I Saw Red

Transforming my space on the journey from I wish to what is

I’m not a big crier. I mean, I cry when I’m hurt or sad and normal things like that. But it is not often my initial response to things. When it is, however, it comes out of nowhere, like a pop up thunder shower on an otherwise banal weather day.

I was making love with my husband one sweet morning a few months after we lost our children when it hit me. I realized it was over. I could barely hold it until the moment passed, upon which I burst into tears. A wistful warrior in the midst of laying down her arms but not quite sure how to do it, I sobbed to my husband, “I just really really really loved trying to make a baby with you”. Baby making sex was my absolute favorite, and being that it was 2.5 years into our odyssey from hell before I started to acknowledge it likely would not yield anything, we got to partake in quite a bit of it. During my journey I’ve had the misfortune of encountering the tragic “planet earth is flat” type notion that the kind of sex one has impacts their chances of getting pregnant. Witnessing the fact that mediocre sex, sex between people who have absolutely no regard for one another and acts that are far worse often lead to pregnancy coupled with my own experiences are surefire proof of nature’s indifference.

“How do you know it’s over?” and “But aren’t you still trying?” are questions I often field from the misinformed masses when our current life situation comes up in conversation. The general lack of knowledge out there not only about baby making, but more so that there are infinite things that can prevent it from happening never ceases to amaze me. These questions to me are along the lines of other scintillating queries such as “Well how do you know he’s really dead?” or “Are you sure it’s actually cancer?” So for those who may be wondering, I offer an explanation, although I have to admit I don’t seem to be rounding up much patience about it. It’s called a diagnosis. As in I have endometriosis, which entails in my case, among other things, highly elevated natural killer cell activity, and an endometrium that is not friendly to implantation. And as in an unfortunate combination of my husband’s and my HLA allele genes that does not allow my body to create an immune tolerance to our embryos. Along with an approximately 2% chance of conceiving on one’s own per cycle at age almost 43 even if all of the aforementioned barriers didn’t exist, as well as my complete and horrific knowledge of all we tried that didn’t work.  I of course wish this wasn’t the case.  But it is.

So in answer to the occasional irrelevant questions I get, yes, we still have sex during ovulation. But we now do it also grappling with an understanding more thorough than any human being should have to bear that it will lead to, like all of the times before, nothing. We do it with the understanding that our case is about as close to impossible as you’re going to get along with the spirit that nothing is impossible. And, most importantly with the knowledge that there are no rewards for this attitude. After four and a half years as an infertile, I have had to find other sources of inspiration, motivation, and reasons for being, as I know for sure any type of belief that one can have a child always falls on the deaf ears of this random universe.

As I sobbed in bed that morning, with my husband and then for some time after, my all too common craving for a change of scenery returned with a vengeance. We had been trying to make a baby in that bedroom for four years at that point.  It seemed our living space was suffering from the divide between what is and what we wished would have been.

Infertility in and of itself leaves you with a life that, on many levels, no longer makes sense. Ending treatments with nothing to show for it only intensifies this conundrum. We find ourselves in a neighborhood of breeders, and very nice ones at that. But the fact we have good neighbors doesn’t change the fact we are still immersed in a sea of school buses and bands of parents waiting to meet them, along with exorbitant taxes for a high level school district we’ll never utilize. Oh, and let’s not forget the intermittent fertile world festivities.

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A few houses away from mine, this is a scene I drive home to every so often

On one level I see this as fun and celebratory. And I can’t say that if I had received the grand gift and privilege of children that I wouldn’t have one myself.  But to someone who has been through what I’ve been through it feels like one giant “I HAVE KIDS” penis.

I think I’m going to set up a hookah bar in my front yard.  Or perhaps a miniature Las Vegas…..now that would be cool.  But I’ve digressed.

As the months wore on we assessed that, like it or not, due to our businesses, for the next five years at least we will not going anywhere. And as all of this came clear it also occurred to me there was probably nowhere to go anyway. Like most other out of the normal spectrum of life losses, that which you can never have is everywhere, so on a certain level you are saddled with learning how to live with it. That said, we haven’t ruled it out to one day move out of the particularly pointed family with kids deluge in which we currently live.

