Monday, November 23, 2009

Baby Moon

We are jetting off this week to an undisclosed location for a 10 day last-hurrah-vacation, just the two of us, before the baby arrives. Instead of heading to the usual thanksgiving with family, we are ditching both sides of the family and heading to a tropical paradise. I was told by someone that this is our "babymoon," which I suppose is the honeymoon before the baby arrives. It's one of those terms that would have irritated the hell out of me if some pregnant lady ever chirped to me "We're going on our babymoon!" But like so many other circumstances right now, my usual abrasive reactions are watering down. I can see the sweetness of the term.

In 2007, I spent thanksgiving miscarrying while eating turkey. In 2008, I was thankful that I was not miscarrying over turkey dinner. And in 2009, obviously I am thankful for this baby, but frankly I am also just thankful that none of this killed me. I mean how many holidays have I spent miserable and in despair? I always dreamed of being able to spend thanksgiving sitting at the table with my family, piling my plate with the harvest of foods, looking down at my pregnant belly, or another scenario - I am stuffing my face with mash potatoes and I raise my glass at the table and say, "We have an announcement to make, we are pregnant!" Well, that never came true, and it never will. So instead of trying to create this fantasy thanksgiving I have been waiting to have, we are reinventing it by getting the hell out of here. We will begin a new kind of thanksgiving next year when we can celebrate with our own child sitting right next to us at the table.

Happy thanksgiving to all of you. Peace and good eating!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Media Watch

Besides people who are completely boring, most people have something that makes them an outsider. Some just hide it better than others. Any story has it's greatest impact when telling the arc of a character who must face some kind of challenge, idiosyncrasy, or exile. Television is no exception. Even in the toilet of reality TV, there is this same fundamental principle. But for television that actually requires good writing, there are always eyes out in the audience who can verify whether these challenges, idiosyncrasies, or exile are ringing true.

I'm pretty sensitive to media representations of gender, race, and sexuality. In all these categories historically there are countless gruesome moments of stereotyping. But certainly over time it has been improving, there is hope. I had long given up on television ever portraying infertility with any real craft. Particularly with surrogacy, they have tended to turn to comedic set ups -- (Desperate Housewives) "Oops, they put the wrong sperm in and, oh no, our baby is black!" On top of the fact that the husband ends up sleeping with the surrogate- nice. Or, (Baby Mama) "Oh my god my surrogate is a maniac!" or (Jezebel) short-lived sitcoms where Parker Posey asks her sister to be her surrogate- "How nutty!" On Friends Chandler and Monica couldn't conceive so they adopt. Phoebe helps her brother and carries their twins. They got it a little better, about a B+ in terms of storytelling.

In terms of general infertility, there is a wider spectrum of attempts. Most TV shows play this storyline for a couple episodes and then POOF, wow, they get pregnant, or POOF, wow, they will adopt. No one really wants to see the storyline go much further than that. There was a series on HBO called Tell me you love me featuring a couple trying to conceive. They were trying to get it real in term of relationships, so they tried to tackle infertility. But the infertile couple constantly bickered and ultimately the woman seemed out of her mind. Good try but no cigar.

But let's face it, surrogacy and donor egg on paper are ripe for comedy. Three or four people trying to make a baby and all the potential delicious mishaps could score some laughs. It does scream soap opera. But when writers dig a little deeper, or actors who have faced infertility chime in, there is potential for more. The reason I bring all of this up is that I am happy to see on ABC's Brothers and Sisters many fertility plot lines. First we find out that among the Walker family, Tommy is infertile and has to use one of his brothers as a sperm donor. Then his sister Kitty can't get pregnant and low and behold we actually get to see them go through an IVF cycle- shots and everything. We even see Kitty miscarry. They ultimately adopt, but they even dabbled a little in surrogacy talk. In a later episode after both Kitty and Tommy have their children, they have a moment of understanding- infertile to infertile. Wow, too good to be true? You mean, they actual keep the infertility as part of their characters? They don't just write it out like most TV shows once the problem is miraculously solved?

