Martha’s Story: Miscarriage, Blocked Fallopian Tube and IUI

This story comes from HDYDI reader Martha.

Our fertility story started about four years after we were married.  We tried for months on end with no results. Resorted to peeing on sticks to see just when the right time was. After about a year and a half of that I was finally pregnant.

I remember thinking—I’ve never told anyone else this to this day—I remember thinking, “I wonder how long will this last?” Self fulfilling prophecy? Probably. I miscarried right at  6-8 weeks, the very night we had people over for the Super Bowl and announced my pregnancy.

I remember passing that baby into the toilet. It’s brutal, but it’s the truth.

My doctors told me that since I had gotten pregnant I should keep trying.  Fast forward a year and still no more pregnancies. So we decided to see a fertility specialist. I was “advanced” in age according to fertility docs so it didn’t seem like a crazy idea.

IUII had a procedure to check everything out to make sure everything was working ok. It turns out that I had a blocked fallopian tube. It  was blocked with some body tissue, nothing that was a problem. They blew it out of there with some compressed air.

Did you know that you don’t always ovulate from alternating sides each month? You don’t. I was ovulating most often from the side that was blocked, hence the no pregnancy thing. Well, that made the most sense in the whole world!

Hallelujah!!! Now we can get pregnant!

But there was still nothing after a few months, so we opted for IUI. Our first round of IUI was supposed to be a trial run. I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into and didn’t know what to expect.

I did the injections. My faithful husband did his work with the cup. On the day of the insemination we happened to have tickets to a concert at the Erwin Center [large performance center in Austin). We went to the doctor, I got inseminated (totally not thinking this would work given the odds!), we went to Scholz Garten and drank a few beers and went to the Erwin Center to watch a concert. On the walk there I was visibly uncomfortable: the hormones they had given me to inject to induce ovulation had kicked in and I could feel it in my bones. The beers did nothing to hide the pain!

Flash forward a few days.

After my blood test following insemination, I heard “Congratulations! You are very pregnant!!!” said the nurse. Huh? Just how pregnant? My hormone levels were three times those of normal single pregnancies. I was freaked out!!!! I had done IUI. I knew that at the time of insemination I had ovulated four eggs. WAS I PREGNANT WITH FOUR BABIES???????

I was constantly nervous for the weeks that followed until we found out how many babies we were having. I knew it could have been four. The hormone level was that of three.

As I sat in the waiting room that day I wanted to vomit, I was that nervous. We were led into the exam room and the doctor did the vaginal ultrasound and announced that we were having…twins!!!  Oh thank the good Lord in Heaven! I was worried about three or even four!  At the time I thought, “Twins, I can handle.” And we have.

That was 9 years ago. Our twin boys are happy, healthy, smart, and funny. They make good grades and have friends who complete them. They are each others best friend 98% of the time, then they fight.

I wouldn’t trade the experience for a million dollars. Our twins were meant to be. They are perfect in every way. And our family is completed in every way because of them.

People ask me “How did you do it?” and my answer is always a stupid, “We didn’t know any better.”

Those of you expecting multiples know this: do not worry about the details. You are the parents of multiples. You are blessed beyond belief and God will lead you through this, whatever your situation needs.

Take one day at a time and enjoy your little babies because one day they will grow up and it will all be gone: that sweet baby smell… the naps… the nice kids…. Mine are 9 now and they stink. Boys just stink. They sweat: it happens. But one of my twin boys is as tall as my chin and he’s only 9!

What will the next 9 years hold? I can only hold my breath and wait.  Because it’s gonna be a great ride!!

On Anonymity and Infertility

Over the course of this week, several writers will be posting anonymously. I am one of them.

In some ways, I feel guilty about staying behind the curtain.

I hate that infertility can seem like such a taboo subject…a subject that nobody talks about, and when they do, it’s often in whispers. My keeping quiet is doing nothing to promote the cause that speaks to my core.

