Saturday, August 28, 2010

Goodnight Moon

It's been a tough week. Two huge projects at work have left me stressed out and exhausted. And it's my son’s first week back to school as a newly minted first grader. He seems to be doing ok, but it's a major adjustment nonetheless, for both of us.

Our rituals soothe us, particularly at night after a long day. And for even more comfort, we've retreated into the past. This week's bedtime selections have been our old standbys, the board books I started reading to my son when he was an infant, the ones I still know by heart. A Color of His Own, The Runaway Bunny, Are You My Mother?, and tonight, Goodnight Moon. Although my son can read these books to me now, we both still enjoy it when I read aloud to him, it's part of the ritual.

We snuggle in together in his bed, me carefully lowering my head so I don't hit it against the top bunk. We enter into that great, green room with its telephone and balloon. "And a picture of…" I pause dramatically and then slowly turn the page. "…the cow jumping over the moon." "Yes! I KNEW it!" says my son in the tone of voice normally accompanying victorious athletes fist pumping in exhilaration. His relief is palpable. I wonder, does his busy brain truly think that the pages of a time-honored book change when we aren't looking, the familiar replaced by the new and the unknown? No matter. Tonight, the cow is jumping over the moon, the three little bears sit in their chairs and the old lady still whispers "hush." The stresses of the week fade away and all is right in our world.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Child of my dreams

To the Child of My Dreams:

Since I was a very young child I’ve dreamed of holding you in my arms….looking into your face and seeing some of myself in you…watching you grow and develop some of my characteristics (good ones, hopefully). It seems now that that will not be the case, and I am extremely sad about that.

I’ve tried so hard to create you, but my body will not cooperate. Each of the nine times that I’ve tried, I could sense your presence with me…your little soul ready to come into being. I’ll never understand why it could not happen for me. Each time I was devastated and cried because I felt I had really lost you…even if you were only in my dreams.

Now it seems that I will say goodbye, but only to part of my dream. I need to mourn the loss of a biological connection to you. But, in the scheme of things, is that really such a big deal? So you may not have the same color eyes as I do, your hair may not be the same color as mine, but you will have the same amount of love from me…that’s a guarantee!

I hope to carry you inside of me…you have been given to me out of great kindness from a couple who has experienced the same devastation and loss that I have. I have to believe that somehow, someway, your soul will find its way to me…otherwise I don’t know how else I will find happiness again. Like the words from the song, “Somewhere, out there, if love can see us through. Then we’ll find one another, in that great somewhere out there.” I love you and always will, even if you are not to be!


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Too Old Too Fast?

By Nancy Nisselbaum

This summer, my 9-year-old son lets himself into our apartment after getting off the camp bus. He goes upstairs and plops his stuff down and calls me at work. I get home within an hour, so he’s not home alone for very long. He says he’s fine. He says he can handle it. His friends ask their parents why they aren’t being left home alone. He’s only cried twice.

Don’t ask how many times I’ve cried. How many times I’ve questioned the wisdom of this decision (which, honestly, has been based on monetary concerns but also factored in that he’s a very responsible boy who has handled being home longer than this—it’s the letting himself in part that makes me somewhat concerned). My son is self-reliant for his age. And he handles this responsibility with bravado. He has his own cell phone now—so he can call me when he gets home or I can call him while he’s on the bus. He empties his backpack daily and puts his wet towel and swimsuits in the dryer. He lies on the couch and watches television. It all sounds so innocuous.

Yet I feel torn. Am I growing him up too fast? Am I giving him responsibility that’s too old for his years? I know other 9-year-olds who are as independent, yet I know many more who are never left home alone—EVER!!!! And I don’t feel that’s right either. Kids need to start learning some form of independence, of being separated from mom and able to do stuff on their own. I’ve started this process slowly—leaving the house for 5-minute intervals, then lengthening those, then going to an evening meeting at my local synagogue.

But it was the two times that he cried, that he got scared because he couldn’t get in touch with me (once I didn’t hear the phone and once I was on the subway) that did me in. That raked me over the mommy coals and made me question my—our?—decision. This isn’t something I imposed on him. This is something we talked about and talked about and talked about—and still talk about. We considered various scenarios and he—we?—decided that he was able to handle this. So long as he could get in touch with me. He has the phone numbers of numerous friends and neighbors programmed into his phone, but there’s the embarrassment factor. He couldn’t call Dylan’s mom—he’d be too embarrassed, even though Dylan is never left home alone and when his mom drops Marshall off after picking him up from the bus of camp #2 (which doesn’t do door-to-door drop-off and pick-up as camp #1 does), she makes him talk to her on the cell phone while he goes up to the apartment in the elevator and locks the door.