In the meantime I decided that we had to completely change the bedroom. I wish our old bedroom did not evoke painful memories, but that’s not what was.  And there was no guilt in getting rid of our Ikea mishaps that had been taken apart and put back together more times than their rickety design could bear, or in letting go of the dresser my Mom used when she was first married back in 200BC. So a new bedroom set that would complement our newly redone wood floors was in order, as had it not been for infertility we would have gotten one much sooner anyway.

I didn’t really think it would help. Life at the time felt like a slog, and any efforts I made in it robotic. Plus I had just gotten through four years of nothing easing my pain. But as I hunkered down to paint one amicable August day, I felt a few faint sparks. With the room prepped and the window frames sanded out (yes, we even changed the stain color on the window frames!!), I felt as though I was standing in remnants of the life I thought I’d have as I started to edge the primer onto our accent wall. A rich Chianti red, I found myself feeling agitation now as I looked at it. In our old life it represented passion, love, anticipation and excitement.  What we wished would be. “That color has so got to go!” my instincts roared. What did I see now? I still saw red, but now it effortlessly evoked others things. Inflammation (as in endometriosis), rage, grief, disappointment. Bloodshot eyes from crying. Yes, even “not a crier” mine. Danger, PTSD. And mostly, blood. As in I was always getting mine drawn. And worse, seeing it at the end of every cycle. Menstruation. What is.  So with the sounds of other people’s children playing wafting through my open windows, I painted. And painted and painted.

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We ended up with a soft cream bedroom and espresso colored furniture which we made sure to set up in a completely different arrangement. Although still in need of accessories, our new room has made a subtle and inexplicable difference for the better. And although I had my share of “what I really wanted was a crib” moments after our furniture was delivered, the change in scenery ended up providing a respite of sorts. Not yet healed enough for any kind of “new beginning” celebratory hoopla in our life, it at least feels like a more authentic “now”.

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As I was putting down the paint in our bedroom, it felt so right that my attention ended up turning to our vacant light blue bedroom. I announced to my husband mid project that we “absolutely have to paint that damn thing”. Our light blue bedroom had served as a makeshift TV room for the first few years in our house as we waited to rip out the delicious wall paneling and 1956 builder’s floor tile in the downstairs den. There was always something about that bedroom, even people who came to visit and spent time in there would say so. It was where I would go after all of my procedures, it was where I recovered from my surgery, and it was where I would automatically go every single time I found out I wasn’t pregnant. And it was going to be the nursery. In the chaos of entering a fixer upper house almost 5.5 years ago now, I haphazardly decided on a light blue amidst the pile of other decisions I was making. Yes, I too back then lived with the naïve assumption that we would be able to have kids, so thus the light blue got slapped on in the middle of a whole mess of other projects. During my resting times amid infertility I’d come up with furniture arrangements, preferably those that accommodated twins. Where would the cribs go, and I wouldn’t want them to be too near the heat, it’s kind of dry….my mind would always meander through a myriad of baby care details during my two week waits.

The room had now become a frigid light blue tomb. Violatingly different from what I had wished it would be.  And so the first week in November I painted it. I was ready. As is true in life, in infertility you never know what moments you are going to meet. I’d have thought that my painting of this nursery that will never be would be dramatic, poignant, and that I’d have flashbacks of every baby dream I’d ever had in this room. Instead, if I was plagued with anything, it was indecision. Is the spring leaf green too bright? If so, which wall/walls should it go on? Is this warm caramel color right with the green? Is it too dark, too yellow, not yellow enough? What would Nicole Curtis do? Indecision doesn’t happen to me often so when it does I flounder even more since I’m not used to it. And at one point I realized I was looking for way more from the moment than it was going to give me. I was over reaching for the possible symbolism of growth and new beginnings in the spring leaf green, and paying way to much homage to the potential grounding quality of the caramel brown. I had decided along the way, as I have with many things lately, that since we can’t have kids then we will have a great office. Sounds completely illogical I know, but I now feel this “everything I can control is going to kick ass” proclamation often.  But at one point this voice said to me “Nothing will ever be as great as your kids would have been. It’s not like this room could turn out crappier than the fact your kids aren’t here. So, just paint.” And I did, propelled forward by this realization.  I painted in the day and the night and after gum surgery and as my husband was opening his 5th restaurant and as parents pushing strollers moseyed by our house. I painted.

