Friday, February 12, 2021

Unimaginable: Life After Baby Loss

It's here! My book is now available on Amazon in paperback or ebook format. It is ONLY here because of the connections and friendships and comments and encouragement I got from folks reading this blog. What an enormous gift it has been. I don't know how I would have survived without it. 


You can order the book here. (!!!!!!!!)

I dedicated the book to Eliza, but blog readers are #1 in my list of acknowledgments. The internet sure can be an ugly place, but this little corner of it has been so, so good to me. Thank you! I hope you'll read the book and let me know what you think. 

Monday, February 8, 2021

Blast from the Past: Ms. B Returns with Some Advice on An Un-Lovely Neighbor

I haven't done a Ms. B advice column in years, mostly because I started to feel woefully unqualified to offer actual advice (I don't knoooooow, everything is so nuanced! This feels too hard!). Also fewer people started asking me for advice on this blog, so that made it easy to stop offering it. Lol. BUT a blog reader (they still exist!) wrote in with a question that I'm going to do my best to respond:

Hi, I know you don't do your Ms B advice column anymore but I wonder if you could revive it (even here in the comments?) one last time. I had a neighbor say that she didn't believe that people who couldn't have babies should be able to have 'lab babies'. My child is a baby born thanks to IVF and she knows this. What do I do? How do I continue to be civil go this person? Should I even try? She has two children close in age to my child, and my child likes playing with them. I need advice, and I don't know who else to ask. (You can feel free to not post this question and answer this anonymously, if you like - if you do choose to answer it. Thank you if you do!) - Anonymous

Photo by Derick McKinney on Unsplash

Dear Anonymous,

So I confess that I outsourced this question to my best friend whose two darling babies were conceived via IVF and her response was (and I quote): "What. The. Actual. F#$%?!" She then followed that up with, "Does she want to maintain this relationship?"

So we'll start there. Actually, let's start by saying that the neighbor was way, way out of line. Being entitled to an opinion is not the equivalent of having the right to say to a neighbor that you think their child should never have been born. I'm sorry that you had to hear that, and I know it had to be unbelievably hurtful.

Back to the question: Do you want to have any kind of relationship with this neighbor and, if so, what kind of relationship would that be? It seems like it would be hard to be more than cordial with someone who would say that to you, so I'm guessing you're not looking to build a real friendship. Can you avoid her and still let your children play together? Are you comfortable letting your child play in her house/yard without being there? 

Next question: Would you rather put on a thin veneer of politeness and never confront her about this statement, or are you just looking for the right words?

We're all pretty well socialized on how to seethe silently and never confront someone, so if that's what you choose, I'll just say that you're not wrong to prioritize keeping the peace for the sake of your child or for your own mental health if the idea of confrontation really stresses you out. It might not be worth it. As long as I was confident the neighbor would never say something hurtful directly to my child, I don't think I would try to put limits on the friendships with her kids. And for that reason, I can see the benefit of just avoiding her as much as possible but keeping things peaceful so that the kids can still play.

However, her opinion is likely never to change if she's never asked to reflect on it. If you decide to have a conversation with her, I would imagine starting with something like this:

"You know, you made a comment a while back that has really been bothering me, and I wanted to make sure I understood what you said." Or "You said something a while back that I can't stop thinking about, and I'm not sure you realized how hurtful it could be."

Presumably she'll look shocked and ask you to say more, and then you can say, "When you said that you don't think people who aren't able to have kids should not be able to have 'lab babies,' are you talking about children who are born through IVF?"

Pause to let her talk... and I have no way of knowing how this might go. She might talk about religious beliefs, in which case you'll have to say firmly, "Well, we obviously have very different opinions on this issue but I'll pray for you" and leave it at that. Or she might try to explain it in some other way. Best case scenario, she apologizes! If not, you can listen and then say, "You are aware that we were able to have [child's name] because of the miracle of IVF?" and see if she has further comment. 

If she doubles down, then you know she is unkind and pretty toxic and you want to avoid her. You can close the conversation by saying something like, "I think it is easy for you to have those opinions because this has never been your personal struggle. I'm grateful every day for my child." And then walk away.

If she seems open to a conversation and you feel like sharing, you could talk more about your experience with infertility, or the issue of infertility more broadly and see if you can get to a clearer understanding or educate her about how to be a little more empathetic. It's possible that she has never deeply reflected on what her statement actually means or how it would impact people that she actually knows. (It's easy to make sweeping statements, but it's much harder to be hateful up close.)

