Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Ingredients, Labels, and The Giver

Continuing on our fertility journey with donor eggs has been eye-opening. There are so many little pitfalls, so many things that you never thought you would need to consider or think about or wonder about how you'd explain things to your very young children when inevitably they ask you how they came into the world. One of these things is the question... what kind of mom am I?

In the world of third party reproduction and adoption, this can be a sticking point. Because, like it or not, some day a child (maybe yours, maybe not) or an unwitting adult will ask the question, "Who's the real mom?" This idea of a "real mom" is so bizarre to me. It's still all very fresh and raw, and so I may have gotten a little preachy in my Reading class when a student was explaining that his character in his book was adopted and that his "real parents" died in an influenza epidemic but his adoptive mom was a fancypants doctor. Was the adoptive mom a "fake mom," I asked? What do you mean by "real parents?" I may have said something along the lines of, "His adopted parents were 'real parents' -- parents are who love you, who raise you, not necessarily who made you. Some people just have a lot of parents, you know? Like some people have stepparents and birthparents and parent-parents and some people are raised by their grandparents, but it's all REAL family." The rambling made me realize that Lupron had entered the classroom and the discussion was veering off topic into dangerous waters that could end with tears, probably mine. But then, THEN, THE SAME DAY, I was discussing The Giver in English and we were talking about how families are made in that fictional world. Family units are carefully put together by the Chief Elders who review applications and make careful matches and each successful pairing receives one boy and one girl (not necessarily in that order) when they are considered Ones, in December, regardless of when they were born the previous year. The babies are Products that are "manufactured" in the Birthing Centers, by Birthmothers. My kids wanted to know about the Birthfathers, and I explained there weren't any, not in the traditional sense. (Of course I've read Son, the conclusion to The Giver quad, and this is from the perspective of a Birthmother in the Community, so now I know the ins and outs of the Insemination. Also, I am not crazy, these capital letters all come from the book.) And yes, I realize that these books are quite possibly the WORST things to read during my own highly technological Baby Making Process. So how to explain that through medical technology you can make a baby without any intimacy, and that's what they did in the book? (Actually just like that, with tremendous self-control not to add in any of the tidbits I kno from experience that are so not appropriate for 14 year olds, and without mentioning a Sperm Bank.) So now we have Birthmothers, and then the Family Units, and then one of my students said, "Now I know why families would be willing to report their children for Transgressions--they're all adopted so they don't love them as much." WHAT THE WHAT??? I was flabbergasted. I said, "actually, in our world [ideally of course] I think adopted children are MOST loved because they are chosen, they are waited for, they are especially wanted." Of course in The Giver, children are bestowed like items and everyone's hormones (except the Birthmothers' by necessity) are suppressed so that there is no love, no feeling, and everything is done to comply with the rules of the Community. So it's sort of true, the way the families are put together isn't conducive to love and loyalty, but the fact that this student had equated adoption with less love was troubling.

These themes are interesting to me, because they bring out in people their feelings on family building (mine included). I am not adopting, but I am also not using my genetic material. My embryos are created in a lab, but I never consider it "manufacturing" a baby and at no time is this impersonal. I am not adopting those eggs, as those eggs are a vital ingredient but they do nothing until they are mixed with Bryce's sperm and start dividing. And then they're not babylings until they actually implant. I love my embryos, but to me, they aren't babylings until they have attached to me and are starting to grow and establish themselves. There is a progression--eggs to embryos to embies (the "embryo babies" that are transferred but don't always make it, in my case rarely make it) to babylings to baby. I think to me when I can see something on an ultrasound, it's a baby and not a babyling any longer. It is concrete and not metaphysical, detectable by blood levels only.

Anyway, while these donated eggs are precious, they are an anonymous gift. I hate, hate, hate when the media decides to refer to donated eggs as "a commodity" and that "there is a market for eggs," something I heard from NPR no less when they were interviewing a woman who had frozen her eggs for future use as this is no longer experimental. My eggs are special; they are not a commodity. They are a gift. And even though my donor is compensated, it is for time lost from work and the hard work of stimming and producing a boatload more eggs than is natural (and I feel for her, really I do, because I was highly uncomfortable during stimming and will not miss it a whit). This compensation is not more or less due to her background/career/college degree/health profile, or the number of eggs she has retrieved. It is not a commodity, it is a compensated gift. And her role is super important as a gift giver.

