Monday, June 16, 2014

Fuck You, Katie Couric: A Love Story

For those of you living under a rock or some other place where no one gives a shit about egg donation, Katie Couric recently did a segment about a donor egg conceived child and her family who met their donor for the first time on her show. The program went as one might expect: some nervousness, lots of sweetness, and tons of positivity.
Afterwards, however, the tenor of the donor egg recipient community turned a vivid shade of fury because the language used on the show was different from the language we prefer. Whereas PVED uses "donor vs. biological mother" to differentiate the roles of the women, the people on Couric's show referred to the donor as the biological mother. Gasp.
The outrage went something like this: donors aren't mothers, and Katie Couric is an asshole.
Although I'm tempted to get into the weeds of the discussion, that would require too much tedium, so instead I'm just going to piss everyone off and say that I believe we're being overly sensitive, reactionary, and irrational because we're insecure about our roles as mothers.
Or at least that's true for me.
I've written my share of posts about language, and so I know all about the emotions that propel the fervor. Differentiating genetics from biology as if genes aren't a part of biology. Proclaiming that the donor is not a mother even though the entire history of science has a very clear definition of parent to the inclusion of the source of donated gametes.
Over the last few years, I've rallied against these truths, but all the while, something about my cries never sat right. Even in calm settings, these were never calm conversations. I tended to get a little worked up when talking about mine versus the donor's roles. Defensive. I always wore some layer of I-dare-you-to-challenge-my-legitimacy armor instead of admitting that "yes, as a factual matter of science, our donor is a biological mother to my child. Now how am I going to deal with how vulnerable that makes me feel?"
Because vulnerability is where this dogma comes from. Plain and simple, I'm afraid. I'm afraid that some people don't see me as the real mom. I lay awake wondering about the effects of my slow bonding process with my daughter and whether our relationship will suffer for it, or how much. I worry that she won't have enough of me in her, and she'll navel-gaze her way through adolescence until she ultimately disconnects from me completely. And if all of these questions didn't haunt me before, now I have to deal with them in the shadow of another mother.
But all of this is OK. I don't expose my fears to solicit comfort and validation, and I don't want your hugs. I don't want to feel better. I just want to feel.
It's important for me to sit with my grief. I cozy up to my sadness deliberately, and I make myself cry because I want to see my reflection in my tears. The more I feel the truth of my fears, the more quickly I can get through to the other side, even while the darkness makes me forget that another side exists.
I imagine that other donor egg recipients share some of the same vulnerabilities, and I imagine that some women are vulnerable in ways that are wholly different from me. I also imagine that some moms feel only a teensy amount of vulnerability and rarely think about their children's not uncomplicated (yes, that's a double negative) conception.
But I'll stop short of saying that any of us are 100% OK with the world of egg donation because I suspect that we all hang on to some degree of vulnerability. Even for those who are most at peace, at some point someone might say something that will trigger us, and suddenly we need to gouge out eyeballs, which - let's face it - is not the inclination of a person who's confident and secure.
Which brings me back to Katie Couric. As it did for most of my fellow egg donor recipients, the program challenged me. I almost didn't watch it ("biological mother? Come here so I can kill you."), but then I reflected on my resistance for long enough to muster up the courage, and I clicked play. I was nervous at the start, and as it went on, there were parts that definitely made me uncomfortable ("other grandmother?"). It wasn't easy, and it raised a lot of questions for me.
What if my daughter will want to meet her siblings? It's possible that she won't think about her genetic relatives, but it's also possible that she'll feel existentially incomplete until she gets to know this other part of her family. Will she want her donor in her life for milestones like graduations and her wedding, or will she need her around more often than that? And how in the world will I handle the threats of these possible futures without removing anyone's eyeballs?
But despite my emotional response, I can't deny that Couric did a pretty good job with the subject. She showed a healthy balance of curiosity and support, and she made her guests feel open and safe. Moreover, when all was said and done, I think the segment could potentially help normalize egg donation for people considering their family-building options. And maybe it even helped normalize egg donation for a certain someone who's already used it.
So fuck you, Katie Couric, for making me feel vulnerable. I hate you.
And thank you, Katie Couric, for making me feel vulnerable. I love you.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Gray Matters