I am so thankful to those who speak on behalf of this cause, but I can’t be one of them.  Not right now.
Anonymity and infertility. The taboo is hard to break.

I am so very proud of our twin daughters, ultimately conceived via IVF, after many rounds of fertility treatments. I am proud of our journey. And I am so thankful for our team of doctors and the medical advances that made possible our family of four. In many ways, I want to shout from the rooftops, “Look what we did!!!

But I choose to keep these details private. Only a handful of close friends know, and a couple of family members.

See, I grew up in a pretty conservative area. One conversation sticks out in my mind, having heard it spoken of a family in my hometown who underwent fertility treatment when I was growing up. She was pregnant with triplets, and lost them when she was five or so months along. “If the Lord wanted her to be a mother, He’d have given her the chance. Some things are just meant to be. We’re not meant to mess with fate.”

That cuts deep. It’s something, even more than 20 years removed from, that I can’t shake.

I didn’t want to open myself up to the judgment.

And even now, having long ago moved from that very conservative area, I’ve still heard people utter phrases like “test tube baby”. I’ve had a handful of people remark to me in the grocery store, “Are they natural? You know everyone is having twins these days because of the things those doctors do.”

I can’t risk having that said of my girls.

One day, I will tell my girls the story of our journey. They need to know, in case there are genetic links to the problems I encountered. And I want them to know how very deeply their daddy and I wanted them…how, when I tell them now, “You were always in Mommy’s heart,” it was that resolve that kept me focused on the prize. I never lost faith that I would hold my children in my arms.

But I want to be the one to determine when the time is right for that conversation. I don’t want them to be scurrying around the playground while some Nosy Nelly whispers to her girlfriend, “Those girls aren’t natural.” I don’t want the next-door neighbor’s kid to have overheard our story and tease the girls, “You’re a test tube baby.” I hope these are far-fetched scenarios…that people have moved beyond such judgments…but I can’t be certain.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to respond to the random, “Are they natural?” questions…the continued inquiries from my uncle, “I just can’t believe it! Twins just don’t run in our family!

My standard line? “Yes, we got lucky. Very, very lucky.” Because we did.

Sadia’s Perspective — On the Outside Looking In: What Infertility Means

Infertility from a fertile woman's perspective. You can't really understand if you haven't been through it.

I don’t really know what infertility means. I know the science and biology of it. I’ve witnessed the emotion and pain of it. But I’ve never experienced it. I don’t really know.

When we at How Do You Do It? decided to put together this week’s posts, to lay bare how infertility is a very real part of mothers of multiples culture, I volunteered to coordinate things. Because that’s what I do.

As I sat down to write the post calling for submissions, however, I found myself stumbling. Instead of the smooth way in which the words usually pour out when I’m blogging, I found myself writing in pained spurts. I was pondering the right words, getting up close and personal with the Backspace key, even folding laundry, hoping a break would bring me the right way to phrase what I was trying to say.

I needed words that acknowledged the uniqueness of each infertility experience, the sense of kinship within the infertility community. The fact is, though, that I’m not part of the club and will never really understand. Then I realized that it’s because I’m not part of the club that I don’t have the words. As a mother of multiples, terms like “singleton,” “NICU,” “mono/di” and “fraternal” just slip off my tongue, but I’ve never really lived in the infertility world.

So I did my best as an outsider.

“… many of us have suffered from infertility.”

No, that’s not right. Suffering is a passive state. I know many of these men and women. They’re fighters.

Backspace. 

“… many of us have fought infertility.”

That doesn’t work either. Do you fight infertility? Treat it? What about parents who went straight to adoption after trying to conceive didn’t take? They accepted infertility for what it was and came up with a Plan B.

Backspace.

“… many of us were infertile.”

Ew. No. Being infertile isn’t a core human characteristic, like being blonde or short.

Backspace.

“… many of us walked the path of infertility.”

