Thursday, January 27, 2011

Birth Plan B

All that I could say while being lifted into the ambulance was "she can't come now, she can't come now." The doors closed and I could think of nothing but the little girl inside of me. I was in premature labor at 28 weeks pregnant. When I arrived at the hospital the paramedics rushed me down the hallway. As I lay on my side on the gurney to ease the pain, the look of concern was reflected in the strange faces of people that lined the emergency room. I stopped briefly at a desk to receive a bracelet that simply said "Kim."

A nurse and very young doctor were waiting in a room. As I answered their questions, more people and large machines arrived. They shouted at each other and to me. I was embarrassed. I apologized because I was not prepared. I told them that I was taking a birth class tomorrow. I would be prepared tomorrow but not today. They told me how to push. All that I could say was "I am sorry, I am sorry."

I remember looking at a clock on the wall and thinking about each contraction "this too shall pass." My daughter was born so fast. My dream was here. The doctor pushed on my stomach and placed the afterbirth in a bowl. I wanted to see it, to whisper goodbye to her twin lost at 9 weeks.

After I was taken to my postpartum room, the rush of adrenaline from the birth would not let me rest. I remember pacing the hospital room floor, alone and waiting to say goodbye to her. People in red flight suits would take her away again, to the nearest neonatal intensive care unit. When I saw her in that plastic box, I whispered through the cracks, "Hi, I am your mother."

The day still seems so surreal. From the ambulance ride to the local hospital, to the room full of strange doctors and nurses yelling overhead, the whole day seems like a foggy memory. When I do think about that day, I am able to focus on my daughter's faint cry and thick eyebrows that adorned her sweet face and connected her to me.

My daughter's birth day did not go like I had planned. In a few quick moments, I had learned to trust people that I had never seen before. I trusted them with all that I valued. They held my hand and told me what I needed to do. They took care of my daughter. They took care of me and I am so grateful.

Well, she did come that day. I was not ready and it was not what I expected. Life has not been what I expected but I love it just the same, and so I say of my daughter's birth story.

Kimberly Ross

Thursday, January 20, 2011

My Choices and My Son's Choices

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, in several different contexts. One significant example is the issues that arise out of the fact that we’ve started getting into more specific details about conception. It was a non-issue for my son to find out, or more accurately, have confirmed that the donor is his biological father, although I will admit that I haven't emphasized that specific phrase. But I have mentioned it and also do talk at more length about the fact that the donor is the man who gave the sperm that fertilized my egg to create a baby.

I think kids take their cues from us on this sort of thing so I have tried hard to be very matter of fact about it all and present it as neutrally as possible, while still making it clear that I think a mom and kid family is terrific. And I focus on how generous the donor is to have made our family possible.

I never wanted it to be some deep dramatic thing for my son to find out that he had a donor or that the donor was his biological father - I wanted it to be something that he understood organically because it has been mentioned in context all along. (This is similar to the recommended approach for adopted kids.)

Things I have not talked about yet include the fact that the donor made other some other families possible too. I do plan to do that sooner rather than later, once I feel that my son has more understanding of the biology involved. This involves an element of choice on my part, as I see family more as a social construct and less as a biological one, so I don't really feel any sense of sibling kinship with these kids. However, I intend to stay as neutral as I can about that, and let him know that if he wants, I can try to get in touch with some of these other families (there are some on the DSR).

It’s started to really hit home for me that, by the way I frame his knowledge, regardless of how neutral I strive to be, I am having an indelible influence on the way my son perceives the world and his place in it. And certainly, I knew, at least intellectually, this would be the case when I signed up for motherhood. But the reality is that these choices have potentially life-long ramifications for him and are therefore so much more weighty and difficult for me to make.

Sometimes, I miss the days when my hardest decision was choosing between Pampers and Huggies! But I suppose it’s also nice that he can now choose his own boxer briefs.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

To Be or Not to Be an SMC

There are many reasons TO become a SMC and many reasons NOT TO. It's such an individual decision to make. It is difficult to be a single mom, very difficult, but I think it's also difficult to be a married mom. This decision isn't one to be taken lightly, and it helps to really look at your whole life while you decide whether being a SMC will fit into it. When I was thinking I worried endlessly about what might happen: "What will I say to people when I can't hide my pregnancy anymore?" "How will I tell my family?" What if people judge me?" "What if I meet "the one" right after I get pregnant or after I have the baby?".

What I found out (much to my surprise) was that all those worries disappeared pretty quickly once I became pregnant. I had one or two people show disapproval when I announced my pregnancy, but they weren't people I cared much about so it didn't matter to me. I was so thrilled to be pregnant, and once the bulk of the telling was over, I just reveled in the experience as much as possible. My family took a while to warm up to the idea, but I understood (from reading posts on the SMC lists) that while we spend months and sometimes years getting ready to take the leap, thus feeling comfortable with the concept, the same can't be said for our families.

My dad and sister (mom died years ago) love my son without question, and there is no awkwardness associated with the means I used to bring him into the world. I was not raised in a conservative family, but I do have SMC friends who were, and most of their families have eventually come to accept and even embrace the decision these women have made. Not all families come around, but most do on some level or another.

I haven't met "the one" yet, but the other thing I figured out is that if I do meet him he would need to be the kind of man who would welcome my son into his life. It does happen. Women find partners who love both them and their child. Some even go on to have a second child with the man they meet.

Sometimes people make insensitive comments, often well intentioned. When I told people I was pregnant, several questioned my choice to go this route - they couldn't understand why I hadn't found anyone. At first it bugged me because I saw this as such a "Plan B", but now I see it simply as my life's path, full of all sorts of experiences, both challenging and rewarding. I'm a MUCH stronger, more self-assured, confident person now and attribute that to having to really put my priorities on the line and stand behind them. I have become so confident in my decision that I don't feel like I "settled".

