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.


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.


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.

NIAW: The Ebb and Flow of Grief

There has been a lot of discussion recently on social media about infertility and the resolution of grief. I’m not going to summarize the many opinions and points of view, but I did want to offer my own perspective. There is no right answer to the question of whether the grief and pain of infertility goes away. For some it does; for others it doesn’t. For others it is omnipresent. For others it is a tiny footnote in their history. There is NO right response.

This year’s theme of National Infertility Awareness Week was “Start Asking.” I don’t think post is going to be on topic per se, but I guess it is my contribution to the topic. I don’t think we talk a lot about how it feels years after “resolving” infertility.

I have a child. He is almost 7-years-old. He delights us, makes us laugh AND infuriates us (don’t ask me about the entire bottle of glue on the floor this morning). I suspect our experiences and feelings are similar to many parents with a similarly-aged child. The thing is, I am still infertile.

I still have stage 4 endometriosis and a congenital uterine anomaly. Having a child cured none of that. I am reminded of it when I can no longer take BCPs to control my endometriosis because after 20+ years, they started to cause major pain and I must switch to progesterone pills which have their own delightful side effects.

I am reminded of it as I age and start to enter the “preventative exam” stage of life. I have none of the benefits that pregnancy and breast feeding are supposed to provide. I have all of the fears about what consuming and injecting fertility drugs for years may result in. What is yet to come?

As the mother of a tiny human well into childhood as opposed to babyhood, I should be over all this infertility stuff, right?

I’m not.

When Daniel was a baby, probably until he was a toddler, life was blissful. I was blissful. I had my long-awaited child and was happy. So happy. I knew I was still infertile; I knew I would never forget my journey or scars, but I was happy. Fulfilled. Delighted. Tired. I felt normal. Like a typical parent. I could pass. Siblings and our vision of our family were still possibilities.

Then, as he reached age two and three, my parent friends starting having their second or third children. And the grief returned. Life happened and we didn’t return to treatment – too busy mourning unexpected deaths in the family, job upheavals and other life issues.

And now Daniel is almost 7, and I feel – we both feel – too old to tackle the journey to have another child or the energy to parent. Opportunity passed. And the old grief is back. And the old bitterness. Because even if we did decide to go for it, it’s not like it is simple or inexpensive for us.

So it is an interesting dichotomy of seeing my beautiful miracle child and loving him and thinking of all the possibilities we had dreamed of and mourning them.

And I’m almost 39 and when I look in the mirror and see an older woman with wrinkles, eye bags and rapidly-proliferating grey hair, a less desirable woman, I wonder how infertility contributed to my perception of myself. When I think about not feeling much like a legitimate woman, I wonder about how those years of infertility contributed to that.

Maybe this post reads like someone choking on bitterness and unable to savor her blessings. Maybe that is true. I’ve always been more on the “glass half empty” side of things. I think my point is that what I have discovered is that infertility remains. It is possible to be resolved and suffering, happy and sad at the same time.  You can look forward and back, mourn and enjoy. The real point of this is YMMV (your mileage may vary). Maybe you achieve your child and never look back. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you do and remember how hard it is. Maybe you have miracle children after the long fight for the first one. All of those scenarios and feelings are valid.

My experience, my feelings,  happen to be different.