The Mommy Box: Coping with the Child Who Isn’t There

kid bookMy youngest son is four years old. He recently discovered a book of children’s poems by Robert Louis Stevenson, a collection I adored when I was a kid. One line in particular gets me every time we read the book’s opening poem: “…it is but a child of air, that lingers in the garden there.” I know all too well what it is to love “a child of air.”

Infertility grief is difficult to handle on a regular day, so it’s no surprise that special occasions and holidays really increase the emotional intensity. What’s especially challenging for couples dealing with infertility is that they’re grieving for a child who has never existed. Unlike grief after a loved one’s death, there are no happy memories, photos of smiling faces, or videos of birthdays. There’s never even been a birthday, a smile, or a single memory for the child who isn’t there, the child who never has been.

Mommy boxOne of the most effective tools I created to deal with this grief was a mommy box. On small sheets of paper, I wrote down brief descriptions of things I wanted to do to make a memory with my child after he or she was in my arms (whether through birth or adoption) and stored them in a box a very talented friend had painted and given to me years earlier. My mommy box was an especially therapeutic tool around the holiday season when so much of the public Christmas displays, both sacred and secular, are geared toward children.

I remember arriving home after a Christmas church service one year when we were trying to conceive and almost running to the closet where I kept my mommy box. I had two or three things I just had to write down. For me, writing about something I wanted to do with my future child was a way to feel productive while we waited and to give my longing a tangible outlet. Every time I added a note to the mommy box, I felt relief and peace. It was important to me to write down the date so that someday, my child would see that I imagined the things we’d do together throughout the year.

mommy box notesSometimes instead of writing down the activities I wanted to do, I opened the box and read all the ones I’d already written. The slips of paper were little pieces of hope. I cried over them, held them, and prayed over them. They were, and still are, very important to me.

I’m happy to say that after we became parents through adoption, we did fulfill almost every hope and wish I’d jotted down in my memory box. And of course, those shared moments were just the beginning. My heart is now full of beautiful, happy memories of the things I’ve gotten to do with my children. I recently sat down with my oldest child and read through some of the pieces of paper in my mommy box. He was delighted to know all the hopes and dreams I had for him, for us.

Have you done anything similar to my mommy box to help you process your grief? I’d love for you to share about it in the comments because your technique may be just the thing that helps someone else cope.

Top image via Flickr by arctia

9 Gift Ideas for Couples Facing Infertility or Waiting to Adopt

tagDecember is a challenging month for couples struggling with infertility. There’s tremendous pressure to put on a happy face, accept every party invitation, and spread holiday cheer. At the same time, the couple may be struggling with facing one more holiday season and the end of one more year without realizing their dream of having a child/becoming parents. The Decembers when we were hoping for a pregnancy and then, when we were waiting to be matched to our first child by our adoption agency, were quietly painful for us. So, if you know someone who is waiting to become parents through conception, surrogacy, or adoption, here are nine gift ideas for these couples.

  1. Massage gift certificates. When you’re waiting to become a parent (regardless of the route you’re taking), the wait is stressful. I carried the stress in my shoulders and neck. Whenever I had the chance to get a massage, I did it because the massage helped me reset and refresh mentally and physically. This is a great gift for men and women experiencing infertility.
  2. Passes to a grown-up venue or activity. When you’re struggling to conceive, sometimes you just want to go someplace where you won’t be bombarded by hoards of adorable children and harried parents. So, give them passes to an art or history museum, a comedy club, or a tasting at a local winery.
  3. Cash. Whether the couple is financing fertility treatments, surrogacy, or an adoption, chances are good that cold hard cash would be a welcome gift to help them on their journey to parenthood.
  4. Lessons. This is an especially great gift when you know the couple well. Art classes, guitar lessons, and time with a sky diving instructor give the couple the chance to develop a new hobby or embark on a new adventure. This is a great gift because it helps them focus on a new and exciting activity.
  5. Restaurant gift certificates. If the couple’s gearing up for expensive procedures or a foreign adoption, they may be avoiding expensive meals in restaurants. That’s one reason this can be a really meaningful gift.
  6. A book. For the person experiencing infertility, a good book can be a fantastic gift. Choose a non-fiction book on a topic they enjoy or consider a novel such as INCONCEIVABLE! that reflects the various facets of infertility: the craziness, heartbreak, and hope of re-imaging your dream of having children. As someone recently told me about my novel: it’s one thing to hear people say, ‘You’re not alone.’ It’s another thing to read a story about a couple who’s experiencing the same things you are.
  7. A journal and pen set. There are so many emotions, thoughts, and hopes to process when you’re struggling to conceive and writing is a great way to do it. Receiving a journal and pen set as a gift may be just the encouragement your friend or family member needs to start getting words on paper.
  8. A romantic getaway. One of the most challenging aspects of infertility is dealing with its impact on the romantic aspects of your relationship. Giving a gift certificate for one or two nights at a nearby bed and breakfast can be a beautiful way to help your loved ones refresh their relationship.
  9. Food-a-month club. Send fruit, Chicago delicacies, or other treats to your loved ones through the mail. Let’s face it. There are days when you’ve had another negative pregnancy test or you’ve found out about another delay in your adoption. Frankly, you just don’t want to leave the house. This is one of those gifts that can be a wonderful comfort to a couple going through infertility.

