Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Tattoo Story: Illustrating the Hitchhiker’s Adventure

we may add more color, but for now this is it, my new favorite
All of my tattoos serve as illustrations to some of the bigger stories of my life. I am proud of all of my tattoos and grateful that they allow me to tell those stories over and over again. This one is particularly fun, because it is so unusual a story, and so deeply personal on so many levels already shared on this blog. My husband recently gave me a print of a card he gave me as we were in between hitchhiking embryos. One baby had just died at nine weeks and we were about to transfer the second to my body. The card and print exclaim, “oh my f-ing (edited) god (little g- god so not breaking any commandments), is there anything you can’t do”. He gave it to me because he was proud of what I was doing, and what I had already done in my life. It was an amazing sentiment, and a reminder that I can do hard things, really hard things. While I know I don’t do any of those things alone, and certainly not this, I am proud of this story and so glad I have a way to continue to share it for years to come.

I am especially proud too, as a woman in a profession where I am limited by my gender, that I used my vagina to serve Jesus in a way that no man can. I know that is a strong statement, and I don’t say it to be inflammatory, I am not trying to offend. It’s sincere, I have been limited in what I am allowed to do and what churches I work at because I am a woman. My qualifications to serve Jesus professionally are limited by my anatomy, but they aren’t limited by my God. He has equipped me and empowered me to serve and it was really fun to serve in this way, a way that a man couldn’t. A way that I was choosing, a way that required a lot of strength and perseverance.A way that isn’t the traditional fundamental Christian, "a woman’s ultimate purpose is to bare children" kind of way. This kind of turned that upside down. It was empowering.

Serving Jesus is how this all started. Jesus came to love and to lay down his life for us with mercy and grace. I wanted to do that, to stretch beyond my comfort zone and follow Jesus lead. I have found time and time again, that when you do that it leads you on the best and worst of adventures, and I think this tattoo captures that beautifully.

The foundation of this tattoo is an anatomic heart. I love anatomic hearts and always have. There is something so beautiful to me about the way they look. While some may find them gory, or unattractive, this one is beautiful. I think that really symbolizes this journey. We took something ugly like cancer, and made something beautiful come out of it. The Hitchhiker couldn’t be carried by her mama, cancer robbed them of that. It was awful and hard, but then this opportunity came from it, and we all now have a bigger, richer, more beautiful family together because of it. We were united but the tragedy, and overcame the infertility part of it together as a team of two families. It’s the redemption of the ugly to the beautiful that is so present in the stories and lessons of Jesus. We see God’s grace in those stories, in the way he sees and creates beauty where other’s cannot, and I love that this tattoo captures some of that.

The heart has icicles at the bottom and smoke at the top. Those symbolize the four years that the Hitchhiker was frozen and how we helped thaw her out and give her life again. The science and miracle of it all was so amazing to me, and I wanted to capture that part of the story.

Inside the heart are bunnies. They aren’t a symbol of fertility, they are a symbol of the Hitchhiker’s family that are now a family of four. Her older brother is obsessed with bunnies, and the family has two large bunnies as pets. Whenever we saw her brother we would bring him bunnies of some sort, so it was a natural way to represent them and the way they are forever in our hearts.

The trees on top represent the adventure of it all. Like an exploration through the woods, this was an adventure. It was exciting and hard, treacherous and thrilling, and sometimes very mundane and ordinary.

The Hitchhiker’s mom said this was a beautiful illustration of how we carried their family through this process with warmth, love and strength. I feel like we all carried each other. It was such a team effort and an example of how family isn’t limited to the people you were born with or married into. I think it’s a beautiful illustration of God’s love for us, and the amazing adventures we have when we follow him.

