OUR “WE’VE BEEN DENIED BIO KIDS” VACATION
PART 2, VEGAS
When dealing with infertility, you learn after a while that you are never really safe. I’ve gotten into the habit of going everywhere expecting ANYTHING. Those of us who are forced to walk through life with any kind of child related loss face a constant bombardment of questions and conversations related to all things parent. It’s not just that it happens at all, but also that it’s a subject most often discussed with such presumptiveness, as if children are things everyone can just HAVE whenever and however they damn well please. Zip lining in Bootleg Canyon was on the agenda our first day in Vegas. Not only was it a unique experience for me, I’m going to go out a limb and dare to say that, in regards to the subject of infertility, zip lining is potentially a very “safe” activity to partake in. On the van ride over to the canyon, in typical infertile style Julio and I stayed quiet in our group of about fifteen to get the fertile lay of the land. There were no kids, although older kids I usually enjoy since they aren’t the trigger babies and toddlers are, and because for some reason unknown to science I never really outgrew my own adolescent attitude. It’s the verbal offerings of their parents that normally make me cringe. There were quite a few single people, people without their significant others along, and one older couple. And just one mere mention of someone with a child in college. On top of that we were thrilled with a seventy five degree not a cloud in the sky day as we hiked around the canyon and “flew” on four zip lines. Although the group spent a significant amount of time close together, topics such as a fear of heights, zip lining safety precautions, breaking techniques, and “we’re not really going to die, are we??” had to take precedence, even for the most effervescent of fertiles who may have been present. Overall I would label it a decent fertile world avoidance activity, especially when it’s a major network of zip lines that require focus and teamwork. But then again, I’m sure as I write this some poor infertile is stuck zip lining somewhere on earth with someone who is announcing to the world that she is “trying to get her body back” after having a baby (boo hoo), or with someone who is lamenting the “unfathomable” arrival of their empty nest (not an easy thing to deal with I acknowledge, but unlike infertility it’s within the normal spectrum of parental challenges). Given our usual luck I’m surprised Julio and I weren’t stuck zip lining with the only surviving septuplets on the west coast. It’s possible we just happened to get lucky on that beautiful day. Either way we enjoyed every minute of it.
During the hike on the way up to the first line, it came out that one of the gentlemen along on our excursion was a Vietnam Vet. This former helicopter pilot told the group proudly yet quietly of his accolades, one of which was that he had been shot down twice. And then the most horrible thing happened, though those of us who are infertile may not find it so strange since a lot of us have experienced something along similar lines. No one acknowledged this man. After his announcement, a brief awkward silence, and then people started talking rapidly and chaotically amongst themselves about other subject matters. The group then re-embarked, moving up the hill without prompting from our guides. Our cultural aversion to feeling was in full-fledged action! One of our guides who was somehow connected with the military fell into conversation with him, so I lagged behind and tried to listen as my brain continued to recoil from what just occurred. The man risks his life for our country and no one can give him not even a boo or a hidey ho? That’s ridiculous. I wonder if he brings it up just to see how cowardly people are, I wonder how much people’s reactions matter or don’t matter to him but most of all I wonder what it feels like to fight in a war serving this great country of ours only to then be met with such ambivalence towards your efforts. Vietnam veterans are an unacknowledged misunderstood unappreciated group of people if there ever was one. I have no idea how any of them survived all that they’ve been forced to bear. Goodness gracious. I was able to catch a moment where I pulled up alongside of him, turned my head towards his, and said pointedly “Thank you for your service.” The only other thing I could do in that moment was bask in the intermittent uselessness of being human. I felt about two inches tall as I put my stupid turdy thank you next to his sacrifice. Later on I found myself in a conversation with him and his wife about fear of heights, helicopters, and he even opened up and told me a story from his days in the military. I told him my flights in helicopters have been my favorites, but made sure to iterate I know nothing about flying them in combat and facetiously pointed out that I’m sure combat changes the equation a little bit. His wife smiled appreciatively. I love hearing people’s stories, but coming from a long line of public school teachers I don’t know crap about the military. “Don’t be a dumbass”, I reminded myself a few times before I responded to him. These days when I’m in conversation with someone who has had a unique, profound and likely traumatic experience, I do have a protocol for dealing with it available to me. I concentrate on responding to the person in the complete opposite way that people react to infertility. Yes, that’s right. The general responses I’ve witnessed to the subject of infertility are perfect role models for how NOT to talk to people. I make an effort to acknowledge but not fuss and try not to judge or give advice. I allow the person who has had the unique, profound and traumatizing experience WHO IS NOT ME to lead the conversation. Or not, if they so choose. I listen, and make an effort to not act like I know more than I know. I am not that good at all of these things, or even any of these things. But they pay significant dividends so I’m always grateful for the opportunity to practice. And hopeful that I don’t drag those around me through too much annoyance along the way.
