Saturday, January 25, 2014

On meeting my pregnant friend for dinner

Last night Mr. M and I had dinner at the Olive Garden with another married couple. The wife is pregnant. Not just pregnant - honeymoon pregnant, more or less. They got married this past September and are due this summer. I actually wrote about their wedding and how hard it was to hear all the mention of children and prayers that the couple would be blessed with children - the same prayers we prayed at our wedding, seemingly to no avail.

I wrote in that post:

           "And of course now with weddings, it’s hard not to think, “One more person who got married after us and could get pregnant / have a baby before us…” I tried so hard to keep focusing on the bride and groom, praying for them, and yes, praying for them to be blessed with children and be spared the heartache of infertility. How could I wish that on anyone? And yet I know I’ll feel hurt and sad if I hear “news” from the happy couple soon…"

So it looks like my prayers might have something to do with their easy entrance into parenthood, ha ha.

Anyway, the dinner was nice because they're our friends, and really hard because I was engaged in a constant interior battle against jealousy, against looking obsessively at the beginning of my friend's baby bump, against feeling sorry for myself, and so on. Kind of exhausting!

To their credit, they didn't talk about the pregnancy much at all - only one mention of "painting the baby's room" when we asked them what they've done to their house lately. (Oh, they also bought a house right before their wedding and the wife stopped working - in other words, they're living the life I want. Double ouch.)

The funny (ironic? tragic?) thing is, I went to this friend's bridal shower and at one point she was asked, "So how many kids do you and [the groom] want?" "Oh," she answered, "as many as God gives us." Turns out that was my answer too! (Although when my future husband asked me that on one of our first dates, I answered, "Enough to fill a church pew!" which is true too.) Her openness to life and acceptance of however many children God gives her is so far looking awfully different than mine, but we're doing the same thing. Just a thought.

Coming to my point, if there is one: I think I anticipated myself in my post about their wedding, above, and I think Mrs. Fitz said it so perfectly in a comment on this post about pregnancy announcements: the attitude I need to work toward is expecting that my married friends will be blessed with children and praying for that! Because when I show up to a party thinking "oh, I hope so and so isn't pregnant..." or when I sulk and whine about so and so getting pregnant right away (both those things come so naturally to me and are really hard not to do): what's the alternative? That no one I know ever gets pregnant again, i.e. that everyone is given this painful, some days unbearable cross of barrenness? When I think about it in that terms, it's so stark: I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemies. (Well, maybe the very worst...ha ha) And I did my duty at my friend's wedding! I prayed that she and her husband would have children - and they are, right away! (I seem to be much more successful when praying for other people to have children) Part of me is so, so jealous that she's spared knowing even one sad Christmas without a child at least in the womb (they got to put on their Christmas cards, "love husband, wife, and baby" - that card had to go right into my keepsake box and out of sight), that she'll never go through any invasive testing, monthly disappointments, yada yada yada - but sheez, if I'm worth anything as her friend, I should be happy and grateful that she's spared all that heartache!!!

So yeah, it was hard, and part of me wants to run a million miles away from my pregnant friends, especially those that got pregnant right away and make me feel even more horribly barren than I already am. I feel like I haven't even learned my alphabet and these women are writing novels already. And it's hard to navigate friendships post-pregnancy sometimes: I really don't feel like talking about probably the number one thing they want to talk about, and their very presence can be hard for me (isn't that awful?). But we're still friends, and I'm taking the long view and saying it's still worth it to stay friends and from experience, I think it does get easier once these friends have the baby and I can play something of an "auntie" role in their life. (Sometimes the little one thinks I'm actually their aunt - this little boy lists me as one of his daddy's sisters =))

Continued prayers for everyone who knows exactly what I'm talking about in this post!!


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Rebellion, resignation, consent

The following is from my favorite little book Interior Freedom, and I may have shared these quotes before but I'm not sorry because they're so wonderful!! I was re-reading this section again and it describes so well my interior state over the last year or so. What I especially love about this book is that I think its wisdom can be applicable to anyone at any stage and going through any trial.

