Wednesday, May 22, 2013


I have a feeling this is going to be a long and rambling and somewhat confusing post. I apologize for that, but honestly, if you've been reading this long, you should expect this from me by now.

It's also more of an aside than a continuation of my story at this point, but hopefully my reasons for adding this in here will be clear by the end of the post (though I make no promises). A minor, possibly meaningless event in the last 24 hours, and a discovery that resulted from that, made me feel that this post was necessary.

The event was that, before I wrote yesterday's post, my mom and I went to a used book sale at the library and I bought 3 books in almost new condition for $2.50. Didn't seem that important at the time, and still might not be, but it will at least be relevant by the end of this post.

And yesterday's post was extremely hard for me to write, because it ended at the point where, when I was still living it, I started to give up. I was newly saddled with an incurable disease that was literally caused by my body attacking itself and causing chronic pain, and I was beginning to face the possibility that I would never even get the chance to even try to be a mother - the one thing that I wanted more than anything else out of life. Something that, without which, I didn't really see the point of another 30 or 40 years of life, even without chronic illness.

To be honest, I still kind of struggle to see the point of my life without children. (And I want it very clear here that I am only talking about my life specifically. I am not judging anyone who chooses not to have children or finds meaning in their own lives another way.) I know that I have more to offer the world than my possible childbearing and parenting potential, and I have other ambitions that I will get around to talking about later. I also do still find joy in other aspects of my life. But if I'm being totally honest, the thought of essentially devoting the rest of my life to my career (even if it is a helping profession) and coming home at the end of every day to an empty house just seems . . . well, empty.

But anyway, around that time, in March of 2012, I was starting to think that a terminal diagnosis would have been, in a way, kinder. A few months would have seemed like a gift compared to what at the time seemed to me to be a life sentence of physical and emotional pain. I remember thinking at the time, if I'm in this much pain at 33, how bad will it be at 73?

But I would also be lying if I said that I had given up hope completely.

I don't always necessarily think this is a good thing. It seems to me that there is some truth in the Nietzsche quote, "Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torments of man."

But still, even though it is sometimes to my detriment, I can't seem to give up hope entirely.

Yesterday, I wrote about no longer believing in God. That wasn't really much of a stretch for me, to lose that faith. I have always had my doubts, and even as a Catholic school kid I never really had any use for organized religion. And working in social services had only challenged my beliefs further. One of my absolute worst cases was a sexual abuse case that had landed on 16 or 17 other desks before mine over the course of about ten years. The children had been removed from the home as toddlers only to be returned to their abusers within a few months. By the time I got the case, they were teenagers who had endured years of physical and sexual abuse. They were also, understandably, wary about telling anyone about it. How many adults - social workers, teachers, counselors - before me had failed to act to protect them? I consider it one of my greatest career achievements that they were removed from that home permanently under my watch, and one of the perpetrators is now serving a 45-year prison sentence thanks, in part, to my investigation. However, it is an extremely bittersweet victory, because it does not undo the years that those children suffered. And I can't help but ask, what kind of loving god would allow that to happen? God, at least in his Judeo-Christian incarnation, did not really seem worth believing in to me.

(By the way, stories like that one are the reason that I have to suppress the urge to punch anyone who says that infertility is God's way of telling people that they're not meant to have children. If that's the case, God has an awfully strange set of criteria for parenting fitness.)

Anyway, even though my faith in God was always on shaky ground, I couldn't quite shake the belief that there was some sort of balancing force - fate, synchronicity, something along those lines - or the belief that things have a way of working out the way they're supposed to in the end, even if it doesn't seem that way when you're in the middle of it all. "Everything happens for a reason" is a mantra that my grandfather always repeated to me during tough times, and I always, mostly, believed it.

But even that belief was challenged at that time in my life more than it had ever been. What possible reason could there be to have a dream I'd already given up on dangled in front of me, only to be snatched away again almost immediately, leaving me face down in the dirt? I could almost hear the universe tauntingly singing, "Nanananana, you can't reach it!"

Still, like I said, I couldn't quite stop believing it entirely. And like I said yesterday, I'm willing to consider the possibility that maybe there was a reason for things to happen the way they did. Maybe the reason that I had symptoms that prompted me to go back to my reproductive endocrinologist back in 2011, and the reason that he got me started on the baby plan, was because I was on the wrong track with the foster-to-adopt plan. And maybe the reason that the baby plan was derailed so quickly was that there is actually a person I'm supposed to be with and have children with someday. Maybe.