Add into the mix that we’ve talked about afterschool in the Fall. He goes to the local Y, but we’ve—I’ve?—agreed that he can come home on Fridays by himself and left himself into the apartment. He still says he wants to do it, that he’s not afraid. But maybe I’m a little afraid. Afraid that he’s growing up too fast, that he’s 9 years old but taking on the responsibility of someone much older. Then, just to cap things off, I talk about getting a babysitter for the six nights a year I go to theater. And he looks at me and says, “Why do I need a babysitter? I can put myself to bed.” I calmly explain why that isn’t an option.

Am I growing him up too fast? I think back to my own childhood and realize I was walking to and from school by myself from first grade on. Were times all that different? I’m not sure. But my mom didn’t work when I was in grade school. When I got home, she was there. I’m newly re-employed after 13 months of unemployment. So much happened—so many transitions occurred for a boy who doesn’t like transitions—at the same time: I got a job, he started camp and started letting himself in, then my brother and his family came to visit from Israel and my nieces were staying in our apartment—in Marshall’s room, which meant he was displaced and had no place to call his own for two weeks—and then he started a new camp for two weeks. All events that make a person’s head spin.

I think he’ll be okay. I know he’ll be okay. But I want him to be able to say, “This isn’t working.” And at one point he did. When he cried the second time, I asked him if he wanted to go to Laura’s house after coming home from camp for the rest of the week. And he did. But now he’s back at camp #1 and letting himself him. And I have to be ready at 4:35 to answer his call. I wear my cell phone and make sure the volume is turned up.

Would I be going through this, I wonder, if I weren’t single? Maybe. If I made more money? Maybe. Am I growing him up too fast? Maybe. Is this working? Maybe. But for now, this is the way it is in our family. And for the most part, it’s working. Maybe we’re both growing up a little too fast. Maybe he’s evolving at exactly the right pace for him and I’m reacting like a typical mother—worrying that he’s growing up too fast. We’ll have to see how it all pans out and realize that no decision is ever irrevocable.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My Only Regret is that I Waited so Long

I've always wanted to have children, always wanted to mother. I've been an au pair to other families, spent time with all of the kids of friends and family. I hoped and assumed, of course, that I would have a family of my own when the time came.

I suppose that's the tricky part - that time thing. Like many, I've been in a series of long relationships that have not withstood the tests of time. A long medical training that I started when I was twenty-eight ended ten years later. And there I was, at thirty-eight, for the first time seriously thinking of having a child on my own.

So many questions came to mind - how could I do it? How could I make it work in time and money and love? And most importantly, would it be, could it be fair to bring in child into the world who would not know his or her biological father?
These are tough questions, and every SMC I know has struggled with them. But at the time, now almost nine years ago, I was just plain sad that I did not have a partner to undertake this endeavor. What I had always imagined - love, marriage, baby - hadn't happened for me yet, and there was a melancholy quality to my view of single motherhood. I knew that a heavy heart could not care for a infant or child, could not offer the kind of life I would want to give to my child. So I waited. Threw more baby showers. Held more babies. More time went by, another relationship developed and sadly faltered around the issue of having children.

Single again and now pretty secure in my career as a psychiatrist, I asked those tough questions again, and decided to move.
It took about a year from the time of my decision to try to have a child to pregnancy. A long, scary year filled with the statistics I knew about, somewhere in the back of my brain (after all, I was in medicine) but had really avoided. After some tough sessions with a wonderful reproductive endocrine group, I decided to jump right in and try IVF. The chances of having a healthy baby using my own, 43 year-old eggs, they told me, were about 7% (who knows where that number came from, but I swear that's what I remember).

There is much I could say about the decision to proceed given the tremendous cost IVF and low odds of success, about the process of two rounds of IVF; these can be tough, tough times for women and couples. But there was a meaningfulness in it for me, because I was finally doing something that I had wanted for so long.

Pregnancy was easy, and that was just plain good fortune - those hormones were just right for me! I received warm and enthusiastic support from friends, family and professional colleagues. My daughter was almost born on the Bay Bridge, because, the obstetrician announced admiringly, I had the uterus of a twenty-year old.