Fr. Philippe's words + my commentary (I added the bold too), from pp. 29-31:

When we are faced with things that we find unpleasant or consider negative, in ourselves or in our situations, there are three possible attitudes.

For me, the unpleasant situation is obviously IF...

The first is rebellion. For example, we do not accept ourselves as we are; we rebel against God who made us like this, against life that has permitted this or that event, against society, and the like. True, rebellion is not always negative - it may be an instinctive and necessary reaction in certain situations of desperate suffering; then it is a healthy reaction, provided that we do not remain fixated on it. Rebellion can also be positive as the rejection of an unacceptable situation, against which one takes action, for just motives, and using legitimate and proportionate means.

Seeking moral treatment for the underlying causes of IF fits here, I think, because not being able to conceive is an "unacceptable situation" - a lack of health and proper functioning of the body - and I like his explanation of a "positive rebellion" that takes action against things that aren't right.

What we are considering here, however, is rebellion as the rejection of reality. That is often our first, spontaneous reaction to difficulty or suffering. But it has never solved anything. ... It is the source of despair, violence, and resentment.

The image I get when thinking of "rebellion as the rejection of reality" is a toddler having a temper tantrum, flailing her limbs and screaming bloody murder because something in her world isn't going the way she wants it to. Yep, definitely been there in the IF journey, railing and screaming (sometimes quite literally) against this seemingly immobile mountain of reality that is blocking my path to motherhood. And yes, it never seems to accomplish much to get all red in the face, except exhaustion and a weary heart. Darn you reality...

Rebellion may be followed by resignation. We realize we cannot change this situation...and end up by resigning ourselves. Resignation may represent a certain degree of progress beyond rebellion, in the sense that it leads to a less aggressive and more realistic approach. But it is not enough. It may be a virtue for philosophers, but it is not a Christian virtue, since it doesn't include hope. Resignation is a declaration of powerlessness that goes no further. It may be a necessary stage, but if one stops there it is also sterile.

Yep, been there too. Resignation = saying "harumph" and sitting back with my arms crossed over my chest and a stony expression on my face. "Fine, be that way," I tell God/reality/my body/life. "I don't care," I lie. "I'll just suffer through it" while I'm seething inside, consumed with anger at the way things are. 

Or resignation is just going numb, hiding my heart far enough away and steeling it against all feeling because it's too painful to feel and hurt.

Resignation doesn't include hope...that sounds about right. Hope is a dangerous virtue to have, because right around the corner could be disappointment, but it's impossible to live without it (I think). 

The attitude to aim for is consent [elsewhere he uses "acceptance" in the same way]. Compared with resignation, consent leads to a completely different interior attitude. We say yes to a reality we initially saw as negative, because we realize that something positive may arise from it. This hints at hope.

This stopped me in my tracks because I could relate so well to this. Resignation and consent might look similar on the outside - you're not blustery and might seem calm - but the interior attitude is completely different. Consent says "yes" to reality - accepts it for what it is, painful as it is - and takes the tremendous leap of hope and faith to believe that maybe it's not a total loss. Maybe - I love how he uses the word "may" - just maybe, something positive can be gained from this experience I saw earlier as wholly negative. That "movement" looks so tiny but I believe it is HUGE! I think that's the first step toward having peace about a situation and being able to live with it instead of it totally dominating your every waking moment. 

The ultimate different between resignation and consent is that with consent, even though the objective reality remains the same, the attitude of our hearts is very different. They already contain the virtues of faith, hope, and love in embryo, so to speak.

Beautiful. I want that - the mustard seed of faith.

Because of this presence of faith, hope, and love, consent acquires great value, scope, and fruitfulness. For wherever faith, hope, or love are, openness to God's grace, acceptance of grace, and, sooner or later, the positive effects of grace are necessarily present. Where grace is accepted, it is never in vain, but always extraordinarily fruitful.