But, she does not get labeled with anything "mom." I am the mom. I am the biological mom, because I grow that baby. That baby would be nothing without the nourishment of my blood and fine uterine home. That baby goes from a bundle of cells to something with eyes and fingers and toes inside me. I am not the genetic mom, at least not the one who provided the material, but I help provide the instructions. And I am definitely the birth mother. The only thing I can't provide is those eggs. I am so, so grateful to the angel out there who is providing that precious gift, and we wouldn't become parents without her, but I bristle a little at any labeling that includes the word "mother" in relation to her. Even though technically you could refer to her as the genetic mother, but I don't even like that because of all the changes that occur as a result of my influence. Just as an FYI, donors release any possible parental rights from the get-go. There isn't a Lifetime Movie in the making here where my donor comes to the door seeking her progeny. She won't know where my door is, and vice versa. And she agreed to this arrangement knowing that it all stops at the egg retrieval for her. She will be notified if we were successful, but at no time will our babies be considered hers. Could we go to the Lilac Festival some day and unwittingly pass her and could she see our babies and think that they could be hers genetically? Maybe, but highly unlikely.

Isn't all this sticky? I never, ever, ever in a million years imagined that I would be here, thinking about all of this. All the implications and what ifs and what happens if my child wants to know about his/her donor. I have a piece of paper with information, and not a lot of information at that. I can share what I have, and describe her as an amazing person who gave such an important gift. I worry that in the throes of teenage hotheadedness my child will scream at me, "You're not even my REAL mom!" How will that feel when the answer to that is complicated? I will have pictures of me pregnant, of the fetus in my belly, swimming in black and white static. I could (but won't) have graphic, gory pictures of the birth to prove that yes, I am your real mother (fruit of my loins but not my ovaries, I guess). But is that what makes a "real mother," the birthing? I don't think so. I know wonderful mothers who were never pregnant with their children, who are most definitely "real mothers." What about mothers via surrogate? In that case, the embryo is genetically both parents but the "grower" is the gestational carrier. If I am so adamant about my role as a carrier, the importance of that transfer and internal growth, how do people feel who have gone the way of your eggs but someone else's uterus? That's a different third-party relationship, because you are intimately involved from the outside in your baby's progress. But then is the carrier the birth mother then? Does the genetic mother role take precedence then? Does it matter?

I guess the real question is, why do we need to label all these things? There is just mother, and father (or mother and mother, father and father), and family units that are made from love and dedication and perseverance, whether the same people are providing genetics or carrying or providing a wonderful home once all that process has been completed somewhere else, maybe in an entirely different country. There is just family, however extended you decide it will be. Not to be cheesy, but I really do believe it's love that creates a family. There's no such thing as a "fake" mom or dad. So please quit using the phrase "real mom" or "real parents" when they're all real. It's up to each of us to very personally define what the roles are of all the people who come together to make these very special families possible,  understanding that without these third party people these beautiful babies wouldn't exist. We will be the parents because we will be raising our babies, giving them the love and security they need and teaching them all about how families are made with love. And a lot of different ingredients.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Little Lupine That Could

I love lupines. They are so beautiful, wild, and they remind me of Maine. In Maine they grow in scads by the roadsides like purple loosestrife and blue cornflowers do here in New York. They range from purple to pink in nature. You can buy them for the garden in all kinds of garish colors like bright red, yellow, and a bright blue with white tips, but I love the ones that look like they would grow in a meadow on the way to Bar Harbor. Especially since we are on year number two of not being able to go to the camp we enjoy visiting in the Bar Harbor area, where we experience the deepest relaxation I have ever enjoyed and get into some serious nature appreciation. Thank you, infertility, for stealing our summer vacation from us.

Anyway, I have tried to replicate the beauty of lupines in my garden for years now, with no success. They just don't take in my garden. Other gardeners in my neighborhood have said the same--"I just can't get lupines to grow here!" I remember when I moved to Rochester my stepfather's parents, who were both Master Gardeners, were super excited because that zone was great for lupines. They couldn't grow them in New Jersey, and so Mum Wheelhouse (they were from Yorkshire) gave me a seed packet and said with glee and a very thick accent, "You'll be able to grow loooopines!" Well, my first house in Rochester was with He Who Must Not Be Named, and I did not yet have a fully developed green thumb. (Coincidence? I think not. I couldn't grow things like the dickens until I was in a healthy, happy household with a good man and a good relationship.) The seeds languished on the kitchen counter and died a horrible death. But I never forgot that I should totally grow looopines, even though the only ones I had ever seen were the clownish hybrid variety and I didn't get the appeal.

