Thursday, November 8, 2007

Journey to Destructo Boy - Part II

Last night, our familly celebrated Destructo Boy's coming home anniversary by trying a new Korean restaurant. Ebo and I are not unfamiliar with Korean food, but where we live, these establishments are not easy to come by. I remembered seeing a little hole-in-the wall place in a small shopping center, but I couldn't exactly remember where it was. After a half an hour of driving in a trip that would normally only last 15 minutes, we finally arrived at the restaurant. The whole family enjoyed a night of great food and Korean television.

As Destructo Boy was getting Kimchee and rice all over his face and clothes, I was looking at him and reminiscing our trip home last year. Although we were anxious to have our son with us, we were scared shitless at the thought of having two kids under the age of three. When we started the adoption process, we were expecting to wait two years for a referral and here we were one year later with a new child. Ebo and I struggled with the decision - we wanted this little boy to be ours, but were we really ready? Could we manage?

And let's not forget the taboo adoption topic - cost. Adoption costs money. No matter how many agencies tell you that you are paying for services and not buying a child, it sometimes feels like you are. And then there are the suprise costs. When we agreed to adopt Destructo Boy, we felt we could barely manage the Korean adoption fees which are significantly higher than those from the Philippines. But what we didn't prepare for was the "extras" - fingerprinting, immigration fees (which just had to go up when we started the process), attorney fees for finalization - these are all costs they leave out in the agency pamphlet. Back before we decided to start trying to have children, I was trying to explaing (to a very fertile friend) that we were trying to save up the money before we start anything. She said to me, "Well, kids are always going to cost you money." I snapped back at her, "That's true, but unfortunately ours are going to require a lot of the money up front." But here we are, savings depleted, but we are still thankful for our son.

I like to tell people that it was the fact that I "knew" Destructo Boy was meant to be ours, but it's not that simple. Yes, I would look at his picture online and bask in his cuteness, but I will admit that I was terribly afraid to pass up any opportunity. After we were disappointed by the Philippine program, I didn't want to take any chances. I didn't care if it was bad timing. I didn't care if I hadn't finished graduate school. I didn't want to be in limbo any longer. Ebo felt the same way, but he was a little more logical about it than I was. He kept reminding me about the close age difference been Sassy Girl and Destructo Boy, the added cost of a second child, my unfinished disserataion, and the possible health problems associated with Destructo Boy's prematurity. I really don't remember how we came to a final decision, but then next thing I knew I was booking a flight to Seoul.

Some adoptive parents say that they knew "their" child the instant he/she was placed in their arms. When Destructo Boy's foster mom gave him to me, the only thought I had in my head was "Damn. This boy is heavy." It kind of reminded me of when I first saw Sassy Girl in her isolette in the NICU. There she was, all two and a half pounds of her, looking more like a mechanical doll than an infant. I didn't know how I was supposed to feel, but I knew I didn't feel like a mother. But as I visited her day after day, I would make the choice to be her mother. I made the same choice that first night with Destructo Boy - I held him tight, kissed his chubby little cheeks, and just enjoyed him. He smiled our whole first night together before we flew home. He even smiled when he projectile vomited all over me. That's my boy!

I don't remember much about our flight home, but I do remember how peaceful Destructo Boy looked as he slept on my shoulder. I also remember waiting in line at customs and immigration in Minneapolis. The man asked me "Are you his escort?" as many Korean born adoptees are escorted to their parents by a third party. "No," I said, "I am his mother." His mother. My choice was clearly made. It wouldn't make sense for a long time, but I knew in my heart I was committed.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Journey to Destructo Boy - Part I

Destructo Boy was sick all last week. Because of his asthma, whenever he gets a cold or other nasty virus, he has to receive a regimen of breathing treatments and medications. Ebo and I are used to this now and we are thankful that he is so much better than when he came to us. During breakfast, I brought up that it's been almost a year since Destructo boy came home to us. Ebo said, "Didn't he get sick then, too? Must be something about Halloween."

