How to Tell Your Infertile Friend That You’re Pregnant

I don’t know if there will ever be a day where a pregnancy announcement isn’t like sucker punch right in the gut. I’m not sure when the time will come that I don’t cry big, fat, snotty and unattractive tears in response to someone else’s joy. At the end of the day, there is no good way for someone who is infertile to hear the news that you are procreating. But there are a bunch of things that you can do to ensure you make it the best experience it can be, to let your friend know that you’ve considered her pain and to make her feel loved and supported as your life moves on in a way that hers cannot. So here are my top tips for announcing your pregnancy news to your infertile friends.

1. Just do it. If you’re reading this, you obviously know it’s a delicate issue and it’s human nature to shy away from difficult things. But remember that it will be much harder for them that for you. You will have a short period of awkwardness or guilt to contend with. But you have your pregnancy to focus on. Your friend will continue to be reminded forever of the joy that she cannot share in. It won’t get easier for either of you if you put it off, so just do it.

2. Consider telling early. By which I mean before you tell the rest of the world, and maybe even before the first scan if you’re intending to wait that long to make a general announcement. This gives them space to get their head around the issue sooner and means they may be ready to share in genuine joy once the wider announcement is out. Being one of the first to know is a small thing, but also may mean a lot to your friend and make them feel valued and considered. And if the worst should happen in your pregnancy, you may well also find your infertile friend is an excellent source of support. Infertile people are experts in the heartache associated with trying to create new life and can be counted upon not to say “Oh well. it wasn’t meant to be” or “You can just try again.”

I would especially urge you to consider telling early if your friend is going through or about to start an assisted reproduction cycle (IUI/IVF/ICSI etc). They will likely find it much easier to cope if they find out whilst they still have their own hope that the cycle is going to be a success for them than if you show them a scan picture just a few weeks after the failure of treatment. Trust me, I’ve been in that exact position, and I really wish I’d known before the negative result, rather than a couple of weeks later.

3. How you tell will depend a bit on your friend. Personally I think a phone call is the best. It’s more personal and caring than a text or email (which suggests you are hiding from something you find hard). But a phone call is easier for your friend to end than a meeting in person should they wish to cry, shout, scream or react in any other way. We don’t really want to cry in front of you, because we don’t want you to think we’re sad about your news. We’re just incredibly sad for ourselves. Understand too that we may not want you to be the one to comfort us.

Do remember that telling one half of a couple does not constitute telling the whole couple. It’s not the same as for your normally fertile friends, where it does not matter if one finds out on Facebook. If you tell one half of the couple – particularly if you tell the male half – be respectful enough to give them time to break it to the other half before putting on social media. I did not appreciate fining out about a close pregnancy via Facebook because Ian had had the news broken to him whilst we were both at work and, rightly, wanted to tell me when we were both home so he could give me a hug. Two hours was all that we needed.

4. Try to stick to facts. Be honest and hold off the platitudes. It’s fine to say “I appreciate that this might be difficult for you, but I really wanted you to know that I’m pregnant. Please take all the time you need to deal with my news.” Don’t tell us that you’re sorry. Of course you’re not – you wanted a baby. So do we. I’d be more upset if I thought you were sorry it had happened. Don’t say that you wish we could be pregnant too so that we could share it. We wish that with all of our hearts and don’t need a reminder that it isn’t happening. A text about something completely unrelated to babies a few days later could also be a good idea, to help your friend realise that you’re not going to go completely baby mad on her and help her find a way back in to her previous relationship with you.

5. Don’t, whatever you do, discuss the details of the conception. Don’t tell them how quickly it happened. Absolutely do not offer advice on how to conceive – infertiles are experts on the theory and will doubtless know much more than you can imagine. Do not tell them that you struggled if this really isn’t the case. For the record “struggling” would mean taking over a year, or needing some kind of medical intervention to get pregnant. Feeling as though “it will never happen” after three cycles is not struggling. If you were actively trying for less than a year, and didn’t have outside help, please just don’t talk about it.

Especially don’t tell us that it was an accident. Or that you’re not sure if you even want a child. Don’t make jokes about super-sperm, your husband only having to look at you to get you pregnant, or that you can be a surrogate/sperm donor once your pregnancy is completed. Those things are really not funny, nor helpful.