So there you go, the story of this tattoo; an illustration of one of the coolest things my family and I will ever have the privilege of doing. I am so thankful God called me to do this crazy thing, and proud to have served in this way.  I am thankful to all of the friends and family that encouraged and helped us along throughout. This was not something I alone could ever have done. My husband was so courageous to agree to this. He sacrificed a lot to be there emotionally and physically for me. He and the kids had to accept the possibility of actually losing me, and for sure losing bits and pieces of me and what I could do as pregnancy progressed. So really his card should have said, "Oh my f-ing god is there anything we can’t do!” We as in my family and friends, the Hitchhiker’s family and ours. And we as in me and God serving together in faith, strengthened in only ways He can to do big things and bring a piece of heaven down to earth with the birth of this little girl. It was messy and hard and f-d at times, but it was even more beautiful, amazing and totally worth it!

If I can do this, you can do whatever that thing is that is nagging at you. I am not saying throw caution to the wind and just do something crazy, or stupid. While it did take a bit of crazy to actually go through with this adventure, there was a lot of research, planning, evaluating, preparation and so much more that went into it. So if adventure is calling you, get your ducks in a row, make sure your family and friends are on board, and may I suggest, you go in faith, God be with you.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Hitchhiker Adventures #7: Dropping off the Hitchhiker

“Why is your pulse so fast” said the well meaning nurse two days before I was scheduled to check into the hospital and push someone else’s baby out. I really wanted to fill her in during that moment, to grab my chart and show her all the issues the Hitchhiker and I had experienced together at the hand of In Vitro Fertilization. I wanted to show her the miscarriage record, the hemorrhage ultrasounds, the weird way her umbilical cord was inserted, or the ultrasound of her laying sideways, stretching my body to it’s physical limits, just days before she was supposed to come out. And I wanted to point out that all of this happened while I was carrying someone else’s baby. So yep, my pulse was a little high, but whose wouldn’t be? I had two babies before, but they were both mine. I knew how that went, I had that down. This was new territory. New, possibly very embarrassing territory, where in I might crap myself in front of two people I only met two years ago, and I still have not defecated (outside of a delivery room) in front of my husband of 17 years.  Not to mention the fact that I was going to be spending the day in the company of many and I would be doing it all without my underwear. I knew this adventure was crazy, I knew it was going to get messy, but there is a difference between knowing and actually doing. So as we checked into the hospital for the induction, I think it’s fair to say with a higher than normal pulse.

There were so many pulse racing unknowns to this when all four of us (Hitchhiker’s parents, Valentine and I) arrived and got settled into our labor and delivery room. I changed into a very lovely gown and IV pole, but thankfully was allowed to keep my bra on,dignity in these moments comes in the simplest of forms. We were team Hitchhiker the four of us. Their journey began in 2011, we were just playing catch up starting in 2013, and now here we all were together waiting for this little girl to finally be out in the world. So it didn’t seem to matter so much that I had to forgo underpants for the day. This was so much bigger than me and my embarrassment. 

We waited a long time. Well, longer than we had thought. My two were born rapidly. The Hitchhiker had other intentions. This hospital was much gentler with the pitocin and gave it to me very gradually. That combined with the Hitchhiker’s sunny side up position made for 12 hours of labor rather than 6 or 3.5. Thankfully there was an epidural in there, so rather than it being a horribly painful experience we were able to laugh. The Hitchhiker’s mom stayed with me, sitting in front of me as I hunched over for the anesthesiologist. Valentine gets squeamish around needles, so she stood in for him. It was just another task for team Hitchhiker. The hardest part of the day for me really, was not being able to do anything to make the delivery go faster. I just wanted to help get her out sooner. I wanted Valentine to be able to go home and be with our kids. I wanted our friends to not have to sit on the edge of their seats and most of all I wanted those parents to have their baby in their arms.

Throughout this wait, we were surrounded with amazing nurses and two fantastic doctors. I didn’t know how the nurses and doctors would treat us, and I have to admit, I was worried about this in the days that preceded her birth. Would they think surrogacy was a good thing? Would they look at my tattoos and think it was a money thing? Would they respect the wishes of the parents? All of them were very supportive of what we were doing. All of them thanked me for what I was doing, which seemed so crazy, especially since some of them were there delivering babies while battling their own infertility. To me they are the heroes. They respected the parents' parental rights, but they were very protective and respectful of me, making sure I was okay with everything, letting me be the decider on issues of who would get the baby after she was born. I always gestured to the Hitchhiker’s mom and said, “give her to her mom”. It was nice though to get to say those things, to get to make the decisions and not feel like I was just a cog in this baby making wheel. We never felt this way thorough out this process when it came to her parents. The only time I ever felt like that was at the reproductive clinic in the beginning. The hospital staff were fantastic and helped make the whole day a joyful one.

