You assume you won’t have a problem. We were married five or six years before we started trying. My first clue I might have a problem was when I didn’t get my period for three months after going off birth control.

I remember a conversation Dean* and I had when we realized we might need help. We were in Boston, sitting in front of a duck pond, and we’re having this philosophical debate about whether we were going to be what I called a science experiment. And we disagreed. Maybe because it was my body—I didn’t feel we had to act as quickly as he did. I thought it would work its way out in time. And I did not like medicine.

But we agreed we’d go to the doctor. My gynecologist said, “Let’s put you on progesterone and Clomid to help you ovulate.” But I still didn’t. So we went to a fertility doctor. She was honest. She said, “You are going to have a problem. You’re going to need intense fertility treatments.” Dean was so overcome that he actually passed out.

And then I ended up being the bull charging ahead. I started making appointments, researching—everything an anal Type A personality would do when facing a challenge. It was difficult for me because I was always the hard worker who succeeded—if I wanted an A, or a promotion at work or to go on a trip, I planned and worked and got through it. That’s how I was going to face this fertility thing. But in reality, there was so much out of my control.

They think I was pre-menopausal. I’d already had hot flashes. My estrogen levels were really low. I was 29; it had never crossed my mind.

I was never a candidate for IVF because I wasn’t ovulating at all so they couldn’t harvest my eggs. IUI—Intrauterine Insemination—is relatively easy beyond all the drugs you have to take ahead of time. They take the sperm and insert it in me.

I was able to get pregnant with our daughter, Hannah, on the first try of IUI. It took 11 days of meds, shots every day, doctor visits almost every day so they could measure my follicles and see if I was going to ovulate. I still didn’t believe it until 20 weeks that she was actually going to be born.

The bigger story was trying a second time. When Hannah was six months old, I stopped breastfeeding so I could start fertility treatments again.


With Hannah, my FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone) number was 13. The normal range is 5-9. When I was tested again before trying a second time, I was at 21. Which meant I was no longer a candidate for IUI.

But my doctor said, “We were successful once, it takes only one egg, let’s give it a go.” It was a glimmer of hope that she felt there was a chance.

She put me on twice the meds as last time. I gave myself shots morning and evening—four vials two times a day. Sometimes I had to give myself shots in the airplane bathroom. I was traveling 3-4 days a week, every week, to both Texas and New Hampshire. The medicine was flown in on dry ice. Just the logistical component of where I was going to be to receive a shipment—it was a total nightmare.

It took about 45 days of straight medicine and monitoring for one cycle. Then I’d go back a week later to see if I was pregnant. One cycle I remember, around day 38, I was still not ovulating and of course I was worried—what does such a long cycle do to the egg itself? Maybe this just wasn’t meant to be. It was one of those questions you ask yourself at night when things are quiet. As a woman, you’re making daily choices—am I going to have a glass of wine or not? Every time you go to the bathroom – will I have my period? It’s a constant thought process.

Each time I found out I wasn’t pregnant, I’d start the shots right away again. I’d immediately order the medicine and start the insurance process—we needed a new authorization code each month. I probably spent five hours on different days with the insurance company with each new cycle. I needed more and more meds each time; they denied every claim I had. I had to follow up each time with my approval number.

You don’t wake up and start your day. You think: did our shipment arrive? Dean knew our UPS guy really well; he knew his route. You have to sign for the medicine, so if Dean wasn’t home to get it, he’d chase down the UPS truck in the neighborhood. Thankfully, he had a flexible enough job he could do that.

There are so many logistics to the treatment process that it’s down to a science: blood work before 9am; it’s shipped out for analysis; results are back to the docs to interpret between noon and 1; and nurses start recording the patient voicemails around 3pm.  It feels so impersonal but you have to get past that. You really don’t see your doctor as much as you’d think, maybe 4-5 times a year.

imgresI didn’t know anything other than I just had to keep going forward. I have friends who know they need to reduce the stress in their lives when they’re going through fertility treatments. My approach was head down, move forward.

I’m thankful I had a child to distract me. I could look at her and say, “This is worth it.” At the same time, if I had to stare at my child all day and think about what wasn’t going right in my uncontrollable body, I would have gone crazy. To stay at work was the right choice for me.

