Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The apple tree

I spent this morning with my parents who were in town for my nephew's birthday party. We had coffee and lunch and then parted. It was a nice visit, but after they left I realized all the things we had not discussed. As I age and as I travel through my marriage, I am becoming increasingly aware of how, growing up, there were topics that were either not spoken about at all, or that were mentioned but never fully fleshed out. I am sure this is not uncommon, but with Mo's three miscarriages last year, this familial tendency has become painfully clear on more than one occasion.

Mo and I had shared the news of our first pregnancy with both of our families as soon as we saw the heartbeat on ultrasound. Unfortunately, this meant that a few weeks later, we also had the share the terrible news when we lost the pregnancy. After the miscarriage and D&C, I telephoned my mother to tell her. She was sympathetic and tried to be comforting for a moment, but she quickly added that in "her day" those things happened "all the time" and women often "didn't even know" they were pregnant and just thought they had had a late period. Fair enough on the facts, I suppose (although frankly it's hard to imagine what women were thinking when they had morning sickness and no period for over two months). But my mother was really missing the human side of the truth - that her son and new daughter-in-law were experiencing a devastating loss.

My mother repeated a version of this line of reasoning following the next miscarriage. At this point, her inability to tolerate her own discomfort enough to acknowledge our loss really started to sting. Mo was terribly hurt by my mother's behavior. And I was left feeling conflicted. I felt strongly protective of Mo and resonated deeply with her upset. And my mother's words felt like a dismissal of my need to be comforted as her grieving son. But I also felt an inexorable pull to defend and rationalize my mother's disappointing behavior.

The third time around, Mo and I didn't tell my parents we were pregnant or, subsequently, that we had miscarried yet again. Not telling wasn't that hard for me. But not having the support of the two people who have always given me unconditional love was very difficult. It was also very lonely.

Back to this morning. After my parents left, I realized that I need to be completely open with letting my parents know my feelings in as much detail as I can. At the same time, I have to accept that they may be incapable of meeting my needs in certain arenas.

Mo and I will discuss and decide together exactly what infertility/pregnancy/loss news to share. (We are NOT sharing, for example, that we are currently doing IVF).

I'm also realizing that I need to take a deep look inward at my own insecurities with letting my emotions show (a tendency whose origins are becoming clearer and clearer - Thanks, Mom!). I am learning that I can strongly - and vocally - disagree with my parents' inability to reach out in a meaningful way and at the same time not be judgemental of them as the people I love.

The apple does not fall far from the tree. But this is no excuse for not stretching beyond my own comfort zones. The fact is that I long ago grew into my own tree. It is time for me to prune the branches and declare what is mine. To take the shape of the man I want to be in my life and in my marriage.



  1. What a wonderful post. Whenever I get frustrated with people (including my parents), I try to remember that I have no control over them, only control over my own actions. Your post is very timely for me. Thanks for putting into words your fears, frustrations and hope.

  2. Well done.

    Nicely said, and I admire the ending message.

  3. Wonderfully put. I personally am just starting down this road- so new I am still in my frist month of BW and US...but I know the feelings of being torn between talking about it and not. You want to talk about it, but only WHEN you want to talk about it. I feel selfish at times, but others I just want to deal with it with my husband. I really like your blog. I found it on Dr. L's. :)

  4. Brenda and Xbox,

    Thanks for the comments! Really apprecitaed.

    and Laura,

    We're glad you found us! Good luck with your journey. We hope you'll come back soon.

  5. Hi Will and Mo,

    I just read through your blog on the recommendation of my DW. First of all, I wish you the absolute best, and thank you for blogging about your experience. For everyone who has commented I'm sure there are many others who you're helping to support or just open their eyes.

    We are starting our first IVF cycle this month - lupron starts in a week. We are up against my couple-hundred-thousand sperm count and my balanced 13-14 Robertsonian translocation.

    Will, I chose to comment on this particular post of yours as I also am having a lot of trouble with my mother's reaction over our decision to do IVF. In short, she's walled herself off from the entire thing. She says she's supportive but has second-guessed us both when we tried to conceive naturally, and when we told her that we had to do IVF ("are you sure you really need this?"). About a week ago she uttered that particular gem, I ended the call very quickly, and it's been on the back of my mind ever since.

    My DW in her wonderful way of knowing me so well (and still sticking around... =) , advised me to just call her and get it over with. Tell her why what she said was so disappointing and hurtful and be done with it.

    So, tonight I gave her a call. It went terribly - she has walled herself off from the entire process. Basically, she says she's supportive but there is no emotion in her voice. It's like she thinks she understands but she just understands the concept, but not the associated emotions.

    For better or worse (I think better), I discovered just where I get my tendency to close myself off to emotions and "understand without feeling"... as I heard my mother doing it to me on the other end of the phone.

    I think guys have a really hard time with IVF. We know we have to be supportive, that's a given, and we usually bust our balls (no pun intended) trying to do so. But I know that guys can be emotionally guarded, and at the worst, it's prevented me from truly feeling the emotions associated with the whole process.

    I likened it to a little kid with an irrational fear of jumping into a cold swimming pool... everyone says just jump in and get it over with, it'll be nice and warm, but you KNOW it's cold, and instead (at least this is what I used to do), you torture yourself by walking in sllooowwwly =).

    Fact is, the water's cold and by jumping in and accepting that yes, you'll be cold for a few seconds... then it's a lot better. I found myself to be afraid of opening myself up to all these intense emotions - I wouldn't just jump in.

    I feel like now I've made the emotional plunge much more so than before, and while none of us will ever say that going through IVF is like taking a swim in the pool... I feel like it's better to be in the water...together.

    Best of luck again, and I'd love to comment exchange/correspond with you two further.


  6. Jeremy-
    Our stories sound similar and I am sure there are many guys in the same boat. I think that for many years I have only shared "good" things or "benign" trouble things with my mother. Topics, particularly those dealing with sex and reproduction, have not really been discussed. So, in this sense IVF is unchartered territory. Additionally, we are asking our parents for understanding, not for advice or approval. Let me put it another way: If I called my mother and told her I was guilty of a felony I would hope she would listen (after initial shock) with a sympathetic ear. With IVF the sympathy seems to be replaced with questions like "why" and "maybe you should try on your own" followed by examples of couples in similar positions who have suddenly had a whole brood appear from no where.
    I have changed my delivery of any IVF news - I now use definitives like "We are doing IVF and it is really hard on both of us" - reminding my mother than while we are doing IVF, we are really coping with difficult emotions. I want her to respond to how I am feeling, rather than any response to the IVF process.
    With your own mom you may want to simply reflect - "Gee mom, it seems like my talking about IVF makes you uncomfortable/quiet, any idea why?". My mother has finally gotten it that this is a really tough process. She will never be totally understanding and she will never be able to do/say all the right things. She will always find a way to stick her foot in her mouth. I am OK with that. It is important for me to realize when I ignore how I feel and stop trying to change my emotions. I was feeling anxious today for no particular reason. Once I realized that my thinking was only making it worse, it was oddly fun to sit and just feel anxious. I was never taught to do that - I was always taught to avoid whatever was making me feel anxious.
    As you will see, the mechanics of IVF is simple - the emotions, however, are like none other. It is a literal mine field for both of you and each time has surprised us. I think we are now getting a hang of it and can sometimes laugh through the tears.
    Thanks for reading our blog. I'd love to chat more either on the blog or by email moandwill "at" gmail "dot" com.


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