Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Things Your Infertile Friend Wishes You Knew

So your friend just told you she has some form of infertility. This is a moment in your friendship where it's time to listen to her and support her. She may or may not have told you specifics of her situation. It doesn't matter. What matters is that she told you because she trusts you. She may have also been so overwhelmed about telling you, for fear of your reaction, that she didn't think to tell you some of the things she wishes you knew all along, and hopes you will remember. Perhaps you were overwhelmed by the news to ask what you could do to be there for her as a friend.

This is where the list below may come in handy. While it's not comprehensive, it's a list of some things I wish my friends and family knew, and what my MRKH Sisters wish their networks knew. MRKH is a form of primary infertility I talked about in an earlier post that affects only women and mainly affects the reproductive system. In sum, according to Genetics Home Reference, "this condition causes the vagina and uterus to be underdeveloped or absent. Affected women usually do not have menstrual periods due to the absent uterus," though I'd like to point out that many still ovulate due to the presence of ovaries (we get the PMS without the period, yay! *sarcasm*)

This post isn't meant to sound preachy and it does not apply to everyone dealing with infertility. These are some things that are big no-no's, but if you learn that your friend(s) are not bothered by some of things then you know that line can be crossed. Keep in mind that it really depends on the person, and pregnancy in general is bothersome to those with infertility.

I realize that the following list is a lot to remember, so if you're unsure about whether or not something may bother your friend, ask her. Just the simple act of asking shows your thoughtfulness and caring, and that you listen to her. Your comments and questions are also welcome at the end of this post.

I am grieving the loss of my fertility - something I always thought I had

Grief is a lifelong journey. It's not something to simply get over or deal with immediately. Grieving the loss of being able to choose whether or not to get pregnant is real and painful. It's much like grieving a loved one because I'm grieving the children I dreamed of having as a little girl and may never have.

Sometimes a pregnancy announcement won't bother me a lot - I'll get small pang of pain, but it's not a big deal. Sometimes it will bother me more than usual if I'm already having a bad day and/or if it's the 5th one I've received in a short period of time.

I wish you'd remember me on Mother's Day, and my partner on Father's Day 
These are difficult days. Though I do celebrate my own parents and parent-like people in my life, it's difficult for me to not be reminded of my own struggle or inability to become a mother through pregnancy.

Other women may have miscarried and are grieving those children around these holidays. I grieve the inability to carry children.

Men are also experiencing this hardship. They are just as heartbroken, frustrated and disappointed to have yet another Father's Day come and go without a child of their own.

I found these tips from RESOLVE helpful on how to celebrate these holidays.

I need days (or weeks) alone to grieve
Please give me the space to grieve in my own way when I need to, and don't take it personally if it suddenly feels like I'm pulling away. It's not personal, I just tend to withdraw into myself and need time alone and/or with my partner to grieve.

Sometimes my grief comes on suddenly and unexpectedly when even the littlest things remind me of this painful struggle. Please respect my boundaries and allow me the space to grieve on my own terms.

I appreciate it when you listen to me
Even if you don't understand what I'm going through, be the friend you've always been and listen to me. Just knowing that you're willing to listen to what I have to say means the world to me.

I appreciate hugs and support, not advice
When we're discussing infertility or getting pregnant, telling me to just relax or just get over it or that I should(n't) feel a certain way are some of the worst possible advice to give. Why? Because they're unwarranted, and often incorrect. Instead, recognize that my feelings are real and valid regardless of whether or not you understand them. Recognize that I'm going through a difficult time, could use a friend, and give me a hug.

I put my feelings aside for others because I feel guilty
I feel guilty and ashamed that I am unable to achieve a pregnancy - something that is so defining of what it means to be a woman. It's taken me a long time to have accepted this inability as a part of my life and that I'm still very much a woman despite my body failing me. It's hard, though not impossible, for me to not feel guilty or ashamed. I don't want sympathy and I don't like feeling guilty, so I put my feelings aside for others.

I am sad for me, but oh so happy for you

While I am saddened by the reminder of what I don't or can't have, it doesn't mean that I am any less happy for you. I am so excited and happy that you're experiencing the miracle of life. I will do everything I can to be a part of your journey if you'll let me.

I still want to be included in stuff

Please still include me in things. I appreciate the gesture and knowing you still want me around. It also gives me the chance to decide for myself whether or not I'm up for it.

I feel like an outsider sometimes
MRKH women feel like outsiders when it comes to period talk. We don't experience periods the way that most women do. Although we do not have a uterus or normally functioning one, we still have functioning ovaries. Don't tell us we're lucky to never have a period because we still "experience the awesomeness of hormone surges, without the bleeding part," as one woman put it.

Also as an MRKH woman, I'll never experience childbirth and I don't want to be a part of these conversations because I feel uncomfortable and it's heartbreaking to hear about it.

Others with different forms of infertility who struggle to get pregnant and stay pregnant feel left out of pregnancy conversations too.