You know the feeling: you're starving, and you really want a burger, but all you have is salad, so you eat the salad, and technically you aren't hungry anymore because the salad was huge and had lots of avocado and sunflower seeds and stuff like that, but it wasn't a burger, so you aren't fully satisfied.
I spoke to a friend today who asked for the lowdown on how it feels to be the mom of a donor egg baby. Is it everything that it promises to be? Is it worth the financial cost, the emotional roller coaster of hope-turned-grief, and the risk of having yet another miscarriage? Or should she consider moving forward with her life and live child-free.
She wanted an honest answer, so I gave it to her. It's kind of like a salad. It's good, but what I really wanted was a burger. And I'm not fully satisfied.
I'm not sure who these women are who say that a donor egg baby is the same as an own-egg baby. That they never think about the donor again after getting a pee-stick positive, seeing the heartbeat, feeling a kick, or whatever other milestone is met. I guess these women exist because boundless baby bliss is all I ever heard about; all I know is that I'm not one of them.
I think about the donor all the time. She's who I see when I look at my daughter's smile or wonder how I'm going to tame those crazy eyebrows. She's the person I think about when my husband talks about the family that we've built. She's what comes to mind when I see that my kid should have met some developmental skill and I wonder what consequences there'll be from being deceived about my donor's smarts on her profile.
This haunting motivated me to meet today with a therapist who specializes in infertility and third-party reproduction. I love my long-time therapist, but I'm not sure if she can help me with what I'm going through. As I mentioned in my last post, when I asked her why I'm feeling disconnected, she said that the why didn't matter and that I just needed to work on connecting with my kid. You know: "process my intimacy issues."
She's wrong, I think. I think it does matter. If I'm uneasy about qualities in my donor that I see in my daughter, I need to work through that. If my involvement in the donor egg community is making me think too much about my baby's conception, then I need to find a new distance with that world while still respecting whatever responsibility I owe my daughter. If there remains a shit ton of grief at the loss of my genetics, then I need to resolve that, too. And yes, process my intimacy issues blah blah fuck you.
So was my baby pursuit worth it in the end? I think so, but it's not exactly black and white. Raising my daughter is a thousand times better for me than being childless, but it hasn't been easy. She isn't a burger, but she is pretty damn good, and what I hope is that this work will turn these salad days into salad days.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Eat, Play, Love

I have video footage of my baby crying while nursing my left tit because I have almost no milk. She had better luck on the right, but not much. I won't go into the details of how awful breastfeeding has been, but suffice it to say that it's been both physically and emotionally painful for both me and my kid.
Now at 5 months, she's almost exclusively formula fed. I have one last bottle of breast milk left, and I think I'll cry when I feed it to her. The few successful breastfeedings were profoundly sweet. In those moments, I felt like a mom. But still, quitting will be a relief. But also sad. But also a relief.

The truth is that I don't know how to interact with infants. Don't get me wrong: I took great care of her and held her almost constantly when she was teeny tiny, but infants are incredibly stupid, and playing with an infant isn't much different from playing with a bale of hay. You get about as much reciprocity: no eye contact and none of that cuddling that you imagine happens between mother and child. I tried to play with her as best I could, but really she was just a lot of noise and shitty diapers.
This changed over the last couple of months, and the 5-month mark was a special turning point. She laughs freely now, and it's easy to get her to smile. We spend a lot of time dancing around and roughhousing; she likes getting thrown in the air, getting tickled, and when I fling her upside-down. Sometimes our games make her throw up, but bales of hay don't throw up, so we're moving in the right direction. And I'm having fun.

For these and other reasons (hello, 5 hours of sleep!), parenting has gotten easier, but to be honest, there remains a bit of discord in our relationship: I'm not sure if I'm fully bonded with my kid, and I can't help but feel that it's because of the egg donation thing.
I don't know how parental love is supposed to feel, and maybe this is it. You hear about rainbows and unicorns popping out of women's vaginas together with their spawn, and all that came with my baby was blood and slime, so it's hard for me to tell.
It's possible that this emotional barrier is just a part of my psychology because of my broken upbringing. My childhood had a good bit of neglect and some physical abuse, so I might feel this way no matter how my child came about. I tried to flesh it out in therapy, but when I asked my therapist why I was feeling this lack of connection, she said that the why didn't matter and that I just needed to work on increasing my capacity for intimacy. (Intimacy issues? That's real original, Therapy. You fucking whore.)
I do really like spending time with the kid, but as often as not, I look at her like I'm not sure who she is. But maybe that's normal. Or maybe it's not. What the hell do I know? I still can't believe that the hospital let me take her home, to be honest. I mean, they don't even know me.
Hell. I don't know me.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

