Caregiving is a nonstop rollercoaster ride

Suddenly my life was all about diapers, wipes, laundry, and sippy cups. I slept in spurts between cries from down the hall. I ate my meals on the run. Instead of showers, I dashed deodorant on my armpits and hoped it would keep me from stinking. I could not leave the house without finding someone to sit with the one for whom I was caring. My life back in Oregon faded into distant memory.

Had I acquired a baby? No, for most of April, I was in California helping my father, who went to bed on April 2 and has not gotten up on his own feet since then. After nine days of the most intimate caregiving at home, the pain in his legs and back got so bad I called 911. Since then, my father has moved back and forth between Kaiser Hospital and a skilled nursing facility, with me, and sometimes my brother, at his side, signing papers, interacting with doctors and nurses, and keeping track of his belongings. As if we were his parents.

It has been a rollercoaster ride, with brief ups and steep downs. Shooting pains sent Dad to bed. Then he had an inflamed gallbladder. Then the doctors were watching his kidneys and liver and monitoring a cough that might turn into pneumonia. Suddenly doctors and social workers were pushing me to decide what to do if the worst happened. Resuscitate? Tube feeding? “Ask him,” I insisted, even though Dad’s mind drifted in and out.

He recovered enough to go back to the skilled nursing facility. I came home to Oregon, hoping things would calm down for a while. I wasn’t even all the way home before a nursing home employee called to say they were testing him for a virulent gastrointestinal infection. The next caller said the test was positive. At this moment, he is still in the hospital but might be discharged to the nursing home today.

My father is tough. Yesterday he turned 97 in the hospital. In the last decade, he has survived heart surgery, a broken hip, a shattered leg, and too many falls to count. Up until April 2, he was living alone in the home where we grew up, with a caregiver coming just a few hours a week. He moved around with a walker. Everything, from getting dressed to carrying a cup of coffee from the coffeepot to the table, was difficult, but he kept going. Now we don’t know what’s going to happen, or maybe we do know, but not when. I’m not going back yet, but I’m keeping my suitcase handy.

Many times I have wondered how God could thrust me into caregiving again after all I experienced with my late husband, but I also think maybe it was always his plan that instead of caring for babies I would care for the sick and dying in my family. It’s a hard job, perhaps the hardest. If I had been a mother, would I have been better prepared? At the least I would know how to feed someone without getting it all over his face, how to open the stupid plastic container of wet wipes, and how to clean his most personal parts. I could pick up a baby and carry him to the ER instead of calling 911. And yet I find I’m getting pretty good at this caregiving business. If I don’t know how to do it, I figure it out. Isn’t that what mothers do? Or so I hear.

It’s not the same, of course. With luck, a baby grows up and learns to care for himself. A baby does not have the language to complain and criticize. Nor is there so much history. This is the man from whose sperm I was created. Hour after hour, I sat with him in that same bedroom, studying the flowered wallpaper, the crucifix over his head, and my mother’s dresser with the same perfumes, pictures, and music box that were there when she died almost 17 years ago. I wanted to be the “good girl,” taking care of everything. But time and again, I failed. He was wet, hungry, in pain. The coffee was cold. Gritting my teeth, I did my best to take care of it, but there’s all this baggage. When he yelled, I was still the same scared kid I was long ago.

When Dad was in the mood, he talked about the ranch, WWII, his career as an electrician, and people who had died. He said he was not afraid of dying, that he looked forward to meeting my mother and the rest of the family in heaven. I treasured these talks, knowing how precious they were, knowing this might not happen again. We cried hard when I said goodbye last week.

So that’s where I have been. You can read more at my Unleashed in Oregon blog. I have never missed so many weeks of blog posts. I hope to get back on schedule now, but I make no promises. I may disappear again. Caregiving is 24/7, and Dad has no Internet connection, even though he lives in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Have you been in situations like this where you used your parenting energy in other ways? Please share in the comments.

