By Lisa Regula Meyer
It’s officially into the holiday season, as Thanksgiving is done (and maybe even cleaned up by now) and we’re on the countdown to Christmas/Yule/Kwanzaa/Chanukah/Festivus/whatever other winter holiday your family might celebrate. If you’re like most Americans, that means that it’s time to eat, because what better way to remember the difficulties and scarcity of our ancestors at this time of year than by indulging in the excess that they lacked, right? It makes perfect sense to me, but then I’m the person who was raised with the idea that food=love. To show that you care for your spouse and kids, you cook a good dinner. To show support after a birth or death, you brought a dish to your friends. To show that you welcomed your extended family, you laid out a scrumptious buffet. My family’s German; it’s what we do.
So we have a month-long orgy of office parties, school celebrations, family get-togethers, neighborhood festivities, and customer/client appreciation events. And for most of these, food plays a part, if not the central, role. And to top it off, there’s the gift-giving of food items, stockings filled with treats, and traditional foods and baked goods that make the holidays a time to remember and reconnect with those we love. It’s no wonder that the New Year- the end to the holiday festivities- ushers in so many diets and resolutions to lose weight.
What is it about the holidays that make us focus so heavily on all of this food? Why do humans make so many ties with emotions and food? That topic on its own has been one of considerable research and writing, but I’m here weighing in one more time on this very relevant discussion. Quite simply, food nourishes our body, while emotions nourish our soul. Our family, our experiences, our memories, our friends, all are sources of very strong memories. Those memories, and the people and things associated with them, make us who we are. They form the building blocks of our personality and shape our psyche, in the same way that our food and the nutrients that it contains shape our physical self.
Need a boost to help you through the day after a heavy work out? You can call a friend or get a dose of caffeine, maybe even combine the two and have coffee with a friend. Feeling under the weather and not up to par? Have a bowl of your favorite soup or stay in bed and snuggle with your favorite person. Missing family that’s flung across the miles (or you’re just not getting enough melatonin with the shortened daylight hours)? Fix a batch of Grandma’s famous cookies until you can make the trip to visit everyone.
Let’s face it, emotions take energy in the same way that running a race takes energy, and we humans aren’t too good at distinguishing one type of energy need from another. Emotional eating (grabbing physical energy when we need emotional energy) happens far more often than most physicians or therapists think is healthy, and has serious consequences for both mind and body. The opposite (grabbing emotional energy when physical energy is needed) is less common, but also happens for some people, so I’m told.
No matter what, the holidays are a very emotional time for many people. The stress of increased obligations and demands on our time, possible financial concerns with gift purchases and increased bills, travel related anxiety, reminders of the family and friends that are no longer with us, and the tension involved with seeing more people than we typically do- all of those things take a toll on us. Be honest, how many of you have felt like you need a vacation just to recover from winter break? Of course, these are all emotional demands, and a vacation, or even a weekend staying in, is a great way to replenish that emotional energy. There are also physical demands on our energy like shoveling snow, playing hard with kids more than usual, fighting off or recovering from illnesses, and the like, that also come into play. Put all this together, and add in the fact that our brains so heavily tie together sensory information with our memories, and it’s no wonder that the last month of the year tends to be so food-centered for so many people.
Now, I realize that this is by no means any kind of scientifically vetted or reviewed treatise on the subject, and I’ll be totally up front that this is just my ramblings, so take it for what it is. All that being said, I’m saying this because it needs to be said (for myself and others). This holiday, try to take a minute and reflect on whether you’re looking for emotional or physical energy, and imagine if maybe there’s a better way to remember Great Aunt Danelda than making her shortbread recipe. You might surprise yourself at your ingenuity, have a good laugh over the time she ate an entire head of lettuce while cooking Thanksgiving dinner, and your waist might thank you, too. Who knows, maybe you’ll even start a new family tradition of trading letters instead of plates of candy.
And finally, Dear Reader, have a cookie; I just baked them today.
By Lisa Regula Meyer
I, like a lot of people, grew up knowing non-traditional families of many sorts. Some were built through foster-to-adoption, some were non-parent guardians (some of own cousins were raised by our grandparents), step-families, international adoptions, single parents, the list goes on. It’s just how life works, right? I never really thought of these families as different, or the kids as anything other than normal, because in my world they were, and looking back, I feel fortunate to have known that diversity. Needless to say, the families that I knew were families where the story about the child’s creation was open and talked about. It wasn’t until I met a good friend’s family that I thought about how the formation of one’s identity might be altered based on the choices of their parents, and it wasn’t until then that I considered the privilege of knowing one’s own story.
