Making the Most of At-home Read Alouds

Originally posted August 23, 2015 on Merely Mothers (now Evie & Sarah)

Snuggling up with your child and their most beloved books and just reading (or rereading) for sheer pleasure is magical—and important to developing children who love reading.

However, as school starts back up, children may be asked to do more reading at home, and parents might be looking for ideas to boost their child’s interest and understanding of new books. Here are a few ideas teachers and literacy specialists use with students of all ages (kids are never too old to be read to!) to develop stronger, more engaged readers. They are all based on the idea that good readers think deeply about what they’re reading as they read. Some of these strategies work best with books being read for the first time, and all of them can be used with picture books as well as chapter books and novels. So gather the little ones and the bigger ones, and tell them to bring their books!

Predicting

Asking kids to guess what is about to happen in a book is one way to engage them in the story. It can be done using the title, the pictures, and/or the text that was just read, and is as easy as asking, “What do you think is going to happen?” While it seems simple, it’s actually not. Predicting requires readers to use not only pieces of the text they know, but also their knowledge of story structure from previous books they’ve read or been read, to formulate a logical guess as to what might happen.

Young readers might come up with silly (though amusing) predictions at first. That’s fine; let their creative minds go! But then help them by modeling. It’s as simple as, “I think __________ will happen next, because…” The ‘because’ is important. It shows them that predictions need to be based on evidence. By the upper elementary grades, kids will need to provide such evidence when speaking and writing about texts, so practicing at home is great preparation.

Asking Questions

How often as an adult do you find yourself yelling at a book or even a tv show: “Why are you doing that?” “How could they kill off my favorite character?” When we find ourselves conversing with inanimate objects, it’s not a sign we’re insane; it’s a sign we’re engaged. That is the same type of engagement we want to encourage in young readers.

As you read with your children, ask questions and encourage them to do the same. Depending on the text and your child, the questions can be as basic as “What’s happening now?” or “Who’s that?”, or as sophisticated as “Why do you think the author would do that? How does it affect the story?” Questions about plot, writing, vocabulary, characters, morals or messages, or main ideas are all super. And the best part? There isn’t always a right answer. Often these types of questions are just discussion starters. So there’s no pressure, just engagement.

Making Connections

When we encounter something new, we automatically try to compare it to something familiar in order to understand it. That something familiar might be a firsthand experience, or it might just be something we read, saw on tv, learned in school, or heard from someone else. If we can make a connection, we’re better able to frame our understanding. The same works for books.

Kids are asked to read books with a variety of topics and structures, not all of which will be familiar to them. While pictures and visuals in books can aid a lot with comprehending new material or reading a book with an unfamiliar structure, making connections can help as well. Encourage this by modeling it for your children as you read with them. If a book reminds you of another book you’ve read with them, a place you’ve visited together, or something you’ve seen or heard before, point it out to them or ask them if they can see the connection.

Connections can also be personal, related to experiences, but more likely just related to the emotions that experience evokes. For instance, your child will likely never meet a talking pig, but he or she might have had to say goodbye to a friend or loved one. Seeing the similarities between the known and the unknown will draw kids deeper into their reading and allow them to learn and explore people, places, and things they never otherwise could.

There are dozens of other reading strategies you can use when reading with your children, but you don’t need to know them all. And you certainly don’t want to cram every strategy into each at-home reading session. It’s enough to just read with your kids.

But when there’s time, talk about what you’re reading together. Share a little about what you’re reading as an adult, when it’s appropriate, or at least share that you’re reading and enjoying it. Find news articles your family or children can relate to, and read and discuss snippets of them at the dinner table. Make your home rich with words and stories, and your children will inevitably discover the magic of reading.

 

Photo credit: Wavebreakmedia

5 Tips for Reducing Back-to-School Stress

Originally posted August 9, 2015 on Merely Mothers (now Evie & Sarah)

Please don’t shoot the messenger, but it’s almost that time again. That’s right, some schools are starting up in another week, and even those that don’t start until September are starting to ready their bulletin boards and wax the floors for the first day of classes. Back to school will always involve some level of stress for parents and kids (and teachers!), but it doesn’t have to be doomsday. Here are a few tips to take a little stress out of the start of the year.