Hey, do you want to see an infertile with PTSD go zip lining? You know you do. Actually, this video has nothing to do with infertility. It has everything to do with a neurotic nut job (me) who is afraid of heights and straight drops. Enjoy!
There seemed to be more toddlers, babies and preggos out and about in Vegas than there were the year before. It wasn’t unbearable, and I noticed compared to last year that for some reason it didn’t hurt quite as much. Although my tolerance for it is barely covered by what I’m convinced is the slowest forming emotional callous in the history of the universe. But the truly good news is that the fertile world, though mockable everywhere, is extra mockable in Vegas. So it was really nice of them to give me all those opportunities to point out under my breath what a dumb idea it is to bring kids here and how utterly pointless a pregnant woman is in this city, all as I was able to witness them subtly flailing around not really adapting to the absence of their self-perceived position as the center of attention. The best thing about pregos in Vegas is nobody cares that they are pregnant. It’s mildly amusing to see them looking a touch out of sorts, being away from their little “I fucked and got lucky” stint in the suburban limelight. On the elevators, for example, they are either ignored, or are the recipients of the occasional out of the corner of the eye glance that softly whispers “what are YOU doing here moron??” And yes, I did spend some of my time tagging behind my husband, who seems to enjoy failing to pretend not to hear me calling out “Honey I just DREAM of being able to one day bring our young family to witness excessive gambling, alcohol consumption, lots of provocatively dressed women AND potential prostitution!! Wouldn’t that be nifty???” I realize there may be some young families who are visiting because of required conventions, but there’s no need to ruin all of my fun by pointing this out. The aspect of ungratuitous fertiles overly concerned about hanging onto their youthful coolness by visiting Vegas is much more appetizing. So really, thank you, fertile world. Watching you schlep your strollers down Las Vegas Blvd through throngs of people drinking and smoking at 11:00 am, past Pin Up Pizza as “Love Stinks” by the J. Geils Band was blasting over the street’s sound system provided me with entertainment that was far beyond ANY I could have purchased.
In her 2009 New York Times article A Roadmap For Life Without Children, Shelagh Little astutely points out “….the fact is that family remains the single biggest organizing principle in mainstream life.” Oh, but not on the Vegas strip it isn’t. There is at least one place on this planet where life doesn’t revolve around the fertile world. And I just have to love Vegas for that. Although the satisfaction gleaned from experiencing this could never stamp out my hurt at being denied biological children, it does have value. Because for a few days I actually got to be in an environment where no one really cares what trimester you are in, if you have stretch marks or not, or about your baby’s defecation patterns. NO. BODY. CARES. Perpetual communal obsession over your child’s activities, how they are doing in school, and where they might go to college are, maybe not so inadvertently, pushed behind the curtains as vices, illusion, and escape take center stage. The feats of intoxication, sex, and gambling winnings are pursued as though they are causes as noble as landing a job or working on a relationship. Pleasures and risks that are typically looked down on in life are considered IMPORTANT in Vegas. And I happily soaked in every bit of it.
