Due to Extenuating Circumstances

Adventures in Unplanned Parenthood

Archive for the tag “#the abyss”


With the voting climate as it is right now, it seemed like a good time to bring forth some good old-fashioned flag-waving, true blue sacrifice for our country. I probably shouldn’t be telling all of you this. If I looked through the paperwork we signed I’m sure the government told me to keep this private, national security, lives at stake, something something no, we don’t get what’s up with Trump’s hair either, but seriously this is a secret. But, as a proud mama, I have to brag just a little. My son is going to be hired by our Army as a WMD: a Whippersnapper of Mass Distraction.

He’ll be put in key diplomatic strategy meetings, and then he’ll do what he does right now, 24/7. He’ll pull himself up on furniture then scream because he can’t get down. He’ll be sitting and watching the Wiggles and if one of them is wearing a costume he doesn’t like he’ll scream for hours. Doesn’t like the pants Daddy put him in? Scream. Daddy runs to the bathroom? Scream! Mommy took his empty Cheerios bowl? Double scream, because now mommy is a jerkface AND there’s no Cheerios. Mommy comes back with more Cheerios? This is a time for earth-shattering, top-level screaming because if Mommy had a clue she would have saved the inevitable heartbreak and brought the box to the bowl, not the other way around.

He gets himself turned around in his crib and screams. We put him on his back, tucked in, just like he likes but then we leave again; screaming. He rolls over and back again–Doppler effect screaming! Would you care to guess what happens when he wants yogurt but with CINNAMON, dammit, not FRUIT? Well, ordinarily fruit is delicious and he would like it. But now right now, get cinnamon because BABY ANGRY. Feel the need to SCREAM. YOU WON’T LIKE ME WHEN I’M SCREAMY. Sometimes I hear my baby but I see this:



I’d ask my friends if this is normal, but none of them with kids can hear anymore. I have a friend with three boys that gave up and decided to use baby sign language. Not for her kids, they talk just fine. She and her husband use it because their hearing is never coming back. Mac and I seek television programs we’ll enjoy that aren’t in English because then the subtitles roll merrily along and all we need to do is keep the “I’m mad because I’m mad” screams from escalating to “I might actually have a problem here” screams.

I reckon Baby could be deployed to lots of countries that value silence and decorum. See, in Brazil, I’d bet ten minutes of wiggling and dancing while you scream isn’t inappropriate, it’s part of the health plan to keep people sane and good-natured. But let’s pull this out at a meeting calling for high and strict levels of decorum. Your Russians, your Japanese, your Liechtensteiners (who are solemn because nobody ever remembers to spell their country correctly), imagine taking in this adorable child, who is renowned for his cuteness and lovability,  and letting him scream every time one of the diplomats wants to make a point. We can cut summits down to two hours, and half of that is drinking coffee and waiting for staff to put on The Wiggles again so the weapon can be diffused and sent to his nap with Norman the blue elephant and his favorite blankie.

I don’t even accept this is a phase anymore. He’s just going to scream, often, randomly, at unbelievable decibel levels every day until the day Mac and I have both gone on to our great reward. That reward will be sound cancelling headphones and a thanks from the US government for asking what we could do for this country, and answering President Kennedy’s call with the loudest human being ever created.

Don’t worry! You can thank us for our patriotism, too. In writing, please.


Falling Slowly

I’ll warn you now, if you have yet to see the 2006 movie Once, you’re about to have it spoiled. If seeing it was not on your current list of Must Do’s, you’re safe. You have made a terrible error in your priorities, but you’re safe.

Once is one of my all-time favorite movies. This is really saying something. I hesitate greatly to give that title to any movie because so many films have meant a lot to me at different times, for different reasons. I think most people are that way with books, movies, TV shows, songs. There are some you can’t shake, but the best and brightest might change over time. Why is Once one of my favorites? For those that know me well, the next sentence may suffice: it’s an independent film that is as much a love letter to Dublin as any other point it serves. But that isn’t the real reason. The real reason is much more personal than that.

Once is the story of Guy and Girl. Guy plays the guitar on Dublin’s main shopping street. Girl has immigrated from the Czech Republic. She is younger, and she has a daughter by her husband who can’t really understand her passion for music, for a beautifully crafted piano, for life. Guy and Girl share stories of former loves, make (literal) beautiful music together, and then spend one epic weekend recording their best hits so that Guy can move to London to start a music career.