Okay, Sadia. You’re a wordy kind of girl, but this is getting ridiculous. And is the past tense even appropriate? Do you really stop living with infertility when you finally have your child? Do you begin to consider yourself to be in the fertile camp? Are “parent” and “infertile” opposites? I imagine that for some parents, they are. For others, they’re not.

Backspace.

“infertility has been part of the journey.”

 

That’ll have to do. It gives infertility too much agency, but perhaps that’s right. Perhaps infertility becomes the third wheel in the relationship. And “journey” is good. It doesn’t require an end to have been reached yet, but allows for it.

Walking around the world as a mom of twins, it’s impossible to be unaware of infertility. Even if I never hung out with other MoMs, the strangers on the street would never let me forget. “Are they natural?” they ask, so often.

It’s such a loaded question: “Are they natural?” I know it comes from a place of curiosity. I know it comes from a vague knowledge that fertility treatments have led directly to an increase in multiple births. I know they don’t mean to ask whether I’m part of the Infertility Club. If they knew anything about the Club, they would have chosen different words.

Because children conceived with medical assistance are as natural, as miraculous, as extraordinary as my spontaneous little ones.

I don’t even know what to call myself. I don’t know what those of you in the Infertility Club call those of us on the outside. What do you call those of us who conceive spontaneously, easily, some even by accident?

I can love you. I can support you. I can cry with you. I can even lend you my womb. But I will always be on the outside looking in.

From the Archives: Infertility

This week isn’t the first time we’ve touched on infertility on How Do You Do It? Check out these posts.

General Thoughts on Infertility

Personal Stories that Feature Infertility

  • 10 Week Newbie: felt increasingly marginalized as she was suck deeper and deeper into infertility treatments, but on finally achieving pregnancy with twins, the MoM community felt like home.
  • Recovering from Infertility: Even as the mother of 16-month-old twins,  feels the sting of infertility. This is her infertility tale. In Random Ramblings, she thinks about what it would take to grow her family further.
  • On the other hand, has put infertility behind her, she tells us in Am I a Fraud?
  • In Inseparable, Carissa tells the story of how her boy/girl twins joined her family through international adoption, following years of failed attempts to conceive.
  • Triplets: Angela’s Story:  conceived triplets after 3 years of infertility and two miscarriages, only to lose her son Carter as a newborn.
  • On the Clock: compares the cyclical natures of infertility, pregnancy and parenting infants.

Infertility Blog Link Up

Have you blogged about infertility on your own blog? Please share your links so others can know your story.

Please feel free to add our theme week badge to your post or sidebar:

Stories of infertility on How Do You Do It?

Infertility Link List

Welcome to Infertility Tales 2014

We have an amazing week of posts lined up, all on the subject of infertility.

Why, you might wonder, is a mother of multiples blog hosting an infertility event? After all, all the writers here have a bunch of kids already.

Stories of infertility on How Do You Do It?It’s because a number of us have lived with infertility. Most still do. Having a baby or two doesn’t usually render a couple suddenly fertile after years of struggle. And those of us who conceived our children spontaneously may not know much about how infertility feels, but we have to answer questions about it all the time. Much of Western society assumes that all multiples are the result of fertility treatment.

Infertility is a touchy, even taboo subject. Fertility is equated with masculinity and femininity. Being diagnosed as infertile can be like being told that you are incomplete, even incompetent. Infertility on the part of one partner in a couple can strengthen or devastate a relationship. Infertility is an intensely personal experience that must be tackled in view of medical staff or adoption agency personnel. As with almost all aspects of parenting, there’s a tendency to think that there’s a right answer, when in fact different answers are right for each person. Bring differences in moral opinion into the picture, and infertility becomes an even more difficult topic to discuss.

Infertility doesn’t just affect the parents-to-be. It can also have deep impacts on the children that eventually enter the family. At what point do you explain to your children what strangers mean when they ask if they are “natural”? How do you handle telling the child who happens to be adopted that they are in your family as Plan B, after conception didn’t work out?

