Because Keeping a Box of Sadness is Totally Normal

Yesterday at work, I was digging around in the Drawer of Random Crap when I uncovered my old 2006 calendar/organizer. Inside was these:


transfer instructions

The word that came to mind was “detritus.” The words mark the beginning of a turn, and as insignificant as the scribbles are, the lines and swirls represent a snapshot of a something far bigger than the squares in which they are written. The memories represented here are important, but this scrap of paper and 7-year-old calendar? Well, it’s just junk. The memories would still be there and would be no less important, even without the tangible proof to hold.

So why the heck do I continue to hang on to this stuff?

I pondered that question for a moment, and then my mind turned to The Box. In a few previous posts, I’ve drawn the analogy of packing up difficult times into a figurative box and putting it up on a mental shelf out of the way. In effort either to move on and not linger on things that are beyond change or to provide respite from trying to process emotions that you’re just not yet ready to deal with, you put the box out of your direct line of sight and let it rest somewhere in the periphery. It’s there, but not there. Either way, that box is yours, and even while you ignore it and forget it for a while, there’s always the subliminal tap that reminds you that you’ll have to deal with it eventually.

Up on a shelf in my closet–the literal one–I have a box. I see but not see it every day, hiding right there under the stack of concert merch t-shirts circa 1991 and the ill-fitting shorts that will look better -25 pounds but right now make me look like a chocolate Oompa Loompa.

“I’ll get around to dealing with that later,” I think to myself. It’s been four years, and I’m still waiting on “later” to get here. I see it everyday, but I don’t think about it for more than the second it takes my brain to register that the sucker is still sitting there. I manage to forget about it until some random overturned scrap of semi-related detritus stops me in my tracks and makes me mentally unpack it. I’m in my classroom rummaging around in my desk drawer trying to find the extra bottle of Wite-Out and find the calendar that I used to keep track of my one successful surrogacy transfer instead. Or Kaelyn asks if she can have an old purse that she found in the garage, and when I double-check to make sure I haven’t mistakenly left some long-forgotten item of importance in there, I find a crumpled lab slip. Why did you ever keep this? Throw it away, then go home and get rid of everything else, including that box.

Then I promptly forget about it until something else triggers my memory.

Tonight on Facebook, someone posted a picture of her positive pregnancy test and said, “WE HAVE A BABY!” And I’m like, “Umm, no. What you have is a positive test. I have a whole stupid box full of those.” I didn’t say that, of course, but in my mind, I gave her a little puppy dog pat on the head and hoped that her top-speed run of excitement wasn’t on a short chain that would yank her off her feet and onto her ass if things didn’t work out the way they were supposed to. Crash and burn. Been there, done that.

A few times.

And each one of those times are packaged into little plastic baggies of The Sads, all of which are stuffed into that damned box.

ivf needles pregnancy tests

positive pregnancy tests ivf

ivf positive pregnancy tests chemical

I have a shit ton more needles, and somewhere in the garage, I’m pretty sure there’s another small box of stuff that’s equally depressing.

I have “happy” detritus, too: the “wedding band” hair tie that I wrapped around Frank’s ring finger when I was 15 (I told him I was staking my claim, and he wore it regularly until we were actually married three years later), half of an eraser that my 4th-grade best friend gave me, a folder of high school band music, an empty, flattened box of Nerds candy…little things that are worthless to anyone else but mean the world to me. Keepsakes and souvenirs and mementos of good times are “normal;” we pick up these random items and turn them over in our hands, as if by rubbing over them we might open our eyes and see that we’re really back in that moment.

I don’t need a box of bad memories to remember that those times were bad. The images burned in my mind are just as acute as looking at the real thing. If even thinking about the box makes my stomach lurch, it would seem like I would have dumped it long ago. Yet, as soon as I snapped these pictures, I packed the bitch up and shoved it back under my Oompa Loompa shorts. Maybe it’s because connected to those bad results is the lingering memory of the hope that came before it. Who the hell knows?

Infertility-related or otherwise, do you have a collection of items of no significant importance–things that you probably should throw away but don’t–that remind you of difficult times? What are they? Why do you keep them? If you had things like this and you finally threw them away, what finally pushed you to be able to do it? Do you ever regret not keeping it?


27 thoughts on “Because Keeping a Box of Sadness is Totally Normal”

  1. I tend to keep all kinds of stuff too. Periodically, I’ll get bitten by the bug, decide I can’t stand it anymore, and will clean house. Honestly, I’ve. Never regretted getting rid of any of it.