Although, if that's the case, it also seems to me that, I don't know, meeting that person would have been just as effective in getting the point across as an autoimmune disease and two break-ins and everything else that has happened since then.

I'm also still afraid to have hope. I have a tendency to look for meaning and reasons and signs (as do, I think, most people), and I've found meaning enough times that I think there's something to it, even though I'm well aware of what any expert on operant conditioning would have to say about that. But I've also come up empty enough times to have a fear of getting burned again.

Still, the idea that there is some kind of meaning to all of this, that it will all make sense someday is a comforting thought. I found another Nietzsche quote today when I was double checking to make sure I had the one above right, that said, "What really raises one’s indignation against suffering is not suffering intrinsically, but the senselessness of suffering." If there is no meaning to the suffering, why bother getting out of bed in the morning at all?

So, I'm choosing to be cautiously hopeful. I can't make myself give up hope entirely, and even if I could, I wouldn't really want to live out the rest of my life that way. I'll leave myself open to the possibility that there's a reason.

Another thing that I have believed, over the years, is that there is something to paranormal phenomena. Sometimes. Now, don't get me wrong, I think most of the stuff you hear about is bullshit, but I think Christopher Moore may have been onto something when he wrote that "Science you don't know just looks like magic." So while I think Ghost Hunters is a crock, I still think there are ghosts out there - after all, we are all channels for electrical energy, and who's to say that a conscious energy doesn't go on exisitng once our bodies are gone? And Sylvia Browne is a con artist, but I do think there are actual psychics - I've even met one.

And I think we all probably have a little bit of that potential, even if it's mostly subconscious. For example, that sexual abuse case that I talked about before? I had the case for two years before either of the kids started talking about what was going on, but I knew from my very first home visit with that family that something foul was happening in that home. There wasn't any logical reason for it at the time, because in those first few months that I worked the case they behaved like any other client family that I didn't have this response to, but every cell in my body recoiled from those parents in disgust from the very beginning. I can't explain it rationally, because there is no rational explanation. It was intuition. A gut feeling. Instinct. Call it what you will, but it wasn't the first time my gut feeling was right, and it was far from the last time.

I've also had psychic dreams before. It's only happened a couple times, and I didn't realize it until way later, and the only indication at the time was that the dreams were especially vivid and memorable and took a while to recover from when I woke up. That said, I have a lot of vivid dreams, so it's not much to go on in differentiating the ordinary ones from the possibly precognitive ones.

However, last winter I had a dream that I think may have been a vision of what's still ahead for me.

Of course, it's also entirely possible that it was just a wish-fulfillment dream, and that's something I have to keep telling myself to protect myself from how much it would hurt if it never happens.

Still, it met all the criteria. Extremely vivid. So much so that I could still tell you every detail of the dream, right down to tactile sensations. Extremely difficult to wake up from. Extremely intense to process afterwards.

And it came at a time when I was trying to convince myself that it was worth it to keep fighting, even if I never got the outcome that I wanted.

So I had to wonder, and I still do, if the dream was telling me to hold on, because this was still out there for me.

In the dream, I was dropping my children off at daycare. Two of them. A boy of about two, and an infant girl. And they had names.

Remember when I said I named that possible daughter that I started to imagine my future with? Her name was Lucy. It still will be, if she ever comes to be.

And it was the name of the baby girl in the dream.

Which I suppose is not really so surprising, given how much energy I had put into trying to wish her into existence for so many months. Or, at least, it wouldn't have been, if she had been the featured character in the dream. But in that moment, she wasn't. She actually wasn't even really present in the part of the dream that I can remember, except in the background. I'd already dropped her off to her caregivers. She was safe and loved and happy and cared for, and I was thrilled to have her, but she wasn't my focus at the time. She wasn't the one I was interacting with.

The boy was.

I have also had a boy name in mind for some time, and that was the part of my dream that was really surprising, because the boy's name in my dream was not the name I had in mind. It wasn't a name that I disliked, and it's a name that I would consider using. It just wouldn't have necessarily been the first name that I would come up with.

