Sunday, July 29, 2007
(PART ONE of "The Road to Motherhood" APPEARED ON JULY 26, 2007)
By Rose Ross
A few days later, my husband had gotten a photo assignment to travel around the U.S. His schedule would take him all over the country for a month with weekends home. His being away would give me the time I so desperately needed. I spent most days at the movies. Sometimes I watched two or three movies a day. I spoke to no one other than my husband, except for my mother who checked in on me every day to make sure I was still alive. My friends respected my wishes for privacy and left me alone. One night after watching T.V. for hours with the sound turned off, I started to cry and I could not stop. Two years' worth of tears came pouring out. I was soaked with sorrow and self-pity.
The next morning I sat outside on the marble steps to my doctor’s office waiting for them to open. By the time they opened up I had a complete mental melt down. Although, I was unsteady on my feet, I managed to walk into the office where I immediately crumbled to the floor. A nurse lifted me up gently and held onto me until I stopped crying. When I was back in control and stable, my doctor, suggested I see a female therapist that was treating women who were having emotional difficulties dealing with infertility.
I was scheduled to meet the therapist on Friday at 5:00 p.m. I had four days to think about what I wanted to say or not say. I was hopeful and set about making some changes. I opened the fridge and dumped out all the Ben & Jerry ice cream and threw out the bottle of Vodka.I cleaned the apartment, took clothes to the laundry and started making lists of the things I needed to do. I decided that I was going to stop smoking...but not just yet. I would hold off on that one until Friday. I called my husband and told him of my plans.
"I am so proud of you. I love you," he said.
Friday came and I was already beginning to feel like my old self again. I spent the day at the Elizabeth Arden Spa and treated myself to a full day of beauty. I got a new hair cut, bought new makeup, had a manicure and pedicure and polished my finger nails and toes in a sexy shadecalled "Plum Passion". I walked out of the Spa at 4:30 and magically a cab appeared before me. The driver made it to 90th and second in no time with ten minutes to spare before my session. I asked him to drop me off at the corner, where I decided to light up one more time. When finished smoking my cigarette, I proudly threw the pack on top of the ash can on the street. It was a new beginning.
As soon as she walked into the waiting room, I knew I was in trouble. My therapist was the spitting image of my husbands ex wife. When she spoke I almost broke out laughing.She had the same voice and Jersey accent. "You’re not related to the Licht family are you?" I asked her. "No," she said, "Do I remind you of someone?"
I decided not to say anything. The session was going well until she asked me the question I was dreading. " Have you and your husband thought about adoption?"
I told her yes we had, but it was not a priority right now. She asked me about my relationships with my husband and my parents. I rattled on and she listened. Then she looked at her watch and said "we are almost out of time, but I want you to think about something and we can talk about it next week."
We both leaned forward in our chairs. We were practically nose to nose. "Yes?" I said.
"Well, based on Freud’s theory, it seems to me that you really have always had the desire to have a child by your father and therefore, that is why you have been so reluctant to explore adoption." She sat back, glanced at her watch again and with a smile, she said, "Same time next week?"
I was astounded. This was the most absurd theory I had ever heard. If she had said that I wanted to have a child with my mother, I might have listened. But my father? No way! I started to laugh uncontrollably. She looked at me strangely.
"Thank you," I said. "But I don’t think I will be coming back."
Outside the building, I ran straight to the ash can on the corner where my pack of cigarettes was still on top, just where I had left it. Without shame, I put them in my bag and walked all the way back to my apartment on 55th Street and Beekman. By the time I entered my apartment I had made the decision to adopt a child. I called my husband right away and told him. He was thrilled. "Wow!" She must have been a hell of a therapist", he said.
A year and a half later my husband and I went to Seoul, South Korea to pick up my daughter. One year later, our son, also from Korea, came to us. When I look at my children today I realize that if I had to do it all over again, I would not hesitate a second. It was a miserably hard and long ordeal but it was all worth it.
Rose Ross is a resident of Old Chatham, and is working on her first stage play.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
By Rose Ross
All I have to do is glance at my children today -- the way my daughter's straight dark hair falls to her shoulders, the way my son laughs, a real deep belly laugh -- and I realize it was all worth it. As tortuous as the road to children was for me and my husband, if I had to do it all over again, I would not hesitate a millisecond.
It was the summer of 1980 when we decided to start a family. In the beginning it was all so romantic: weeks and weeks of love making accompanied by candles and wine. But when weeks turned into months and I still wasn't pregnant, we began to wonder. We had several discussions assuring ourselves that everything was all right but decided --just in case-- that I should visit my gynecologist. I took all the tests offered and was given an all clear.
