On Our Way Home

by guest writer / husband Jeremy Rishe

41 years old. That’s 4 decades plus 1 year. 41 happened in February, and 1 month later the world shut down. In spite of all these compiled years I was still able to shovel the driveway, so we could reach the cabin. The body feels 20. That’s a lie. The body is... strong? No, but perhaps more, shall we say, enduring. Coordination has improved. But activities do require a bit more stretching. Heart & Mind keep getting younger. All require work, always have, always will.

Once inside we realize the record player, in this snow-bound cabin, is wearing down. The John Denver record, now playing, has a dying quality: “Poems, Prayers, and Promises...” John informs the wife and me. His odd droning baritone seems sad, and lacks the typical melancholy of Mr. Denver’s piercing tenor vocals. The record itself was encased in a Kurt Veil sleeve, which helps this all make more sense than it should.

3 minutes from now we will sit on the bed, and look out the window. I will comfort the wife as she cries; both of us imagining a child running down the forested hillside. A bird feeder is nailed to a tree, perfect for teaching them the wonders of nature. But out the window, all we see, now, is snow and hibernating conifers.

27 minutes from then I will explore that hill on foot, marching around the 3 acres in my snowshoes. It will feel lonely, part of me missing her... She would have been 5 by now, or 4 and a 1/2. She’d be learning. About the Catskills. About snowy hillsides. About pandemics. She might’ve grown up on a steady diet of TikTok videos. Unless it were to become as obsolete as Facebook, or MySpace, by the time she’s old enough to care. Would she care at 5...or 4 and a 1/2?

Presently, John Denver has been replaced by Scott Joplin. A decaying Maple leaf Rag ‘makes more sense' than a failing Rocky Mountain High. In 5 minutes the wife will cease crying. Then, acknowledging the water that is in the glass, we will remember: our time is our own. A child would eventually grow beyond the age of 5 (or 4 and a 1/2), and may find us repulsive (for a time), and possibly never regrow to fully love us again. Or if they did fully love us again, they would have their own life to live...but still need our money from time-to-time. In 6, or less, minutes we will remember that we can do anything we want today, tonight, and tomorrow. And that our love for each other is strong, perhaps even stronger because of the loss.

3 months from now my wife will help her mother sit hospice, and administer morphine to her grandmother (her mother’s mother). Her grandmother’s caregiver will tell her, “You see, this is why you need to have children, to be with you when you die.” As if the wife and I haven’t tried?! As if biology hasn’t reared its selfish head!? As if modern medicine hasn’t attempted all it could, yet robbed us blind!? She meant no harm, but, “Screw you! Who assumes that any child is going to choose such a task? There’s no written law, no law of nature, that requires one’s offspring to comfort their parents as they pass...So, please...screw you and wake up from your diatribe.” Of course I will simply think this...

Now, again. We decide that in a few hours we will heat up the veggie chili we brought from home. A warm shower will wash away the road trip. And the broken record player is getting...tiresome. Everything is fleeting. Even this birthday vacation that just started. 4 days from now we will pack up the car and return to The City. Later this summer I will write a second draft of the thing I am writing now. It will be only vaguely reminiscent of its first draft. Then 1 day...perhaps this fall…someone might...read it.

I’m Still Standing. Yeah, Yeah...Yeah?

Hey Friends,

The snow is now melting here in Brooklyn. But on the first day of the big storm a few weeks ago, Jeremy and I set off for a little cabin in The Catskills for a few days. It was super beautiful, a true winter wonderland. We went snowshoeing every day. On our first outing the trail was super steep, we had to blaze it ourselves because the snowfall was so fresh (and so deep!!!!), and after half an hour I was totally peeved with myself that I couldn’t keep up with Jeremy. I had to stop eventually, while Jeremy explored a bit. I took a break in a clearing where it looked like a family of deer made a home in the snow the night before. I felt like a failure. But a failure at what? Is there really such a thing as failure when it comes to a beautiful afternoon of snowshoeing in a winter wonderland? According to my negative thoughts, it’s totally possible.