Fastforward to going to Maine for the summer with Bryce for the first time, and witnessing the glory that is a swath of pink and purple lupines in the wild. Now I got it. They were gorgeous. I had to grow them. Bonus that they attract butterflies. I planted some established lupine pots three years ago. They died. Not just an average death, but a HORRIBLE wasting and stunting that I just didn't understand. Never fear, I don't give up easily. (This should be obvious by now in my journey.) Last year, year two, I planted lupine plants that Bryce gave me as part of my butterfly garden. They were to be deep pink and they looked pretty healthy. I planted them, and they...died. A horrible death. One actually dried up and withered away to dust, much like the Nazi guy in Raiders of the Lost Ark but in slow motion. I began to think that my yard had been cursed by an evil fairytale witch, "And as long as this house shall stand, absolutely no lupines will ever grow in its soil! Nor will babies be born to the inhabitants of this dwelling! Mwah-ah-ah!" This may seem paranoid and nutty, but then again, given our track record on both fronts, not so much. So I bought ANOTHER set of lupine plants, these large established pots again, from a local nursery, different from the first. I planted them in my side garden, in a different place than I'd tried before. They did ok. They stayed small, they didn't bloom, but they didn't wither and waste and die, either. The end of the season came and they were pretty much the same size as when I planted them and not a single bud had appeared. I chalked it up to the fact that lupines just don't want to grow here and maybe I should just give it up.

But now, in Year Three, my lupines came back. With a vengeance. They are robust and bushy and sending up new leaves all the time. And one of them sent up a bud! And that bud is just now starting to flower. These lupine plants were mysteries, as I bought them towards the end of the season and they didn't have a label. I had no idea what color they would be. This one is pink, and it is beautiful:

Pink lupine among the Korean lilacs, which smell incredible.

This lupine finally made it. After three years of trying and four attempts with different plants, it is finally fertile and flowering. I don't know if I finally have the lupine magic touch or if the conditions were just right for this miracle to occur, for the lupine to become fruitful. What I do know is that I tried and tried for years to get lupines to be successful in my garden and had failed attempt after failed attempt. Finally, this year, it happened. I am really hoping that this is not a coincidence, and that this is a trend of things to come. I am hoping that the Little Lupine That Could will be followed by the Little Babyling That Could, because they have similar stories. It sure seems like a fine allegory to me. Please, please, let this flower miracle be a good omen for this summer's efforts in our neverending saga of trying to get something special that we've planted with care to grow and flower inside my body.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

What's Passed On

Sometime in the fall, after we'd made our decision to move forward with Donor Egg IVF, I found myself in the gluten free aisle at Wegmans, our fabulous grocery store here in Rochester. I find myself in the gluten free aisle frequently as an individual with Celiac disease, but this time was different. I stood there, eyes welling up, and the wheat/barley/rye-free items on the shelves went in and out of focus like in an arty horror movie. It was like my Vertigo moment, only instead of neverending, dizzying stairways, I saw quinoa pasta and baking mixes waxing and waning in the periphery. I felt overwhelmed and incredibly sad.

Why? Why did foods that make my body happy and not an evil, roiling, intestinal-lining-destroying mess make me so sad?

Because I realized: when we have our wonderful miracle babies, I will be alone in this aisle. Forever. I will be the only gluten-free eater by necessity in our household. (Y'all are screwed because you eat what I eat, but you won't have to eat it.) I saw pizza nights where Daddy and sweet kiddos are chowing down on Chester Cab pizza, delicious and horribly missed Chester Cab pizza, and Mommy is stuck eating the much appreciated but just-not-the-same cracker-crust gluten free pizza from another establishment. Because Celiac is genetic. And it's not my genetics anymore.

Now, you may be wondering, What the eff is wrong with this crazy lady? Who wishes Celiac on their children? What kind of a monster ARE you? and you'd be somewhat right. I don't wish Celiac on my children. Or asthma. Or crappy joints or debilitating migraines. But these things are part of me, albeit not the most desirable parts of me, and I won't pass them on. I won't have to worry about bringing in gluten free cupcakes to my kids' school birthday parties. Not a bad thing for sure, as they are EXPENSIVE and my kids would then be the ones that the teachers have to keep other treats on hand for because they can't have any of the birthday treats the other kids bring in. It sucks having Celiac when it comes to eating at other peoples' homes and restaurants, because in the best case scenario you freak out the person cooking for you and the worst case scenario they don't realize that malt is gluten and it's in something that was otherwise gluten free and you completely decimate their toilet and feel like you've ingested Drano instead of something that normally would be delicious. I don't want this for my children. I want them to go to sleepovers and not worry about what foods are safe and what foods aren't. But I also kind of wanted to be a team, and commiserate about the carefulness with food and rejoice in delicious gluten free foods that are new. I know it's possible to have a parent with Celiac and a child who doesn't have it. But the fact that this is pretty much 100% an impossibility now, for some reason, made me very sad.