The other thing you can do is to write a letter or email, starting it the same way you might a conversation, but without having to wait for her to respond. You can restate what she said and explain how it made you feel. This leaves open three outcomes:

- She confronts you and is unapologetic or she tries to offer context but stands by her statement.
- She apologizes.
- She avoids you forever.

But at least you'll get to say your piece and she'll know where you stand. 

Once again, I'm sorry you had to hear someone say that. I'm so grateful for IVF as it has created some of the coolest kids I know. Celebrate your miracle kiddo and know that the opinions of your neighbor can never diminish the value and sparkle that your child brings to the world. 

xoxo,
Ms. B

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Disconnected Thoughts

So remember how last week I was like, "Probably my book will be available this weekend!" 

Womp-womp. Not so much.

Here's the thing: I'm working with a company helping me do cover design and page layout. I chose to do this because I want the end product to really look and feel polished and professional. After everything I put into the pages, I want it to not look crappy, you know? But that means that they send me something and I ask for a change and they make the change and then I approve the change and even the smallest changes can take a whole business day in terms of the back and forth email exchange. So it's just a whole process and everything takes so much longer than I think it will. I had to approve the interior pages, the e-book cover, and now the paperback cover. It's all coming together and I'm really excited, but I also want to make sure I'm not missing something that will have me kicking myself later.

(Although I think it was Jen Hatmaker who got Glennon Doyle to write a forward for her new book and then her publisher accidentally printed the whole first run of the book with NO FORWARD INCLUDED even though it said "foward by Glennon Doyle" on the cover and that is a true publishing disaster and yet Jen is doing just fine, so her story gives me hope.)

Anyway, let's just say the book continues to be forthcoming (AS FAST AS POSSIBLE, I SWEAR!) and I will keep you posted.

# # #

Photo by Matthew Bornhorst on Unsplash

It's Groundhog Day and Punxsutawney Phil apparently saw his shadow, which is not the news we need right now. When I told the girls that the groundhog predicted 6 more weeks of winter, Zuzu replied, "Well, I don't really trust that dude." 

I appreciate the health skepticism. The sun is shining today and that's helping my mood immensely.

# # # 

Meanwhile, I read this article about historians doing work on Alexander Hamilton and then I had so many thoughts about it that I wrote a multi-paragraph Facebook post and the comments were CIVIL and thoughtful and I didn't regret posting it, so there's a FB miracle for you. Here are my thoughts on this article.

Something I think about a lot is how to be a fan of things that are also partly terrible. And I don't just mean Emily in Paris (although, yes, that). There are things I really loved as a kid that no longer sit well with me. Some I think merit discussion, even though the shine has worn off (Little House on the Prairie books) and others I'll never read or watch again (Gone With the Wind is just too horrible, even though that scene of Scarlett and the Tartleton boys is a visual delight). It's harder and less pleasant to have a complicated and nuanced perspective--I loved GWTW as a kid until I realized how gross it is in its depiction of slavery. I read Chernow's book on Alexander Hamilton and I was definitely not alone in falling in love with Lin Manuel Miranda's musical. So now that historical documents show that Hamilton was not an abolitionist but an enslaver, does that change things? 

Yes. And no. Yes--Hamilton is not a hero. He was already a cheater and a liar though, so I've been on #teameliza from the start. LMM is still brilliant and the musical is still wonderful in other ways (but not perfect--it doesn't pass the Bechdel test, so that's important, too.) 

I guess my point is that it's sad and hard for be disappointed by the people (and movies and musicals) that we love. Sometimes that means avoiding them as we go forward. Other times it just means having a conversation about these important problems and not shying away from confronting them. (Game of Thrones is too rapey and I can't even begin to unpack Sex and the City here, but let's watch and analyze them because they are great TV even though they are problematic.) 

It's unpleasant to learn that the founding fathers so many of us were taught to revere (haha see what I did there?) were actually smaller, more flawed, and less moral than we thought. It would be better if this country were built on men who lived what they preached about morality and equality and liberty for all. But we own up to reality so we can improve on it. We acknowledge that George Washington, a great leader in many ways, also did the unforgivable in enslaving people and not freeing them even upon his death. We acknowledge that Hamilton was brilliant (and, apparently, quite good looking) and also he made choices that cannot be justified or excused--not just cheating on his wife, but, according to historical evidence, enslaving human beings.

