Friday, November 30, 2012

Non-Biological Perspective

I don't think there was ever a conversation between my wife and I about whether or not we'd have kids.  It was a given.  I can't remember asking T if she wanted children; though I'm sure we talked about it and realized we both wanted them at some point and it was never going to be a debate.

During the times that one of us would mention off-hand our future as a family with children, friends and family members often were curious as to how we'd accomplish that.  Inevitably, someone would laugh and say, "Oh, there's always a turkey baster!"  And that became the standing joke when the question of how we would achieve a pregnancy arose.  As a young lesbian, I didn't give it much further thought.  

A few years back, I found myself flooded in intense pregnancy-and-baby-wanting hormones.  It was all I could think about, talk about, dream about.  My wife was not in that place, and was daunted by my need for babies now.  

One of my most trusted coping mechanisms became research.  I researched anything and everything that could possibly be related to fertility, conception, pregnancy, birth, and most particularly, how to get pregnant when you don't have a male partner to bring the sperm.  It was in this way that I discovered the wide world of sperm banks and "assisted reproduction".  Whoa - did I suddenly have a lot to consider, or what?  

I'd kept T up to date on all my findings, and we knew we wanted our children to one day have the option to contact their donor, so no problems there.  We chose a sperm bank, we chose a donor (painstakingly, might I add), we chose a prenatal provider/birthing location.  We chose to have the sperm shipped directly to our home so we could attempt to conceive our child without a doctor or meds.  We chose to inseminate T first - she had better benefits and maternity leave options! 

At first, I struggled with the idea of not getting to be pregnant after months of yearning.  Then, I struggled with knowing that she would be first, and somehow, the two things were very separate from each other.  T was going to have morning sickness, and her belly was going to swell, and she was going to feel that baby inside her.  I had a short but intense bout of serious jealousy.  

Sometimes when things don't go as I imagine, I punish myself with negativity.  I think at times I'm really trying to cause myself pain by envisioning the worst and most hurtful things I can think of about the situation.  

"T is going to get all the attention because her pregnancy will be first.  Someday when it's my turn, pregnancy will be old news because we'll also have a toddler running around and people won't be as excited about me and my baby.  T is more special than I am, this baby will be more special than any babies who follow."

In the midst of countless conversations about adding to our family, I managed only to think that my darling wife was subtracting something.  How wrong of me.  And yet, at our cores, desire and jealousy are very human emotions.  I think it only would be legitimately wrong if I still felt those hurtful and negative things were true.  Time and experience are the greatest of healers.  

Once T became pregnant, we were unfathomably elated; full of so much joy it seemed we would burst.  Finally, I was going to become a Mama.  

Months into the pregnancy, my fears and doubts had been slowly rising to the surface and percolating until I began feeling some anxiety about parenting a child who wasn't related to me nor birthed by me.  In my years of helping care for my foster brothers and sisters, babysitting countless children, and even loving our own foster children, never before had I doubted myself so much.  

I felt like I drew the short straw.  It devastated me to think that T got all the advantage when it came to this baby.  She already was going to know this child when it was born, and I would be a stranger.  She got to feel every time the baby bumped around, every hiccup and startle.  She knew where the baby was lying, if she was asleep or awake.  Once the baby was born, T was going to be able to breastfeed her and soothe her while nobody else could.  I started feeling worthless, doomed to fail before our daughter even opened her eyes or took her first breath.  

Slowly, our daughter started feeling more like T's daughter.  The longer I fixated on all the things I wasn't going to be able to do, to help with, the worse it became.  Soon, the baby T had been so carefully growing was further from me than ever before.  The chasm was simply too wide to make the leap across.  

I tentatively reached out to other queer families, other parents whom I thought would understand and be helpful.  But all anybody had to say was to stop worrying.  "You'll be fine, you'll see."  It was incredibly isolating.  I stopped telling people I was worried about being a mom; I didn't want to be perceived as weak or scared, even though I was.  

As our daughter's due date loomed, I simply accepted that I couldn't tell the future.  I didn't know what I didn't know, so I might as well just wait and see what happened after she got here.  Despite my strongly-rooted concerns, I was really excited to finally meet her.  