I have the warmest memories of pregnancy and delivery, which is probably both a statement about dumb luck and the distortion inherent to memory.
My daughter is now two and a half years old, and my only regret is that I waited so long. Life is very, very full.

There is much I could say about the experience of parenting, and parenting without a partner. I am incredibly fortunate to be so supported in my professional life as well as my personal world. My professional life is very, very busy: days and nights seem to fly by. But every parent of babies and toddlers struggles to fit everything in. I had years in which time was spent on myself - this very different time is filled with a joy and a wonder that all the night life, swell San Francisco cuisine and great culture couldn't really bring me.

To do it all again - I'd still prefer to have had a partner, I struggle with how my daughter and I will discuss and understand her biological father (an anonymous sperm donor). But this is absolutely the sweetest time of my life. And this little girl - her own kind of miracle.

Pamela S

Friday, August 13, 2010

Waiting for Christina: The Family Tree gets a Romanian Branch

On the first weekend of December 2002, I was finally able to announce on the SMC email lists, “Cristina is home!” My son, then almost 9 years old (conceived with ADI), and I had just returned from the airport in Washington, D.C. With us was my almost two-year-old daughter adopted from Romania.

I was exhausted from the four-hour car ride and from the emotion of the day.
But then I saw her—my beautiful little daughter was being wheeled toward me in a stroller by my agency director. He placed her in my arms and left. I expected bliss—I was wrong. She started screaming at the top of her lungs, “Nu! Nu!” (“No! No!”) and slapping me on the face. We walked through the airport with her screaming and hitting me and me telling her everything would be alright. Later my agency representative would tell me that the screaming and hitting was a good sign. It meant that Cristina had been attached to her foster family, and therefore she would become attached to us.

Back home she cried for an hour and a half and then fell asleep. Then my son starting whimpering and saying that he wanted her to go back. He didn’t like her, and she was too big. I tried to console him by explaining that it would take some time for all of us to adjust, but inside I was thinking, “What have I done? I’ve ruined my perfect little family.”

Most of all, everything seemed unreal, because the adoption itself had been delayed for more than a year.

March 2001
: This is where my story starts, but I had begun the adoption process long before. Then I switched to an agency that placed children into foster families as opposed to orphanages. It dealt with infants who were usually home before they turned one, and that was my desire. So in March, the agency called with a referral for a three-month-old baby girl named Cristina. They sent a video, and I had a week to give them my answer. As soon as I saw her, I knew this child was meant to be a part of our family. My son was thrilled, and I told a few family members and friends. The adoption should have taken four to six months to complete. However, in July, Romania imposed a moratorium on international adoptions. Then, in October, the country imposed another—a year-long moratorium.

I explained to my son that there was a delay, and that no one knew when, or even if, the baby would be able to come home. We were both upset, and I tried to detach myself from the situation. When my documents expired, I didn’t rush to update them. I stopped reading adoption books. I stopped talking about adoption. When another video arrived from Romania, I put it away without looking at it. I was trying to stop thinking about the baby named Cristina, who was growing and developing—and who might never become mine.

Early in 2002, my agency informed me that several “pipeline” cases were moving forward and that I needed to update my documents. They also suggested I contact my senators to enlist their help. This adoption became a project that took on a life of its own.

September 2002
: My agency informed me that my adoption had been approved by the Romanian Adoption Committee. I had a court date. I was afraid to feel excited, so I told no one. There was still a three-day appeal period, and we needed the final decree, which the judge took three long weeks to issue. At that point I started telling family and friends. I began making arrangements to have her escorted home. My son was beside himself. We had received another video, which showed that our baby had become a toddler who was walking and had lots of hair.

There were still a few more obstacles. At the last minute, I found out about a preadoption requirement in my state, which, thankfully, my home study agency managed to expedite in 24 hours. Then with my escort already in Romania with a scheduled embassy appointment, we found out that INS had not yet faxed my approval to the embassy. With one hour left before the embassy closed on the day of the appointment, I gave INS the fax number one more time, and this time the fax went through. They had been dialing the wrong number. I was totally wrapped up the process and felt detached from the little girl who was about to be taken away from the only family she had known for almost two years.

December 6, 2002: Screaming and hitting at the airport.