  2. Ironically I never kept anything IF related. No positive pee sticks, not even the lovely pictures of my insides they printed for me.
    I have a handful of really bad journals that I kept while new to college in a new city by myself. I was ‘finding myself’ (blech!) and came to the painful decision that I couldn’t do that and maintain my 4 year relationship.
    I think I keep them because had anything gone any differently we wouldn’t have gotten back together and had our munchkins. I am actually thinking it may be time to ditch them since I don’t want the hub to find them and in 2 months we are getting packed up to move…
    And that confused girl isn’t me anymore. She was shy and insecure and unaware of all she was and could be. I think I can let the shudder I feel when I see that little stack under my yoga pants go!

    1. So interesting, Jenn. I wish that I had kept journals when I was in high school and college. I internalized all of my writing and never actually put pen to paper to get them down. It wasn’t until the advent of blogging that I ever did any “journaling.”

  3. The ONE thing I have is a journal that has ONE sentence in it. It starts out by saying, “Never forget this day, the day your mother said, “____________________”. I left it blank here. What she said was so devastating to me I never saw her as the same person again. There were other things that happened in the years to come; but that one statement remains etched in my journal like the primitive drawings in the El Castillo cave in Cantabria, Spain.

    I don’t know why I keep it and to be honest; I don’t know why I never wrote anything else in it. I forgot all about it until I made my move from GA to FL. I found it among my other journals.

    For the longest time I had the fear I would one day be like her and I made the girls promise me if I ever “turned” they would stay away from me and for the love of the Higher Powers, keep the grands away from me because loving someone doesn’t mean you have to subject others to their hatefulness, especially innocent children that should have a forever ally in a grandmother. I also made a promise to myself that I would NEVER become the woman she did once my sibs and I became adults.

    Once I was blessed enough to get several years past the age I saw my mother begin to change, I breathed a deep sigh of relief.

    Here I am, 57, with three, very grown up daughters and five grands we lovingly call El Cinco. I am STILL the same protective, kick ass mother I was decades ago and more importantly… I am the forever ally for El Cinco.

  4. Only recently did I finally give the heave-ho to my box of “medical madness”. It contained expired meds, syringes, dried up packets of alcohol swabs.

    The only thing I kept from my failed journey is a small shoebox. Each time I had a d&e the hospital would send me a crocheted heart with a message of condolence on a pretty little card. I have four of them, all different, from my six miscarriages. I think about the anonymous women who took the time to knit them. I hope that they know I have kept each one.

  5. I have one of those boxes and it contains a bunch of crap including instruction sheets and my last filled sharps box which I never got rid of because… I don’t know why I never dumped it. Because I thought dumping it before we held the twins was hubris and I certainly wasn’t going to go back to the clinic after the twins were here just to dump it. And then there were a shit ton of other excuses why I haven’t dumped it. And now the whole mess is hidden in a closet.

    1. I shit you not — in the garage, there is a ginormous sharps container filled to the top with syringes/needles from the start of Frank’s MS treatment almost 12 years ago. That same container has all of the needles from my first surrogacy transfer back in 2004. At first, Frank and I wanted to see how long it would take us to fill it to the top (well beyond the DON’T FILL PAST HERE line). Between his MS and my IVFs (the needles from Baby M’s cycles are in there, too), it took 6 years. Now, we can’t get rid of the thing. It’s almost like “you had to be there” joke type of testament to all that we’ve been through.

  6. I’m sorry, but I would never keep anything I peed on! Ick. 😉

    I have a file of medical records. I don’t know why I keep them – I don’t need them. But I tend to keep paperwork anyway, so it’s not an unusual thing for me. I didn’t actually keep anything from our unsuccessful round of IVF, I don’t think. Just the miscarriage and subsequent testing records. I do still have some needles and stuff in the closet, but you never know when you’re going to need that stuff. Currently, I’m using a syringe to refill the ink cartridges for my fountain pen, because I have lots of ink and I don’t see the point in buying new cartridges.

    1. I can’t get rid of the syringes either. I’m convinced that one day they’ll serve a useful purpose that has nothing to do with administering meds — like maybe zombie combat weaponry. 😉

  7. Can we start an infertility detritus bingo card? I have old calendars, pee sticks from both kids, EOB sheets from my insurance company, and dr office receipts all squirreled away in little hiding holes throughout the house. Do I need them for anything? No. But I haven’t processed my experience to the point where I feel like I can let all that stuff go yet.

  8. Very coincidental… Just this past weekend I went through our closet and dressers, doing my annual purge, and I came across my stash of positive hpts. I remember finding them a few years ago, when I was pregnant with Ginny, and bursting into tears because I just couldn’t bring myself to throw them away. They were the only proof of my lost ones, and I still didn’t trust that all was going to be ok with Ginny. This year, coming across them brought some sadness, but at the same time, a bit of peace. I managed to gather them up and threw them away… buried them in the kitchen garbage and then immediately told my Beloved to take it out. I just didn’t trust myself to not wake up in the dark watches of the night and try to dig them out.