T went into labor right on time and our daughter was born on her due date.  During the birth, I lay next to my wife and held her leg and sponged off her arms and legs and face with a cool cloth.  I watched with mounting happiness as our daughter made her way into the world and was laid atop T.  The midwife and the nurse rubbed the baby vigorously to get her to cry, and while they cleaned her up I noticed a disconnect within myself.  That baby couldn't be mine.  T looked at her, studied her face, touched all her little features, crooned soothingly to her.  I didn't feel jealous that she was holding her.  I had waited for so long for this baby, this moment, and all I felt was a disconcerting lack of desire to hold the baby.  

T looked up at me and asked, "Do you want to hold her?"  I could only manage to nod my head yes, and she passed me the baby, bundled in a blanket.  

I cradled her up against my body, as I've held countless babies before her, and I looked down into her dark blue eyes.  She saw my face; she saw me.   I think in that tiny thread of time when her gaze captured mine, she saw everything.  I was on display to her, and she changed me.  Something inside my daughter is stronger than the demons I had flooding my better instincts.  She told me that she needed me, and that more importantly, she wanted me. 

The dam burst.  
The wall fell. 
The mask shattered.  

All the barriers I'd been unconsciously erecting between me and our baby disappeared the night she was born.  I can see now, in retrospect, that I was trying to protect myself from the perceived threat of rejection.  Distance myself so that I might recover if this baby didn't claim me as one of her mothers.  

Suddenly, I found I was caught in a torrent of hope and joy and longing and relief.  Overwhelming gratitude.  I was swept away by the strength of what my heart had been waiting for my mind to finally see - that this child doesn't know anything different than having two mothers.  She only knows that she's got two moms who adore her.  One mom grew her and birthed her, and one mom waited for her and loved her all the while.  

Our daughter is going to be 3 months old tomorrow.  In that time, all she's really done is prove to me over and over again that I can do this.  That she loves me for me.  Every time I see her after getting home from work and I get a huge gummy grin, my heart melts all over again.  Every time I pick her up when she's upset and she stops crying, I feel proud and I feel validated.  

Now, that all having been said, I would be lying if I told you that there weren't still some things that bothered me about being her non-biological parent.  

It's unfortunate, but every time someone mentions how much she is like T, or her genetic relationship with T, it stings me.  I've tried to convince myself that a celebration of the person she is related to is not automatically a slam on the person she is not related to.  The pang of regret I feel every time T's supportive and loving family claims one of E's traits as their own is lessening with time, but it's still there.  It's not their fault that it hurts me, and I hope they realize that.  I believe that as E ages, she'll start exhibiting traits that she learned from me.  A quirked eyebrow, a certain phrase or way of standing on one leg.  Those things will undoubtedly make my heart sing and help in continuing to validate me.  

I've wondered about the day that E finally does get to meet her donor.  Will I feel inadequate?  Irrelevant?  Unimportant?  Somehow, I just don't worry about that part.  I don't feel threatened by the man who lives on inside our daughter.  I feel grateful.  I feel happy that someday E will have the opportunity to know him, if she wants.  I will have been given the pleasure and privilege to raise our beautiful daughter for eighteen years, and she's going to know the depth of my love for her.  Wanting to know her biological father can't take away my love for her, or her love for me.  

I think the most important thing I've come to realize is that I am a work in progress.  As E is learning new things all the time, I am also learning new things about myself.  I cannot know what's around the next corner, but I can control how quickly or slowly I walk, and how carefully or recklessly I decide to proceed.  My biggest challenge is getting out of my own way! 

Every single day, I get to watch this little life grow and change.  She is a gift, a person and a relationship I treasure and hold close.  Despite my many fears before her birth, she is every ounce my daughter and every day she shows me that I am every bit her Mama.  I am a better and a stronger person because of our Ev.  

Me and E at Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 15, 2012

It's that time of year again.

The Holidays.

The HoliDAZE.  Whichever you prefer.