  1. Return to Routines Early

Lazy mornings. Late nights making s’mores by the fire pit. Ice cream for supper. These are what make summer the relaxing reprieve we all cherish. Unfortunately, the school year follows a far more rigorous schedule. There are busses to catch, soccer practices to make, and homework to be done. For learning, playing, and family time to be a success, kids need to be well rested and nourished. For that to happen without excess stress, families need to get back into a routine, and the best time to do that is not the day school starts, but a few days (or weeks) before. If you use the week or so before school starts to slowly adjust bedtimes, wake up times, and even meal times (schools serve lunch anywhere from 10:30 am to 1:30pm!), the start of school won’t seem like such a jolt to everyone’s system.

  1. Plan Ahead

Back in my Weight Watchers days my favorite leader loved the expression “Proper planning prevents pudgy people.” It’s corny, but I think she was definitely onto something. Nothing increases stress and anxiety like having to make decisions and get things done last minute. So make a list now of everything that needs to get done before school starts, as well as updating your list of weekly chores and to-dos to include school-related activities, and then start checking things off as soon as possible. Have the kids help with whatever they can, too. I’m still only running a one-woman show at my house, so there’s a lot less chaos than most families deal with, but even I get all my outfits and lunches for the week ready on the weekend. If you have the closet space to hang things and some great Tupperware, it’s doable, and it makes mornings so much smoother.

  1. Address Anxiety

There are those fearless kids, often younger siblings who’ve eagerly waited for years for it to be their turn, who dash onto the bus the first day of school without a worry in the world. But for most, starting school brings with it some anxiety. Kids worry about having friends in their class, liking their teacher, fitting in. Parents worry about Common Core, bullying, reduced recess time, and standardized tests. Anxiety around school is natural, and while we certainly shouldn’t worry the kids with our own fears, it’s good to address theirs. If they voice concerns or just act differently in the days leading up to school, be sure to talk to them about it. Try to make a concrete plan for addressing any worries you can, things like making new friends, talking to the teacher, and catching the right bus. But be honest about the things you likely can’t change: teachers, classmates, homework. Learning to deal with people and things that might scare us at first is one of the best lessons we learn in school.

  1. Jump Start the Learning

One stressor you can help your child with is getting his or her brain back into school mode. If traveling, camps, swim lessons, and just plain relaxing has got in the way of your best intentions for academic play and practice, returning to it in the week or two before school starts is a good idea. This might be a scary fact, but nearly all children regress to various degrees over the summer months. While teachers know this and spend time reviewing skills from previous years, new rigorous curriculum guidelines don’t give teachers the time they used to have to re-teach previous years’ material. So to assure your children don’t feel overwhelmed in those first weeks, do a little review with them at home before school starts. Obviously, they’re still in summer vacation, so make it fun and active. You don’t want something that’s meant to help adding to their anxiety, but if you can find games, apps, or activities that sneak in some math, spelling, reading, and writing, transitioning back to school work won’t seem as challenging for them come September.

  1. Celebrate New Beginnings!

Growing up with two teachers as parents, you might think early September was a time of mourning in my house. It wasn’t. Ok, it probably was, but my parents hid it very well! In fact, they did such a great job of celebrating the start of school that I looked forward to it like it was Christmas or my birthday. I remember the little gifts—a few pieces of candy and maybe a fun pencil or eraser—that was left at my spot on the kitchen table when I came to breakfast before the first day of school, the notes my dad snuck into my lunch box, the dinner at a favorite restaurant at the end of the first week. Was there anxiety, mine or my parents? Probably, but it was overshadowed by excitement.

Back to school was an affirmation of the importance my parents put on learning and a celebration of new beginnings, new friendships, and new opportunities. If you can create that for your children, you’ve given them a tremendous gift.

So this back to school season, try to squash the stress and get giddy with your kids. Skip down the aisles of Staples like the dad in that commercial, but not because you’re happy to get rid of the little buggers, but because you’re overjoyed to watch them to learn, play, and grow over the course of a wonderful new school year.

Photo by Prometeus

Forgiving Myself for My Emotions While Trying to Conceive

Originally posted July 26, 2015 on Merely Mothers (now Evie & Sarah)

Why is it when you’re trying not to think too much about something, it’s all you see? When you’re dieting, every commercial is for pizza and ice cream. When you’re dreading back to school, every display in the grocery store is tormenting you with shiny new pencils. And when you’re trying to conceive (TTC), pregnant ladies pop up like dandelions all over the place.

For some women TTC, pregnancy announcements, baby showers, and even events with kids of friends and family can be emotionally gut wrenching. They are reminders of what they so desperately want but haven’t yet been able to achieve. Jealousy isn’t exactly a trait someone strives for, which leads one to feeling guilty and wondering if she’s being selfish. It can turn into a torturous cycle of pain and self-loathing.

