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|Tuesday, July 19th, 2016|
(Game of Thrones references and spoilers are forthcoming.)
I have fought many battles this summer, and I have shown no mercy to this infectious cancer, but I am weary. I listen every day to those who would advise me, and I am constantly petitioned by those who seek my own counselor who wish just to be near me, and I am so tired. But I must be strong. My people need me- I am their matriarch. They expect me to lead them through this war to a new peace.
I was prepared to go into my final battle today (my final session of chemo), and I had my family of dragons rallying round me to cheer me on to victory. But today, just as we entered the battleground, I was told the number of white soldiers (blood cells) I have is low, and so we have had to postpone the battle for the sake of military strategy. To make matters worse, I am counseled to stay in safety this entire week. I cannot see my dragons. "I want my dragons!" I demand to them. "Where. Are. My. Dragons!"
Perhaps they are right. Perhaps when so much is riding on this final battle, I would do well to heed their counsel. I know my dragons are safe and I will see them all soon. I must focus on strengthening my forces of white soldiers. And after this final battle to reclaim what is rightfully mine (health), I shall make plans to travel the world. I shall visit the foreign kingdoms once again, accompanied by my dragons in all our might.
Let no man question the strength of this woman. I WILL vanquish my foes. I WILL be victorious!
|Saturday, December 26th, 2015|
While I'm happy to be back, it is also hard. I feel like honey that is slowly adjusting to fill a much larger container. After living out of a suitcase and in a hotel for so long, after being surrounded by the noise, the smoke, the dust, the people, the trash, the traffic, it is strange to come home to open spaces, rain, and far more wealth than we were used to seeing.
One half my brain wrestles with "white guilt" at coming back to such large houses, such clean air, such generous holiday gifts... The other half of my brain bemoans the horrible things about our culture- that we are all so much less satisfied with whatever we do have, that our family structures are nowhere near as strong as so many other cultures, that there is an automatic air of distrust between everyone.
There, one of my biggest joys was just giving. Giving tips, giving holiday gifts, even walking right up to poor strangers and giving them food, soaps and bug repellent.Here, I couldn't walk up to people on the streets and just begin offering free food because people would begin to question "why? What did she put into it?" Or they wouldn't even appreciate it- clearly wanting just money instead. I can't even offer home-made cookies or muffins at work to the highly intelligent and independent adults I serve- "if someone were to get sick, who would they sue??"
Everyone said to be prepared for the culture shock in going to India. No one mentioned how much more prepared you need to be to come home.
|Tuesday, December 22nd, 2015|
|The medical and the emotional...
I've focused most of my journal entries on the culture of India which has been amazing. But obviously, we did not come all the way here just for the culture. We came here on a mission, and every day, we've worked to fulfill that mission. We'd go to the clinic and wait for hours, generally, but it was not unpleasant. We got to know a number of the sweet girls at the clinic, and we got to know other couples who were in our same predicament. We may have even made some lifelong friends. When we weren't visiting, we read our books (Dan and I each read 3-4 books this trip). If we had to wait a long time to get my shots, our new friends at the clinic would offer us the occasional banana or cup of masala chai. Most days I would get my shots, and every couple days, Dr. Patel would take a look at my insides with the ultrasound machine. In the afternoons, we would shop, get ice cream, nap, read some more, and eat. I also kept busy with work on my laptop, and with emailing the lawyer who was supposed to be petitioning for permission to allow us to do surrogacy. It was a good time, in large part because we had a schedule and we had a purpose.
As we got closer to the date of my egg retrieval, Dr. Patel examined me daily using the ultrasound. My eggs were not abundant, and even though Dr. Patel tried to boost my numbers with triple doses of some shots, we didn't see huge numbers. Initially we heard I had over a dozen, which we thought was pretty good and wondered why Dr. Patel wasn't as impressed. With eggs, it's not as much about quantity as quality- but having a large quantity improves the odds of having a number of good quality eggs. By the day before my egg retrieval, we were told we had only 4, maybe 5, good eggs that they would try to harvest. My nurse, Hansa came to give me my "trigger shot" after 11pm on Thursday the 17th. On the 18th we got a day off from the clinic and shots.
The morning of the 19th, on an empty stomach, we arrived early in the clinic. Though we were the first ones there, I was the last person to go in for the surgery. I had been visiting with new friends, Poonam and Jalina, and I walked through the recovery room, seeing both of them passed out from the anesthesia of the surgery. Dan and Poonam's husband, Enrico, waited in the hall, and I went into the operating room alone. I faced a crowd of doctors and nurses I had never seen before, and hadn't even realize worked in the clinic. Hansa was the only familiar face, and she was a comfort, but I was still so scared. I climbed onto the operating bed which was angled down so that my head pointed to the floor, and my legs were spread in standard OB/GYN stirrups. My arms were strapped to arm rests that swung away from the table, and I was strapped down and fully splayed like da Vinci's Vitruvian Man.
It was hard not to feel like I was in a torture chamber as I lay there, frightened, a million miles from home, undergoing a surgery that was in much likelihood completely pointless anyway, given our circumstances. A man put a needle into the vein on one of my hands, and I began to taste something like ether as a clear fluid drained from an IV stand into my veins. Hot tears rolled down my cheeks, and I whimpered and wished I could see my mother. A woman put a gas mask over my head, and in no time, I was out.
It was a surreal and unearthly feeling as I felt them wheel my body on a gurney into a tiny elevator and move me onto a bed in a recovery room. But it was comfortable, and it was a strangeness I remembered experiencing shortly after my C-section with Devon. The feeling that you are not entirely united with your body, and that you are completely OK with that. Little by little I came to my senses, and Dan was with me, looking over me. Other than me being a bit sore for a couple days, it was done. Mission accomplished. We had achieved what we had traveled to India to do, and it felt good.
But without our usual routine, and our regular visits to the clinic- without purpose- the rose-tinted glasses faded to grey pretty quickly. We were burned out. We'd had weeks of doing nothing but talking about our predicament regarding the Indian government closing the doors to surrogacy. The agitation, frustration and angst ricocheted back and forth against us as we and our new friends discussed the matter in and out, from every angle, debating what on earth we could possibly do to help our cases. We saw happy endings where couples got babies, and that was so happy (especially getting to hold a friend's little preemie!), but then we'd hear how long they had been working at this- 4 years in one case, 11 in another- and we'd groan on the inside.
I didn't enjoy the rides around town as much. Where I had previously been soaking up all the sights, good and bad, with wide-eyed wonder and enthusiasm; without a goal for the rest of the trip within view, the harder sights began to settle in and affect me emotionally- the crowds, the smoke from the trash fires, the smog.
Though the children we saw did not look unhappy or malnourished, it was hard to see them walking amongst the trash and city streets with no shoes (and in some cases no pants either). I saw a little boy, who was probably in all likelihood quite happy, skipping around a barren field of dirt, no shoes, no pants, flying a kite. I don't know what it was, but seeing him so exposed made me think of seeing my own little boy running around the house carefree and naked, and my mind compared the two boys' lives, side-by-side. I missed my own son immensely, and I wished I could care for the children here just as much.
We had done what we came here to do. We had reached the mountain peak. We could keep struggling, keep throwing ourselves against the iron bars of government, but we knew that realistically, we had probably done all that we could on that front. Now it was just a matter of waiting to see what the final verdict would be.
We found out the next day that just three eggs had been retrieved, and the day after that we found that only one had been fertilized. It's possible that by now, the other two may have been as well, but we just didn't feel like spending hours today chasing after information that, really, would do nothing more than satisfy our curiosity.
We have at least one embryo. As many as three. Regardless of how many, we know that IF they let us proceed, as long as its not years in the future, we will give it a shot. But even if the government comes to their senses and allows this, we still have such small odds, it seems. Despite medical intervention, we only got three eggs. Maybe only a single embryo. It's enough to give us a small amount of hope, though we are learning that that is not necessarily a good thing.
Hope keeps us in a state of limbo where we constantly question how much of our lives should we keep in reserve (ie money, emotion, energy, paid time off work), for a child that may never come to be; and at what point to do we give up and grant our existing child our full hearts and devotion, which he deserves? We don't want to be so focused on earning money and aiming towards this goal that we miss time with our one precious son. It's been hell being away from him for three weeks. If we don't have a second child, we will at least be quite relieved not to have to leave him for another month to come back to India to pick the child up.
So that's where we leave off. We are trying not to talk about baby stuff too much. We are worn weary from the ongoing assaults of emotions, and the feelings of being strung along by hope and half-hearted foreign promises. We've missed most of the holiday season, and we are more than ready to come home to our families and to what's left of Christmas and Yule. The one thing we both look forward to the most is a huge hug from Devon, if he can forgive us for leaving him for so long.
|Monday, December 21st, 2015|
|More Observations of India
They like Mahatma Ghandi here- like REEEALLY like him. Whereas we have various different leaders of our country on our dollar bills, Ghandi is on ALL the money here. Kind of like the queen in England.