6. Understand that your friend is not angry at you. They are simply deeply, overwhelmingly sad for themselves. We do feel joy at other people’s pregnancies, but it takes time. Try to let your friend know that you understand and give them space or time. Allow them to raise the pregnancy as a topic of discussion, if they want to, rather than raising it yourself. You need to accept that they may not want to talk about it. I’m sure you have plenty of other friends to get excited with so it will not hurt you to focus on things which are not baby related with your infertile friend.

When the baby arrives, ask if they would like to come for cuddles (sometimes it’s what we thrive on) but don’t be offended of the answer is no. It’s not personal. Take our lead on how much we want to be involved. For some people it might mean the world to be allowed to change a nappy, but it might just be too hard for others. Automatically being pushed out because we’re infertile is just as bad as being expected to coo over every picture, however, and our reactions will be very individual, so please take our lead.

7. If you are more of an acquaintance through social media, then please don’t be offended if we don’t rush to join the congratulatory tweets and Facebook comments. I don’t tend to congratulate many (any) pregnancy announcements in these circumstances these days, because I simply find it too hard. Sorry, but again, it’s not personal. You don’t need one extra “Like” or comment to make your news any better than it already is, so please just enjoy it without worrying how many are also enjoying it wit you.

In regards to social media – and even in person announcements with groups of people you don’t know intimately, such as work colleagues – be aware that you don’t necessarily know who amongst your friends is struggling with fertility issues. Never comment on the fact that someone doesn’t seem happy about your pregnancy news, or didn’t bother to comment on it. Again, just bloody enjoy your fantastic good fortune. And be sensitive in what you say. Comments about your “struggle” to conceive – as above – could offend more people than you realise. Just think about whether it’s really necessary before you say it.

I’m not suggesting that you need to smother you joy, censor your happiness or make every picture private. I’m just suggesting that the expectation that everyone else will feel only joy for you is unrealistic. Friends will always feel joy for you, but it may be mixed up in a heap of other emotions you can only guess at.

And always remember that the tables could easily be turned. Just because you are pregnant now doesn’t me that you won’t – like us – experience secondary infertility in future. A little bit of compassion, sensitivity and understanding goes a long way. You’re having a baby. You are so, so blessed. That’s all that really matters.

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

“Just Relax”

Since we reached the definite end of our fertility journey, I’ve found myself opening up about it more. I don’t mean that I’m telling everyone I meet or walking around with a sign attached to my back, but I am talking more about it as and when the subject comes up. I’m talking about it because, in an odd way, it’s therapeutic for me to share, but also because infertility still remains such a taboo despite affecting so many people. If my tiny voice can make a tiny change in awareness, then that has to be a good thing.

There is one place that the subject comes up more than any other. You can’t get a group of mothers with similarly aged children together without certain topics arising. You know the ones – food choices, schools and… the subject of “more children”. Of course, my closest mum friends have known all along about our struggle to conceive another child. But there are plenty more mums that I class as “good acquaintances”. The ones that I see week in and week out at the same groups or activities, or at pre-school drop off and pick up time, but never outside of those arenas. They’re not friends, yet we know a fair amount about each others lives through our children. They’re exactly the people I’m opening up more to about our experience of secondary infertility.

And for the most part, the reception has been great. Warm and supportive. Others have confided their own, hitherto unknown, difficult journeys. People have told me how sorry they are with sincerity, and validated my desire to have another child when I’ve still been wondering myself whether all of this isn’t just selfish indulgence. Not everyone has known what to say, of course. Some people can’t help but offer practical solutions, or supposedly helpful anecdotes of their sister’s-best-friend’s-cousin’s miracle conception. Sometimes I’m in the mood to try some gentle attempts to alter perceptions. Sometimes I’ll patiently explain things like why the adoption road is fraught with difficulties for a couple in our circumstances and it isn’t necessarily the simple solution they present it as. More often I’ll just let it roll over. I’ve been doing this just long enough now to have become good at self preservation.

There is one thing, however, that people say that is guaranteed to generate entirely the opposite reaction to the one that they are promoting.

It’s that old chestnut “Just relax, and it’ll happen.”