    Letting go is hard. Moving forward is a day by day (sometimes hour by hour, minute by minute) process.

    1. I think I might have to do that, too. Oddly, I don’t have any of the positive tests from when I found out I was pregnant with Baby M. I do, however, have pregnancy tests from each and every chemical that followed him. 🙁

      Kudos to you for having the courage to throw it all out…and KEEP it out. xoxo

  9. I have both, like you. A nice box with cards, champagne corks from our engagement, plane tickets, etc. Then I have a box full of pregnancy tests, needles, old drugs, instructions, and other ridiculous things. I don’t see myself getting rid of them, expect maybe if I get pregnant and we move – then I can see myself wanting to leave our IF lfe at our old house. I hope that is the case! I love when people use their blog for honest things liek thispost – so thanks!

  10. Your post is timely. I just chucked two crinone gel package yesterday that were leftover from a failed 2010 IVF cycle. I saw them in the cabinet, where I see them every day but don’t really notice them, and for some reason, I noticed them. And for some reason I realized that I never wanted to see them again, and had no further use of them, and that they were expired. So I chucked them. And no, I don’t regret it at all. I’m pretty sure I won’t regret it later either.

    Since starting to try to conceive, I’ve had two trans-Pacific moves, and each time, most of the other sad detritis didn’t make the cut. I also didn’t keep pee-sticks, because EW! So, all that I have left of failed cycles now are a few receipts still mixed into the file marked “medical”.

    The other IF sadness I continue to carry around in my person. I’m hoping to throw that away someday also.

    1. “The other IF sadness I continue to carry around in my person. I’m hoping to throw that away someday also.”

      Me, too, Sara. xoxo

      I have boxes of unopened, expired vials of progesterone. Those, I can’t throw away for some reason. I had a half-empty vial that I used every few months to jumpstart a stubborn AF. It sat unused for about a year in my bathroom drawer before I finally threw it away.

  11. I struggled with infertility for years and years before finally giving up. I didn’t keep anything related to that time because I knew that seeing it would make me weep.

    I tend not to keep many things. We’ve done two international moves now and that kind of lends itself to getting rid of things.

    1. I had no idea, Lovelyn.

      I’m sort-of a pack rat by nature, but I’m also too lazy to pack up and transport excess junk. I’m fairly sure that if we had to pack up this house and move, that would be the push I needed to throw away all this stuff once and for all. xoxoxo

  12. Pingback: Infertility Junk Bingo

  13. I have tons of non-IF stuff, mostly good but some not good. In terms of IF stuff, I still have ALL of the paperwork (given that we got audited by the IRS, it’s good that I kept it) but when we moved cross-country just over a year ago, I got rid of everything else from all of the cycles: used and unused tests, leftover meds, needles, etc. I never POS for Burrito and Tamale’s cycle or I probably would have kept that one. Otherwise, paying to transport things like used syringes and pee sticks thousands of miles was just too pack-ratty.

    Now I am kicking myself because I actually need needles, alcohol swabs, and a sharps box for my new RA medication, and I am finding it annoying to have to pay for them when I recently threw out so many. Silly me, thinking that just because I was done with IF treatments I was done sticking needles into my stomach.

    A thought for you, Kym: I wonder if your box would be less painful if the successful cycle had occurred at the end rather than the beginning of your surrogacy journey. For me at least, finishing the process with a success rewrote history and made the sad stuff unsad.

  14. Was this supposed to be just for infertility stuff? Oops… if so I almost jacked the thread.

  15. I had things for a long time. I got rid of it when I moved, but it was hard. I only discarded it because I didn’t want the friends and family who helped me move to see it. (We kept our treatments a secret).

    My box of sad is a card I got after my third miscarriage, all the photos from my wedding (I’m now divorced), and that’s it. I couldn’t keep anything else, I just kept dwelling on it, turning it over in my mind, and thinking about what might have been.

  16. I wish I had a box. I wish I had some physical representation of everything we’ve experienced. The sharps were gone at the end of every cycle. We’ve no positive tests, no scan images, no insurance statements. Even the receipts from the clinic are basic handwritten receipts with no indication what they’re actually for.

    All I have in the whole world to show anyone we’ve ever even considered having children is the onesie I bought the month we started treatments. It was all my husband would let me buy, a tiny newborn Halloween onesie that hangs on my bedroom mirror. Now every time I look at it, all I can think about is how much hope we still had that day.

    I’d love to have an actual box of sad to bury away instead of carrying all this along with me.

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