It's like when Bryce compliments me on my eyes and I can't stop myself before saying "Well, enjoy them here because they end with me." What's up with that? Is that helpful? It's like something I adapted from another teacher for my students to follow--"Before you say something, ask yourself--is it kind? Is it useful? Does it add to the productivity of class?" I was not kind to myself with that comment. Nor was I kind when Bryce made fun of my freaky feet (they are awfully freaky--I have a long big toe, a long second toe, and then three baby toes. My feet are spadelike and have a ridiculous arch and a frustratingly narrow heel that makes finding well-fitting shoes challenging), and my response was, "Well, at least I won't be passing THOSE on!" It's true--I probably won't, and that's again, not so much a bad thing because my feet are very strange and will likely give me problems later on. But they're my feet and I won't be looking at my daughter or son's feet to see if they also have been given ManyBabyToe-itis. Because the feet gene doesn't come from me.

I struggled with this--I came to mourning this loss late in our decision making process. Bryce mourned it immediately. He would get sad because, as he said, he married me, and he loves all the things about me, and from a purely biological standpoint you tend to marry people whose traits you want to pass on in your offspring. And we've circumvented that, because apparently my genes weren't meant to be passed on. And really, what comes from the egg? Here's something interesting that you may not know. I was told early on about epigenetics, where the blood transfer and growing process of the carrier influences the genetics of the baby. I didn't totally buy it. But a blogger friend posted a few weeks ago about a study she'd found, with horses and ponies. Pony embryos were transferred both to a horse and a pony. The horse-gestated embryos resulted in ponies that were bigger and acted more horse-like than ponylike. The genes came from the pony, but the instruction on how to carry those genes out came from the horse that carried it. So, while hopefully I won't pass on Celiac to my baby, I could possibly have a baby with eyes like mine. Especially since our donor's eye, hair, and skin coloring are similar to mine. And really, while there are people who birth little mini-mes, a lot of times we search for features to mimic our own family traits. Some of this is unmistakable--a certain nose shape or chin structure, a hairline. But then there are people who have both their genetics in the mix, and the baby doesn't look like anyone. Or looks exactly like one parent and not at all like the other. It doesn't mean that I don't flinch when I am on Facebook and people are posting pictures of their babies juxtaposed with their own pictures and offering a comparison--who does he/she look most like? Or family conversations where people talk about so-and-so's nose or hair texture and how that is a spitting image of Grandpa's nose or whatever. I feel left out when this happens.

But then...people start talking about their child's propensity for music. Or artistic streak. Or preternatural fascination with electrical stuff. Things that, in my opinion, don't come from the genes themselves. They may be adjusted based on the prenatal environment, or, more likely, the environment-environment. It's exposure -- or not. My husband plays the guitar, but his parents don't play an instrument at all. Am I a green thumb in the garden because my great-grandma was an avid gardener, or because I learned from my best friend and countless magazines and books and have an eye for that sort of thing? Who knows? It is a mystery. Maybe propensities exist but what you nurture makes the difference, like the horses and the ponies.

These are the heavy questions you wrestle with when you have moved to this point, when you are embroiled in third-party reproduction. When you have come to grips with a new reality of how your family is being built. It's hard. It's a loss. But it's also exciting. I can't wait to see how my influence grows this tiny human. I can't wait to see how our influences as parents and nerds and bookworms and gardeners and musicians and outdoorsy people shape our child. Or how he/she shapes him/herself. Because really, children and their unique personalities and quirks are a mystery. How many times have people wondered, "Now where did she get THAT?" Maybe I think too much about this, when really, genetics are interesting and unreliable and children will be who they are, regardless of who their parents are. Regardless of whose eggs and whose sperm and whose belly they grew in. I can't wait to see our miracle and all the traits that come together to form this perfect little person who is so loved and wanted, even before all the ingredients come together in me.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Barn Owl

There is a very special new place that opened up near my house. It's a shop, a nature center with little critters (bearded dragons, a turtle, African pygmy hedgehogs), and a birding center. They have all kinds of fun things for little kids and big kids alike and they do nature outings and classes. It's called The Barn Owl.

