Does Your Life Go As Planned?

I took a course called “The Art of the Personal Essay” while I was a student at NYU. I liked the personal nature of the assignments because they could always be based on my own truth, and were generally short.

I remember one assignment in particular. We were told to write about something that turned out nothing like we expected. I had an easy time coming up with my idea. The thing that I had always expected to just happen when I wanted it to was I would have a baby. The genesis of the idea was almost immediate. The writing of the story was a bit of an emotional roller coaster, as I suppose so many unexpected life events are. The expectation was I would decide I was ready to have a baby, I would take the usual steps, and after enjoying a normal pregnancy and birth, I would have my baby. Then, life happened while I was making these plans. I found myself unexpectedly pregnant at a younger age than I ever thought. I was not mentally ready to have a baby, but I tried hard to get into the right mindset to do so. I was securely married and had a career that was progressing as planned.

Just as I was starting to wrap my head around the idea of having a baby when I was 25, I miscarried at 6 weeks into the pregnancy. It was more of a relief than a disappointment, and not a major medical problem. Just nature taking care of something that wasn’t right was how the doctors explained it.

This experience changed me from having most of my focus on my career because I figured I had plenty of time to work out this having a baby thing to someone who was starting to feel a bit panicked about my ability to ever have children.

I knew intellectually that just about all early miscarriages are just a means of natural selection. So many things have to go exactly right from the moment of conception that it is very common for some small error to cause a natural abortion. Still, there was the nagging in my head that said there must be something wrong with me or my husband. I then became anxious to test the process again, but the same thing happened 6 weeks in. Now the real fear set in.

The next try ended at the same stage, but was a little more traumatic because it was incomplete, and I required a D&C. There was about a 3 month recovery period before we could “try” again. We started doing some anatomical and hormonal testing at this point to see if there was some sort of problem. Some tests were easy, some were invasive and painful. It seemed that conceiving was not a problem, but carrying the pregnancy was. They did discover that I had a “septate” uterus which meant it had 2 chambers separated by a “septum” much like the one in our nose. It was not normal, and might have been the cause of repeated early pregnancy loss.

I had a relatively easy surgery to correct this. When I went back to have the test re-done to see the post op result, the uterus looked the same. There was never an explanation for this. But the doctors were never sure that this deformity was the cause of the problem, and all else checked out fine so we powered on.

About six months later, we had not been able to conceive again. Now, it was a fertility issue which was truly baffling to us, having conceived 3 times before.

I became more determined to have a baby than I ever dreamed possible. I didn’t really think of myself as “mommy material” as I was nearing the age when most women start to think about starting their families.

Fertility testing followed. Some tests were simple and easy, some were a little embarrassing, especially the sperm count tests. We worked with the “experts” at University of Medicine and Dentistry in Newark, NJ. Travel for frequent appointments was burdensome. They needed to do frequent blood tests for hormonal levels since I was getting daily injections of fertility drugs in the hopes of releasing more eggs than normal each month, increasing the odds of conceiving 1 or more babies. When the levels were at suitable levels, we went for artificial insemination using my husband’s sperm. This was an uncomfortable procedure on both psychological and physical levels. I was releasing more than one egg per cycle, and was hopeful I would conceive at least one child. I was slightly enthused to have more than one at once, figuring I could get the whole family making process done in one fell swoop. This procedure failed for 3 full cycles.

We were finally successful on the fourth try, with the somewhat young, arrogant doctor calling to tell me “I never fail 4 times”. I was ecstatic with some trepidation mixed in. I was able to relax after the first trimester which is the stage of pregnancy that is considered to be past the risk of early miscarriage. I had been laid off from my job before this process began, making all of the doctor visits more convenient and was able to rest from the crushing exhaustion of early pregnancy.

The pregnancy progressed normally and was very exciting after waiting for it for so long and having been so disappointed from the losses in the past. I gained a lot of weight (50 lbs. on my 5’2” frame), but stayed healthy and generally enjoyed being pregnant.

