One generation to another – moving through, not around

One generation to another – moving through, not around

Posted on February 7 by Caroline Starr in Non-fiction, Recent Releases
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My grandmother told a lot of stories. In her 84 years, she’d experienced a lot, and felt a duty of sorts to impart her knowledge learned on anyone who would listen. Luckily, she was a very engaging storyteller, and had the sort of perspective that was always worth considering, even if you ultimately disagreed with it. It’s been 12 years since she passed away after a long battle with cancer.

Last summer, when I was pregnant with my son, Gus, and while working on our manuscript for Through, Not Around, I took a job at Queen’s Park after ten years with the same organization. I desperately needed a change of position, and location – and pretty much everything.

Each morning, a little heavier than the day before, I trudged up the stairs at Bay Station, eventually moving from professional-looking flats to Birkenstocks to contain my ever-swelling feet. I’d stop at the Starbucks at Bay and Charles and order the largest iced coffee with milk and begin my trek down to Wellesley. Some days were unremarkable, but others presented a huge challenge in that walk, when it was particularly hot, or I was a little more swollen, or hadn’t slept well the night before.

On a hard day I’d think not about my granny, but about her mother; a woman named Elsie Rich, who had lived a couple of blocks west of my walk, in a house that still stands, and now houses U of Toronto students. According to my grandmother, she was one of the first women in Toronto to drive, and go out of the house heavily pregnant (with my granny and her twin brother). They were born when she was in her 40s, long after her first son (who was later killed in World War Two; a pilot on a Lancaster Bomber).

I’d imagine her, also pregnant in the summer (my granny was born in October, just like Gus), walking on Bay Street (which was probably unpaved without a single highrise back then). She would have been almost 10 years my senior. I’d wonder how long it had taken her to conceive the twins, near the end of her childbearing years, in a time when it would have been expected that she’d have more than a single son.

There is no official record of her infertility (or perhaps my great-grandfather’s). I have made assumptions, based on my grandmother’s stories, and the facts I do have – her age, the age gap between children, and the increased fertility women can experience before menopause, which can result in multiples. I wonder what she might have tried to do to get pregnant, and if she’d fallen into the same self-doubting traps women who have a hard time conceiving do today. I’d wonder if she’d blamed herself, or if it had created rifts in her marriage.

I’ve thought about her throughout my infertility journey, many times, and found comfort in the facts that I do have. After the birth of her twins, Elsie Rich would go on to survive the Great Depression, climb the Rockies in a dress, outlive her husband, and have five grandchildren, my mother among them.

She went through, not around. And on the other side of infertility, lived a both remarkable and ordinary life.

With the birth of my second son, my family is complete. With that decision, I’m closing a hard chapter in my life that has been plagued with heartache, uncertainty, and loss. Among those pages though, I’ve also welcomed two sons, both of whom have my granny’s blue eyes, complete with her unmistakable twinkle.

I’m looking forward to what’s next for me, too.

Caroline Starr

Posted by Dundurn Guest on March 27, 2018
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Caroline Starr

Caroline Starr is a writer, editor, and community advocate. After being diagnosed at twenty-one with PCOS and later suffering a miscarriage, Caroline became committed to building community surrounding infertility and miscarriage and openly discussing their impact on families. She lives with her husband and sons in Toronto.