There had been discussion about where her parents would be during delivery. I felt very strongly that this was their baby and their birth experience. I also knew that when delivery happened suddenly there was a whole cast of strange nurses and doctors around, so it wasn’t a time for worrying about who was watching. Still a part of me was thinking about the indignity of it all, and experiencing that with them. So when it came time to push, the doctor who I had just met, asked where I wanted everyone. I remembered how excited Valentine was as he watched our own kids birth, and so did he, so we welcomed them to watch everything. Again, it probably should have been awkward, but any awkwardness only made me laugh. The absurdity of being so naked and out there was hilarious to me as I prepared to push that little girl out.

Delivery itself was something so wonderfully different than how I feared. I worried for days before hand that it would be awkward or tense, and it was anything but. We had just met our delivering OB as our regular OB went off shift. He seemed nice, but I had no idea when we met that we would be discussing mission trips as he tried to, um how should we say this, open things up for the wrong facing Hitchhiker. It was comfortable territory for me, talking about serving others abroad, and it put me at ease. There were a few complications and some extra pushes, but he kept me laughing though it all. Really, just watching her parents watch her, was so much fun. It should have been embarrassing maybe, but it was so cool. Having been the birthing mom, I have never gotten to watch a mom see her baby be born, or hold her for the first time. It was awesome.

This beautiful, chubby little girl who had been frozen for almost five years as an embryo was here. This girl who shouldn’t have been born because cancer nearly robbed her parents of this moment, was here. After the doctor finished fighting the placenta and stitching things up, we were left the four of us, team Hitchhiker to just marvel at her for a bit. Honestly there was no part of me that wanted to snuggle her. I was perfectly content to watch them. I did hold her, more than I would normally hold a newborn infant, but for me, it was about watching them be her parents. There honestly was not the urge to hold her and hug her and kiss her. I had my time with her, and I was glad it was her parents’ turn. I felt more like a co conspirator with her, than a parent. We had gone through a lot to get her to this moment, and I just looked at her and laughed as I held her, then I got nervous about holding a newborn, and gave her back.

We spent the next day in two rooms side by side. I was able to visit as much as I wanted, but I didn’t want her to hear my voice all day, I wanted her to hear her parents on more than just the recordings I played for her. I wanted them to be able to bond without me around. So I sat and rested in my room a lot. It was surreal being there and not having nurses barge in every hour. I was stir crazy to see my kids and get home. We had worried that they wouldn’t be able to visit, but like we were on some clandestine spy mission, we managed to sneak them in, and they got to meet her too. It was an awesome moment our family and theirs enjoying this baby together. Her mom dressed her in a onesie we had bought for her to meet the kids. It was a very sweet gesture and funny, because did not look tiny in the three to sixth month outfit. I don’t know how this kid got so chubby, I have never seen a newborn with fat rolls.

There weren’t tears as we parted because I was going to miss her. The tears came when I thought they wouldn’t let me leave that night, i just wanted to go home. I wanted her to be able to go home too, I wanted their family to be home, with her brother. I was so relieved to be done with the birth, to be done with the fun of having nurses take you to pee, to be done being responsible for someone else’s child. That anxiety was gone, I was tired and I just wanted to be at home. When they told me I couldn’t leave because she would have to be discharged too (our records were tied together in the system), I broke down in tears. Her parents very graciously wanted to make sure I could go home though, so they had her discharged and checked into pediatrics for some jaundice treatment. I was free and could return to my family!

Really, the only weirdness in this process came when I had to sign things as the birth mother, and when I couldn’t leave the hospital until the baby was ready, or she was checked into pediatrics, because our records were linked. It will be nice someday when forms, and hospital protocols have gestational carrier as a category, instead of birth mother. I am not a birth mother, I have not had to sacrifice my relationship with my own child to give them a different life. I simply carried someone else’s baby. I hope those things will get easier for families, and while I don’t think everyone should be a gestational carrier, I do think it’s an important option for parents who can’t carry their own children.

