Sunday, April 23, 2017

Listen to Understand (Infertility), Not to Reply

For several months I've been planning this idea in my head that I would write this well researched blog post about infertility to kick off my participation in RESOLVE's National Infertility Awareness Week. Infertility is an emotionally raw diagnosis. I realized that the research wasn't getting done because I just wasn't ready to dive deep into a topic that is so sensitive already without the added stress of research. I subconsciously realized that dealing with infertility and combing through tons of information and writing a well-researched blog post was too much for me to handle.

What I can handle is telling you my own infertility story and reasons behind participating in this year's National Infertility Awareness Week. And writing from the heart is less likely to make me cry. I hope. So grab your favorite beverage, maybe some tissues, snuggle up on the couch, and listen up because what I've written here to share with you is emotionally raw and important.


First off, what is infertility?
Infertility affects 1 in 8 couples. Let that number sink in: 1 in 8. More common than you thought, right? What I don't know is if that stat includes women (or men) who are not in a relationship and already know they're unable to have children before they even try. That applies to me. I don't know if I'm included in that number because I don't know how those stats are calculated.

A more concrete definition than I can give comes from RESOLVE's Fast Facts About Infertility: "Infertility is a disease that results in the abnormal functioning of the male or female reproductive system. The World Health Organization, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recognize infertility as a disease. Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after one year of unprotected intercourse (six months if the woman is over age 35) or the inability to carry a pregnancy to live birth."

As you can imagine, there are many different reasons why a woman is unable to conceive or is unable to carry a pregnancy full-term to a live birth. If you can't imagine, then all the more reason for you to listen up and for us to create awareness around infertility.

The Nitty Gritty of My Infertility Diagnosis
At the age of 15 when I had yet to start my period, I went through a myriad of doctors appointments and tests and was eventually diagnosed with MRKH. It stands for Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser syndrome, which is a condition that mainly affects the reproductive system of women. The condition causes the uterus, cervix, and vagina to be underdeveloped or absent, which prevents pregnancy. There are many variations of these defining characteristics all of which mean the same thing - pregnancy is not possible. In my case, I do not have a uterus or vagina, so therefore I do not have a period. I was able to lengthen my vagina through a method called dilation to have a normal sex life, and some women do that through a surgical procedure. Like many MRKH women, I still have healthy functioning ovaries so I am 100% biologically female and still ovulate. This means if my eggs are viable, I can go through treatments and egg retrieval to use a gestational surrogate if I so choose. Yes, I have PMS symptoms without cramps and bleeding. And no, I'm not lucky to not have a period.

I also have Type 2 MRKH, also known as MURCS, which stands for (MU)llerian, (R)enal, (C)ervicothoracic (S)omite and applies to bone abnormalities and/or renal abnormalities. I have congenital scoliosis and fortunately do not have renal issues like many others do.

Coping with MRKH
Although I have had it fairly easy compared to others when it comes to my diagnosis and associated conditions, I've still felt ashamed of having it for reasons that I have trouble explaining. I hope you'll bear with me as I try.

This diagnosis is life changing. I felt isolated when I was first diagnosed and for several more years after that until I started meeting other women with MRKH. It was like no one understood me because I was literally the only one I knew with this condition. It's not something that's openly talked about often, especially by teenagers because we already have enough to feel ashamed about at that age.

Now, at the age of 30, when it seems like all of my friends and cousins are getting married and/or pregnant, I still sometimes feel like I'm the one in the corner that nobody sees or hears. I still sometimes feel like I don't have a voice. Not when the cultural expectation is that women should get married and pregnant by a certain age or else something is wrong with them. It seems like society as a whole doesn't care that some women don't want to have kids and/or are unable to do so. This makes infertility awareness that much more important.

While I want to get married, I used to want to get pregnant. Over the years I have accepted pregnancy will never happen and I struggle more with the fact that the choice was "taken" from me. I'm more upset that I didn't know this was possible than I am that I can't get pregnant. Don't get me wrong, not being able to get pregnant does still bother me to an extent. Keep in mind that the choice of whether or not to get pregnant was taken from me and that hurts. It's a pain that will always be with me.

Why I Am Sharing My Story Now
The more I talk about it, the easier it is for me to manage. I've slowly started to come out of my feeling of isolation the more I talk about my experience. The more I can talk about it, the better I feel about myself and I am finally starting to feel whole again. I want that for other women. I want other women to feel like they are not alone. I want others to listen to what I have to say and my hope is that it'll help at least one woman. The more awareness that is spread, the more likely someone will be helped and she won't have to go through her journey alone.