Before I met my friend’s father, he had already explained that his dad was adopted. I was fine with the situation, and didn’t think anything of it, and it wouldn’t be until well over a year of knowing D that I would fully understand what that meant for him. Slowly, the story came out, first about his birth and adoption, and later about his lived experience of the process. D’s family is Scottish, and he’s proud of that heritage. His story let me truly appreciate how far we’ve come in family building and children’s rights, and where we can still improve.
D was adopted when he was three, and had spent most of his life in an orphanage before then. He remembers vague bits of this time, he remembers being called “Danny,” he has the teddy bear that he remembers clinging to, he remembers feeling different from his sister- their parents’ biological child. He wasn’t told until he was an adult that he was in fact adopted, and wasn’t told by his parents, but rather his sister. His parents had maintained that he was theirs the entire time.
Once he did find out the truth, and that his feelings had been correct, he set out on a hunt to find his biological parents. D built up a fantasy of his biological parents- good parents from good families, true love, unfortunate circumstances, regret, and wishing that they hadn’t let go of him. Sometimes his stories even included his family trying to come back for him. He had his stories, but he wanted the truth, and for adoptions done in the late ‘50’s and later, closed adoptions were the norm, and records were shoddy at best.
After loads of work, D eventually got some information, and found out his truth. He found out that he had been born with syphilis. That his mother had been a prostitute. That he had two other siblings, both with different fathers than his. All of this sent him into a tailspin, not for lack of wanting to know his background, but for the huge difference in what he had expected and what was reality.
I don’t write all of this to say don’t adopt, or don’t do a closed adoption, or anything else in the negative. I write all this to say be careful and be honest, whether you go through surrogacy, adoption, donor gametes, or donor embryos. I also write all this to remind us all that it’s not what created a family that matters, but the fact that a family was created. Remove the stigma, don’t judge others for having a different family make-up, and recognize that the one thing that builds all families is love. Love is the defining characteristic of a family; the rest is just the details.
By Lisa Regula Meyer
Names have never been easy for me, as is the case for many people, in part because names mean so much to us. Names identify us, names denote categories, names mark from where we come and to whom we belong. They show both our individual and familial identifications.
As kids, names can be a source of torment. Whether it’s peers teasing one another over unique names, or having to correct teachers over mispronunciations, having a name outside of the norm isn’t easy for kids. Adults don’t mean to call out differences with their blunders, and people have become far more sensitive over the years on this topic, but if you’re the kid with the mispronounced name, it’s little consolation. Children’s peers, on the other hand, seem to revel in being mean and picking out differences. Again, we’re getting better at teaching kids to not be such jerks, but there’s still that Lord of the Flies, uncontrollable Id that too often takes over in children. Growing up with the name “Regula,” I very quickly got used to correcting mispronunciations, as most kids who face that problem do, and luckily, my first name didn’t seem to lend itself very much to taunting on the playground. In that respect, I was very fortunate to have been born a girl- my parents always held that had I been a boy, I would have been Oofa, Omar, or Guido, and I was never sure how serious they were about that possibility.
As adults, names can be tricky also, especially as we navigate the waters into adulthood and defining ourselves. More than a few of us struggle with how to self-identify, whether to keep a more child-like version of our name that we’ve always gone by, such as “Billy” or “Susie,” or move on to more mature sounding variants. Parents, family members, and long time friends may not be comfortable with our choice of a grown-up name, or may simply struggle with remembering to make the switch to the new-favored choice. Larger identification issues, like those faced by transgender individuals, can cause even more strife for the individual and relationships. Last names also pose problems as we grow, as we decide how to identify ourselves within the larger framework of our family, both blood relations and the families we create with our partners. Poor relationships with our parents may push us away from our family name, and make taking the name of a spouse- or simply changing our names- easier, while a strong sense of heritage may make changing names not an option. The latter usually necessitates discussion about how then to show our union with another individual and the formation of our own family unit. Do you hyphenate? Combine names into something new? Both take an entirely different name? Or just each keep your respective name? And the addition of children can replay the whole discussion over again.