One year ago last week, I was in tears because our adoption agency called and told us that we could not pick up our son. It was 9:00 pm and my flight to Seoul was supposed to be at 7:00 the next morning. However, the social worker at Holt Children's Services in Korea said that Destructo Boy was in the hospital and not ready to travel home. He would be fine, but was being treated for bronchilitis. Up until that point, we had worked everything out - I was going to travel with my mother and Ebo and his father would stay at home to take care of Sassy Girl. This news changed our plans - we didn't know how long Destructo Boy would be in the hospital and the social worker said we would not have access to him anyway because we did not have legal custody of him as of yet. So if we went to Seoul, we would probably spend the whole time waiting for him to be discharged. Ebo's father had to leave at the end of the week (when we were supposed to come home), leaving us no one to watch Sassy Girl during the day if we were in Korea longer. Such is the road to adoption.

I ended up traveling to Seoul a week later - alone. This is when I started my first blog, Family/Pamilya/Ka-jok. This blog describes our adoption journey, but since the main purpose of the blog was to let our family and friends know what was going on in Korea, I left a lot of the gory details out. The postponement of our trip to Seoul was only one of the many hurdles we had to jump to get our son home.

As mentioned before, Ebo and I started adoption classes before we ever thought about IVF. Our first and only IVF resulted in only three embryos, all of which were transferred after three days. Thus we have Sassy Girl. After her first birthday, we decided not to pursue IVF again and continue with our adoption research. We were faced with many choices - the first of which was were we going to adopt domestically or internationally. In the end, we decided to go ahead with the Philippine program. We were told that it would take two years for a referral to be made for us and we thought this would be perfect. I would finish the diss, Sassy Girl would be almost four, and the children would be close in age, but not too close. Perfect.

But we all know nothing happens the way we envision it. We started our homestudy at the beginning of 2006 and were finished with all of the paperwork by the end of February. The next step was to collect documents to send to the Philippines for their approval. The Philippine government has set up a special agency that oversees all international adoptions called the Inter-Country Adoption Board (ICAB). For Americans, once you are approved by your local agency, you also must be approved by ICAB before you are put on the list of families waiting for a referral. When we applied to our agency, we were told that we would probably get approved more quickly because I am Filipino-American. When it came time to apply to ICAB, our case worker called and informed us of a little problem.

As I blogged before, Ebo has Cystic Fibrosis. He is healthy and manages his disease very well. However, to the uninformed, people with CF are not considered "healthy." Our caseworker told us that the Philippine ICAB is very strict about the health of potential parents and might not approve us. Furthermore, even if we did get approved, our referral may take longer because we would not be considered the most "desireable " parents. When I was told this information, I was livid. Before I sent my application fee to this agency, I made sure to tell them about Ebo's CF. I asked them if it would be a problem. No problem, they said. As long as he has documentation from his doctors. Now our documentation wasn't good enough. We had to get several letters that were drafted just right. Then our agency informed us that the fee to apply to ICAB was over $1000, which we wouldn't get back if we were rejected.

Poor Ebo. No matter how much I told him this wasn't his fault, he still felt guilty. One day, he was feeling sick and I told him to go to the doctor. He told me that he didn't want to see the doctor until we were approved by ICAB because he didn't want to have to report any more health complications. It was then I decided we had to get out. As much as we had our heart set on adopting from the Philippines, I couldn't let my husband suffer for it. I called the agency shortly after and again, we were at a crossroads. I really didn't want to stay with our agency because I felt we had been misled. But I also didn't want to start over again. And of course we would lose our application fee and our homestudy. We were about to just cut our losses and move on when we saw him. Male, born December 30, 2005.

Our agency has a Waiting Child program that lists children that are ready to be adopted. Most of the children on the list have minor health issues that prevents them from being referred to famlies the "regular" way. The listing said this little boy was from Korea and was born at 28 weeks gestation. Preemie. We know about preemies. His birthweight was 2 pounds, 7 ounces, just like Sassy Girl. We were intrigued. Could this be our son?

We immediately inquired about him. Our caseworker said that our homestudy had to be re-worked to be approved by Korea before we could receive any information about him. We were so sure that he would be adopted by then, but we decided to do it anyway in case we wanted to pursue the Korea program. We also asked the question - would Ebo's CF be a problem? Turns out, they had just approved another potential parent with CF. Good sign.