His name was Andrew. Or, as I thought of him both in the dream and afterwards, Drew.

And when I woke up in the morning, what lingered the most for me was how much I wanted to know him, and the thought that maybe, just maybe, the universe was telling me that he and his baby sister are still out there for me when I come out the other side of this journey I'm on.

I still think Drew and Lucy has a nice ring to it.

It's a long shot, I know. But I still hope. I can't help it.

And the reason that I felt it necessary to post this today is that, this morning, after I had dredged up all those unpleasant memories and feelings yesterday, and they started to weigh on me again a little bit, I picked up one of those used books I bought and started reading it. Within the first few pages, the main character introduced her two children, a boy and his younger sister, to the grandmother they'd never met before.

The children were named Andrew and Lucy.

It was so startling that I actually had to put the book down. The dream came back to me like a sensory assault, albeit a pleasant one.

Maybe it's meaningless. A random coincidence. Maybe the only meaning is that I am so desperate for a sign that things are going to work out for me that I will assign meaning to anything.

Or maybe, just maybe, it was a message from the universe, telling me not to let myself get sucked back into the abyss that I started looking back into yesterday. Because maybe Drew and Lucy, those sweet dream babies, really are in my future, if I can find my way to them.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

You know those "this is what happens when you get caught driving without insurance" commercials? Welcome to my life.

On the off chance that anyone is still interested in reading this, I apologize for my delay in posting. I would love to give a really good excuse, but I don't have one. The freedom of having three weeks between my spring and summer classes kind of went to my head for the first full week, and I didn't do a damn thing. (Well, except take up painting, which I discovered I really enjoy. And it's also a relatively expensive hobby. I may need to start putting ads on here. For which I also apologize in advance.)

It's also possible that I was putting off this part, because I'm reaching the point where everything fell apart for me to the degree that I kind of stopped believing that my future held anything good. And I've had to claw my way back from that, and I'm still not all the way back out of it, so looking back into that abyss is not exactly something I'm looking forward to.

I have, however, reached the point where I'm wiling to consider the possibility that there was a reason for everything to happen the way it did.

But if that's the case, there had damn well better be some fantastic things in store for my future. Like a Powerball win. Or marriage to Johnny Depp. Or both.


Shortly after the second break-in, I finished weaning myself off the prednisone - with a couple weeks' worth left over, even - and everything seemed to be stable. No return of the rash, no pain, and I could walk without difficulty. (The side effects of the steroids, however, took some time to wear off.) Finally, I thought, I could get things back on track. I would get caught up at work, I would be able to start saving money back up again, and within a year, I would be able to go for my first (and hopefully only) IUI cycle. Nothing was going to deter me from the baby plan.

In fact, back in October at a flea market held by the Catholic school where my best friend taught, I had found a Jenny Lind changing table in good condition for ten dollars. (Those typically retail for over a hundred dollars.) I went back and forth about whether to buy it, because it seemed a little premature (and I could only imagine my family's reaction to the purchase), but it was a fantastic price. When my friend told her teaching assistant, a sweet old nun, that I was planning to try to get pregnant after I got some health issues resolved, the nun told me, "Well, maybe if you buy the changing table today, that's how you can let God know that you're ready."

It seemed like a nice thought at the time.

Within a few months, though, I would no longer believe in God.

The ten dollar changing table is now sitting in my spare bedroom, gathering dust.

I got through December with no return of the pain or rash, and mistakenly assumed that I was in the clear.

I celebrated that New Year's Eve with reckless abandon. I was so ready to close the door on 2011. 2012 was going to be my year. The year when I made my dreams come true. Nothing could stop me.

Or so I thought.

My celebration lasted exactly four days.

On January 4th, the joints in my right hand became stiff and painful and swollen.

Within a week, the pain had started spreading to multiple joints. Once again, I would go to bed with no idea of which joints would be okay in the morning and which ones would make me gasp in pain when I tried to button a shirt or walk up a flight of stairs. Also, the rash on my face had returned - most noticeably around my eyes, a condition that I referred to at the time as smallpox of the eyelids. Within a few weeks, the plantar fasciitis symptoms also returned, and I was walking like an 80-year-old again, as well as struggling to stand up from a sitting position.