What gifts do you recommend for a couple going through infertility? What gifts should people avoid giving?

Top image via Flickr by mac9416

Merry Christmas image via Flickr by Calsidyrose

Dear Infertility…

During the years we were trying to conceive, this is the letter I would’ve written to my infertility:

Dear Infertility,
I’m glad to have the chance to speak directly to you after all this time. We’ve lived together in this body for years, and I think it’s time to call a house meeting and iron out a few things.

First, I wish you’d stop tweaking the thermostat. One minute I’m hot with anger and tears. Then, twenty minutes later, I’m wrapping my arms around my chest to fend off the bitter cold of loneliness. It’s super annoying.

Second, please stop leaving boxes of junk in the middle of the floor. How many times has your box of jealousy tripped me up? Or how about that backpack full of self-loathing? I mean, you’ve got a lot o’ baggage, and I really resent having it shoved in my path.

Let’s also talk about your music. I wish you’d play something other than those same tired songs about shame and guilt. You’ve had them on repeat for years! Admittedly, they’ve got a hook that lodges itself in my brain–I know every line by heart and could probably mumble them in my sleep. But, c’mon. Play something a little less angst-y once in a while.

And have you ever heard of boundaries? I don’t know why you think it’s fine to sneak into my bedroom when I’m with my husband. Honestly! Who can enjoy fun times with their spouse when it’s obvious you’re in the room. You’re the most intrusive third wheel in the history of third wheels.

I’ve also had it with your friends showing up uninvited. Well, really, it’s just the one friend. I don’t know why you call her Aunt Flow when everyone knows you guys aren’t related. And she’s so unreliable. Sometimes she’s on time. Sometimes she’s late. I wish she’d just take a hike for nine long months.

baby showerCan I just say how much I hate it when you tag along with me to parties, showers, and holiday gatherings? It’s so embarrassing when you show up at a baby shower and start whispering awful things in my ear. Then, I have to act like you’re not there when everyone totally knows you’re there. AWKWARD. Plus, we all know how much you can’t stand the adorable onesies and those faux cakes made out of rolled up diapers. Really, you shouldn’t come. Like at all.

Look, I know people think you’ll change (or just leave) if I stop stressing about all the madness you’ve brought with you. Like my lack of stress will make you vacate the premise (taking Aunt Flow along with you). But you and I both know that’s not going to happen. You’re not really the sort who’ll just leave if we all ignore you.

Okay. Here’s the truth. Even if you do leave and I get a new roommate, an adorable new roomie who has my nose and my husband’s eyes, you’ve left your fingerprints all over the place. It’s not like I can remove every trace of you. You’ve banged up the floorboards and chipped away the paint. So, we just need to make peace. You aren’t going to change, but I can change the way I react to you and your inconsiderate ways. I’m going to focus on taking better care of myself rather than letting you frustrate me so often. It’s what I’ve got to do until I can figure out a way to evict you for good and get that new roommate moved in.

With hope for better times ahead,
Tegan
P.S. You really do make me nuts. Maybe someday I’ll write a book about it. Believe me, I’ve got enough material.

Baby shower image via Flickr by Emily Stanchfield

Author Kate McIntyre Talks Fantasy, Grief in Fiction, and Sequels

The-Deathsniffer's-AssistantI don’t remember exactly where I first met Kate McIntyre, whether it was in our publisher’s Facebook group or through Twitter, but I do remember being impressed with her and the synopsis for THE DEATHSNIFFER’S ASSISTANT from day one.