I love this so much. I want this! The fruitfulness of faith, hope, and love, present "in embryo" in a single act of consenting to my childlessness instead of rebelling against reality or resigning myself without hope. There's so much truth packed into these words - so much that needs unpacked in my own heart and life. But I love it because it gives me a "road map" of sorts, where I'd like to head. From rebellion to resignation to fruitful consent. To say "yes" to all that is given to me, the good and the bad, knowing that from the bad can still come good because God is just that powerful. To know that my childlessness is not a total loss but can be the seedbed of something extraordinarily powerful and grace-filled, if I'm willing to say "yes."

I think I'm making progress on that road to consent. At the least, I'm more and more conscious of the ways God's helping me to grow through this experience, which I think is definitely a fruit of the suffering. And it's getting easier (although still quite hard) to say "okay, I trust you God" with our future children, if there are any. I've definitely experienced a peace from that, from accepting that I'm fertility-challenged (ha ha) and not the kind of woman that gets pregnant easily, and then intentionally and daily placing my desires for motherhood in God's care and really making an effort to leave them there and go about my life cheerfully. I'm seeing some good results from this although it is HARD!!

p.s. Seriously, get this book, everyone =) Interior Freedom by Fr. Jacques Philippe It's been the single most life-changing book I've read while going through IF - even though he never once directly talks about infertility! It's just about suffering well, which I think comes in handy =)


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

three minor miracles + a thought

("Minor" miracles to distinguish from a "major" miracle...nope, not "that" good news around here. But still some pleasant happenings!)

Minor miracle #1. I attribute this to Our Lady Untier of Knots: we finally found a lab close to our home (20 min) that will do the SA test at a not-unreasonable fee ($150 flat fee) and doesn't require me to become their patient. Huge sigh of relief - this makes the test feel so much more manageable since we can be at home. You still have to make an appointment, and I still don't forsee this happening until next month due to work obligations, but still, it seems like a knot has loosened if not unravelled completely.

Minor miracle #2. Today at mass, the Old Testament reading for the second day in a row was all about Hannah and her intense grief over being childless (painful to listen to...) and the priest actually added an intercession for women struggling to conceive!! I count this as a minor miracle because I don't know about you, but I can count on three fingers the number of times I've heard an intercession for people struggling with infertility: once at a mass especially for that purpose, once on Mother's day at a parish we were visiting, and today. And that's the experience of someone who attends mass at least three times a week if not more...I get that there are a lot of things to pray for, but sheesh! Maybe others' experiences are different, but it did my soul a lot of good to hear Father pray for me today (without knowing it, of course).

Minor miracle #3. I've been feeling more at peace about everything since Christmas. I hesitate to say that, famous last words and all...and part of it could be the fact that I've had a cold for the last week and don't have the energy for anything other than work and meeting our basic needs at home. But still, I've felt more confident, and just more happy, going about my life, working hard, making our home pleasant, loving my husband and our friends, and haven't felt as much of the intense sadness and longing that sometimes invades my heart. Residual graces from Christmas still, maybe?

Last thing - just a thought - we hosted friends of ours (husband, wife, and toddler) for all of last week. They so generously gave us colds, ha...anyway, these are good friends and we were glad to see them, but it was a bit of a trial. Our apartment isn't that big, we don't have a dishwasher (5 people make a lot more dishes than 2!) and it was a challenge to share our living space for a whole week. Even more than that, it was a challenge to put our needs - for solitude, quiet, cleanliness, rest - on the back burner so we could tend to the needs of our guests. Coming home from work after a long day, feeling sick, I really wasn't in the mood to chat with anyone or make them dinner, but I said a prayer and did it. Here's my point: I found the experience challenging, but also affirming, because isn't that the whole essence of motherhood? Putting your needs aside to take care of another? That "other" is a child in the case of motherhood, but for us it was our guests. It could be our parents someday, or a friend in need, or whoever. I guess I was just encouraged to find an opportunity for love, and to see that my heart is capable of it, if that makes sense. Just because we're childless doesn't mean we can't love, can't bring something good to the world and bless another person. (I seem to come back to this point a lot - guess I need some affirmation here =))


Saturday, January 4, 2014

A Quilt for our Goddaughter

One of our huge highlights of 2013 was becoming godparents. Our goddaughter, MC, is the daughter of good college friends of Mr. M, who became my good friends too because we lived in the same city for a few years. Their first child, a boy, was born the day after our wedding (!) and our goddaughter was born this year on Halloween and baptized November 23.