B is for Baby, Blog, and Banal

Here's what's happening: I keep trying to write. Not blog, but write. Entries like the ones I used to post about Frankenstein and my grandmother. But those take an admittedly embarrassing amount of time, and I don't have that kind of time now, and consequently, I haven't been posting anything.
So if I want to keep this record of my thoughts going, I have no choice but to stop writing and start blogging. If you were following me because you were interested in what I have to say, that will continue (or resume, I should say). If, however, you were following me because of how I said it, ... sorry, but I can't finish that thought because there's a baby crying.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

You Came Out of My Vagina

You came out of my vagina, but that's not when our story began.
Seven months before you came out of my vagina, I got a positive pregnancy test on the day my grandmother died, and I hoped this time I was really pregnant so that my dad (your granddad? weird.) could get some cheery news. Also, it would make me happy. I guess. Yes, of course it would. Happy. Obviously.
Five months before you came out of my vagina, I saw you on an ultrasound and found out you're a girl. Bummer. I don't like girls. Don't get me wrong: I like women; I just find little girls to be annoying as shit - all that squealing and crying and frilly pink shit. It's so much easier to deal with boys' broken bones than girls' broken hearts. But hopefully you'll be an athlete or a lesbian or into cool music, and you'll hate pink, too.
Three months before you came out of my vagina, I was scheduled for another ultrasound to get a better picture of your hands because so far it looks like you have no fingers, and I don't know if I can love a kid with hand stumps. But no matter what the ultrasound shows, 50% of you comes from your dad's genetics, so I'd be stuck with you. I wondered if this would be different if you were also 50% me, and this is when it becomes clear that I may not have been the best candidate for using a donor's egg.
One month before you came out of my vagina, conversations with your dad go something like this: But what if I don't love her? Don't worry; you will. But what if I don't? I know you; you will. But what if I don't? Stop over-thinking it; you will. But what if I don't? Etc. etc. etc. You can see why this is a problem, right?
The day you came out of my vagina, labor was short, and during the last few minutes, I wondered whether I could stop pushing and change my mind about the whole thing, but there were all these people around me saying things like "you're almost there" and "I can see her head," so I plowed forth.
You were a gross, slimy, wrinkly thing.
When it was over, a gross, slimy, wrinkly thing was handed to me, and I asked, "is this her?" Considering that the other end of your umbilical cord was still inside me, it should have been obvious that I wasn't looking for an answer from the nurse as much as I was looking for an answer from myself.
"Is this her?" meant "Is this it?" It meant is this really happening and did seven years of wanting a baby just come to an end? It meant who will I be as a mom and who will you be as a daughter and what will we be to each other?
It meant that I really wished someone would help me figure out a game plan for what to do if I don't love you.
During the first couple weeks after you came out of my vagina, you wouldn't look at me. You just peed and cried and ate and slept and shit. No eye contact whatsoever, which - frankly - wasn't a great way to get started on your part, now was it? As it was, what with our lack of genetic connection, how did you think we could build a relationship if you wouldn't even look at me?
It was during this period that your dad asked me if I loved you. I said I didn't know yet, which upset him. I guess he thought that the reality of your existence would melt my heart, but he overestimated my capacity to adore people that come out of my vagina.
I felt fiercely protective of you, though. I got pissed when you were left unattended on the changing table for a millisecond as if you could somehow leap to your demise at 2 days old. I woke up several times a night in a panic that you'd been scratched or had a fever or died from SIDS. And every time I picked you up, I was terrified that I'd trip and fall and smash your tiny skull into a wall. My every moment was riddled with anxiety that something awful would happen to you, and that with that, my world would crumble. But anxiety is not the same as love.
You looking at me.
And then some time later, you looked at me. Not a passing glance with untamed eyeballs, but actual eye contact. And that's when I thought, "Oh, hi, baby. How nice to meet you."
Was it love? Well, let's not get crazy. I mean, we don't really know each other yet, and one can't rush into things like this.
But you came out of my vagina, and a little while after that, we met. And now that we have, and our story has begun, it's possible that I'll love you after all.
And as it turns out, you look seriously fucking cute in pink.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