I may or may not (or definitely do) have an owl obsession. It started as a little lucky charm three years ago and has pretty much snowballed from there to the point where there are about 15 owls hiding in my living room and countless others sprinkled throughout our house. I am on my second owl purse (which started this whole thing) and I now own not one but three owl shirts. I am bordering on crazy old lady territory with the owl thing. I do not enjoy birds in general (especially the swarming, swooping, dive-bombing type), but owls are different. They are unusual, interesting, pretty, and smart. Unfortunately owls have vomited all over everything lately and the market is saturated with all things owls, but I still can't help but love them.

So, when we were thumbing through the completely-useless-to-us town recreation catalog for the summer, full of summer camps and gymnastics lessons and toddler swimming lessons (and then at the other end lots of lovely senior citizen activities), there was a whole page dedicated to the offerings that The Barn Owl has. See here (you may have to zoom as it is teensy):

Look at all that! Workshops on hummingbirds, frogs, bats, praying mantises (mantisi? manti?), introductions to their resident animals, owl pellet workshops... just a beautiful slew of activities. For children. It would be really, really weird if we showed up to these without a child in tow, even if it was to preview what we will be able to do in a few years if all finally goes well. This page really made me smile at the fun things that are out there that are right up our alley to educate kids on amazing nature.

So, after discovering this world of wonder, we set out to find the Barn Owl. We had never ever seen it before, but it said it was on an extension of the road that our street is off of, so we were beyond curious. Maybe it was in a wormhole or something. It turns out it's hidden behind a 7-11 and the sign is pretty small. But it is SO worth popping in. We went in and met the shopowners, a couple who were very enthusiastic and happy to see people in on a dreary Saturday. It was AWESOME. The animals were set up in terreriums that were kid-height and had extra tunnel viewing spaces down below. There were paintings and garden doodads and picture books and jewelry and science kits galore. We were really excited and also a little weird, I guess, because I felt we had to fess up that we don't have kids, and that we just thought it was a neat place that we and others we know would enjoy. That felt a little awkward, but we got over it. We wanted to let them know that we had found them through the rec catalog and also how excited we were that something like this exists in the days of 8 billion Verizon stores in one town and kids whose idea of playing is sitting zombielike in front of a screen, big or small, totally not truly interacting with anything of any real value. (I am not opinionated on this at all, and yes I know I don't have children yet, but I really think that the outdoors needs to trump a screen of any kind, and even exploring something educational with pixels has way less value than a walk in the woods...) We wanted them to know that we appreciated them and that we wanted to help get the word out.

And so, after purchasing two very cute owl paintings that look not at all like adorable nursery decorations, we left and immediately posted about it on Facebook. I am a little obsessed with trying
to get people to visit this place who have actual and not fictional children. I want it to succeed and thrive. I want them to prove that this kind of business can succeed and that there is a need for connecting kids back to nature and feeding that curiosity. And, completely and totally selfishly, I want them to still be in business in a few years when we can bring our little ones to see the hedgehogs and marvel at how tiny a baby praying mantis is. (They come in ketchup cups and it's like a whole terrarium for them!)

So, if you happen to live in the Rochester area, please check out The Barn Owl. It is a special place. Please help enjoy it today so that we can enjoy it in a sum of tomorrows and not as the weirdos who come in asking about all their programs for kids but, um, have no kids.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Double Whammy May

May. A lovely month. A month when it is finally safe to put plants in the ground and do containers and it's pretty much warm all the time and the sun comes out to play more often. May is usually perfect weather--70s and not too hot, not too chilly, and you can barbeque and sit outside and remember what the sun feels like after a long Rochester winter. This spring took forever to come but then exploded into the pinks and purples of flowering trees and spring flowers and sunshiny warmth on pasty winter faces.

But May is also home to two days that are incredibly hard for me right now. My birthday, and Mother's Day. My birthday has come and gone and it turned out far less depressing than I had thought it might be (my sad little motto: prepare for disappointment, and you will often be pleasantly surprised!), probably because we had received our donor profile and had dates to look forward to and the long slog of waiting for a process I was having trouble wrapping my head around was moving forward at a brisk march. Plus Bryce outdid himself in making it a memorable weekend of fun and revelry, not a boo-hoo-I'm-37-and-still-we're-not-parents cryfest.

I cannot, CANNOT believe that both of these dates have come around again and I have not had the chance to even try for another baby because of scheduling and hoops to jump through and all the complications of our next steps. We finally have everything set up and dates in place for our donor cycle, but I really, really thought that by this time I would have at least one more try behind me, and hopefully be pregnant. Of course there's the whole situation in July/August last year where I should have a baby in my arms right now, but obviously that is behind me and another opportunity just hasn't been in the cards until now.