Mid-January 2003:
Cristina has been home with us for about five weeks. I am absolutely amazed at how well my wonderful little girl has adjusted. She literally jumps for joy when we pick up my son from school or when he walks in the door. She goes to sleep easily and sleeps through the night. She loves to eat, take baths and play with other children. Cristina turned two on December 26. She runs, jumps, and does a perfect somersault. She has learned a lot of English and loves to talk, especially on the telephone. She is loving and affectionate. Cristina has just started daycare, and she runs into my arms smiling when I pick her up. She also loves books. Although her behavior is generally good, if she doesn’t want to do what you ask her to do, she throws a tantrum (did I mention that she’s two?).

Adjustment has been quick for her, slower for my son, who is gradually getting used to having a toddler in the house. I feel so much love for her that I can’t imagine how I had ever felt detached.
I sit looking at my two children sleeping peacefully, and I know that my perfect little family is complete. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that we are no longer waiting for Cristina. Cristina is home.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Did You Feel That?

Just when I think I am a absolute freak of nature, defying all sorts of social standards and practices (usually by going under, and not over, the bar) something transpires that speaks to me, saying “Tara, you are *not* so bizarre or unique after all.” So, there. I cannot promise I’ll share anything like that with you today, but I’m just saying…

Being a member of SMC has been one of the most valuable and meaningful aspects of my life. Although I am awkward to connect and put out disjointed, sporadic posts on the email lists, the generous, informative women who share a listserve help to alleviate my seemingly irrational feelings or quell the ridiculous tsunamis of fear in which I try to keep above the water. Some of the concerns I see on the listserve are internally referred to as “Standard Issue Issues”- pretty much every SMC, thinking, trying or otherwise, seems to have some feelings about them, though responses may vary from the passionate, frothing types, to the wispy, lighthearted jesting of women who seem to take most things in perfect stride.

These standard issue issues come up, one in particular, year after year, in one form or another, and quite frankly, when I see it, I get that “freak factor” feeling all over again.
When I say this, I feel I should be locked away in a garden shed, possibly with a beard, drawing up a handwritten 200 page manifesto, but I never, really, could picture myself having a child or a family in any type of relationship. I remember that even as a young child, the idea of being married or partnered with kids, just felt, well, yucky. I tried, oh how I tried, but it just never “clicked” for me. I was never opposed to the idea of marriage, I just never felt I had what it took to pull one off.

I always loved kids, though I didn’t think about them in a maternal way until I was about 24.While sitting in my mom and dad’s kitchen one day, chatting on the phone, I heard a little girl’s agonizing, dramatic scream. I found the girl, maybe about 6 or 7 years old, splayed out on the sidewalk, tightly gripping her Polly Pockets which had left angry, red indentations in the palm of one of her hands. I casually asked if she was okay, and through the tears she nodded. I then casually asked if she needed help getting up and again she nodded as I nonchalantly held out a hand for her to grab and pull herself up. She looked at it as though it was some mutant alien she saw in a horror movie. Uh-uh. She didn’t want a hand or arm, she wanted a ‘bear hug-lift me gently’ type of job. So I obliged. As I lifted her, arms encircling this child, I can only describe what transpired as a heavenly, divine intervention. Maybe it was a rush of blood to the head or out of control hormones, but I felt a hot, searing rush of joy, lightness and purpose. I cannot say what it was, but it was something big. And I was never the same. My mother chuckled and snorted when I told her, but I knew it was BIG.

I never grieved the loss of a dream- the white dress, the vows, the passionate love- I never *had* that dream. My parents, though deeply and passionately in love now, had one hell of a marriage- it was a twisted wreck of tears, control, abuse and constant fights. I can easily say that had nothing to do with my choice, but maybe on some deep, cleverly disguised level, it did. I honor those horrible years of my life by working against the principal of a miserable home filled with fearful, exhausted occupants.

I was 28 when I decided to have a baby a la carte. My mom and dad, in a word, went ballistic. They were scared, frantic, and desperate for me, and I didn’t blame them. I was scared for me, too. I remember the process of deciding was excruciating, though- could I pay for diapers, daycare, formula, clothes and a million other things while working full time with a high powered publisher?

I remember the fear covering me like a heavy, wet blanket at first. As I learned more, that ‘blanket’ got lighter and lighter, finally ‘drying’ out and lifting away. My turning point came when I called a local daycare and discovered that I could, indeed, afford to send my baby there.
Thankfully, I was pregnant shortly after beginning the TTC process and celebrated my 30th birthday knocked up.

