Grateful for the swale

6 May

My destination on Monday, May 1, was a doctor’s office in an anonymous looking medical park. This was another step in a process my husband and I recently began in order to discover why we haven’t yet conceived a child. And it’s not for lack of trying.

At first I felt paralyzed by our situation. It became yet another thing in my life that felt in a holding pattern: my career, my home, and now my future family. My reaction to this put some strain on the one thing I never questioned: my marriage. I couldn’t stay at peace with so much uncertainty swirling around me and this caused my husband duress as he started to feel partly responsible. He did move us down here to live with alligators and twice the mosquitoes (and of course termites.) And the bees are mean here. MEAN I TELL YOU!

But I don’t blame him. I blame my personality (ESFP: Extravert Sensing Feeling Perception.) My people are optimists who “live in possibilities,” and too many negative ones do not rest easy in our minds. We are also driven to “meld ideas into a structured format,” which explains my need to write (and let’s face it, teach.) This post is an attempt to attack what I’m bad at (sitting with negative possibilities) with what I’m good at (writing the ideas into words.) If you don’t remember your Myers-Briggs results, find them out again. It helped me understand why I’m reacting so poorly to obstacles this year, when normally my optimism is steadfast.

A swale of a tale

Last weekend, outside my window pounded the third day of rain in SoFlo. Not spring showers, but the kind of unrelenting downpour that reeks of hurricane season. The humidity hung in the air like a ghost as I moved through each day. As I drove down any highway, I was surrounded by low-lying areas swollen with water, holding in buckets of moisture until the soil is ready to receive them. Long after the rain ceases to free-fall, these temporary ponds now havens for water fowl morph back into mere dips in the ground. The water absorbs back into the earth without a trace. The sunshine the state is named for reclaims its place in the sky, and the landscape pumps enough vitamin E into our veins that we forget all about the foreboding, yet inviting nature of those low-lying areas called swales.

It was Monday, day three of rain, as I drove down the highway obsessed with this idea of swales. They flanked every road I drove down, and they started to feel familiar. Ever since I learned this term, I’ve been fixated on it. Swales hold the water in for days as the soil absorbs it gradually. This makes our groundwater healthier, even though in the meantime it’s a mess to be out in the world.

Nature dumps inches of precipitation onto the earth and the soil says “not yet.” Hold onto that for a while. I’m not ready.

It’s only after the downpour that you notice the saturated swales that fade into the background when empty and dry. But they’re always there, waiting for the right moment. We’re just not paying attention.

“Stay off the Swales”

Monday was my third  appointment with my doctor, and every step of the process so far had made me feel better; action defeats uncertainty every time. This time was different, though. Something happened in the exam room I didn’t see coming. After being asked to disrobe from the waist down, the nurse left me to drape myself in a “sheet.” And naturally, as soon as I sat down on the crinkly paper-covered exam bench, my “sheet” ripped in the back. In its defense, it was made of paper, and modesty isn’t really something I needed for what was about to happen.

I was here for a transvaginal ultrasound. And this wasn’t my first time, either. Over my right shoulder, I could see the implement to be used during the exam: it resembled a giant dildo, or “wand” tipped with lube (or “gel” as they call it). I promised myself not to joke about this with the doctor because it would shake her professional nature. But it was so hard. SO HARD! And there I did it without even trying. While I’m in the mindset of a 13-year-old boy, I would like to add that if I were legally forced to have this procedure, I do not think I would enjoy it as much.

After about 15 or 20 minutes, I started to get impatient and realized I need to pee again. They insist that you empty your bladder before the wand action, so I started to plot how I could quickly dip in and out of the restroom before they came back in. Before she left, the nurse had asked if it was okay for my doctor’s male intern to join us, and of course I said yes, I mean, the more the merrier at a vagina party, right? But this meant more anxiety over being caught getting off the table with the ripped paper sheet as they walked into the exam room. Minutes of indecision went by before I finally jumped down and backed into the bathroom just in case. The upside was that I got a new sheet. Which promptly ripped upon sitting down again.