This is why I decided to participate in RESOLVE's National Infertility Awareness Week. I want people to listen, not just to hear what I have to say, but to really listen to understand and ask questions. So if you have any questions or comments, please leave them below, or email me if you don't want to ask in a public forum.

Last, but not least, to 15-year-old me: I want you to know you are not alone.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

At just under 20 hours, I think Gone Girl is the longest audio-book I've listened to, and the actors did an excellent job. One of the reasons I was drawn to reading (or listening to) Gone Girl is because I've always enjoyed when an author writes a story with each character's perspective. It gives readers insight into what each of them might be feeling and thinking. I also heard The Girl on the Train, which I read last year, dubbed as the "next Gone Girl" and since I thoroughly enjoyed listening to that book, I figured why not give Gone Girl a try?

The story of Gone Girl begins the morning of Nick and Amy Dunne's fifth wedding anniversary, when Nick comes home to find the house a mess and Amy is missing. Chaos ensues and so does an investigation into her disappearance, and everyone suspects Nick. Most of the story is written from his perspective in the present tense and I started to feel sympathy for him despite him being a self-absorbed writer hung up on the golden days of magazine editing before the advent of the Internet. Then, about halfway through the story we get Amy's take on things told in the past tense which is when things get real interesting. She's also an out of work washed-up writer, and as a born and raised New York City woman, she is struggling to find her place in sleepy town of North Carthage, Missouri. She tells us her life through journal entries that gives us some real, raw insight into who she is - something that Nick and other characters never got to see.

We of course think that Nick did it, and then start to wonder if he had help. Was he set up, and by whom? What really happened to Amy? Who is she, really? Or maybe Amy's ex-boyfriend from high school who lives an hour away killed her. Or was it her former best friend and stalker? Maybe she's not really missing? Oh wait, she is missing and presumed dead because we found evidence that proves it, for now. At every twist and turn, Flynn leaves the reader thinking one thing and then suddenly questioning that thought and wondering what will happen next.

I wanted to strangle both Nick and Amy for being idiotic characters who should've seen what was right in front of them in the entire time, especially at the end. If I had read the physical copy, I would've slammed it shut and thrown it on the floor in frustration.

After listening to this, I can understand why The Girl on the Train was dubbed as the next Gone Girl because of similar main characters. Yet, I think they are very different novels and Gone Girl is a much cleaner, better written story.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Monday, April 17, 2017

April is National Poetry Month

Did you know that April is National Poetry Month? It was started in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets, and according to poets.org, "Over the years, it has become the largest literary celebration in the world with schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, and poets celebrating poetry’s
vital place in our culture."

Although we are halfway through the month, there are still some things you can do to celebrate poetry!

  1. Poem in Your Pocket Day: On April 27, pick a poem and carry it with you everywhere you go, and share it with others throughout the day. It doesn't matter if it's local schools, workplaces, or at your local library, or even at your favorite watering hole (though you might get some looks if you're sharing a poem at a bar). Share it on Twitter using the hashtag #pocketpoem.
  2. Receive a poem a day. Sign up to receive a poem a day via email by previously unpublished poets. Or find the poems on the poets.org website and social media.
  3. Memorize a poem
  4. Write a poem a day and share it on a blog and/or social media
  5. Participate in the NaPoWriMo blog a poem a day challenge at http://www.napowrimo.net/.
  6. Attend a poetry reading at your local bookstore, library, cafe or local university
  7. Chalk a poem on a sidewalk
  8. Subscribe to a literary journal dedicated to poetry, or that has a poetry section such as Mud Season Review or Poetry Magazine.
  9. Sign up for a poetry workshop or class. The Burlington Writers Workshop in Vermont has poetry workshops on Monday evenings in Burlington.
  10. Buy a book of poetry from your local bookstore.
For more ways to get involved in celebrating poetry this month, check out 30 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Review: The Rumor by Elin Hilderbrand

The Rumor by Elin Hilderbrand
Published by Blackstone Audio Inc.
OverDrive Listen audiobook narrated by Kathleen McInerney, Erin Bennett, and Rick Zieff
Duration: 10 hour 48 minutes
Released: June 16, 2015
Dates listened: Oct. 4-16, 2016

As the weather is starting to turn warmer, I am starting to think about my summer reading list and my thoughts turned to this one I listened to last fall when I was in denial that the weather was getting colder. This being my first novel by Elin Hilderbrand I got the sense that this is a cookie cutter plot line and an easy quick beach read. There wasn't much character development and the plot was a bit too predictable. That said, I could tell she has some kind of writing talent and I hope that her other novels are better.

