15 Years

Today is our 15th wedding anniversary. What? 15 years already?!?! But it is true. Fifteen years ago on a similarly unseasonably warm day, I walked down the aisle, almost caught my dress on a pew and gripped Jimmy’s hands so hard that he joked the imprint of his ring would be visible on his bone.

You might think we spent this milestone anniversary having a nice dinner out or doing something special.

We did. Sort of.

First, I picked up takeout hibachi for about the zillionth time this year. Who needs the teppanyaki show when you can get the same food to go without the time commitment?

Then, we had normal nightly chores to do. School papers to sign for Daniel and practice for the next day’s spelling test. Lunches to make and kitty cats to be fed and treated.

Finally came the main task of the evening. We are having AT&T fiber installed tomorrow. Jimmy is very excited about it and we needed to do some wiring before the installer comes out tomorrow.  And I use “we” throughout because I helped (not always graciously).

Our living room is in disarray because we took apart the entertainment center earlier in the week for the fiber installation. Our bonus room is filled with pieces from the entertainment center. The TV is in front of our coffee table. And in the middle of it all is our Christmas tree, begging, hoping to be decorated soon.

Tonight, though, was devoted to wiring. Tonight Jimmy was in the crawl space underneath the house after drilling a hole in the wall to the crawl space. I fed him 50 feet of a bundle of wires with only a tiny bit of discord (we don’t do projects like this well).

It felt like that scene in Poltergeist in which Jo Beth Williams is preparing to go into the other side to get Carol Ann, and the scientists see the rope and tennis balls coming through the ceiling covered in ectoplasm.

As I was feeding the wires to Jimmy, it took all my restraint not to start chanting, “Cross over, children. All are welcome.”

The wiring is ready, and even though the house is still a wreck, we will fix it this weekend. The tree will be decorated.

It may not have been the anniversary night one sees in movies or reads in books, but it was certainly real.

Happy 15th to us. We got shit done.

To Mother

I’ve posted several times about motherhood and what it is like when you don’t have the typical physical experiences of becoming a mother. I read an article recently on trans parents and their experience of motherhood. Titled rather provocatively “Is Motherhood Gendered?”, it brings a new dimension to the ongoing question of what and who is a mother:

is motherhood something innate, as we are so often told – a chemical reaction of love and self-sacrifice tied to the ‘transformative’ process of pregnancy and childbirth? Or, is it something that can be learned? Ultimately, is trans motherhood about emphasising similarities or, perhaps, about learning to embrace differences?

It’s very often a heated, complex topic. Am I less of a woman because I did not physically grow, birth and feed my son? Is a trans woman less of a woman if she does not? I admit that reading that article and its terminology and scenarios had moments of confusion for me: a biological woman transitioning to a man who decided to have a child? Mind blown. I literally do not have a vocabulary for that, yet I hope that if we can figure out how to refer to those familial situations, we can figure out how to refer to other situations in which a mother is the mother but not the biological mother.

In regards to mothering, I like the direction that philosopher Sara Ruddick  is going:

Sara Ruddick promoted the use of the verb ‘mothering’ as gender-neutral; she proposed that rather than being a product of our sex and gender, ‘mothering’ is a practice. In the past, mothering has been associated solely with female work, representing the ‘female’ qualities of gentleness, softness, kindness. But in today’s world – where men can stay at home, women can go to work, and gender can be switched – ‘mothering’ must be expanded to include others too.

Sometimes I wonder if it seems silly that I am hung up on the physical aspects of motherhood when the point is that I was able to become a mother. A genetic mother. The point is that it can be hard to be a woman, a mother, with a less-than-traditional path in this society.  The definition of being a woman is still tied to motherhood, and when you differ from that, it is painful and difficult. Even now, 11 years after we started our TTC journey, I still feel “other.” And age has not helped because I feel like I am entering the span of life in which I am no longer considered to be a legitimate woman. Invisible. Yes, these are my own issues. Yes, many of them are likely silly. If I – a cisgender woman – feel like this, I can imagine how my trans sisters feel. My hope is that we can work together to create a new vocabulary that represents our experiences and realities and expands the definition of what it means to be a woman AND a mother.

Another Birthday

Today is my birthday, and I am 39. I’m having complicated feelings about it, the ones many of us have once you reach a certain age and the milestone birthdays aren’t quite as fun because of what they symbolize.