Because of our very slow and overworked social worker, our homestudy wasn't approved until July. During that time, I was checking the Waiting Child list every day to see if the little preemie boy was still there. When we got word that we were approved, we immediate called our agency. Within hours, we received his medical file, which we forwarded to an international adoption specialist and our local pediatrician. Because he was unable to breathe on his own, Destructo Boy had been on a ventilator the first two months of his life. He had scarring on his lungs and was diagnosed with Brochopulmonary Displasia (BPD). Our pediatrician and the specialist said that it would be difficult for a couple of years and he might have to live with asthma, but there was no reason he would not be able to grow up to be a happy and healthy little boy. At the end of July, our agency formally matched us with Destructo Boy and we would be able to pick him up in 3-6 months.

Which brings us back to the beginning of this post. I was about to leave for Korea (alone) to pick up our son. In retrospect, our journey was pretty uneventful compared to what it could have been. When I look at my little boy, I know I would do it all over again just to have him in my life.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Paper update, thank-you, and one year anniversary

I have been meaning to post, but life sometimes gets in the way. Since I am not teaching this semester, I am earning extra money by working as a "contract ethnographer" for a market research firm. I don't work often, but when a project comes my way, it consumes all of my time for a couple of weeks. The work is very "exotic" - my field site is a local electronics store. My subjects are the culture of people who buy televisions. Okay, it's not very uplifting work for an academic anthropologist. In fact, I kind of feel "dirty" at the end of the day. But then again, it pays a hell of a lot more per hour than teaching adjunct - sad but true.

I would like to thank everyone who has offered to help me with my WO-man up Challenge. I am still trying to outline how I want the research to go. Here is the abstract that I turned in for the conference:

The Infertile Identity in the United States
Although new developments in reproductive technology have created hope for many who suffer from infertility, those who experience success after treatments or adoption do not do so without many losses and significant financial investment. This paper explores the experiences of women in the United States who are at various places in the “infertility journey” and their struggle to legitimize their physical and emotional pain to the medical community, their peers, and themselves. I also look at the ways these women find support through support groups, online communities and blogs and how these groups influence the current debate on increased insurance coverage for infertility treatment.

I know it's vague. But I come from the camp that believes that your informants should dictate which direction your research should go. I hope as I hear more stories, I can write a paper that accurately represents the infertility community. Here is my plan thus far:
  • Collect stories and/or conduct open ended interviews by phone. Some people would prefer to communicate with me via email only, which is fine. I need to come up with a format for both types of data collection.
  • General survey (online): Using the information I gather from the interviews, I will construct an online survey (probably via Survey Monkey).

The conference is in March, so I hope to get all of the data collection finished by the end of January. This means I will hopefully have the survey up an running by the beginning of the new year. Thanks for your support on this project - I'm very excited. As soon as I'm done with this current contract job, I hope to start talking to some of you!

Finally, next week marks the one-year-anniversary of my trip to Korea. A year ago, I traveled (alone!) to meet my son and bring him home. I will be posting my thoughts on this in a couple of days - I just can't believe it's already been a year. Destructo Boy - I can't imagine my life without you!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Contraditions and Amateur Preachers - post on the Traveling DVD club

First of all, thank-you Jenna for including me in the Traveling DVD club. I received the DVD last Friday and meant to post by Sunday, but I have been busting my anthropological butt trying to re-work a chapter. It's least for now.

I had watched the Oprah show on Women in their Thirties when it aired the first time. I heard about the show (and Jenna) on a message board that I have been a part of since I began my IF journey. However, since I am forced to live without cable television, I had never seen the After the Show segment that aired on the Oxygen channel. Knowing that I would be blogging about the Oprah show, I was making a list of things to talk about long before I received the DVD in the mail. One thing that jumped out at me at the time was the contradictory messages women/couples with fertility problems face. The order of the show itself embodies this idea. For those of you not familiar with the show, Ms. Winfrey was interviewing various women across America who are in their 30's. Two guests before Jenna, a woman came on talking about what it was like to be mother of eight children. As the audience, we were wowed at this woman's daily routine, we laughed as she cracked jokes about pregnancy and breastfeeding, and we agreed when Ms. Winfrey commented,"Motherhood is the hardest job in the world." Now, I am not a regular Oprah watcher, but I know I have heard her make this comment at least twice before on different shows. But as Jenna came on and talked about her longing to become a mother, did we as an audience understand? Did Ms. Winfrey understand? Maybe we did, but there was little empathy coming out of the audience or the big O. Only the advice (or ass-vice) to "let it go" or "be at peace" with not being able to have children.