We are so enamored of success stories. The overnight success. The late bloomer. The child prodigy. The hero who descends into the underworld and rises like a phoenix. I get it - these arcs satisfy the human thirst for a certain kind of storytelling. Which seems to be present in the myths of all cultures. Read anything by the brilliant Joseph Campbell.

But what about the hero who never returns from the underworld? The ‘I tried for a long time and failed’ folks? I bet there are some interesting stories in that category. Heartbreaking and challenging stories about some seriously vulnerable people.

I was reluctant to write this newsletter initially because of that vulnerability. Yuck, willingly putting out into the universe our failure with fertility? Actually volunteering to put failure out into the world? It felt terrifying. And, well, so right.

More than ever, we live in an era where we feel compelled to present an idealized version of ourselves; our private lives are woven into our self-promotion and livelihoods on social media. I still have my profiles up on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, but around four years ago I just found it all to be so exhausting. And I’m about the gazillionth person to say this, but it’s true: I found myself taking pictures of things simply to post them. I found myself getting a rush when anyone liked a post. I didn’t like that rush. I wasn’t sharing the full scope of my life - I was sharing an idealized version of my experience on this blue marble; an actor who always worked, a woman who never had a bad hair day, a perfect hike in the woods where we never got lost. A snowshoeing outing where I never tired out. You get the drift…each Thai meal was perfect. Each audition was filled with confidence. Each ending was a happy one. And it was all so un-complex. And so untrue.

There are so many stories like, ‘We tried to have a baby for 10 years, but then one day, poof! I got pregnant.’ What about those of us without the ‘poof,’ without the ‘happy ending?’ Whose fertility journey was reaaaaaaally complex? Who have just experienced failure?

Because, unlike snowshoeing, fertility is either succeed or fail. There is no middle ground. And that’s the truth.

Failure is ok. I mean, it has to be, right? We are just so used to chasing it away, or putting a whitewash over it, pretending it doesn’t smart the way it does. But it is ok. It’s ok not to ‘learn’ anything huge from failure, at least initially. It’s ok to be pissed off when something doesn’t work out the way you expected or wanted it to. Not every experience has a lesson attached to it. Or at least one easily digestible lesson…I have loads of questions, curiosity, and a heartfelt desire not to LIVE in the feeling of failure, but the ‘lesson?’ I dunno…

Researchers in the field of marketing have coined two phrases: process failure and outcome failure. Process failure is when you get what you want, but the way you get it is unpleasant. And because of this, you don’t enjoy what you have received quite as much. For example...the Amazon order went to the wrong house, you need to deal with the USPS tracking service during a pandemic, and finally get the bed linen order three months later. Every time you put those sheets on the bed you have a little reminder of the crappy process failure you experienced. Outcome failure is when you simply don’t get what you want. For example, the Ikea coffee table you’ve been eyeing for three years is not only out of stock but discontinued. You’ll never get it. Ever.

For me, and for a lot of women who go without speaking about it, fertility is chock full of both process and outcome failures. When the final outcome is a failure it is kind of overwhelming to try and make sense of the time and resources spent.

In Buddhist meditation practice there is an exercise where you breathe in the smoke, the darkness, the negative emotions like fear, resentment, anger…Investigating the thoughts that spring up, and sharing those with others is my version of this practice right now - going into the pain, going into the stuff we humans (me included) wanna thrust aside, push down, forget about, and move on without. So here goes. I’m angry. I’m really, really angry that six years of time and money led to failure. I’m embarrassed. I’m sad. I’m disappointed. I’m angry. Oh, oops did I already say I’m angry?

Failure is not an option - NASA.

Well, maybe for an astronaut.

You only fail when you stop trying - Albert Einstein

Well, maybe for Einstein. Sometimes continuing trying is madness. Sometimes cutting our losses is the only path to sanity, to a new life. It has been so awfully difficult for me to accept defeat in our fertility journey. But once I did, I could envision the possibilities for the future.

If at first you don’t succeed, failure may be your style. - Quentin Crisp

I personally love the idea of leaning into failure. Which leads me to…

My kind of winning, from the window of the Brooklyn Public Library:

Sometimes the polish you choose looks horrible on your nails. Sometimes your ascent from the underworld takes a long, messy time. And sometimes the fertility doesn’t work out despite six years and a lot of spending - emotional and financial. Failure may not be an option we’d choose, but it certainly is thrust upon us at times.