I am young by SMC standards, I know. My pieces fell into place at a young age- a house at 27, a great career and then, well, a baby by 30. I have all sorts of strange, quirky regrets in life, but having a child is not one of them. She is 8 now, sometimes gets wound up over not having a daddy, but we get by. Sometimes I want to pack up my cats and go live under a quiet bridge with no responsibility, but I like to think that the rush of blood to my head that long ago day did lead to something good.


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Child of mine: a story of embryo donation

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a mom. I started babysitting when I was just 9 years old and continued to do so through college. I have always loved children and "borrowed" my friends’ children on a regular basis. When I was in my mid-20s, I would often say that if I got to be 35, wasn’t married, and had no prospects for marriage, I was going to go to a sperm bank and use a turkey baster. Fast forward 10 years: Me, at age 35, not married and not involved with anyone. And so my journey to a child began.

Fast forward another 2 years. I had moved back to my hometown so I could be near my family, bought a house, lost weight, and was on the brink of my first donor insemination. I was beyond excited!! The morning of my insemination, I took a picture of myself, my dog, and the tank that held the sperm and labeled it as my first family photo. Little did I know that disappointment lay ahead.

After three negative natural cycles, I proceeded to Clomid, which yielded three more negative cycles. During the final one, I had some testing done and found that my chance of conceiving a child with my own eggs was less than 4 percent. To say I was devastated is an understatement. After two days of crying, I made an appointment with a reproductive endocrinologist who confirmed the news and also felt there was a good chance that I had endometriosis. A laparoscopy confirmed and corrected the problem.

But now I was reenergized. I was sure that I would conceive after going through all that. After three failed cycles of injectible fertility medications, I couldn’t take anymore. I had been in counseling after getting the news of my elevated FSH but had stopped after the laparoscopy. After the third failed injectible cycle, I called the counselor again and she saw me right away. She prescribed an antidepressant medication. I didn’t want to take it, but I could barely get out of bed in the morning and knew that I had to do something.

I attended an all-day adoption seminar put on by a local RESOLVE chapter. One session was on “donor embryo”—it changed my life. Couples that have embryos left over from an IVF cycle have the option to donate those embryos (depending on the clinic) to another couple or single person who wishes to experience pregnancy and birth. The cost is much less than a donor egg/donor sperm cycle. I found a clinic that had donated embryos available and sent in my application.

I had a phone consultation with one of the physicians and waited for the list of embryos to arrive. The list tells you how many embryos are available from a particular couple, whether there was a third party involved, and some basic information (height, weight, hair color, eye color, profession, and ethnic background) about the man and woman who created the embryos. When the list arrived, I made my choices and then waited to hear if they would be donated to me.

The phone call came in about two weeks. I had been given 10 embryos from three different couples! In my haste to become a mom, I decided that I wanted them all. After discussing my decision with my counselor, I decided it would be preferable if all of the embryos came from one couple. This way, I would have at least some basic medical information for my child. I let the clinic know my decision and waited for the next list to arrive.

During that time, I did some intense grieving over the loss of a biological child. My counselor was helpful and supportive. I spent the majority of my sessions with her in tears. It was the only place I felt I could truly let go and just cry. I also did some artwork at that time to express how I was feeling. The new list of embryos arrived and I, again, made my choices and waited for the phone call. Luck was on my side and I was offered 9 embryos….all from the same couple! I accepted them and was planning on having them transferred as soon as possible.

Just prior to having my transfer, I met with my counselor and told her that I wanted to have some sort of ritual to let go of the dream of a biological child an open myself up to whatever soul was to come to me. She thought it was a great idea and said that she would be happy to be a part of it. I planned the ritual, made a program, and asked my pastor and a close friend to be there. I set up a little altar, lit a candle, and had 9 balloons to release as a representation of the nine times that I had tried to conceive. My therapist read a letter I had written to “the child of my dreams,” and the others spoke and read some special things that they had chosen. The service was very healing for me.

Five days later, 4 of the 9 embryos (those that survived the thaw) I had chosen were transferred into me. An incredible sense of peace came over me at that point, and I considered myself pregnant until proven otherwise. Nine days later, my blood test confirmed that I was, indeed, pregnant. I was elated!!

I now watch my beautiful daughter and am in awe of the miracle that she is. It’s hard to believe that I grieved so intensely over the loss of a biological connection. She couldn’t be anymore mine. The resemblance between her and my mom (when my mom was young) is uncanny. I just know that she is the child who was waiting for me all along. I am incredibly grateful every day for the couple that enabled me to have this incredible gift in my life.