We don't want our heroes to be flawed, but all the real ones are. We can't expect them to atone for their mistakes because they're dead, and maybe we give them a little grace for the context of time and space (not that much, though, because there were men in the 1700s and 1800s who fought against slavery and remained faithful to their wives... it's not THAT hard). 

It's important to reckon with the truth of our flawed history so we can make the future better. Historical footnotes don't mean everything Hamilton did was garbage. It means he was selfish and inconsistent and ego-driven. And who among us isn't? So maybe he didn't deserve the glorious musical LMM gave him, but what a gift that was to us and to theatre (a musical which, again, can be problematic and still awesome).

This is literally the longest thing I've ever written on FB so I'll just assume everyone has stopped reading by now and I'll say that we we shouldn't pretend not to see what's there, even if we honestly didn't notice it at first. We can appreciate imperfect art and we can acknowledge the gifts of imperfect men while also calling them out so that the whole story is told, including the names of individuals whom history has tried to erase. (Also you should read this article which made me think all these things first thing on a Monday morning.)

# # #

Also I wrote about grief and yoga for Sharing Magazine and that article is up. 

# # # 

My to-do list is calling persistently, but I just wanted to drop a quick book update. Will tell you more as soon as there is more to tell. xoxo

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Independent Publishing & Imposter Syndrome

I've been thinking about imposter syndrome. My friend Samantha, who has been my biggest cheerleader and best source of advice for this project/process of publishing my book, was asking about the release date. She's ready to celebrate this book going out in the world and I was like, "Oh... should I post about it on social media?"

On the one hand, I'm really proud of having written a book, having written out the whole story and done the best I could to wrestle feelings of grief and total loss into words that didn't just show up in a blog post, but fit together in a larger narrative that has a beginning and a middle and ends by looking forward. Grief isn't linear, but you've got to find some way to tell the story, right? 

But on the other hand, I'm feeling a lot of imposter syndrome about celebrating the "publication" of a book that isn't being traditionally published. 

I know intellectually that this is silly. I know that the publishing industry is structured to work for capitalism, not to really reward/recognize talent. I've read (or at least started) plenty of traditionally published books that weren't that great. Also, I know a few people who have published independently and I consider them "real" writers and I absolutely respect their work. (Samantha, Heather Fleming, and Kristann Monghan all come to mind.)

I think that having spent years in grad school, published a few articles in academic journals, and worked in a profession where "publish or perish" is still very real, the idea of putting work out there without it being peer reviewed by a committee and approved by an editor feels almost like... cheating? Like I'm putting the book out there as though it is good and worth reading even though no Person of Authority has told me it is.

Who is this Person of Authority? What kind of gold star or pat on the back am I looking for her? This is nonsense! 

I am still firm on my reasons for not going further to seek traditional publishing--namely, that I am not interested in building an online platform/public personality. Traditional publishing is unlike to take my book because I'm not a public figure and my topic is very, very niche. I understand this, I am fine with this, and yet I do think it's important to make my book available for that small audience who might need it/want it/appreciate it. So logically, it still all makes sense to me.

Emotionally, I've had a little bit of flailing. Still not sure whose judgment I'm afraid of! Maybe friends who have published traditionally? But... they are very nice people who also understand the market-driven formulations of traditional publishing and are quite likely to understand this decision as well. I really think this is just a monster who lives inside my head and whispers that not publishing traditionally is the same as not being good enough instead of saying independent publishing is actually the best choice for this book, given all the realities of this particular situation.

The truth is that people will read it or they won't and whatever happens, the stakes are actually not that high? I want to honor Eliza and how much I love her and how much she means to me. But also I could never write something good enough to do her justice, you know? 

Despite my emotional entanglement, I'm ready to put this book out into the world. I think my struggle is about sharing and celebrating it, as though the only thing I'm allowed to celebrate is approval from other people? Do I really think that is true?

Important lesson: If I would not teach my daughters to believe that the only accomplishments worth celebrating are those that earn approval from others, then I should not believe that for myself.

So I'm taking the leap and celebrating it. Just like Zuzu in this photo:


I'm taking the final steps today to make this thing go live and I'm hoping it will happen in the next 24-48 hours. 

Now that I've brain dumped some anxiety, I can get back work! Will update as soon as there is a firm release date/time.


Tuesday, January 26, 2021

New Year, Same Old Story

Let's talk about this book project, shall we?