As soon as they asked us to be godparents, I started thinking of gifts for our goddaughter. After all, gifts you receive at your birth are really special - and extra special if they come from your godparents! (As a convert, I don't have godparents, but I do have some gifts from my birth day that are still special - a stuffed rabbit in particular.)

The gift I settled on was a quilt. Ambitious! Thankfully, my mom is a seasoned seamstress and (as you'll see) one of my aunts had just started a long-arm quilting business (I'll explain what that is). Plus, I had about 5 months to make the quilt because our friends asked us right after they found out they were having a girl. 

I thought it would be fun to recap how I made the quilt. It ended up being a super fun project, and actually quite therapeutic! I definitely got bit with the sewing bug and have a bunch of other projects in the works =)

Step 1: Choose a quilt pattern
This part was fun =) I checked out a ton of quilting books from the library, particularly ones that were for small baby quilts. I was looking for something relatively easy (only straight lines, no curves) but more interesting than just big squares. The one I found was called "Small Checks" - you'll see why.

Step 2: Buy fabric
My mom and I had a blast shopping for fabric. We spent most of a day at Joann's, walking around with the pattern and finding the fabrics we liked. This particularly pattern had up to 6 different fabrics, and of course we wanted it pink and girly =) This is the first chance to really be creative! We ended up with several pinks, a white for contrast, and two "novelty prints" (the kind with larger designs) that are vintage looking because my goddaughter's mom likes that style.

Step 3: Cut and piece
This is the step that literally took me months! (Of course, a little thing called a full-time job and a husband also took up my time =)) In this step, you follow the instructions on the pattern and cut all the pieces to certain sizes, then stitch them together to make a design.

(n.b. I always laugh when I think of my mom and quilts. My mom loves to sew but doesn't like quilting because she says, "It seems like such a waste of time to take a perfectly good fabric, chop it up into little pieces, and sew it together again!" =))

Here's some examples of the cut & piece stage:

Below is my work station - a big old cabinet that was in our apartment already. On top is my quilting board (hard plastic with measurements) and my rotary cutter (basically a pizza cutter for fabric). The candle has no sewing purpose =) The fabric below is strips of pink and white that I sewed together, side by side. I'm about to slice them up vertically, as you can see in the pictures further below. what are these pink and white strips for? You'll see!

I also had to cut out a bunch of yellow polka-dot squares:

And...when you sew the pink and white strips to the sides of the yellow squares, you get...

Ta-da! That's one of two "blocks" in this quilt. The other block is a lot more simple - I just cut that out of the novelty fabric, which had little sleeping babies on it. Once I had created enough "blocks" (13 of the yellow with checks and 12 of the novelty print) then it's time to sew them together in rows, like this:

On the ironing board, which is essential to have nearby because you're constantly "pressing" the fabric - making it flat to make it easy to sew

Close up of the two kinds of blocks sewed together
 Once I had 5 rows of 5 blocks each, then I sewed the rows together. Simple! 

What the "wrong side" looks like - underneath - with all the stitching
Now the cutting and piecing is done. On to...

Step 4: Borders
After the body of the quilt (the main part) is assembled, usually there's a border or two to add. Mainly this is for pizazz =) With my pattern, there were two borders, a small one and a big one. To keep it girly, I choose to make both borders pink.