Still, I clung with desperate tenacity to the reactive arthritis diagnosis. This was just the last gasps. I resisted going back to the doctor, hoping that if I ignored the pain, it would go away. When the pain was really bad, I would pop one of the leftover 5 mg. prednisone pills, which I knew was probably not my best idea ever, but at the time I thought it beat the alternative, which was admitting that the initial diagnosis might have been wrong.

On Valentine's Day (a day that I have always hated, but now have an extra reason to abhor), as I worked on typing up reports at work, my right wrist began to hurt terribly - but only when I moved it or touched it. The fact that it didn't hurt otherwise actually made the pain worse, because I would forget and turn my wrist as I reached for something, or would accidentally bump my hand against something, and the pain would literally knock the breath out of me.

When I got home that night, my dog, clearly meaning to be affectionate, licked my hand, and it hurt so horribly that I screamed in pain. Not one of those gaspy shrieks. A real, honest-to-god scream. My neighbors probably heard it. I felt terrible for the poor dog, who had meant no harm, but the scream was out before I could stop it.

And then it took me nearly an hour to get ready for bed. Not only was I trying to wash my face and brush my teeth and change into my pajamas one-handed (with my non-dominant hand), I was trying to do it without letting anything touch my right hand. And once I was in my pajamas, I sat on the edge of my bed and just cried for a while. I knew, by that point, that I was going to have to go back to the doctor. I even admitted to myself that I probably had something worse than reactive arthritis. Something chronic, most likely.

And I have to admit that part of the reason for my tears that night came from thinking, "I don't want to put up with this for the rest of my life. How could I ask anyone else to put up with it? I'm going to end up spending the rest of my life alone, because no one will want to be a part of this, and I can't say I would blame them for that."

I must have still been in a little bit of denial, because I still didn't go back to the doctor until a sore throat gave me a reason to make an appointment with my regular doctor. I brought up the return of the joint pain in that appointment.

I also admitted to my inappropriate use of prednisone to try to make the pain go away, prefacing my admission by saying, "You're probably going to yell at me for this."

The doctor chuckled. "I'm not going to yell at you," he reassured me. But when I told him how I'd been taking the steroids here and there 'as needed,' he got really quiet and serious. After a moment, he said, "Okay, I might yell at you." He proceeded to lecture me (kindly) about the risks of using prednisone that way.

And I took it, because I knew I deserved the lecture. Still, I tried to defend myself, explaining why I didn't want to go back to the rheumatologist. "If I go back now, she's going to put me on drugs to suppress my immune system. I work with toddlers. I'll be sick all the time."

And my doctor gently pointed out that prednisone suppresses the immune system, too.

Isn't it annoying when people dispute your argument with logic and facts?

In the end, he had the medical assistant schedule me for another appointment with the rheumatologist. The appointment was two days before my birthday.

By the time that appointment rolled around, the rash had started to get a little flaky, and when the doctor looked at it, she said, "You know, that looks a little like psoriasis." She found some more flaky patches behind my ears and on the back of my neck. She ordered more x-rays and blood work, but I ended up leaving that day with a tentative diagnosis of psoriatic arthritis, a new prescription for a relatively high dose of prednisone, and a follow-up appointment in a couple of weeks.

I wasn't entirely convinced of that diagnosis, until I did a little research. Remember how the podiatrist had refused to believe my claim that the plantar fasciitis pain was related to the joint pain?

From the Mayo Clinic page about psoriatic arthritis symptoms: "Foot pain. Psoriatic arthritis can also cause pain at the points where tendons and ligaments attach to your bones - especially at the back of your heel (Achilles tendinitis) or in the sole of your foot (plantar fasciitis)."

That cinched it for me.

Over the months that followed, I came to realize that I'd actually had psoriasis for a long time - just not anywhere really noticeable. I had wondered for years why dandruff shampoo never seemed to relieve the flaking and itching on my scalp - turns out that it wasn't dandruff at all. And I'd had issues with blockages in my ears and external ear infections periodically - even when I hadn't gone swimming - and I found out that it's actually possible to have psoriasis inside your ear canal, and the dead skin flaking off will cause blockage build-up and allow bacteria to grow.

The diagnosis explained a lot, really. Not that that made it any easier to swallow.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Two days after that appointment, I turned 33. Back on prednisone, reeling from the diagnosis a chronic autoimmune disease, and with two years left (according to my reproductive endocrinologist) before it would be too late to have a baby.