Sometimes it’s dressed up in one of those miracle stories. You’ve all heard the one about the couple who “stopped trying” after countless years and many rounds of assisted reproductive techniques only to conceive a healthy baby the very next month, simply because they’d “relaxed” and “stopped trying”?

That’s the one that raises my blood pressure and pushes the anger buttons that lie right at the bottom of my heartache.

So let me tell you, right here, why this seemingly innocuous little statement is so offensive to people struggling with infertility of any sort.

For starters, it’s not even accurate. Even leaving aside the fact that relaxation is not going to magically alter the number and quality of my available eggs or Ian’s sperm, there is not a single well-designed scientific study that shows any positive correlation between relaxation and successful conception, whether naturally or by IVF or other techniques. Furthermore, there’s not really all that much anecdotal evidence either. The tales of long-lost family members, or distant friends, conceiving simply because they relaxed are far outweighed by the number of women who conceive in, for example, war zones. The women who conceive as a result of rape, under unimaginable stress. The huge number of babies conceived in deprivation to which our middle-class, developed-world problems not only pale in comparison, but simply cease to exist as problems in comparison. Life prevails. Women have proved this over and over again and conception can happen in the most horrific of circumstances. The vital ingredients are eggs and sperm, not a zen state of mind.

That aside, however, suggesting that relaxing is all we need to do in order to conceive is completely ignoring the fact that we did not wake up one morning, decide we wanted to have a child, and then have a complete meltdown at the stress of the situation. I can assure you, if I’ve ever seemed stressed about our infertility (clearly, I have) the stress is a product of the situation, not its cause. Hell, IVF is bloody stressful, especially when you are juggling a demanding professional career and a toddler to boot. But when we started trying to conceive a second child, it was fun. Imagine that! Sex at the start was not about timing. I wasn’t taking my temperature the moment I woke, examining my cervical mucus or peeing on sticks to confirm a hormone surge back then. We were just making love.

A whole lotta love.

Yeah, it was a lot of fun. Especially as we were coming to the end of our first year of parenthood when physical intimacy hadn’t been the highest thing on the agenda for months. It took a long while for the stress to set in, as it does for every other infertile couple that I’ve spoken to. If relaxation were the missing ingredient, we’d have  had a much better chance of hitting the jackpot right back at the start.

The biggest reason, though, that I cannot stand to hear the relax line is this: When you utter those words, it implies that you think this is our fault.

Think about it for a moment.

When you tell us to relax what you’re really saying is “If only you stopped worrying about it so much, you’d have your baby by now. This is all in your control if only you could manage your emotions.”

And you know, I’d give up work tomorrow if I thought it would help. I’d give up every possession we have to live on a remote island in the sun, to do nothing but sip cocktails, practice mediatation and have heavenly massages if that would give me what I long for.

I’d move heaven and earth to have another baby.

Trust me. Even if I relax to the point of melting away, neither heaven nor earth are for moving.

2014: A Year In Blog Posts

It’s that time of year already: The closing moments of twelve calendar months that make up the year and the time when we inevitably look back and reflect, before looking forward to the new year. I’m not naive enough to believe that the turn of the calendar page, the ticking over of the clock, really makes some monumental shift to our existence. Things won’t cease to feel the way they feel now at tomorrow’s midnight chime. But years are one of the many ways we mark time, and they do offer a theoretical blank slate and fresh start. It’s natural to segment our lives by these arbitrary date divisions.

One of the ways I’ve used to reflect upon 2014 is a look back through some of my blog archives. Flipping through post titles and opening paragraphs reminded me of a review meme I’ve taken part in before. And so, prompted by its appearance  yesterday on the same blog where I very first saw it – Six Until Me – I decided to repeat the exercise.

It would appear, from these opening lines of favourite and defining posts from each month of the year, that 2014 did indeed become “The year of IVF”. Or perhaps more fittingly “The year of infertility hell”. There has been much, much more to the year as well, but I’ll let this review stand not only because I’m proud of some of this writing, but because in years to come I know that it is exactly what I will remember this year for the most.

That, and the better aspects of the year deserve their own review!

January: If I’d ever imagined a caricature of conception, then the egg would have been cool and mysterious, aloof even.

February: I’m writing this with a photograph of you in my hand.

March: Wow, what a difference a week makes. And, because this one is also important to me: Wanting another child who is biologically mine – and my husband’s – does not make me a bad person, in exactly the same way that wanting a second child at all does not make me a bad person.