We admire the woman who becomes the mother but we berate the woman who is trying to become a mother. What's wrong with this picture?

This is one of many contradictions the IF community has to deal with. Here are a couple more to ponder:

  • Having children is a private matter and a personal decision. But if you are unable to conceive, your [in]fertility becomes public domain - you must surrender all privacy to your doctor and other members of the medical team. If you adopt, your decision to become a parent becomes your agency's, social worker's, and state's decision as well. And don't forget add the well-meaning but highly annoying family members and friends giving you unsolicited (and mostly incorrect) advice about what you should be doing.

  • Biology is important. Now I have never agreed with this, but the messages are all over the place. DNA is king - your children are supposed to be little reflections of you. But if you have IF, you have to surrender this belief and just accept a non-biological connection. Just accept it, damn it! "Just adopt!" (God I hate this phrase, especially as an adoptive mom who bent over backwards to have her son!!)

  • Having children is very important. But if you have IF problems, you should just accept it. As a society, we love children and go out of our way to honor those who choose to have families (think about how much we spend on Mother's Day), but yet we feel little compassion for those who are struggling to build their families. This is reflected in the lack of insurance coverage for IF treatments, the dearth of adoption subsidies, I could go on and on...

I finally got to view the Oprah - After the Show segment that featured Jenna. The big theme of this segment? "Be at peace with it." Winfrey, as well as one guest after another got on their religious soapboxes and preached to all those longing to have children: Pray, be at peace, let God's will be done. Mind you, I am very much a religious person. As an anthropologist, I have studied many religions at many different angles. As a practicing Christian, I also have lead many spiritual groups and taken some theology courses. So it bothers me when people talk about "God's will" and the "power of prayer" like it's like a magic eraser for pain and loss. Yes, prayer helps people deal with their pain, but it doesn't take the reality of the situation away. I also dislike the use of "God's will" - what makes them know what God's plan is better than Jenna does? Or any other woman suffering from IF? Furthermore, does talking about what God plans offer any comfort for those who experience pain and loss? I was recently supporting some friends by attending with them a special service for those who have lost children. During the homily, the priest said, "When you are suffering this kind of loss, 'God's will' is a feeble explanation for something we are unable to understand." As a friend, the best way for me to give my support is not to tell them what God's will is, but to carry out "God's will" by being a good listener and acknowledging their pain and suffering as real.

I have much more to say - I never thought I would have so much to write about one Oprah Winfrey show. I will stop here and let future DVD club members make their points. As for my WO-Man up challenge, I have decided to contribute to this cause by doing what I do best: write an academic paper. I have submitted an abstract to the Society for Applied Anthropology for their next annual meeting. While writing about my own research, I have come across a lot of research about infertility. (Believe it or not, there is a lot of reference to infertility in research about disability, but that's another blog entry.) While finishing my fieldwork in Ecuador, I even met a fellow graduate student who writes about IVF in South America. Anyway, I would like to write a paper on how women/couples make decisions about their infertility treatments and the factors that influence these choices (financial, emotional, religious, etc.). Hopefully, I can generate some much needed discussion and maybe collaborate with other reseachers. Academia is not a very "sexy" or a quick route for social change, but it does still have some influence in this country. If anyone would like to volunteer their story for my paper, please contact me.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Dissertation update

Last week, largely because of an important meeting with my advisor, I cranked out a decent chapter of the ole diss. I finished in time for the meeting. Good news.

Said advisor liked what she saw and said that I was making good progress. Good news.

In the middle of lunch, advisor confirms a rumor circulating among the graduate students - she's leaving the university after next spring. If I don't want to start over and form another committee, I should finish everything by May. Good news?

Normally, I think I would be in a panic. After all, I have been working under this woman for six years and she has grown to respect my work. If I had to start over, I would have to establish that type of relationship with a whole new person. And anyone who works with academics knows that these personalities are not easy to work with. However, I actually this new development is kind of a blessing. I now have a tangible deadline. I have to be done next year - no excuses.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Happy Birthday, Sassy Girl

I am currently recovering from Sassy Girl's Birthday Weekend Extravaganza. Not only did we host both sets of grandparents, but we survived a birthday party attended by 15 two and three year olds. Ebo used his engineering degree by helping rig a pinata to break by pulling a string. Who knew physics could be so useful?