It wasn't one of my better birthdays.

Also? Life wasn't finished kicking me around yet. Believe it or not, the hits still kept on coming.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Infertility Awareness Day

I am excellent at procrastinating. Seriously, it's one of the best things I'm able to do. If one could make a living by procrastinating, I would be a billionaire by now.

And the reason that this is important for you to know is because, if I weren't so good at procrastinating, I would have bought a card for my mom for Mother's Day before May 11, and would have been able to share my discovery in time for anyone who is so inclined to act on it.

Because, you see, for many women, Mother's Day is one of the most painful holidays of the year. And I'm one of those women.

I'm in a somewhat better place this year than I was last year, when everything was still incredibly raw for me, and I had recently started to accept that even trying to get pregnant might be something I would never get the chance to do. I spent the entire brunch with my family unable to eat because I was so busy trying (and failing) to choke back tears. In fact, I spent most of the morning in a back room at my grandma's house, unable to stop crying long enough to even talk to anyone.

I will be eternally grateful for the text I got that morning from a friend who was right there with me, emotionally speaking, that said, simply, "Happy Infertility Awareness Day."

Because that captured exactly what that day felt like for me.

It was nice to know someone understood.

And I don't think this Mother's Day will be as bad for me as last year, but I still have already gotten a little choked up a few times just thinking about getting through the day.

On the bright side, there will be mimosas at brunch in the morning.

But when I was looking for a Mother's Day card for my mom, I found something in the Walgreen's greeting card section that I wasn't expecting.

The cynical side of me thinks that Hallmark just realized that they had a whole untapped market for Mother's Day, but still, it did me good to know that these cards exist.

Because, you see, I have actually spent a pretty good chunk of my life taking care of other people's children in various capacities. And I have loved each and every one of those children. My last two years of high school and all through college, I worked in daycare centers. I also worked as a nanny. I also taught preschool for a year. I have probably single-handedly toilet trained upwards of twenty kids. I worked in a residential facility for three years and essentially filled the "mom" role for those kids - I cooked for them, got them to school on time, made sure they used shampoo when they took a shower, did their laundry, disciplined them, and gave them hugs and told them what great kids they were. And for the three years that I worked for child protective services, I would estimate that at one time or another I probably had legal custody of about 20 or 30 kids total. Granted, it was custody as an employee of the state, but still, I was legally responsible for ensuring they were getting proper care. I have changed diapers and made bottles and spooned baby food for dozens of children who called someone else "mommy."

Not only that, but for most of my niece's life, I think it would be fair to say that I have been more involved in her care than the average aunt.

In sharing all of this, I am not trying to make anyone feel guilty for enjoying Mother's Day. Every mom deserves to be celebrated.

But I would invite you to take the time to celebrate all the women who are mothers in their own way, even if they don't happen to carry the title officially.

The ones who desperately want to be mothers but for whatever reason, can't be.

The ones who have lost children.

The ones who have given of themselves repeatedly for other people's children.

The ones for whom Mother's Day is often a day of quiet suffering.

Even if it's just a simple acknowledgement of how much it might be costing these childless mothers to celebrate all the women who have the one thing they want more than anything else in the world.

You never know how much of a difference it might make in someone's day.


In pretty much any situation, I would advise everyone to avoid platitudes. They are not comforting, they are condescending and dismissive. One that I've heard on Mother's Day before is, "Well, you're a mother to your dog/cat/etc."

I recognize that people who say something like this mean well, and there are some women who may consider their pets to be their furry children, but you want to be really careful about saying something like this. I know the person who said it to me last year had the best of intentions, but hearing it cut me like a knife. I love my pets, but they are not the same as children. I would not let my child sleep in a crate at night. I would not leave my child at home alone all day while I'm at work. I would not feed my child out of a bowl on the floor only twice a day. Saying, "you're a mother to your dog" can be extremely insulting to someone who desperately wants a baby, because having a dog or a cat or a canary is not even remotely the same as having a child. If you are talking to someone for whom Mother's Day is painful, please be sensitive to this. They don't need you to make it better, they just need to know that you care.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Exams are over, and I have 3 weeks of freedom before I start my summer classes. I'm hoping I can finish this up in that time frame. Because, believe it or not, even though I still have a ways to go in recounting this particular time in my life, just the small portion that I have already shared has given me a sense of relief. Already, I feel lighter.