Do I know all this from my own TTC experience? Not exactly, but I sure know the feelings described above all too well. I experienced them in my twenties when it seemed every trip to the mailbox brought another invitation to a wedding I’d be attending as a singleton. All I wanted was to be starting a family with the right guy. Instead I was getting a collection of cocktail and bridesmaid dresses I’d never wear again. And I hated it. I didn’t hate that my friends were finding amazing men to marry and be happy with. I loved that part. I genuinely squealed in delight at each engagement announcement. And I was honored to attend, and especially to be a part of my closest friends’ ceremonies (and luckily, they all picked great bridesmaids dresses, too!). But I hated that somewhere in the back of my head, or my heart, I felt jealous and sad. It made me feel like an awful friend, an awful person.

Since then I’ve begun to learn, with the help of a few friends who give great advice on the subject, that no one should feel guilty for their emotions.

If you feel something, there’s a reason you feel that way. It’s not healthy to plaster on a smile and bury it, and it’s even worse to chastise yourself for it. I still might hold something in until I reach the car, turn on the shower, have dinner with a friend, or am on the phone with my mom, but I’m getting to a point where I can be a little more open about how I feel, at least to those closest to me.

So, yes, there are moments when I occasionally feel a pang of jealously or longing when I spend time with my nieces and nephew, or when a coworker announces she’s pregnant, or even walking through the maternity department at Target to get to the dressing rooms—I can’t help it, some of those tops are adorable. But rather than hate myself for feeling something completely normal, I’m learning to acknowledge it, deal with it (shopping therapy, anyone?), and then enjoy the high of sharing in another’s happiness.

And, surprisingly, it’s a lot easier than you think, especially when one of those quickly growing bundles of joy looks at you and says “Aunnie” for the first time. (He’s still working on that ‘t’.)

***

On a side note, I wanted to thank you all for your concern and support after my last post. Your positive thoughts and prayers did the trick; the cyst was indeed the kind that goes away on its own. I’ll be able to start treatment again next month!

In the meantime, Sarah and Evie have offered me an opportunity to expand my topics here. So while I’m still working on making my little miracle happen, I’ll also be doing a series of posts related to back to school issues. Yes, it will soon be that time!

 

Photo credit: Milazed

Be Careful What You Wish For

Originally posted July 12, 2015 on Merely Mothers (now Evie & Sarah)

After four failed IUIs, two natural, two medicated, I was ready for something different in my attempts to conceive. I wanted more information. Yes, my fertility tests in December and January all came back great, but clearly something wasn’t working. Maybe it was the timing. Maybe it was mid-cycle hormone levels. Maybe I wasn’t producing a mature egg each month. Or maybe I just had bad luck. Whatever it was, I wanted to know—one way or the other. Knowledge is power and all that jazz, right? Surely, I’d feel better knowing.

Surely, I need my head examined.

As I entered my first monitored cycle my anxiety began to rise. I began to worry about cancelled cycles due to overstimulation or crazy hormone levels. As someone whose intuition is frequently spot on, I should have taken this as a sign, but my optimistic side brushed it off. Monitoring was new. New things can be a little scary. Everything would be fine. After all, the mid-cycle blood work and ultrasounds were what I asked for—more knowledge=more power.

So I went into my first monitoring appointment the day after the fourth thinking the previous night’s fireworks were just the start of a summer of celebrations. The appointment, though not particularly pleasant, was rather uneventful. My results later that day left me hopeful. I had one leading follicle that was looking good, a fine lining, and expected estrogen levels—all things I wouldn’t have known without monitoring. Knowing felt good.

Two days later I returned, hoping for a nice mature follicle so I could take my trigger shot and schedule IUI lucky #5 for later that week. Familiar with the routine now, I kept the phone close as I went about the day waiting for the nurse to call with my results, those numbers, that knowledge that would bolster my hope. Or break my heart.

I don’t know how big my leading follicle grew. And I don’t know what my estrogen ended up at. Because when the nurse called to fill me with knowledge, the only words I heard were cyst and cancelled cycle.

The latter was crushing because it meant I wouldn’t even get a chance at motherhood this month and maybe not for a couple months. But the former was far more frightening. I’d been down that road before. The last time I was blindsided by a cyst it left me with a four inch scar and required some pretty significant healing time. And I had been ‘lucky’ then; nothing major had to be removed and there was no lasting internal damage. So, of course, I panicked. Then I did something even more stupid—looking for more of that all-important knowledge, I Googled.