It’s an imaginative fantasy set in Edwardian England with a frighteningly unnerving murder mystery at its ooey gooey center. There are also flourishes of magic. And did I mention the flying carriages? Oh, my. There’s so much to love about this novel!

Many of you know that I go to the gym to read. Sure, my legs are churning away on the elliptical, but it’s really my mind that’s getting the workout as I devour wonderful works of fiction. Well, I was heading to the gym A LOT when I was reading Kate’s book because I Just HAD to know what happened next. I give this highly addictive read five out of five wrens. (Want to buy it? Get it here on Amazon!)five wrens1

I’m delighted to be hosting Kate on my blog today because reading her responses to my questions is like slipping into the back of a writers’ master class. I learned so much from interviewing her, and I’m really excited to share the conversation with you. She talks about exploring grief in her novel, world building, and character development.  I know you’ll enjoy hearing from this writer whom I so admire. (Incidentally, Kate interviewed me on her blog, and asked some questions about INCONCEIVABLE! that I haven’t previously discussed on any other blog. So, check it out here!)

Tegan: Describe the process of creating your own version of Edwardian England. How did it all come together?

Kate: I started building my world with exactly two things in mind. I wanted it to be full of magic and wonder and everything to constantly be oozing enchantment. I also wanted it to be humdrum and workaday, with the characters living in the midst of all this fantastic city not really seeing it as they hurried off to work.

That idea, the fantastic melding with the mundane, is the backbone of my work. I think it’s relevant to us, because there’s so much wonder and excitement in our world but how often do we notice it? It’s too familiar to get worked up about and we’re too busy to really care.

In my desire to capture that feeling, I knew that the world had to be a lot more modern than a lot of fantasy, so I aimed for the feel of the period between 1903 and 1922. I didn’t actually know much at first so I did a lot of research to get a sense of the aesthetic and the feel of the era. The Edwardian period was when the modern really began melding with the historic, and it isn’t uncommon to see a fine lady in full skirts walking a few steps from a dirty factory girl in trousers in photographs taken at the time.

Of course, my book isn’t set in Edwardian England, but in Darrington City, Tarland. So it wasn’t as simple as just carrying things over. I loved the fictional nation of Toulene in Inconceivable! and really enjoyed how it was such a neat melding of its bordering nations. It really felt like something that you’d built from the ground up, and that’s how it was for Darrington, too. I had to think about what technology Tarlish folks had available thanks to their magic. At the same time, I thought about where they wouldn’t have innovated. So there are no cars yet, but there are flashbulb cameras! A fully operational telephone-like network, but no steam engines. Some readers don’t even notice things like that, but it all helps make the world feel real!Kate McIntyre2

Tegan: I loved the interactions between Olivia Faraday (the deathsniffer) and her assistant, Chris Buckley. They each have their own quirks and hang-ups. How did you go about developing these characters and where did you look for inspiration?

Kate: Olivia was the first character I came up with. Immediately after deciding I wanted to write a fantasy murder mystery, I had my detective: a pint-sized hellion with no concern for anything but the chase, as elegant and brilliant as she was mocking and heartless. Chris grew into the spaces around Olivia. Despite being the narrator of the book, he’s the one who was built to compliment her. I made him mannered to match her crudeness, empathetic for her insensitivity, and kind for her cruelty. He also ended up as kind of a cringing, snobby dope to contrast Olivia’s fearlessly unapologetic intelligence.

It’s always been a priority for me to write characters human first and likeable second. And humans are a mostly flawed bunch. Even my favourite humans have things about them I can’t stand! So I really wanted readers to see Olivia and Chris as real people. That’s why they can sometimes be small-minded, petty, or obtuse. It’s also why they bicker constantly.

But I know your secret, everybody! Most everyone secretly loves to watch frustrating people bickering. Why else would reality tv have gotten so huge? So I let myself have a lot of fun with the way the two of them go back and forth. Sometimes he’s in the right and sometimes she is. Their relationship can be deep and insightful one moment and then the next they’re picking at each other over incredibly dumb stuff. Olivia and Chris’s relationship is at the core of the whole series of books. It’s my favourite element to write, and it always makes me happy when someone enjoys it!

Tegan: Chris Buckley lost both of his parents in an accident, and understandably, it was life altering for him and his sister. You do an incredible job of using that event as a filter that colors Chris’ thoughts, actions, and reactions. Have you had any personal experiences that informed this aspect of the story? And I’m asking because I think it’s handled in a very authentic way.