Taking the past week off to focus on school has also given me a chance to consider how I want to proceed, because I will soon be arriving at a point in my story when it becomes inextricably tangled with another story that, for starters, is not entirely mine to tell. Additionally, it's a situation that is still unresolved and is acutely raw and painful for almost everyone involved, myself very much included. I have been debating on how much to share, because parts of it are completely relevant to the story I am telling, but would require a great deal of explanation to make sense, and again, those explanations involve others in ways that I don't think it would be fair to make public without their consent and/or side of the story.

On the other hand, this related story involves some of my own, shall we say, less than admirable attitudes and behavior at times, so leaving it out entirely feels a little bit like a cop-out.

Ultimately, I decided that I will include the bits and pieces that are most relevant to my experiences over the past couple of years, but without any major explanation or background. I will omit some parts entirely. So if at any point it seems like I am being deliberately vague or mysterious, it's because, well, I am, but I am doing it for good reason.

And as far as my own bad behavior, I'll just address that right here and now. I'm human. I screw up. I let what Anne Lamott refers to as "my tiny princess self" take over sometimes. I can be irrational and stubborn and vindictive. Sometimes even willfully so. In fact, even now the vindictive side of me really wants to tell this side story in a google-searchable public forum in its entirety to unleash some of my rage at the person responsible, because she wouldn't think twice about doing that to me. (And I know that for certain, because she did do it to me.) My decision not to do so is not so much motivated by any desire to be the bigger person as it is by my desire to protect the other people involved. But I digress. My point is, I'm not perfect, I behave badly at times, and I offer no excuses. However, I will say in my own defense that the past two years have beyond any question been the most painful time in my life, and soul-crushing despair combined with the previously mentioned long-term steroid treatment would probably not bring out the best in anyone. I take responsibility for my own bad choices, but I do think there were mitigating circumstances that should, in all fairness, be taken into consideration. And I'm going to leave it at that.


With prednisone, my symptoms cleared up almost completely. I still struggled at times with the plantar fasciitis pain, which was probably the worst symptom to have linger. When your feet hurt, your whole body suffers. However, in the podiatrist ended up giving me cortisone shots in my feet, and from that point forward, other than the prednisone side effects, I started feeling okay.

I want back to my reproductive endocrinologist in September. I told him about what had been going on with me medically, and he agreed that it would be best to put my baby plan on hold until I had a chance to recover and get more money saved up. He gave me a standing order for a test I would need completed to make sure my fallopian tubes were clear, and told me to schedule the test when I was ready. After all, I still had a little over two whole years left before my biological clock hit its use-by date.

That was, actually, the last appointment I have had with him to date.

Over the months that followed, I clung to the reactive arthritis diagnosis like a lifesaver. It would clear up, it would go away for good, and things would get back on track for me. When I first started trying to taper off the dose at the end of September and the rash came back around my eyes, I panicked a little, but I convinced myself that this was just a stubborn case of reactive arthritis. I spent more time on WebMD and read about cases where reactive arthritis took up to a year to completely resolve itself. Hopefully mine wouldn't last quite that long, but it wasn't unheard of that I was still having symptoms almost three months in. It would still clear up. I was not remotely willing to consider even the possibility that the diagnosis might be wrong. If it wasn't reactive arthritis, it was likely an incurable autoimmune disease that would require life-long immunosuppressant therapy. That was not a contingency I would entertain even for a second.

It's at this point in my story that, if I were reading these events in a book, or watching them in a movie, I would lose my ability to suspend disbelief. "Come on!" I would say. "They're just pushing it too far now. Nobody has it that bad." Logic dictates that there has to be a balance somewhere, right?

But when I say that this period in my life was relentlessly horrible, I am not even being remotely hyperbolic.