My family had always pounded the drum of “heritage” pretty loudly, and grew up proud of my German roots and my strong family name as symbols of who I was. My name was me, a symbol to the world of who I belonged to and how I fit in, even if it did cause me to stand out every time a teacher struggled with it (really, it’s not that difficult to pronounce, so I never understood why it caused such problems). After my father’s death, my name came to mean even more to me, and one of the few benefits that I saw to children was the chance to honor my father by naming a human after him. I was as strong as my name implied, I told myself, and vowed never to subsume my surname under the surname of a spouse. One of my major prerequisites for potential partners was their being OK with me not taking their name, as to me, this dual name symbolized the partnership that I wanted to have with a spouse, and the partnership that I had seen in my parents’ relationship.
For my husband and me, we were both tied to our family names when we got married, and the original decision was for both of us to take both last names, showing our commitment to each other and our families. I was thrilled to have found someone who shared my feminist ideas of equality in marriage. Eleven years later, he’s never found the time to legally change his name, while I struggle consistently to have my full name recognized (you really don’t want to be the one that mistakenly refers to me as Dr. Meyer, or worse, Mrs. Meyer). With the addition of our son, for some reason I thought naming him to match what Dwight and I had originally decided on- Regula Meyer- would somehow make things easier, and lessen the mistakes that left my name out of the equation. You can imagine how well that plan worked.
So now in 2012, our household finds itself once again deliberating over names and identification. The latest bump in the road came up as Kenny has decided to sign his name as “Kenny Meyer.” Part of me can understand his decision to do so; for a first grader, writing his full name would be a daunting task. But part of me is sad over this, because it feels like a rejection of my contribution to his life. And so as a family we talk. About what names mean, about who we are, about who we want to be, about how we fit together, about how we value each other. As I struggle to define myself and my life, he’s defining himself as well. All I can do for either of us is work toward both of us doing what feels right for ourselves, and trust that the work we’ve put into this life that we have together has created strong enough bonds to hold through any storm, even the Frankenstorm that is growing up.
By Lisa Regula Meyer
So, honest to whatever-god-you-believe-in-or-don’t, I’m graduating soon, and then I’ll be Dr. Lisa Regula Meyer. The dissertation is in the home stretch of edits and comments, and even though it’s going slowly getting the edits and comments to address, I’m doing what I can as quickly as I can. All the while I’m also being a mom, being a spouse, being a homeowner, searching for a full time job (with some restrictions, if I’m going to stay in Kent with my family), being active in the community, being a writer, being a photographer, and being just plain as awesome as I am. (Note to self: still need to modulate that whole self-image thing; it can go too far in either direction.) In the midst of all this craziness and big-changiness, I’ve been asking myself some serious questions.
Asking questions isn’t foreign to me (I know, you’re shocked), but it’s never easy when the life-purpose-goals questions come up, as they often do at major changes of circumstance. We humans -with brains so big that we have to be born in an altrical state just to fit out of our mothers- we think big thoughts. We philosophize, theorize, hypothesize, and verbize until we’re blue in the face at times, and we defend those thoughts. My goodness, do we defend those thoughts! Wars over religion, economic systems, borders, and more abstract ideas have pervaded human history like sex pervades Bonobo history (look it up, very randy and interesting species of ape). The good thing is that since we share a specie, I know you can empathize with the constant thinking and questioning and, let’s face it, worrying.
I’ve talked about the idea of “having it all” here before, and here I am, apparently on the cusp of having all that I wanted, and wondering if this is really what I want. I never chose motherhood, but I’ve (mostly) enjoyed it, I know that it’s changed me, and I think that change was (again, mostly) for the better. My preferred focus was on my profession and career, and now that I’m about to finish my professional training and start my career, I’m asking myself if this is what I want to do. Have I lost my ever-loving mind?! My husband thinks so. The thing is, that even when we want them, life-changes are huge stressors. Remember back to Psychology 101 and the discussion of stress? There were two kinds- distress and eustress. Distress is bad; it’s trying to figure out how to make ends meet, how to survive on less, how to do without. There is no decision that makes distress better, and usually it highlights our lack of control. Eustress, on the other hand, is mostly good, although it can be stressful and have the problems that go along with stress if it continues for too long. Eustress is choosing which career path you want to take, picking between two job offers, deciding wedding plans, and tends to have a positive outcome that revolves around one’s mastery, progress, and growth. Distress helps us survive, eustress helps us grow.