I love that Once was done on a small budget and that many of the “extras” are people who blundered onto the set. I love that it has been turned into a beautiful stage show, with imaginative use of a single space and insanely talented musician/actors. I love that it does not have a happy ending; it has a grown up ending. Husbands and children do need to be considered. Fantasies of running away and starting a band are usually just that: fantasies. I love that in real life the Guy and Girl DID fall in love (albeit with a rather large age gap) and their dreams of a small film with original music came true. I love that they later broke up, because as painful as it must have been, not all fairy tales last forever. I love that they won an Oscar for Best Song with “Falling Slowly.”

Most of all, far and away most of all, I love that this movie is about a man who is pursuing his dream, trying hard to make it come true, a man who won’t give up, a man that everybody knows has it but he hasn’t been able to show it, a man who is 36. A 36 year old man that just hasn’t gotten there yet. When do we quit trying? When do we accept that if we were truly good enough we would have “made it” by now?

Glen Hansard had a group before this movie, and his songs had been on the Irish charts, but he didn’t truly find an international audience until his mid 30’s. He’s a voice in the industry now, moving along through his 40’s in a world where you need to be young (and beautiful) or lucky or exceedingly talented (with a break) to get enough money to make art. He bet long odds on his talent. Do you know how many people I’m friends with that are exceptional actors, directors, writers, singers, dancers, that aren’t working? Or they book a few jobs a year and spend the rest of their time doing whatever it takes to make it to the next gig? Do you know how many of them give up? How many gifted performers you’ll never see in anything because they couldn’t find the right break at the right time? They burn out. They tell themselves it’s better to kill it themselves than watch it fall slowly until it smashes to pieces. Or, like me, they take a few commercial jobs a year and hope like hell for the chance to make some art. When the art gets swallowed in nepotism, unannounced pre-casting, insistence that actors brought in from New York are necessarily better than actors in the Midwest…it doesn’t take long to suffocate hope.

Today, after an exceptional audition, an exceptional callback, even personal notes from people present congratulating me on a great audition…I got the official notice my dream job went to someone else. Another woman will stand in front of thousands this summer. She’ll wear the costumes and say the lines. She’ll look out and see the faces I’ve imagined for 20 years.

That’s why I love Once so much. It’s why I’m watching it now. Great music, unknown talent, daring film making, and a grown up ending about giving the 36 year old The Break. I’m still Falling Slowly, unwilling to kill The Break on my own. I volunteer to keep falling.


Screw Batman; Send Robin.

I had a meltdown around Christmas. I choose my words carefully. I didn’t get a little upset things weren’t perfect and throw a hissy fit. We’re talking complete, total, full-on meltdown climaxing with me telling my one year old (yes, really) if he hated me that much he can return his Christmas presents, thrusting him into the arms of the grandma he much prefers then running out of the room into the front yard where it was both dark and 25 degrees and screaming until three elderly neighbors turned on their living room lights and my furry coat hood stuck to my face with the snot running out my nose. If there was a Bat signal for Shady Pines, one of the old folks probably would have turned it on. I was in Trouble.

This was nuclear-level mommy meltdown. I had HAD it. I was DONE. This was for a few reasons, but the most glaringly obvious and painful was that my son is going through a phase where he just doesn’t like me very much. There are a few logical reasons for this, most notable amongst them that since my abdominal issues have gotten worse I can’t pick him up and play with him. Also, he’s one. He throws a tantrum when he gets peach puffs and not sweet potato puffs. But let me tell you, logic has nothing to do with the Mommy Meltdown. It is complete and total pain. That’s all it is. Lest you need reminding, not only did I want this child so much I got this child, I wanted this child so much I involved a fingerprinter, a social worker, two state agencies, a lawyer, a judge, more money than I make in a year and a midnight trip to Walmart three days before Christmas. Mac and I really, REALLY wanted this child. But right now the baby doesn’t want me very much. He thinks the sun shines out of his father’s ass (which makes waking up next to him a real fucking joy) and he thinks Grandma is pretty great. We recently returned from Canada and he thinks Grandma and Grandpa Canuck are pretty awesome. His cousin the Dude is fun. In fact, my son likes everybody that comes into contact with him. Except me. Hence, the complete meltdown.

So, mid-meltdown I realize I can’t stay out front forever. My parents live in a retirement community and I’m not kidding about the lights coming on. This was the most action Shady Pines has seen since they decided hanging beach towels on your deck rail was “unsightly” and the Towelers fought the non-Towlers on the grounds of being stodgy old party poopers (yes, that happened). I was crying, screaming, cursing, crying some more, ugly crying, hyperventilating-crying, and wondering how the hell I was going to spend 17 years raising a kid who screams every time I try to talk to him. It was like starting parenthood with a teenager who poops his pants. God, the level of anger and hurt I felt was overwhelming and massive and unbelievable. I’ve had some epic breakups in my time, some honest Guinness world record holders. But I have never felt as rejected as I have the last few months. He doesn’t get that I CAN’T throw him in the air. I CAN’T pick him up and hold him for an hour or two. I CAN’T put him in his carseat. It has been medically impossible. And he will never, ever know it hurts me more than it hurts him. It hurts me more than anybody has ever hurt.