Next was my husbands turn. He willingly had his sperm count tested and was found that he was a giant among men. "Oh, yes, Mr. Stern, you will be able to have many children", the doctor said. Luckily my husband knew better than to boast and insured me that we were going to have our baby. We just needed to be patient. However, patience was never my strong point.
Each night unable to sleep, I retraced the steps of my past, trying to remember if there was anything I had done that could have been responsible for my not being able to conceive. And then it hit me! It had to have been the glorious years of the sixties and seventies when, Hendrix, Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Dylan, Woodstock, free love, LSD, came on to the scene and changed my life as it did many others. I had been right in the thick of it and loved every second of it. It had been an amazing ride. And now, I was paying for it. I became convinced that it was all my fault!
The experience of infertility is pure agony. The sudden envy and dislike that I experienced every time I saw a baby, child, or a pregnant mother, poisoned my mind and body for almost a year. Something as simple as looking at a magazine ad showing a perfect smiling, baby would make me reach for a bottle of Valium, a pack of cigarettes, or a fifth of vodka, and sometimes all three. And pity the person that out of pure kindness or concern asked me how I felt.
I went through months of finding the right specialist . . . and then when I did, I walked into a office where twenty other women sat, looking as miserable as me. The only hope I had during my visits with " The Miracle Worker," that’s what the gossip columnists called him, was, that every once in a while, a woman would walk out of the examining room with a euphoric smile on her face and you knew that she had hit the jackpot. She was pregnant! I and the others in the waiting room would look at her in awe hoping that we would be next. Before any of us could congratulate her, the new expectant mother would run out of the office for fear if we wished her good luck it might be a bad omen. So we sat there, each in our own thoughts feeling hopeful but also jealous.
The worst part of that year was the process of having to calculate the moment of ovulation. After the first few weeks I gave up on any lengthy foreplay. The hot and heavy passion my husband and I had always enjoyed, was now equivalent to a warm glass of milk. On the days that I was ready to ovulate, we would warm up as if we were going to the gym. Once we were relaxed, we would position our selves in various gymnastic poses which normally would have been thought of as erotic, but this was pure business.
After the deed was done, I would do my headstand, get a headache, pray that sperm would meet egg and wham, I would be pregnant. I also prayed forgiveness for all my sins and promised that I would be the best mother in the entire world and if I were to win the lottery, I would give it all away to all the starving children in the world. But, after a few minutes, my legs would start to get wobbly and with the help of my husband , I would slowly ease my self down. Exhausted, I would just lie down and fall asleep, while my husband went into the other room and watched TV. Most nights I would wonder why he was still with me.
Then there were the jars of semen that we had to bring in during ovulation. One time, I carelessly threw out my Gerber baby jar the night before. The next morning I handed my husband a 16-ounce Hellman Mayonnaise jar. He looked at me as if I had lost my mind. " I can’t fill that jar" he said, "I am not an elephant!" I tried to explain to him that no one expected him to. I just needed him to give me his best shot. After all, remember what the first doctor said, " A giant among men".
Not convinced, he sat on the edge of our bed and sulked. "This is not a big deal, it’s just a jar." I said. My husband looked at me with exasperation and walked into the bathroom, muttering to himself. After that day I bought a case of Baby Gerber jars.
After one more year of failing to conceive, I decided that I could no longer go on this way. I had become a total self involved, depressed bitch. I was afraid of ruining my marriage and losing my friends. My husbands constant support and patient behavior only annoyed me. I was miserable.In the past my husband and I talked about adoption, but I was no longer interested. What I wanted was time to figure out how I was going to define my role in life. If, I wasn’t going to be a mother, what was I going to become? How would I fill my life? How would I make a difference? I had assumed that I could have it all, husband, career and motherhood. Maybe it was not meant to be. I called my doctor's office and told them that I would not be back.
Writer Rose Ross lives in Old Chatham, New York and is writing her first stage play. Stay tuned for PART TWO OF her essay on infertility.
Thursday, July 19, 2007
By Jen Wilson Lloyd
I am 'supposed' to be exercising, but I feel like I just took a shower and I never know where the next one is coming from. My twin two-year-olds are napping, thrown into a deep somnambulism by the air conditioning after I walked them through an entire zoo this morning. It was a plan born of the sole intention of achieving this very peace and quiet. So now, triumphant, I am checking my email and eating Thai peanut sauce with a spoon. The latter is a habit taken up in lieu of any Bangkok market vendors set up outside on my absurdly white bread suburban street. I used to live in the city, and I used to eat a diet made up predominantly of Thai take-out, sushi, goat cheese and wine. Now I eat the crusts left over from peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I had once actually believed that you could convince your kids to eat crusts; that people were indulgent in cutting them off and so children developed these wild habits of avoidance. Now I know better. You can as well force a two-year-old to eat something they are set against as talk a cat into water.