I’m glad to have this eustress of figuring out what to do with myself, let me be clear. The fact that I get to now choose whether to continue down the path and become Professor Doctor Lisa Regula Meyer, or take a job in another industry and remain Dr. Regula Meyer, is an option that I never would have dreamed of when I was young. I’m a first generation college student (or at least first in a really long time, and that in only one lineage), and through the years that I have taught undergraduates, I’ve had to struggle with the feeling of being an imposter. Was I really the person these young people were looking up to? Was I really the expert in the room? What would happen when they realized that I was a sham, the daughter of high school graduates? At the same time, those years have shown me exactly how hard it is to be a part of the Ivory Tower. There is no doubt that it has its perks, and there are a lot of them, but there are also extremely long hours, high competition, high stress, high demands, high expectations, difficult co-workers, and difficult bosses.
The Ivory Tower is great, but at the end of the day, it’s still a grueling job, just in a different way than a steel worker or an auto mechanic. Thanks to that little self-image issue I alluded to at the beginning of this piece, taking the jump to do what I’ve trained to become takes a pretty big leap of faith, and sometimes staying on this side of the fence is easier than mustering the strength to make that leap. It’s one of my (many) flaws that I’m consciously working on, and that I’m trying ever so hard not to cultivate in my son. That lack of faith in self is also one of the many privileges that comes with being not lower class, so remember that privilege occurs on many levels, and the responsibility that balances that privilege is the responsibility to be aware of in what ways you have been privileged.
So I have my feelers out, and I work on sending out daily application packets (yes, packets, because even part time jobs in academia require a minimum of 10 pages of materials to look competitive), and I look at other options, too. Communications manager for a non-profit, non-profit executive director, coordinator for a field station, contract research, consultant, and more are all positions for which I’ve thrown in my hat. Now if only I could figure out which hat I want to wear when I grow up…
By Lisa Regula Meyer
This weekend, I had the honor of not only seeing two very good friends get married, but also getting to be a part of the whole thing in a way I’ve never been, other than with my own wedding. Actually, come to think of it, I probably put more planning into their wedding than in mine, considering my husband and I essentially eloped (with about a dozen people in tow). The process of getting these two beautiful people hitched really got me thinking, for many reasons, not the least of which was the discussion of privilege that was at the center of their wedding plans.
See, Chris and Kris are both very aware of the benefits of marriage, and how they automatically are put into a privileged position by virtue of the fact that they are a straight couple, and thus can have their union recognized by the state and federal governments. For them, their awareness and general amazingness lead them to choose not to accept that privilege by not getting legally married. They had the ceremony, but aren’t filing the paperwork. This leaves them in basically the same situation as all of their same-sex couple friends, and they plan to stay in this state of non-legal marriage until their friends can join them in matrimony.
Plenty of people look at marriage as a religious rite, and a marriage ceremony is most definitely a religious rite, but a marriage is so much more than those rites; it’s a relationship, it’s a joining of two people, it’s a commitment to each other, it’s a joining of two families and communities, and possibly the most important facet (from a practical standpoint) marriage is a legal contract.
This contractual agreement between two people can be very formal, including extensive pre-nuptial agreements, and post-nuptial agreements, or it can be extremely informal, simply taking advantages of what is offered by right of being married. This informal agreement at one time (and still in some states) was granted automatically to common-law marriages, or live-in relationships that fit the functional definition of marriage for a certain period of time, but that has changed in many places. Marriage is now mostly considered an opt-in status, because of all the privileges that it conveys, and the difficulties in undoing those privileges if or when a relationship fails.
What exactly am I speaking of when I say “the privileges of marriages”? Well, it’s certainly not the dirty socks in unlikely places, or the fights over who forgot to pick up the kiddo after tutoring last week, as those go along with a relationship with or without the legal recognition. No, the privileges I’m referring to include access to employer-supplied health insurance, the presumption of paternity for children conceived in the marriage, access to federal benefits from tax filing status to Social Security Survivor benefits, automatic inheritance and hospital visitation (as well as decision making power) benefits, and many, many others.
In fact, there are enough benefits to marriage that some young people are getting married to a best friend of the opposite sex simply to have access to things like medical insurance or spousal benefits under military jobs and careers, or to help a foreign friend stay in the country after being fired or dropping out of school (I can’t cite statistics here, but I personally know of former students with whom I still keep in touch who are doing just these things).
All of these little (and not so little) things add up to a mountain of privilege for opposite-sex couples in a married relationship simply by virtue of the fact that they happen to love a person with different genitalia than they have. If this isn’t a system that sets up a second-class-citizen scenario, I don’t know what does, and I know all too many people reading this piece have an even better knowledge of what I’m speaking than I do, because unlike Chris and Kris- I did say “I do” legally.