Personally, I adore this time of year.  Halloween to New Year is my favorite part of the rotation of our planet around the sun.  Though my wife struggles more with the commercialization of Black Friday and Christmas, somehow I mostly seem to make it through every year untarnished by jadedness.  I suspect stubbornness may be involved.

Maybe part of it is that we don't participate in Black Friday.  And never intend to.  I think Black Friday brings out the worst in people who spent the day before being thankful for all the things they have.  It's a horrifying irony.

Maybe part of it is that I so love giving handcrafted gifts, made specifically for a person.  I love seeing the look on their faces when they realize how much love and work went into their present, and within that, how much I obviously love them.  Christmas is an opportunity, I think.  The chance to show someone in a more outward way what I think about them; how much they mean to me.  (Now that I write that out, is there a reason I don't give these gifts the rest of the year?  Hmm.)  While you can purchase a handmade gift from the street fair or a local artist or Etsy, it's not the same as using your own hands and heart and mind to create the perfect gift.

The unfortunate side to the handcrafted gifts is that they do take a lot of time and effort.  I wish I had the creativity and drive to make amazing gifts for everyone I adore each and every Christmas, but sadly I don't possess those skills in droves.  I snatch greedily at the fleeting hope of "sticktoitiveness" every time I'm blessed with inspiration, but those times are far outnumbered by the times I fall asleep on the couch at the end of a long day.

This year is both somewhat reminiscent of last year in that we are busy with E, like we were busy with our foster son and daughter ("Andrew" and "Eva") last year.  But it's vastly different, too.

I didn't think that eleven months after Andrew and Eva went home to their mother, I would still feel the knot of twisted sickness clench my gut when I ponder how they are.  Last Thanksgiving, Andrew was fifteen months old, walking and quickly becoming a foodie.  Shouting with joy about "A BALL!"  Any round object was a ball, hah.  Eva had just turned four years old in October, and we had finally gotten her medical providers to realize that our claims of there actually being something wrong with her were correct.  T had been taking her to appointment after appointment with neurological specialists to assess the problems with her learning difficulties and speech impediment as well as developmental delays.  The day before Thanksgiving, Eva was scheduled to have a sleep-deprivation MRI to evaluate her for seizures.  This meant that she could only sleep four hours before her appointment.  Eva could easily sleep for fourteen hours a night and wish for more, so the idea of only allowing her four was ... intimidating, to say the least.

I cannot stress enough how very impressed and awed I was by T.  T had to take the reins on keeping poor Eva up all night, especially without the aid of caffeine (and consequently, chocolate).  Not an easy task.  They went out to see a movie in the theater, went out with some friends for a (very late) dessert and drew icy daggers from the other patrons who were horrified at the party of adults keeping a four year old out at one in the morning.  They came home and made cupcakes and while they baked, sat and watched Eva's favorite movie - Cars.  T took an incredibly hilarious, adorable, sad video of Eva falling asleep while eating her cupcake.  Soon after that, she let Eva pass out in her bed, only to be woken by me four hours later.

After her appointment that morning, she came home for a nap, only to be woken again a couple hours later by T, who had the misfortune of trying to take her for a dentist's appointment.  Boy oh boy was that a disaster.  She refused to open her mouth and the doctor had to pry her jaws apart by pulling on her lip and eliciting an indignant scream from sleep-deprived Eva.

A day like that would make anyone angry, and Eva took it out on us.  Can't say I blame her, though it wasn't enjoyable.  In some kind of perverse way, I remember the experience almost fondly.  She felt secure enough about her relationship with us to be angry and throw tantrums and embarrass us in front of everyone at Thanksgiving dinner.  We lived through it; we loved her enough to do the right thing for her even if she couldn't understand it and punished us for our attempts at help.

Little Andrew had a fantastic Thanksgiving, full of more food than he's ever stuffed himself with before and then being held and played with by one of our best friends. He rewarded her efforts by pulling her shirt away from her body and promptly vomiting all his dinner down her front.

We got one Thanksgiving with those kids: no, our kids.  Just the one.  It was funny and full of happiness - but it was also frustrating and infuriating.  It was sweet.  It was memorable.  It left a bitter taste burning in my throat.