Labor was long (36 hours) and very trying, but it was the most exciting thing I had ever done. We stayed at home for the first 24 hours or so of labor. The rest was done in a private, nicely appointed “birthing suite” at the hospital. Dr. Bissinger attended, which was so fortunate since he was my doctor since I first became a patient at his practice 7 years ago and he had gone through all of the trials and tribulations with me. We were thrilled he was the one of the three possible doctors in his group who could have been on call that day. Nearly 3 hours of pushing finally brought us a 7 lb. 13 oz. boy. There is a saying that goes “There is only one beautiful child in the world, and every mother has it”. Sam truly was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. There was instant, massive love. We stayed in the hospital overnight, and I was nearly in shock and disbelief when I was sent home the next day with a baby in my arms.

Bringing Sam into our home was an astonishing experience. Where it had been our home for five years with only Barney, our golden retriever, as family, we now had a son. I remember holding him and carrying him incessantly, as if it wouldn’t somehow be true if I let him out of my sight. Nursing him brought an unexpected dimension of joy to the whole experience.

In the end, I had my baby, but it certainly didn’t happen the way I expected.

Sam was born 20 years ago. The reason this story re-entered my sphere of consciousness at this point is because the summer of 2017 turned out nothing like I expected or planned.

I had been in a faithful and monogamous relationship with my husband for 37 years when in the spring of 2015, he decided he didn’t want to be married anymore. We separated. I was committed to making the marriage work, but he was not so I found myself “single” at age 52 for the first time in my life, having met him when I was 16.

Starting to date at this stage of life can be awkward, at minimum, for many. In my case, I was also dealing with a disability from a cerebral hemorrhage 17 years prior which certainly was not a big confidence boost. But, online I went, looking for dates. Anyone who has done this could certainly write a book about the experience. I did end up meeting an interesting mix of men.

They ran the gamut from married, alcoholics, hoarders, unemployed, with some decent, smart and fun guys mixed in. After surviving a life threatening ordeal, I was determined to live life to the fullest with or without my husband. After the hemorrhage, we stayed married for 16 years. I wanted my husband to embrace life with me, but he became depressed and addicted to narcotics. Part of my lust for life included trying to build and maintain a good sex life, but with my husband’s issues, things just kind of froze over in this department.

So, awkward and uncomfortable as it was, I was dating and eventually started to dip my toes into the middle aged and single sex pool. I was vigilantly careful about my safety. I started to have some fun, and had the somewhat startling revelation that I was DESIRABLE. This was exhilarating after so many years of rejection by my husband. I had a few flings throughout the end of 2015, and one more serious thing with someone that lasted into the fall of 2016. The online dating thing was getting boring and not bringing many quality people into my life. I was heartbroken over having to put an end to the one long affair in the fall, but his alcoholism made continuing the relationship impossible. Not much of interest happened after that break up.

At the beginning of June, 2017, 2 very different men popped up on my list of potential “matches”. They both matched with me at around a 90% match rate.I went out on several dates with “Joe” who was frankly, not very attractive, but a real gentleman who had his stuff together and treated me very well. I focused on the positives as much as possible since I had been with men who looked like movie stars, but were basically losers. I was not as excited about Joe as he was about me.

Within a few weeks of meeting Joe, I went on a short vacation to Virginia Beach to visit two very close friends who had also been disabled by strokes at age 35. We have an uncommon bond and have a lot of fun together. Amelia is happily married to a wonderful, supportive husband. Pamela’s husband bailed out of their marriage immediately following her stroke so she had been single for a while before she met the man she lives with currently in what looks like a committed, monogamous relationship. Both women were a bit stunned that my marriage had broken up, and fascinated by my stories of single life. They heard many chapters from my book of online dating. Pamela had more of a fascination I think because she had been there more recently herself. She had suggestions for how to handle every guy on my “list”. Some were too old, too young, generally not good enough for me, etc. She suggested I take the Summer of 2017 and take a break from serious dating and make it my “summer of being a slut”, especially after so many years of being with only one man. So, I decided this was a good plan and was a way to just enjoy my seeming amazing powers of seduction without getting seriously involved with anyone. I was glad I had this time with my friends and swam, went in the hot tub, went to the beach, went dancing and had a lot of fun because the rest of the summer did not turn out as I expected.