The wait was now approaching 25-30 minutes, and that’s when I really started focusing on the thing I was avoiding. The blank sonogram screen screaming from my peripheral vision. That same screen that I’d seen on TV shows and movies filled with a potato-looking blob and a discernible heartbeat.  The exact screen that becomes everyone’s profile picture on Facebook as soon as they get past 12 weeks. This was the first time I’d seen a blank screen. And it had my name right at the top. My actual name typed in like a permanent record.

I could feel the power of this screen, the draw of this bad omen, and I vowed not to stare at it for too long because it started to haunt me. It punctured a part of me I didn’t realize was there. It was the swale filling up with water after three days of rain: I didn’t notice it until it rained enough to be right there at the surface.

There is a sign in our neighborhood that says “Stay off the Swales.” This very sign prompted me to research what exactly constituted a swale: was it the low-lying area filled with water, or the low-lying area itself? It’s the latter. The swale holds the water in one place to prevent the whole area from flooding. These areas of over-saturation are necessary to protect our safety. The problem is our culture says to avoid them, so we pretend they aren’t there. We put on faces of strength and dildo jokes, but in certain moments the swale gets over-saturated and we have to get wet. It’s there to protect us. Allowing myself to feel the pain of that blank sonogram will keep me healthy and focused on the path ahead, whatever lies in front of us.

It seemed like a such a cliche: a 35-year-old woman who can’t get pregnant and is upset about it. The truth is even if my family is just my husband and me for the rest of our lives, I would be happy. We have a great life together, and no news I can get during this process is going to shake that. I’m not sure I would have been able to say that until I fully felt the weight of not being able to have a child on that rainy first Monday of May.

So, I’m grateful for this swale and the clarity it gave me. I just hope I’ll be able to recognize the next one before it becomes a flippin’ lake.

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9 Responses to “Grateful for the swale”

  1. It's Just Mo May 6, 2012 at 2:49 pm #

    Oh, how this made me cry. I am so sorry for your struggles. Having no experience with that myself, I cannot imagine. But I am glad for you that your pain gave you such clarity. I find this very inspirational, and for me, aspirational as well.

  2. The Gonest Gal May 7, 2012 at 1:19 am #

    Kara. I’ve been waiting for you to write about this, and everything you said rang so true for me. Eric and I sat in a doctor’s office this week while the man in the white coat drew us a chart showing just how slim our chances are, explaining the financial cost of every step along with the rate of possible success. What they don’t talk about is the emotional cost. How each month that passes without success cuts you down until you feel like you can’t possibly get up the nerve to try again. But then you remember how other happiness exists in your life, how really every day isn’t so bad, until finally you know everything is going to be perfect either way. We’ve been on this cycle for 2 years and 4 months, and now we’ve finally summoned the guts to see a fertility specialist. I hated every minute of that visit, but at least now we are making some sort of progress. Thank you for having the strength to write about something that many people will never understand.

    • Kara May 15, 2012 at 1:10 am #

      I think it’s important not to live day-to-day in the possibilities (or lack thereof). Being in the doctor’s office makes me surprisingly tense, but I try to let it go in the days that follow. Talking/writing about it helps to free us from the inevitable ups and downs of the process. As do jokes about transvaginal ultrasounds (going to see just how many references we can manage in this thread.)

  3. The Gonest Gal May 7, 2012 at 1:22 am #

    And PS, that transvaginal ultrasound should come with a free pedicure, or a bottle of wine, or something…

  4. Jane May 7, 2012 at 7:23 pm #

    I believe being able to write or talk about any difficulty is good therapy. Glad you could do it and I know of what you speak. There is a rainbow at the end.

  5. Catherine Ahern May 9, 2012 at 4:16 pm #

    Beautifully written and very moving, Kara. My heart aches for you and Aaron, but I’m so impressed by your clarity and positivity. Sending more positive vibes your way!

  6. Emily May 14, 2012 at 10:02 pm #

    Kara, I wish I was as brave and talented as you. A personal ache hurts no less when it’s perceived as commonplace…I truly hope that the weather clears up and that you have blue skies on your horizon.

    • Kara May 15, 2012 at 1:25 am #

      Sometimes what looks like bravery is just relief. There are so many of us going through this that it gives me comfort to connect since another swale might come again soon, and we’re going to need back-up.

  7. NTE June 8, 2012 at 2:55 am #

    I’ve faced down the blank ultrasound screen myself, and that’s a hard place to be. I think you wrote about it beautifully.

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