Archive for October, 2010

October 24, 2010 Namaste

The first time I tried in vitro fertilization, I was corresponding with a yoga instructor named Beverly, who was also trying to get pregnant through IVF. During that cycle, I used eggs donated by my sister. Beverly, who was only 40, used her own eggs. Beverly wound up pregnant. I did not. I couldn’t help but think it had something to do with the yoga.

People who do yoga have always carried a mystique to me, with their flat shoes and stretchy capris, their yoga mats slung over their shoulders like they are carrying flags in a color guard. They walk with a flat-footed assurance. I don’t know if yoga attracts confident people, or if the discipline gives them control over every muscle in their body, making them feel as though they can control every aspect of their lives. Either way, when I tried IVF the second time and became pregnant, I enrolled in a yoga class.

Warriors at Work

I signed up for a beginners class, which had a couple of old women, a fat girl, and a man. I can’t even say I’m the most fit person in there. There’s one woman who always wears black tights and a fitted black shirt, and her poses look like the silhouettes of yoga poses they have in the brochures. Sometimes I want to knock her over and say, “Why don’t you just get out of here.” But the teacher seems to have a relationship with her, so it wouldn’t bode well for my future in the class.

My teacher actually has quite a following. She has curly gray hair, a cherubic face, and a little belly, which seemed a bit of a contradiction, like seeing your doctor smoking cigarettes outside his office. But everyone seems to love her and her class so I guess yoga mastery and a bulbous little belly aren’t in conflict.

Part of my teacher’s appeal is her ability to make you feel like you’re getting individualized attention. She’s always walking over to me and adjusting my pose, and because I told her I was pregnant, she sometimes suggests modified versions of the poses for me. She doesn’t want me lying flat on my stomach, for instance. And when everyone else is supporting themselves on their arms and has their legs extended behind them, she has me remain on my knees, which puts less stress on my stomach. Sometimes, she has me put my hands up on the little styrofoam blocks, rather than on the floor, so the pose isn’t as deep.

“You do the best you can. That’s all you can do,” she says during class. “You don’t have to push yourself until it hurts. That’s not what it’s about.”

Despite the teacher’s revisions, sometimes when I lean forward, I feel like I’m squishing the baby like one of those rubber toys where you squeeze the bottom and the guts of the toy are pushed to the top, making the eyes bulge out. In a couple of poses, when our legs go one way and our upper bodies go the other, I wonder if I’m ripping the thin little strings that hold the baby inside me.

The other day, the teacher had a deck of cards spread out in front of her, and as each of us walked in, she had us pick a card and go sit down at our mats.

“Some of you might find special meaning in your card,” the teacher said.

I must have made a loud sound of acknowledgment after reading my card because the whole class looked at me and laughed.

“I release the need to blame anyone, including myself,” my card said. “We are all doing the best we can, with the understanding, knowledge and awareness we have. ” In a word, stop blaming myself.

When I got home from class, there was a voicemail from my doctor. She said she’d received the results of my follow-up blood test. They once again saw the evidence of an antibody but it was in such trace amounts, there was no need for concern. As far as she could tell, we had nothing to worry about –though she did want to keep an eye on it. For now, it’s a non-issue, she said.

This yoga stuff works, I thought.

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In the movie “Me, Myself & Irene,” Jim Carrey plays a police officer named Charlie who has a split personality. There’s a scene in which Charlie is sitting in a car having a conversation with his maniacal alter-ego, Hank, and Charlie gets angry at Hank and slaps him in the face — which of course means Jim Carrey is really slapping himself in the face. Hank again says something offensive, and Charlie again slaps him in the face. This goes on for a couple of minutes, with one personality literally beating up the other, but of course that means the thing is annihilating itself. That’s how I felt the other day when my doctor told me I may have an antibody that will attack my fetus –as if my baby was an enemy within me that needed to be destroyed.

This antibody issue came up once before, when I was trying to get pregnant back in 2006. Blood tests revealed traces of an antibody, and my doctor at the time said it wasn’t necessarily anything to be concerned about. It all depended on which antibody it was, how much of it I was producing, and whether it was going to react adversely with my baby, like siblings that don’t get along. I had forgotten all about that discussion until now. It’s hard to imagine how I could have, but I did.

The Donor

I wondered which of my parents had this antibody I appear to have inherited. And then I remembered that when I was a 11 and had to have open-heart surgery because I’d been born with a small hole in my heart, a few of my parents’ friends donated blood in case I needed it. Perhaps one of them had an antibody, and they inadvertently passed it on to me. I don’t know how many gave blood. I only remember one: my parents’ friend Barry Cohen, a handsome but stubby little guy who looked like James Caan. He wound up dying of a heart attack about 15 years later. I always felt a little guilty that the man who helped me with my heart ailment wound up dying of a heart ailment –as if in giving me blood, I had sucked some of the life force out of him like a vampire.