I returned home in early June to find Joe lamenting not seeing me for “2 weeks and a day”! Good Lord! We had been on about 4 dates before I went away, and I wasn’t ready for a serious relationship. Besides, my “summer of being a slut” was about to commence, and I had no desire to start with Joe. The other man I met online around the same time as Joe was Greg. We also had a high “match rate” and started to chat right away. There were a few obstacles to meeting in real life such as each of us had car issues, then I went to Virginia. We really “clicked” as texting buddies, and found quite a bit of common ground. Despite not being able to meet right away, it seemed like there was some sort of relationship potential there. Massive, witty, flirty and fun banter ensued.

This summer of being a slut quickly got off track and turned into the summer of surgery and near celibacy.

I went for a routine ultrasound of my kidneys and the doctor saw a “mass” in my pelvis. He told me to go get a CAT scan and not to wait. So I did.

There were quite a few “masses” all over my pelvis, one of which was the size of a newborn baby’s head. At the follow up at the gynecologist’s office, his opinion was simple and clear: they are large and they don’t belong there so you should get them out. Go see a gynecological oncologist. I didn’t want to see an oncologist! I was supposed to be out having fun being a slut. But, I do take my health very seriously, so off to the gynecological oncologist I went. Luckily, my brother was in town visiting and was able to come to this creepy appointment with me to be my second set of ears. I scheduled the surgery that day (July 5th) for July 18th. The doctor offered some reassurance that the masses were not cancerous, but of course there are never guarantees. I was glad that I had some time at my vacation home at the lake with my family before summer came to a crashing end for me on July 18th.

I shared all of this news with both Joe and Greg. I was losing interest in Joe the more he seemed to pursue me. It felt suffocating. He did, however, offer to drive me to and from the hospital and keep me company during my recuperation. I accepted his offer because it was a safe and reliable way for me to get to and from without having to bother my elderly parents, my former husband, or my young sons. Meantime, Greg kept me company via text and email, and could always make me laugh or had something interesting to say. These were major plusses during this depressing time.

With the surgery looming in 2 weeks, I wasn’t willing to give up on my slut stage completely so I got in touch with a guy with whom I had only had a purely physical relationship. He was my go to for some good sex whenever I wanted, no strings attached. Feeling the uncertainty of life very acutely once again, I strongly felt a visit with “Dr. C.” was warranted before going under the knife. I had had a visit with Dr. C. once earlier in the summer, so these 2 casual encounters were the extent of my summer of being a slut.

I had the surgery on July 18th, stayed in the hospital for 3 nights which was a miserable time. I had a very large abdominal incision and was sent home with restrictions on activities. No swimming, sex or horseback riding until the surgeon cleared me at the 6 week visit when he would need to do an internal exam to see how my insides had healed. The surgery was fairly extensive and he had put a 6–8 week recovery period on as his guess for how long I would be restricted.

I was fortunate to have live in help for 2 weeks after I came home because I couldn’t even get in and out of bed by myself. Joe continued to visit until I finally mustered up the nerve to break up with him.

I have made a great recovery in just over 3 weeks and am looking forward to finally meeting Greg in real life and enjoying what’s left of the summer of 2017 which definitely did not turn out how I expected. I’m still grateful every day to have things to laugh and think about, and of course for my health. The pathology from the surgery came back benign. I will see the surgeon in 2 weeks to see how much I will be able to enjoy the rest of the summer of 2017.