I became a cat owner when I moved in with my husband. I never felt much affinity for cats, and whiel this one is as good a cat as you can find, I often find myself treating him with my own dose of reserve. I pet him, because he meyowls and tells me to, but it is usually with some resentment. Being a mother has made me bad with plants, and detatched from many animals I used to care deeply about at first sight. I am hoping this is a temporary state based on a depletion of energies and that once my children get older I will again be the warm pet adopting woman vegetarian I started out as. For now I am a mom who wears black and plans trips to Mexico to be taken as soon as school starts for them in 2011. I can only hope the world will not expire a year later as everyone is predicting. But that would excuse my lack of hours spent on a recumbant bike, I suppose.
Jennifer Wilson is a Pennsylvania-based writer, and the mother of twins. Check out her website and other writing at: www.jennifermwilson.com
Saturday, July 14, 2007
She was tiny, looked nervous. For her appearance at the San Francisco bookstore, she wore a short-sleeve, skin-tight, shortest of shorts, black mini dress. Her hair, cut almost to the scalp, was a disappointment. I had been looking forward to the Cisneros who appeared on the cover of her book My Wicked, Wicked Ways, where she wore only very, very long hair and a pair of boots.
This "wicked,wicked” woman kept us waiting while she picked lint, real and imaginary, from her dress. Slowly she concentrated on placing a watch on her left wrist. But when she finally faced her audience, smiling, the fun began.
She started by saying she had traveled throughout the world. She had lived in several countries of South and Central America and in Europe. She had been back in the United States for three years, before coming to California. And at the moment she lived in Berkeley where she was teaching at the University. Some of her students had come to hear her read, and they applauded enthusiastically.
She told us she had written her book of poems So Many Things Frighten Us while living in San Cristobal, Chile. She wrote it in both Spanish and English:
"Frightens us/The infinite Goddesses/that always were and always will be/What frightens us most? to be alone/or to be always with someone?"
When she said Ass in another poem loud laughter filled the bookstore. Then she took a postcard from a nearby rack and waved it in a semicircular movement saying, "visual aid." The postcard showed the backs of two persons, arms around each other, wearing leather jackets. Their butts, however, were naked. She read: "Sometimes a woman/needs a man who loves her ass ..."
Her poems continued to heat up. The temperature in the store was reaching red-hot levels. Everyone was hanging on her every word. Accompanied by exclamations and whistles we laughed out loud again. She came to the end of her repertoire. We gave her with sonorous applause. She thanked us and joked with her students, promising an A to those who had come to listen to her. But at that moment they didn't look like they were worried about grades. They looked transfigured, their eyes bright, enlarged. Their cheeks flushed. Without doubt they dreamed of a moment when they could write like Sandra Cisneros.
Always smiling, she directed her attention to the long line that had formed in front of her. I rushed to buy one of her books, The House on Mango Street, and carried by the same enthusiasm joined them to have it autographed while mentally revising the current story I was writing, Oh, I was energized!
Cisneros was very warm and with candor and generosity gave me the information I asked for, Where to submit my stories? Write for grants?
Yes, yes. Write to this organization and this one. And take my phone number in case you need me. She actually said that.
Thank you. A thousand thank yous Sandra.
Camincha is a San Francisco-based writer.
Wednesday, July 04, 2007
By Joni Daidone
Ever since the days, weeks and months following 9/11, when our government’s so-called leaders declared war on the followers of Islam and all those who shared the same religion and culture as the handful of disturbed men who bombed the World Trade Center, I have hung my head in shame.
When the patriarchal cowboy reactionary otherwise known as the President of the US of A flipped the switch and started bombing innocent Afghani and Iraqi woman and children and their country men in the name of freedom and justice and family values, I felt that I could no longer consider myself an American woman because I could not comprehend or endorse the anger, the bloodlust, the ignorance and the greed that would empower such hate and destructive words and actions.
I have tried to understand what being an American woman meant to me, even as I listened to newscasts and read newspapers where those who shared my views were called traitors and anti-American fanatics.