Thankfully, in this case Dr. Google and the girls on my trying to conceive boards actually quelled some of my initial worry. Cysts come in all kinds, shapes, and sizes, and most disappear on their own. Cancelled cycles due to cysts are fairly common, particularly after taking drugs that mess with your hormones as I had done. Very often you can try again the next month. My RE was on vacation, of course, so once the shock wore off, I called back the nurse to beg for a little more information. This time more knowledge was reassuring. She couldn’t tell me too much over the phone but did assure me that although the cyst was on my ovary, it was also much smaller than the one I had in college that required surgery to remove. We scheduled a follow up for later this month with my doctor, and she told me not to worry in the meantime.

Not worrying is about as easy as not stressing, but I’m determined to make the most of this missed month. I won’t know more, can’t know more, until I wait a bit to see what happens to the cyst. While ignorance is not bliss, this month has taught me neither is knowledge. So while I wait, I’ll be doing my best to make my own bliss. After all, there are beaches to be walked, books to be read, and novels to be published (fingers crossed on that one!).

photo credit: Wish via photopin (license)

When You’re Trying to Conceive, It’s Not as Easy as “Just Relax”

Originally posted June 28, 2015 on Merely Mothers (now Evie & Sarah)

If you’re looking to get slapped upside the head, there’s no faster way than telling a woman who’s been unsuccessfully trying to conceive, “Maybe you just need to relax.” First off, the stress of TTC isn’t usually directly related to the act of conception. Though sitting in the stirrups or bedding down at the precise moment your ovulation predictor kit flashes that annoying little smiley face may not be the most exciting or enjoyable way to make babies, it’s not the main cause of stress.

The stress of trying to conceive comes from other sources. It’s from watching your savings dwindle down to nothing. It’s having to take days off work and not being able to tell your students or coworkers or bosses why you’re falling behind. It’s from worrying whether getting too hot running around with the kids on field day or drinking one cold beer mid-cycle was the reason you’re staring down another stark negative. It’s from being relaxed, and positive, and hopeful  for weeks at a time only to face disappointment month after month.

Speaking for myself, I wasn’t a stressed out person before I began this journey, or at least any more than anyone else. This journey has caused additional stress. And like most people TTC, I’m doing my best to deal with it, but there’s no magic stress zapper. Relaxing requires time, patience, and support. Specifically what’s worked to keep me on the side of sanity during my TTC journey has been music, meditation, and amazing friends.

Sing me a song

Music has always had the ability to affect my mood like nothing else can. I’m a sucker for sappy lyrics; I have a long list of songs I can’t hear without bawling, which can be embarrassing when one starts playing in the produce aisle. On the flipside, an upbeat tune can instantly improve my mood. So when I went in for my first IUI, I made myself a playlist of songs that give me hope, make me smile, or turn me into a happy, dancing fool. I listen to it on the drive into the clinic each month and anytime in between when I feel my anxiety spiking. Having my own private dance party in the kitchen or the car helps ease the nerves, and considering I dance even worse than your average short, chubby white girl, it also gives me a much needed opportunity to laugh at myself! You can check out my playlist here.

Deep breaths and downward dogs

I’ve never been able to cross my legs, close my eyes, and meditate on my own. When I’ve tried in the past, my mind has wandered or I’ve fallen asleep. But I have always loved the short, guided meditations that instructors sometimes use at the end of yoga classes. So when I started my TTC journey I looked for an at-home program specifically for woman trying to conceive and discovered the Yoga and Meditation for Fertility DVD by Kate Atkinson. This is not a yoga workout meant to build great strength or endurance. It is a three-part program focusing on helping fertility through reducing stress and increasing blood flow to the reproductive organs with a series of stretches and gentle movements. And, for me, it is the perfect way to relax after a workout or before bed.

Another meditation tool that’s helped me is the Circle and Bloom IVF and IUI Mind Body Program, which is a set of CDs with guided meditation for each day of your cycle. It focuses on breathing, relaxation, and visualization. These were recommended and loaned to me by a friend who had gone through IVF. They may seem a bit expensive to buy on your own, but now that I’ve used them, I would definitely say they’re worth it.