For this new season, Kevin and his husband Scotty have now decided to have a child through donor egg and surrogacy. Am I looking in the mirror? I have said before that on paper I am equal to a gay man trying to conceive a child. I love a man, and I don't have a good egg or uterus to use. So when watching this plot unfold on Brothers and Sisters, I was happy to see they were getting is right- at least in terms of the surrogacy process. I've read on some TV blogs some criticism that this surrogacy plot desexualizes Kevin and Scotty by making them less a gay couple and keeps them in a safe heterosexual plot of love, marriage, baby. I can't speak to that, obviously, but I can speak to seeing a surrogacy and egg donor plot line that doesn't involve slap stick humor. For instance, last episode Kevin and Scotty are trying to search online for their egg donor. Kevin was obsessing over the profiles, trying to find the perfect woman. It was good to see it wasn't the butt of a cheap sitcom joke. It showed him really struggling with the choice. I had to do the exact same thing pouring over online profiles. It's not easy. It's one of the weirdest processes I have ever gone through.

The timing couldn't have been better for me. I had been starting to obsess a little about what our baby girl is going to look like. Will she look like the egg donor and will that make me feel bad? Will she feel bad that she doesn't look like her mother? Then as I settled into bed I found comfort where I least expected, the television. I turned on Brothers and Sisters and saw Kevin obsessing over the same things- physical traits, academic traits, etc. His uncle tells him that like wine, you don't know what you are going to get based on the grape. He says there is a world of surprises depending on how you cultivate that grape, so the taste is unpredictable. So Kevin walks away feeling like no matter what traits the donor has, the child will be a product of their parenting and that will be full of unexpected and joyous surprises.

I know this is not an earth shattering revelation, as I have been preaching that for a long time to myself, but it was somehow good to see it on TV. It's one thing if I say this in my head, but it's another thing for this sentiment to be portrayed on a box that sits in millions of people's homes. It rang true and that's good writing, and good writing can move mountains. Good writing can possibly sway prejudices. Good writing can move a woman to feel more okay about donor egg and surrogacy. That's progress for me and more surprisingly...for television. Kudos ABC.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

To all who are trying

"Beyond the very extreme of fatigue and distress, we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own; sources of strength never taxed at all because we never push through the obstruction."
-William James
After going out into the city with a fake pregnancy belly on Halloween, it definitely confirmed that I can still make fun of my situation but no longer feel the need to shoot dagger eyes at every pregnant woman or every stroller that zooms by. Now I look at what brand the stroller is for god sakes. The graduation to a healthy pregnancy is slowly but surely moving me from "have not" to "have." In this rather unsettling but happy shift, I try my hardest to think of what comforting words I can say to those who are still in the "have not" section of infertility. What did I so desperately want from people who seemed to "have" what I wanted?

This was never more clear when a friend recently faced yet another mishap after years of IVF losses and even failure with a surrogate. After having decided to finally move to donor egg, her cycle was cancelled the day before retrieval because of a mishap with the donor. Somehow in my naivete, I had believed moving into the extreme sport of surrogacy and donor egg gave you a bit of a shield from bad luck and cluster-fucks. But it doesn't. There are still a world of things that can screw you even when working with other women's bodies.

So as my friend faces the same question we have all faced, "What do I do next?" I so desperately wanted to say some words of comfort that would really comfort. I want to be able to convey to her and anyone else out there that at some point the bad luck will end. At some point all this effort will get you to a solution. When I was struggling with each IVF, it was so easy for me to feel like I was wasting my time. It was so easy to feel like the bad luck would never end even when it ended for other people. I think back and I am not sure any fertile person ever said to me emphatically, "Keep trying." No one in the "haves" club ever said with confidence for me to continue, as I am sure most felt pain to watch me struggle. There was a lot of sympathy, but no rallying for the cause. I think it could have helped to hear once in a while from others a certain confidence that I should keep trying for my family, however it works out. To actually say those words to someone is very powerful.

I know I can't expect others to know how this all feels, but I do in fact know how it feels and I want to be able to say comforting and real words to those struggling through infertility. As the quotation above says, we don't know how much strength we have until we push through that obstruction. So I guess my message to those still trying hard for their baby is don't stop trying. I am saying to you that despite failure, don't stop. Keep finding ways to try, even if it pushes you to where you never thought you could go. Do not give up. Every single person going through infertility has this drive to break through obstructions - you live it everyday, you prove it everyday. So I just wanted to be a reminder of that.