Indian families typically have only one or two children. Girl children are often seen as a big financial burden because girls are always sent off with dowries, whereas boy children are an asset (because they attract wives and dowries). Seeing the families in poverty with still only one or two children, it further frustrates me about families in the US who cannot afford their children and keep popping them out- four, five, six- as if they think they are doing some sort of service to the world.
The many stray dogs are not treated the way that dogs are treated in America. They are treated more the way that Americans would treat rats. They are not outwardly abused and shooed away- there are just too many of them- but they are not interacted with either. I pet two dogs since I have been here. Both seemed incredibly grateful for a little bit of comfort and kindness, but in one case a woman advised me not to, indicating that the dog might bite me. The dog did not seem interested in anything more than a nice head scratch, but in the US, we don't go around petting rats because 1) they might bite, and 2) they are "filthy vermin". That's pretty much the view on dogs here, it seems.
If people are in the same caste (or at least socio-economic status), there is a tendency to really help one another out, but that does not necessarily extend to outside their castes.
The better you can speak English, the more affluent you are. And the more affluent you are, the better English you can speak because you could afford that kind of education. Just being able to speak good English is equivalent to educational degrees in the US. An excellent movie to see that highlights this is "English Vinglish".
The Indian people give the general impression of being very kind and very curious- especially about people who are obviously foreigners.
Light skin is much more valued than dark skin. You see this in beauty treatments, advertisements, and even in cartoons. It was actually rather funny when, at a bazaar, a man tried to sell me skin-lightening cream. As Dan pointed out, "any lighter and she'd be invisible!"
There are many good looking people here- men and women, and beautiful children. Sometimes one doesn't notice physical attraction across racial and geo-political borders. Here, it was hard not to notice. The Indian people have some very attractive genetics!
Being Caucasian-white in this country is a "mixed bag". People are generally very polite and go out of their way to help you, but it's hard to tell if they are doing it to sincerely be kind or if they are hoping for good tips (Likely a mix of both). It's very much the same as having celebrity status in the US. People want to be close to you (for reasons you may not always be privy to), and they are super-excited if they find out you are not a total dick. If you also tip them, they are usually very gracious- there doesn't seem to be a lot of tipping happening from their fellow Indian clientele. Many establishments get very excited when we come in, give us excellent service, and then mention how happy they would be if we could refer our friends to them as well.
The income differential is striking. We are staying at a nice hotel that charges (at a discount) 3600Rs a day, or roughly $54 a night (not including 20% luxury tax). My friend Mary pays about that much in rent each month, and only currently makes about 4000Rs. She also has a son to support. Our tuktuk driver, Jani, makes only 4300Rs a month to support his wife and two boys. A bottle of Head-and-Shoulders shampoo costs 475Rs on sale (with a selfie-stick included free, which is why I bought it). That's about $7, so certainly not a great bargain, but when you think about it, that bottle of shampoo costs 1/5 what some people make in a month. So even in their own country, those of lower means can not even afford that bottle of shampoo. For the average person, if they had the desire and the drive, they could simply never make it in America (assuming they could even afford to get TO America). It's just too insanely expensive compared to the economy of India. So if someone has made it out of India and is surviving in the US- or even doing well- you should respect them. They probably have more intelligence and drive in their little finger than the average American has in their entire body!
Speaking of work, those who have jobs in India work generally 60-hours a week- 10 hours a day, 6 days a week, with only Sundays off. As my friend Mary says, on Sundays she usually only has energy to rest and sleep. So there's very little time for recreation for most people. Either you work A LOT or you don't work at all, pretty much.
In India, parents' lives are lived to benefit their children. And likewise, children take care of their parents come hell or high-water. I've had a hard time explaining to people what it is I do. The concept of a home for seniors blows their mind. "They get picked up at the end of the day by their families, right?"they ask. "Er. No. They live there. We encourage staunch independence in our country. Though that's not necessarily such a good thing in some situations." Unfortunately, some Indian parents work hard to give their child everything and come to America, to a culture that does not encourage that level of reciprocation, and so the children simply take the benefits their parents offer them and become rather spoiled.
Happy solstice all! I just lit a mother goddess candle from Sara Russo at a little street temple, and said a prayer to Shakti, Lakshmi and Parvati (and really, any other mother goddess who was listening) to please help us see this through.
I got to hold the teensy weensy preemie of a friend, Jen and Jiri. He is the most precious little treasure! They have been trying for YEARS, and their dream has finally come true. We don't have the stamina (or time off work!) to go for multiple years on this, so we hope we get some luck.
We have one fertilized embryo so far. The other two eggs MIGHT get fertilized, still. Just have to wait and see. And then, IF we can squeeze through all the red tape, and IF implantation takes, we might get to have our second child. Here's hoping. At least we already have one kick-ass kid, and if that's all we get, we are still damn lucky!
|Saturday, December 12th, 2015|
|End of the "Honeymoon"
::Sigh:: well, the honeymoon that was a week at Madhubhan is over. And on the same day, I've got a bad sore throat, fever, and a body full of aches and pains. My first fear was that I hadn't been careful enough, and had picked up a water-borne pathogen. But I am told that much of this is likely side-effects of the shots I am getting.
Additionally, false advertising really annoys me, and to come to the next hotel and find out that the pictures of the hotel online and what exists in reality are a far cry from one another- I was not a happy camper. TV remote doesn't work, no safe in the room as the website suggests, and no working phone in the room. The walls are grimy, the furniture worn and chipped. I know, I know- first world problems, but when you're a million miles from home, scared, sick, and missing your family, this doesn't help.
|Thursday, December 10th, 2015|
|Observations of India
Indian children have such precious little voices. Though I see many the same age as Devon, I notice Indian children have a different pitch in voice than American children. Most kind of sound like anime characters (ie like Luna from the original Sailor Moon Japanese series!)
There is dust everywhere. It is very, VERY dry here. We are staying this week on a very artificial paradise where actual grass and plants grow. Outside the resort, while there are trees, there is very little else in vegetation. Meanwhile, in southern India, the big fear is the constant flooding, and now, as everyone rushes around trying to clean things up and put things back together, the fear is of water-borne illness coming in.
Many of the trees, here are painted with a large band of white and a large band of rust-colored red. When I asked our tuktuk driver why this was "Vriksh sufeyd aur laal- why?" ("Trees white and red- why?"), he gestured towards the sky and explained in Hindi a parallel with "monkeys, cows, elephant". "Oh!" I said. "Sacred! The trees are sacred? Holy?" He nodded. Though later, we were told by someone that the trees are painted to act as guide markers in the dark- to reflect light back. That also makes sense because pretty much EVERY tree along the roadside is painted.
Communication is fun here. I speak very little, poor Hindi; but many people here likewise speak very little, poor English. Between blending Hindi and English (which is done constantly anyway, even when native Indians are speaking amongst themselves), gestures and emphasis, we are able to communicate pretty well. iPhone apps help, and when all else fails, the India person will grab a friend or co-worker of their who speaks a little better English.
There are a lot of stores around selling building materials- doors, windows, plywood, tile, wood flooring. I'm not sure why, but if I had to guess, it is that Anand is becoming wealthier in part due to the surrogacy trade with foreigners, and so as things improve, people can actually afford to HAVE a floor, or a door, or windows which, truth be told, most houses don't have. As such, those that DO have floors often have signs asking people to remove their shoes outside the establishment. I guess they don't want to mess up their floors, even though the floors are stone in many cases. Either that, or they just don't want all the dust and dirt coming in.
Pollution- there is a lot of it. This was sent home one day as we were in a little traffic jam waiting for a train to pass on the railroad. Diesel fumes and dust everywhere! Dan and I have decided to start bringing our masks with us. Many times, although it is day and the sky is bright, you can't see the blue- just white, below a layer of hazy smog. And the pollution in Anand is not even a blip on the radar. The big concern in the news is Delhi which is 100 times worse. People cannot breathe there and are getting sick, likely the children especially.
The mosquitoes are plentiful but haven't been too bad at the resort, no doubt due to the pesticides they spray here on the plants, and the incense spirals they burn outside every cottage door here each night. The fact that it is so dry also helps to curb the mosquitoes. Nonetheless, Dan and I bring mosquito repellent anywhere we go so as to prevent disease.
English is VERY important here. Every parent wishes for their child to learn English because so much opportunity will then open up to them. As foreigners, we are marveled at. It's like being a celebrity- people either stare or beam in open-mouthed grins at us. As a helpful woman offered us some directions in English, a little boy ran up to us to see if he, too, could help in any way. Then he ran back to his papa, grinning up at him and looking at us as if to say "Did you see how close to them I got?" His father put his hands on his sons shoulders as they both stood their smiling at us.
I remarked to Dan "Why doesn't any place here sell sun block?" He remarked "Look around, Briana, we're the only ones who would need it!" I was also wondering why the shoes for sale (so pretty from a distance) are so cheap and made of plastic when you look close. It's not just affordability, it finally occurred to me, its that for suddenly obvious reasons there is little to no leather because cows are so sacred!
