Babies are a lousy cure-all

happybaby-sliderA discussion over at a little pregnant made me think about something. Having a baby, unfortunately, is not a cure for infertility.

I think it’s a myth that parenthood resolves infertility. I’ve been hanging with formerly infertile people who are now parents for some time and I always ask them (as some of you know, because I’ve talked to you on the phone) whether or not having a child cures their infertility. It’s interesting because not everyone has the same answer. I’ve met women who went on to have unplanned pregnancies after conceiving via treatment and they say that they still feel infertile. I’ve met others who have never given birth and they say that they no longer feel infertile.

I think that for many of us, the drive to get a baby cancels out so much of our self-care. We get tunnel vision and baby achievement eats up every little bit of energy we have and then when the baby arrives, we’re depleted. We haven’t taken care of the emotional resolution of our infertility.

Infertile women are at greater risk of post-partum depression because of this. We know, of course, that having a baby doesn’t solve all of our problems but it can come as a surprise that having a baby doesn’t heal all of our wounds. In fact, parenthood illuminates fissures in the relationships we have with ourselves and others.

Those of us who went to great lengths to achieve parenthood are more apt to feel guilty if we’re not enamored with our babies or being mommies right away because how can we justify the time and expense if we’re not now perfectly happy? How do we dare tell people that sometimes we wonder if we should have had our babies when those babies took so much effort?

I met a woman the other day who has a daughter via adoption and a son via a surprise pregnancy. She said that mother’s day is still the worst day of the year for her. She hates mother’s day with a passion. It reminds her of her years and years of sorrow and anger and she can’t erase that — no matter how many messy little handprint paperweights and crayoned cards she receives. She is still bitter at baby showers, still has days where seeing pregnant women at the mall is too much. She told me that she realizes now that during treatment and then during the adoption process, she was so focused on achieving parenthood that she forgot to process what was happening to her. She feels (and please note that I’m not trying to put words in her mouth, those words were there already) that she didn’t take the opportunity to grow through her infertility and instead fought it as hard as she could.

When I interviewed women this past spring (thanks again to many of you who volunteered!), I realized that we don’t get a lot of support in working through infertility outside of the specific realm of treatment. We talk a lot about treatment options and we offer each other sympathy when that annoying neighbor gets knocked up again but it’s very hard to help each other be ok with our own unique form of resolution.

Part of this, I think, is that we are blinded by our own infertility stories. It’s difficult to understand women who make choices that would not be our choices. I think we all do a very good job of saying, “I support that decision” even when it’s a decision we don’t quite comprehend but it can be hard for us to help each other process.

Sooner or later for our own emotional health, we have to learn to accept our infertility. That doesn’t mean we stop struggling for parenthood (unless that’s the path that makes the most sense for us) but it does mean that we need to resolve our rage and grief. I know how difficult this is to do because it comes up in new ways in all sorts of unexpected situations. But if we don’t, then even when we have a baby in-arms, we will find ourselves still hurting and we don’t deserve to hurt for the rest of our lives.

Surrendering to infertility sounds so terrible — it sounds like giving in — but in surrendering, we accept ourselves.

Wonderful, beautiful Julie said something so profound to me during our interview. She said, “I think what we’re doing now is both a means and an end … it’s a stepping stone that we have to walk over to get to where we’re going.”

Her perspective is such a wise one. We don’t have to love the journey to love ourselves on the journey or to appreciate what we gain.

I think this perspective, too, helps us when we’re making treatment decisions. It’s easier to honor our limits when we remember that the means are just as important as the ends.

Easy money

There’s an article I wrote a zillion years ago for Every Baby, which is the annual consumer magazine produced by the American College of Nurse-Midwives. It’s a gorgeous publication with beautiful, lush photography and lots of fancy fonts. My article is on common pregnancy complaints (it was assigned to me). Anyway, they keep reprinting it. It was in the very first issue and then they’ve reprinted it in the two issues so far and now they’re reprinting it again for the next issue. And every time they reprint it, they pay me again. True, it’s not quite as much as what they paid the first time (it’s about half that first payment) but considering that it’s effort-free and still a respectable amount, it makes me very very happy.

This is what it must be like to get residuals!!!

Query Tips

envelopes-insideI’m learning about queries from getting so many. When I’m back to freelancing, hopefully I can remember all of this. Want to know what I’ve learned? Ok, here you are:

–When those write advice columns tell you that you should read the magazine/web site before querying, they’re right. I get a lot of queries that clearly come from people who are shooting in the dark. Some of them are proud of this: “I’ve never read your magazine or other pregnancy magazines but I’ve been pregnant and think I have an interesting take on the subject.” Ummm, doubt it.