With a little help from my friends

Remaining calm and collected isn’t always easy, and sometimes it’s not even recommended. Sometimes in order to ‘relax’ we first need to deal with what’s stressing us out to begin with. The best way to do that is talking with friends. Whether it’s that friend who’s gone through her own TTC struggles or the one who’s been your soul sister since practically the moment you met, talking with friends about this journey is crucial and comforting. I know that a few days after a negative test I’ll be able to return to the yoga mat or my happy music mix, but in the moments just after, I want to cry, and drink wine, and have a BFF drive across town to comfort me with s’mores and a hug. That’s the first step to “Just relaxing.”

So while I don’t recommend telling a couple or single woman trying to conceive that “Maybe it’ll happen if you just relax,” I do recommend to others in the TTC phase to find what makes you happy, comforted, and calm, and do it. Dance like a fool, drink like a fish (at least for that one night), and downward dog your way to chillax. And if you have a day when none of it works, don’t beat yourself up. Stress is part of life—and parenthood. Think of those bad days as bootcamp for when the baby does come—and it will come, in its own way and its own time.

 

Photo credit: Anya Berkut

Beyond Biology: Why I’m Not (Too) Afraid of Father’s Day

Originally published June 14, 2015 on Merely Mothers (now Evie & Sarah)

As we approach Father’s Day this year, it occurred to me that no one, aside from the social worker whose job it is to broach such tough questions, has asked me about the “daddy issue.” As a single woman hoping to conceive a child with a donor, there will be no father in our family (unless I’m lucky enough to find a husband later in life). I know, despite everyone’s support, at least a few people must have wondered how I feel about raising a child without a dad. The truth? Scared. But also steadfast.

I was raised in a family with two loving parents, a mom and a dad. So were nearly all of my friends. I didn’t even have a friend with divorced parents until high school. So the idea of raising a child in any form of non-traditional family is frightening, but that’s because it’s unknown, not solely because there won’t be a male parental figure. Lots of families don’t have dads, or have two dads and no mom. There’s no perfect equation for a family save that it be filled with love. And my child will have that, plenty of it.

Among the things people don’t want to say to a single woman trying to have a baby is that every child needs positive male relationships. While I appreciate the sensitivity to my emotions, especially now that I’m on added hormones, the fact is, it’s true. Children do need to interact with both male and female caregivers. Whether I have a boy or a girl, he or she will need to understand how to interact with guys. He or she will need to see men in relationships of all kinds to know what’s expected and accepted in our society (and sometimes, I hope, to know when to toss those expectations out the window!). He’ll need to see me interact with men in positive and varied ways to understand how different kinds of male/female relationships work, so that he can have healthy relationships himself. He’ll need to be loved by men, and he’ll need to have men in his life whom he loves in return. And I will do my damnedest to assure my child has all of these things, even if he won’t technically have a daddy—that’s what grandpa, uncle, great uncles, and family friends are for!

Yes, my brother and father’s roles of grandpa and uncle became even more important when I decided to do this without a husband. Luckily for me, there aren’t two men in the world more capable of those jobs! I’ve already been blessed to see my father take on the role of grandpa and my brother become a father. Watching the men I’m closest to transform when that little life, my gorgeous nephew, entered into our world, has truly been a gift. Sure, it’s a little sad that my child won’t have a dad as great as my father or brother. But there is nothing more comforting to me than knowing that they are who my child will think of when he or she thinks of fathers.

Father’s Day might never be an easy holiday to maneuver as a single mother by choice, but I think if the issue of a donor is dealt with honestly and the child’s life is full of wonderful men to emulate, it need not be a landmine of taboo questions or uncomfortable topics. Beyond a biological father, there will still be plenty of fathers for my child and I to honor and celebrate each June.

And, hey, an added hug for mom that day won’t go unappreciated either!

Not This Time, Dealing with Disappointment When Trying to Conceive

Originally posted on May 24, 2015 on Merely Mothers (now Evie & Sarah)

I’m sitting down at my computer tonight in a house so silent you can hear a pin drop, with a glass of rich, red wine next to me, and a plate of crackers and brie, which may or may not be pasteurized, in the fridge ready to serve as tonight’s supper.

To some of you, this might sound like heaven. To someone who began her TTC (trying to conceive) journey back in December, it’s the sound and sight of disappointment.

I’m known for my optimism, so I guess it’s no surprise that I thought I’d be pregnant by now. It’s also no surprise I’m not. Statistically, the odds are not in my favor each month. For someone my age, the ancient 35 that I am, IUIs have a 10-20% chance of working each month. But after six months, for couples or singles with no known fertility issues, that percentage hits about 80%. Being that rosy-glassed girl who nearly flunked statistics in college, I figured that meant by try number three I had nearly even odds of being successful, multiply that by the 100 mg of Clomid, a new donor, and the lucky Wonder Woman socks, and it was practically a done deal.

