How Did You Know It Was Time To Stop?

I’ve been lucky to get over 500 personal emails from women who’ve visited this blog, women who’ve generously shared their stories and their hopes–and frequently their sadness–with me. Many have also asked me the same question: when did I know, or how did I decide, it was time to stop fertility treatments?

In my book, I wrote about how I dealt with this question. I also wrote about how it felt to mourn the child I believed I’d never meet, a strange mourning of missing what I never had, after spending almost everything I had inside me trying to achieve it. (If you’ve seen other posts on this blog, you’ll know that this was all before I became pregnant naturally at 45 and a half and delivered a healthy baby girl after I turned 46.)

For those of you struggling with this question now, I’m happy to offer here the part of the book where I write about all of this, in the hopes that, like so much of what’s already on this blog, it helps you feel less alone.

“For God’s sake, you’re not going to get pregnant, Tracy,” my mother—never one to mince words—tried to level with me a few months later over Skype. She worried we were wasting precious time. Toru and I had stopped the IVF treatments, but I insisted we still try every month with ultrasounds and hormone support from the clinic, plus new twice-a-day injections of a blood thinner for a “clotting disorder” the clinic had diagnosed, which they claimed could cause early-state miscarriage. My stomach bloomed with red and purple welts, but I was undeterred.

My eldest sister said she cried for me, she was so sad that I wouldn’t have a child with Toru, but she also couldn’t understand why we didn’t “just adopt.” “I mean,” she said, “If you’re still not willing to do egg donation.” Both she and my mother pointed out that with adoption too, we might need to hurry, since many agencies had age cutoffs.

****

“A therapist once told me,” one woman wrote on my Over-40 online TTC forum, “that if what I wanted most in the world was to be a mother, then I would be one; I would find a way, no matter what.” The writer found deep comfort in this truth, and when I read her post, I admired her, but I knew that wasn’t true for me.

What I wanted most in the world was to be with Toru, and then to have his biological child.

When Toru had told me years before that he wasn’t open to either egg donation or adoption, I felt an unexpected sense of relief. Since adoption in Japan is so rare, I wasn’t surprised by his stance. But as we’d begun the process of trying to have a baby years before, I’d realized that my growing longing to parent our biological child didn’t necessarily translate into a yearning to be a parent in general.

By now, the experience of going through years of treatments had confirmed another surprising truth to me: just because we think we are open to certain possibilities in the abstract—like adoption—we never know where our true limits lie until we are faced with actual, lasting choices. Rational or not, I felt safest in my gut with the idea of a baby who was half Toru. I believed it would be harder for me not to bond with, not to love a child whose every cell contained half of him. And if Toru and I couldn’t make a baby together, I’d still rather be together and childless than a mother apart from him.

In any case, with my forty-fifth birthday now looming just past summer, the whole issue would become obsolete soon. We’d agreed we’d stop all medical treatment when I passed that milestone. Most fertility studies don’t even consider women giving birth at forty-five or beyond, when the average chance of a someone having a baby with her own eggs drop below one percent. The most recent U.S. National Health Statistics report’s definition of a woman of child-bearing age: one between fifteen and forty-four. I’d entered the territory of a statistical non-entity.

****

A few months later, I lay curled in bed past midnight, sobs shaking through my body. Toru lay beside me, wiping strands of wet hair from my cheeks. “You know,” he said, his steady eyes locking into place my teary ones, “If we can have baby, that would be like miracle,” he said. “But it will still only be like dessert, because you will always be main course.”

I couldn’t believe we weren’t ever going to meet our baby. It seemed both so obvious and so inconceivable. Another paradox I felt deeply carved into my body but still couldn’t quite wrap my head around: how I could mourn something I’d never even had, how to grieve the loss of something that had never actually existed. The tension between my fear of parenthood and my longing to have Toru’s baby began to transmute now into a kind of weird emotional torsion, a swirl of missing and nothingness, numbness and nostalgia.

But as my birthday came and went, I reminded myself of my enduring good luck in other ways, and I knew it was crucial to remember such a fact. The previous January, Toru and I had celebrated our fifth year of marriage, and we’d laughed when we remembered my original “three-year nuptial plan,” long forgotten once I’d gotten over my initial nerves. The night of our anniversary, sitting at our favorite Italian wine bar, bubbles rising in clear flutes, we’d toasted each other, and then Toru had turned momentarily serious. “Thank you for marrying with me these five years,” he’d said, and once again I couldn’t believe my luck that somehow we had found each other across cultures, continents, and half the world’s wide curve. I’d already gotten my most important wish: to be a family, with Toru.