So I crawl back into my parents’ enclosed porch, because my snot is, and you know how I feel about using this word inappropriately, literally freezing into the fur on my coat hood. My eyes have swollen into puffy little slits. My father knows I’m out there, but good timing or abject fear, doesn’t matter which, has kept him from coming out. Finally my sister Robin and the Dude arrive. Robin sends the Dude inside (“Where’s the baby? I wanna play with the baby! He loves me!”) and asks what happened. To her credit, she doesn’t laugh. Instead, she tells me the story of our Good Friends. Miss Good is 5. When she was 16 months old, she went through a phase where she hated Mr. Good Friend. Seriously, like yelled at him “NO!” every time he tried to interact with him. OK, I think, that’s pretty reassuring. Mr. Good Friend is up for several prestigous parenting awards I just made up, including Most Invested in Raising a Liberal and Compassionate Child and Healthy Diet Without Being Snobby About It. He’s a really Good Dad. She acted this way? She LOVES him now!

Robin tells me to get in her car. We go to the grocery store, and she buys me some really gross treats, including Ho-Hos that were set to expire that week. Have you ever has a Hostess cake less than a year before it’s set to expire? No. I didn’t think they existed. They do. And they are ungodly.

Then we went back. I went inside the house. I tried to wash my face, and we had dinner, which was chili with cinnamon rolls and if that confuses you then you’re not Nebraskan, more’s the pity for you.

There are plenty of signs Baby can tolerate my presence. I’m trying hard to see them. I’ve also gotten the big, ugly cry out of the way for awhile, which feels good. Most of all, this was a good lesson that I don’t need Batman, Superman, Spiderman or any of those other childless, freewheeling, testosterone driven “heroes.” The next time my world is falling apart, send Robin. Robin has a kid. She gets it.


Mac and I had a fantastic idea for updating our tiny living room and making things safer for Baby. We would move bookshelves, anchor them into the wall, then put the new TV entertainment center between them. This would solve one problem we have had with keeping everything safe– the baby wouldn’t be able to crawl around the sides or back. We would then put all of the components behind glass so he can’t stick his chubby little fingers into all of the slots/inputs/outputs/shotputs. This was entirely Mac’s territory and he did his job well. Except for one, tiny detail.

The original idea was to get glass doors that had knobs in the center, so we could capture them together with a childproofing lock like so:


But Mac got one with doors that slide on a track. No problem! Mac got dowels to put in the track and I painted them to be invisible. The baby would never even know it could be opened.

Those of you with children are already wondering how Mac and I manage to dress ourselves in the morning given our obvious mental deficiencies.

Over the course of the afternoon we get the whole center built and installed. Mac gets the thing put together, puts all of the cords in, plugs it in, I’m dusting away and artfully arranging books to cover cords. This thing is a masterpiece. It looks fantastic. I get the dowels. Mac goes outside to move some hoses before we get winter weather. I head downstairs and into the garage with a screwdriver we didn’t need. In the time it takes me to put away a SINGLE item in our garage, I hear sliding above my head. Let us take a quick peek into my thought process at that moment:

Huh! I hear sliding. There’s nothing up there that moves that much. Besides, the baby can’t even properly crawl yet, he just butt scoots…but there it is again. And back again? What do we own that slides back and forth ohmygodrunupthestairsnownownow GAAAAAAAH!

There is my son sitting directly in front of the entertainment center, happily sliding the glass door back and forth, back and forth. He can reach all the knobs, all the ports, all the cords. His fat little fingerprints are running the length of the glass door where he has tested how many different ways he can make the cool glass door glide to and fro. But not prints from both hands. No, just the prints from his right. Why only his right?

Because his left hand is for holding the trophy.


In under 60 seconds our son scooted to the entertainment center, disabled the “childproofing” then played with his new toy. I don’t even try to solve it. I pick up that stupid dowel, walk right out to our front porch and tell Mac the damn hoses can sit and spin.

“Go to the hardware store NOW. We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

You Can’t Do That on Television

I’d like to take a minute out of our ongoing Baby narrative to jump ahead again to real time. You’ll remember we did this once before, when I helped the Dude defeat Sprinkler Spiderman while wearing my sister’s sport’s bra. And if that’s not a sentence you encounter everyday, you probably get out more than this particular writer does.