Then I ended up in the ER with a cat bite requiring antibiotics less than a week before my IUI, caught the stomach bug I’d managed to avoid all winter the day before my procedure, and moments before sticking my legs in the stirrups learned my new and improved donor had even lazier sperm than the last dude’s. Still, I stayed positive.

And my body responded perfectly. I had high temperatures, a few cramps (implantation for sure!), a bit of lightheadedness, and no spotting. It was the first time I made it all the way to my beta test (the blood pregnancy test) without Aunt Flow arriving first. Unfortunately, Mother Nature is a nasty shrew, who made all the signs of pregnancy identical to PMS, so despite my negative at-home pregnancy tests, I still held out a shred of hope right up until the nurse called this afternoon. Another negative. Thanks a friggin’ lot, MoNa.

Wonder Woman socks aside, my optimism felt more like a super gut-punch than a super power. Hope hurts.

I felt I’d managed the first two months’ disappointment with grace and dignity, but this month I just don’t have the strength. This month I’m a teary hot mess who wants to curl up in her sweats under a blanket with her cat and cry. Maybe it’s the added hormones. Or maybe it’s the added pain of coming home to an empty house with no one to rub my back and give me that “you’ll be okay” hug and later, when I’ve lingered on moping too long, to tell me to suck it up and move on. Or maybe it’s the fact the savings I wanted to have for the baby is dwindling and insurance won’t kick in until I suffer three more NTTs, which stands for not this time, the positive spin TTCers put on a negative test result.

Or maybe it’s just that this process is hard, harder than I ever really understood despite having friends and family who’d gone through much harder infertility treatments after years of trying on their own.

It was because of them and their greater struggles that I almost didn’t write this post. Who am I to complain after a mere three attempts? Granted they were expensive, perfectly timed, clinically executed attempts, but three, just three.

But then a friend helped my realize what I knew in my heart. Not writing about the hard months of this journey, not trusting others to understand and to forgive my little pity parties, was far worse than ignoring it. The women who’ve gone through more are the ones most likely to understand and forgive. And those just starting out, or those in the midst of this journey along with me deserve honesty. They deserve to know that even the most optimistic and upbeat feel beaten at times. Tonight, I’m beaten.

But tomorrow is the start of another stretch of this journey. And it’s one I intend to continue down, despite a few road bumps (and a potential hangover). I know in my heart I’m meant to be a mom. It might take longer than I’d hoped, but I’m guessing when my time comes, it will be even more wonderful than I imagine. I won’t quit trying, or smiling, or being foolishly optimistic. Even though such traits occasionally come back to bite me, they’re worth passing on, which is exactly what I intend to do—just not this time.

Photo credit: Schwangerschaftstest via photopin (license)

Just Don’t “Jinx It” When You’re TTC

Originally posted on May 10, 2015 on Merely Mothers (now Evie & Sarah)

Jinxes? Karma? Curses? All sounds more like the start of a plot for my newest novel than a TTC (trying to conceive) problem. Alas, this is nonfiction.

Recently, I was chatting online on the Single Mothers By Choice discussion boards with other women trying to conceive, and the topic of “jinxing” one’s chances of becoming pregnant came up. One brave soul admitted her fears, and suddenly we were all confessing our own worries that saying, doing, or even thinking the wrong thing might cause the cosmos to curse us with another NTT (Not This Time). Here we are, a group of educated women who all know how the biology of conception works, as terrified of our own thoughts as we were of Bloody Mary appearing in the bathroom mirror at middle school sleepovers.

I’ve given in to more than a few of these fears myself. I wouldn’t order more than two vials of sperm at a time, even when I knew I’d likely have to start the process of choosing a donor all over because of my decision. It felt like I was planning for failure, and I didn’t want such negative thoughts to jinx my chances. Then there’s my Pinterest board with articles on pregnancy and baby gear that I’ve kept secret (until now), because I didn’t want to be counting my chickens before my eggs got fertilized. I worried overly positive thoughts might tip the scales of karma against me, too.

Well, what is it that’s bad for the baby-making juju? Positive thoughts? Or negative thoughts?

All of it. And none of it.