There are stray dogs EVERYWHERE. Occasional herds of water buffalo roam the streets or are kept chained up, I guess, if they belong to someone. Cows are everywhere, of course, and such beautiful, majestic creatures. Cows are sacred because they provide beneficial substances to man (and that doesn't include beef): urine for disinfectant and spermicide(and drinking one glass every morning is said to cleanse the body of impurities according to Wikipedia!), dung for fertilizer and fuel, milk and curds. Hindus don't worship cows, but they are sacred and to be respected. They also embody gentleness which is which is a core teaching of Hinduism (ahimsa, or non-injury).
Our tuktuk driver makes roughly $100 a month (though obviously that goes a lot further in India than it ever could in America). He is VERY happy to have us as customers and will happily wait for us to do whatever business we are doing so that no one else can snag us. We are paying him very well at $2-4 for each round trip he gives us. I hope that he will be able to provide some extra holiday cheer for his 7 year-old son this Christmas.
Christmas is celebrated here, though it's really more Yule. No relation to Christianity, really, though most Hindus do regard Christ as a saint or holy man, much like most Christians would acknowledge Buddha is holy, even if they are not Buddhists and do not pray to Buddha. Not entirely sure HOW Christmas is celebrated since there are no fir trees or jolly fat men in red snow-clothes around, but I imagine at least gifts are exchanged.
I worried that I was being taken advantage of by Jani, our tuktuk driver, when he said that 2800Rs was a good price for tailoring and I had been told that 300-500Rs is the going rate. But I learned that I just have expensive taste! The saris I bought were silk and lace, and so the tailor wants to make a blouse with a lining and a lot of fine detail. I learned that this can cost 1000Rs to 1500Rs for that level of quality.
There is poverty everywhere, but I don't see the misery I expected to see it. People oddly appear pretty much at ease with their lot in life. Upon reflection, this pairs with what I have heard about poor Indians (usually men), being "lazy." In India, usually no amount of hard work, education and striving will change the caste you were born to. And though the caste system is "illegal", the honor of coming from different castes has a daily impact everywhere. It's not that easy to cancel out thousands of years of tradition in a century or two. So those in a lower caste must wonder "why bother?" As long as they have food and can physically live, why bother striving or working hard? It may net you a slight amount of money, but nothing to actually change your station in life. So apparently many of the men cope by drinking, and those who suffer are often the wives. Though the men may not work, the women don't get that luxury. They are still expected to cook, care for the children, and manage the household, even if the "household" is nothing more than a tent or a single room made of clay. With the acception (perhaps its more resignation) that one's station in life cannot be changed, the impression one gets as a foreigner is of a lot of people just "hanging out". People have many friends and tight families, in part, I am guessing, because they have so much time to cultivate such things, which is something that Americans are sometimes sorely in need of!
|An email to my fellow yoga "classmates" at Evergreen Woods
Hello fellow yoginis!
I am actually being a lazy yogini this morning and skipping yoga class, so I thought I'd at least take the opportunity to write to you. For the past three mornings, I have been up-and-at-em for yoga class at 630am, before the sun has even risen-quite a feat for a non-morning person! And the first two days, it was only me, so I had my own private class with a nice guy named Rajesh who took me looking for monkeys after class on Wednesday (we didnt find any).
We practice on a beautiful stone platform and listen as the world comes awake. First the birds begin to stir, and Hindu chants are heard from the nearby temple- a soothing sound which warms my heart and fills me with joy and optimism for the day ahead. Then, as the sun rises, the city around the resort begins to awaken, and one can hear the traffic begin, and the stray dogs (of which there are many) begin barking. The macacque monkeys can be heard in the trees, usually only early in the morning saying HOM! HOM! ECH!, and I finally got to see some yesterday as they casually strolled through the trees overlooking our yoga class!
The yoga here is of course more demanding than what we are used to at "Gentle Yoga for All Skill Levels", and I am quite sore afterwards which is good because with all the amazing food here, I certainly need the exercise!! Even the breathing exercises can be INTENSE, forcing air and oxygen into ones lungs and bloodstream. I wrap up yoga feeling relaxed and energized at the same time.
Anyhow, miss you all, but am happy to say that India is a lot less of a terrifying prospect now that I am here (and, admittedly living in an absolute paradise at Madhubhan Resort- just a couple more days and then we have to "downgrade" to the Sapphire Suite at La Casa Inn").
As we say in class, "Namaste! and Be Well!" Oh, and can someone please share with the others at class who don't have email?
|Tuesday, December 8th, 2015|
Pretty simple day today. Got up and had exquisite breakfast buffet again at Madhubhan. So many foods I can't pronounce, don't know what's in them, can't even identify all the spices- but it's all incredibly delicious!
Went to the clinic for another shot. Then our driver, Jani, took us shopping for saris. We THINK we paid a decent price for the saris, but we know we got ripped off and were charged three times the going rate for tailoring the blouses. So at the moment, not too happy with our driver because when I was doubting the charges, he chimed in and said "No, no! Good price!" Look, India. We are happy to be here spending money. We are happy to be making the people we meet happy. We are OK with paying extra- it's not about the money (cause its still all hella affordable), but DON'T lie to us, and treat us like we are stupid. Jani may have lost us as customers which would be a shame because we were paying him well- a whole $2 per ride instead of the standard $1. Still, despite being "ripped off", I scored three gorgeous saris with tons of hand-stitched emroidery, exquisite lace, and blouses custom tailored to my form for a whopping $36 American dollars each.
Went home afterwards, rested, read our books, swam in the pool, got some work done for Evergreen Woods, and the highlight of the day was meeting two charming Indian girls in the activities room here at Madhubhan- Kushna and Vrutika who taught us to play karam. We laughed and played and talked about our different cultures. Vrutika spoke better English and helped translate for Kushna. She has had 6 months of classes, and is now doing a 6 month internship at Madhubhan, learning how to work in each department at the resort as part of her Tourism Management education. She hopes to work on a cruise ship, and doesn't have any wish to marry, though she was fascinated and happy by the fact that Dan and I got to have a "love marriage" rather than an arranged marriage. She loves to dance, play sports, and paint! She has promised to give me some Mahendi henna tattoos, and both girls are going to try to come shopping with me on Monday and make sure I get "good Indian prices". They were the ones whose eyes bulged when we told them how much we were charged for tailoring!
OK, gotta go- computer battery is dying!!
|Monday, December 7th, 2015|
|A Small, But Terrifying Bump In The Road
We went to Dr. Patel's clinic today. You could drive right by it and never know it was there. It is close quarters, and packed with people, both assistants, doctors, receptionists, data entry girls... ALL women, as well of patients of both genders. The only men who came were just there later to take our blood for testing.
We were welcomed at the front desk and invited to sit on shabby-but-comfortable couches- the best seats in the house. As we waited, we chatted with other couples who were there for the same reasons- and in the same predicament as us. We got to know a really nice couple- Cat and Ash- about our age, from California. Though they were both clearly of Indian descent, and had family in the country, they could not even get their medical visas. As we sat there sharing our stories, myself busily, bubbly, chatting away, Dan tapped my leg in his "stop over-sharing" or "you're being too intrusive" indicative way. I looked at him, rolling my eyes and said "Whaaat?" (I didn't think I had said anything wrong.)
But when I looked at him, he had an odd look in his eyes. I raised my eyebrow to him, expecting him to elaborate on the scolding, but he just quietly remarked "I need to find a rest room." Then he began making funny faces, and slouching a little. I didn't get the joke, and waited a second for him to explain. "Dan?" He said nothing, only flicked his hand and rolled his head. And I knew something was wrong. "Dan!! DAN!!" "Help!"
Of the thoughts that rushed through my mind, obviously panic was at the forefront. I didn't know what was happening, but it was happening to the man I love, in front of my eyes, and I couldn't make it stop. The second thought was that of all the places this COULD happen, I was relieved it was happening in a medical clinic. My silver-lining defense mechanism, which pops into play in any stressful or heart-rending situation, assured me Dan would be OK, and he would pull through.
Ash had been facing Dan initially and saw him slip into the seizure just moments before I turned my head to notice. As my brain rushed to piece together what I was witnessing, Ash called for help. Women rushed into Dan, when, surrounded by everyone, and seeing me propping up his shoulders with a panicked look on my face, Dan snapped to.
He startled, gave a quick, full-body shake and looked at us all. "Wha! What! What? What?"
"You were having a seizure!" I said to him, then I looked around at the women helping and at Cat and Ash. "He's NEVER done this before. He's the healthy one!"
"Geez, I'm sorry," Dan apologized, sheepishly. And he kept apologizing- even hours later, though I kept telling him to stop, that I was just so glad he was OK. ("Unless," I added, "you did this on purpose. In which case, you can apologize till you are blue in the face and then sleep on the couch!")