The following day we took advantage of another perfect and unseasonably warm weather situation and sat poolside. Things at the pool were more tolerable than last year. Or we’ve just become excessively numb to our pain. Either way, the sequence of our, and more specifically, my experience went something like this:
1) Arrive early and get settled
2) Watch the breeders as they descend upon the scene and observe where they congregate
3) Remember they always congregate near us due to some as of yet unexplained law of physics
4) Watch moms with toddlers who don’t know each other bond
5) Remind husband that I won’t ever get to bond with women that way, ever
7) Watch as a prego sits down a few seats away from us minutes after we settle in our new location
8) Ask husband why is it necessary for her to rub her belly in order to approach and sit down in a pool chair
9) Point out to husband that I don’t have to rub MYSELF before sitting down anywhere
10) Make sure husband is sitting in a position that blocks my view from prego
11) Husband relocates because he needs more sun and a break from my bitter ass
12) Tensely tell the pool staff that I need the back of the chair next to me UP (prego view blocking strategy) after they put it down a second time
13) Ignore the stares of the significantly more relaxed pool guests around me (Hey, I’m infertile I’m going to be more of an intense pool goer than your average shmo, deal with it)
14) Break down and purchase my first Tanqueray and tonic a few hours too early – maybe THAT’LL help
15) Entertain the thought that if IVF #4 had worked I would look like her now, as opposed to blocking it out so that I don’t become an insane ax murderer later in life
16) Sit with my feelings of longing and sadness
17) Remind nature and the universe of how badly they screwed up
18) Refer to prego as “a real fucking belly rubber” in an e-mail to friend
19) Move again
20) Reunite with husband
21) Practice back floats to tune out planet fertile
At the time, this day at the pool seemed so normal it didn’t even occur to me to write about it. But that’s just it, sequences like the one above have become our normal.
One of the great things about Vegas is that, unlike suburban Long Island, kids are not one of the first thing to come up in conversation. And with Vegas being a tourist destination, people are much more adept at being able to hold a conversation that actually doesn’t involve the subject of children. Take the cue, fertile world…….Being in a different place, you definitely have your layers of buffering. Such as where are you from, weather, what are you doing while in Vegas, etc. We went our whole four day vacation with no one asking us if we have kids, which could very well be a world record. We enjoyed the respite, but in one way or another, sooner or later, infertility is always there.
The harsh moment at the Celine Dion concert I should have seen coming. I’m just going to call it now. So much that hits us infertiles comes seemingly out of nowhere, but this one was totally predictable. I didn’t fall off of the infertile turnip truck yesterday, and I take full responsibility for the fact that my love for Celine blinded me on this one. In an article in Las Vegas magazine, Celine made the claim that her success was more about her connection with her audience than her talent or her voice. I beg to differ on a level. As a flutist, I just simply adore her pipes. Her voice, even her speaking voice is gorgeous, as well as of course the ways in which uses her singing voice along with her absolute ability to deliver the emotion of a song. I had always wanted to hear her perform, and we went off to the concert with much anticipation as well as a mistaken subconscious level of comfort, with her being a fellow infertile and all. She opened with a set of her 1990’s power ballads, and I squeezed my husband’s leg again and again as I fell into the trance of “Holy shit, she sounds even better live…..who sounds better live any more……she performs four shows a week and she’s using her voice this much….are you kidding me?” I was fully mesmerized by the time she introduced Billy Joel’s “Lullaby” with a speech about how the love a mother feels for a child is the greatest love a person can have and how she thanks god every night for blessing her with children. “Well what about me then?” I wondered, as I continued to squirm. Wanting her to just get on with it and sing, I didn’t realize the full hail storm was only about to hit. The song “Lullaby”, which I’m sure we all know is about the tender love a parent has for a child, was sung to the backdrop of a slide show of Celine’s twins, conceived on IVF attempt #5 or 6. It was devastating. I put my head in my hands as my husband tried to comfort me. In that moment the difference between getting no kids at all from five IVFs and getting twins from five or six IVFs hit me like a jackhammer. Her performance of this song was the most complete and accurate encapsulation of the bond and experience of which we are being deprived of for no good reason. Made even more stabbing by the coupling of her stunning singing and Billy Joel’s exceptional song writing. I willed the song to end before I lost it, all as I repeatedly heard the Coliseum audience ohhing and ahhing and giggling at pictures of the twins. Doesn’t anyone else find this upsetting? In her article A Roadmap for Life Without Children, Shelagh Little describes the experience of infertility as “a unique kind of loneliness”. Yeah, I’ll say. Sitting in the middle of a nearly sold out audience at Cesar’s Palace Coliseum that is rejoicing over the very thing that is urging me to fall apart would be a prime example of this. Later in the song I looked over to see my husband watching the whole thing, staring at the stage with the most helpless look on his face, as if he were staring at a train wreck in progress he had no power to do anything about. The only thing that saved the evening was Celine herself. The woman is truly capable of portraying heartache in a song, and includes many in her set list, such as “At Seventeen” and “All By Myself”. The show is definitely not meant to be a yippy skippy happy slappy life is wonderful gala. “Ne Me Quitte Pas” (rough translation: please don’t leave me) was one of the highlights of the evening. Aside from her apparent appeal to suburban middle, and yes, fertile, America, she’s the real deal. Her openness about her infertility is a good thing, though I wish she wouldn’t infer that her persistence had anything to do with her procuring children from running on the IVF hamster wheel. ANYONE who does multiple IVFs IS persistent, whether they get kids out of it or not. And those who chose not to embark on the IVF journey at all are probably, in a way, smarter than the rest of us. Either way she’s an amazing singer who truly works for her money, and I’d go to hear her if she wore a shower curtain and sang on top of the Staten Island landfill. With noise blocking head phones and a blindfold in tow for the baby part of her performance, of course.