After the 5th 45-day cycle, our doctor called us in for a come-to-Jesus meeting. We were exhausted, emotionally. We were looking to her for validation, to say, “This is all there’s going to be.”

She told us about a new, naturally occurring hormone that was showing good results in people with my issue, that this was one last thing we could try. I’d take a pill once or twice a day for two months, and then try one more cycle of shots and monitoring. She said, “If that doesn’t change your numbers, we’ll end this.”

Those two months, we did things we’d put off for a long time because we were always planning around the treatments. We went on vacation. It was liberating.

Then we came back and started shots again. I have a spreadsheet for all my test results—every day, every monitor. It was encouraging to see the feedback that this pill seemed to be working.

Even so, it had been about a year after we’d initially started trying the second time, and we resolved we were going to move on. We just needed to get on with our lives. We’d been wanting to build a home, so we made an appointment to look at lots.

While we were in the car with the real estate agent at 11am in the morning, my phone rang. I wasn’t expecting a phone call because I knew the process. I knew it wouldn’t be until 3pm. I figured they’d lost my blood or something. Dean and I had planned to spend time with each other that day; we knew we’d be getting results. We had planned to console each other.

We were in the backseat. He and the agent continued to talk while I answered. The nurse told me, “I just had to call you. I couldn’t leave it on the voicemail this time.”

I think I got the news and hung up. I was in total disbelief. I told Dean. And our agent was like, “Should I be here?” It was tears, all tears, in the back of the car.

We decided it was a sign, and we bought the lot we were looking at. It’s not a perfect lot. Of course, we were super worried about sustaining the pregnancy but by then we knew, what more can you do? You just jump in. We just jumped in.

Carrie and Dean’s second child, Justin, was born March 16, 2010.

Tanya Plonka

Photo by: Tanya Plonka

*All names have been changed.

Meet: How To Talk About Disabilities with Your Child

I had a post planned for today but then couldn’t use it due to some timing issues. So I figured I’d skip today (who really ever wants to go to a Monday morning meeting). But then a friend emailed me a question regarding how to talk to her son about Down’s Syndrome and other disabilities. I forwarded the question to my sister, who is a Licensed Professional Counselor and works with children with disabilities. When I received her answer, I felt the urge to pass it on and thought, How nice I have a blog.

I won’t use my friend’s real name, since I haven’t asked permission to use her email. I have really nice friends so I know she won’t mind. I’ll call her Sally just so we’re safe, since I know absolutely no one by that name. (I’m sorry to any Sally it turns out I actually do know.)

Here’s Sally’s email:

I was at the art fest this past weekend with [my son]. We passed by a man with Down’s Syndrome, and after we walked by he said, “Mommy, why was that man making a funny face?” I told him he wasn’t making a funny face, and then he assured me he was and tried to mimic the look on his face.

We were in a very crowded area and something else distracted him immediately after that, but it got me thinking about how I talk to him about people with disabilities. How do you explain things like Down’s Syndrome or if he sees kids or adults in wheelchairs, etc? Have any of you addressed these types of questions with your 5 year olds? I want to talk to him about it but in a way that will make sense and help him to develop respect and understanding.


And my sister’s response (it is unedited, she wants you all to know):

Nice. I love that she is trying to learn the best way to talk to her children about disabilities. For a 5 year old, I would keep it simple while using clear, positive language. Talk about how no two people are the same, but that some differences are more noticeable than others. Then she can go on to talk about disabilities and that someone who has a disability also has many other characteristics (the disability is just one characteristic). Talk about the similarities….children with disabilities want friends, respect, they like to color, play tag, etc. They may need assistance or adaptive equipment to help them, but they still would like to be included.

Definitely talk about name calling and that even if it’s a joke it is always unacceptable and it hurts people’s feelings.

Hope this helps a little? It’s a difficult topic to approach but the most important thing is to keep the language positive and use ‘person first’ language: “a child with a disability” instead of “a disabled child.”

This is a good link for when her son is a few years older. But the ideas in there can be tailored to his age:

A link of books about special needs for kids….