We ask you to be sensitive to the individuals who have braved taboo and laid their hearts and stories bare to us here this week. They may not have made the same choices you would have in their shoes. And that’s okay.

The very personal nature of reproduction is also why you will see a number of stories this week written by anonymous authors. Whether to protect a spouse’s privacy or a child’s, or because friends and family have never been privy to the details of infertility in the author’s life, some contributors have chosen to remain unnamed. Their stories speak for themselves.

We’ll have stories of infertility with relatively easy and fast resolution as well as drawn out tails of failed IVF after failed IVF. You’ll hear about joyful conception that tragically ends in miscarriage or stillbirth. We’ll talk about healthy higher order multiples, infant loss, and selective reduction. Behind each of these stories is a woman who wanted to be a mother.

While infertility can often seem like a lonely path, there is strength in knowing we are not alone in our travels.  While some of the stories may be hard to read, we look forward to sharing our voices this week in support of infertility awareness, as part of (the National Infertility Association) Resolve’s annual Awareness Week.

Last Call for This Year’s Infertility Awareness Week Contributions

We asked for stories of infertility to honour Infertility Awareness Week, and you guys have delivered! We’ve got a great week of beautiful, varied and sometimes difficult posts coming up.

The door’s still open, though, if you’ve been thinking about contributing. Just email us your contribution, whether it’s text or a link to a post you’d like re-published here.

You can see more details at our Infertility Awareness Week 2014 page.

Stories of infertility on How Do You Do It?

It Wasn’t Fair: The Road to Baby

(This post was submitted anonymously.)

When we first got married, we knew we both wanted kids. We knew we would be great parents. We just weren’t ready yet. The day would come, but in our early(ish) 20s, we wanted to enjoy the time that was just the two of us.

About a year later, a co-worker of mine got pregnant (as often happens with teachers) and I began to imagine what it would be like for us to have a little one. It was the first time that I really wanted a child, and I realized I was ready. While I was ready for the little one in my arms, I didn’t really like the idea of having my blood drawn every month (I was deathly afraid of needles and I had never had my blood drawn). I didn’t want the morning sickness. I was feeling icky about the idea of something growing inside me and kicking me from the inside. But still, the urge was there.

Later in the year, at a wedding of two of our dear friends, I spent time with the most adorable 1 year old, and I knew this was something I wanted. Really wanted. My poor husband was left thinking, “Wait, we were going to wait until we were 30, and we are only 25! Why did you change our plans?”

We talked and I knew that although we both still really wanted kids in the future, the time wasn’t right. So, given the choice between baby and dog, we chose a dog.

Well, in the fall of 2011, the urge for a child was still there for me, and it kept getting stronger. My husband and I talked often, and he understood my want and need, but he wasn’t ready for that commitment yet. I really have so much respect for him for standing up to my emotional fits and sighs upon seeing an adorable baby, a great nursery on Pinterest, or a happy pregnant lady. We decided that we would start trying during the summer of 2012. That would mean we would have our child in the spring of 2013, the perfect timing for a teacher. I would have my maternity leave, and then it would be summer! Plus, I would have my morning sickness during the summer months before school started.

We started trying in May 2012. We thought we would be totally fertile and get pregnant right away. In June, I got really sick and I was nauseous all the time, especially in the morning. I was sure I was pregnant. I went to the doctor, and she thought I was too. She started explaining (knowing how afraid I was of needles) that she would have to draw blood to test. For the first time, I was more than happy for that needle.

I got the call back the next day. Negative. She had no idea why I was so sick, prescribed me some nausea pills, and told me to contact her again soon if it didn’t go away.

Once the school year ended, the nausea went away sometimes. Some days it would be so intense that I would stay in bed most of the day, and some days it was bearable and I could have a normal summer crafting day.

Then my grandfather died. The nausea stayed away, but this was a grief that I had not experienced before. I struggled so much with this loss. When I found out that I wasn’t pregnant, once again, just a couple of weeks after his death, I could hardly bear it. I was hoping for a life to grow inside of me to help honor my papa. Instead, I felt that there was more death around us.