Dan's whole seizure lasted only 5-7 seconds. One woman came and took his blood pressure- one of the numbers I heard was 160- very high! And later, Dan felt like his whole body was aching. Another asked him if he had had coffee that morning, which he had, and then offered to bring him more. A quick Google search reveals that too much caffeine can cause seizures, so maybe a combination of lack of sleep, lots of coffee and sheer physical and emotional exhaustion were the causative factors. Caffeine can also cause spikes in blood pressure, so why the lady who asked Dan if he had had coffee that morning, then offered to bring him some fresh coffee, made this offer, we are not sure. But assuming it could help things, Dan accepted and drank a small cup, as he sat back, recomposing himself, his skin as pale as mine, and covered in a sheen of cold sweat.
Minutes later, we were both called in to at last meet in person, the famous Dr. Patel. Dan just put his head down and rested. Dr. Patel asked if we wanted to come back tomorrow, but despite a worried glance at Dan, I told her we would stay to meet with her and then go home to rest. Dr. Patel had some of the girls escort Dan to an office with a bed where he rested, and we were separated for the first time on our trip.
I was asked to void my bladder and then brought back into Dr. Patel's office where Cat and Ash sat opposite the doctor. Cat smiled at me and kindly offered some hand sanitizer, seeing I had come from the bathroom. Ash assured me that Dan was being well taken care of when he saw the lingering worry in my eyes.
The three of us sat cordially at Dr. Patel's desk, until a women instructed me to step behind a curtain and lie down on an examination table for an ultrasound. On the other side of the curtain, in the same room, Ash and Cat met with Dr. Patel.
It was a bit surreal. Apparently there is no such thing as HIPAA here in India. As I lay with my knees propped up in the customary OB/GYN examination position, separated only by curtain from our new friends, they were similarly intimately exposed. I was privy to their ultrasound information, what troubles they were having conceiving, and what Dr. Patel's plan for them was. I hoped they didn't mind me knowing such intimate details, but we all sort of rolled with it.
After a quick ultrasound, Dr. Patel told me happy news- that I had a total of 13 eggs in my ovaries, even before any treatments. She said that Dan and I could get our blood tests today and I could come back in a couple hours for my first shot! So that was excellent news. Except...
Except that we don't know if we can even do surrogacy.
Oh, did I forget to mention that? Yeah.
In the one month that I postponed coming to India to start all of this (I wanted things to be more stable at my new job), the Indian government banned surrogacy for foreigners. I shit you not. Talk about epic bad timing! I had emailed Dr. Patel to ask for clarification, and told her that we may just re-route our entire plans and go to Mexico where, for substantially more money, they could at least complete the procedure. But she assured me that because we had our medical visas, we could come over and not have any problems.
Well, apparently, she got additional clarification after that because when I emailed her to ask how she would like us to pay for everything, she told me- two days before we were meant to fly out- that she couldn't promise us anything.
Just a day or two before hearing this, I had just been forced to change my airline ticket because my original ticket had my married name on it, and I had only just realized that my maiden name was on my passport. No amount of begging, pleading or crying could get me the ability to change my name on my ticket, and in the end, I had been forced to buy a new ticket at twice the price- to the tune of an extra $1000. But at least I'd be on the same flights as Dan.
And now, a day or two later, after that nasty surprise, and after we have stayed the plan with India, and rejected ideas of Mexico. After we have worked non-stop for months to save money and vacation time to manage a full 3 weeks off work for each of us. After we have our non-refundable tickets and hotel accomodations- NOW, she tells me she can't promise me anything.
If you've ever seen The Lego Movie, you will know how I felt. I was Princess Unikitty, the normally bubbly, smiling, bouncy, eternally-happy unicorn-kitty-hybrid, watching her world go down in flames.
"My home..." Princess Unikitty whimpered, watching her world of rainbows and happiness disappear in flames below the ocean. "What is this feeling that is like the OPPOSITE of happiness??" ::Rapid deep breaths:: "Must. Stay. Positive! Umm... Bubblegums! ... Butterflies!! ... Cotton Candy..?" She winced as a great landmark cracked in two and sank beneath the sea.
Dan and I wrestled for days about what to do, and I cried, and our families' hearts ached all around. I got confirmation that Dr. Patel would at least harvest my eggs and freeze my embryos, and that gave us some small measure of hope. We would go there and at least do our part of the process- the part that required us to be physically in India, and we would continue to hope and pray that the winds of global political policy would shift and blow in our favor.
Meanwhile, back at the clinic...
|Meanwhile, Back at the Clinic...
So anyhow, I've asked Dr. Patel to direct Dan and I to see who we can talk to over here. We are physically here in the country. I want to do everything possible to leave our mark and make a good impression. Maybe it won't help at all, but if we can talk to some people from the courts, and they can even just meet us and hear of our story and let us plead our case, then we will at least be more than just names on a docket. She told me to give her a day or two to find information, and told me I could come back to the clinic in a couple hours for my first shot!
It was so shortly into our trip that Dan and I abandoned two of our most importantly-held resolutions. We had fresh fruit and dairy when we learned that food was safe to eat at Madhubhan. We haven't had any issues, and I think my first experience with "travel sickness" was really just my system being really worn down and exhausted because I've been fine ever since, and have been enjoying lassis, milkshakes and more!
Our second important resolution was never to go anywhere alone without the other one. Unfortunately, Dan's body was seriously rebelling against all the travel strain, and I had to go back to the clinic for my first shot. Nervously, I ventured out on my own with our tuktuk driver who had driven us before. I am happy to say that he took me there and back safely and securely, and I was much relieved. India is not AS full of peril as I imagined- at least, people are not hiding around EVERY corner looking to abduct foreign girls and ransom them off to the highest bidder. Maybe it sounds funny, but this was a serious concern that my family had for us coming here! Since then, Dan and I are still careful not to go out alone, but at least I have less anxiety about being "off the reservation" at Madhubhan.
We wrapped up our day by watching a popular movie in our room called "Queen" which was really great! It was about an Indian girl whose fiance dumps her the day of her wedding. If you think that's bad from an American point of view, you still have NO idea how devastating it must be to an Indian girl and her family! She ends up going on her honeymoon alone and reinventing herself. I just went to see if I could find it on Netflix, but when I went to Netflix.com, it said "Sorry, Netflix hasn't come to this part of the world yet." Ha! Bummer! I was hoping to watch a lot of Netflix!!
|Sunday, December 6th, 2015|
|India, here we come!
Two days ago, we left the house at 6:30am and began our journey across the world to India. After a long-but-direct flight to New Delhi airport, it felt like we had gone nowhere at all! Getting off the plane and looking around, it looked like any modern airport and it was a surreal experience to wrap one's brain around the idea that we were now on the other side of planet earth!
We did not go out into New Delhi, and that was just as well. When one looks out the large airport windows, you see no blue sky, just white haze. It doesn't look especially formidable, but we know that it is all pollution. Residents and visitors alike are encouraged to always wear masks if visiting or living in this area because the air is that toxic. It was disheartening to see. However, India is now trying to set their part of the world right, and all around the airport at least are green initiatives. Solar energy, recycling, low emission planes, etc. India is aiming to jump on the "going green" bandwagon- and it can't be doing it soon enough.
After a puddle-jumper flight to Vadodara airport where we arrive at 8pm India-time, we are greeted by our driver from Madhubhan Resort. He provides us with a clean, air-conditioned mini-van which is quite the luxurious travel indeed, as we pass many "shared taxis" crammed with people and luggage and no AC! It costs us roughly 3,000Rs which is about $55 for a 45 minute drive. We give him a 10% tip which we are happy to find is very generous indeed at 300Rs!
Along the drive, we notice street signs, but no traffic lights whatsoever. Intersections are just carefully navigated with a blend of blaring horns and aggressive vying for advancement forward. The roads are well paved, and among sites not seen in America are whole families on motorbikes, including mothers holding their newborns (but not then holding on to their husbands who are driving!). The babies sleep amidst the action and noise of the city streets. We see beautiful Indian cows casually wandering the cities, and even saw one camel "parked" on the side of a road.
It is wedding season here, much like June in America. December offers slight reprieve from the intense heat of other months in India, although the humidity is staggeringly dry. (At only about 30% humidity, I was splashing water all over my face and neck and arms on our flights, and Dan even got a nose-bleed. I now see why lotions are such a desired gift when visiting in India!) Weddings here are something else. We think that weddings are a big deal in America, and they are, but nothing like in India! Guests number in the hundreds on any given wedding, loud music is played by rowdy musicians, wedding couples are carried in shimmering, "blinged-out" carriages pulled by horses decorated with equal pizzazz. Colors are everywhere, as are baubles, glittering mirrors, sequins and more! No outfit is ever overly done here in India- and I love it!!
The travel provisions have not been bad, but we are exhausted. I look in the mirror and with a sinking feeling realize that I have not looked this haggard since giving birth to Devon. But the resort is jaw-dropping-ly beautiful and Dan and I allow the heat of a warm shower to soak into our travel-weary bones, enjoy a delicious chocolate truffle left for us in our luxurious suite, and collapse into the clean sheets of a soft bed. I've been having periods of crying anytime I am reminded of Devon, which is often. Other families have children here, and I miss him fiercely. Thank goodness for the miracles of modern technology. At no additional cost, we are able to video-chat with our families and see our beloved boy! It eases my heart and makes it hurt in equal measure.