April: “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

May: At a quarter past six this morning, with pale sunlight working its way around the edges of the blinds and Thomas chattering happily to his trains in his room, my heart broke just a little bit more.

June: I’m struggling a bit with writing here at the moment.

July: If at first you don’t succeed… …should you try again?

August: This week has been a tough week on the infertility front.

September: This month marks two years of trying for our second child.

October: It’s odd how a make or break moment of my life has come down to a plastic stick and three minutes. 

November: I didn’t know how I’d got where I found myself.

December: A couple of weeks ago we returned to our fertility clinic for a “follow-up” appointment after our last failed cycle.

Who knows where 2015 will take us…

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In Black and White

A couple of weeks ago we returned to our fertility clinic for a “follow-up” appointment after our last failed cycle. It’s what’s affectionately known in the infertility community as a “WTF” appointment, as in “WTF went wrong?”

The thing is, we pretty much know what went wrong. I didn’t get pregnant (obviously). And I didn’t get pregnant because my eggs are crap and because we have virtually no sperm to work with. In short, the raw materials are rubbish, and that’s a huge problem before we even get to the complicated, roll-of-the-dice chance of whether an embryo implants and continues to divide and grow. There are all kinds of solutions, proven and otherwise, that can be thrown at things like implantation issues, but without the essential ingredients of the appropriate quality to make embryos in the first place we’re… well, we’re screwed. We don’t have any options.

I knew all that before we went. And I don’t think in my heart-of-hearts that I expected to be told anything else. We went because I needed some kind of closure. Some kind of point under which I could draw a line. I needed the last time that we walked out of that clinic, and the last time we saw staff there, not to have been a limbo moment. I didn’t feel finished somehow.

From that point of view, I suppose it helped a bit. It was the final chapter in a story which, if not exactly long, was certainly intense.

But in other ways it also left me feeling worse.

There were a lot of snotty tears. A lot of wishing for a magic solution, as if I really thought they’d have been withholding something miraculous that might work for us. I’d promised myself that I wouldn’t descend to that, and I knew I sounded ridiculous and looked an idiot. But I’m so not ready for it be over. And desperation is never a particularly rational (or attractive) emotion.

And then we got the letter summarising the appointment and it really hit home. The part which stated “further treatment is very unlikely to be successful for you and it is therefore my recommendation that you do not pursue further IVF and ICSI.”

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There was something about seeing that written in black and white that reached right in to the very deepest part of my heart where I’m suppressing all the feelings about our failure to conceive another child that I don’t yet feel able to fully confront. Seeing it written like that meant it was no longer a choice that we’d made to stop. We were being told that we had to stop. That this clinic won’t treat us any more and they advise that we don’t go elsewhere either. And if it’s not a choice, then it’s out of my hands and out of my control. Somehow that just makes it hurt all that much more.

I don’t do failure.

All my life I’ve worked incredibly hard to achieve everything that I’ve set my heart on. I don’t accept being told “no” very well. It’s like a red rag to a bull, and the higher the barriers people raise to stop me getting where I want to go, the higher I’ll climb, the harder I’ll try and the further I’ll go to get past them. I’m tenacious. And I always get there in the end.

This is different. No amount of hard work or effort will change the facts. I can’t make a baby simply by trying harder. We can’t do more. And I’m finding that so hard to accept.

This time last year I had so much hope that we could be “fixed”. I still have that lingering spark deep in my heart and I think I’ll feel it flare every month for ever more. But I do have to start coming to terms with the fact that this isn’t going to happen. We have absolutely no choices to make because our bodies have made them for us. There is nothing to do.

For the first time in my life, I’ve failed.

It’s there on that piece of paper.

There, in black and white.

I’m Sorry That You’ll Never Have a Sibling

Dear Thomas,

A year ago, just after your second birthday, I wrote you a letter, explaining just how much we wanted to give you a sibling for your birthday and how sorry I was that it hadn’t happened. I also promised to try the best we could to make it happen this year, for your third birthday.

Your third birthday has been and gone. You loved your new train set and your Buzz Lightyear.

But you still don’t have a sibling.

The sad truth is that you will never have a sibling.