When my house was broken into that July, there had been a new tenant at the rental house next door for a couple of weeks. Many weeks later, I came to find out that the woman I saw in the house was not actually a paying tenant, but rather, she was a squatter. I couldn't really pin down her age, but she appeared to have a good 20 years on me at least. The first time I saw her, I smiled and said hello, and she glared at me hatefully without responding. Understandably, I think, I did not make any effort to talk to her after that. (One of my other neighbors told me later that this woman had said something about me being an adult protective services worker and she was sure I was reporting on her because she didn't have water or electricity. In fact, I'd had no idea that she didn't have water or electricity, and I've never worked for APS. However, I did work for child protective services several years previously, which was housed in the same office building, so it's entirely possible that she recognized me from having been in the office at some point. And this is only relevant because I think it may have factored into why I became a target for her.) She was in the habit of sitting in front of the open door in a state of undress that was not appropriate for a woman her size, but I tried not to judge - it was a hot summer, and that house does not have air conditioning. After the break-in, though, suddenly the door was closed and there was no activity from that house for a couple weeks. That is, until one afternoon when I saw a girl of about twelve climb through a window in the house and open the door from the inside. A man and two younger women who were standing on the sidewalk outside the house proceeded to go inside and carry furniture out. I called the police at the time, but the people were gone by the time they arrived. However, it left little doubt in my mind about who was responsible for breaking into my house. It even made sense that a child would have been the one to climb through my bathroom window to unlock the door from the inside, because that window really would be a tight squeeze for an average-sized adult.

After the squatters were gone, actual paying tenants moved in. They really weren't much of an improvement. They were loud and obnoxious, frequently fighting in the street late at night. They had a steady stream of visitors who I strongly suspected were actually customers - I was certain that someone living in that house was a dealer. I called the police with noise complaints after midnight on numerous occasions, and was usually informed by the dispatcher that a unit was already en route because I wasn't the first caller. I did not trust these people at all, but there really was not much I could do but watch and report any suspicious activity.

Still, I felt relatively safe. Other than that one house (which I am still hoping will be condemned soon by the city as a slum), my street was mostly pretty safe. It is a very low- to middle-income working-class population, but besides the house next door and one across the street, all of my other neighbors own their homes and had lived there for several years before me, and until my house was broken into that July, I had lived there for two years without incident. And even with that break-in, I had to take some responsibility for not making sure the window was locked. Lesson learned. From that point forward, my house was sealed up like a fortress.

So I was completely stunned to arrive home from work one rainy Wednesday in November to discover that my front door, which I clearly remembered deadbolting, was not closed all the way. And I walked inside my house to find this:

All that was missing was my TV. The one that I had replaced after the first break-in. It was worth $300. But the cost of the property damage added up to about $1500.

It was enough to make me kind of wish that I had just left the door unlocked.

It was also when I started considering the possibility that flat-panel TVs are overrated and far too lightweight to be practical. I did not replace the second TV and instead did a web search to find a new converter box for the old behemoth analog TV that required two people to lift and that I had bought used from a friend who was moving a few years back for $75. I'm pretty sure that pawn shop owners would laugh in the face of anyone trying to pawn it. But it works, and it's pretty burglar-proof, and at this point, that's all that really matters to me. In fact, by now, there is really nothing in my house of great enough value that it would be worth stealing. I mean, I have fairly nice furniture and a digital piano, but I'm pretty sure that a piano or a dining room table would be a little too conspicuous to steal and difficult to sell to be worthwhile to the average drug-fix-seeking home invader.

I have absolutely no way to prove anything, but I am quite certain that the second break-in had something to do with the house next door as well. It may not have been anyone who actually lived there, but if a dealer was operating out of that house, it could very well have been one of their customers.

After the police left, my dad rigged up a way for me to lock the front door again. It isn't pretty, but it has served its function. And by a particularly cruel twist of fate, the second break-in happened right after the new policy term on my homeowner's insurance started, which meant that the deductible again applied to my second claim in less than five months. Because of that and my backlog of medical bills and other drains on my finances, I still haven't been able to afford to get the door frame and wall fixed properly, even with my insurance settlement.

Like I said. If this shit hadn't happened to me, I wouldn't have believed it could happen.

Also, aside from the cost of the property damage, this incident made me feel a bit less secure in my neighborhood.

I mean, it's one thing to have someone surreptitiously crawl through an open window in the back of your house where they couldn't be seen from the street.

Whoever was responsible for this, though, had the audacity to bash in my front door in broad (albeit overcast) daylight. That takes some balls. Or, perhaps, they were just that incredibly desperate for a fix.