The technique of adding borders is pretty simple: cut the fabric to the required width, then one by one sew it to the edges of the quilt. 
You can see the two borders here: skinny and fat, both pink.
Quilt complete with borders, held by yours truly in our windowless guest room aka sewing room. Also where we hang our wet laundry =)
Step 5: Quilting
But wait...haven't we been quilting this whole time?!? Yes, and no. So far all I've done is what's technically called "piecing" - that is, sewing the pieces of the quilt top (the decorative side) together. What makes a quilt a quilt is this next-to-final step. You basically make a fabric sandwich of three layers: the top pieced (decorative) layer - what I'm holding in the picture above - then a middle layer of "batting" (fluffy stuff that makes the quilt warm) - and a bottom layer of another fabric. Usually the bottom layer is just a large cut-out piece of fabric. You could "piece" the bottom layer too, but that's a lot of work! 

The action of quilting is sewing all these layers together. There are different ways to do that. Before sewing machines, our pioneer ancestors quilted by hand - ever heard of quilting bees? That's when a bunch of ladies would get together, stretch a quilt out on a frame (all 3 layers) and painstakingly stitch the layer together.

I didn't do that =)

You can also quilt on your sewing machine, I think. (I didn't do that either, but I imagine it would be quicker than hand-quilting!) Lucky for me, as I mentioned above, I have an aunt who has a long-arm quilting business. What that means is that she finishes other people's quilts (or her own) by attaching them to a gigantic frame and using a computer-guided sewing machine (with a long arm), quilts the fabrics together.

Here are some pictures to prove it:

The bottom layer of the quilt (plus an edge that won't be in the final quilt) attached to the huge frame. Next we attached the batting and the top decorative part.
The computerized sewing machine quilting through all 3 layers.
One of the neatest parts of this step was that I got to choose what patterns to have stitched into my quilt. Because the back fabric has teddy bears on it (you can kind of seem them in the picture above), I chose to have teddy bears stitched in the middle of each yellow square.

Teddy bear being stitched
Watching the machine work was so cool!! Once you chose the pattern, designated the parameters (with a laser, no less!), you just said "go" and it stitched the pattern in one continuous line. My mom and I were pretty mesmerized =)

And for the border, I chose a baby-themed pattern (no surprise!):

It also had a teddy bear in it - bonus!

The "novelty" blocks of sleeping babies got a "meandering" pattern, which just means a swoopy line. 

And, as a final special touch, I had her name stitched on the top of the quilt:

It says "Marie" if you can't tell. I had her middle and last names added too.
Step 6: Binding
After the quilt is officially quilted, it's taken off the rack and a final skinny border is added. I think I fudged this step (misplaced my instructions...) but it wasn't hard: just a folded-over piece of fabric (pink) is stitched on one side around the whole quilt, then hand-stitched on the back (I did that while catching up on Downton Abbey - season 4 starts tomorrow!!!!) The binding - as it's called - basically seals the layers and makes sure none of the batting gets out. It's a practical step but also looks nice. (Sorry - forgot to take a picture.)

Step 7: Give the quilt to your goddaughter and make everyone cry
Yep, I thought they would cry =) Let's just say the quilt was well received by MC's mom and dad! I think our goddaughter liked it too, but she didn't say much =) She looked awfully cute cuddled in it though!
With her grandma

Whew! That was fun =) Conclusion: making a quilt takes a long time but is a real treat and completely worth it. Like I said, I have some other ideas in the works....


Thursday, January 2, 2014

Christmas recap

I know Christmas isn't over yet...but we're back from our Christmas trip to visit Mr. M's family in the blizzardy North, and I'm back to work tomorrow, so Christmas vacation is just about done. (boo)

Christmas this year was...a lot of things. No one word to describe it, so I'll just share some stories.

Fantastic meeting with my spiritual director
My spiritual director lives in my husband's home town. He's the priest who married us and has become a really good friend. I arrange to meet with him whenever we're visiting, and this trip was no exception. The basic "theme" I shared with him was: "I feel stuck. My life is not panning out the way I wanted it to. Instead of being a stay-at-home, bread-baking, home-making mama, I have a stressful, demanding job while my husband is in school and the kiddoes are not coming. And I don't see any clear, immediate way out of it!"