That night as I drifted off to sleep, I could hear the rain falling on the leaves outside my window. I fell asleep and dreamed that our  child was riding a bicycle down the street, wearing a helmet. He was approaching an intersection and tried to slow down, but because the streets were wet, when he hit the brakes, his bike began to hydroplane, and he slid sideways across three lanes of traffic. As he crossed the last lane, a car was coming toward him, and the person driving it was me.

Just then, my alarm clock went off. I hit the snooze button and lay in bed listening to the rain. My heart was still beating rapidly from the jolt of the alarm. After a couple of minutes, long after the effects of the alarm should have worn off, my heart continued to pound, from anxiety. I sometimes get what I call free-floating anxiety, where my heart will pound not because of the situation at hand but rather I get the anxiety first, and it looks for a situation to which it can attach itself, like a magnet or static cling.

As my heart throbbed in my chest, I could feel the baby moving around near my lower abdomen. The baby hasn’t started kicking yet, but I’ve been getting what my mother calls flutters, a subtle movement that feels more like indigestion or ripples than kicking. I wondered if the baby could feel my pounding heart and that somehow he’d inherit my anxiety. I thought the sooner this baby gets away from me, the better.

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When Robert Frost wrote about the road not taken, he must have been stuck in traffic on the Garden State Parkway. There’s often that pivotal point when you say, should I take this route or that, and then you wind up in a jam three miles long, kicking yourself for making the wrong decision.   Such was the case when we took a trip up to visit my brother and sister in the Finger Lakes this weekend, and, tired of the Parkway traffic going north, I headed onto a road going west that would get us there via Pennsylvania.

Ordinarily, the two routes are similar. The westerly route, through Pennsylvania, is slightly longer but a more pleasant drive because it’s easier. The northerly route, which takes you through the Catskills, has you winding to and fro’ along Route 17, which is pretty during the day but laborious at  night because of all the curves.  This particular trip, the westerly route turned out to be ghastly.

“I’m never leaving for anywhere during rush hour on a Friday night,” I said. “Never, ever again.”

The traffic inched upward, and then stopped, inched upward, and then stopped. When I sit in traffic, I feel like my life is ticking away, like those moments have been stolen from me, never to be retrieved again. And when I see the line of car break-lights up ahead, going on for miles and miles as far as the eye can see, I feel like I’m suffocating. About 15 minutes later, I again proclaimed how I would never, ever leave for a trip on a Friday evening, as if repeating the fact again and again made our situation better. Or worse, it was as if I was scolding Bruce for suggesting we leave on a Friday evening, despite my protests, when in truth it was my idea entirely.

A couple of minutes later, Bruce said, “I’m going to grandma’s, and I’m bringing an apple.”

“I’m going to grandma’s, and I’m bringing an apple and a banana,” I said.

We went on and on, vowing to bring to grandma a whole host of items, from devil dogs, to Eskimos, frankfurters, gongs, and holograms — each of which began with different letter of the alphabet — as the sun began to set around us.

About 20 minutes later, the traffic finally seemed to ease and soon everyone was moving at a good clip. Life was good. The anger and despair I’d felt 15 minutes earlier all seemed to melt away. I was doing almost 80 mph as we approached the Delaware Water gap when I caught a glimpse of one of those digital road signs. Something about heavy delays near the Delaware Water gap tolls. How much traffic could there be, I thought. This isn’t the Holland Tunnel. I was in denial. The traffic came to a near standstill about two miles before the toll plaza.

Bruce said, “I’m going to grandma’s, and I’m bringing –”

“I can’t,” I said. “I cannot believe I’ve been driving three hours, and I’m still not out of New Jersey.”

About 40 minutes later, we finally emerged from the toll traffic and entered Pennsylvania. I was never so happy to leave the Garden State. And we were moving. Fast. Seventy mph never feels so fast as when you’ve been doing 10 mph. We laughed, we listened to music, I commented on the big white circles painted onto the roadway near Stroudsburg, to warn people they should be at least that far behind the car in front of them.

“They remind me of Mickey Mouse,” I said gayly.


Welcome to the Poconos


And then everything came to a grinding halt. Stopped dead. It made the stop-and-go traffic of New Jersey seem bearable in comparison. No one was moving. And I couldn’t see for how long it went on or what was causing it because there was an SUV in front of me, another one behind me, and a large truck alongside me. I wanted to hang myself. We inched forward, and then would stop. After about 20 minutes of this, my brother called.