–Be specific when you query. I get pitches that are way too broad. I don’t mind it when I get this from a writer that I know and whose work I know. If they send me something that says, “Morning sickness, what do you think?” We can go back and forth and whittle it down to, say, “Morning Sick at Work” with tips for handling it. (This is a good idea actually, someone pitch it to me!) But if it’s from a writer I don’t know, I’m not really going to feel motivated to go to all the trouble working it out with them because they may not have the chops to do a good job on it. Now it’s fun to figure out topics with writers I know so go ahead and give me a great specific query and once you’ve done a really impressive job with that one, we can play around with your other article ideas. Also, if you send me a wonderful specific query that I’ve already assigned and you have good clips, it’s very likely that I’ll end up giving you another idea along the same lines. Basically I want to work with you but only if you show me that you want to work with me, too.

–Don’t waste your first paragraph. I don’t need to know your experience right up front; I want to know what you’re trying to sell me. And sell it, dangit, don’t just vaguely toss it up there and hope I have the imagination to see what a great idea it is. Again those writing books are right: Statistics are not nearly as compelling as an interesting, specific hook. I’d rather hear, “For the first three months of my pregnancy, I was throwing up in my office trash can and spraying room deoderizer because I didn’t want my boss to know I was pregnant!” than, “Did you know that most women experience morning sickness and since most women work, that must be really hard!” C’mon, you can see the difference, right?

–Your pregnancy history doesn’t mean that much to me. A lot of people finish their query with something like, “And I think I would be a good fit because I am pregnant now or was pregnant once.” I really don’t care. If you’re a good writer, it doesn’t matter whether or not you’ve been pregnant.

–Read the submission guidelines carefully. We don’t accept personal essays for the site no matter how compelling your story is.

–Watch your bias. I’ve had people rail against doctors or give me a conspiring wink about epidurals in their query. That just convinces me that you can’t see both sides of a story. I may personally be a pretty crunchy-granola person, but as an editor, my goal is to meet the information needs of our audience, many of whom have viewpoints entirely different from my own. Besides, you don’t know me. For all you know (well not really you, dearest blog readers), I could be a gung-ho, pro-epidural, homebirth sucks person. By the way, I have gotten some queries that would have insulted me back when I was knee-deep in my infertility. So watch it, folks.

–Include clips!!!! People don’t include their clips. I personally dislike attached clips because it clutters up my computer but I won’t hold it against you if you send them. I’d rather people go make a homepage or something with a link in their letter. If you don’t have professional clips, include something anyway. I know we’re a fairly low-paying market and although we have some hard-core writing professionals writing for us, we have a lot of newbies, too. I’m happy to hire newbies because I was one myself. If you’re a newbie without clips, just include something that proves you can string words together decently, ‘kay?

–Don’t assume your god’s gift to me. Confidence is fine but don’t act like you’re doing me a favor by pitching to me. Aggressiveness is a turn-off especially when you’ve never been published anywhere but your church newsletter.

–Don’t tell me that you would prefer that I came up with your article ideas for you. I’ve had several people write and say, “I prefer to work on assignment so why don’t you send me some article topics.” Listen, once we’ve worked together and found out that we’re a good fit, assignments are entirely possible even probable but if I’ve never even heard of you, I want you to prove yourself.

–Proofread your query! If you can’t spell or write a grammatically correct sentence in your query letter, I’m not going to hire you to write for me.

Whew! Thanks for letting me get that off my chest!!!

Work work work

I promised my boss I’d get back to work this weekend. She knows I’m gnawing away at this book project (she’s already given me feedback on the sample chapter) but maybe I ought to actually get some useful work done for her sometime, eh?

A bunch of you very kindly offered your help; thanks very much! The critiques are drifting in and it’s interesting to read them. People are all very nice (maybe my previous post scared them a little) and helpful. Some of you like stuff that others of you didn’t, which is how it usually goes. But I am getting a better idea of how to pull in my meandering and tighten things up.

I write like I think: “I was walking down the street, the street that’s next block over, which reminds me. Have I told you about our neighbor on that street? How his dogs bark at all hours? Well, they do and that always sets Peanut off. Peanut, she’s so crazy! I taught her how to beg and now she does anytime anyone looks at her. She’s such a treat whore! Ha! Yeah, so, what was I saying? About the street? Oh, that’s right, so I was walking down it and my shoes were hurting. These shoes. No, not those shoes. Those are the shoes Mart sent me, aren’t they cute? And they have a heel! I haven’t worn a heel since I got married, I think. Did I tell you about the outfit I wore when I got married?”

Train of thought. Yup, mine always takes the long way around.

I love this poem: The Lanyard

The other day as I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room
bouncing from typewriter to piano
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
I found myself in the “L” section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word, Lanyard.
No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one more suddenly into the past.

Read the rest here and then go buy his books. (By the way, this poem — like most poems outside of e. e. cummings — is best read out loud. Try it; you’ll like it.) (And by the way again, the author Billy Collins is our poet laureate.)