So that was roughly two days of travel, when one takes into account the time-zone shifts.
And here I am on Monday morning. We woke up at 4am, and Dan and I chatted in bed before fully rising and heading out around 6:30am. We even manage a morning chat with Devon who is cranky before bedtime at Grammy's- it is 8pm in the US. I feel much better after getting clean, getting rest, and having a sumptuous breakfast of "butter bread pudding", some savory deep-fried bread puffs, strawberry milkshake (with local milk from Amul Dairy, the largest producer in India which is down the road), and authentic masala chai. The tastes are exquisite, and I wonder if I will regret having any dairy in a few hours.
I abandon all regret minutes after breakfast when I get a bit of the lovely "travel sickness". Given that nothing can really account for this since I have been so incredibly careful up until now- only bottled water and hot foods- and yet I STILL have this, I decide not to sweat the small stuff. I will enjoy the food of India without extreme paranoia, and if conditions persist, well, there's Immodium, and the idea that I will be able to not gain any wait this vacation to ease my concerns.
The extravagance here is to die for! Breakfast was amazing, and indeed every inch of Madhubhan Resort is unparalleled in beauty and comfort. Art is "painted" on parts of the polished tile walkways each morning with bright colorful piles of flower petals arranged around fountains and sculptures. Room service offers both great variety and affordable prices, though we have yet to utilize it. Our room has its own patio, spitting distance across a manicured lawn to a bright and inviting pool. There are a variety of restaurants, shops, leisure activities (everything from board games to Segway rentals), live bird calls, and piped music throughout the "village". A thorough security check to even get into the resort allows the tourist to feel completely at ease and to suspend the understanding of the reality that beyond the clay walls topped with barbed wire is a country in extreme poverty.
But let's be fair. Dan and I have worked very hard to come here, and in the end, our dreams of surrogacy may all be for naught. So I shall try to alleviate the guilt, and be happy in knowing that this beautiful extravagant resort provides comfortable jobs for so many here in this town.
And on that note, it's time to do a little more relaxing for a few minutes before we call Dr. Patel, whose office asked us to call at 10am.
|Sunday, November 8th, 2015|
|Hoping and praying and watching and waiting
The house smells like fresh paint and home-made apple pie- nearly ready to come out of the oven. There are 6 quarts of applesauce in the fridge ready for pressure canning, made from organic apples foraged from a tree down town.
The house looks like it's been shot at and hit as we rearrange our entire home room by room, squeezing out square footage for a nursery. The house is abuzz with activity day and night between contractors, helpful family members and Dan and I doing our part each night after work.
In my down time, I am plugged into my computer, trying to learn Hindi to speak to a woman I hope to meet soon- a woman whose body and mind can do what mine cannot, and who we hope to repay by improving life for her family.
In a few hours, the sun will rise in India and the beaurocrats and legislators will continue their debates. And by the time they go home to their own families tomorrow, the sun will be rising here, and I will begin another long week of work to help make this all happen, checking the news every few hours with hopeful prayers that all the room we've made in our hearts and our home will be for a very good reason.
|Thursday, January 1st, 2015|
Dan and I have been having some major debates about the whole "second child" topic. We have had some big fights over the past couple years that often ended in me grieving and mourning the loss of the second child I imagined myself one day having. I finally came to accept it and focused on the wealth of good things in my life, particularly Devon who is a wonderful, engaging entity who endeavors to capture the full attention of all around him. Most of the time I am only too happy to give it to him. Anyhow, with all hopes of adoption and fostering thoroughly dashed by Dan, and with surrogacy so far out of reach, I had reconciled myself to the only path available.
Then mom sent me an article on surrogacy through India. At first it sounded so outlandish, so shady... I was filled with questions and concerns, but open-minded nonetheless, so I began researching and sharing what I found with Dan. Things began to seem POSSIBLE, and I began to have a tiny little ember of hope come to dwell deep inside me.
Around this time, I was out tending my bees one day and I lost my precious wedding/engagement ring (both were linked together) as I shook angry bees off of my (foolishly) ungloved hands. I was quite distraught. Though the ring was insured, the stones were family stones and those couldn't be replaced. We thoroughly searched the grounds with the help of two men and three expensive metal detectors. We scoured every inch of the area I thought it might be, but with no luck. As I let it sink in that I would likely never see my ring again, I began to also debate about what to do with the large sum of money from the insurance company. I had received a check for close to $10,000. Far more than anyone had ever given me in liquid assets ever before. Though I smiled to myself at the possibilities (everything from a full-body massage chair to paying down the mortgage), what I ended up deciding on was that I would replace the ring with a lower cost version and find some way to leave the rest of the money to future generations, as the stones were meant to be. When, weeks later, a friend of ours offered to take a turn with the metal detector and, lo and behold, FOUND the missing rings, new thoughts occurred in my head. The first of course was joy at having the precious ring recovered, and then fear at the possibility of losing them again. I wanted to simply lock the old ring away in a safe deposit box until it could be passed onto the next generation as planned. And since I still would not be benefitting from the joy of having recovered the ring, I didn't trouble myself with the notion hat I should return the insurance money.
On the contrary, I ecstatically rewarded my friend for finding the ring with a fistful of cash from the ATM, and rejoiced inside. To me, this all felt like an amazing sign from the
Universe. With the ring safe for future generations, and a huge sum of money in the bank, Dan and I might be able to make ends meet with a new baby. The money could pay for a year of daycare, or be a starter for a college fund. More than before, it now felt like this not only COULD happen, but SHOULD happen.
Then, of course, Dan and my parents said the money should be returned. Now my parents didn't surprise me at all, and the fact that they both offered so much support to our family both emotionally and financially gave them a leg to stand on in preaching to me. Dan, on the other hand, no. Dan is the guy who cries poor as his default setting! "We can't afford this. We don't have money for that." Dan was the guy who had just spent the night before berating me for making a decision that could have jeopardized our financial standings, but I had done it anyway because I felt it was the ethical thing to do. Dan was the pot calling the kettle black, and it infuriated me. Not just the hypocrisy, but the fact that once again it felt like he was throwing up insurmountable obstacles on the road to having a second child. I couldn't take it. I told him that surrogacy was off the table and I would staying at a friends that night. I'd have prefered to tell him HE had to stay with a friend so that I could be with Devon, but as the one making the call, I knew that'd be expecting too much.
Anyhow, we argued for days. Even though I had already made up my mind to send the money back after that first morning when dad asked me saying "Please Briana, do it for Dad," and I had decided I would, but ONLY for that reason. My heart was breaking and going into auto-defense by freezing to ice. I number myself to the pain, and even though I could see Dan was in pain too, I steeled myself and allowed the feelings within me to freeze rather than shatter me from the inside out.
Eventually, so hung up on the financial obstacles of it all, I still insisted that surrogacy was off the table, but perhaps we could discuss adoption. To my shock, Dan was open to it. He finally began telling me, in truth, that he felt we could pursue my original preference.
Ever have those times when you unexpectedly get what you want, but you are so shocked, you don't really know what to do with it now that it's yours? That was me. Now the barricade was lifted and if I wanted to go for adoption, I could! We could- together!! And then the doubts began to creep in- all those counters to every point I ever made in this debate in the years past. Dan's words, his examples that he saw at work, now I began hearing them all anew, and I began to wish maybe this choice was still not mine to make.
I wrestled with the two options in and out each day, leaning one way, and then the next. I even went so far as to post on Facebook a "what would you do" scenario. I was so desperate for extra pebbles to fall on one side of the scale or the other so I could finally decide what to do. I began to settle in on adoption. Facebook chorused it's merits, Dan's Catholic cousins extolled the virtue in it, it cost immensely less than surrogacy with all the tax rebates, and the adoption "brokers" promised you a healthy baby. And bonus- it even helped reduce world population!
In one post a friend left me a message to call him to discuss the matter privately, and wanting to get as much information as possible, I did that. He told me his story- how his wife and he had two adopted children whom they loved, how they were so careful to screen the biological mothers to confirm the babies would be healthy, and how their lives had been made hell nonetheless. Both children, adopted separately through two different methods had mothers who swore hey had done nothing to jeopardize the well being of their babies. And my friend had been long convinced that both women simply...lied. He kept emphasizing how much he loved his children, BUT... His his daughter talked incessantly- not even conversation, just strings of words, and she has absolutely no decision-making skills. She lives in a group home and is believed to have fetal alcohol syndrome. His son, though strikingly handsome, could not tell you what he will be doing one day to the next, having executive function disorder. Tom and his wife became 24 hour care-takers for their children, changed their jobs to open a group home, and drifted apart from their siblings who simply did not understand the children or the situation that Tom and his wife found themselves in. The medical bills over the years have been astronomical, and that's in addition to all the money spent on the adoptions in the first place, caring for the birth mothers, the lawyers, the fees. It was simply not what either of them had ever imagined could happen by simply opening their hearts and their homes to welcome newborn babies in need of loving parents.