In my last post, I was reminiscing about how difficult it was to bring Sassy Girl into this world. Though the memories don't affect me as much anymore, the pain of infertility, IVF, and Sassy Girl's traumatic birth will remain with me always. I don't take any day with her for granted. Happy birthday, little girl! I love you!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Looking for "normal" in all the wrong places

Three years ago this week, I was in a hospital room trying to clear my mind by watching the USA network's "Monk" marathon. I was finishing my third week as an inpatient and I was almost finished with my 31st week of pregnancy. It was supposed to be the happiest time of my life, and yes, it was. But I was also scared shitless because there was a chance I could lose it all. My little peanut wasn't growing as she should and my blood pressure was climbing.

A few months before, I was interviewing Adela, a woman who had a 14 year old sister with a serious seizure disorder. Eva's seizures had caused significant brain damage and cognitive abilities were that of a 2-year-old. Adela, knowing that she would eventually be Eva's adult caregiver, worried a lot about the future. She said, "We don't know what's going to happen because nothing is normal. Nothing is normal about Eva's life. When you have normal life there are normal things that happen. You go to school. You go to college, get married, have babies. Eva can't have that, so we don't know what will happen." Within the context of my research, this statement describes what every family that has a disabled child feels, especially when services and opportunities are scarce. But Adela's words also me made look at the broader concept of what is "normal." As I was lying in that hospital room, not knowing when my baby girl was going to be born or if she would be okay, I began to realize how much we take "normal" for granted.

I used to think it was great to be abnormal. I was never one to want to be like everybody else. One of the things that attracted me to Ebo was that he was the same way - we liked doing our own thing. However, when the reality of our infertility hit us, we found ourselves for the first time wanting to be like everyone else.

Our infertility treatment was even abnormal, at least it seemed so at the time. To begin with, we knew exactly what our issue before we even stepped into a clinic. This was somewhat of a blessing because we wouldn't have to go through the tests to determine was was "wrong" with us. We knew already. However, we also knew there was no chance of having a "surprise." Also, because of the extent of our problem, IVF with ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) was our only option for getting pregnant. Furthermore, Ebo would have to go through a procedure called MESA (Microepididymal Sperm Aspiration) where his sperm would have to be removed surgically. Not only could we not get pregnant by having sex, my husband couldn't even enjoy the free porn during the IVF procedure.

Knowing all of this, we originally decided against IVF. All of the extra procedures would be costly and there was no guarantee. We had started attending adoption information sessions and getting documents together for our homestudy when a friend called. She knew about our decision to adopt and had heard of a potential situation. Could it really be this easy? Well, no. A week later, after Ebo and I were ready to go for it, our friend told us that the birthmother decided to parent this child. I had known this wasn't a sure thing, but my heart sank anyway.

This may sound weird, but Ebo wanted make me feel better by taking me to a fertility clinic. We had been to one once before and after that visit we decided that adoption would be the better option (the doctor had been a total ass and didn't warm the speculum before the exam). I also laughed out loud when he was going over the costs of all the medications and procedures. We thought that a visit with this new doctor would renew our committment to adoption. However, this doc was different. First, he didn't try to "dummy down" the description of the IVF procedure (I really hate it when doctors do this - I took biology, damn it! I know what an ovary is!) When he got to the subject of cost, Ebo and I shot a look at each other. Here it comes - expenses we can't afford and our insurance won't cover. I laughed out loud again. Then doc said, "I know this is expensive, but I think you would qualify for a study that's going on...."

Study? Meaning free IVF? WTF? Could it be that easy? If we agreed, we were going to be part of a study that compared two IVF drug protocols. The tests, drugs and procedure would be free. All we would have to pay for was the MESA and ICSI. Could we really go through with this? What about our decision to adopt? Ebo and I discussed this for hours. In the end, we came to the conclusion that if we did go through with IVF, we were not rejecting adoption. We were just putting it on hold to take advantage of this opportunity.

And to answer the above question? No. It's not that easy. I realize now that again, our story is not normal. IVF is not free, and it doesn't usually work the first time. Moreover, even under the best of circumstances, going through IVF is hard emotionally and physically. It's not just about giving yourself shots, it's the anxiety about doing it right. I won't go into detail about the process itself - many other more experienced bloggers have done a fine job of this. What I will say is that on Ash Wednesday 2004 we received the news - we were pregnant!