It has been a weird summer, a weird year. The first few months had stress and anxiety due to my husband being out of work, a house project that (predictably) went slightly longer than expected, work anxiety of my own, school decisions for next year, and health concerns.

We hoped that once summer came, coming with the end of the school year, another successful Listen to Your Mother: Raleigh-Durham show, health concerns allayed (although not necessarily improved), three beach trips, school decision made and a major change at my own job, we could exhale and detorque.

Instead, we felt unsettled all summer. I was never able to relax completely at the beach, and the summer flew by. Work stress continued – I have relearned the painful lesson that nature abhors a vacuum when it comes to drama. And worst of all, we had to put another cat to sleep, leaving us with an “only cat.” I feel down and blue and like I’m just failing at so many things.

We also learned that the upcoming season of Listen to Your Mother will be the final one, at least under its current branding and organization.

Those sound like major first-world problems, and I feel like I’m whining. I don’t know why this year felt the way it did. We’ve had other years that were truly terrible. There’s just something about this year that has felt and feels off.

But it is my birthday, and that’s a good thing. I have people who love me and a job that while frustrating and drama-filled more often than I would like, is interesting and stimulating.  Daniel has adjusted well to his new school.

And Fall is coming. Pumpkins and changing leaves and holidays. The heat will break eventually, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll find a little energy and enthusiasm.

Happy 39th birthday, KeAnne.

#Microblog Mondays: Beach Fluke 2


Last week I wrote about the fluke I had at the beach over Memorial Day. Well. We arrived at the beach yesterday for our full week of vacation and have already encountered fluke #2.

We were in the grocery store – the same grocery store from last week’s post – and I saw a familiar face. It was a coworker who retired two years ago and moved to Washington state and who had returned to NC for vacation.

How bizarre! Perhaps this is an enchanted Food Lion?!?! I jest but I have raved for years about the bookstore in this same shopping center – it has the most eclectic collection of books and more than once, I have found a book I had been thinking about. Serendipity.

Hopefully these special moments foretell a great vacation. We did see this yesterday, and I’m hoping it is auspicious.

#Microblog Monday: Fluke 


We went to our usual beach for Menorial Day weekend. Though we go to the beach twice a year, we have seldom left town for holidays like Memorial Day or the Fourth of July. This year, we just could not bear the thought of another month before our first summer trip and managed to find an inexpensive rental.

Anyway.

We stopped by the grocery store our first evening to buy a few supplies. As we walked in, I noticed a car with the license plate “OtherMommy.” 

What shocked me was that it was the same license plate I noticed almost five years ago and wrote about. It had to be the same person, and the car listed a Raleigh dealership.

I know that sometimes we think coincidences are super rare, even when science tells us otherwise, but still! What are the odds of me seeing that license plate five years later at the beach we visit?

Of course it may be an example of a decent memory and the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. Clearly the license plate made an impression me half a decade ago.

I like a little magic, so I prefer to believe Hamlet: 

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Addendum

Thank you all for your comments on “Plans in Pencil.”  I’ve been thinking about what to do with those embryos a lot lately and along with it has come the return of the old anger and bitterness, some of which you can see in both the piece I wrote for Listen to Your Mother and the recent post on grief.

When I returned to work after the LTYM show,  I found a curious email in my work inbox. It was from a friend of someone who had attended the show, and she asked about adopting our embryos because they are undergoing infertility as well. I guess her friend had told her about my piece and my mention of our embryos, but it appeared the gist of the piece had not been conveyed.

The writer’s pain was obvious in her email. Part of me was floored that she had emailed me, a complete stranger, about our embryos and she had to search a bit to find my email.

Seeing this email two days after the show, I could not respond. I didn’t know how to respond. I was exhausted both physically and emotionally and I had no words other than, “no, you may not have them.”

I still haven’t responded, and that’s cruel of me. I know how she feels. I know how desperate she must feel to email a stranger. I need to respond, but what do I say?  Is it possible to let her down gently? Maybe I am dreading her counter reply of asking me why I can’t donate my embryos to her if I’m not going to use them and accusing me of being selfish.  Are we being selfish by keeping them frozen and neither donating them to research nor placing them for adoption?

