Tuesday, 8 July 2014

A Time to Rest, plus Breasts, Beer, Boots - oh, and a Baby

So, my husband died and I've had a couple of years adjusting to the emotional and practical realities of single parenting while grieving him. I have stopped hoping that one day I will feel unmitigated joy again. Those times have gone. No matter how good, it would always be better if I could be there with him, or catch his eye at the funny moment, or tell him about it afterwards. Or see his pride in our marvellous daughter. Or hers in him.

But all is not lost. Being diagnosed as coeliac was a hassle I didn't want to confront so soon after Thomas's death, but I feel physically and emotionally so much better for being off the gluten which freaks out my body. I feel I am a new and improved person and I wish Thomas could have known me now.

The BRCA1 diagnosis a year in was a real blow and I wish I had known in advance it would take another whole year before the surgeon agreed to take off my breasts. But now I am healing beautifully  and my good girl is over the insecurity she felt when she saw the person who forms her bedrock so vulnerable. She has a new Big Girl bed and is relishing this rite of passage. It has confirmed to me how often unpleasant and difficult behaviour in children is a result of a need not being met - most likely not recognised, perhaps even by themselves. I doubt us grown-ups are much different. Who amongst us, with all needs met and held safe in a loving community against future needs, would rock the boat? No - then we call down the strong winds and sail on, leaving laughter in our wake.

So it's been a tough couple of years but I feel I'm over the highest hurdles. The grief marathon is always the most gruelling thing, but I have found a pace I can maintain and I have friends handing out water at regular intervals. I can do this. It would seem to be a time to rest and recuperate now. To focus on my creativity, on doing all those extra things I plan with Pickle. To really make my home the way I would love it to be and to read all those enticing books which line my walls. I feel I have earned a few years of just being, letting the sadness ebb and flow as it will and savouring all the good things I have summoned to myself as Pickle grows and learns and flourishes. I feel I deserve a bit of a life-holiday.

But that is just not my style. I am naturally more of a headlong-into-the-storm kind, so years of taking it easy just don't sound like fun. No. What I actually need in my over-stretched single-parent life, I have decided, is another child.
Yes! I hear you cry. What a sane and practical idea! We totally see how this will work out fine.
Great. I'm so glad you agree.

However, there is still the tricky matter of how. Although Thomas never acquired the organisational skills to keep a pair of socks within the same continent, he was all over the sperm-production side of things and so I rather left that to him and failed to learn how to do it myself. I can get very Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves about fixing stuff or re-pressurising my boiler or deciding a law is unjust and trying to get it changed (a story for another day), but this baby lark, which is what us women are supposed to be good at, has me stumped. I need help.

I was all set to adopt, but reading the blogs and message boards online gave me a more realistic picture than the one presented by the agencies and I felt it was too big a risk for Pickle, having already lost her Dada, to bring someone into our family who was damaged in some way and would need so much from me that I might have too little left for my beloved girl. I was sad to let that idea go and remain sad about all the children in such devastating need of love and security, but I no longer think I can help them. Fostering, some long way into the future, is still an option.

Of course then I thought of all the many ways I could find myself pregnant. Some felt immediately repulsive, others I took a couple of tentative steps into exploring before turning back. After years of essential oils and herb healing, living very close to the land and spending long times silent, of buying organic and loving nature with increasing devotion, I found myself left with one option: a clinic.

In so many ways this is not where I ever expected to be. Of course I thought I would have breasts my whole life. I thought my husband would live into his fifties and, if he survived his first heart transplant, into his seventies. I thought I would make children the easy and fun way. I thought a lot of things. What I think now is that the universe is clearly following some plan other than my own but I daren't ask for change because right now that plan includes my daughter being happy and healthy and bright and by my side. There is nothing I would swap for that.

But I am aware of Pickle's other side. Her lonely side. It would of course be best if Thomas were holding her other hand, or even if there were a little string of paper-doll children joining one of our big hands to the other. Many people, including me, think it would be best for Pickle if I had another relationship. I just can't. I'm not ready and I don't want to and No. Sorry but No. So what if she had a little sibling? Even a smaller person would bring complexity to our intense fire girl-fire woman dynamic and I think that would be a very good thing. I am aware of how desperately needy I am of Pickle. I try to hold myself tall and never lean, but I fear doing it and I would never want her to feel she had to supprt the weight of my need and my sorrow alone. What she needs is a friend and all siblings are great friends, right? Right. So, to the clinic.