And Then There Were Three

SNG was born on Saturday, November 23rd, clocking in at 5 lbs 1 oz, 17.5 inches, and off-the-charts cuteness.
Labor was quick (not counting the weeks of hospital-bound preterm labor in September and October). I woke up with contractions at 3am, we got to the hospital at 4:30, and she was born at 6:01am. The delivery was unmedicated with the exception of half a glass of Asahi Black with dinner the night before.
Although petite, both mom and baby are healthy and in great spirits, but both get grumpy when not fed. One of us has been sleeping very well.
Dad is wonderful in every way.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Pre-Term Labor Movement

28 weeks and 1 day
10:00 am - Arrive at ultrasound to see if baby is still measuring 11 days behind.
10:15 am - Baby is getting back on track at 7 days behind. This is good.
My cervix, however, is 4mm thick when it's supposed to be 4cm. This is bad.
10:45 am - I'm admitted to the Labor and Delivery ICU to see if I'm having contractions. I am.
11:00 am - Cervical exam #1: I'm not yet dilated. This is (relatively) good.
11:30 am - 3 IV bags in my veins and 2 fetal monitors on my belly attempt to stop the contractions. They aren't working.
12:00 pm - I get my first steroid shot to develop the baby's lungs because I might deliver at any moment. It hurts a lot.
10:00 pm - Cervical exam #2: I'm dilated to 1cm. They up my magnesium sulfate to 2.5 grams per hour. I spend the rest of the night throwing up.
12:00 am - I get a second steroid shot. It hurts a lot, too, but I don't give a shit any more.
28 weeks and 2 days
I lay in the hospital bed, I sweat, I throw up, I pee in a bedpan, and I try not to pass out.
That's all.
Nothing else.
28 weeks and 4 days
Bed rest continues with no foreseeable end. I'm now off the mag and on progesterone and nifedipine. With those drugs, they think it's under control. They think that my current pattern of contractions won't further compromise my cervix. They think I might stay at 1cm till at least the end of the month or 30 weeks gestation.
I've entered a world where delivering a baby 10 weeks early is considered a major success. I don't like this world.
29 weeks and 6 days
They insert a pessary into my vagina, which is a plastic device propped against my cervix that may delay early labor. Next to the speculum, it's the least fun device that's ever been in there.
But I don't really think much about it because instead I'm distracted by the news that I have gestational diabetes because of course I do.
30 weeks
I've reached 30 weeks, and I'm still pregnant. They're sending me home on Saturday, but if I have any contractions, then I need to get to the hospital quickly. The only problems with this plan are (1) I still don't know what a contraction feels like, and (2) I don't live close enough to get to the hospital quickly.
Otherwise it's a great plan.
Water Works: A Retrospective
For the past 2 weeks, this hospital bed has been my bubble bath of self-pity: a chorus of sadness suds popping at my ears and harmonizing in the key of poor me - a soundtrack that shuffles and repeats until long after my fingers are pruned by my tears.
I feel like saying this isn't fair, but then I don't believe in fairness. I want to cry that I don't deserve this, but there's no such thing as deserts. Yes, there's fear, but that's different from wallowing in self-pity, especially when the self in question is privileged, is healthy, and has insurance for those times when the body gives out.
The me-of-a-year-ago wouldn't feel sorry for the me of today. The me-of-a-year-ago would say, "You know what? You should consider shutting up a little because you're fine. You're still pregnant, you'll probably keep being pregnant, and even if you stop being pregnant and deliver pre-term, your baby will get the care she needs to make it just fine.
"Be grateful," I'd say to me. "Quit crying, be thankful that you got pregnant in the first place, and remember that things could always be worse."
I'm not sure if the me-of-a-year-ago is an asshole or not, but I'm fairly certain that the me-of-today could use something of an ass-kicking -- but perhaps a gentle kick, because I really want the me-of-5-weeks-from-now to still be pregnant.