Yes, I still want the whole deal: mom, dad, 2 kids, etc., but I've had to make compromises. I waited a little too long (because I fell in love at 38 years old just as I was going to try to conceive, and it cost me a precious 2 years) to have another child, but I'm coming to peace with that as well.

So if you're on the fence, listen to your heart, and make your decision based upon what you know you want/need, not on the "what if's" of life. You don't know whether you'll meet someone or how your family will react or whether you'll have regrets or feel like you did something wrong. Maybe these worries will come true, but maybe they won't. But, if you truly question whether you are ready to take this step, then I suggest spending a little more time thinking. Maybe see a therapist who has experience with SMCs (I did, and she was a lifeline through the whole process). If you haven't joined the SMC email lists, that would be a good thing to do. You'll be able to see how the conversations shift - from worrying about external things to becoming invested in becoming a mother.

Becoming a mom is hands-down the best thing that has ever happened to me. I can't count the days I have sat rocking my 17 month old, crying at the thought of what life would be like if I hadn't taken the leap and become a mom. I'm tired all the time and my house is a mess, but my heart is full of love and joy I could never have imagined before I became a mom.

Good luck to you (and all the other women who are going through this difficult decision-making process)!


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Beginnings

December 31, 2010

One year ago I began my journey toward single motherhood.

Despite my age (nearly 42), it never occurred to me that I wouldn't become pregnant right away. I chose a doctor and a donor and by the beginning of April I was ready for my first attempt via intrauterine insemination. Two weeks later I learned I was pregnant, and I was elated! The few people I had told were astonished I got pregnant so quickly, but I didn't understand why. I assumed I would be pregnant because I wanted to be. Isn't that the way it works?

Still, I knew it wasn't a done deal and to get excited too early would be foolish. I would play it safe and wait until the amnio results before telling anyone but my closest friends and relatives. And so I waited.

In the meantime I had one test after another. Genetic testing, urine testing, blood testing- everything was perfect. And then I had the amnio, and all was still perfect. I was having a girl, and there were no signs of abnormalities. Finally I could drop my guard and proudly sport the enormous grin I had been suppressing for 4 months! I began looking at cribs and strollers. I started researching day care options for when I returned to work. I read about breast feeding and registered for childbirth classes. And on the day I reached 22 weeks, I finally buckled under pressure from friends and family and looked into baby registries.

And that was the last happy moment in my pregnancy, for the very same day I went in to have the full anatomy scan of my baby girl. The baby was curled up and sleeping, and the technician had some trouble measuring her. But the heartbeat was strong and if I had to come back another day when the baby was more active that was fine with me.

The doctor came in next and the first thing he said to me was, "Your baby's not doing well at all." The next several minutes were a blur. I thought he must have the wrong room. I was there for the body scan. My baby was fine; can't you see it on the screen? He started talking about her lack of growth and blood in the brain, and how the blood was flowing backward through the umbilical cord in between heartbeats. And then he said the one word that left no doubt I was in real trouble: autopsy. I freaked out, silently though, since I couldn't speak or even blink at that point. Autopsies are for dead people. He wanted to do an autopsy on my live fetus? I simply could not comprehend what he was saying. It was the worst moment of my life. A second opinion the next day confirmed it: the heart was no longer beating. The baby had passed away.

I blamed myself, naturally. No fewer than 3 doctors told me that these things sometimes happen, that they are anomalies, that nothing I did caused it, and there was nothing I could have done to prevent it. They said it was unlikely to happen again, and that women who have late-term pregnancy losses go on to have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies all the time. I really needed to hear that. But why hadn't I heard of this before? How common was it?

So rather than ask “Why?” or “Why me?” I ask, “Why don’t women talk about this?” Ever since this happened to me, it seems I haven’t met a single person who doesn’t know someone who had the same experience or who had a late-term loss herself. And most have had children since then. I’ve read books, blogs, magazines, and message boards - none have discussed the very real possibilities of inter-uterine demise. Why is this a taboo subject in our society? This isn’t some shameful secret that belongs locked in the attic. It’s very real and deserving of acknowledgment. As frightening as it is to think about losing a baby late in pregnancy, it’s even more frightening to experience it alone and unprepared. I want women to know this can happen and if it does that they are not alone, and they can become pregnant again and deliver a healthy baby.

Strangely, as my due date drew near I was not nearly as emotional as I expected. New Year’s Eve was the day I was supposed to meet my little one. I had two weeks off work during the holidays and refused to make plans with anyone, knowing I might fall apart and would want to grieve alone. Yet that hasn’t happened, and after much reflection I think I know why.

It took me a while to make sense of what happened but eventually I came to an understanding I could live with, one that has become a tremendous source of comfort to me. I believe there is a tiny being out there somewhere- a little ray of light- who is trying to make its way through the universe to me. It found me once but the timing wasn’t right. The reason is unimportant. What matters is that we belong to each other and I know that this same being will come to me again when the stars are aligned properly. So rather than thinking about the one baby I lost and waiting for another one to come along, I think about the one ray of light that came to me once and will return to me again when it’s absolutely ready to make its entrance into the world. And when it does I will love it that much more, because of the sacrifice it made to ensure that our life together began at the perfect moment.

As I sit here tonight on the cusp of the New Year, I will drink a toast to the ray of light who was wise enough to know our journey wasn’t quite over. And at midnight I will close the door on the past and drink a toast to the same ray of light who will come back to me in the very near future.