“How am I? I’m in hell. I’m at a complete stand still. I’ve been on the road four hours now, and I’m only in the Poconos. And I have no idea why we’ve hit traffic here,” I said.

“I have a traffic app on my iPhone. I’ll check it and let you know what’s going on,” he said.

A few minutes later, he called back and said, “I have no idea what’s going on. You’re in a black hole. I called up the map, and I can see north of you, south of you, I can see most of the eastern seaboard, except that area you’re in right now.”

I wasn’t surprised.

About 10 minutes later, I saw a sign that said “Road Work 3 Miles.” I didn’t know if that mean there would be road work FOR three miles or IN three miles. I hoped the former. At least we’d know for how long the misery would last.

We then passed a sign surrounded by blinking yellow lights that said “Congestion alert when flashing.” The cars around me were virtually at a stand still. Some signs are just asking to be vandalized.

As we approached the work zone, there was a sign that said, “Left lane closed ahead.” It put me in a quandary: when you see a sign like that, do you get out of the lane, or do you take advantage of the fact that everyone else is. I opted for the latter. We passed through the work zone, and I was relieved to hear the jack hammers. If it were New Jersey or New York, one might sit in traffic for road work for an hour and then pass through the job site, and no one would be there.

As we reached the end of the work zone, cars started going faster, almost like they were breaking out of the starting blocks. The cones keeping us out of the left lane had been knocked over, as people drove their cars over them in a break for freedom.

I’d had to pee for about an hour now but didn’t dare get off the road. The line of traffic on the exit ramp was moving as slowly as the line of traffic on the road. And I couldn’t imagine leaving only to come back to this misery. It must be how a prisoner feels on his way back to jail from a furlough. So I waited. By the time we got through the traffic jam, I’d been waiting 45 minutes, and I really had to go.

As we looked for the next exit, the car began to vibrate, and one of the dashboard lights came on –one that has a little horseshoe and an exclamation point and is illuminated yellow. It’s a light that seems to say, “Ignore me, and I’ll fuck you. I promise.”  It looked like the light that came on when we drove up to Nantucket last year, when we hit a pothole and blew a tire.

We pulled off at the first exit, which promised a gas station –though the sign should have had a subtitle that said, “Except if it’s night. Because that will mean the gas station is closed, and the nearest one will be three long miles up the road.” We pulled into the dark gas station anyway to check the tire and because I was determined to go to the bathroom at this gas station — even if it meant peeing on the ground outside the bathroom’s locked door. I headed around the side of the building with a dirty napkin I’d found in the car door pocket, but a few steps into the darkness I got spooked and headed back to the car. Bruce couldn’t see the tire or the readings on the tire gauge in the dark so we left the gas station and headed back to the highway, having accomplished nothing. When we got back to the highway entrance, we saw only an entrance for traffic heading south. Those heading north, like us, were directed to the northbound exit ramp through a series of signs spaced so far apart, it left you guessing whether you were still on the designated path or had accidentally strayed off of it  on one of the turns.

We finally made it back to the highway and found an open gas station a few miles up the road. It was lit up like an airport, the bathroom — inside a Burger King — was large and bright and had lots of toilet paper. They had five islands with gas pumps and air for the tires. The mini-mart even had blow pops for 35 cents. It was like a little slice of heaven on earth. By the time I got back out to the parking lot, Bruce was testing the tires with the tire gauge and had already lost two of the little  caps that cover the tire valves. We filled the tires with air and were soon on our way.

Once back on the highway, we saw more “road work” signs up ahead, but there were so few cars on the road at that point — most of them were stuck in the previous traffic jam — we made it through a lane closure with little delay. As we were approaching our turn-off, I could see more signs in the distance announcing road work in the right lane, though it was unclear whether it was the right lane of the road I was leaving or the one I would soon be on. I try not to think of myself as a mean person, but as we veered off the highway and headed toward Scranton, I was glad to see that any catastrophic traffic jam that loomed ahead was not going to be born by us but by the people on the highway we’d just left.

I also wondered whether all this road work was the result of the federal government’s economic stimulus program, which has been financing road projects across the country in an effort to create jobs. But no one talks about how quadrupling the number of road projects will increase the number of traffic jams. Or perhaps they do. They just read through the bill’s consequences as quickly as the announcers read through a pill’s side effects on the pharmaceutical commercials.

By the time we got to Binghamton, it was about 11:30 p.m.  With my brother’s house still another two-and-a-half hour’s drive, we decided to stay for the night. We stopped  at a diner and ordered chocolate shakes and Greek salad with peppericini and were thankful for small things.

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