God bless you all. Mother’s Day is coming. Prepare to duck and cover.

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Miss these Childless by Marriage posts?

Dear friends:

Yesterday, I got a comment from someone who wondered if the discussion of Klinefelter’s Syndrome (males with two X chromosomes) was still going. He has it and was looking for someone to talk to. I got another query on the subject a few weeks ago from a woman in a relationship with KS. So let’s take another look at that post and see if there’s more to say. Men born with more than one X chromosome (along with the usual Y chromosome) have underdeveloped sexual organs, along with emotional and physical problems, including a tendency toward heart disease. Many struggle to establish and maintain relationships with women. Read more about it and the comments here.

Speaking of men, I often worry that I’m shorting the male side of the childless story. I’m a woman, most of the people in my book are women, and most of the readers who comment here are women, but childlessness by marriage is an issue for men, too. It might be even more difficult because they can’t bear children. I wrote about this a year ago and got some good comments. I’ve love to read some more about how it is for men when their women can’t or won’t make babies with them. Here’s the original post. 

Then there was Richa, whose husband told her on the second day of their marriage that he didn’t want to have children with her. So now what should she do? (Screaming comes to mind). You all responded to that one with a vengeance. Let’s take a look back and see what you all said. And Richa, if you’re out there somewhere, what happened after that?  Readers, what would you do? Here’s the link. 

That should keep you busy until my nose stops running and the first weekend of Lent is over. This feels like a lazy post, but I’m sick, plus the woman with whom I’ve been sharing my “day job” doing church music for the last 16 years just quit without notice, leaving a lot of undone work for me to do, including two Ash Wednesday services yesterday and planning all of the music for Lent and Easter. She had good reasons, and I sympathize, but yikes.

BTW, all those medical tests I had a while back showed nothing. The gastroenterologist has given up. Apparently I just have a wonky stomach. Luckily, I’m feeling better on that front. I thank all of you who expressed concern.

Oh, and it’s my birthday Saturday. It sure would be nice to have grown kids doing something special for “Mom.” Oh well. I’ve got you guys and Annie, my non-child-substitute (see last week’s post).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No, my dog is not my child substitute

Annie 9215AAnnie turned 11 this month. My dog, the blonde in the picture up above, has been my companion since my late husband Fred and I adopted her and her brother Chico at seven weeks. She weighed six pounds, the same as I weighed when I was born. She was a baby then. Now Chico is gone (long story, click here), and Annie is an old dog. Her muzzle has turned white, her knees are held together with plates and screws, and she’s covered with fatty lumps. In dog years, she’s older than I am now. We only have a few years left, if we’re lucky.

Is Annie my baby, my child, a substitute for the children I never had? No. There are occasions when I get called her mom, times when I might even call myself that, but her mother was a dog, not a human like me. Although we understand each other very well, we don’t speak the same language. I am responsible for her care, but she will not grow up and become an independent adult who might carry on my name and my traditions. She will not drive me to the hospital when something goes wrong. She is a dog.

We are partners in our life here in the woods. Together, we cope with the snow, rain and occasional sun. We eat together and we snuggle on the love seat while I write, watch videos or talk on the phone. She takes me on a walk through the woods every day, rain or shine around 3:00. She knows that’s when I’m ready to leave my desk. We know each other’s ways and rhythms. But she is not my child.

Annie will eat poop, plastic, pens, and paper clips if I don’t stop her. She wakes me up when the thunder scares her. She insists on constant belly rubs. She won’t let me eat without sharing. But she’s a lot less annoying than some people. Plus she’s always up for a hug, and she thinks I’m wonderful. How many 11-year-old humans are that agreeable?

I know there are people who consider dogs and cats their fur babies. I wrote about them in my Childless by Marriage book. Some go so far as to dress them in coats and sweaters and push them in baby strollers. They give birthday parties for their pets. I don’t do that with Annie.