As the new school year started up again, the nausea came back. I started losing weight as I didn’t feel like eating. I had my endoscopy, x-rays, ultrasounds, allergy testing. Nothing definitive pinpointed the nausea. I realized in about October that it was gone. I didn’t have it anymore. I still have no idea what it was, nor do my doctors.

In October, we started to be concerned that I still wasn’t pregnant. I was no longer sick. I was at a really healthy weight again, I looked great, I felt great, but I wasn’t pregnant. We thought that maybe it was the stress from the past school year, being sick, and my grandfather’s death that prevented the pregnancy. I went to see my doctor. She confirmed that I was healthy and would have no problems getting pregnant. It was just 5 months of trying, after all. “Be patient. Relax. Stop worrying. It will happen for you. Come and see me again if you are not pregnant after 1 year. In the meantime, I’m sure I will see you next month with a positive pregnancy test.”

So, one more month of trying. One more month of negative tests. Since the summer, I had been charting my BBT (basal body temperature), peeing on a stick to find out when I was ovulating, and many other weird methods to make sure I was going to have the most success possible. Something just didn’t feel right. We were sure I was going to get pregnant right away! So why wasn’t I pregnant?

So, in November, we contacted a fertility doctor. I was surprised that I didn’t need a referral to see him. I just made an appointment (the earliest he would be able to see us would be January 17). Then, the most magnificent news came: he could see us for our initial visit on December 4! I felt like our luck was going to turn around.

On the day of the appointment, we were a bundle of nerves (mine were on the surface, as my emotions always are, and my husband was able to hide his nervousness). In this 2-hour consultation, the doctor talked to us about the difficulties of getting pregnant for normal people, checked me out (through an vaginal ultrasound), and then discussed all of the options for us. We found that, although we are both young and healthy, there were some issues which would make it hard for us to get pregnant. In the effort of keeping privacy, I will not go into those details, but it was difficult to hear. We were seemingly healthy! Our doctor said so! But we still had some other issues which would make getting pregnant difficult. Not just difficult, but near impossible. We were told we would have a 5% chance of getting pregnant without IVF (in vitro fertilization). That was really, really hard to hear.

This wasn’t fair! We had a loving relationship. We adored each other and our families. My friends were getting pregnant, having babies, enjoying their new families. Where was ours? Why were we given the short straw when so many others could get pregnant just by looking at each other?!

So, thus began the start of the emotional mood swings. If we thought it was tough over the summer, it was nothing compared to what was ahead of us. We lived in 2 Week Waits: trying to get pregnant and then waiting to see if I was pregnant (and repeat).

In December, after we found out about our fertility problems, we quickly started on our Road to Baby. The first step was to try and help jumpstart my ovulation by taking Clomid. (One of my issues was that I needed make sure that I was actually ovulating and releasing eggs.) December was the first month that I took this. Holy mood swings! Still, if it could help me get pregnant, that was worth it!

That first month, we had a few other tests done, including blood tests, a sperm analysis (immediate and 24-hour), post-coital test (to see if my body allowed the sperm to live or if it were a “hostile environment”), an HSG x-ray to check if my tubes were clear, and ultrasounds throughout the process. This is when we were told that Clomid alone wouldn’t do any good and we needed to look to take other measures, most likely IVF with ICSI (intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection). We were heartbroken to hear this, but then we picked ourselves up and moved forward. While we were saving money to do IVF, we decided that we would try 3 months of IUI, take a month off, and then do IVF. We were hopeful that it could work. After all, it is said that the 3 months after the HSG x-ray, the woman is most fertile (the dye helps clean out the tubes).

One other thing that my doctor did to help was to put me on medicine for hypothyroidism. We didn’t find out until about a year later that I actually didn’t have hypothyroidism, but there was a new thought in the medical world that by manipulating the thyroid levels, it could improve fertility.