With more insight, I now had to ask myself, could Dan and I risk our marriage, our financial stability, our emotional stability, and Devon's own well-being in a gamble like this? Because no matter how careful you are in research, interviews, blood tests... all it takes is a simple lie to make it all worth naught. And I've never been one for high stakes gambling.
Can the above happen with my own genetics? Yes, it can. But at least I could better own the consequences. The challenges of the new child would be of my own making and not the result of some casual lies made in an interview. Aside from that, Devon is precious to me, and I hold out faith that Dan and I could create a second miracle, with enough help.
And so, currently, today, as I write this, I am looking eastward towards India. Adoption not only cannot guarantee a healthy baby as the agencies try to promise, but it also would not be saving any money if a situation were to occur like in either of Tom's experience. Not to mention the immense strains on family relations and possible negative impact to Devon and my marriage with Dan. As for world population, I promised myself in middle school I'd never have more than two children, and I may not be coming in under my limit, but I also have no intention of exceeding it either.
I hope that our friends and family will support whichever decision we choose, but if they should not be able to overlook us walking away from adoption, it is my hope that they will follow those strong beliefs and walk towards adoption themselves and be willing to walk a lifetime in Toms shoes before judging.
|Thursday, November 6th, 2014|
|A Few of My Favorite Things
Raindrops of roses,
Whiskers on kittens,
What are my favorite things?
My (often literally) bouncing baby boy. The times I stop myself from feeling frustrated as he says "MommyMommyMommyMommyMommyMommy", and pause to remember how just months earlier I so badly wanted to hear him first say that word. My glee this morning as he identified his first My Little Pony (Appuh. Jack...Appuh. Jack.) The fact that he loves to make everyone around him laugh and he always acts silly in hopes of a chance to break into giggles with those around him. When I lie him in bed and he looks up at me with those big, innocent eyes, and asks, "Mommy? A shong?" and I lie on the nearby bed and sing him his nightly lullabye. How he sweats as he falls asleep when cuddled in my arms. His eagerness to help anytime he sees Mommy or Daddy cooking. "Cook?" he says, as he runs to fetch his step stool. "I hehwp," he offers, well...insists.
I love the evening time when its dark, and the world has started to head into somnolence. A hot cup of tea, or a little cordial glass of sweet liquer or wine. A good book, a quiet house, and a purring cat (Seamus) curling up in my lap, pleading to be vigorously rubbed down and extensively loved.
I love to hear my husband play with my son, acting silly and strange compared to his usual reserved, well-composed self. Hearing him read books and look for dinosaurs in my son's ears and nose. His wavy, dark hair, how smart he looks in his glasses. The fact that we share so much in common that most people our age might not- cartoons, science fiction, comic books, board games, toys..ahem, action figures. How brilliantly and fluidly he seems to do his job. "Discharge Dan" helping people get discharged from therapy and move on to more productive lives with new skills and confidence from their time with him. How he loves to give tutorials about EVERYTHING. How he treats my parents with respect, even when they drive him crazy. That he reminds me of things not to forget, often every morning before we leave the house. "Phone? Purse? Devon? Need anything else for work?"
I love being so deep on a trail in the woods that everywhere I look, I see the forest. I love the brilliant emerald green that illuminates the leaves outside my bedroom window in the spring and the summer each morning. The smell of the crisp autumn air.
|Thursday, October 16th, 2014|
Today we had our first supposed case of Ebola, and though it turned out to be a false alarm, it still seems like only a matter of time until it hits for real. We've been hearing about the thousands of deaths in West Africa, hearing the terribly sad tales that come across the ocean- like the group of nurses who got infected because, despite knowing they shouldn't, they held and cared for an infected baby. They couldnt just let it lie there, wailing in the box it was brought to the clinic in. They passed it around amongst each other, and they cared for each other, and in the end, I am told something like 28 nurses died. All the phlebotomists died, too.
And now its here. Maybe not in New Haven County just yet, but it's in Texas, and it will likely come. Somehow. They havent closed off airline flights from the infected countries, so there is little way of preventing it. And though our hospitals have currently handled the few cases carefully, they would not be prepared for a large-scale outbreak. I keep reminding myself that it's not "easily" spread, not like the flu which can be airborn. Its transmitted through body fluids, and the few patients who have contracted it have come in contact with many, many people who did NOT end up with the virus. It gives me hope.
But my sister works in the hospital, and I work with seniors who often go to the hospital. And a few times today, I've let my mind wander, and if left to its own devices, it keeps going to the scenes that shatter my heart into a million pieces- what if my baby boy gets sick? What if I get sick, or anyone in the family gets sick...what if I can't hold him? What if he starts spiking a temperature, and lies there, whimpering, saying "Mommy...sick..." like he has in the past when he's gotten a bad "bug". This vision plays out and I am entirely in its grip. My mind likes to remind me that Devon likely wouldn't have survived a natural birth, and that through modern medicine, I have been lucky to have him at all. It rationalizes, ever logical, that "isn't it better to have at least gotten to spend as much time with him as you have?...You know... just in case?" But it's not better- it's not enough! It will never be enough! Sometimes, I even find myself looking forward to the times when he will be a rotten teenager so that frustration will help abate this crushing, overwhelming sense of desperate love I feel for my baby.
I often hold him, and kiss him over and over again, repeating one of his favorite words, "more" back to him, until I feel sated enough that I can at least, grudgingly, put him to bed, or say goodbye to him at day care. I sit with him in my lap and read books, and all the while, he is so unaware of how much I am cherishing the weight of him in my lap, the smoothness of his perfectly straight hair against my cheek, the jovial exclamations of "Chicken!" and "Cow! Moooo!" when he sees something on the page he recognizes. Little does he know, I am trying to absorb every sensation of these moments, assimilate them right into the very core of who I am so that, when the day comes when he's too big for mommy's lap, or he's too cool to be smothered in kisses, I can search myself and relive these memories.
|Thursday, October 9th, 2014|
|To Be, Or Not To Be... A Madisonite.
Lately I've been feeling very jaded about Madison. Like everything they've ever said when I was growing up is true. I didn't really start noticing it until I was an adult, but when I would tell people I was from Madison, they would sort of roll their eyes, and say "Oh, you're from Madison." The word "Madison" was often said in a very stuffy voice. The kind of voice that says in a British accent (because these sorts of things are always in British accents), "Oh how do you do, I'm Tripp. This is my wife, Muffy. We've just gotten back from traveling the world on our yacht, but dear me, we can't stay to talk- it's time for our tennis match. Then Muffy will be working on planning our daughter Mitzy's catillion, and I'll be courting a cigar with the gents at the club. So ta-ta, old chum!"
Eventually, I felt like I got it- Madison is a wealthy town. And I'd even join in on the odd joke here and there. "Yeah, they were going to film the movie Stepford Wives here. It's a shame they didn't- it would have saved them a fortune in hiring extras!"
On our wedding night, my husband and I shared a bottle of champagne. When we couldn't finish the bottle, and being ever-frugal, I made a "cork" out of wet, wadded tissue to keep the carbonation in the bottle for later. My husband joked that instead of a molotov cocktail, I had made a "Madison cocktail." "Except", he continued, "that a true Madison cocktail would have wadded up $100 bills stuck in the top." We both laughed. I had learned to role with the jabs.
But when I'd talk to friends from high school who had come back to live in the area, I often found myself feeling sad. Because I kept hearing how they felt like they had made a mistake coming back- that they wanted to leave.
"There's too much 'keeping up with the Joneses' here. I don't want my kid to have to feel like s/he's gotta drive a Porsche to fit in."
"I feel like I have to justify to people that I bought a small house- it wasn't because we couldn't afford a bigger one, we just wanted a smaller one! Why do I feel like I have to explain that?"
"I'd been working out in the gardens all day and stopped by the grocery store on the way home. I felt so embarrassed because I was dirty from work. It wasn't like I was at a fancy restaurant or anything- I was at the grocery store, for god's sake- and I still felt that way!"
I'd listen well, and just look at them sadly, trying to talk them out of their desire to leave. I'd tell them that if everyone like us left, then there'd really be no room for people like us here- the old schoolers. The salt of the land. The down-to-earth. But I still didn't fully empathize because I didn't see what they saw.
Then I think I started to. When my son was born, I wanted to connect and meet new friends who not only had children my son's age, but who lived in the same town as us. I met some great new mom's through the Mommy-and-Me groups at the library. But in my effort to show the world that I wasn't the "typical" Madisonite, that I wasn't the rich housewife who's husband worked and played golf while I got to stay home and raise our children and judge people, I think I came off as abrasive and alienated them.
I'd do things like talk about how wonderful my recent wedding had been- how my husband and I had put our heart and soul into our wedding and made such heart-felt, cost-conscious choices, and had hand-made so many things that our entire wedding came out to under $6,000! Later, I felt like maybe they were thinking "that's not exactly something I'd brag about."