It has been six long years of numbing pain at the loss of my country, and my identity. But now, after much contemplation and prayer and countless conversations with my countrymen, the taxi drivers, news stand vendors, train conductors, cleaning women, bodega clerks, token booth operators, farmer’s market vendors, and my cohorts at the dog run, I am finally ready to lay claim to my country again, and to my place in it as a woman, and a daughter of first-generation Americans. It is by way of channeling the voice and the image of my grandfather, my mother’s father, a lover of America and a man who adored and honored women, that I can once again feel a sense of compassion and affection for my ancestry, and their investment in the American character.
My grandfather, Joseppi Tucciarone, epitomized the heart, the soul and the very essence of the American character. Born in a small hill town northeast of Rome, he emigrated to the U.S. in 1920 at the age of 22, with only the clothes on his back, about 1000 lire, (the equivalent of $50), and a small canvas sack filled with a change of clothes, a rough wool sweater handknit by his sister, two loaves of bread, some canned sardines, a few jars of olives, a bag of pipe tobacco, a one way ticket to Ellis Island, and enough hope and dreams to fuel an ocean liner around the world twice over.
One of his cousins, my great aunt Ray, was already living in Brooklyn, so he had the guarantee of a blanket and a spot on her living room floor for a few months until he found work, and a place to live for him and his wife to be, my grandmother, who was still in Italy waiting for a ticket and the money to join him in New York.
Joseppi was a wigmaker and beautician by trade, and would walk the streets of Myrtle and DeKalb Avenue going from shop to shop looking for work, any kind of work. In those days, not many women went to salons to have their hair done. Only school teachers and well-heeled wives of doctors and professional men. But with his bright green eyes, contagious smile, and disarming charm, he found a salon in Manhattan that was willing to bring him on for tips. No salary, no pay, but tips from those generous enough to spare some extra change.
Each day he would walk across the Manhattan Bridge and up Park Avenue to 52nd Street to save the cost of the subway or bus. He called it his walk of love, for he was walking for his fiancée Teresa, his little flower, my future grandmother, walking to save the money to bring her to America.
As much as he loved Italy, he considered himself an American from the very first day he stepped onto Ellis Island and his heels kissed the shore. This was the place that had fueled his imagination and ignited his optimism. This was the dream that he had held in his heart from the days of his boyhood, reading stories of cowboys, of open prairies and majestic mountains, sparkling rivers, of pioneers, and native spirits, the land where people of all nationalities, and religions and classes and politics came together and shared the same soil.
In Italy, you were born into a class of society and you lived according to the unspoken rules of that class for your entire life, no matter what your talents, ambitions, education. But in new York, in America, the poor and the rich, the Illiterate and the educated, the working class and the aristocrat, old and new money, Italian and Irish, Chinese and African, all collided together, loved and fought together, shared food and recipes, stories and tragedies, and strove to claim their little piece of hope and paradise.
In their four room flat on Knickerbocker Avenue, he never quite realized the stereotypical American dream, but he did manage to bring over his bride, raise four daughters, become the unofficial mayor of DeKalb Avenue, and eventually, on one of the proudest days of his life, became an American citizen. Becoming a passport-carrying “official” American citizen, to my grandfather, was akin to a degree from Harvard or Yale, or a nest egg in the bank. It did not mean rejecting his Italian ancestry that ran deep in his blood, in his senses, in his soul. For him America was not a nationality, or a place, or a country of origin, it was a state of mind, a state of liberation, a way of looking at the world through a lens of hope, of optimism, of youthful potential.
In Italy he would always be tied to the earth, to the rich soil, to its scents and sounds and tastes. But in America, he was free to let his imagination run wild, to go beyond the earth to the mystery and the promise of the heavens.
Writer Joni Daidone lives between Millerton, New York, and New York City. She lives with her husband, Brian, and dog-child Miles. She writes advertising copy to pay the mortgage and short plays and stories to keep her sanity. “Being an American” is part of a longer series of essays on Daidone’s Italian American heritage.
Sunday, July 01, 2007
"Breathe, Sky Blue"
We were somewhere over Texas. Turbulence was turning our smooth journey into a bumpy ride. The woman in the center aisle was close to a panic attack. Tall, African American, and stunningly gorgeous, this woman looked ready to leap out of her seat and run through the cabin screaming.
The man seated near the window made light of her nervousness, and tried joking. His humorous words landed on deaf ears. Defeated, he buried his face in a book.
I reached for her hand. She wrapped her fingers around mine greedily. Her palm was icy cold. “It's OK, it's just turbulence,” I tried to reassure her. Her pleading eyes met mine, begging me to make it OK. In her terror, I recognized a state I have experienced more often then I care to admit.