January: the first month of IUI. Clomid, watching with BBT and ovulation predictor kits, and IUI when I showed a positive test.

Then we waited 2 weeks. Then we took a test. Negative.

We picked ourselves up and tried again.

February: the second month of IUI. Clomid, watching with BBT and ovulation predictor kits, and IUI when I showed a positive test. We thought that we were probably about a day or two late, so we weren’t holding our breath.

2 week wait. Took a test. Negative.

March: the last month of IUI. We knew in our hearts that this month wouldn’t be successful either, so we were looking towards IVF in May. Our fertility doctor decided that he wanted to try a different course of medicines. My husband was taught how to give me injections of Follistem in my stomach. The doctor had me come in every morning for ultrasounds to check my follicles (numbers and sizes). We found that I had about 5 mature follicles, all racing to be The First to release the egg. Then, once I ovulated and we did IUI, I stared on estrogen patches and progesterone suppositories for two weeks. At the time of the IUI, we figured that I had released 2-3 eggs, which gave a much better chance at one of them becoming fertilized. The estrogen and progesterone was only done to help our chances of implantation.

Two weeks later, I woke up on the day that my prescriptions for the estrogen and progesterone supplements were up. I knew that I had to take a test to see if I was pregnant or call in to continue the prescriptions. I peed on a stick. I went to lay down again with the stick on the side table. I looked over once the time was up. Two lines. TWO LINES! I had never seen that before.

As soon as the office opened up, I called my doctor to tell them about the test. They ordered a blood test for us with a rush order for results. We raced over to the lab, then waited 2 hours, then got our answer. I was pregnant!!!! We got a congrats and then an appointment for 3 weeks afterwards for my first ultrasound.

I stopped taking my birth control pills in January 2012. We started officially trying in May 2012. I got my first positive in April 2013. Amazing.

Call for Stories: Tell Your Infertility Tale

Infertility Awareness Theme Week

Stories of infertility on How Do You Do It?We MoMs can get annoyed by the constancy of strangers asking whether our kids are “natural”, but the truth is that for many of us, infertility has been part of the journey.

April 20-26 is Infertility Awareness Week. We’re going to be doing another theme week, but with a twist. We’re inviting YOU, dear readers, to share your story with us if infertility has touched your life. Whether you now have 6 kids or are still fighting for your first, tell us how you feel or what happened. Educate and inform us. Tell us what thoughtless statement from a stranger brings that pain rushing back. Tell us how you supported a friend or family member during fertility challenges. Email us your post or request a guest publishing account at hdydiblog@gmail.com by midnight CST on April 19. (Details below.)

We know that infertility isn’t easy to talk about. We know there’s a lot of stigma around it. We know that you don’t want your children to find out the lengths you may have gone to have them from a stranger. If you wish us to publish your story anonymously, please just tell us that and we will honour your wishes.

To Submit a Story

Option 1: Email

To email us your story, please send the following to hdydiblog@gmail.com by midnight CST on April 19, 2014.

  • The content of your post. Your post can be prose (at least 100 words), poetry, a list… anything “bloggable” goes! We may elect to publish anything longer than 1000 words as a multi-part series. If the content has been previously published, we can republish it as long as you own the copyright.
  • Author name. How would you like to be listed? “Anonymous” is fine!
  • Whether we should associate your email address with the post. No one but HDYDI admins will be able to see it, but having an accurate email address will ensure that you receive any comments that other readers leave.
  • (Optional) A blog or website URL to link to.
  • (Optional) Social media profiles you’d like us to link to (Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, Facebook page, etc.).
  • (Optional) A short bio to append to the end of the post.
  • (Optional) Image files to associate with your post.
  • (Optional) Video files or links to associate with your post.

Option 2: In WordPress

Please send to following to hdydiblog@gmail.com to request a guest account.