This is one of many frustrating things about infertility. Normal, fertile people get to try every month. 12 tries per year. If you have moved on to IUIs, you still have the opportunity to try every month, but it is more exhausting and it involves more drugs and doctor visits and ultrasound wands and so 12 IUIs in a year would be like running a marathon. Or maybe two back-to-back. Then, if you have yet again moved on to IVF, you can try about 4 times a year, maximum, unless you have scads of money to keep dropping, you have a glut of frozen embryos and can manage to do those back to back, or you are a glutton for punishment and your clinic can/will schedule you more than that. I think my record for IVFs in one year was 3, with a frozen in December that had the test in January, then a fresh in April, then a frozen in July. Oh wait, that was last year. I'm tired just thinking about it, but I did it  because I am MORE TIRED of all this rigamarole and want to move through everything as fast and as numerously as we can so that we can get to our take-home baby and call this "history." But then this year came and I wanted to take a break but did not know just how much break was built into this new cycle. And so a whole year has gone by with no chance of conception, no chance of a change in our status as parents-in-waiting to expectant-parents. The level of desperation lurking beneath the surface seems to ebb and flow (but mostly flow these days).

And so here are these two weekends back to back that are difficult. Birthday, done and conquered. Thank you to all who made that special. But here's the thing. EVERYONE has birthdays. It's a celebration that is inclusive--no one goes to the birthday card section and mourns the fact that this personal holiday doesn't apply to them. (Unless you are a ghost or a sparkly vampire. Then I apologize for my insensitivity, birthday cards must be very painful for you.) Enter Mother's Day. An entire day that is hyped for weeks (and seems to have expanded into "Mother's Day Weekend") practically designed to rub the infertile nose in the fact that although this holiday is desired more than anything, it does not apply. AGAIN. This is not a pain that heals with time. This does not get easier after it's your first reluctantly childless Mother's Day, through your second, third, fourth day that excludes you. The anger and pain compounds. It becomes exponential--through the negatives which are a loss unto themselves, and the losses which are too much to bear on this day where you should have had a baby in your arms but the universe decided differently. The need to take care of yourself multiplies. It isn't something you can get over. So you hopefully have understanding family, as I do, who allow you to reschedule Mother's Day and celebrate the moms in your life NOT on this incredibly clique-y, exclusive holiday where leaving the house seems just like an exercise in torture. One day, one way or another, I will be a part of this holiday as a receiver, not just a giver. But for now, I can't even go for a walk without pause because of all the brunches and parties and babies and strollers that make me feel lonely and alone and wondering when all of this is finally going to end.

My sweet baby cherry tomatoes in their refreshed and amended
Grow Bags, ready to be fruitful and multiply. Like me, I hope.
So, I garden in the backyard. If I can be super focused on the pretty but incredibly destructive violets in the front I go out there with my scary weeding tool, but at my peril since inevitably there are grandbabies visiting across the street, one who was born around the same time mine was supposed to be. But, gardening on Mother's Day is healing. I can't seem to cobble together a baby, but man can I tend to plants and help them grow and thrive. Outside. Inside, everything is silk because apparently my green thumb is outdoors-only. I amend soil and move plants and plan new beds and weed, weed, weed. I read and watch silly movies that have nothing to do babies. I enjoy cocktails in the afternoonbecause I can. Maybe I take a nice hot bath, because I can. I celebrate the things I can do because I'm not pregnant. I don't wear gloves when I garden, because soon I will have to (please, please force me into wearing gloves when I garden) because pregnant people can't risk toxoplasmosis and neighborhood cats and rabbits poo in the dirt and it becomes part of the soil. Gross, but so good for the plants. You just can't think about that much as you're pulling weeds and protecting the plants that stay and running your hands through the rich, fertile soil that in part you have made more fertile through purposely adding composted manure and organic plant food. I am like a soil Reproductive Endocrinologist! Ha!

It so important to take care of yourself on this day if you are trying desperately to be a mother and it marks another year of not-mother. Do what you need to. Explain how you need to explain. Ignore the May GLAMOUR magazine that said "It's not ok to...sit out Mother's Day" because it IS ok to reschedule it and honor your own mom in other ways while honoring your own need to nurture yourself and get through another Mother's Day you'd hoped was yours but isn't, not yet at least. A friend sent me a beautiful note that brought tears to my eyes but summed up perfectly how today is a mixed bag -- "Happy mother's day to you my lovely friend. Wishing you much love today as you are on the cusp of your next big adventure and likely thinking of your lost angels today. Love you lots." How perfect. To all you supporting an infertile friend today, this is an excellent blueprint for what to say. For all you fellow fighters on the journey, I hope that you are cared for in the way I am lucky to be by family and friends, by my sister who sent a lovely lotus votive holder our way (oh, lotus, fertility flower extraordinaire...) that happened to arrive yesterday (not so accidentally, I suspect). I have already received so many notes of encouragement and love today. If others in your life aren't so understanding, give yourself space and love today because IT IS HARD. I am thinking of you. And hoping, hoping with all my heart, that next Mother's Day is a whole other experience for all of us next year.
Front garden in spring bloom...avoiding this one today.
Side back garden...the "snow" is cherry blossom petals from
our neighbor's tree. So pretty (but all over the floors now).