“Just take a few nice deep, breaths,” I suggested, aware that my own breath needed tending to if I was going to help her. We sat there and suddenly I became her coach.
“OK, so breathe in, and breathe out, nice and slow.” I began to breathe with her, centering myself as I guided her.
The choppy ride continued a few minutes longer.
The captain's voice came through the cabin promising smoother skies as soon as we reached a higher altitude.
I sat back in my seat and encouraged the woman, Chandra, to do the same.
Reluctantly, she leaned back and looked over at me. “I have panic attacks,” she whispered, her eyes dark with shame. Her jaw unclenched and her grip on my hand loosened.
“I get them, too,” I told her.
“Really?” she murmured, biting her lip and clutching her purse. She was staring at me with disbelief.
I nodded. “Really, although flying doesn’t trigger them. Other things do. There are lots of us out here with anxiety. The cool thing is that unless you are in the throws of anxiety, nobody knows. The sad thing is that unless you are in the throws of anxiety, nobody knows. And our secret keeps us ashamed.”
I remembered the first panic attack I had. I'd been starving myself for months, slave driving my body and demanding it to perform the physical feats of a 30-year old (I was 60 at the time). I was over exercising and ignoring the chronic fatigue and pain I was experiencing. My digestive tract was beyond spent and the acid reflux I had developed was serious enough for medical intervention. No matter, though. I continued to refuse to listen to my body. I continued to punish myself, giving into the brutal dictates of my eating disorder: thinner, thinner, thinner, hard, harder harder, no mercy.
Given the physical, mental and emotional stress I was subjecting myself to, is it any wonder I was diagnosed with hypertension? It happened during a routine appointment with my doctor and it should not have come as a shock.
WRONG. Disbelief. Denial. Panic. Me, Ms. Fitness, a woman whose blood pressure had been that of a teenager even in my late 50's. Oh no, doctor, you must be mistaken. At my request, the doctor took it again. My blood pressure climbed higher and higher. My body began shaking uncontrollably, my legs went rubbery and I was sure I would collapse. I was freezing, I was burning up, and I couldn't catch my breath. My heart was pounding, I was dizzy, nauseated, I felt totally out of control. I didn't know what was happening to me. All I knew was that I was about to die. Or so it felt.
The nurse gave me a blanket. She turned down the light. “You're freaking out,” she said. “But it will pass. Try to calm down.” Alone in the darkened room, fear washed through every cell in my body. The 20 minutes I lay there jumping out of my skin felt like 20 years. Eventually, the adrenaline shooting through my body tapered off and the pounding in my chest lessened. Bathed in sweat, I felt lifeless. But I was still breathing. I was alive.
The fasten seat belt signs went off. Flight attendants resumed their beverage service and the pilot promised smooth skies for the duration of our flight. He kept his word. Chandra's body relaxed and she released my hand. We ordered water and pulled down our meal trays. We talked about our kids, my grandkids, and the visits ahead of us. We landed at the Jacksonville, Florida airport and said our goodbyes.
“Thanks again,” she mouthed back at me, heading toward baggage claim.
“Take care of yourself,” I yelled back, knowing the work she had ahead of her. And rooting for her, because I know the long road so well. Learning how to manage anxiety ain't easy. But it is possible.
If you are prone to panic –and so many of us are—you might want to try this simple exercise.
Close your eyes. Just sit there, wherever you are (except of course if you are driving a car, you might want to pull over :).
Let every muscle in your body go ragdoll limp. Let your arms dangle from your shoulders. Let your head hang. Let your tongue loll. Let your thighs sink into the seat beneath you.
Take a long slow breath in. And out.
Now repeat that. But even more slowly. While you do, start to watch your breath. Picture it coming into your nose. Give the breath a color. Fill it with pink light. Or make it sky blue. Or gold and orange like sunset.
Now watch that beautiful color slide into your nose, down your airway.
There it is now filling filling filling your chest. Watch it go out to your shoulders. Press it against your back. Force your belly out like a balloon and make air go there too.
Then when you are filled to the brim, release the breath, very slowly. Watch the breath empty from your lungs. Watch it pass out of your lungs, nose and mouth.
Repeat this. See if you can do this breathing thing five times in a row. Very slowly.
So are you calmer now? Can you think more clearly?
When your heart starts hammering, and your palms go sweaty, go back to the breath. It helps bring your body floating back down to earth.
Writer Marti Zuckrowv is a California-based writer. A lifelong dancer and performance artist, she now teachers movement classes to people with disabilities.