And this year, this special, amazing year, we get to share Thanksgiving with our daughter.  A baby grown by us and born by us and much loved by us.  By a couple whose lives were colored and cracked and healed by two kids before her.

So while come December, we'll have had two Thanksgivings in a row with children, they're lightyears apart.

This November, I'm thankful for my loving wife.
I'm thankful for my generous, warm, boisterous, welcoming, growing, caring, selfless family - the one I'm bound to by love.
I'm thankful for my sweet and healthy baby daughter.
I'm thankful for all our friends - new and old, who bring joy and laughter to my life.
I'm thankful to have enough money to live in a safe home and take care of ourselves, even if there isn't much extra.
I'm thankful for my good health and able mind and body.
I'm thankful for the gifts of the heart that were given to us by the children in our lives before E.

And the biggest thing I am thankful for and glad of and thrilled by is that I won't spend this Thanksgiving worrying about when I have to give my child back to her "real" family and wondering if she'll be okay.

But this year, I'll miss coy Eva asking for yet another roll.  I'll miss gleeful Andrew making a mess of his high chair tray.  I'll miss their sticky hands and sparkling blue eyes and fine blond hair.  And I'll hope upon hope that this Thanksgiving, they don't go without food, or a family who loves them.

Eva and Andrew, choosing Halloween pumpkins. 

Friends, I hope that this Thanksgiving brings you love and family and peace and joy, whoever and wherever you are.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Once Upon A Time...

two girls fell in love.  These are their stories.

T, February 2005

It all started when she skated on to the rink for her first roller derby practice.  I had been involved for about five months and had skated in my first game a week before. At that practice I was chosen by the coach to teach A how to fall; it is important to fall certain ways to avoid hurting yourself. She was a natural and we soon joined the rest of the group.  
        We quickly became friends.  We were both students at the U of A and only knew a few other people in town. I had moved from a small town a little less than an hour away and she moved from the Phoenix area. We would carpool to practices and hang out afterwards. While everyone else went to the bars, we would go get dessert or skate around downtown since we were only 18. Sometimes other people would join us, a friend, a roommate, or maybe someone else from roller derby, but the two of us together became the norm.

One night stands out in my memory and we both recount it often.  I invited her over to watch a movie (it happened to be a lesbian coming out movie, go figure). There was a rain storm that night, so after the movie we grabbed a blanket and watched the storm from my porch.  I’m not sure why it came up, but after a while we decided it would be fun to paint a mural on one of the doors in my bedroom. By the time we finished it was morning.  We went to the store and got the ingredients for my family recipe French toast.  I think this would be when we started “dating”, although neither of us realized it until weeks later.
A painting

We were both still vaguely dating boys, but A identified as bisexual.  We both started coming up with excuses to cancel dates and spend time with each other instead. Since she lived in the dorms, we spent a lot of time at my house.

A started to stay the night at my house more and more often. She would sleep in my bed, but everything was still platonic. I guess my first red flag was the twinge of jealousy I felt when she mentioned she had a crush on another girl in roller derby.  I told myself it was nothing, and definitely didn’t mention it to her. Slowly things began to change, a touch here, a look there; I started to acknowledge my feelings and think maybe she had feelings in return.

Suddenly, she withdrew.  I was crushed and more confused than ever.  Obviously I had been wrong and she was trying to put some distance between us. Finally she came to my house after practice. It was the last day of classes at the University and we had a day off before finals started.  She decided to stay over, although she was more distant, both physically and emotionally.  Since I lived in a college neighborhood, all of our neighbors were celebrating the end of the school year. Very loudly. 

Between the raucous neighbors and my preoccupation about A’s new attitude, I had a very hard time sleeping. After tossing and turning, getting water, tossing some more, using the bathroom (too much water), then lying awake staring at the ceiling, she finally asked me what was wrong. I don’t remember most of the conversation, but she said something about me being the “straight girl” and I told her I wasn’t so sure anymore.  I could see her look of shock and the glimmer of hope in the semidarkness. I found all of the courage I could, and trembling, I leaned in and I kissed her…

A, February 2005

Early in my second semester at the University of Arizona, I was looking for activities to entertain myself and my roommate in our spare time.  My mother, from my parents’ home 100 miles away, had been doing internet searches and emailed me, suggesting I look into Tucson Roller Derby.  I checked out the website, I pored over photos, and immediately I was hooked.  I emailed Mom back that night to tell her that I certainly wasn’t going to go watch roller derby, but that I was going to play roller derby instead!  She replied that she figured I might say that. 