It’s all harmful in the sense it can make you crazy; you can drive yourself nutty with all the dos and don’ts. Remember in that early post when I wrote about how I was doing all this to share the joy I find in life with a little one? At times, this journey can make you forget that reason, that joy. You can easily get so caught up in the end goal, that you let the journey fly by without taking a moment to enjoy the life that’s happening in between. I find myself wishing away whole weeks to get to the next step. At the same time, living in the moment can be a killer, too. It’s exceptionally difficult to find a balance between focusing enough energy to eat well, exercise right, and reduce stress, and focusing so much time and energy that it becomes a time-sucking obsession.

But the process of trying to conceive has also reminded me how blessed I am and how blessed any baby I bring into the world will be. (See there, I said it, with no fear of jinxing anything!) So many people have shared with me their best wishes, prayers, and positive energy. My best friends have donned funny socks on the days of my IUIs in hopes that more socks equals more luck. Are good luck charms and positive energy any less scientific than jinxes, or any less crazy for that matter? Nope. Yet those types of ‘superstitions’ aren’t harmful; they’re the buoys that keep me swimming and smiling when I might otherwise feel like I’m drowning.

So if believing in the magic of positive thoughts and funny socks means I also need to occasionally throw some salt over my ovaries, I’ll do it. I’ll try not to take any of it too seriously, especially the foolish fears. But I can’t dismiss it all either—there is power in footwear, any woman can tell you that.

And if people think I’m nuts, so be it. Writers are supposed to be a bit loony. I just keep telling myself this is all great fodder for my next novel. The question is will it be a sweet chick lit book or a murder mystery? (You never know what a character on artificial hormones might do!)

In the meantime, cross your fingers for me, okay? Hey, it can’t hurt!

Photo credit: Baby Love via photopin (license)

Fertility Monitoring

Originally posted on April 26, 2015 on Merely Mothers (now Evie & Sarah)

All I really remember from my school’s sex ed. classes is the video that my friends and I mocked for years that ended with the overly chipper mom telling her newly menstruating tween, “Let’s go out to ice cream!” Seriously, mom?

Lately, I’ve been wishing I’d paid closer attention, because there are so many things I’m just learning about my own body. And when you’re trying to conceive through fertility treatments, knowing your own body and its cycles significantly increases your chances of getting the timing right. Thankfully, there are some monitoring tools that can help.

Temperature charting

One method of fertility monitoring that’s been used for years is charting temperature throughout the course of the month. Recording your temperature first thing in the morning using a basal thermometer, which gives a more accurate reading, can often determine ovulation among other important information about your cycle. Use it over a couple months and you’ll be able to predict your most fertile days.

Pros

It’s cheap; basal thermometers start as low as $7 on Amazon.

Cons

It needs to be done daily over the course of multiple months in order to see the patterns necessary for accurate predictions. Also, your basal temp should be taken at the same time every day for the most accurate results. This means waking up at your weekday time even on the weekends. Finally, you need to know a little about how to read the charts. Luckily, there’s an app for that. See fertility apps below.

Recommendation

EUDEMON Digital Basal Thermometer for Cycle Control: I like being able to read the backlit screen without having to turn on a light, especially on the weekends when I often go back to bed after taking my temp. It also saves 30 days of data so you don’t need to worry if you forget to write down your reading one day.

Fertility monitoring apps

If you want to monitor multiple signs of fertility, including basal temperature, but want to leave the interpretation of all that data up to the experts, there are dozens of fertility apps available. The more data you input, the more accurate predictions they’ll provide, but most can predict your most fertile days and the day of ovulation with good accuracy after just a month of monitoring.

Pros

Most offer free versions of the app that pretty much do everything you need when trying to conceive. They’re also convenient since they’re available on your phone, tablet, and computer. And they give you piece of mind; you’re not alone in interpreting the data.

Cons

For the best results, you still should be taking your basal temperature daily, so you’re still setting the alarm on Sunday. Ugh.

Recommendations

I’ve tried two of these apps, Ovia and Fertility Friend. Both track tons of data, more than I ever bother to enter (does it really matter if I’m cranky that day?). And both are easy to use.

Ovia looks pretty. Its interface is modern, colorful, and fun. I particularly like the little sperm swimming to the egg whenever you pull it down to update. Unfortunately, for the first two months it predicted my most fertile days later than what they ended up being. If I weren’t using the digital ovulation test as well and were going about having a baby the traditional way versus IUI, I definitely would have missed some of the best baby-making days in the month. By the third month, though, it did adjust to my data.

Fertility Friend, on the other hand, is nothing special to look at. Its graphics aren’t fancy or fun. But it works. At least for me, I find it to be the most accurate of the two.