I wish you didn't complain about your pregnancy to me
I know it must be miserable being pregnant because it's why you're complaining. PLEASE STOP. If you know that I'm struggling with infertility, why are you complaining to me? It's insulting and disrespectful that you aren't considering my feelings, and heartbreaking because it's a reminder of what I can't experience. I realize that you must be going through a rough time, but so am I. Please don't be so selfish as to complain to your friend with infertility.

I wish you didn't brag about your easy and wonderful pregnancy to me
Personally, it doesn't matter why someone is talking about pregnancy - the word alone annoys me. This particular point doesn't bother me as much as the complaining, yet others feel the opposite. For me, I can be happy they're happy and still feel sad for myself. It's not so easy for other infertile women to feel this way.

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I used to be more upset that someone is gushing about their positive experience. I want that used to ring through my head, along with why not me? As I hit my mid-twenties I started to accept that it'll never happen and I'm not as bothered by the positive experiences anymore. I'm also naturally attracted to positivety. 

I appreciate you telling me you're pregnant face to face

A close friend of mine from childhood waited to tell me in person that she was pregnant. She knew the importance of telling me this news face to face. It meant the world to me, and it wasn't nearly as painful as being told via a Facebook post or message, or text or even a phone call. She made it personal because she knows my infertility is personal. She recognized that her good news would be a heartbreaking blow for me, and it wasn't nearly as heartbreaking as it could've been knowing she remembered how painful it could be. Her respecting my feelings is a mark of a true friend.

Infertility still hurts even after adoption, IVF, or surrogacy

Thanks to another MRKH woman for mentioning this one. There is no cure for the emotional pain. Having a child is not the end all, be all solution to the emotional healing of infertility. While those with infertility are eternally grateful and happy for their children, it doesn't stop the underlying pain of the lifelong journey.

I know there are different ways to start a family
Another MRKH woman said it well, "I am clearly upset by my diagnosis, so I don't need you to tell me (like everyone else) that I can adopt, use IVF, or surrogacy. Unless I ask you for advice, chances are I know my options."

And yet another woman pointed out that, "it may not be feasible for me and my partner to pursue those options for a variety of personal reasons."

Comments like "there are other ways to have kids! Adoption or surrogacy!" are ignorant and hurtful. Even though that is true, both those options are insanely expensive, and adoption has very strict guidelines on who gets a kid or not. I/we may not qualify.

"You can be a foster parent! It could lead to adoption!" I know it's an option. I've thought about it and have either decided to do it, or I chose not to for a variety of reasons.

Dating is difficult, and an early infertility diagnosis makes it harder
When dating, it is difficult news to break to a potential partner. It poses so many questions such as how much do I tell them and when? Should I tell them all at once or in stages? How do I tell them my preferences of adoption or surrogacy, or neither? Another MRKH woman reminded me that as heterosexual women, we encounter a lot of men who are not okay with adoption because they want children of their own. I am sure that gays and lesbians encounter the same issue in dating, but I can't speak to that from experience or through others experiences. (Please comment your experiences if you would like to share).

I've had guys who are not okay with even pursuing gestational surrogacy to have a biological child, and it is okay they're not okay with it. In traditional surrogacy, the baby would be biologically his, and biologically the surrogates. The reasons why vary, and are even sometimes unclear. I think it's partially a matter of education and debunking the myths associated with surrogacy.

Please understand that this might be a big reason as to why I'm still single. I've often said it weeds out the assholes. The heartbreak of a break up doesn't get easier even if it's a good thing to decide sooner rather than later that infertility is a deal-breaker.

Also, making comments like "you'll find him/her someday" doesn't help when the real issue is the fear of being rejected because of infertility. I've had years to come to terms with this diagnosis, they have had much less time to process it. Some are definitely not okay with not having kids or the difficulty of having them, and some think I may change my mind about my preference for adoption over surrogacy.

Not all of us want to be mothers, but that doesn't mean not being able to choose is less painful.
It's because infertility is also an emotional struggle and grieving process. This doesn't need further explanation. See the grieving points above.

I wish you knew that because I don't have my own kids it doesn't mean I am free (or even want) to mind yours
This wish came from another MRKH woman, and while it wasn't necessarily something I would've thought to include, it's worth nothing that sometimes people assume that because someone is child-free, they're automatically available to babysit. In addition to the statement above, she said, "I want you to know that I fully embrace the child-free life and all it's benefits and in no way should people think it is okay to encroach on that."

I want you to know that other child-free women by matter of infertility and/or choice may get enjoyment out of doting on your children and that's their way of being part of children's lives.

I wish you wouldn't try to pawn your children off on me
Comments like "Well, you could have mine" aren't funny to everyone. I don't want your children, I want my own children, or those up for adoption, or I might be perfectly happy with my child-free life.

I wish you knew or acknowledged that my child-free life has just as much value as those who do have children

Although this can be applied to women who do not have infertility, I am still including it since infertility is often a reason why women and their partners decide to remain child-free. They may decide after years of struggling to become pregnant, or adopt or have a successful surrogate pregnancy that being child-free is the way to go.

Regardless of the reason(s) why, whether it's to focus on careers and/or not wanting to suffer through more attempts, or a multitude of other reasons, our child-free lives have just as much value as yours does with children.