So that’s how gestational carriers, have babies, or at least this one. I know I would be curious about this process. It may not be the typical story, but it’s ours. It felt like a marathon, and though the race is over, the adventure is not. We have a new family member, a whole new part of our family with theirs and a love that will last a lifetime. I can see now,

God’s hand in all of it, from start to finish taking care of every detail I worried about and making it so much better than I could have imagined. All the worry, all the indignity was totally worth it. I am just so thankful to have been a part of something so positive and life affirming, even if it had to happen without my underwear on.

Friday, February 12, 2016

I want to live in the grey areas

I learned a long time ago in a high school photography class that the best pictures aren’t from bright sunny days, the cloudy ones can actually be better. Clouds filter the light and add a little grey which actually makes things pop a little better in the shot. I want to live in the grey when it comes to looking at issues and people. I don’t want to vote based one one issue, and let that define whether I think someone is right or wrong. It’s not that I don’t think there are certain issues that are black and white, definite right and wrong things, but I don’t want to live in those spaces, I don’t want to look at at people through those lenses. I want to live in the grey first. I want to see the person living through the issue and not the issue itself.

I used to think things were a lot more black and white, but I as I have experienced more of the world, met more people, learned more of their stories, things are changing for me. I don’t see things so clearly defined anymore. One of the biggest confrontations with my black and white thinking came during our surrogacy journey. In order to work with our agency, we had to agree to terminate a pregnancy if there was an issue of severe disability and the baby’s parents wanted to terminate. This was a huge decision for us. We very much value life, and we were hurt very deeply when someone close to us had a late second term abortion, even after we offered to adopt the baby. Both Valentine and I saw abortion as something not to be used for birth control but something to be used when life was in danger. Disability was a different issue entirely. As we talked to the agency and each other more about this issue we learned a great deal about why someone would terminate. Apparently early termination was much more common in international surrogacy situations, even in very highly developed, wealthy countries. In those countries there does not always exist the same support for children with severe disabilities that the US has. Kids with disabilities may not be as accepted by communities and in the larger family context. In short, it can be much harder to raise a child with severe disabilities and their quality of life much less, than what we might expect here in the US for children. We also know kids in the US with severe disabilities and we know how hard it is for their families, even with the opportunities available to them.

This wasn’t just an issue about the child’s health either, it was very intimately intwined with my own health and the mental health of our family. I have known women that had to carry pregnancies to term, that they knew would end in tragedy. I have watched them carry their babies, knowing that they would die shortly after birth. Yes there are miracles where death in babies is beaten, but there are also great medical advances that can give us a pretty certain picture of what lies ahead. Those that carry their terminal babies to term get to enjoy what precious moments they have with their baby, before they die. They enjoy kicks and movements, and can soak it all in. Our baby’s parents would not have had that luxury. I would have been the one experiencing that, I also would have been taxing my body, and my family’s endurance emotionally day after day for a very horrible outcome. I have to say too, after the miscarriage, after being the only one to “hold” that baby with my body, I can’t imagine going through an entire pregnancy to have that same awful outcome. After much thought and prayer, Valentine and I made the decision to allow someone else to make that decision for their baby that we would carry. We made the decision to allow an abortion if we found out the baby had a fatal condition or would have severe disabilities. We decided that we would not to international surrogacy as that would up the probability of making such a hard choice, but we decided we would ultimately let the parents choose. It was not easy, but we looked into the stories behind the issue, and the people that would be affected and we just couldn’t see it in black and white anymore.