I won’t lie and say that I don’t worry about my friends, and what they’ll do should something happen to one or the other of them, but I admire their deep courage and commitment to equality over this matter, and I worry about this same issue for all of my same-sex-couple friends as well. Especially considering the administration’s continuing deportation policies and breaking up of families , I really worry for my same-sex, different-nationality coupled friends (and this includes one of my surro-families).
My husband and I were married nearly a dozen years ago, before much of the current battle over marriage equality became prominent, and before Ohio added a “one-man, one-woman” ammendment to the state constitution. While I don’t have the bravery to get a divorce simply to not be the beneficiary of a fantastically flawed system (nor do I feel like spending the money, time, and changes it would take to do that right now), but at this moment in my husband’s and my marriage, it definitely drives home exactly how lucky we are, even if those arguments and out-right fights continue to plague us. So instead, I’ll fight as much as I can to help my fellow married friends of all relationship groups have access to the same benefits that I have, and admittedly take advantage of.
By Lisa Regula Meyer
By now, hopefully at least a few of you have gotten a chance to see the new reality show on The Learning Channel, “Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo,” which follows Alana (a.k.a. Honey Boo-Boo), through her life as a young beauty pageant queen, along with the rest of her family. The family is a veritable train wreck, whatever your opinion of the Toddlers and Tiaras lifestyle and its effects on kids.
In other news, Disney recently drastically revamped Ursula from The Little Mermaid into, well, a vamp -to help promote their Villains line of makeup. They’ve taken a rotund, double-chinned octopus and turned her into a svelte, chiseled-cheekbone bearing diva. While I applaud the fact that they are moving past the ugly=evil position that they’ve had for a while now, I’m not happy with the message that beautiful=stick-thin, either; let alone marketing makeup with the Disney Princesses.
“Now, what on earth does Honey Boo-Boo have to do with Disney’s makeup endeavors?” you may be asking yourself by now. For starters, the Disney princess franchise sets up impossibly high beauty standards for girls, and some seriously shady messages about gender roles in society (granted, they have had some better role models lately, but the classic -and most heavily marketed- princesses are not what you want your daughter aspiring to, at least in my opinion).
Girls who have a well-defined sense of self, and are already confident in themselves (not common at the age which most girls are introduced to Disney princesses) run little risk of conforming her identity to that presented by outside forces, or internalizing those viewpoints. However, if the girl accepts and internalizes this view of “correct” female aesthetics and roles, then there are a few ways things can go. At one extreme end, you have Honey Boo-Boo -loud, confident, demanding, with a life centered on a specific view of beauty. At the other end of the spectrum, or possibly later in the girl’s development, there’s the Bratz version -many of the same traits as Honey Boo-Boo, but with a rebellious streak. Worst-case scenario, she ends up involved with drugs and promiscuity, possibly pregnant or with an STD. For anyone who hasn’t seen the Bratz dolls, think of a Barbie doll with more makeup, fewer curves, and a younger face, often wearing go-go boots, micro-minis, and leopard print.
Whichever direction a girl or young woman ends up going, she will be judged. If she ends up like Honey Boo-Boo, she’s laughed at, ridiculed, and parodied. If she ends up like the Bratz, she’s likely to be slut-shamed (insulting a female for her real or perceived breaking of sexual norms and roles in that society). There is no winning for girls who follow this path of princesses and stereotypes, but we continue to press them into these stereotypes. We claim inherent differences in boys and girls; that girls are drawn to princesses and pink by birth, even though the bulk of the data points to gender as socially constructed, similar to the way race is socially constructed, through others’ expectations of us, and our responses to those expectations.
The worst part of this whole scenario isn’t the pain we inflict on girls because of who they are and what they look like. The worst part of this process is the fact that we give them choices -not to help them avoid the pain and ridicule- but simply in what kind of pain and ridicule they eventually receive. The cruelty is the lie we feed our daughters, and the very limited options we expect of them.