I’m watching “Cold Feet,” the popular British series that ran in the early 2000s. It was “Thirtysomething” for our friends across the pond. Anyhow, just as soon as Adam (played by James Nesbitt) and Rachel (Helen Baxendale) had a big storyline about needing to stockpile sperm before his treatment for testicular cancer, I knew It was coming. To be fair they waited half a season, nonetheless they were about as subtle with It as a Trump stump speech. The It, of course, is the Infertility Storyline.

Mac and I can spot the Infertility storyline coming from 1,000 paces. One show we watched all they had to do was mention the drugstore before we both blurted “to buy a pregnancy test!” The Infertility Storyline is always, always about the couple that seems happy on the outside but they know, deep down, something isn’t right. The first episode you’ll have the joke (“one of us is shooting blanks!”) then the second episode they’ll think she’s pregnant, the third episode she got her period (or the test was negative) and now they Really Are Worried, and by mid-season they’re at the doctor’s office, feeling Insecure but Hopeful. This then rides Sweeps Week into the serious talk they have about loving each other no matter what, the wistfully looking at babies montage, the tearful We’re Going to be OK heartfelt bedroom scene (tender lovemaking optional) and finally they either do IVF or get pregnant naturally. That usually depends on if they have a sassy black grandmotherly character that needs to say something like “see, if you had just quit worrying that baby would have come in God’s own time!” before the credits roll. The ratings hinge on the Maternity Special where everybody races to the hospital just in time for the birth and Happily Ever After for the Couple-Formerly-Known-as-Infertile.

Mac and I do a lot, and I mean really a LOT, of laughing at these asinine Infertility Storylines.

Why do we laugh? Not so much for what they include, as they do include things that most other infertile couples we know went through. Sure, at first you may not know and then you go to the doctor, or you do have the “it’s you I want not the baby” conversation. But the list of things missing from these TV shows is almost biblical in both scope and length. Here is a list of Infertility Storyline plot points I want to see. Not referred to, not glossed over, I want to truly see them played out in all their ugliness, pain, sweetness and heartbreak.

  1. In real life, you can tell your partner “I want you, not the baby” and chances are you both believe that and want it to be true. But it won’t always be true, not every second of every day. You will look at each other and wonder if you should let the other one go. You will wonder if the other person is scared they signed the wrong contract. You wonder if using donor sperm or eggs is the solution, when the world is walking around full of fertile people that would likely not require an army of technicians to make a baby. You’ll wonder what trade you made, a spouse for a child? This spouse for another spouse that could have children? The present for the future? If it’s you that’s infertile, you’ll wonder if the other one will walk and if you should let them. If it’s not you, you’ll wonder if your spouse knows you really did mean “til death do us part.” You’ll both think of what would have happened if you had tried when you were younger, or healthier, or if you had met earlier. Just once, I want to see a character have these conversations and know you don’t have them only once. They happen frequently; short ones, long ones, sad ones, all-nighters, brief e-mails… these questions will follow you and you have no choice but to deal with them.
  2. Hormone treatments hurt. No, TV, it’s not just a shot you can summarize with “ooh, my breats are tender!” Cut that shit out. You’re bloated, sore, trying like hell to make your body work and everything feels weird. Would YOU like to relive the most painful parts of puberty again? That’s partly what it feels like, and TV should show that.
  3. Money. I want to watch a couple break down, over and over and over again, because they cannot afford to have a child. Their insurance doesn’t cover the hormones, or IVF, or egg harvesting, or using a surrogate. Calculating time and again what you cut out from the budget to pay for all the extras that come with trying: fertility predictors, pregnancy tests, time off to go to the doctor.
  4. I want to see sex that looks like WORK. Not lovemaking, not fucking, not even wham, bam, thank you ma’am. I’m talking sex that you want to be sexy but instead is mechanical, horribly timed, inconvenient, stressed out WORK. You think making babies is fun? Sure it is. You think trying over and over again to “optimize ejaculation inside the vagina during peak fertility” sounds fun? The men who landed on Normandy beach could have only wished for an operation as planned, precise, passionless and efficient as the sex had by two people who have been given medical instructions on how to make a baby.
  5. The decision to adopt is easy for some, unbearably hard for others. Not once on TV, in any show I have ever seen, was it treated as a series of agonizing steps that require endless time, commitment, willingness to be vulnerable and risk of horrendous, literally life-altering rejection. But it is. In an open adoption system, the birth parent chooses the adoptive family, and there isn’t a guarantee of a happy ending for families who fail to meet certain benchmarks. You can be too old, or too sick, or too poor to adopt. Yes, some states have low-cost options, but this doesn’t take into account that there are many things adoptive families need to be able to provide that a biological family never has to account for.
  6. I have never seen anybody throw anything. By the 13th month of our adoption process I was so angry I repeatedly bashed a wall with a metal trashcan until there was a hole into the next room. I didn’t want to make a hole, per se, I just wanted something–anything– to look as ugly and angry as I felt.
  7. Finally, nobody on TV talks about grieving infertility. It’s not seen as something to grieve. It certainly doesn’t make sexy TV, to watch characters mourn a future that so many have provided naturally and was denied to you. You grieve the unfairness, the decisions you made, paths not taken, children never met. You can also celebrate the children you do have, through adoption or fostering. I have seen lots of people on TV get sad, but I have never seen anybody fully grieve because that’s time consuming, and ugly, and it lasts a long time. Nobody wants to live it, I imagine it wouldn’t be great laughs to watch either. It’d be nice though, to see it anyway. Don’t give me the It Storyline standard six episode arc. Give me the larger truths and the sense that at least one person in all of the televised world can represent more than the Sweeps Week Big Maternity Special.
  8. If you do need the Sweeps Week Maternity Special, let’s have a few more through adoption. Sex and the City touched on it with Charlotte, the movie Juno went there, hell, even Downton Abbey took a horrifying stab at the adoptive motherhood storyline. Let the birth family AND the adoptive family have their moment in the sun, where this was done in a loving and compassionate way. We make good TV, too.