You may not agree with that decision, you may even be pretty angry with us for it, that’s ok. You don’t have to agree, and honestly my need to live in the grey is about so much more than abortion. There are so many issues that people decide are the absolutes of how they will base their vote. We have so many things that we cannot imagine as anything more than completely right or completely wrong. I just worry that when we do that, we dismiss the people and the stories behind those issues. We see the issue instead of the person. I think that doesn’t help morality or people, it dehumanizes and demoralizes. Whether it’s abortion, guns, welfare, marriage equality whatever it is, you name the issue, there are so many complexities surrounding it, that you really have to hear the stories, and get to know the people behind them. We also have to realize that no one candidate or law is going to fix any of these issues. Something isn’t going to suddenly become legal or illegal because of one elected official. Something also might not need to be made a law, if other parts of the story are addressed.

I want to vote from and live in the grey area. Honestly, I think that is what Jesus did. When approached with religious law breakers, Jesus addressed the person first. He knew them, he spent time with them he didn’t just dismiss them for their issues. Yes he would steer them in a different direction, he would tell them if they were wrong, but that came later, that came after he loved them as a person first, and sometimes, he didn’t even have to say anything, just being in his presence, and being loved by him was enough to change their lives. I want to see the overall picture of the candidates, how their position on a bunch of different issues comes together, and how they came to those positions. I want to see how they treat others when they too are forced to live in the grey. I want to try harder to see the person and not the issue.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Hitchiker Adventures #6: She isn’t lacking in love

Recently, upon finding out that I don’t feel the same way about the Hitchhiker as I do about my own kids, someone in my life has taken to praying for the Hitchhiker, “that she will know she is loved”. Not that she will know she is loved by God, but by her family and by ours. Now I might not put much thought into this, except for the fact that it’s the same person who thought since I liked the Hunger Games, I must not like children very much. This person also continually asks how I will “give up the baby” and when I say it’s not going to be a problem, they respond with “I could never do that”. So the implication I get from this prayer is that, perhaps the Hitchhiker is not feeling loved, since she is residing in my belly, since I don’t think of her like I thought of my own kids, and I don’t want to keep her. This person even made up their own name for the Hitchhiker, because they seemed to think that Hitchhiker was sweet enough. When my basketball sized uterus feels really heavy, this makes me angry, but when I am sitting here with this squirming little girl inside me just enjoying her temporary presence, it just makes me laugh. Really?!? This baby is one of the most loved babies ever, and she is teaching us so much about what love means.

look at that, that’s love!
First off, let’s establish, that this baby would not be in my belly were it not for love. Love more than anything else motivated me to go on this crazy adventure in the first place. Following Jesus command to love one another, and to serve led me to this. Anytime I had an objection to doing this, like my body was going to get wrecked, always in the back of my mind was the question, “is that a reason not to love someone?”When people told me it would be harder because I was 38 and not 28 like when I had my last baby, again the question was, “but is that a reason not to love someone”. (and by the way, it isn’t any harder, it’s the same hard!). Love for his kids, made my husband decide we could do this. Love for a family they had just met, made my kids excited to do this. Love from her parents led them to put their trust in a stranger, and give her to us for 9 months. They loved her so much, they took this huge scary, complicated step. Her whole existence right now is rooted in love, and each day she grows love grows right along with her.

We are learning so much about how fun love is, through this process. We have seen how messy and hard and awkward it can be, as I went through so many procedures, and we endured the death of the first Hitchhiker. We have also learned though how crazy fun love can be, when you just do love, as Bob Goff says in his book Love Does. We are having fun with this baby. We have a whole new part to our family now, with her family. That is fun. We get to relive the experiences we had when our kids were born, through their eyes, and share in their excitement. I love that! I love sharing the things that excite me with others, whether it’s mission trips to places I have been before, or new friends, and this pregnancy takes that to a whole other level. We get to have fun on this adventure with them, and my kids are old enough to remember and understand it all too. They feel the baby move, they marvel at how huge I am getting, they think about what it means that she can hear us. Plus everyone gets to make jokes about how I am pregnant but it’s not Valentine’s. She is not experiencing a depressing, lonely, joyless existence. Love is all kinds of fun and she is along for that ride!