By Lisa Regula Meyer
It’s a very odd couple of weeks in the news, enough to make me wonder if my long time dream of time travel had come true in a “Monkey’s Paw” sort of way, and I’ve awoken in 1950-something. Talk of “legitimate rape,” “honest rape,” “forcible rape,” forms of conception, and eleven-year -old kids that deserve to have been raped. In case you’ve been living under a rock, all of this is framed in the discourse on abortion, and specifically personhood rights for the unborn (well, except the remark about the eleven-year-old; that’s just cruel and asinine). Now, I wasn’t there in the bad old days of the coat hanger and before Roe vs. Wade, but I’d wager the rhetoric was worse, although I’m not sure by how much.
I can respect a pro-life stance, even if I myself am pro-choice; I have plenty of friends that are pro-life for various reasons and to varying degrees, but we mostly get along. I say “mostly” because saying that any group got along all the time would be a lie now wouldn’t it? Even when we don’t necessarily get along, we’re civil and respectful, and while no one typically persuades anyone else, in the end we’re still friends. I think that’s how most of us are in our day-to-day lives, with people we know, or at least I like to think that’s the case. You’d never know it from the news, though, and I may be delusional in thinking the way I do.
Thing is, while all the talk from the likes of Akin, Ryan, Paul, and Passidomo make it sound like these are just misspoken words or verbal accidents, there’s a certain logic to these unhinged statements. What they effectively do is blame the victim and dehumanize the woman involved, and by extension, all women. As a meme that’s been going around Facebook states, a woman deserves to be raped because she’s scantily clad just as much as a man deserves to be kicked in the balls when he doesn’t put on a cup in the morning. Victim blaming is the easiest of these insidious tactics to dispel because all it requires is a simple respect for others.
The other lines are a bit trickier, in part because they rely on that first step above: respecting others. But once you do that, you have to think about dichotomies. See, any time you categorize something, you imply that not everything fits in that category. For there to be “honest rape,” that implies that some rapes are “dishonest,” or a case of “buyer’s remorse”, and nothing could be further from the truth. Rape is never OK, there is nothing that a person can do that makes them worthy of being raped. To say that they are worthy of rape is to say that they aren’t human, plain and simple.
Finally, using lies and fallacies like women’s bodies “shutting that whole thing down” and pregnancies not resulting from rapes is blatant propaganda and dishonesty, on top of victim-shaming and cruelty. More importantly, it is absolutely unacceptable for those who should be held as role models to be spreading this misinformation and mischaracterization, and even worse when this is done by a member of the House Science Committee. There is a place for opinion, if you could even call these opinions, but it is not situated somewhere north of facts, at least not in the real world, which these people have arguably left behind at this point.
On a closing note, what all of these comments have in common is a reflection of the fact that there are plenty of people in the US and the world who still consider women to be second class citizens, and not worthy of the same respect as men and not able to be trusted with decisions regarding their own body. In fact, talking about rape as another form of conception ignores the woman entirely, and focuses simply on “rape->baby” and in thirty-one states, the woman continues to be ignored by laws that allow fathers via rape to have the same rights and access to their progeny as fathers via IVF, intercourse, or adoption (yes, you read that right, rapists can sue for visitation, too). The same goes with personhood amendments which instill legal status on all embryos, including those created via IVF. Many prominent pro-life activists are opposed to personhood statutes, because those statutes go too far in limiting rights, and would effectively bar IVF due to concerns on how to deal with all of the extra embryos created in the process and the need to figure out what to do with them (and a desire to avoid additional Octo-mom situations).
Personally, I will always support a woman’s right to bodily autonomy, the same as I respect a man’s right to bodily autonomy in the circumcision debate. If we can’t control our own bodies, what do we have control over? And let’s face it, this discussion is not about protecting the unborn, or caring for children- if it were, we wouldn’t have such a high national child poverty rate. The discussion on different types of rape, abortion (and in part, surrogacy) is about control. Women are not chattel, and any politician- or human, for that matter- would do well to remember that all 7 billion plus humans currently alive are here because of a woman (or two).