Many decisions are selfish, though. Our decision to use surrogacy to have a biological child is often deemed selfish (at least in the media and comment sections). Someone else’s decision to adopt could be selfish depending on motivations. A relative’s decision to have three children could be interpreted as selfish by someone concerned about the impact on the environment and overcrowding.

Sometimes in the realm of infertility, it seems you are always making someone unhappy.

Plans in Pencil

This was the post I read for the 2016 Listen to Your Mother: Raleigh-Durham show last week.  Can’t believe the show is over already!

Last week on the way home from school, my son, my sweet 6-year-old, my baby told me he had a girlfriend.  This girlfriend is an older woman, having turned 8.

He broke this news to me by telling me that he and this girl, Rose, were going to get married (what????), they would work as a veterinarian (her) and a doctor (him), and that Rose was afraid of having babies cut out of her. He then asked me if he had been cut out of me.

Deep breaths.

I had no labor and delivery with him myself, vaginal or otherwise.  My son was the result of gestational surrogacy. I was able to sit back and observe calmly while our surrogate delivered him. If you believe that sentence, well, I have a few other things I can sell you.

It was time. It was time to have the talk with him about how he came to be.  We hadn’t intended on keeping it a secret – absolutely not at all – but sometimes there isn’t a simple opening or Hallmark card for this type of conversation.  We had blown it up in our minds to take on epic qualities; how would he react?

Later that evening, we brought up the topic again. I gently told him – trying to use simple language – that he had not been in my belly because it didn’t work and that another, wonderful woman had carried him for us. We waited for his reaction.

“Oh, OK, “ he replied. “Can I have ice cream now?”

I asked him how he felt about this information.  He placed his still baby-soft hand on my stomach. “Mommy, are you still broken?”

Broken.  Yes, I am still broken. My reproductive organs don’t work and never will. My son is our miracle child, made possible by the kindness of a stranger who carried him.

I never wanted only one child. I grew up as an only child. I didn’t have a miserable childhood, but I felt lonely, and I was envious of my friends with siblings. Maybe I would have been more socially competent with a sibling. Maybe I wouldn’t feel so alone in the world. Maybe I would be a different person. The possibilities of what might have been are endless.

While I have one child, I also have five frozen siblings for him. Siblings isn’t quite the correct word.  We have five frozen embryos, five bits of potential. In the infertility community, we call them frosties, or my personal favorite, “totsicles.” It is amazing to have any embryos to freeze, and I have five after a horrible IVF cycle in which it seemed I’d be fortunate to create any embryos. These are embryos created from barely 31-year-old me and gave us our son. Our only son.

I’m very close to 39 now.

We receive the bill for cryopreservation of our embryos annually. We don’t talk about it but pay it automatically every year. Our other options are to destroy them, to donate or adopt them out to other families or to allow them to be used for research. We can’t do any of that. Yet.

We always wanted more than one child, but circumstances made that difficult.  Having a second child would require a major financial outlay as well as significant changes in our lives. Are we too old for that? Are we too old for bottles and nightly feedings? For daycare costs? For potty training? For all the energy and money infancy and toddlerhood require?  And what about my career and increasing responsibility? What about the child we already have and his needs, his future?

I’d like to say we could swing it, but I FEEL tired. I AM tired. We are in a groove, and our sweet boy is more independent every day.

We know the answer, but we keep kicking the can further down the road.

When I let myself think about it, I get angry. I feel like I was robbed of choices when it came to family building and the choices we did have were difficult and came with heavy implications.  There is a part of me that still simmers with resentment and anger: WHY US? WHY did this have to be our reality?

Very few of us realize the lives we hoped to have. Regardless of what our dreams were, reality slaps us in the face.  We are obligated nothing, and our notion of control is an illusion. I need to bottle my resentment and anger, my caustic bitterness, and put it away.  Yes, we were dealt a shitty hand reproductively, but what can you do? We did what we could. We rolled the dice and won once. Nothing guarantees we would win again.

I have one son, and he is wonderful. He is sweet, bright, energetic, and sentimental. He is exhausting, argumentative, and stubborn. He is everything I wished and hoped for and so much more.

Instead of lingering on what I can’t change, I need to focus on what I do have. My son tells me he and his future wife plan to name my future grandchild “Sprinkle”. I smile. It’s nice to have plans, but I have learned it is wise to plan in pencil.