So what to do? Maybe we all need to tell our stories a bit more, share our truth…and share our ‘lifestyles’ a bit less.

Peace, Stacey

Well…maybe a little bit of lifestyle sharing is cool:

Man! I Feel Like A Woman!

Well, in the midst of partaking of our nation’s chaos, I, like many of us, am processing STUFF in my own life. And watching videos of the mostly male insurrectionists storming the citadel of western democracy got me thinking about how gender roles play out in my life (honestly, a subject I think a lot about anyway). Although some of the men were indeed armed and very dangerous, a good portion of them seemed to be playing out their fantasies of strength, of rebellion. Like participants in a role playing game…which unfortunately was very real for those in The Capitol and those who lost their lives. These men seemed so overjoyed at somehow claiming a birthright of battle.

I’m certainly not a scientist (although I’ve played one on TV), but I am aware of and have read a bit about studies on gender and how nature and nurture affect it. Past studies have focused solely on the male / female ends of the spectrum; yet, gender roles are more fluid today than ever. Perhaps this is why such an old-fashioned explosion of stereotypical male rage jarred me.

In the nature camp, we are homo sapiens after all. Typically, the muscle mass of the male-born of our species has been more dominant, the sperm count plentiful so as to allow it to venture out into the world and ‘father’ many offspring. And of course, the female-born of our kind has only one egg a month so as to limit its reproductive capabilities for quality over quantity, is the one to give birth, and the one to attend more closely to the needs of offspring. These are the rudimentary facts of our biological nature.

In the nurture camp, we have not only the beliefs of our families of origin, but we have billboards, magazines, mass media of all types: movies, TV dramas and sitcoms, reality TV (heaven help us), soap operas, romance novels, the occasional piece of decent literature, and now…THE INTERNET. With so much noise, how do we determine what we want, who we want to be as individuals vs. what society tells us we should want, who we should be.

In the past, and still far too often today, women have been defined as appendages. We have been trained to derive our self-esteem, self-worth from caretaking. Since we do indeed live in society with each other, we all operate under conventions and norms which may not align actually with what we want, or what is best for us in the long run. ‘You want me to be a caretaker? Well, I don’t want that.’ What now?

Take for instance, wait for it, wait for it…not having children. After all, trying to have children, and ‘failing,’ is not the world’s biggest tragedy, but it does set a couple apart from the ‘norm.’ It does set a woman apart from the norm. And in my experience when you are set apart from the norm you have not only the negative feelings of being ‘different’ but the opportunities to reflect, to research, to analyze. When the option or reality of motherhood is absent, what do I have left? What is a woman’s worth in our society when she isn’t a mother? Or when she may not become a mother some day? There is just not a lot of writing out there on this subject. There is though, a lot of pop culture (old and new) in the form of novels, plays, and films about villainous ‘barren’ women who steal other people’s babies, etc. Hmmmmm…no thanks.

“I’m completely happy not having children. I mean, everybody does not have to live in the same way. And as somebody said, ‘Everybody with a womb doesn’t have to have a child any more than everybody with vocal cords has to be an opera singer.”

Gloria Steinem, Chelsea Lately, October 2011

This is tough for me to admit, but I honestly don’t know whether I really wanted a child. Now that we have made the decision to really stop fertility treatments, I am left pondering why I spent the last six years dedicated to trying to have a child.

When I was pregnant in 2016 (before we lost her at 16 weeks) I remember explaining to a male friend that I finally felt like a woman. I finally felt like I earned something, like having that child in utero made me feel complete. Where did THAT come from? Perhaps from trying to avoid being one of those insane barren gals from a wannabe Hitchcock flick?

I now see how much of society / culture / whatever has conditioned me to think this way. I never pined for a child. I was never the little girl with a baby doll. I was the girl who wanted to do my doll’s hair and makeup or redecorate my Easy-Bake Oven with magic markers (instead of baking in it - don’t even ask my Mom about that mess), I wanted to make plays in the backyard, I wanted to be school president, to dance, to sing…I spent most of my 30’s single, independent, I paid for my own rent, put myself through grad school, worked at theatres all around this fair nation of ours, and at random day jobs all around this fair city of ours. Yet, at some point, once I was married, and Jeremy and I found a rhythm to our lives, I assumed the natural next step was to have a child.