Ovulation Predictor Kits (OPKs)

If it’s tough enough to wake up early on Mondays and the idea of daily temperature taking doesn’t do it for you, this last option might be your best bet. OPKs are easy to use monitors that read your changing hormone levels prior to ovulation in order to indicate your most fertile days. All they require is a few days of peeing on a stick.

Pros

Assuming you know the average length of your cycle, these monitors only need to be used for four or five days as you approach ovulation. You don’t need to wake up at any particular time to do them, and they give clear, accurate results.

Cons

The digital ones—the ones recommended for those of us undergoing IUIs due to their accuracy and ease in reading results—are expensive. Even on Amazon, the cheapest place by far that I’ve seen, they are about $35 for a two-month supply.

Recommendation

Clearblue Advanced Digital Ovulation Test: This monitor is great for couples and singles, as it gives not only the two peak fertility days (the reading needed for IUIs), but also the most fertile days leading up to that. It also cracks me up with its smiley face indicator. I’m waiting for it to wink at me one month or tell me to go get it on.

Whether you’re trying to get pregnant or trying not to get pregnant, it’s good to know that modern science and technology has taken a lot of the guesswork and superstitions out of fertility monitoring.

Featured image photo: Hey Paul Studios

Thanks for supporting Minus Prince Charming through my affiliate links!

Motherhood Loves Company; The Magic of Mothers Groups

Originally posted on April 12, 2015 on Merely Mothers (now Evie & Sarah)

Shortly after announcing my intention to become a single mother, a friend of mine lent me a DVD of The Backup Plan, a far-fetched romantic comedy about a woman who made the same decision to go it alone, only to meet Mr. Right an hour after getting knocked up. Some of the best scenes in the movie take place at a single mothers support group. To maximize the comedic aspect, the film depicts its members as an eclectic, tight-knit group of hippies and man-haters. It was stereotypical but hysterical. It was also the night before my first Single Mothers By Choice (SMC) group meeting, so it was a tad terrifying.

Coming from a family where emotions and serious topics are preferably left unspoken or at least only used as fodder for jokes, the idea of a support group was new and uncomfortable. So walking into the church where the SMC meeting was held and taking in the circle of more than forty women required a little more nerve than expected, even for someone as loquacious as I am. I was tempted to join the half-dozen toddlers corralled in the center in their attempts to flee, but something drove me to an empty chair.

That something was the need to belong. The need to know I wasn’t alone in my desire to do something a little unconventional, a little crazy. Those toddlers and pre-schoolers were more than just loud and adorable. They were proof that what I want is possible. Their moms were not only surviving the early years of single motherhood, they were finding time to go to group meetings to support and encourage other single mothers on a Sunday afternoon.

We claim to be a society that admires individuality and self-reliance. But to attempt to do something challenging, which thousands of people have already done, without reaching out for advice, support, and encouragement isn’t self-sufficient, it’s needlessly stressful and arguably stupid. Living alone for so long I’ve become independent to a fault, but I’m not foolish. I know I can’t parent alone. I also know things will go wrong, probably quite often. I’m going to need support of all kinds, including the kind of emotional support that can only come from women who’ve walked this path a few steps ahead of me.

And those women, those moms? Well, they certainly weren’t the man-hating hippies Hollywood created. They were funny, educated, diverse women who just happened to find themselves single yet still wanting to be a mom. In other words, they were just like me. I looked around and realized I wasn’t sailing into the Bermuda triangle of parenting minus a first mate and a life-vest. I was on a well-stocked, able-crewed cruiser to motherhood. Suddenly the large number of attendees wasn’t daunting; it was empowering.

My mother never understood my interest in team sports. Or perhaps she just couldn’t see past the risk of her only daughter sustaining a life-long neck injury to see the benefits. I did—sustain the injury and reap the benefits. There’s something about doing something physically and mentally challenging with a group of like-minded women that allows you to appreciate the beauty and power of yourself, your body, and your gender. That might seem awfully deep coming from a hooker. (It’s a rugby position. Honestly.) But it’s an absolute truth and a feeling I wasn’t sure I’d ever truly experience again. Walking out of that meeting of other single mothers or single mothers-to-be, I felt a flicker of that feeling resurface.

Just like with my teammates on the rugby field, getting filthy and being unabashedly aggressive, those single moms and I are doing something a little edgy, and a little risky, and a little wonderful. We are pushing boundaries set by society and ourselves. And as scary as that can be, we push on, mostly because we know the rewards will be worth it. But also because we realize we are in good company.

Photo credit: DSC_4807 via photopin (license)