I had visions of a no-drugs way, but have discounted that. I don't want to waste time on a process with such a low success rate (I will not really feel safe until my ovaries are out) and I don't want to spend thousands of pounds I don't really have. (Do please pop along to my Etsy shop!) But most of all I really do not want to go through the rollercoaster of trying and failing any more times than I have to because I cannot do that without dragging poor Pickle round with me. No matter how Fine thank you! I pretend to be, I look round to find Pickle face down on a shop floor screaming her heart out and I think, Yes, I feel like doing that too.

So, I have settled on the cosy-sounding Gentle IVF. Essentially, a much lower dose of drugs to force my blessed body to ovulate within office hours (a true fact!) and only one fertilised egg implanted at a time because a multiple birth seems laughably ridiculous. So ridiculous, in fact, that it could still happen, but I hope not. One sibling for my girl. One more child for me. Then an oopherectomy (isn't that a lovely word?) and then all I have to do is raise two children single-handedly. Phew! And I said I didn't want a rest.

Meanwhile, Thomas is busy supporting this whole crazy enterprise with his artwork. Here is the latest addition to my Etsy shop, a combination of all his favourite things, it seems:

If I am able to bring a new person into this world, I know I will sadly miss having a strong partner by my side and keenly mourn the loss of my breasts too, but in my madness I somehow feel this new child will never be quite fatherless, even if they cannot or do not find their Donor Dad. There will always be a tune on the breeze from one of the finest fathers I have had the honour of knowing.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Scarvage, Ash Man and a Bagpiping Angel

So, into Week Three of life with no breasts and all remains well. Much of the bruising and swelling has gone, so Pickle is no longer saying, 'At least you've got little breasts Mama' and the dressings are off. That was more of a Thing than I had anticipated. Although I knew what to expect, actually seeing my scars made me feel much more vulnerable and I didn't dare do my physio exercises for two days until a midwife friend explained the obvious - that the stitching of the muscle is much more robust than the tiny, pretty stitches they do on the skin. So, Pickle and I are doing my silly exercises and, although I have more mobility every day, she still delights in being the best.

I can feel (enough to make me gasp) the moment when a nerve ending pings back into supersensitive life. They seem to come in clusters and may be encouraged by acupuncture. It's a good thing, of course, but if I get a lot at once it's hard to hold a conversation. My body continues to astound my mind. The other day Pickle was industriously cutting things out and sticking them to other things so I could dance and dance and dance for hours. I could feel my limitations, but I had enough scope to express the music and that made for a very happy day afterwards.

I am feeling less inclined to even have back-up foobs. In a few weeks I'll be photographed because it is such a very rare choice not to reconstruct that the photos used by the breast care nurses are of old surgical styles (much straighter lines; I'm glad I got the new flowing kind). At the same appointment I'm supposed to be fitted for falsies in a pocket bra but I can't imagine wearing that now. I imagine I'd be so embarrassed to suddenly have breasts for the day and I can't think of an occassion when I would want to disguise my true shape. Sometimes I feel angry that there is such a strong supposition that I would want to at least pretend to have breasts. Pretend for whom? It feels like part of the narrative of shame around women's bodies. Reconstruction - in all the various wonderful ways it can be achieved - is fine. Wearing foobs is fine. And doing neither is fine. These choices are, in fact, no-one else's business (she blogged). So, I have experimented with exposing a bit of scarvage (scar cleavage). It was kind of an accident because I hadn't realised my v-neck dress would pull down further when I tied my jumper round my waist, but when I noticed I decided to carry on as I was. I wouldn't hide that piece of skin if it had breasts either side and I wouldn't hide the ends of those scars if they were elsewhere. And guess what? No-one swooned, vomited or even particularly noticed. Another Thing relegated to a mere thing. I do, however, have a tattoo planned, but that's a while off and I'm not telling until it's done.

Meanwhile, back at the screenface, two more of Thomas's drawings are up for sale in my Etsy shop.
Ash Man:

I am enjoying my new metallic artist pens and it won't be long before I can show you the results of my play. I mean work. And I was shortlisted in a poetry competition, which was pleasing and reassuring. I can feel my need to write in a more serious way gathering momentum. Watch this space...

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