Kate: My parents are still alive and well, but I’ve definitely experienced loss. Sometimes in minor ways, and sometimes in major ones. And I’ve absolutely used that loss to construct the heart of Chris’s character, which is the abscess loss leaves behind if not properly grieved.

The loss I drew on the most was losing my grandfather when I was barely eleven. He lived just one street away from me growing up, and I spent at least half my time with him. Like Chris, I was too young to know the right way to grieve, and like Chris, it just seemed easier to wrap it up and put it away. Anyone who’s lost someone precious to them knows how grief feels – like something is being ripped out of your chest and leaving a sucking hole behind. It’s the worst feeling in the whole world. And it’s a lot easier to shove it as hard as you can and tell yourself that you’re better and move on. You can go years without feeling a thing where that infected wound is, until something brushes against it and destroys you for days.

Grief is a major theme of The Faraday Files. It’s something that’s rarely written about in genre fiction because it’s the worst thing ever, and genre fiction is supposed to be for escapism. But just like Hatty and John’s struggles with infertility in Inconceivable! stands in defiance of traditional HEA romance tropes, I wanted to write something with more pathos than your average genre novel. So many fantasy protagonists are orphans, but how many really get down and unpack that? Chris isn’t looking for justice for his parents and he isn’t trying to do honour to their memory. He just misses them. Every day. Constantly.

Chris is a lot younger than I am, so he’s still struggling where I learned how to grieve right. I’ve slowly cleansed and bandaged the wound the loss of my grandfather left. Chris isn’t where I’m at yet, but I want to help him get there.

Tegan: Tell us about the sequel to The Deathsniffer’s Assistant and when we might be able to get our hands on it.

Kate: The sequel is called The Timeseer’s Gambit! It’s hopefully going to be out at the same time the first was in mid-July, and we’re hoping to keep an annual schedule for the four book series! Hopefully I can keep up the pace writing.

Where The Deathsniffer’s Assistant takes place in spring, the second book is set in the summertime. I had a tough time writing it because Darrington is in the middle of a crazy heat wave during the book and I wrote most of it this past winter, when the snow here in Atlantic Canada was so high we had to dig out way out of our houses. Every time I sat down to write and saw Chris or Olivia complaining about the heat, I wanted to let them have it. You guys are lucky! I have a blanket over my legs at friggin Starbucks, here!

Olivia has been assigned her first true serial killer. She’s excited and Chris is appalled, but it’s been three months since they started working together and they’ve established a rapport. Chris has grown some spine and Olivia has softened her razor sharp tongue thanks to being around each other so much. Their back and forth is as bicker-heavy as ever, but they tease each other more now and are starting to really care about one another.

In book two readers are going to learn a lot about categorization, the method by which Tarlish citizens unlock their magic gifts. They’ll also find out how Chris supposedly knows the mysterious timeseer, William Cartwright.

As one last tease, things are heating up a bit. Chris has two potential love interests and things take a definite turn away from just-friends with both of them. Of course, Chris is still awkward, easily flustered, and kind of a dope, so nothing goes especially well!

Tegan: Now that your novel has been published and has been in readers’ hands for a few months, what have you learned and how have those lessons changed the way you write now?

Kate: The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that I’m not just some upstart pounding at a keyboard. I’m a writer! People have paid cash money for my book and effused over how much they liked it! I’ve signed books for grinning fans in other countries! I have tons of five star reviews and people making grabby hands for the next book!

And that all feels great. I’ve always believed that the most important parts of writing are confidence and momentum. I’m using my newfound confidence in my ability as a writer to build momentum. It only took five months to finish The Timeseer’s Gambit, almost unbelievable after the three years I spent on The Deathsniffer’s Assistant. The third book, The Heartreader’s Secret, will hopefully glide right onto the page, too! And after that… who knows. I’m only in my early thirties and have tons of books left in me. I want to keep sharing my stories with the world.

Kate McIntyreKate McIntyre was born and raised in the frigid white north, having spent her entire life in Moncton, New Brunswick. She learned to appreciate the quintessential Canadian things: endless winters, self-deprecating jokes, the untamed wilderness, and excessive politeness. Somehow it was the latter that she chose to write about. Kate loves crochet, video games, board games, reading, and listening to bad pop music very loudly.