I'd talk about how great a town Madison is. "But you have to be very careful in raising your children. You can't let them think that this is what the whole world is like. You have to let them know they are lucky", I'd say, remembering how many of my classmates had overdosed on drugs because they had too much money and not enough supervision, or those who grew up into self-important, narcissistic personalities. As alternative examples, I'd tout the names of my classmates who had taken all the privilege they were raised with here in Madison and had gone out to create privilege for others. I talked about my friend who went to Africa in the peace corps, or my friends who rode bikes across the country to raise awareness and buy bicycles for the poor. Kid's from Madison could do great things if properly guided, I sagely advised.
I think maybe I was a little too passionate. A little too desperate. A little too jaded, maybe? I was torn and conflicted. I loved that I was back living in Madison- a town that I had worked so hard to come back to, just as my mother had worked so hard to bring her children back to raise them in a place that "has beaches in the summer, nearby skiiing in the winter, fall foliage, and is just two hours from New York City and Boston"- the perfect little town with a cute main street and rich in history. A place my family had been calling home since the early 1900's.
And yet, I didn't want to be "Madison". Because according to most of the area outside Madison, the fact that I lived in Madison must have meant I was snobbish, arrogant, rich, rude and highly judgemental. So I fought against the stereotype, demonstrating my insecurities in front of newcomers to Madison who had no idea of the inner conflicts that I, as a long-time resident of Madison, was having. I don't think I made any real friends. And when I'd see these mothers later at public events, the interactions were polite, but awkward.
I began to feel more insecure. My high school friends must be right about the way they felt. Maybe times had changed, and maybe the new people were incredibly judgemental. Speaking of high school, my new-found insecurities were surprisingly reminiscent of those I had felt when I was a teenager. Wasn't I supposed to have outgrown this? For the first time, I began feeling like I had made a mistake coming back. I wasn't making friends with new people, and I was now even nervous that I'd see people I went to high school with because my insecurities were just running wild.
I began to act very negative about being in Madison. I began to wish I wasn't living in the house my great-grandfather had built by hand, so that I could pack up and move. I began to feel like I didn't really belong here. My family wasn't rich enough: even though we'd put out the china and silver for the big family holidays, see shows on Broadway, and take vacations to lavish resorts, we don't have a mansion, nor a three-car garage. My art style wasn't classic enough: all the members of the Madison Art Society painted portraits and landscapes with oils and pastels. I do childrens illustrations with markers and Photoshop. My husband wasn't conservative enough in his interests: instead of golfing and going to the pub, he prefers board games and science fiction. My own interests didn't match the other moms, either: I prefer the same hobbies my husband does! I wasn't "mom" enough: all the mothers I met got to stay home with their children while their husbands worked. My husband and I have careers which keep us far away from our son for almost twelve hours each day. I wasn't [enter mainstream religion here] enough: I'm one of those fringe spirituality, tree-hugging hippy-types. Everywhere I looked, it just felt like I didn't measure up. That I was the "odd man out". Yeah, it was feeling like high school all over again.
Then I went to the Meigs Festival at Hammonnassett with my husband and son.
I can't even express how much fun I had every second I was there. My toddler learned to crush kernels of corn using stones, the way the Indians had. My husband practiced chucking a spear using an atlatl. I learned to felt plush toys and decorations from a farm-owner and fellow beekeeper, and I even made a new friend in her. My husband and I geeked out over the cool collection of fossils that a couple had brought, listening in amazement as they told us way more about fossils than we had ever known.
I saw a representative of a Native American tribe lead an opening ceremony that mirrored my own spirituality, and I saw people listening in respect and reverence without judgement. I saw the Madison Shellfish Commission, and reflected on my love of clamming and beaching with my family in the summer. I saw the Madison Historical Society, and I bought a book on Madison's history. I saw the Friends of Hammonassett and the Meigs Point Nature Center represented, showcasing all the work they do to connect people with the world around them. All around, I saw nature lovers, history buffs, artists, and people who felt immense connection to the land surrounding them. I sampled free food from local vendors, and even had lunch at one of Madison's infamous food trucks.
That afternoon, I was back to feeling like I was where I belonged. That I was right to have pushed and pleaded with my husband to return to my little village by the sea. High on my love for my town, I dived into the book I had bought from the Madison Historical Society, cherishing each anecdote, marveling over each morsel of history, and having more than one "eureka!" moment as I connected a story form the past with a landmark of the present.
And the one thing I kept seeing occur again and again throughout history? People bickered. People judged each other. Factions split, and sometimes re-merged with each other down the road. It was all the same sorts of interactions we see today.
There were conflicts over budgets, building locations, and domestic disputes between neighbors. When "the summer people" began coming to Madison, the old farmers, fishermen and ship-builders were irritated by the changes the newcomers brought. The snobbish stubbornness of the old agricultural folk then may even mirror the snobbishness some people perceive from the new executive-types that populate our town now. The "new money" people irritated the "old money" people (and vice versa!); and just because a man was your neighbor did not mean he was your friend. The very same hard-nosed, shrewd, fiscally conservative people that existed then still exist today. So do the same rabble-rousers that don't much mind which side they're on in a debate, as long as they get to cause a good stir. In fact every stereotype that one can pigeonhole another into was alive and well long before any of us came to have our day in this town. Someday, someone will read in a history book about the Battle of the Food Trucks, and chuckle over it- an island of conflicting human interests in a sea of otherwise banal historical facts.
My friends from high school tell me "Madison isn't like it used to be. It's changed, and it's time for me and my family to move on." My mother, a teacher in the Madison school systems for many years argues "the same sort of people have always been here, having the same sorts of conflicts." And me, I've questioned things, but lately, I tell myself I do belong here, as much as anyone does, even if I sometimes wonder where exactly I fit in.
Reflecting on my hometown's history, and the many-faceted aspects of its present-day character, I see the same human interactions, squabbles, and trials that occur any time a group of people come together to work towards a common goal, in this case, the formation, running and day-to-day living of a little town called Madison. All of us will still be here long after we are gone. The crochety and the conservative, the weird ones and the wild ones, the newcomers and the old timers. Madison is a town full of stereotypes. Just like any other town that ever was, or ever will be.
|Wednesday, September 24th, 2014|
|Smuggler's Notch Vacation
This week. Oooohhh, this week. It's been heaven here in Vermont. We (Dan, baby and I, Mom and Dad) traveled up here on Sunday, just as the leaves are beginning to change color, and taking the time to get away from everything and immerse myself in nature is just what the doctor ordered.
We spent the first day driving around Jefferson, Vermont after seeing the resort overview of what there was to do. We got groceries at one of the local general stores, including some local cheese and sausage. We popped into a farm store and picked up some tasty bagels loaded with all sorts of toppings, and I bought a bunch more hippie magnets for my car (because obviously I do not have enough yet). Back at the resort, we enjoyed toasted bagels with melted cheese and cold cuts, read, relaxed and passed out for a bit before heading to dinner.
On Tuesday, we visited Stowe for a visit to the Trapp Family Lodge (the von Trapp family of Sound fo Music fame) to take in the views and see old photos of the Trapp Family. Maria's granddaughter was even there signing copies of a little book of recorder music she had made, and Mom bought a copy and had her sign it. She says she wants to get back into playing the recorder which might be cool since I could accompany on the bodrhan. At the Lodge, we enjoyed some Austrian-style sausages (Mom and I shared while Dad and Dan ate some of the best pastrami sandwiches either had ever tasted). The guys enjoyed home-brewed lagers, and all the meat was raised on the farm there. We toured the gardens together, during which time I plucked up some indigo seeds and pretty pink runner beans in green pods to save for seeds. Afterwards, while Devon napped in the car, Dan and I visited Ben and Jerry's and I had SUCH a good milk shake- triple caramel chunk with extra caramel sauce. Ooooohhh, deliciousness!!!
Dan and I have gotten in some good games (Hero Brigade, a card game from our friend Scott Drake), I've gotten to plow further through my book (The Fiery Cross, book 5 of the Outlander series), and this morning, I walked around ALONE. No husband, no baby, no parents. I found a couple choice boulders that were sitting snug together just like a couch and made myself comfortable. I breathed deep, staring up into the leaf-framed blue sky, and let me mind un-tense for a bit. Then I picked my sketchbook and pencil out of my satchel and continued working on some sketches I started up here.
Of course, coming to Vermont, one finds oneself in foodie heaven with organic-and local-everything on most of the menus. The first night we got here, we relaxed while enjoying some of mom's mushroom-and-sherry cream soup with come crescent rolls, and hit the hay after a long day in the car. The next night, we indulged at the Hearth and Candle- one of the higher-end restaurants on the resort campus. We practically licked the cutting board clean on a sampling of six Vermont cheeses, apple chutney, apple slices and roasted garlic. Mom, Dad and Dan enjoyed a prime rib dinner while I enjoyed a veggie pot pie with all local organic veggies.