Angry Mama Bird

I’m not sure if you’ve heard of this little game called Angry Birds? It’s taken over the world and, specifically, our house. My five-year-old son knows all, and I mean all, about the Angry Birds empire. He has many of the stuffed animals, two board games, tattoos, shirts, pencil toppers, keychains, a backpack, winter hat… His idea of a good time is watching How-To videos online. You know those little packets that come with toys, the ones that list what should be inside the box? My son’s Angry Birds Star Wars packet is his bible. It is worn and creased from having been pocketed, read, and re-pocketed so many times. He sleeps with it beside his bed.

This is all to demonstrate that he lives and breathes Angry Birds (and sometimes dinosaurs). “Worships” might be a fair word to use.

The other day, he received the new Angry Birds Star Wars sticker book and promptly sat down and asked me to read it to him. (We always read ALL the words of EVERY Angry Birds-related item he owns.)

All was going smoothly as I read through the storyline in the sticker book, the overviews of each scene, the descriptions of the Pig Army and the Pig Empire. Then I got to the Bird Republic (the good guys). You know–Red Skywalker bird, Ham Solo, Obi-Wan Kaboomi.

And Princess Organa. This is the Princess Leia of Angry Birds Star Wars. She had one of those cartoon bubbles coming out of her mouth that read: “Someone has to keep this flock in check!”

Hmmm. I felt a little twinge in my brain, narrowed my eyes a bit. But I read on:

“Princess Organa…expects everybody to obey her and is a bit of a drama queen.”

Oh, no they didn’t.

My gasps alarmed my son. I tried to explain that this was a stereotype. Then I tried to explain what a stereotype was. Then I tried to explain why some people are ignorant IMG_1056and perpetuate stereotypes. Then I tried to explain what perpetuate means.

Then it got worse.

Beside a picture of who I’ll call Han Solo and Princess Leia for clarity’s sake, a little bubble read: “Han Solo has taken a shine to the princess. Leia won’t admit it but she likes him, too.”

Really? REALLY?

You know that one movie (I think it was a book first) that starts with a boy teasing a girl and she runs to her mother and says, “Mommy, why did he do that?” and the mother says, “Because he likes you”? It makes the point that girls are sometimes raised to believe that boys treat girls they adore like shit. Which teaches girls to put up with too much shit.

Well, this is the opposite (except it’s also harmful to girls). Teaching boys that when a girl acts as if, or even says, she doesn’t like him she’s just being coy and really DOES like him is ridiculous–and harmful.

Think about it: that statement teaches boys not to trust what girls say. It teaches them not to believe it when a girl says, “No.” Especially if she’s wearing a short skirt when she says it.

I’ve said it before: Sexism can be a hidden, tricky thing. The seeds are planted early.

My son might not have understood my explanations, but he saw my anger. I’m planting my own seeds. And now he sees black marker where I struck out those sexist words.

**By the way, the sticker book was written by one Simon Beecroft at DK Publishing. Seems like a smart guy. See? Tricky.

Witnessing Abuse

About six years ago, I sat behind a car at a red light. It was winter in Minneapolis, so my windows were rolled up. I also had the radio on. But still I heard the woman screaming. I turned down my radio, trying to figure out where it was coming from. It was lasting for almost a minute. And then I saw it—the driver in the car ahead of me was turned around in her seat, screaming at the child in the backseat for spilling Coke in the car. How do I know it was a child? Because the person was so small I couldn’t see the head sticking up above the seat. I rolled down my window to better listen, and heard “fuck” “little shit” “pissed” “Goddamnit.” She didn’t yell. She screamed.

I followed the car into the parking lot of a church—a one-story section of a strip mall. I watched as she got out, as an older child stepped out from the front seat, and as a boy about three years old scooted out of the back. He was crying. He didn’t look angry at his mother. He looked ashamed at himself. The other child just looked sad—the empty kind of sad.

I wrote down the name of the church (no smart phone at the time). I didn’t know then that anyone can call the Dept. of Children & Family Services, that verbal abuse is just as damaging as physical abuse.  I’d never heard or seen anything like it in real life. I thought if I called the church, they would find the woman if they didn’t already know her and do something. But when I got home and called, within five minutes of leaving the parking lot, they didn’t know who I was speaking of. They hadn’t seen the woman I described. Helpless, I hung up the phone. I drove back to the church but her car was gone.

verbal abuseIn the years since, I’ve thought of that little boy more than I can tell you. I’ve hoped that she yelled at him like that again in front of someone else, someone who knew what to do—a teacher or a social worker—and got those children away from that mother, at least for the time being. Because if she screams and swears like that over spilled Coke, what else does she do?