I thought back to him telling me we were “together in always.” I had no idea where I was in my life, how I would start rebuilding after fixing my existence on a dream that now seemed dead, how I would emerge from the limbo of the past four years. But I realized finally that those years wouldn’t be wasted—and I wouldn’t even choose to do them differently, now that I knew their outcome—because they would stay a testament of our love for our baby, even if we never got to meet that baby. It was a testament that felt precious to me, despite the failures that accompanied it. Really, there was no better place to be, I knew, despite the sadness in my chest, than together where we’d been, and now where I was still, with Toru in always.

Excerpted from the book The Good Shufu: Finding Love, Self, and Home on the Far Side of the World (Putnam, 2015), by Tracy Slater.

The fastest way to get in touch with Tracy is here.

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When parents are in the majority, kids in the minority

Grateful to the Wall Street Journal‘s Expat Blog for publishing this piece focusing on some of the issues I’m trying to work out about race, privilege, and identity as a white parent married to a native Japanese man and raising a mixed-race child in Japan.

From ‘Blind Spots’ and Other Problems in Globally Blended Families:

As a woman in a multicultural, multinational, and multiracial couple, I’ve sensed how some people assume I must be uniquely open to cultural differences, and thus uniquely equipped to raise a mixed child. But this assumption betrays a flawed logic. Globe-trotting parents in mixed marriages who grew up in the majority may be aware of racism and may even have faced it themselves, but most still lack a deeper understanding of racism during a child’s formative years.

Read more in the Wall Street Journal online.

The Unsung Benefits of Marrying a Man Who Isn’t Fluent in your Language

Fun at the Four Stories event at the Tokyo International Literary Festival 2016, where I answered questions about about multicultural, multilingual marriage; finding love in another world; and, of course, The Good Shufu!

Here, I’m sitting next to my Four Stories co-reader, Jake Adelstein, author of the knockout book Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan.

8 Months Old, Still #1 on Amazon Japan for Foreign Women’s Bios

Two fun pieces of Shufu news this week: As the book turns 8 months, I’m hugely grateful that it’s still making it to the very top of Amazon Japan’s list of women’s bios in foreign books. And I know it’s childish of me, but I have to admit to a little internal fist-bump with myself when I see it edging out Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, on this list at least.

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The second piece of news is that the lineup has been announced for the only English-only official event at the Tokyo International Literary Festival 2016, and I’m really excited to be reading alongside Jake Adelstein of Tokyo Vice fame, Roland Kelts, author of the much-known Japanamerica, and Marc Kaufman, also known as the smarty-pants, stellar short-story writer and assistant prof at Sophia University. Here’s the info on TILF’s Japanese site (http://tokyolitfest.com/program_detail.php?id=105), but, you know, it’s in Japanese…. So here’s the info in English on my author site too: http://www.tracyslater.com/events/

The Trailing Spouse’s Guide to Surviving Expat Re-entry

Fun having this piece on trailing spouses, accidental expats, and re-entry blues in the Wall Street Journal‘s Expat Blog today, co-authored with a new friend who is a military spouse based in Tokyo, the blogger Susan Dalzell. In it, we give a series of tips for surviving the dreaded “re-entry” phase back into your expat country after even a short trip home.

We start,

For those of us who are trailing spouses or “accidental expats”—drawn abroad not necessarily for our own careers or sense of wanderlust but for a partner’s job, family or nationality—global life presents unique challenges and sacrifices. Western culture in particular glamorizes expatriate existence, suggesting a life of global travel, international panache, and a social circle of like-minded explorers: a slightly more multicultural, perhaps sober, version of Hemingway and his brood.

Reality can hew a little rougher, though…

My favorite tip we include is this one, drawn in part from the struggles I explore and the lessons I learn in The Good Shufu:

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t always (or even ever) love your expat “home.” As a trailing spouse–especially if you’re married to someone from the country where you live–you may have asked yourself when you’re going to fall in love with your overseas home just as you once fell in love with the partner who brought you there. If you’ve recently been back to your native country, you may have heard friends and family comment on how exciting your expat life must be and how lucky you are to live abroad. But don’t let this guilt you into thinking you always–or frankly ever–have to love the land you’re in….As long as you’re fascinated by it, or even continually learning from it, you’ll have an expat life worth its weight in yen or euros or…

See our handful of other tips for surviving the re-entry blues in the full article at the Wall Street Journal online–and add some coping strategies of your own, if you have any new ones!

 

Wall Street Journal Profiles The Good Shufu

BN-LH212_japanb_G_20151116155444This weekend, one of the most thoughtful explorations  yet of The Good Shufu appeared in the Wall Street Journal’s Expat Blog by writer Debra Bruno. What I love most about Bruno’s interview is how it captured so many of the nuances and complications of both expat life and multicultural, multilingual love + marriage.