Do I tell Annie she’s the best dog in the world? All the time. Do I tell her I love her? Constantly. Do I take her outside and make sure she goes potty? Every day. But she is not my child. She’s something different but equally wonderful. She is my friend, and I thank God for her.

Annie 82517A.jpg

What is your relationship with your animals? Are they your children? Do they make up for not having them? Do your parents accept them as “grandchildren?”

The sorrow of a childless ultrasound test

Dear friends,

This morning, I’m going to the hospital for an ultrasound test. It’s the same kind of test women look forward to having to see their babies growing in the womb. Oh look, there’s his fingers. I can hear his heartbeat! They go home with a picture to show everyone. Of course sometimes, the test turns tragic, showing no baby or a baby that is deformed or has died. To me that’s worse than never having a baby.

But it’s not that kind of ultrasound. Whatever else might be inside me, there is no baby. The technicians will be seeking the cause of my persistent stomach problems. I’m torn between hoping they find something—finally an answer!—and hoping they don’t. At least I’m pretty sure this will not be the kind where they stick a wand up your vagina. Been there, hated that. Let’s keep it all on the outside, please.

It’s not my first ultrasound, but I’m always a little sad that I’ll never have the one where I see my baby. Not that I’d know what it was. In my experience, it’s all a bunch of fuzzy dots that don’t make any sense to me. When I did this three years ago for basically the same problem, it was a fascinating tour through my parts. There’s your liver, there’s your gall bladder, there’s your kidneys . . .

Anyway. I’ll be going alone. I won’t be anesthetized, so there’s no reason I can’t drive myself. But this morning, hungry from fasting, headachy from lack of caffeine, and a bit scared of what they might find, I wish I had someone to hold my hand. I wish my late husband Fred was still here.

Lately I’ve been getting a taste of what it’s like to be single and childless at 66. I drove myself to the ER when this started with incredible pain one night in December. A friend took me for my colonoscopy/endoscopy three weeks ago. Afterward, I was back to being alone, even though the instructions said to have someone with you for 24 hours. There is no family member nearby to whom it would naturally fall to take care of me.

Would having children solve this? Not really. My friends’ grown children live far away, work full-time and are busy with their own children. Besides, I’m not sure I’d want a grown-up child treating me like an old person and telling me what to do. In fact, I’m sure I don’t want that.

So what am I saying? Having an ultrasound for something other than a baby makes me sad. And build up your support network, whether it be family or friends. No matter how independent you think you are, you’re going to need it.

I’m confident that whatever they find, I’ll be okay. If I can survive my daily speed walks with Annie up and down the hills here, I’m pretty healthy. We both are.

As always, I cherish your comments.

 

Pictures of Kids? Not So Much

We sat around a table at the senior center last week passing around photos for a writing exercise. I was a stranger in this group that meets every week. I had come to check out the visiting writing teacher. My seat faced a wall-sized mirror, so I was looking at myself all the time, feeling too young and overdressed for this group.

The people were incredibly friendly, but I soon felt like an outcast in another way: Most of the photos included children. Kids lined up along a fence. Kids posing at Christmas with Grandma and Grandpa. Kids in the front row of family reunion pictures. You know the kind, where the original couple is surrounded by the many generations. Yeah. I don’t have a lot of those pictures. My albums are full of dogs, cats, buildings, beaches, mountains, and flowers.

The picture I brought, which inspired some smiles, showed my first husband, my father and my brother all leaning down looking into the back of the VW bus that we took on our first honeymoon. That was in 1974, when I was 22 and had no doubts about being a mom someday, and no clue that the marriage wouldn’t last. The honeymoon, a road trip all over the western U.S. and Canada, was great. At home, we didn’t do so well.

