mind when sex went from a spontaneous act of newlywed horniness to a Very Scientific Process Based On Collected Data. He gamely went along for the ride, even when it involved hearing way more information on his wife’s body than he ever needed to know.


But still, nothing. Some months, I bought boxes of home pregnancy tests and used them all, hoping against hope to see something there. Other months, I didn’t even get a chance to buy any tests; my period just showed right up.

In December, still less than a year from when we’d started trying, I had a menstrual cycle that lasted 42 days; my cycles to that point had been averaging around 28 days, which is exactly normal. This concerned me enough that I set up an appointment with my doctor, peeing on home pregnancy tests in vain all the while.

I started toying around with naturopathy and homeopathy and lots of other pathys. One website suggested that I take a bunch of Vitamin C to support progesterone production and endometrial growth. Another recommended a cocktail of essential oils–Clary Sage, Ylang Ylang, Lavender, Geranium–that I could massage into my skin or bathe in to encourage fertility. Nearly everyone recommended various lubricants that “mimicked the natural fluids a woman’s body uses to encourage conception.”

(it’s been like five years and this is still the reaction I have to the word “fluids”)

I ran out of Vitamin C supplements well before I got pregnant. As for the essential oils, they made things greasy and unpleasant, and the bottle sprung a leak about a week after it arrived. The lube didn’t seem to do much at all.

But nada, nada, nada. For fourteen months, nada.

Obviously, it eventually happened, as evidenced by Sam’s existence, but it was a frustrating process. The only thing that really ended up helping was a course of clomid, and I can’t even point to that as the solution–it was my second cycle on the drug, and when I tried it again two years ago, it did exactly nothing.

And that’s the most aggravating thing. So much of infertility treatment is a craps shoot. You try this drug and maybe it works and maybe it doesn’t. You try a certain diet and maybe it works and maybe it doesn’t. You do yoga and get acupuncture and use essential oils and have procedures and tests and everything done and maybe you get lucky and something works, but maybe it doesn’t. You want to believe that a treatment that worked so well for someone else will work for you, but everyone’s hormone makeup is so different, everyone responds so differently to treatments, that you just can’t know.

Nothing to Fear, Except…

Three-year-olds and almost!three-year-olds are funny creatures in the way they develop completely irrational fears.


My parents have long taken great delight in this story. When I was three, I saw what appeared to be a rather large spider in the ceiling corner of the room. A budding arachnophobe, I called my father and said, “Daddy, kill it.”

As it turns out, the spider was not a spider. It was some dust.

(shown: also not a spider, but definitely not dust)

I probably had other irrational fears at that time, though none of them get the milage of the dust spider story.

Sam, too, is developing irrational fears. No sooner do we quash one than another springs up in its place, like so many weeds. There’s probably a long child psychology reason for this, but I’m groggy and don’t feel like doing my research today. And anyway, the long child psychology reason behind three-year-olds and almost!three-year-olds isn’t the point of this story.

About six or so months ago, we saw irrational fears for the first time… though in that period, they seemed completely logical. Sam was going through a pretty stressful time. He’d recently switched classes at his daycare (from the infant and toddler room to the junior preschool), moved from the bedroom he’d slept in since we bought the house to the smaller room next door, and changed from a crib to a big boy bed. By day, he embraced these changes as if he hadn’t a care in the world.

By night, however, things got a little hairy.

You see, we’re bad parents in the sense that we help Sam calm down for the night by watching videos with him on our phones. He has various preferences, but the longest running favorite, the one he goes back to even after months of being away, is Disney’s Fantasia.

(for the most part, harmless, right?)

We used to watch it in segments, one segment before bed every night. Each segment is about 10-15 minutes long, and there are eight segments in total. We’d get through Fantasia in a week or so and then start it all over again. The final segment is called “Night on Bald Mountain” and literally features Satan–here called Chernabog–having a party with his minions while looming over a sleepy European village. I never watched it as a kid, but as an adult, I love it, if only because it’s a really neat bit of animation (especially for 1940!).

Sam loves it, too. When he was much littler, and that would be his Fantasia segment for the evening, he’d chirp, “Good night Satan!” as we turned the program off. More recently, he wriggles in his seat, dancing along with the demons and harpies and furies and what-have-you as they rock out to Modest Mussorgsky’s classic piece. He always begs us to watch it, no matter the time of day.

(while I’m here, why is Chernabog so ripped?)

We weren’t really in a Fantasia stage six months ago; we were getting ready to go on a family trip to Disney World. As part of our preparation to do so, I was showing Sam videos of Disney’s Fantasmic! fireworks show before bed. The show features Mickey Mouse battling the Forces of Darkness in his imagination and has some Disney message about the power of imagination to triumph over fear or something like that. One of the featured Forces of Darkness was the Chernabog (really, he shows up for a one or two second cameo), and he was the one Sam was most excited to see, if only because he didn’t recognize any of the other villains.


Combining a bunch of changes with videos of literal Satan is absolutely a recipe for disaster when you have a toddler. The first week those changes took effect, Sam woke up every night, terrified that the Chernabog was going to get him (he’s yet to be “gotten” in any way that involves anything but tickling, but I suppose I’d be terrified of literal Satan tickling me, too). After the second sleepless night, Kyle and I implemented a bunch of changes. Anything featuring Chernabog was completely banned from nighttime rituals. We watched innocuous videos–baking shows, silly songs, nothing scary. We set Sam up with his Darth Vader Bear (a gift from his Aunt Veri) and gave him several lightsabers. We used “dream cream” (lotion that I rubbed on his hands and told him would keep bad dreams away). Even Kat got in on the action and made Sam an awesome painting of Darth Vader–his hero–fighting the Chernabog.

(are you wondering if Kat is the best? Because she is)

And eventually, the nightmares went away. Sam is not in the least afraid of the Chernabog, and Kyle and I thought we’d learned our lesson about exposing our kid to things that would scare him.

Key word being thought. I’ve learned a curious truth about toddlers in the last several days: they will develop irrational fears of absolutely anything for no reason whatsoever.

The newest fear began about a week or so ago. Sam sat on the couch picking at his feet and growing increasingly concerned at the toe jam he was finding in doing so. “What is that?” he asked, alarmed.

“Oh, that’s just toe jam,” I answered, brushing it into the abyss of the floor that was vacuumed shortly thereafter. I thought that would be the last of it.

It was not.


Sam now refuses to go on the floor barefoot. If he’s not wearing socks and shoes or footie pajamas, he wraps around me and Kyle like an octopus and insists on being carried everywhere. If we try to set him down on the floor, barefoot, he shrieks like we’re setting him down into boiling oil.

The first time he did this was a weekday, and I asked Sam as he clung to me, “What are you so afraid of?”

“Toe jam!” he answered, much the way I’m sure I asked my father to kill the dust spider. “There’s toe jam on the floor!”

His fear extends to us as well. On Saturday, Kyle sat with his feet up, watching TV. Out of nowhere, Sam trotted over and began inspecting between Kyle’s toes for toe jam, all the while wearing the most serious of expressions (Kyle, meanwhile, was doing his best not to shriek with laughter for how much it tickled; I didn’t even try). Later, he more than willingly stayed in the bathtub, scrubbing his feet until he was certain they were free of toe jam.

I’ve tried to explain that it’s just dust from his socks getting sweaty, but Sam remains unconvinced. As far as he’s concerned, toe jam is worse than the Chernabog and dust spiders combined. It’s pure evil, and nothing and no one can tell him otherwise.

I’ll figure out the psychological implications of this situation later. In the meantime, I’ll be happy that at least my son is willingly washing his feet at night.