Met My Limit

Sleeping has been tough lately.  My mind races with all kinds of thoughts, mostly wondering about how our appointments will go on the 20th and the post-IVF consult with my RE on Jan 2nd. I wish that we could get our pathology results back before Christmas, but my RE is going out of town and the 2nd was the first appointment we could get to see her. The practice is huge, so I’m sure that another doctor could meet with us but I want to see what she has to say. While we have decided to take a break for a few months from treatment, I feel like knowing something from this loss will help me to process all of this over winter break and move forward in the new year. My mind bounces back and forth between all of these thoughts and the hours waste away. Soon, 4:40 AM has arrived and I feel like I’ve gotten 20 minutes of sleep.

I’m a high school teacher. I have about 160 students this year with class sizes at the highest I’ve ever seen in my 11 year career.  Working while going through treatment has been extremely difficult.  To compound this, I am also at a new school this year. This was to simplify things, but in a lot of ways it has made life possibly more stressful than they were last year. I’ve also found myself making constant comparisons to my old school. I taught there for 10 years and if you’ve done the math, that was pretty much my entire career. Things weren’t always easy, but it was a well ran school. Where I am now, there are a lot of policies stated, implemented, and changed again sometimes within a matter of days. I’ve felt incompetent. I’ve felt like I am not being considered as a professional. I’ve felt like support staff find ways to make their lives easier and pass what they don’t want to deal with on to the faculty.  It has been a rough year professionally. Combine that with our personal struggles with fertility and I’ve met my limit.

Getting ready this morning, I could feel myself getting overwhelmed. We haven’t set our budget for the month. For teachers, January is the longest month.  We get paid at the end of November and then three weeks later prior to the break. The next pay check doesn’t come until the end of January. Being off for the break, buying gifts, seeing friends, traveling to see family-it all adds up and you can find yourself in a pickle come mid-January.  So, this morning I have fixated on the budget.  I have also been composing a response to a parent. I’ve been sifting through all the papers yet to be graded. I’ve been going over where my three preps are and where we need to be by the end of each period that day.  My heart rate is elevated and I feel a shortening of breath.

I tell my husband that I’m overwhelmed. He knows and understands. He is as well.  He’s also a teacher. He’s also facing all of what I am professionally, but with no planning period. He’s also felt the devastation of our loss.  As we get closer and closer to school, our car feels like a confined space filled with stale air. Deep breath. I tell myself to focus on one period at a time until the day is over.

My planning period arrives and I go in search of a form I need for a fund-raiser. I see three different offices and three different answers to where this form can be found. I arrive finally to the bookkeeper. I stand in her doorway and wait for acknowledgement since she was speaking with another secretary. Finally acknowledged, I ask for the form and I am told I have to look on the server. I explain that others have told me she has the form. Impatiently, she points to a crate and says that the form is there but it is also on the server.  It is all I can do to not scream as I take the forms I need, turn on my heel, and speed out of the office.

One rude person in the course of the day, typically not such a big deal.  Rude person thrown in the middle of my life that I feel is completely out of control, and I’m ready to write my resignation letter. It is just too much.

On the way home, my husband says that there is an article in the New York Times about stress.  Tonight, it was the first thing I read when I got some down time after dinner. While she’s mostly talking about small anxieties, she frames it in a larger picture, how those smaller stressors and our responses to them can make it more difficult to handle catastrophe when it happens. She talks about emotional capital and how we allow ourselves to put too much energy into what she calls “extraneous catastrophes”- those things that “don’t deserve much of our emotional capital.”

I can’t change the way the school is ran. I can’t change how that rude bookkeeper reacts to a question I have. I can’t change having 165 students and very little time to evaluate all of their work. I don’t have to let one really rough semester define the remainder of my year, or the 11 years I’ve taught. I don’t have to put more emotional capital in than I have in my reserves, and right now I’m almost on empty.

Perhaps if my professional career was all that was taxing me, those things would be worth being fairly upset about. Right now, my professional self will have to take a back burner to my personal battles. In the meantime, I can try to find possible ways to manage these things when they happen. I can seek the help of those whose counsel I trust. I can relish in the moments I have working with a pretty awesome group of young people. I can continue to try and be a positive person in their lives and create a space where they are comfortable to take the risks I hope they’ll take in learning.

I guess it is sort of like that prayer: “God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, Courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”

Here is the link to the article.

Acupuncturist or Therapist?

I kept my appointment with my acupuncturist today.  With the last miscarriage, I was so scattered that I totally forgot I had the appointment until I was leaving work at 5:30, well after they’d closed. I scrambled to make the apologetic phone call and she answered it with grace and understanding.

I’d seen her the week prior before the ultrasound where no heartbeat was seen.  She and the receptionist were happy to see me as I crossed the threshold into the office. Last week I shared that the morning sickness, or feeling like I was constantly carsick, was taking a toll on me. She was eager to hear how I was feeling and whether my symptoms were getting better.  I hadn’t planned to have the conversation in the middle of the waiting room, but no one else was there and I just couldn’t pretend until I got back to the treatment room to share what had taken place in just a short 7 days.

They were both devastated and sincerely concerned, which I appreciate.  She asked about where that left us and what the RE had shared. I explained that we’d get the pathology back in a few weeks, so until then it was sort of a waiting game.  I shared concerns about my thyroid and how I wanted to be sure to have them run blood work on it and she agreed.  Then we headed back to the exam room.