By Kerrie Olejarz
Recently I wrote about the bumpy road of IVF and surrogacy. It came from a dreary place in me, because we had just received the news that our latest attempt in India did not work. My trip to Delhi in July was an amazing trip. Sadly I left my husband and daughter at home, yet was fortunate enough to have my sister accompany me. Leaving Cailyn and Mark was heart wrenching, I cried a lot, and then cried some more. I knew this trip was worth it as it could potentially give Cailyn a sibling which we feel is super important. We departed early evening from Toronto, heading to Montreal, then Brussels, then Delhi. The trip to India was smooth, no issues or delays. We were off to a good start! My best buddy Rahul picked us up at the airport and whisked us off to the hotel and in no time, we were checked in, and officially in Delhi! I immediately Skyped with Mark and Cailyn and cried alot. Cailyn is still so little and could understand that this was my voice, but the video aspect of Skype was yet to be comprehended. The first day in Delhi consisted of a trip to see Dr Shivani. We grabbed a rickshaw and flew over for my first appointment. This was my first experience at the ISIS IVF Hospital that Dr Shivani opened about a year ago. The hospital was great, as were the staff. And, of course, it was really great to see Dr Shivani again. My scan showed good follicles, lots of them too! Dr Shivani instructed me to come back in two days for a scan and to keep doing what I had been doing. Each day away from home was a little bit easier, as long as I was busy, and boy oh boy, were we busy. The jet lag and heat are a killer but we plowed through that easily! There were loads of surrogacy clients in Delhi that I knew and we spent the bulk of the trip visiting them and organizing nights out. It was great to see my sister really enjoy Delhi and see why we love it so much. It is a bit chaotic and can be tricky to navigate through the streets and blocks. While we were in Delhi every one was praying for rain as the monsoons were late and the people of India were desperate. The roads were dry and dusty and every one you met talked about the need for rain. In between Dr’s appointments we did some sightseeing, we shopped, and we ate. It was hot, 50 Celsius every day so our time outside was always planned and time limited. As the days went on, I started to feel full – IVF full!! My belly was growing as my 20 or so follicles plumped up and matured in preparation for egg retreival. My sister took an afternoon trip to the Taj Mahal which is about a five-hour drive from Delhi. Her trip was a good omen for India as she got stuck in the villages during the first monsoon rain! They could not leave the village of Agra because the roads were washed out, her driver did not speak English, and after 14 hours she returned to Delhi slightly frazzled and completely understanding why I had no desire to do this trip to Agra again. While my sister was on her trip from hell, I had another scan and later in the day received my two surrogate profiles. I opted to let Dr Shivani chose our surrogates on Thursday based on the scans and blood work they had. I wanted the best chances so leaving it to almost the last day was ideal, medically speaking. That evening I skyped with Mark and we reviewed the profiles. Our hopes and dreams of a sibling for Cailyn were trapped inside these two Word documents. Mark was relieved that I was doing well. He was a nervous wreck and when I told him I had just come back from dinner with our friends from Canada, Australia, and Europe he was very happy that I was enjoying my time despite missing my family. Finally at 2am my sister arrived and as I previously mentioned, she was frazzled. She had quite the trip to Agra and the rains added a whole new element of chaos and wonder.
By: Lisa Regula Meyer
In case you, Dear Reader, hadn’t noticed, I really enjoy the surrogacy world. I may not have much tolerance for kids- especially when they misbehave- but I enjoy the theory of kids and parenting. Becoming a family; the many different ways people can go about it; the many variations of families; the different ways to get to one common goal- a healthy, well-adjusted next generation- fascinate me. Part of it is the variety, part is the loftiness of shaping the next generation, and part of it is all the amazing biology and odds that come into play. But all of it is truly miraculous. And so it was with great honor and enthusiasm that I get to go to the Men Having Babies seminar in New York City this September, as the traditional surrogate speaker.
I’ve spoken to groups before, but usually in my academic discipline of herpetology and community ecology, and I’ve traveled before, even alone, but never to The Big Apple. So there are lots of reasons to be excited about this little adventure of Mama’s. I might even get to see some friends while I’m there, and make some new ones! The whole project is actually very interesting- panels open to prospective intended parents and speakers including IVF doctors, lawyers, psychologists, surrogates, and parents via surrogacy, egg donors, and more. Obviously, there will also be plenty of other prospective IPs to talk with and discuss options, and the website for Men Having Babies has recently added assessments and survey information on various professionals in surrogacy to their site.
As much as I may have always been bookish as a kid, I also love a good adventure. Reading may have been my way of exploring and adventuring as a poor kid in a rural home with no cable (no, I’m not that old, Dad just never agreed with paying for TV). Books let me pursue adventures without dealing with the logistics and essentially inaccessible options. Whatever the reasons, and whatever the outlets, I’ve always been one to explore, take risks, and try new things. Variety is the spice of life, and I like it picante.