  • The username you would like to use to log in. (Existing WordPress.com accounts will not work, since hdydi.com runs its own WordPress instance.)
  • How your name should appear on the post as author.
  • The email address to associate with the account.

We will get back to you with account details within 48 hours. Please submit your content for editorial review and scheduling by midnight CST on April 19, 2014.

Option 3: On Your Own Blog

Whether you have already published your story and would like to share it anew, or are writing about it on your blog for the first time, we will create a link up to run from April 20 to April 26 where you can add your link.

Please feel free to add our theme week badge to your post or sidebar:

Stories of infertility on How Do You Do It?

Please, take a moment to share what you wished you’d heard from someone else during your infertility journey.

Stepmonster – A Book Review

Stepmonster

Angela talked about one aspect of children and marriage in her post this morning. When you and your spouse have children together, it becomes far more challenging to balance your priorities and give your marriage the attention it needs. There’s another place where children and marriage intersect: step-parenting. When you fall in love with someone who is already a parent, or when you’re a parent who falls in love anew, the stepparent role is a difficult one to navigate.

About Stepmonster

Review of Stepmonster from a mom trying to help her kids with their father's remarriageWednesday Martin’s book Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do can help. As you can tell, this book is targeted at women. There’s a real reason for that. While being a stepfather is no walk in the park, stepmothers are burdened with impossible cultural expectations and tropes. Our children grow up thinking of Snow White’s as the archetype of a stepchild, the witch-queen as the model of a stepmother. That’s a hard narrative to overcome. The title of the book is a reference to this perception of stepmothers. When we hear “stepmonster” we often can’t help but envision a stepmonster.

Martin is herself the stepmother of two who has managed to make it work, although it hasn’t been easy. As she writes in the introduction to Stepmonster, “Step-hell was for stepmonsters, and I wasn’t going there. Until I was.” She talks about how integrating a stepmother and stepchildren is inherently disruptive. The husband/father will get caught in the middle, especially if the children had been accustomed to having his time and attention to themselves.

Martin points out that most research and writing on integrating existing children into a new marriage focuses on the children. The effort to make things work is expected to come from the stepmother. Little heed is paid to the stepmother’s needs and challenges. Any failure in a stepmother/stepchild relationship is blamed on the stepmother, although I think all of us know that our children are not always angels. A stepmother is not a mother. Yes, there are occasions in which a stepmother fills the role of adoptive mother, but these are rare compared to the stepmother who doesn’t quite have the right to discipline the children, the stepmother who is expected to love her stepkids as her own even though there’s no expectation that they should love her in the way their love their own mother.

Possibly my favourite passage from the book is this one. It captures so well the unrelenting complexity of divorce, children and remarriage.

Though well-intentioned, the increasingly widespread belief that remarriage with children should be child-centric and change-free as possible can lead to stress for everyone involved. It is easy to see how it might be stressful for the woman with stepchildren. But research also shows that high levels of closeness and involvement between exes are as confusing and counterproductive for children as are high levels of conflict. Children are likely to wonder, “If you like each other so much and get along so well, why did you get a divorce?” and feel profoundly perplexed about what exactly makes a good relationship.

Why I Read Stepmonster

I wasn’t the target audience of this book. It is intended for stepmothers and stepmothers-to-be. I picked it up, however, for insight into how I could ease my daughters’ relationship with their father’s new (and now ex-) wife.

My kids hadn’t really even begun processing the reality of my divorce when their father remarried. We divorced in June of 2012, he moved in with his new girlfriend in September, and they were married in February of 2013. I needed to make this okay for my kids. I had reached out to my ex’s then-girlfriend, mother to mother, she having two young daughters of her own. We needed to put all four children first in this messy family reorganization. She was wonderfully receptive, but I didn’t feel like I could talk to her about my kids’ treatment of her without disrespecting my ex’s boundaries. So, I did what I do, looked for blogs and books that would help me understand the other side of this story. Stepmonster was the answer.