Of course, this is the natural next step for many people in a committed relationship. And more often than not it simply happens. That is the norm. (Certainly there are a LOT of people sitting in waiting rooms and exam rooms in fertility offices all around the world, but although those numbers are great, it is of course still the norm to get pregnant naturally, at home, as our good ole DNA intends). And yet, we don’t question WHY people have kids the same way we questions why people DON’T. I really did think I wanted to have a child. Maybe I really did. Maybe I still do, but can’t ‘feel’ it right now.

One day during the prep time before our most recent embryo transfer this past fall, I was feeling very anxious, more so than usual. Perhaps the last six years of treatments, of trying, of failing were barrelling down on me. And thoughts were swirling in and out of my head; what life would be like after this process, whether it be successful or not? Would I be a good mother if it worked? Where would I put my attention if it failed? And my acupuncturist helped by cutting through the mental noise. She said, ‘Well, if you are happy now, you will be happy after it’s done. Whatever the outcome.’ And then. Then I realized. I better make sure I’m happy now.

So I made a conscious decision to seek out as much damn happiness as I could. And you know - it worked? When I got the call that the embryo transfer failed, I was upset, but not ruined. I cried, but didn’t take to my bed. We got an amazing pizza and cuddled the cats. And getting through the holidays had its tough moments, but I was way more focused on what I did have than what I didn’t.

And now it’s a new year. A new beginning for our country. And an open book for me. I still have a great deal of that little girl in me who never pined for a baby doll, who still likes making theatre in weird places. Yet I am now the woman who experienced very real, adult pining for a child of her own, and tragedy along the way in attempting to make one. I think I will mix it all in the Easy-Bake Oven of life and see what emerges.

PERTINENT ARTICLE LINKS:

COOL OR FUNNY OR INFORMATIVE STUFF WHICH CROSSED MY PATH THIS WEEK:

  • This is very much worth it:

Thanks Everyone for reading. And feel free to share your experiences with gender roles and society, loss and the other side of it…light fare for a Sunday, right?

Take care, Stacey

The Chicken In The Backyard

Hi Friends! Now for something completely different…

Yesterday I woke up and there was a chicken in our Brooklyn backyard. Our cats like to take a quick (or not so quick) walk out back each morning before their breakfast, sniffing and surveying the terrain of the patio and plants. Until recently, they would journey into other backyards, jumping up on fences, exploring other human territories, but now that they are getting older we supervise them and keep them in our garden only. Nishi tries to make a break for it all the time - three weeks ago she got stuck in our neighbor’s backyard and we had to get a 6 foot ladder from the basement, drop it over the 8 foot tall fence and coax her to climb it. She took each step with delicacy, alighted from the top of the fence, hopped off of our landlord’s gas grill and proceeded to trot in, eat her breakfast and snooze on her favorite chair as if nothing occurred.

Anyway, back to yesterday - as usual, I bundled up in a blanket, my pajamas still on, slid into my slippers, opened up the heavy door to our frigid garden and Nishi and Marv took off running into our landlord’s larger backyard area. And then…as soon as I rounded the corner, I saw her. A beautiful grey chicken frozen with fear as it saw two cats running towards her.

Nishi The Brave wanted to eat this plump hen and tried to pounce on it. The chicken flapped its ineffective wings and unsteadlily rested on the aforementioned gas grill. Marvin The Sweets didn’t know what to make of her - was she predator or prey?

I opened the door to our apartment and yelled to Jeremy, ‘there’s a chicken in the backyard!’ He was meditating in the bedroom which is at the front of our apartment. I rarely bug him during his morning ritual, but I knew he had to see this. (And also, that he had to be the one to somehow pick the chicken up, and get it over the 8 feet of solid fence to our next-door neighbor’s patio).