When, a couple of weeks ago, you asked me where your baby sister was, my heart cracked in two. I couldn’t answer that question, not only because the hurt in my heart made it hard for me to speak without tears, but more simply because I don’t know the answer. I know that you believe that there is no question I can’t answer and that “Daddy is good at fixing things”. But I don’t know the answer to this, or why this has happened, and sadly, this is something that Daddy just can’t fix.

It’s not for lack of trying. The one thing I can promise you is that we didn’t give up easily. After I wrote that letter last year, everything went a bit crazy. Just a few short weeks later, we received the crushing news that medical science was our only chance to have another child. So that is what we’ve spent this year doing; Three rounds of IVF. We came close on the first try. So close that for a blissful but brief time I really believed it could happen. That baby would have been due the week before your birthday.

But it wasn’t meant to be.

It seems that another member of our family just isn’t meant to be.

I know that right now, at the age of three, you don’t really care about any of this. You only ask questions about a baby brother or sister because so many people in your world have new baby siblings. You don’t grasp at all what having a sibling really means or the finality of our inability to give you one. My greatest hope has been that the upheavals we, as your parents, have put ourselves through this year haven’t impacted on you negatively. Given what a happy kid you are, I’m pretty confident that reading these letters when you’re old enough may well be the first hint you’ll get of the turmoil we’ve been through.

I also know that there’s every chance that the “older you” will be wondering just what I’m making a fuss about. I know of plenty of people who’ve grown up happily without siblings and say they wouldn’t change it for the world – your own Grandpa included. After all, you cannot miss what you’ve never had.

But then, you don’t know what you’re missing either. And sometimes I just feel so sad that this is being thrust upon us and you, and that none of us have a choice. I can understand where people’s sympathy wanes when it comes your Dad and I. After all, we’ve already had the joy of parenthood once, and perhaps we don’t deserve any more. But you. You’ve done nothing to deserve to be denied the opportunity of a sibling relationship.

This is why secondary infertility really hurts. Of course there’s my own unsatisfied longing to become a mother all over again. But there is also my unsatisfied longing to see you as a sibling. It’s a double punch.

I don’t want you to think for even a moment, however, that my pain at not having another child can eclipse my joy at having you in my life. I hope that you’ll know that intrinsically as you grow up. I’d be lost without your cheeky smile, your infectious giggle and your quirky obsessions. If we can’t have two, thank goodness we have you.

I can’t really say much more that hasn’t already been said in last year’s letter. My feelings are largely the same. The main difference is that back then we had hope.

Now, we have none.

Or at least, no realistic hope.

I’m just grateful that this doesn’t hurt you yet. And if you should grow up to be unhappy about your “only” status, at least we have time until that happens. And I will cherish every moment of your childhood until then.

Just know, kiddo, that I love you endlessly.

That’s the most important thing of all.

Mummy xxx

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The Due Date That Wasn’t

The first week or so of November is always an odd time. For many years it only marked the anniversary of my run-in with meningitis, which rocked my life and set the course for aftershocks that would continue for years. But then came my pregnancy with Thomas, and a mid-November due date. By the first week of November 2011, I was more than 38 weeks pregnant, the size of a small house and with a waddle to rival a duck. I was attending the hospital on a daily basis for monitoring, and was admitted on November the 6th to start the long induction road that eventually led to the c-section birth of our precious son.

Now – each year since – I can’t help but remember exactly what I was doing on each of those days that led up to his birthday. And I can’t imagine a time in my life where I won’t think of it during these weeks as it was such a defining period in my life.

But this year those memories have been clouded with thoughts of a different due date. A different pregnancy altogether, resulting from the IVF cycle that almost worked, at the start of this year. The cycle that bought me a short period of pure, intense joy, only for it to be cruelly snatched away.

I’m not really one to dwell too much on the dates of pregnancies that haven’t been successful. It doesn’t change things and isn’t really helpful in terms of going on with my life. But this date seems different. It’s harder. How can I not remember it when it falls so close to my only child’s birth date? I recall laughing when I realised how near the dates would be, and what a surprising present that would be for Thomas. And it’s doubly difficult now, knowing that the pain of this passed date won’t ever be eased by a different due date, and a successful outcome.

The date is a reminder of how close we came, though it wasn’t meant to be.