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

I submitted the final manuscript for formatting back before Christmas. My hope was to get it all done by the end of the year, but with my designer/formatting being closed over the holidays, it didn't happen. Then I wanted one more round of proofreading edits, and my AMAZING friends Samantha and Kate helped me out with that process. I am the WOrST copyeditor of my own writing (as those of you who have been reading here for a while undoubtedly know, hahaha). My brain just reads what I intended, not what I actually wrote. I am eternally grateful to those who line-edited this final copy. I now have an official ISBN number (is that redundant? does the N stand for number?) so woot-woot! It's getting real. 

My understanding from other independent authors is that reviews on Amazon are a big help in terms of not just selling the book but establishing it as legitimate, you know what I mean? So I am putting this out there as my major request--if you read the book and feel compelled to leave a review, I would really, really appreciate it. 

I hope it goes without saying that I do not have huge sales goals for this book--in fact, as I imagine most of the people who find it will be seeking it out intentionally because of a personal loss, big sale numbers feel kind of sad. But it is my hope that it becomes a book that gets circled and recommended in grief support groups--informal as well as formal--and can even accompany writers like Elizabeth McCracken and Kate Inglis, whose words made me feel less alone in those dark, early days. 

I've had plenty of crises of confidence in this process, and the thought that I should just drop the whole thing all together--too big a hassle! Who am I to put this out there and think people should read what I've written? But I keep reminding myself that while I am telling a story that has been told (and been told really well) already, I am also telling it in a different voice and my voice might resonate with some people who don't connect as much with other authors, for whatever reason. Plus, I've worked really hard on this. It's been hours and hours of time spent trying to wrestle the most difficult feelings of my life into words on the screen, and while blood and sweat have thankfully been relatively limited, plenty of tears have been shed in this process for sure. In that way, it's been really cathartic, and while I still feel like Eliza's story is unfinished, I'm glad to wrap up this chapter in a book.

I will post an update as soon as I know that it's gone live on Amazon. I'm just waiting on final details and me figuring out the process of uploading it and getting it listed--and then my understanding is that it may take a day or two for Amazon to process it so that it's available for purchase. It will be available in paperback or ebook form. Oh--and the official title: Unimaginable: Life after baby loss.

I really, really want to post a picture of the cover because it's awesome and it kind of makes me catch my breath and it was a whole process and I owe major thanks to the brilliant vision of my friend Caroline Hidalgo, who basically told me what to put on it. But I am going to save it for the big reveal post, which I HOPE will be later this week. Please stay tuned! 

* * * 

Oh, and just a quick update for those of you who enjoy stories about my other baby ducks:

Zuzu had virtual school yesterday. She was logged on for her math lesson when I started a meeting at 10am. When I got out of that meeting at 11:45, she was watching YouTube videos and had "lost track of time" and forgotten to login for reading and for art. We are still very much working on getting back into a routine here! And while keeping track of time is not her strength, her recall of plot and characters in Harry Potter is astounding. We're finally into book four and it's not too scary.

Coco had her first gymnastics meet ever. She was sooooo wired and excited about it. She worried about her beam routine in advance, and was so worked up about it a week in advance that we watched the video of the routine that her coach put on FB, wrote down each step/movement so I could remind her, and then she told me she wanted to practice it three times a day. She did exactly that, and she totally nailed it at the meet! (Which was masked, social-distanced, disinfected, and well-ventilated.) I reminded her on the way there that the most important thing was to have fun and she replied, "Mom, if I don't WIN, then it won't be FUN." (She's the competitive one, and we recently had to have a conversation with her about why it's not okay to ell, "Haha, suckers!" at David and Zuzu when she and I beat them at shuffleboard). Anyway, this was a "ribbon meet" so the emphasis was not on "winning"--each gymnast tried for her personal best score and got a white, red, or blue ribbon, but they weren't competing against each other. She was satisfied with her two red and two blue ribbons (a blue for the beam!) and had a great time.

Gee continues to be a wrecking ball and a sweetheart. She does a happy dance when she's reunited with her family, which is so adorable. She gives kisses and loves to say hi to anyone on a screen. She gets on the phone with my parents and screams to see my dad, "Bops!" and then insists on "More Bops!" if my mom tries to retrieve the phone. She did upset her sisters the other day when she put wet washcloths on their heads and they discovered that she was soaking the washcloths in the toilet in order to get them wet. She remains an excellent and voracious eater, easily polishing off as much pasta as her sisters and usually eating more than they do at mealtime. At 20 months old, she's easily filling out size 2T clothes and finally stringing words together to make sentences. 


And that's the latest here. Hope to have more updates on the book soon!