(I explained to him how we have some medical options but are finding them difficult to schedule, and how adoption is a no-go as long as we live in our bedrooms-without-windows apartment.)

"Well," he said. "You do seem stuck!" Ahh...affirmation that I am not going crazy! 

Then he gave me two wonderful gifts. 1) the freedom - almost the "permission" - to do nothing for a while. In other words, my head has been aching as I pound it against doors that seem locked and about not pounding for a while, he suggested. Especially with the home / adoption situation - how about just letting it go for now. (Instead of, for example, scouring Craigslist to find another place to live or feverishly calculating our assets every month...) It's just so hard to "let go" for a while, because I'm afraid motherhood will never happen, you know? It was a good reminder that I can just live my life, keeping my heart open to the "next step" but stop pursuing it so frenetically...

And 2) he affirmed the goodness of my life, the goodness of my marriage, how I am not incomplete or lacking or somehow "less than" simply because I'm not a mother. It's crazy how easily I believe the lie that I need a child in order to be fulfilled/worthwhile/fill in the blank. Of course I desire motherhood so very badly...but it was so good and nourishing to hear (from a priest too - extra bonus) that God loves me and my life is valuable, here and now. Mother or not.

Not-so-fun family get-together
Over Christmas, Mr. M's extended family has a big ol' party. His mom is one of 10, so there are lots of aunts, uncles, cousins, and little kiddoes. It's a great group of people (and great food) but my IF insecurities were raging big time...ugh, I was just feeling so jealous and left out as the cousins with little kids (two have four each) were fawned over and everyone wanted to be around them and their adorable kids in Christmasy outfits. In comparison, we're just boring old adults who don't do anything cute...(even typing, this sounds awful, but I imagine many can relate...)

There was a really hard encounter too: we're talking with a cousin, about Mr. M's age, and ask, "Where's your wife?" "Oh, she's at home not feeling well. The second trimester has been pretty tough on her." Whoa...we didn't even know she was expecting. That was a really tough moment because the last time I saw this couple, the wife was complaining to me about how her mother-in-law was pressuring her to have kids and she didn't know if she wanted to yet, etc. etc.

Even worse, the cousin then asks us, in an irritatingly nonchalant voice, "So, when are you two having kids?" I utterly hate that question...the "when" drives me up the wall. As if it's just a question of flipping a switch or something!! I was already thrown off by the surprise pg announcement so I said (probably not too nicely), "Actually, we've been trying since we got married, so that's kind of a touchy subject. So far God hasn't blessed us." I think he realized it wasn't the right question to ask...which it wasn't! Why do people think that's any of their business anyway?

Thank goodness there was alcohol at the party...that encounter really threw me off balance, although I guess I shouldn't be surprised at other people's rudeness...I was probably rude in return, mea culpa. (The cousin did apologize to Mr. M, out of my earshot.)

And to end on a happy note...

Lovely time with nieces and nephews
When I'm with our eight nieces and nephews (they all live in Mr. M's home town), I almost forget about being childless. They are just so fun! They're between the ages of 10 and 16 and we just had a blast over break playing charades, making bracelets, watching the Hobbit, looking at all their Christmas loot...I love being an aunt and I wish so much they all didn't live 6 hours away!

Lovely Christmas gifts
I know Christmas is not about the gifts...but I was pretty pleased with mine nonetheless =) New cozy pajamas with matching slippers, a mini French press to take to work, the game Dominion, gift cards to Joann's for sewing supplies, etc. Made me feel loved =)

Onto the new year
We spent new year's eve with another married couple at their place, playing games, eating, laughing. It was pleasant company and surprisingly I didn't feel completely depressed over another year ending without becoming a mother! I think the graces from Christmas and from my meeting with my spiritual director were still active, I guess. And there is something nice about a completely new, fresh, blank year. Of course I wonder if this will be "the" year...please please please God! I'm grateful to God for the gift of being grateful at New Year's, especially for my husband. Another year with him - I'll take it =)