My son’s homecoming

After three weeks in the hotel, Baby got cleared to go all the way back to Nebraska. It was the first week in January so we’d have a few days to settle in before the semester started. Time was a factor because we had been commuting back to Nebraska one at a time to do work while Baby stayed in Iowa. You’ll remember that we would be charged with Very Bad Things if the baby had spent even a second outside of Iowa before the Interstate Compact was completed. So I would like to state, here on this public forum, that Baby’s homecoming was the very, very first time he had ever crossed into Nebraska. He absolutely never slept in the backseat when we needed to deposit a check so my bank account wouldn’t be in tragic overdraft and that bank account was definitely never, not ever located in Omaha and frankly, I think it’s strange you would even ask.

The baby’s homecoming was everything you’d imagine a long-awaited homecoming would be. My mom loves putting up decorations and she loves being a grandma. Homecoming for the baby was her Super Bowl Halftime Show and she was going to go big or die trying. There was a big sign on the way into the back door, decorations in the living room, huge welcome banners and sparkly decorations saying It’s a Boy! The baby got carried into his brand new nursery and knew he was safe and loved. It was a spectacular homecoming. I hear. I wasn’t there. I was with AJ in Virginia visiting a pain specialist who performs some magic where he injects things near my spine and it stops pain where my spleen is. Hold on there– nope. I just googled where the spleen is, and it’s not there. Regardless, it stops pain in my front which is nowhere near my spine.

Upon my return I was overwhelmed by the generosity of friends and acquaintances. People knew we were blindsided. We had no furniture, no nursery decorations (except four adhesive soccer balls Mac has been saving since 2013. No, really). The Baby had clothes and diapers but we needed someplace higher than the floor to make these activities happen. My parents and Robin chipped in the immediate necessities like bassinet and diapering station which they set up and put in the room that was always-going-to-be-the-nursery-except-it-was-an-office-because-people-facing-infertility-have-complex-emotional-needs-balancing-hope-with-realism.

I was also overwhelmed by my husband’s face. Let me tell you something. Mac has had a challenging life. He has faced serious medical issues, his career involves long hours, he nursed someone through terminal cancer. He has stared into the abyss and the abyss was a little taken aback.

Mac was a single father for 5 days. This cannot be overstated: Mac, with the help of my family, was a single parent for just over 120 hours. I arrived from Virginia at the 121st hour. I walked in with my suitcase, saw Mac, and immediately reached for my phone. My husband had died and I felt someone should tell his mother. That man has never looked so haggard. He stared eerily into my soul, said he was happy the injection went well, and then said “I am going to sleep.” Not “I’m taking a nap,” “I am going to sleep.” There was no preface or qualifier or time limit. He meant it. He went into the bedroom and came out in March.

We’re home. I’m home. The three of us are in our home. All I have to do is organize a few things, make sure Baby gets fed and changed, and then step right back into work and my social life.

Stay tuned to find out how easy that has been.

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