Fragile Dreams, My Stove Vent and Anticipation

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Dreams of our future home life became intertwined with our IVF expectations.  When I put my home remodel in the context of infertility I found some poignant parallels.

Family Dreams

So, the family dreams started eight and a half years when we bought our house. It was a modest-sized but quirky ranch with an unusually large amount of roof glass that flooded the dining and family room with natural light. This feature appealed to me. I lived 30+ years in Southeastern Michigan where the skies are often the color of wet cement. Accordingly, the generous light was a gift from the heavens.

The house, however, was confused. It didn’t know if it wanted to be 1968 California ranch with three tiny bedrooms, or a 1979 groovy pad with track lighting and a European kitchen that opened into a large solarium. The previous owner clearly had visions of a party house. The backyard held a 40-year-old pool with an ancient, wheezing gas heater. We rarely turned it on since it cost a fortune to take the chill out of the water. We pretended when getting in the pool. We told ourselves it was really a brisk fresh water lake. It brought to mind Torch Lake in northern Michigan. It will turn your lips blue in August.

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Great Schools, Large Kitchen

Among other reasons, we bought the house due to it’s location in one of the best school districts in the Bay area. We were in the midst of IVF with fragile dreams of turning one of the small bedrooms into a nursery. We dreamed of one day playing in the pool with our kid(s), and of having noisy coloring contests in the sun-splashed kitchen.

Those were the days when we didn’t spend a dime on the house. That’s because we put all of our money into doctor visits and treatments. Our house stayed confused with kitchen appliances that threatened regularly to die. We nursed our dishwasher along. We joked about putting our refrigerator into the Smithsonian. We watched as our stove top went from four to two functioning burners. One day our stove vent just stopped working. I think it went on strike in solidarity with my uterus.

When we looked into replacing the built-in stove, we learned it’s complicated architecture. It would require tearing up part of the kitchen. More than a year went by. Our white cabinets took on a yellowed look from the steam generated from one too many pots of boiling pasta.

Dreams Unrealized

Questions two years ago arose after we fully released the hold on our fragile dreams of conceiving. If we’re going to touch the kitchen and get new appliances and cabinets, why don’t we just re-do the kitchen entirely? Why not bring it into the 21st century? Meanwhile, the pool wasn’t getting much use but we were constantly refilling it at a time when California was in a semi-drought. If we filled it in we’d have room to expand the little bedroom we inhabited. We could put in a nice, roomy master suite.

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With attention to detail we mapped out a new house plan last spring and started work in late summer. It was disturbing and surreal to see the pool go away. It was a burial in every sense of the word. Each day a crew came and added and compacted more dirt. Watching the process I felt my stomach clench and tears burned in my eyes.

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There would be no swim diapers, no cannonballs from the diving board (now gone). No laughter coming from the backyard. I knew, intellectually, while the pool still existed we wouldn’t have any children to share it with, but seeing it go away before my very eyes brought the reality home in a visceral way. I’m glad it’s now gone entirely, buried along with my dreams.

We’re now two-thirds through the project and in a weird sort of way I feel pregnant with anticipation. The dry wall went in earlier this week and the rough plumbing is done. I can walk into the new rooms without any flooring and imagine myself with new dreams — no longer haunted by the old ones.

The due date is February 1 — just under two months to go…

 

20 Responses

  1. DD

    December 5, 2008 6:21 pm

    It just hurts my heart to see that picture of the pool be filled.

    I can only hope that when the landscaping/building is complete that something just as beautiful, though different, fills it and know that without that “hole” it would never have grown.

  2. Irish Girl

    December 5, 2008 7:25 pm

    Oh, how I understand the wet cement colored skies of which you speak … in fact, it’s a perfect description of today’s sky here in SE MI!

    The house sounds fabulous. Though it is turning out to be something completely different than what was once imagined, it will be wonderful to transform it into what works for your family of two. We’re doing a fair bit of updating around here as well and I am amazed how cleansing it is to rebuild our life and plan just for the two of us.

  3. Ellen K

    December 5, 2008 7:43 pm

    Home remodeling can be cathartic during IF resolution. In a way it feels so good to say “This is OUR house, this is what WE want,” but it hurts too, especially when the project is so linked to dreams of children.

  4. luna

    December 5, 2008 7:47 pm

    this is just a wonderful post. symbolic in several ways — no buns in the oven with your stove and uterus on strike, buried dreams…

    I love the anticipation of the new life at home and within. can’t wait to see the after pix of the kitchen and bedroom!

  5. Lori in Denver

    December 5, 2008 8:54 pm

    Whenever I come here, I know I’m going to laugh (“One day our stove vent just stopped working — I think it went on strike in solidarity with my uterus.”) and cry (“There would be no swim diapers, no cannonballs from the diving board now gone and no laughter coming from the backyard.”)

    The photo really tells a story.

  6. MLO

    December 5, 2008 10:07 pm

    This is beautifully written. Absolutely beautiful. It made me realize why I am having such a hard time going back to cleaning out my basement in anticipation of doing some work down there.

  7. Christina

    December 6, 2008 3:39 am

    It can be liberating to change/move home to reflect your changed life dreams.

    When we bought our condo in Westchester, it had a “child’s” room, replete with an animal light-switch left over from the previous owners, with 3 kids. Our baby never came. When we moved to Rhode Island, I picked a very small house — reasoning, it was just going to be the two of us. But after a few years, we realized we needed and deserved a bit of extra space, kid or no kid. Now we have a great master bedroom with walk-out deck, and a great guest room for our friends from the city to come and make this place their own.