But back to the pictures. I suspect most of us don’t keep actual printed photo albums anymore. I don’t, although I have quite a few from the past. We store pictures on our phones, tablets and computers and post them on social media, but it’s still the same. My friends show me pictures of their children and grandchildren. I show them pictures of my dog or the weird bear statue somebody draped in garlands this Christmas (Bondage Bear, I called him). I have some pictures of my nieces and nephews, but I don’t see them often, and it’s not the same.  I take a lot of pictures to accompany my blogs and other writing projects. But I’ll never line my children up on the front porch for the annual first-day-of-school photo. Or pose with their kids at Christmas.

What does that leave me to share or to save in albums? And who would I save those albums for? When I die, who is going to care?

I rarely get my own picture taken. Most of the pics I put online are selfies or photos I paid a professional to take. No one seems anxious to save my image or put it on the wall like the 1800s picture of my great-grandma Louise that I study at my dad’s house, looking for features that have been passed down, trying to sense the kind of person she was. Does anyone believe all those Facebook pictures will even exist in a hundred years? (remember floppy disks? Gone!)

I have been thinking about piecing together a family-tree style collection of photos of all my loved ones, especially those who have died, so I can look at them all in one place. The tree will not go on beyond me. My line goes only backward, not forward. I’m a twig that will never reproduce. So who would I do it for? Me. It would make me happy, and that’s good enough.

My brother, the only person with exactly the same ancestors, might be interested, but he is surrounded by children and grandchildren these days. His branch of the tree is getting heavy with new branches.

Back to that photo I passed around. The seniors got a laugh at the old VW with its “lawnmower” engine in the back. My ex, shirtless, squatted in front of the engine. He was the real mechanic in the group, but my father, still dressed up from the wedding, was bent over supervising while my brother, back in jeans and tee shirt, stood back, looking worried. It was his bus that we were about to drive all over hell and gone with “Just Married” painted in blue all over it and only three working cylinders. I could write a lot more about that picture than I could about yet another string of blonde, blue-eyed Oregon kids.

So what do you take pictures of? Do you put them in albums or other kinds of collections? Who will care about them when you’re gone? Does it matter? Please share in the comments.

 

 

 

 

 

Younger wife + older husband with kids = trouble

Dear readers,
Happy 2019. A continuing theme here is the dilemma that occurs when your partner has been married before and already has children. In many cases, they don’t want to have any more. That was my story. So where does that leave you? In response to a comment on my October post on the subject, “Younger Wives, Older Husbands, No Babies,” I received this comment from NH. I want to share it with you and get your reactions.
MDOE37 said: Song and verse….second marriage for both, he was 6 years older with custody of a 13 year old son. Decided a couple years into the marriage that he was done. Raise mine, none for you.

NH responded:

Interesting. I’m in a similar position. Second marriage for both. He is 50, I’m 43. He has three kids from a previous marriage (12, 17, 20), I’m childless NOT by choice. First husband didn’t want them. Made damn sure I would never get pregnant. It was awful. Fast forward 15 years and now I’m remarried. He’s a wonderful man. Initially, he did not want kids and told me so while dating. At that time, I was still brainwashed into thinking I would be a terrible mom anyway (and I was 38), so I didn’t think twice when he asked me to marry him.

Turns out I’m a great momma, even better than Bio Mom (say the 12- and 17-year-olds, plus Dad). The 20-year-old hates me, because Mom has made up all kinds of lies to cover her mistakes. Bio Mom cheated on Dad, many times. Dad had enough and filed for divorce. She didn’t want the kids to find out so brainwashed them into crazy stories, INCLUDING telling them I caused their divorce even though I wasn’t in their life until years later. She was so convincing it took the youngest until this year to realize the timelines didn’t add up. Not joking. Two weeks ago, she told us that of all her friends with divorced parents, she has the most awesome stepmom and a dad that is still around and loves them. She said her mom is the problem. She sees, and doesn’t like what she sees. Eldest still believes the mom, and is pretty mean to the younger two if they don’t fall in line with her lies.