All I could feel once the walls were covered with their new colors was relief.  I’m sure I’ll get asked if I’m “excited” about our new office, to which I’m sure I’ll reply “no”.  So far I’ve found the things we’ve done because we can’t have the kids we wished for are not in any way exciting.  But transforming a room is not stagnant either, so, I’ll take it.  I often think of our old space, the red and blue and all that we though would be, as that dimension of our existence slowly settles into the place of my dreams and forever nestles itself into the deep corners of my heart.

The former nursery in waiting, now an office in waiting

The former nursery in waiting, now an office in waiting

In regards to “trying” to conceive when it’s really over, I don’t know why people don’t understand that focusing everything on a chance so minuscule that it may as well not exist at all snuffs out the light of one’s soul. Rather than generate hope and excitement, it is in fact no way to live. I suppose my micro home renovations are quiet assertions of what my life is now, whether I like it or not. Experience has taught me there is infinite power in what is, and only limpness in forming one’s life around what we wish would be.

I’m not sure exactly why the different scenery helps, but it does. I’ve thrived on this kind of change ever since I can remember. My childhood bedroom was around 10 X 12 feet, and in it I had a bed, dresser, nightstand, desk, and bookshelf. And at least four different furniture arrangements that worked as I innately moved things around every so often, probably a couple of times a year.  The truth is I’m horribly sensitive to my surroundings and sometimes that’s a good thing. As an infertile, there are harsh memories everywhere, as just existing at all is perpetually hurtful. Changing the backdrop somehow, at least for me, makes the reminders of the life we wish we had less frequent and nagging.

Our truth is that we are grieving the loss of our children in the very house we bought to raise them in. And no amount of gratitude that we have for our home and our marriage, and I can assure you we’ve got plenty, is going to change this reality.  No longer treading water in the life that we were trying to acquire that was out of our reach for no good reason, our home is becoming closer and closer to representing the life we currently have. Even though it’s not the life we wanted. In that I’m finding a slightly better quality of being. And what just may be a microscopic measure of peace.

HUMAN/THE KILLERS//I did my best to notice/When the call came down the line/Up to the platform of surrender/I was brought but I was kind/And sometimes I get nervous/When I see an open door/Close your eyes, clear your heart/Cut the chord//Are we human, or are we dancer?/My sign is vital, my hands are cold/And I’m on my knees looking for the answer/Are we human or are we dancer?//Pay my respects to grace and virtue/Send my condolences to good/Give my regards to soul and romance/They always did the best they could/And so long to devotion/You taught me everything I know/Wave goodbye, wish me well/You’ve gotta let me go//Are we human, or are we dancer?/My sign is vital, my hands are cold/And I’m on my knees looking for the answer/Are we human, or are we dancer?//Will your system be alright/When you dream of home tonight/There is no message we’re receiving/Let me know, is your heart still beating?

 

6 thoughts on “I Saw Red

  1. Sarah, I always enjoy reading your stories (or thoughts) but this last one really touched me because While I don’t know the pain of infertitly I do know the feeling of purging or of letting go. Whether you know it or not you are an inspiration to many!

    • Thanks – it’s so sweet to have you on here:-) Interesting point regarding purging and letting go – and I just realized I should have included the picture you took of me with your “IT IS WHAT IT IS” sign in this post. But I’m sure there will be plenty more opportunities to use it!

  2. Your heart is beating oh so beautifully.

    Who the hell is Nicole Curtis? I have resisted responding to your writings for so long. I did not wish to intrude or cause you anguish by saying the “wrong” thought but…after these last two posts I must say what I have thought for some time. You are one terrific person and partner. It is truly a pleasure to know you and Julio. With deep respect, Harold

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    • Oh, Doll! Thanks for “being there” for us, and especially me throughout this crisis. It has meant a lot. Nicole Curtis is a “restoration expert” who has a show on DIY I think it is. But she restores homes from the late 18 and early 19 hundreds, not cookie cutter mid century splits like mine.

  3. This post made me teary. And it made me laugh. And it made me think. Enjoy your new surroundings. I have been meaning to get some new furniture for the spare room/onetime potential nursery forever. (It’s currently furnished in dh’s college apartment castoffs. I did get a new bedspread a few years ago, which helped perk things up a bit.) And once Aunt Flo leaves for good (I’m going to be 54, it HAS to be sooner vs later, right??!), I am getting new linens & paint for my bedroom as well!

    • Thanks:-) And yes, I really think Aunt Flo can leave now. Too bad my thoughts will have no effect on that either way. You’ve paid, and quite possibly over paid, your dues!!

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