What I Learned from Stepmonster

Stepmonster has a lot of lessons for the brand new stepmother or the woman considering getting serious with a partner who already has children. A stepmother is not the stepchild’s mother. It’s okay not to have the unconditional adoration of a mother. A stepchild is not a stepmother’s child. It’s okay for the child not to have the love and trust in his stepmother that he has in his mother. The father/husband has a role to play. It’s not fair or appropriate to expect stepmother and stepchild to figure out where the boundaries lie. A father/husband has an active responsibility in making things work, respecting his new wife’s need for respect and boundaries, understanding his child’s misgivings about this replacement of her mother.

What I took away from this book was the role I could play. Martin didn’t really spell it out, but reading between the lines, I could see that I needed to do everything in my power to avoid feeding the stepmonster image of stepmotherhood.

I talked to my ex’s girlfriend, letting her know that I recognized that she would be an important part of my children’s lives, asking how I could help. I thanked her for every gesture she made to bring my children within her family, and she made many. She even went toe-to-toe with my children’s father, insisting that they needed to feel like they always had a place in their home, even if they were there only rarely. She insisted that they be allowed to have toothbrushes at their apartment. She set up a second bunk bed in her daughters’ room with my daughters’ names on it. She took my daughters to visit her parents at Thanksgiving, and her mom treated them no differently from her own granddaughters.

I’m not a jealous type, so that came easily. I know that some mothers fear that a close bond between children and their stepmothers threatens the mother-child bond. I just don’t see it that way. My kids have plenty of love for both each other and me. Why couldn’t they love their stepmother too?

In part, I’d learned from my own experience as a stepchild. Well, I’ve never knowingly met my stepmother of 20ish years, so perhaps it’s overstating it to call myself a stepchild. But I do know that the bitterness and venom that my mother spewed about my father’s girlfriends and the woman he eventually married did nothing but make me resent my mother and perceive her as being petty and selfish. It certainly didn’t make me love or trust her more.

I promised myself that I would not allow myself to feed into what Martin calls the “typical stepmother conundrum”: “the husband’s ex who wants it both way, giving us responsibility but not granting authority.” It was easy to keep boundaries with my ex; I was accustomed to taking care of business without his help, since he’d been deployed overseas for half our marriage. I was always the one who fixed plumbing issues and sealed the countertops, so I didn’t look to him for that stuff, although there was one time while we were waiting out the 90 days for our divorce to be finalized that he helped me look for my keys. (The cat had decided that they were toys and shoved them under a stool.) Our boundaries weren’t without issue, however. Our elderly neighbours were irate on observing me packing up my house to move without my ex helping watch the kids or lift some of the heavier boxes. I didn’t know 80-year-old Hispanic women possessed the colourful language I heard on that subject!

When There’s Another Divorce

Martin cites the following statistics: the divorce rate for couples in which one partner comes in with a child or children is 65%. When both partners already have children, it’s a depressing 70%. Only 5% of survey respondents considered stepchildren to be an asset to their marriages.

Stepmonster gives some advice on beating those odds. Just as in our post Finding Time for Romance When You Have Kids this morning, she argues that the marriage has to come first. Time alone is essential. Convincing your partner of this isn’t easy, but it’s critical. Having a child together is a wonderful thing, but it won’t decrease tension at all. It will increase it. A stepchild might adore his half-sibling, but that doesn’t mean he won’t resent what that sibling represents.

Unfortunately for me and my daughters, there wasn’t much in Stepmonster to help guide me on how to handle Daddy’s second divorce in less than 2 years with my kids. When J expressed her disappointment at the loss of her stepmother and stepsisters, Daddy told her, “You just need to forget them.” I knew that wasn’t the answer. I didn’t need a book for that! I reached out to my ex’s new ex and asked her if she’d be willing to maintain casual contact between her daughters and mine. She agreed.

On the bright side, post-divorce isn’t nearly as much work as a good marriage!

Any stepmothers out there? Does this book sound like something you’d want to read?

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.