I went to my first practice that Sunday night, newly purchased skates and gear slung over my shoulder.  I’d never actually skated in quad speed skates before, so I was slightly apprehensive of making a fool of myself – but not enough to stop me trying. 

I arrived and introduced myself to the coach, who promptly assigned me to a more experienced skater to teach me the basics.  Her name was T.  She was young and cute, and skated up to me with a smile on her face and a CareBear on her t-shirt. 

T stuck with me that whole practice, helping me with technique and encouraging me when I felt I wasn’t doing well.  After practice was over, she offered to drive me to the following practice on Wednesday, as it was held at a different location that was more difficult to find.  I immediately took her up on her offer. 

Over the next few months, we spent every practice working hard alongside one another.  Often, we would get together with other girls from the league to have coffee or ice cream or watch movies.  T quickly became one of my best friends and I recall spending nights over at her house simply so I didn’t have to bother going home only to come back to T’s house the next day. 

Without realizing it, I suddenly faced the realization that my feelings for T were more than friendly feelings.  Let’s be clear here that nowhere in this discovery was there room for pure, simple, and straightforward lust.  There was nothing simple about the way I felt for T.  These weren’t physical feelings, but rather an intense emotional attachment.  I was crazy for this girl; I craved her presence, her laughter, and any smiles she shot my way warmed my heart. 

These feelings were simultaneously welcomed and feared.  I worried I wouldn’t be able to maintain my friendship with her; I worried about telling her the truth and repulsing her and losing her.  She had mentioned ex-boyfriends and was dating intermittently a guy she met through the university.  At the time, I was identifying as bisexual and was in no kind of relationship.  I’d told her about my occasional attraction to women.  She had never admitted any curiosity in turn, so my sole conclusion was that she was off-limits.  I was so filled with sadness over this that I felt I had no choice but to withdraw from the emotional relationship we’d begun to kindle. 

Then one evening it all changed.  We had fun watching a movie, and sitting out on her front porch watching the rain slick the pavement while sipping Dr Pepper.  I don’t know that I’ll ever forget those things.  Nor would I want to.  We ended up staying up the entire night, laughing and spontaneously painting her closet door and then in the morning she made me her family’s version of French toast.  I recall thinking that I never wanted to leave.  
T painting

Not too long after that evening, the semester ended and I found myself staying the night at her house yet again.  As torturesome as it was to me, it happened that there were no spare beds at T’s house and it was a logical conclusion that I’d just share her bed.  I lay on the right side of her aging mattress (which is still the side of the bed I sleep on, even to this day!), rolled on my side and facing away from her.  I held onto the edge of the mattress to keep myself balanced in the bed as I felt the mattress creak and shift under my weight.  T, on the other side of the bed, was flopping around in what seemed to be an attempt to get comfortable.  She got out of bed a couple times as well, only to return minutes later and allow the dance of insomnia to continue. 

Half out of exasperation and half out of morbid curiosity, I asked her what was the matter.  She didn’t quite know.  She was full of hesitation and uncertainty – things I didn’t know her to be.  Eventually it came out that T was questioning the way she identified.  She expressed fear about the unknown, about what having feelings for me would mean for her.  I reached out and squeezed her hand in mine, and told her that I was scared too. 

I moved closer to her, and as the anxious breaths from our respective mouths mingled in the air between us, I closed my eyes and felt time come to a halt.  My skin was electrified, my body buzzed with heat and anticipation; certainly sparks had to be shooting from my fingertips as I gripped T’s hand.  My heart pounded in my chest, and I opened my eyes in time to see T lean in and touch her lips to mine.  

The finished door
Happily Ever After