Love makes it fun to surprise people with her story too. It’s fun to educate them about surrogacy, but it’s also fun to explain why we would do something so nutty. People aren’t used to hearing about love like this, and when they really hear it, they often well up. They are encouraged by it, they enjoy it, they all of a sudden get to be in on the fun, and the miracle of it all. She hears recordings of her family reading her stories too, so all you psych experts can be assured she will have in utero attachments to them as well, it’s not just our love she is getting now. I am sure at some point in her angsty teenage years, she will feel a bit awkward about her origin story, but what kid doesn’t? I’m still cringing over the Super Bowl baby commercials. Her story is a unique love story, but a fun one.

Love endures space and time too. Just because she won’t be with us, doesn’t mean we won’t love her still. Our family has had the privilege of loving so many people over the years who aren’t a daily part of our lives right now. They are still very much a part of us. We can’t hold all the youth group kids we have loved hostage with us, they grow up and leave. Friends live far away. We don’t give them up ever, we just love them from afar. It may not be as intimate as the love we have in our family of four, but it is love still. We still think about them, and keep up with them when we can, and we enjoy having people to love all over the world. We are still as present with love for them as we can be, and will be for her too. She will always have a connection to us and she will always be loved by us.

I can’t imagine that will all of that, this baby would ever not feel loved, because gestated in my belly. Just because I am not planning for her babyhood, or weeping because she won’t be with us in a couple more months doesn’t mean she won’t know love. This is  a once in a lifetime adventure unlike any other we have been on, and I know that is because it is all about love. She is right smack in the middle of it all, hearing the joy, feeling the love.  So no one needs to pray that she will know she is loved. She is a little physical representation of love and how hard, scary, vulnerable, but more so, how beautiful, awesome and fun it is!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Feed me and tell me I’m pretty, or at least quit telling me how big I am...

There is just something about pregnancy that gives people some sort of bizarre permission to break those unmentioned societal rules and tell you to your face how awful you look. Normally such conversation is reserved for celebrities caught without their makeup, or after eating particularly large meals, but apparently pregnancy also warrants such public proclamations of your ugliness.

Unfortunately for the non celebrity humans among us, there is no army of stylists, personal trainers, nutrition experts, cooks, skin care professionals and hair and make up people, to make us look our best most days. So yes, I am getting very wide, and looking very tired these days. I didn’t just spend the holidays on a yacht in St. Barts with a chef and other famous people, I spent it with family, being fed one unhealthy treat after another while I rushed from work event to another, only to finally collapse in my parent’s house in Arizona for a week of lazy recovery and the always relaxing “family time”. I am almost thirty eight, I have a busy family and a busy full time job, even when I am not pregnant I tend to look tired and bloated. That is life people! I don’t really do makeup, you’re lucky that I shower at least once a week. This is as good as I am going to get, so get used to it, be grateful when I am slightly put together and less repulsive.

Get used to it, and don’t talk to me about it, really, seriously. It’s not funny when you compare say my extra large dog now looks like a poodle next to my new girth (that was seriously said). It’s not cute when you point out how much bigger I look, or more tired. I am well aware as is EVERY woman and man too, of my physical imperfections. I am bombarded every day not only with the mirror, but retouched images and plastic surgeries individuals that are supposed to serve as some example of what I should look like instead of the lumpy, dark, baggy eyed person in front of me. My body is growing a freaking person, that is hard work, it’s not going to look great. Pointing out how great it doesn’t look to a hormonal woman is as bad as saying it to a teenage girl, knock it off.

In fact let’s all STOP! Remember that saying, if you don’t have anything nice to say about someone, or to someone, don’t say anything at all? Quit saying it, quit reading it, quit picking up the magazines and watching the segments and clicking on the links that talk about how bad so and so looked, or how much better you could look if only you did....

It’s ridiculous. People are meant to age, meals are meant to be eaten, people gain weight, get wrinkled and saggy, people get bigger when they are pregnant. It happens people, so let’s quit expecting everyone to look good all the time, or let’s quit taking so much notice when they don’t. Let’s watch what we say.

I saw a maternity shirt that said, “Feed me and tell me I’m pretty”.  I think we should pass those out in Hollywood. Maybe if they get to eat and look normal, the rest of us can too.