Backyard woodland garden, starting to green up. You can't see
the columbines, bluebells, daylilies, Queen of the Prairie,
goatsbeard, and dwarf bleeding hearts, but they're there!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Happy Birthday? Why, Yes, Happy Birthday!

It's not a secret that most people, the older they get, don't relish birthdays quite the way they used to. The thrill of balloons and birthday cake and a pile of colorful presents is overshadowed by the extra gray hair, the sun spots you keep telling yourself are just overzealous freckles, and those fine lines that used to only show up when you smile and are now increasingly ever-present, no matter what you slather on your face. There's the fact that your metabolism seems to screech to a complete and total halt sometime after 35 or 36 and you have to work harder to stay in your fat pants, much less get into skinny ones. A feat not helped by fertility drugs and the general malaise that comes with struggling with infertility for an inordinate period of time.

I have grown to detest my birthday. Not because of the obvious signs of aging on my face and my waistline, which actually chronicle many years of happy moments that I wouldn't want to erase, but because time marches on and certain things stay stagnant in our happy, fine-lined lives. My birthday is a reminder that another year has gone by and we are still, STILL not parents despite valiant efforts and a couple of somewhat encouraging but mostly heartbreaking close calls. I am now 37. THIRTY SEVEN. I am in an ambiguous place between mid-thirties and late-thirties. I am marching fast towards 40. And there is no stroller in the trunk of my car. How did this happen?

Now, to be fair, I shouldn't be so upset about marching towards forty. While forty has always been this mythical end point that women fear, the whole "Fertility Ends at Forty" armageddon sign thought pattern, I am not really worried about that. Mostly because who the hell knows when my fertility dead end happened but it was well, WELL before forty--was it programmed into my genetic code at birth? was it slowly building up as I lived a child in the 80s, when plastic and microwaving and the combination of the two were prevalent and we didn't yet know how harmful so many chemicals were, particularly BPA? was I incredibly fertile in my adolescent years where absolutely no sexual activity took place, or, because my cycles were already all messed up from the time they began thanks to undiagnosed PCOS, did I never really have a chance? was my "dead end" at 28 when I went back to school to become a teacher, at 30 when my divorce was being finalized, or at 33 when I was dabbling in IUI? Who knows? Does it matter? Not really. Besides, I have supposedly stopped the biological clock thanks to egg donation. I may be thirty seven, but I have the nubile eggs of a twenty-seven-year-old (just not in my body or retrieved yet). HaHAhaha. But, that whole egg business and the horrifying "expiration date" that all women face at some point or another is NOT why my age has bothered me.

My age bothers me because while we are still within the average for people having babies, most people I know who are my age and definitely want to have children...have them. Regardless of whether they live in a major city or not. If we are successful with this DE IVF cycle, I will be dropping my child(ren) off at kindergarten when I am 43. Not ridiculous, but not the norm, either. Plenty of people tell me how they waited or they know people who waited to have children and how it's perfectly fine. But you know what? It's not really all that fine for me. Because I didn't make this choice. This is not what I wanted. I wanted to be a younger mom, something I was worried was bygone even when I thought I had a shot at having my kids at 34 when we were happily remarried. That did not happen. I know you can make plans and none of it can happen, but this one really gets me because while I will play the hand I'm dealt, obviously, and I will still be a kickass, energetic, wacky mom in my forties, this was not how I envisioned things. And it's something I mourn. Usually by feeling pretty low on my birthday.

HOWEVER--lest you think this is a boo-hoo, woe-is-me, come-join-my-pity-party-I-have-margaritas post, it is NOT! This year I was really depressed about my birthday. Here we are, in a situation where my level of control over things is NADA (perceived control I guess) and we are in a way different place than I could have ever imagined and we are STILL CHILDLESS AND NOT BY CHOICE, one year later. Another year of no lasting positive pee stick, no baby bump, no baby. Last year my birthday came on the heels of a failed IVF cycle and I was definitely not in a good place. This year I anticipated not being in a good place and so I begged Bryce, "Please take me away." I wanted to go somewhere, where we could control what we did and I could basically ferret myself away and pretend it wasn't even my birthday. I didn't want brou-ha-ha. I didn't want nothing, but I just wanted to be distracted from the fact that this birthday business was happening, that time marched on and we were still here, clutching our Bordeaux but no baby carriage. So plans went afoot.