Anyway, my desire to have children kicked into overdrive once I realized I didn’t suck and got closer with the children. DH conceded. We went to a lecture for older adults about fertility. Spoke for 15 minutes with a doctor who told us IVF was the only way. Possibly donor eggs/sperm. That scared the husband, and now he doesn’t want kids anymore. He’s worried about my health, as I’m older, and worried he’ll have a nervous breakdown dealing with his ex, current kids and a new baby. Especially a baby that isn’t his and can’t guarantee if they’ll be healthy because the genetics are not ours. At one point, he told me he loved me so much that he thought we should get divorced so that I could go have a baby on my own, or with a younger man. I lost it.

THAT, on top of the grief and insane depression I’ve had over not being a mother, just crushed me. I went from being really sad, to really sad and angry. I know a lot of it is tied to my first husband and the mind games he used to pull on this subject. I’ve been in therapy and started taking antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds. I was a healthy, thriving, happy single person until coming into this life. I fell in love with someone who does love me, and wants to take care of me for the long haul . . . but he comes with all this baggage (much of which I’m not sharing here). A lot of this came out after we got married, and if I say anything to anyone their first comment is “you should have known.” Ummm, I’m not able to predict the future so how would I have known?

I’ve never married a guy with kids before. Waited a year into our relationship before meeting the kids because I wanted to be sure it was for real. They were very pleasant, until we got engaged. Once the ex found out we were serious, she got to work trying to wreck our relationship, and ruin me. At that time, we had moved in together, were building a house and planning to get married. OMG! Never had to deal with a high conflict ex, never moved somewhere because someone else made the decision and we just had to follow. Lots of “nevers,” and it’s been really hard. He promised me it would get better, and we have made progress, but I think all the bad stuff, and the hormones, and the depression/anxiety have just broken me. I’ve lost myself, feel completely mental, and am so far away from friends and family. I’m alone. There is no one to give me a hug if I’m sad (my husband travels a lot). Now, I feel like I’m giving up my chance to have children.

These kids will never have a mother/child relationship with me. They are grateful I’ve taught them so many things their mother hasn’t (well the younger two), but they’ll always be terrified to show their appreciation because of how Mom will behave if she finds out. Eldest is a tattletale, Mom’s spy. She should be in college, elsewhere, but dropped out. Things were getting so much better, and now are reverting because she moved back home. I’m the evil step-mom again because eldest says so, so my depression is getting worse. My anger is getting worse. I feel like I don’t have any control over my own life. I can’t even control my professional life, because we live in the sticks (not by choice . . . because Mom ran off her with the kids and he followed), so there are no jobs in my field. Thankfully, I was able to obtain a work-from-home position, but it’s entry level and I’m an executive. I have always made things work, my entire life. Adjusted to whatever situation I was in to make it work. This is the first time I feel like I’m constantly fighting to make it work, and it’s not.

In short, I don’t know if LOVE is enough. He is a strong, caring, kind, funny, provider. I love him dearly. He tells me they consider me family, and everyone really does care about me. I do not love dealing with the baggage and how he has chosen not to stand up for his ex’s dumb decisions. My mother-in-law told me he never would AFTER we got married, and said “good luck dealing with that evil B****” . . . and laughed. If I ever complained about not having kids or what I had to deal with, she would just say “You knew, and is nothing ever good enough for you? Can’t you just be happy with my grandkids?” What? Has a childless women EVER received that comment from their MIL before?

I wish I knew how crazy the ex was before we were married. I wish I knew my MIL wasn’t really the funny, kind person she portrayed. I wish I knew I wouldn’t be strong enough to deal with it all, and how it would change me.