Odd as it may seem, my love of trying new things definitely did encourage my desire to pursue surrogacy. That’s not to say that every person should have the experience of being or having a surrogate, but for those who are interested and able, it’s a great experience to have. I’m not going to lie; it does have its risks, and its downsides, but then again, so does every new experience. How many times have you tried a new recipe, only to realize that you do, in fact, hate cacao nibs with squash? Really, that’s one experience you should avoid at all cost.
Most of the time in surrogacy, the benefits far outweigh the negatives, and the serious negatives happen only a very small fraction of the time, and there are benefits that you don’t ever imagine when you’re just starting out. Biggest benefit is most definitely creating a new family, but there are also the feelings of appreciation, meeting the wonderful non-immediate family of your IPs, seeing new places, hearing new perspectives, and far more. The negatives do happen; I realize that and have seen them happen recently to a very dear friend of mine. Ultimately, it’s about weighing the risks and benefits, and making a decision that you’re comfortable with, and due to stupidity or something, I’m comfortable with quite a lot of risk. Maybe a bit too much; I have taken more than a couple of volts in my lifetime during home improvement projects.
The thing is- for me- the benefit of having a new experience that I’ve never had before is a huge benefit. I’ll admit that I may have gotten even less risk averse lately, but it’s worked out so far. I risk putting myself out here and talking about some deeply personal topics; I took a risk and went to the surro-babe’s birthday party; I’ve applied for (and taken) jobs that were high skill levels that I didn’t think myself to be; and I’ve spoken out vocally with positions that weren’t popular. Do I regret any of it? No, because I’ve been able to rise to the challenges and learn an awful lot. Would I do any of it differently? Possibly, but I can’t see cutting back on the risks I’ve taken, only trying other things that I had the sense (good or otherwise) to pass on at the time.
I love being a part of surrogacy, and I love the people that are also in this world- people who are willing to dare to dream, and take the risks, and put themselves out there. By doing these little things- by being true to ourselves- it shows the world what all is possible, and makes it a little easier for the less-brave souls to follow their dreams as well. If nothing else, I have more fun trying new things than I would by not trying them. So take a chance. Be your truest self. Learn something new. Heck, bet once in a while. Me or the Big Apple- who do you think will come out more intact? September 22nd, when I finally take on New York City, the world finally gets to find that out.
Full disclosure- my husband’s money is on New York. He doubts my ability to navigate hoards of people without damaging my sanity.
When you venture down the IVF and surrogacy road, it tends to add a whole new level of anxiety to the baby making process. IVF pregnancies are higher risk in general and there is typically more monitoring done in the first twelve weeks than with a normal, conventional pregnancy. Add to this a surrogate, an agency, and a whole lotta money and it becomes almost too much to comprehend!
It should be noted that the woman who decides to be a surrogate is an amazing person. To carry someone else’s baby, knowing the higher risk that comes with the pregnancy and also that at the end of gestation she no longer has any rights to this child, shows how immensely selfless these surrogates truly are.
When we tell people we have had ten tries at surrogacy and one live birth, they say to keep trying for that sibling. Of course, if we had it our way we would try try try again until it worked, but sadly, the financial aspect of it is just too much. If we were trying to get pregnant the conventional way, there would be no cost and whole lot more fun! It is not easy to keep trying, with IVF cycles, choosing surrogates, and waiting and wondering. As much as you have your angel surrogate ready and willing, the fact of the matter is that you might not get pregnant, and if you do, hopefully the pregnancy will result in a live birth. To an outsider it might seem exciting to go through a surrogacy attempt; and of course, it is very exciting, but considering the challenges you are up against, it is also very stressful. There are so many details to consider, the timing aspect of it, and of course, the money. Once you get this all worked out, you put so much hope and faith in the process that sometimes the reality of what you are doing gets clouded.
Sadly, when you get a negative pregnancy result, you are out a whole lot of money and you will feel heartbroken. BUT, when you do get that call with a positive beta test result, it is all indeed worth it! We have had 9 out of 10 negatives and are old pros at dealing with the news. We always try to figure out our next steps, and also we stay very positive about the surrogacy journey and all it has to offer. If you know someone who will be or has been trying surrogacy, understand that there is a huge hesitancy in celebrating until the baby is born. The emotions that come with having another woman carry your baby can be challenging to get a handle on. Many thoughts swirl around in the heads of intended parents, most commonly fear –fear that the pregnancy will not survive, and that, yet again, hopes and dreams will be shattered.
Once the baby(ies) is(are) born, let the full on celebration and joy begin!! There is nothing better than holding your baby after the years of heartache that led to this.