Today, Dan and I got a day pass for the resort and went on a mushrooming hike, picking up quite a few tasty samples, and I even added quite a bit of knowledge to what I already know about mushrooming in New England. At home after the hike, I sauteed up a couple small puffballs, little bites of oyster mushrooms, some ash suillus, and some lion's mane. They were all quite tasty, aside from the lion's mane which, to be fair, was quite past it's "sell-by date". The guide (a French man named Silvio who, being from France, knew mushrooming as an old tradition) had just said they were so tasty, and I was very curious! After that hike, we took a little breather until Devon woke from his nap.
Then we met up with another group and headed for a tour of a local organic farm. The farmers were really cool- a young couple our age, with a daughter Devon's age. I took further notes on tips from the farmers on some tricky crops, and learned some new techniques to try out in my garden back home. Devon got to pluck up "Easter egg radishes" (bright purple!), as well as yellow carrots, purple peppers and bright red potatoes! I snagged a few samples to save for seeds, and then the farmers treated us all to some delicious butternut squash bisque with tasty buttermilk biscuits. They also gave me a few heads of garlic to plant at home and I told them I'd connect with them on Facebook and tell them anything they wanted to know about beekeeping.
Back at the resort, Dan and I headed straight out for our last class- a maple sugaring walk. We got to learn about the old techniques for sugaring (which I was familiar with), as well as see the new techniques in play (a piping system which uses either gravity or a vacuum system to draw out the sap from up to thousands of trees to a few central tank locations!) We learned how to identify various maples, and then we all got to sample some dark grade A syrup and take home little jars of some medium amber syrup.
We met up with mom and dad and went to a local farmers and artisan market where we didn't buy much, but enjoyed browsing and hearing some live music. We returned home for dinner since we knew we had food in the fridge we needed to eat up. Dan and I enjoyed a nice soak in the jacuzzi tub while Mom and Dad put Devon down for bed. And now, after perhaps a couple more chapters of my book, I'll head to bed with my boys.
The next day, Dan and I headed out to a local winery for a wine tasting, sipping the local flavors of fruit wine, dessert wines, local cider, creme liquers and the very pricey ice wines. We left with a bottle of the maple creme liquer and a bottle of the maple ice wine cordial. Back on campus, we grabbed a quick lunch and then reunited with our group for a class on pestos, oils and vinegars, followed by a class on cordials, elixirs and bitters. We each made a custom oil and vinegar while snacking on fresh pesto and pretzel chips. Then we each crafted two liquers each and a small batch of bitters. It was so interesting to learn about the herbs, the history of the different fluids, and the recipes. And I certainly didnt mind getting to sample various liquers that our herbalist teacher had created!
Friday was pretty uneventful- a light walk to see a waterfall and take pictures, home for a rest, and then dinner at the Morse Mountain Grille. It's unbelievable how tired we all up here, even on days when we do hardly anything. I think it must have to do with the fresh air, the relaxing atmosphere, and the FREEDOM to rest and relax as long as we want. Even Devon has been going straight to bed, exhausted despite liesurely, long naps.
Today is Saturday, our last day here. Another day of primarily resting, reading, and light walking. We went to Cold Hollow Cider Mill, the Cabot Creamery Annex Store, and got dinner at a local restaurant. The chorus from "I Don't Wanna Go Home" by Great Big Sea keeps playing on loop in my head. There's a great mourning inside me to leave this idyllic week behind.
Of course, there's not much to really complain about- I am so happy with my life that it's really not TOO hard to return to it. This vacation spelled it out pretty clearly to me. The things I loved doing up here are mostly things that I have incorporated into my regular life back home- farm-to-table food, foraging walks in the woods, the goals of living a more sustainable lifestyle, honoring the history and natural world around me. So often when I go on vacation, I constantly feel a nagging bit of jealousy- that I wish I could live this lifestyle forever, that I wish the timeshare we stay in was my home, or that I had the job of the program directors on the resort. But this time I didn't feel that. I simply felt at peace. I felt at home, surrounded by similar nature-loving, artsy souls, by recycling rooms and compost systems. While I certainly wish there were more like-minded souls back home, they are still there if I am willing to look. We have recycling systems and compost systems, community farms, organic initiatives, hiking trails, art societies and the like.
The other thing I've really cherished has been simple down time with my family. My parents are getting older, and so time with them is very precious. I keep feeling very badly that my sister and her family were not with us. This is such precious time that, once passed, cannot be re-made. I cherished the days spent with my little boy and his father- all of us holding hands, or hiking with our own walking sticks- even a little one for Devon. And of course, these special things are also there for me at home, if I can take the time to slow down and appreciate them. I'm grateful that I don't have to leave town for a week to be with my parents, or to see my husband or son. There are certainly sacrifices that have been made to have all of these things come together, but weeks like this week really illustrate how worth it those sacrifices have been.
|Thursday, July 24th, 2014|
|Equality in Intimate Relations
I'm very proud to say that in my marriage, things feel more or less equal. That equality has changed, however. Initially, as a strong, independent woman, I certainly wanted to strive to have the work of the house equally divided, and I didn't want my contribution to be relegated to "women's work" nor my husband to "men's work"). We both cooked together, cleaned together and did what little yard work there was (we lived in a condo at first) together.
As as life went on, things changed. We moved to a house and the work to maintain it increased ten-fold compared to a condo. I became increasingly more passionate about organic, local food and enrolled us in a farm-share where we paid up front and got fresh vegetables all season long- the deal being that I would have to do more of the cooking if I wanted to enroll us. Bit by bit, Dan began doing more of the outdoor work, and I began doing more of the kitchen work. Because I have a higher salary than Dan, and as such have to work many more hours, we finally both agreed to get a housekeeper after Devon was born.
So here we are, each of us doing the work of our specified gender roles, and I'm not always sure what to make of it. I enjoy cooking and preparing food, perhaps more than raking the lawn and takin the trash out, and I certainly love watching our son. I like to weed in my garden and tend to my bees. Yet sometimes I feel frustrated. Since Dan and I now often do different work, I often find myself questioning whether he's doing his fair share. I often feel overworked, even though I do love to work. This usually occurs when I see Dan regularly taking time for himself- a thing I rarely seem to do. And perhaps some of it is jealousy.
What I do still love and what I do cherish is that Dan and I communicate well and (mostly) fairly. When I do start to begrudge him his gaming time (of which it always seems there's so much!!) I know that I can at least talk to him and we can evaluate the situation together
|Thursday, July 10th, 2014|
I'm sinking again. I can feel it, like when I was so badly depressed during my pregnancy. Luckily, I feel confident I won't drown this time. I have a life preserver in the form of Celexa. But still I feel such a sucking at my soul, pulling me down beneath the waves.
I want to cry more often. There are children crossing the USs southern border. 40,000 this year and an expected 130,000 next year. Children, as young as five, fleeing without their parents and risking horrible deaths because it's better than life where they are, or so they think, or so we're told. And we can't help them. Not all of them. There are too many of them. Too many of US, of human beings in general.
A part of me, feels that masses of us just need to die, but those are just words. Easy to say, harder to see. I watched a video on Facebook yesterday- a horrible accident. Four teens had crashed and died, or WERE dying in the video. One twitched, a streak of blood indicating an enormous hole in the back of her head. Another was missing a face. Well, her face was there, but in the form of a bloody streak that glistened on the black road and ended at her hairline. Another flopped pathetically and whimpered, his legs bent up under him at unnatural angles. People milled around, one of them taking this video. They weren't rushing in to comfort the victims. They hung back and just looked. You couldn't even blame them, really. They couldn't undo the scene before them.
And this gruesome scene was an accident. They happen. But what about the horrors that happen because someone intended them to. A girl I remember from my internship in college spoke in group therapy of the massacres of her home country in Eastern Europe. She watched men cut the fetus out of a pregnant woman and impale it on a spike. It sounds like something out of a horror movie. But it's not fiction. It's real, and once in awhile, my brain, when it doesn't have a firm hold on the reigns of obliviousness or denial, allows me think about this.
And thought after thought, image after image flood my mind and I can't look away. And I can't stop crying. And I'm partly angry that I'm even taking medication because I feel I should be hurting MORE. SOMEONE has to! Someone has to cry and keen and wail in agony at the injustice of it all. I'd be a good professional mourner. They used to have those in, was it Ireland? Italy?
The only consolation is that my pain doesn't change anything. If I felt that by feeling it that I was doing anyone any good, I'd probably never be able to stop. Not really much of a consolation when you think about it.
And then there's the guilt. Why should I have it so good when others have it so bad. The self-loathing creeps in, insidiously. How have I had so many lucky breaks when so many I've known have their lives fall apart around them. I don't deserve it. And I grieve all the more in some vain attempt to balance the universe. Perhaps if I am hurting more, somewhere, someone else's pain has lessened. And I know it doesn't make any damn sense, but it's better than the feelings of helplessness that are the alternative.
Every golden age is as much a matter of disregard as it is of felicity. I read that in a book once. But how can you intentionally disregard stuff like this, and still have any self worth?