Now, I feel broken. My anger towards dealing with all of this pain has turned me into a very unhappy, negative person. I don’t even recognize myself anymore. I don’t even know how to look at my days in a positive light. It’s just all gray and cloudy. I didn’t know trying to be a decent stepparent would mean I would get treated like crap for years. I feel lied to and taken advantage of, and now cash strapped because I’ve paid for so much in this household it’s not even funny. No, we don’t share financial accounts. We’ve dealt with too many court/money situations and I don’t want his ex knowing what I do, how much I make and how much I have saved. It’s none of her business. She’s constantly having the kids ask me how much I make. Awesome, huh?

Guess I should have done my research. Now I feel really ignorant. The honeymoon has worn off and we’ve only been together five years, married for three. I’ve heard it takes seven to work out most of the kinks. I don’t know if I can make it to seven years at this rate. But then, I’ll feel like a failure. Divorced again because I made a bad decision and didn’t know what this life would be like.

Does anyone have any advice? Is this what it is like? Does it get better? How do you stay sane when you don’t have a support network near you?

Please help.

Thank you, and terribly sorry for the long note. I happened to stumble across this and felt connected in some way, I guess.

So there it is. Heartbreaking. What advice do you have for NH? Does her story strike familiar chords with you? Please comment. 

 

 

 

 

So You’re Childless; What Else are You?

Happy New Year! Hallelujah, the holidays are over.

As we start a new year, I want to share a quote that set me thinking about all the things we are besides childless.

In the book Motherhood Missed, which I reviewed here last month, one of the anonymous women included there wrote this: “I don’t want to identify for the rest of my life as a childless woman. I want to be something else.”

That really struck me because we are more than our status as parents or non-parents. We have other gifts to give to the world. We might wish with all our hearts that we had children, that we could proudly boast of being mothers or fathers, but there is more. There’s always more.

So I want you think about what else you are. If you were writing a Facebook profile or a bio to put on the back of your book and you were not allowed to say anything about having or not having children, what would you write?

For example, the bios at the bottom of things I publish usually say something like “Sue Fagalde Lick is a writer-musician-dog mom living on the Oregon Coast.” I go on to name my books and other publications and mention my job as a music minister. Am I also a mother? Readers don’t need to know; it’s irrelevant, just like my age or my shoe size.

Childlessness does not define me, except in particular situations, such as this blog. If I find myself at a school or other child-centered place, I can focus on my reason for being there. Perhaps I’m volunteering, giving a talk, or offering support as a student’s aunt. It’s about what I AM, not what I’m NOT.

So what is your gift to share with the world? If you had a child, what would you be looking forward to doing once they got old enough to leave alone. You are free to do it now. That’s no small thing.

The arts are not the only way to contribute to the world. You can keep a business running, share your faith, teach, train dogs, keep people safe, help the sick and injured, or provide food, homes, clothing, and other necessities. Are you a gardener, an athlete, a chef, or masseuse? You have way more to offer than just eggs or sperm.

At my 50th birthday party, which turned out to be the last event my mother attended before she died, she gave the most beautiful speech about how proud she was of me. She mentioned my writing and my music, but she said the best part was my loving heart. She didn’t talk about how I had failed to have children; she focused on what I had accomplished. So should you.

I know this is hard, especially if you’re in the throes of your baby-no baby crisis. But let’s give it a try this year. What else are you besides not someone’s mother or father?

Here’s another New Year’s resolution for you: If you’re on the fence because of your partner’s refusal to commit, let them know that it ends in 2019. If they refuse to give you a definite answer, you will take their non-decision as a no and act on it. No more waiting around. No one has the right to hold your life hostage.

So that’s my New Year’s sermon. I started the new year by being up all night with stomach troubles, followed by a migraine. Yesterday my dog swallowed a guitar pick which I pray will come out the other end and not kill her. But today we’re both okay.

Parenting is no guarantee of happy holidays. My brother’s kids and grandkids are all sick. My best friend had a fight with her grandson, who says he will never speak to her again. At least we don’t have to deal with that.

I feel good about 2019. Let’s try to see the bright side. Tell me in the comments: What else are you besides a non-mom or non-dad?