Still, I reasoned, anybody who had observed my street for a week or two would know my car and could be reasonably certain when I wasn't home. I believed at the time, and still believe now, that in both cases, the people who violated my home were not motivated to perpetrate any kind of violence against me, and struck at times when they could be quite certain that I would not be home for a while, giving them enough time to get in and get out. They were looking for a quick buck, and that was all.

When my mom suggested that I consider getting a gun after the second break-in, I shot that idea down (no pun intended) almost immediately.

"But what if you had come home while they were still there and surprised them?" she asked.

"If I had a gun," I replied, "I would be one of those responsible gun owners who keeps the gun in a locked case in the closet and the ammunition stored and locked up separately, so it wouldn't do me any good if I walked in on burglars. Even if I got a concealed carry permit, I wouldn't carry a gun at work, because I work with babies. So the gun would still be locked up at home. There's no point."

I also had several friends suggest to me that I needed to move, but this was not a possibility for me, either. For starters, I was a social worker. Being able to buy a house on my income was a stretch for me, and I had used a first-time home buyer down payment assistance grant that I would have to pay back if I moved within 15 years. I would also have to pay back my first-time home buyer tax credit. I could afford to pay back neither, nor did I have the money to make a down payment on a new house.

On top of that, I felt like moving would be like admitting defeat. Unfortunate neighbors aside, I love my house. It has character. It has history. It probably has ghosts. Besides all that, there was no question in my mind that it was my house. I'd felt it the first time I set foot in my house - it was meant to be mine. I wasn't going to let a couple of assholes push me out of it. I would not let the terrorists win.

I'm happy to report that I am still living in my house, and, knock on wood, my street seems to have settled down some. (I'm pretty sure that my current next-door neighbors are cooking meth, but at least they're usually quiet.)

However, one implication of having two break-ins in such a short period of time is that, in the future, if I ever decide to go back to my foster-to-adopt plan, the safety of my house and my neighborhood might be a red flag concern. Not for me, mind you - I'm pretty confident that I would be able to keep a child safe in my house - but for the social worker who would evaluate my home environment. In any case, if I do go back to that plan, it won't be anytime soon, but it's still something that I'll have to consider.

I wasn't as concerned about my neighborhood with regards to the possibility of having a baby, though, because if I got pregnant, nobody would be coming into my home to judge me beforehand, and I was pretty sure that I could keep my child safe.

My dad, however, had other thoughts.

I want to say here that I get that he was coming from a place of love and concern, but that meant little to me at the time. And his delivery and timing in stating his concerns left something to be desired.

When he was at my after house rigging up my door frame the night of the second break-in, packing up his tools and getting ready to leave, I said something about taking the prenatal vitamins that my RE had prescribed with a bottle of beer. I thought that I deserved an adult beverage after the events of the day, and after all, I was taking the prenatal vitamins to help prepare my body for several months down the road. I wasn't pregnant yet.

He stopped in what he was doing and looked at me. "Are you sure it's a good idea for you to have a baby?" he asked.

Up until that moment, I had actually been coping pretty well with the events of the day. I was working hard to maintain perspective - at least I hadn't been hurt, my pets were okay, they hadn't broken in while I was home, etc. - and for the most part, I was managing to stay pretty positive. However, this was my breaking point. At that point in time, I was down from 15 mg of prednisone a day to 5 mg, but that was still enough to keep the mood swings going strong. I felt my anger starting to rise. "What?" I responded flatly.

"Well, with everything that's been going on, and your neighborhood just doesn't seem like the safest place. Do you really think it would be responsible to bring a baby into this?"

The anger boiled over. "You and Mom lived in a fucking trailer when I was born, and you were both ten years younger than I am now," I exploded. "Was it responsible for you to bring a baby into that?" I brought up the name of someone we both knew who was, at the time, pregnant with her second child - a person who was, at the best of times, short-tempered and socially inappropriate and who I wouldn't trust to take care of my dog for a couple hours. "It's okay for her to have babies - plural - but because I've faced some difficulties in the last few months, you would judge me for wanting to have a baby?" I went on that way for a while, bringing up clients from my time in child protective services, making the point that I would be a better parent on my own than all of them with their best qualities combined - and I still don't think I was entirely wrong.

My dad tried to reason with me, but I was done. "Just leave," I told him. I was in tears by that point. And the tears continued for the whole next day.

And, off and on, for months after that.