Jeremy came out in an exhilarated hurry (anything that breaks up the days lately which is not horrible bad news elicits exhilaration). He and I laughed as we took in this feathered creature making its little chortles and squawks. I escorted the cats inside. Jeremy and I tried to corner the hen so he could grab it. Needless to say, the hen did not like to be cornered. But she did like the planters which lined our yard; she managed to find two hearty earth worms and gobbled them up.

After about 10 minutes of chaotic chase and attempted grabs, the stress growing steadily for all three of us, Jeremy managed to clutch and gently toss her over the fence on top of our neighbor’s gas grill (who knew gas grills would be such prominent players in a January tale), where we could see through the slats of the fence that she hopped down and was greeted by her a) mother or b) sister or c) best friend hen. They proceeded to gobble and bobble as a duo, until we couldn’t track them anymore, reunited and it feels so good…

Sometimes we are like the chicken stuck in somebody else’s territory, flailing with wings that just do not serve us. Sometimes we have the luxury of being the cat; powerful, confident…yet sometimes even the proverbial cat gets stuck and can’t jump the fence. And sometimes we are the mensch-y humans who cater to both predator and prey, stuck between the needs, arguments, and beliefs of others, trying to not only hold our ground, but attempting to figure out where we fit in the first place. I often feel like the latter lately - surrounded by so much noise, so many opinions that it is tough to hear my own.

I was feeling pretty down and disoriented this past week after the autonomic sense of new possibilities for 2021 wore off, the seasonal affective disorder officially kicked in, and by the heartbreaking events at our Nation’s Capital. Our little grey visitor snapped me out of it for a while, and kind of allowed me to reset. The experience helped me to realize that I am craving physical tasks, experiences with a clear beginning, middle, and end. And that it is ok to seek those out, to move towards what brings delight and comfort. And I guess I am taking this time to share about the hen in the hope that we all have some humorous distractions and interesting revelations in a very trying time.

Interesting Things That Crossed My Path This Week:

If you haven’t started PRETEND IT’S A CITY yet, you must. You will laugh out loud many times.

This is such an amazing piece from 1952 in The New Yorker archives. THE CAVE by Joseph Mitchell, about the mystery of Sloppy Louie’s, a restaurant across from the now defunct Fulton Fish Market.

And check out HISTORICALLY BADASS BROADS, a hilarious and super informative podcast by two pals about impressive women throughout the ages.

Love to You All, Stacey

…truthful, funny, honest writing about child-free living…

What is Two Of Us?

I’m Stacey Linnartz. I am a New Yorker. I have considered (with input from my husband, of course) about leaving the city (we live in Brooklyn) but I can’t seem to leave. We tried for six years to have a child. It was horrible. And also, totally ok. And gross and painful and exciting and terrifying and shame-inducing. And now we have decided to be happy as a nuclear family of two humans (after I Googled ‘is it possible to be a family of two?’)...

The meager search results affirmed that Jeremy and I could indeed ‘be a family’ without kids. But there is so little on the interweb about the culture of child-free living. I was kind of shocked. And kind of sad. There is so much about EVERYTHING online, but so little of this content.

I pretty much am never, ever on social media - too many babies and humble brags, so you won’t be finding much content of mine there. But I love the idea of sharing journal-like entries, interviews with intriguing people, recommends and commentary on culture and society through the lens of child-free life. How cool would it be for my newsletter to pop up when someone searches like I did, to help them avoid the shock and sadness I felt when looking for ideas and community, and instead give them an honest, joyous place to hang.

Occasionally my husband, Jeremy Rishe shall be chiming in.

Ever since I was a kid myself I loved bringing people together under a common purpose - it’s probably one of the reasons I dig the theatre. There are loads of us women who have suffered through fertility treatments unsuccessfully - our stories are rarely shared. And, we live in a world that is very child-centric. Now, I love my friends’ kids, I teach kids, and pretty much always thought I would ‘have’ one. But the more I live child-free, the more I realize that I am content exactly the way things are. If you are curious about child-free living and the contours of it - from grief to freedom, subscribe and be in touch.

I hope this newsletter resonates with all sorts of people and not just those who are living child-free. For all of us who had to pivot and search for a way to thrive after failure, disappointment, a broken heart, this space is for you.

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