I wish you understood the other ailments I have that are related to my MRKH
The reproductive system develops at about the same time as the skeletal and renal systems. Please understand that while infertility/MRKH is a huge part of the diagnosis, I may also suffer from other conditions. For me personally, I have congenital scoliosis that causes me a lot of back pain.

Many other MRKH women have kidney/renal issues including kidney disease or one kidney.

Someone may also have memory issues and/or fibromyalgia which both come with their own obstacles.

There are multitude of other issues related to MRKH, which makes it that much harder to deal with. We're all different. While we share the core characteristics of MRKH, our stories all vary - we may never meet another woman with the same exact characteristics and experiences as ourselves, making the feeling of isolation and loneliness that much harder.

I may have a different experience from your other infertile friends

What worked for them, may not work for me. Please don't assume that our journeys are the same. My MRKH journey is different from other women with MRKH, just as our MRKH experiences are different than those with PCOS, endometriosis, primary ovarian insufficiency (early menopause), and a variety of other infertility causes.

Are there any other things you wish people knew about your infertility journey? Comment below!

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. 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Results: Take Control TBR Challenge 2017

Well, the challenge didn't go nearly as well as I'd hoped. I only managed to finish 2 books in March, when my goal was to finish my currently reading pile of 7 books at the beginning of the month. My original post of the challenge was published on March 1st.

The books I planned to read or finish reading were:

  1. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (completed March 4)
  2. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (completed March 4)
  3. Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness (since completed, but too late for the challenge)
  4. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien (book club book that of course I didn't finish in time for the discussion)
  5. Rokitansky by Alice Darwin
  6. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult
  7. Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon

The Take Control TBR Challenge is hosted by Caffeinated Book Reviewer every March. The rules were a little confusing for me at first because she had 2 different posts that looked a little too similar. One was a link up post in January (this is how I learned link up means sign up) and the other was on March 1st explaining the rules. Since I'd only learned about it on March 1st from reading the rules post, I had a hard time figuring things out. Looking back now though it makes sense so I'm not sure why I was so confused. I think part of it was because I was nervous that I was already behind and was rushing and partly because it was an impulsive decision to join. If I had learned about it sooner, I think I would've been prepared and read more.

The rules: read books on your to be read shelf (TBR) that were published before March 1st. They can be audiobooks, e-books, or paperback/hardcopy. Post links to your reviews via Rafflecopter in the rules post to help Kimberly track of your progress. Rafflecopter is an online giveaway platform for websites and bloggers who are running giveaways, which if you're unfamiliar with it, it looks like an advertisement within a post so I was scrolling right past it. You can share links to your reviews from your blog, Goodreads, or elsewhere online. Participation in the Twitter party and/or the 24 hour readathon halfway through the month are helpful in meeting the challenge and getting you points, but are optional. More rules are in the rules post so check it out!

Overall I did like the idea of this challenge, despite not understanding it initially and not completing it. If anything, I learned A LOT as a book blogger, and thank Kimberly for the lessons in lingo. 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Review: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
Published April 2, 2013 by Audible Audio
Narrated by Jessica Almasy and Suzanne Toren
Dates listened: March 26 - April 5, 2017

Kline’s Orphan Train is a “captivating story of two very different women who build an unexpected friendship: a 91-year-old woman with a hidden past as an orphan-train rider and the teenage girl whose own troubled adolescence leads her to seek answers to questions no one has ever thought to
ask,” as Goodreads describes.

Molly Ayer, a Penobscot Indian, feels like an outsider being raised by complete strangers as she has been in and out of foster care homes – her father died in a car crash and her mother is a drug addict in jail. She is just a few months of aging out of the foster care system and quite close to being kicked out of her current foster home. Just when she’s about to go to juvie for a seemingly minor offense, she opts to do a community service position helping an elderly woman - her only alternative to avoiding jail. Like any 17 year old, she thinks she couldn’t possibly have anything in common with a 91-year old. Little does she know that the service hours are only the beginning of the stories and lessons she’ll learn from Vivian and the keepsakes hidden away in trunks in the attic. 

Vivian, an Irish immigrant arrived in New York City through Ellis Island and is orphaned at a young age just months before the Great Depression. Soon after her parents and siblings die in a fire, she is put on an “orphan train” to the Midwest with hundreds of other children. All because she had the misfortune of being orphaned, she seems to be seen as less than a person and more as free labor or free childcare rather than as a 9-year old child in need of a loving family and education. 

Kline does a wonderful job of weaving together the women’s similar stories and struggles, seamlessly switching back and forth between Molly’s story and their budding friendship in 2011 and Vivian’s journey as an orphan during one of the most difficult times in our country's history.

As they spend more time together, the more Molly realizes their similarities and more importantly that they both have unanswered questions about their pasts. She soon discovers she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life – answers that will ultimately free them both.

Highly recommend to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, stories of friendship, and especially those willing to open their eyes to the struggles of children who have found themselves at the mercy of adults taking advantage of their situation.

Rating: 4 out of 5