WSJ writes,

Author Tracy Slater, an American writer and academic who fell in love with a Japanese man, married him, and now lives with him and their daughter in Japan, describes her journey in a new book, “The Good Shufu: Finding Love, Life and Home on the Far Side of the World.” (Shufu means “housewife” in Japanese.)

The book is a warts-and-all account of how Ms. Slater, 48, who had barely traveled outside the U.S. when she first visited Japan to teach business English, fell in love with an Osaka salaryman, adjusted to a new culture, made the tough decision to give up her life in Boston, and spent years helping to care for an ailing father-in-law and trying to have a child in her 40s.

Ms. Slater chatted with WSJ Expat about the complications of being a western woman married to an Asian man, why she never really became fluent in Japanese, and how she struggled to keep her sense of self in Japan. An edited conversation follows.

See the full interview here. And thanks, WSJ!

Feel Like Im Having My 15 Seconds of Travel Cool

2015-08-10 13:18:53 +00001Meet my new BFF, Nat. As in Nat Geo. As in National Geographic Traveler, who in their August/September 2015 issue has chosen The Good Shufu for the Travel Inspiration: Great New Reads.

They write,

Thirty-six-year-old “confirmed Bostonian” Tracy Slater ventures to Japan to teach English and falls in love with a 31-year-old Osaka salaryman. She weds him, becomes an ambivalent shufu, or housewife, and concocts this moving cross-cultural memoir.

I have to admit, I’m feeling very worldly right now. At least for today…

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On Marriage, Multiculturalism, & Compartmentalization

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Here’s a short but lovely review of The Good Shufu on the wonderful blog A Life with Subtitles, about multilingual marriage.  Following the review is an interview wherein I admit, sure I compartmentalize in my marriage, but I think that’s love (or at least marriage), not multicultural love per-se:

Q: I loved the exploration of gender norms and how you experienced them given your academic background in women’s studies. This was a fascinating theme throughout the book. Could you give those who haven’t yet read it a sneak preview of the ways you’ve incorporated more traditional gender roles into your lifestyle and how that’s been for you? 

Tracy: As I alluded to before, this is another paradox I never expected and that some people find surprising (as even I still do sometimes when I stop to think about it!). But the fact that my life as a “shufu” or housewife, or at least my life doing housewifely things, takes place in Japan, in a world so different from my own native one, provides a kind of barrier from what might otherwise be threatening to me, because it feels so contained by geographical and cultural distances from my native “home.”

Especially with Toru’s father, cooking dinner and serving him tea and bowing to him and cleaning up afterwards, as I used to do at least 3 nights a week when he was still alive, all felt like a role I was playing out of respect for someone very dear to me, but someone who nevertheless came from a very different place than the one that “made” me. I even feel this sometimes still with Toru (minus the bowing, of course, which is definitely where I draw the line in a marriage!). It’s a kind of compartmentalization that perhaps some might question. But it works.

And I think all marriages, all close relationships really, work in part because of a certain level of compartmentalization. We all, to some extent, try to bring the most harmonious parts of ourselves into our relationships in different ways and figure out how to express the other parts elsewhere or in other contexts.

I don’t really think the compartmentalization is the problem; it’s when you’re not honest or open about it that I think it becomes problematic usually. But even if this isn’t the case, and it’s just me who has welcomed a certain level of compartmentalization into my own home and marriage, I’m ok with that. Because as I said, it works, and I’m grateful for that.

Would love to know your thoughts on this or any of the other topics in the full interview. Oh, and there’s a link for a free giveaway of the book at the end of the interview!

PS. The pic at top has no real relation to the interview, but what better illustration of compartmentalization than this?

B&N Officially Announces: Good Shufu is a Summer ’15 Discover Great New Writers Selection

Discover_Barnes_Noble_logo_050515So incredibly touched and honored by Barnes & Noble and their official announcement, through the publishing industry newsletter Shelf Awareness, of The Good Shufu as a Summer 2015 Discover Great New Writers Selection. They write,

The Good Shufu: Finding Love, Self, and Home on the Far Side of the World by Tracy Slater (Putnam, June 30). “Falling in love can be dizzying, dazzling, and disorienting all at once, but Tracy Slater took things one step farther when she fell in love with a Japanese businessman–whose English was on par with her Japanese–and upended her life as an academic in Boston to become a housewife in Osaka, Japan. Our readers are in love with this delightful, deft memoir about new beginnings and making one’s home.”

I’m also honored to share this distinction with the 11 other books and authors chosen, all listed here!