And it was AMAZING.

Mmmm... delicious miniature
birthday kickoff champagne.
We went away, but locally, to a spa and hotel on the Erie Canal. We pretended it took us a long time to get there and we got lost. We were able to park the car and then not use it again because everything is walkable and there is a restaurant right in the hotel, so we could pretend we were at a resort. We had champagne for the room when we got there, because this is sort of a new tradition (if you can call something a tradition that you've done once before) starting with our Christmas Grafton VT trip. Of course, we had to wait to drink it because we wanted to go swim and be generally childish and stupid in the tiny indoor pool, and the pool rules said very clearly "DO NOT DRINK ALCOHOL AND SWIM" since there's no lifeguard. So we didn't until we came up, exhausted and stinking of chlorine, and I realized that I haven't gone swimming since my skin has changed to the drier side and HOLY HELL DID I JUST ADD 10 YEARS TO MY SKIN? I felt like one of those people in horror movies where you age decades in seconds. After showering and moisturizing and putting eye drops in so it didn't look like we'd been hanging out with Snoop Lion, we enjoyed our champagne and then went for a walk along the canal and through "this quaint town that seems quite nice." (We are such dorks, since we walk in this village pretty much twice a month and know it like the back of our hands.) Then, dinner at the newly renovated and redone restaurant, The Erie Grill. Which was delicious. We got dressed up and brought our bottle of Vosne Romanee burgundy, which was lovely and dusty from the cellar (have I mentioned we like our wine?) and went incredibly well with my roasted duck. Man, I am a sucker for good duck. It did NOT go well with the completely ridiculous "Salty Potato Chips with Onion Dip," which were a reasonable $3 and COMPLETELY DELICIOUS. If you go here, you must eat these. Bryce got the 
And...delicious dusty birthday burgundy.
Rabbit Sausage with Orechiette (with fried sage leaves and red wine drizzle), which also went incredibly well with the wine. Dinner was awesome, and then we still had the very romantic Champagne and Strawberries to look forward to in our room, a lovely surprise orchestrated by Bryce and blown by the very formal check-in-guy, who asked upon registration "And when would you like your amenity?" and Bryce, trying to figure out what the heck an "amenity" is (I kept thinking, you have to schedule when they put the chocolate mint on your pillow? Weird!), said, "Hmmmm, when would you suggest?" The guy had no clue what to do with that so he said "Anytime between 4 and 11 is customary" leaving Bryce no choice but to 'fess up, "I have NO IDEA what this amenity is that you speak of." And so, the birthday champagne and strawberries were announced. And very much appreciated. I have to note that the champagne bottles were both halves, and so we weren't total crazy revelers. Hilariously (and not totally inappropriately) the room service person who delivered the goods wished us "A happy Honeymoon to you!" despite the littered "Happy Birthday" wrapping paper all over the bed.

On a pretty walk in the village.
The stay was lovely, the dinner was lovely, the breakfast was lovely, and after I got over my initial crankiness of wearing my new bathing suit from last year for the first time and having it be a bit snugger than I remembered, I was generally pleasant and not all sad/angry/moody over the whole birthday thing. It was a gorgeous day, both days. We went for a walk several times and enjoyed the new leaves and flowers and flowering trees and general reconstituting of everything for Spring. It was awesome, and reiterated again to me how special my husband is to go to such lengths to help me have a nice birthday when birthdays are so hard lately. I am in a better place, since now we have our donor and we have our plan and I have dates and concrete things to hold onto. But it is still hard to see the little munchkins by the water oohing over ducks (not the same kind I ate) and wonder if we'll ever have our chance to go walking along the canal with our own little ones. We are more hopeful than ever, but nothing is a certainty. I can be positive but I can't 100% trust in anything anymore.

I do, however, have a really, really good feeling that my next birthday will be extra special (I have had these feelings before to no avail, but I really think this is different). That the world will keep spinning and we'll finally be moving forward, too, instead of being stuck in this dreadful holding pattern. That would be the best birthday present ever, but this birthday, this weekend of celebration and helping me to enjoy the day instead of curse it, is a damn close second. Thank you SO much, future father of my children, for making this day not morose at all but magical.