Our last day found us having an of course late breakfast at one of our favorite Vegas breakfast spots in a hotel on the strip. As I contemplated getting a tattoo which I ended up not getting, we got friendly with our server, who happened to be the manager. It came out in conversation that we too are in the restaurant business, and before we knew it, we were caught up in the act of getting a surprise tour of the premises. It was wonderful for my husband to be able to see one of Thomas Keller’s kitchens, and the gentleman who offered to take us around was without a doubt one of the nicest people on earth. Swept up in the spontaneity of the moment, as well as in the enjoyment of his company, the juxtaposition of the fertile world tapping on our shoulders felt more like a kick in the shins. “I have a six year old” he announced excitedly in the midst of the kitchen tour. Simultaneously my stomach dropped as my mental gears shifted, all as a buzzer sounded (eeeehhhht) and the descending pattern of what what what whaaaaaa resounded in my head. Now, I don’t hold it against people who inform me they have children. This in and of itself is not a problem. People do have six year olds on this earth, it’s not illegal. The problems arise from the EXPECTATIONS people have following their announcement. The expectation that we will then announce our child status, and/or that it is NOT sad or traumatic for me in any way (at this time of the loss of our biological children), to take an interest in the account of someone ELSE’S six year old birthday party. Fortunately, I’m not without a coping strategy.
Listen up, infertiles. It’s a two phase process that makes up the game I like to call “Divert the Fertile.” Phase one is don’t conform to social control and act like having a child who is turning six is one of the greatest feats to pull off in the existing universe. Replace the expected oohs and ahhs and questions about the kid with neutral “MMMMs” and “mmm-hmmms”. Phase two must happen quickly after phase one, before the fertile has time to 1) identify their confusion over the fact you don’t seem to share in their narcissistic notion that they are amazing and 2) Before the fertile has ANY space whatsoever (which they most often craftily pounce on) to quell their need to find out you are just like them by inquiring about YOUR child situation. Remember: your silence over your child situation is not enough of a clue for most fertiles. So you need to subtly yet swiftly move onto phase two which is basically build on ANYTHING ELSE they mention besides their children. Now if they only mention their children and say, syphilis, this could be a bit challenging. Fortunately though people with kids tend to unknowingly throw plenty of bones to work with. Instead of focusing on his child I chose to focus on its birthday cake that he mentioned he got from the restaurant. “Well, you sure have access to the right place, our brunch pastries were delicious!!”
He then turned to me and said “all the moms wanted to know where my wife got the cake”. Now I didn’t say you don’t have to be persistent. Being that I’m not exactly all about moms bonding over where to get 6 year old b-day party cakes these days, I commented “well it must have been one good looking scrumptious cake then!” Cake. Cake cake cake cake cake cake cake.
I’ve been approached with the argument, “Well how do you KNOW they are fertile?” The answer is #1 I can often tell but sometimes I can’t and #2 it doesn’t matter. Sure, there’s a chance the child could be adopted or that they are having trouble conceiving a second. Not that either of those things are anyone’s business, and either way that still puts them in a space that is currently un-relatable from the childless grief trenches Julio and I currently stand in. But odds are that none of that is the case, and you have to play to the odds. This is Vegas, remember? Plus, if there are fertility issues present then the person will be that much more sensitive to my cues. With women you have to be way more insistent as men are better at switching to talking about things other than their kids. Probably because they often do less of the work it takes to raise them. And this is all no commentary whatsoever on what I think of people. We have great memories of our tour that was generously given to us for no good reason, and of the person who gave it. It is just the nature of the beast, the way of the jungle. Only the strong and smart survive.