    When I first moved here I thought it was a shame we had this beautiful country yard with no kids to play in it. But now I get to listen to my neighbors’ little ones — and that’s enough — and it’s also nice that I can have the freedom to do yoga in my yard, or read, or write on my computer, and not have to be preoccupied with the kids. It’s odd how we adjust. And then, I sometimes dream of an apartment in Paris …

  8. Jeanne

    December 6, 2008 3:47 am

    Pamela Jeanne,

    I know I haven’t commented here recently but I have subscribed to your blog for quite awhile now and I always enjoy your witty, touching way of wording things.

    I’m sorry that the dreams you had when you bought your house haven’t worked out the way you had planned but I’m happy for you that you are working on a project that sounds like it will give you some comfort… not to mention a kitchen with a stove that has more than 2 functioning burners. 🙂

    This particular post just grabbed me. I can only imagine the sight of that pool being filled in must have been very hard after the plans you had had for it.

    It sounds like you’re excited about that roomy master suite. I know from the experience of building a house (as in literally building it with our own hands) that construction can be a challenging process but I wish you the best of luck making that February 1st due date so you can enjoy it ASAP!

    It’s really exciting once you reach that last couple of months before finishing the work on a house.

    Have fun with that new kitchen too! 🙂

    Jeanne

  9. Me

    December 6, 2008 3:53 am

    I’m sure it must have taken a lot of intestinal fortitude to finally fill that sucker in…

    That said, I’m so freaking excited for you about the remodel. You’ve EARNED this PJ!!!

  10. Cynthia

    December 6, 2008 1:47 pm

    It’s amazing how home renovations & infertility really are so closely paralleled! I think the two are intertwined, really. My husband and I bought a 75 year-old craftsman style house 3 years ago. We have been working on it in spurts ever since. Anytime we have made a small improvement, we have felt guilty that we didn’t apply that money/effort towards treatment. But, anytime we applied that money to treatment and came home hopeless from another negative result (3 BFN IUI’s w/meds), we said that it makes no difference either way. I think at least with a home renovation we are making some kind of progress with our life and not sitting stagnant in the swamp water of infertility. And when you mentioned that you have anticipation now with some projects that are about to be completed, I can totally relate to that. It’s like once a room is completed, you have something you can touch and that is tangible, and that you jumped through hoops to make it a reality. Just like infertility. I actually washed dishes in my bathtub for a year and a half before we got our kitchen completed. :-0 Boy, I was ecstatic for a kitchen sink and plumbing!

    Anyways, I just wanted to drop by and tell you that I completely see what you’re saying.

  11. Wishing4One

    December 6, 2008 4:09 pm

    Pamela, this was such a beautiful post. The comparison you make to remodeling and infertility, I would have never made it. But that’s why you are an author and I’m not right? ;^)

    Anyway sounds lovely and I am so looking forward to seeing the photos when complete!

  12. April

    December 6, 2008 5:05 pm

    🙁 goodbye pool, but hello kitchen and master suite!

    as I look outside at our SE MI perpetually grey skies, I long for skylights and the bay area. 🙂

  13. Deathstar

    December 7, 2008 9:50 pm

    It’s pretty tough to let go of the things that represented so many hopes. But as we let go, it leaves room to bring in other things that have the potential to give us a measure of peace.

  14. Zee

    December 8, 2008 1:17 am

    PJ, This made me cry. But then again, since I´m intensely hormonal at the moment (AF has, of course, arrived right on schedule, proving once again that I am NOT going to be an Urban Legend this month) that’s not surprising. I hate the fact that we have to work so hard to live with this. It’s just as hard to let go of the lingering trappings of the dream as it is to let go of the dream itself.

  15. Donna

    December 8, 2008 1:25 am

    I can really relate to this post, when we bought this house the small bedroom upstairs next to the master suite was going to be the perfect nursery. Now it is a beautiful dressing room that I am proud of and can spend time in without my heart hurting. Most of the time. Filling in the pool was symbolic and I hope, cathartic.

  16. Cindy

    December 8, 2008 3:36 pm

    I can totally relate to this. For years, my home office was yellow with a beautiful woodland mural painted on the wall. It had been the nursery for the family that we bought the home from and as soon as we were expecting it would become our nursery and the office would be moved to the basement.

    Last year, we painted over the mural and changed the wall color to a lovely taupe. It was sad to paint over that mural that was supposed to amuse our baby. But the office feels so much better now that it doesn’t constantly remind me of what shall never be.

  17. stepping up

    December 10, 2008 1:19 am

    This entry moved me to tears also.
    I find it amazing how the littlest reminder can bring so many tears. My trigger is the hall light switch. The one I was going to use when the baby began crying at night. I rarely use it now, but every time I reach for it, it never ceases to mock me.

    I can’t be happier for you and your renovation. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. (And don’t forget to talk about your new arrival EVERY CHANCE YOU GET!!!!) Have pictures everywhere you go… ha

  18. Ms Heathen

    December 10, 2008 1:40 pm

    What a beautiful and moving post, PJ.

    It must have been very difficult for you to watch while the pool was filled in. But at the same time, I take a great deal of inspiration from the fact that something new seems to be emerging from what was previously an empty space.

    I wish you all the best of luck with the building work, and will look forward to seeing some photos of the finished rooms in due course.

  19. loribeth

    December 10, 2008 3:45 pm

    I would have cried to see that pool filled in too. We have a big backyard. Perfect for a swingset, sandbox, and yes, a pool. And it’s rarely used.

    But I’m glad that — like the phoenix rising from the ashes of your first dream — you have a new dream to focus on! I can’t wait to see pictures of the results!

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