Set in present day Nantucket, The Rumor follows scandalous news between best friends Madeline King and Grace Pancik whom seem to have picture perfect marriages with standing double dates on Sunday evenings. Their children and homes appear to be picturesque Nantucket beach town, described in such a way that made me want to jet down to the beach as soon as possible.

Then one early summer day, all they know changes almost overnight when actions are misinterpreted and rumors spread like wildfire through the small New England town.

Madeline makes a desperate bad decision when she's feeling the pressure of looming bills and keeping up appearances. As a novelist battling writer's block, she has a deadline looming and nothing to show for it - until The Rumor sparks her creative streak.

Grace is determined to turn her backyard garden into a paradise and be featured in an upcoming publication and event. In collaborating more closely with her ruggedly handsome landscape architect, things start to heat up a little too much causing rumors to spread.

Grace is accustomed to the comfortable income her husband, "Fast Eddie" Pancik, brings in as a successful real estate developer on the island. What she isn't accustomed to is the lifestyle they're on the brink of possibly living because of a side project he's managed to get himself into to maintain their current one to keep up with appearances.

Then the storybook romance between Madeline's son, Brick, and Grace's daughter Allegra is on the rocks, heading for disaster.

The singularity of the title implies there is simply one Rumor flying around, but there is at least one per character and situation in this small town summer beach read. I highly recommend this easy read for anyone interested in this genre.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Review: Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
2nd installment of the All Souls Trilogy
Paperback, 583 pages
Published May 28th 2013 by Penguin Books (first published July 10th 2012)
Dates read: January 10, 2015 - April 6, 2017

Shadow of Night took me over 2 years to read because I felt it was very slow moving to start despite picking up immediately after the cliffhanger ending of the first book, Discovery of Witches. Part of Libri Persona: The People of the Book, which names the characters in each part and who they are.
me wishes I stuck with it so I could remember more details, but part of me is okay with that because most of those details aren't necessary to still enjoy the book. I didn't find it as difficult to keep up with the details as I did in Discovery of Witches, perhaps due to the structure of the book being broken up into 6 parts, and also providing a section in the back called

Luckily, I took copious notes at the beginning so I could remember it enough to write a review eventually, and did read the majority recently enough to remember it well enough.

One of my favorite aspects is that it is a historical fiction novel that goes into exquisite detail of 16th-century London from the plot and characters to all the sights and sounds, food, habits, and relationships. Matthew and Diana seemed to naturally take the opportunity of the slower time period to get to know each other and allow their relationship to develop more slowly and naturally rather than being so rushed like the first novel.

Although Diana is a historian and ecstatic to be in one of her favorite time-periods, she is desperately out of place with her wardrobe, foreign accent and mannerisms. Matthew and his friends of the time (some of whom Diana is meeting again), assist her with fitting in. Fairly soon after arriving, they work quickly to find Diana a witch to train her, though they must do so discretely to avoid detection because her witchcraft could get her burned at the stake. She eventually does become more confident in herself, and most notably in her abilities as a witch and her relationship with Matthew. She's also witness to how women have no rights in Elizabethan London despite a female queen, and in a way uses this to her advantage to prove her equality/partnership to Matthew which helps them become closer.

We also learn so much about Matthew through Diana slowly peeling away his many layers, and through their love, loss, jealousy, running a household together, and having a "family" via many of his compatriots and family members we had only heard about in Discovery of Witches. Harkness did a wonderful job at weaving them in and out of the story and giving them their own unique voices, including Gallowglass, the Queen, and many other prominent noble characters of the time.

Shadow of Night built upon the many questions in Discovery of Witches we asked about Ashmole 782, and answered some. It gave us insight into the troubles facing creatures several centuries before Diana's time, and actions that may or not be the beginning of the end for witches, vampires, and daemons.

Highly recommend for anyone who loved Discovery of Witches, who loves historical fiction, and fantasy. If it weren't for reading Discovery of Witches for book club, I would never have picked this off the shelf to read on my own because I typically do not enjoy fantasy, but I have actually enjoyed this trilogy so far and look forward to reading The Book of Life.

Rating: 4 out of 5.