As she began to place needles in various symmetrical locations on my body, she asked how my husband was doing and if we were talking.  What I intended to be a short explanation of how immediately we hadn’t been able to really talk, but that we were talking and dealing with it together, turned into a long detour about my parents’ health.

Friday following my D&C I had plans to go home. I’d made these plans well before we knew about the lost pregnancy. My mother called and shared that my step-father had a scan for other medical concerns, but in the process they found nodules on his lungs.  He’s smoked since he was fifteen and even with all the pleading in the world and hypnosis, he’s not been able to quit. He’s now 72.  My mother has early signs of dementia.  She started forgetting her words about two years ago.  Her longterm memory is great, but short term and simple words are a struggle.  I went home to sit with my mother in the waiting room and to help with bringing my stepfather home from the procedure.  I talk and talk about their health problems and my concerns for a good 25 minutes with my acupuncturist.  She listens intently to how they have purchased a dream retirement home, but have not made headway to actually move into it and sell their other home. How they live in limbo and neither is a home, a place of refuge and protection, but rather a burden they struggle to maintain. How they spend hours driving between these homes and the effect this non-move has had on their lives and social connections. She listens as I share how I’ve pleaded with my mother to get a specialist to treat her instead of her regular doctor. How my stepfather acknowledges the issue, but his depression and drinking have him and my mother trapped in an eternal state of stagnation and have left me beating my head against a very stubborn wall.

As I dry up, I realize that I simply wanted to say that I had to go home Friday to help my mother with my stepfather’s surgery, so my husband and I had just been able to really talk on Sunday. I feel guilty for unloading all of this on her. She’s my acupuncturist after all, not my therapist.  I apologize and she says, “you haven’t unloaded anything on me and there is no need to be sorry.”

I am thankful I didn’t cancel the appointment. I am grateful for this woman who heals me not only with eastern medicine, but also with grace and understanding.

How are you?

Seems like those three words should be words of comfort. Someone is concerned about you and they want to hear how you are. The difference lies in who is doing the asking. Close friend? Sure those are words of genuine interest and concern. Receptionist at the RE’s office the day of your D&C? Empty greeting.

It isn’t that she, or anyone else I encountered who I didn’t really know or who didn’t really know me and what was taking place for us that day, intended those words to be hollow and empty. I know it sounds crazy for me to take out my frustrations on a random stranger or chance acquaintance, but could she not see all of the blood had been drained from my face? Couldn’t she see that my heart was breaking and the rest of me was crumbling right there with it? Couldn’t she see it was all that I could do to put one foot in front of the other and walk into that office, the same office that had given me life and now was going to clean up what remained of that life? And to be fair, it wasn’t just her. It had been a build up of people from the moment we found out that we lost the heartbeat at the ultrasound on Tuesday.  As soon as we stepped from the exam room and made the appointment for the D&C, those words, “how are you?” became knives I wanted to throw.

On the day of our ultrasound I was 7 weeks and 3 days along, but our baby was 6 weeks and 5 days. It isn’t that we had taken for granted the miracle that was taking place inside of me. Having had a slight scare with bleeding around week 5, but a good ultrasound and no bleeding since, the signs weren’t there. The week prior, we’d seen our little peanut a second time and the RE was able to pick up a heartbeat at 115 bmp. When I climbed up on the exam table and the RE began the exam, I guess we both just expected to see a similar picture of the previous two times, maybe a bit bigger and with a stronger heartbeat. Instead, the RE’s face turns grey and she grows quiet. Our little peanut was difficult to see and find; even after a great search, no heartbeat was present. There were white lacey streamers in the gestational sac and the RE wasn’t sure, but felt that it could be blood.

I sat there, devoid of feeling, while she talked about our options. I call them options, but really there was only one. Her immediate suggestion was a D&C. There was talk of sending the tissue off for pathology. If it was chromosomal, we could check the other embryos. If it was something taking place within me, we could run tests and start different medications. This all washed over me. I was numb.

So by the time we made it to Thursday morning and I was signing in for my D&C, the words “how are you?” in a chipper voice and a smile didn’t have the effect that they should. I’d reached my limit with those words. I am not okay. I am not fine. I will not be okay today and I will not be okay tomorrow. 5 years from now or even 30 years from now, there will be a place in me that will never be okay.

The issue is that you can’t wear a sign around your neck that announces to those who have no idea what is going on for you under the surface how you are doing. We kept this pregnancy to ourselves for the most part. We’d only shared with our close friends who knew about our day to day journey with infertility and our parents and immediate family.  Beyond that, no one really knew we were expecting and of course I wasn’t showing. I think that in some ways that is the most difficult part. With the first pregnancy, we were open and shared it with people.  When it failed, we weren’t sure if we’d make the same choice again if we were able to have that choice. It was difficult to have to have a similar conversation with everyone when they asked about that failed pregnancy, and we didn’t want to go through that again-or so we thought. When we found out that this last round was successful, we kept it pretty close and were cautiously optimistic.  While I have been surrounded by those who know and I am eternally grateful for those people, I have had great difficulty acting like life is normal with those who don’t. I believe that is why those three words are so difficult for me to manage. It isn’t that I want to have people feel sorry for us or anything like that. I just need to be able to be honest with them when they ask, “how are you?”