That experience has made me more alert when I’m out in the world and I wish I could say I’ve had no use for my new awareness. But I have—a girl at the lake whose mother loudly berated her, for five straight minutes, for getting her skirt wet as she waded in the shallows on a 95-degree day; a toddler at Target whose father sneered at him for needing a cracker to shut up, then yanked the boy’s ear lobe. In each case, I wanted to wrap the children up and take them home with me, but instead I offered kind words, a dry towel, a reprimand within earshot of the toddler in hopes that the boy would start to learn that his father’s actions were wrong. Small things.

I know departments like DCFS are overloaded and they can’t respond to pulled ear lobes. I don’t know what the answers are. But I feel a responsibility for the children who live in the same world I do. Our culture is too much “to each his own,” even regarding parenting. That philosophy might make sense when it comes to time-outs and breastfeeding–even when it comes to giving your toddler Coke. But not when it comes to any form of abuse. “It takes a village” means helping parents, supporting them, but it also means stepping in when you see them hurting their children.


Enriching Our Children

When our kids were around six months old, some of my friends (whom I love and adore, especially if they’re reading this) enrolled their children in swimming lessons. At the time, they were new friends, so I politely declined their suggestion that I join them. But what I was thinking was, “Hell no, I’m not going enroll my child in a class in which I have to get in the water with him. If I enroll my child in anything, it will be so I can leave to go sit and stare into space for awhile.”

Understanding the importance of (eventually) learning how to swim (which a 6-month-old cannot), my husband and I decided that instead of paying someone to watch us play with our child in the pool, we’d simply take him ourselves so he’d get used to the water. And, you know, once in a while we’d give him a bath.

I consider this “Hell no” line of thinking healthy. But it’s hard not to get wrapped up in all the options we parents have for enriching our children. (Raise your hand if you vomit in your mouth when you hear that word.) A couple years after saying no to swimming, I discovered I’d become wrapped up in the options myself.

A local soccer club offered lessons for three-year-olds. Our son was three, he seemed to like to run and kick things, so we enrolled him. He enjoyed it for the most part, so we continued with the program. Our son had just turned four, which meant he was now part of the 4-5 year-old class, which meant they had Saturday games in addition to practice.

I was excited, moved by memories of my own childhood games (never mind that I was 8 or 9 in these memories). But within the first five minutes of the first game, I knew we’d made a mistake. Why? Two things. First, the constant barrage of “encouragements” yelled out across the field by parents made me want to slip away. Since my son is like me, I knew this was going to be no fun for him. Too many adults were taking this way too seriously. While they weren’t negative, who wants to have people constantly—constantly—telling them to “Kick it! Good job! Grab it! There you go! There you go! Alright, now! Great – yes! Get it, get it, get it!!!”

No pressure, kids. Really. It’s all just fun.

Second, within the first five minutes my son discovered that the other team could, and should, steal the ball from him. This was not covered in practice and it did not align with his current values. So he decided to just walk back and forth alongside the action.

The second game he left the field halfway through. The third game, he sat down smack in the center of the soccer field and stayed there.

Why, you ask, did we have him participate in three games when I knew in the first five minutes that it was a mistake? Because I was wrapped up! Wrapped up in all the options! Organized sports provides exercise, lessons in teamwork, confidence. Didn’t you know? Plus, we had to encourage him to stick things out! (Forgetting that he hadn’t asked to participate.)

But my son unwrapped me. He reminded me, sitting out there patiently by himself in the middle of the field, what I already knew: he will do what he wants when he’s ready. He crawled when he was ready. He walked when he was ready. He sat on Santa’s lap when he was ready. He enjoys soccer practice; he will play a game when he’s ready.

And, anyway, did you also know that, “Although there are sports programs designed for preschoolers, it’s not until about age 6 or 7 that most kids develop the appropriate physical skills or the attention span needed to listen to directions and grasp the rules of the game”? (

Just because something good is offered—whether it’s 0% interest or a second donut or a soccer game—does not mean we have to take it.


The inspiration for this post

The inspiration for this post