I’m not really sure what the point of this post is, other than to mark this feeling of sadness for myself. I wasn’t intending to write about it at all. But then I mentioned the date to a friend without giving real conscious thought, and I realised how much it has been playing on my mind, despite my efforts to suppress it.

Life now could be very different. As the cold closes in, I should be snuggling up with my newborn. Thomas should be learning about what it means to be a big brother, whilst we rediscover all the joys, and difficulties, of a tiny baby and adjust to being parents to two. I know that in the next few weeks I’ll reflect on this time three years ago, and wonder just how similar, or different, it might have been this time around.

I’ll never know, of course.

My heart is full of my son, so excited about his upcoming birthday and telling anyone who will listen that “I’m going to be three.” His enthusiasm and zest for life is infectious, and happily rubbing off on me.

But there’s always a but. Suffused with love as I am for my son, there is still a dark corner of my heart that echoes with emptiness. When he goes to bed, my arms feel doubly empty, with no baby to hold and soothe. I’ll miss this baby that never was for always. The empty space at the dinner table. The empty seat in the back of the car. The empty bedroom in our house. The space in my head and heart and arms.

It’s the loss of a dream. And in the week that it could have become a reality, I feel it where it hurts.

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Letting Go of Hope

The last week-and-a-bit, since finding out that I’m not pregnant, has been tough.

In many ways, life simply goes on. I’m still a parent, and my son is still needs to have me fully present in that role. Whatever I’m feeling, it’s not fair to let it affect him any more than I can help. He knows I’m sad, but I need to make sure that he sees he is not the cause of that. I spend my days proving that to him, no matter how hard I may be finding it.

But when the day is done, and he’s safely snuggled in his bed, the thoughts and feelings that I spend all day avoiding come bubbling back to the surface.

There have been more than a few tears. Hysterical sobs, if I’m honest. The “denial” part of this process has been strongly in evidence as I’ve found myself desperately searching for alternative options – researching overseas clinics and actually contemplating what it would mean to seek further treatment abroad. Looking at different treatment regimens that could work and the cheapest options within reach of home.

The first morning that I dropped Thomas at nursery after the negative test, I was confronted with a group of other parents dropping off their (same age as Thomas) children and every single one was either heavily pregnant or cradling a younger child. And my reaction was to text Ian immediately and tell him we had to try again because I couldn’t cope with the idea of never having another child.

But deep down, I know that we can’t pursue this.

It simply isn’t going to work.

Or at least, it’s so unlikely that I can’t justify the financial and emotional cost to all of us.

It’s not as simple as saying I’m “giving up”. People seem to think of the idea of “not giving up” as somehow strong. But I’m not weak. In fact, i’ve oft been told that tenacity should be my middle name. But sometimes, it’s a more courageous to stop trying. To face up to the reality of the situation rather than keep flogging a dead horse. And I know it’s fairer to us all to accept what we’ve been blessed with and to try to move on. No matter how much we’ve tried to avoid it, there has been a certain degree of putting life on hold in the last two years, and I recognise it needs to stop.

It turns out, though, that I may not be completely giving up after all. Because it turns out that the one thing I just can’t let go of is hope. So even though there will be no more treatment cycles – no more drugs or scans or the very best that scientific technology can offer – I still have a lingering dream, and a tiny spark of hope somewhere deep inside that says “this could still happen”.

While “giving up” on the actual process is relatively straightforward, it turns out that turning off a dream is almost impossible. Even when all logic points to that dream being virtually unattainable, and there being almost nothing you can do to make it happen, it appears in can be difficult to quash that little spark inside saying “maybe, just maybe”.

I’m simply finding it impossible to believe that we won’t have the second child I’ve always pictured in our lives. I still believe it, against all the odds. I believe in it to the point that when I booked our follow up appointment at the fertility clinic and could only arrange it for just over a month away, I slipped in to a fantasy that I could be pregnant by then anyway.

I thought it, and felt it and fantasised about it for a full five minutes, despite being well aware that it’s nigh on impossible.

I don’t know if it’s a crazy form of self preservation, or if I’m just setting myself up for an even bigger fall down the line. I don’t know if I feel this way because I stillwant it to happen so, so much. I don’t know if I should be forcing myself to let go of these hopes and dreams.

More to the point, I don’t know if I can.