Then, that summer, three months before the due date of our daughter, we were on our way to a level II ultrasound. My OBGyn felt that the baby was on the small side so she sent us to a perinatologist. I was expecting to do the sonogram, go home and mop the floor. Instead, the peri found that not only was my baby not growing, but my blood pressure was a lot higher than my normal. I wasn't going to mop the floor. I was going to be in the hospital and they didn't know when I was going home.

Three weeks, buckets of tears, and too many bad hospital meals later, my daughter was born at 32 weeks. I was going to go home a week later - but my 2 pound little girl would have to stay there. Up until that point, I had accepted all of the abnormalities that came with trying to have our baby. However, this by far was the worst. Looking at my baby through a plastic isolette and feeding her through a tube. Having to walk past the regular newborn nursery on my way to the NICU and watching the other "normal" mothers hold their "normal" sized babies. Leaving the hospital without my daughter in my arms. Not knowing when she would be able to come home. I wanted to be normal - if not for myself, but for my little Sassy Girl.

We are about to celebrate Sassy Girl's third birthday. In most respects, we have achieved a piece of "normal." But the pain and anxiety of her birth still linger. Despite everything, though, there is no doubt that Ebo and I are extremely lucky. Yes, we did have to go though IVF. Yes, our daughter was a preemie. We are not normal by any means, and I do get angry about this when I see people taking their "normalcy" for granted. But Sassy Girl is with us and we are thankful for that every single day.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

In Angelina Jolie's Shadow

I was originally going to write about the next chapter in our infertility saga, but I have been wanting to get something off my chest for a long time now.


Ever since before Destructo Boy came home and we were telling people we were adopting, I have had many conversations with (for the most part) well-meaning people that that have sounded like this:

Curious person: Congratulations! He's so cute! Where is he from again?

Me: South Korea

Curious person: Wow! And [Sassy Girl], she's your biological child, right? (Sometimes this phrase doesn't come out so nice) Why did you decide to adopt?

Me: Well, it's a long story...

Curious person (not wanting to hear it): You guys are just like Brad and Angelina! Did you know that they.....

Celebrities can do what they want. I admit, the tabloids do give me entertainment and I do pay attention, especially when it is about adoption. I also believe that 90% of the crap I read isn't true and the stories are just PR stunts to promote movies, music, clothing lines, etc. However, I have mixed feelings about seeing adoption in the entertainment media. On the one hand, adoption has become more "normalized" because of the attention payed public figures who become adoptive parents. On the other hand, most of these stories are not meant to educate the public about adoption so they end up perpetuating the negative stereotypes associated with adoptive families.

I do not own a (real) Louis Vuitton bag, and if I did, it would not be because I saw Paris Hilton carry one on a red carpet. Nor did Ebo and I come to an adoption decision because it's the latest fad in Hollywood. Anyone who has gone through the adoption process will tell you that it's not easy and certainly not for everyone. Nobody can "just adopt," not even Angelina Jolie (although at times I have wondered if the process might have been streamlined for her, but I digress). Ebo and I had to ask ourselves (and were asked by a social worker) many questions about our desire and ability to be parents of an adopted child. How were we going to address adoption in the future? How do we feel about having both an adopted child and a biological child? How would we answer questions about our son's birthfamily? How would we honor his culture?

Adoption is about more than just having a baby. It's more about welcoming a child into your family and embracing his or her biological and cultural past. I'm sure Angelina and Brad do a fine job of this, but really, they are not the first people I look to for parenting advice.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

My Infertile Identity

With my teaching drama out of the way, I thought it was time to explain why I have Oprah Winfrey on the sidebar of my blog. I have joined the Traveling DVD Club, started by author/blogger Jenna, who I stumbled across while reading an infertility message board. Jenna recently appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show where talked about her experiences with infertility. She has also written a book entitled The Empty Picture Frame that highlights her personal journey. She is determined to educate the public on the issues relating to infertility and the medical and emotional trauma that affects approximately 2.1 million couples in the United States. As part of the Traveling DVD Club, I will view her appearances and provide a written review on my blog. While I wait for the DVD to come to me, I will provide a preface and talk about my own experiences with infertility and how it has affected my life, my family, and my career.

As I mentioned in the first post of this blog, Ebo and I are unable to conceive a child without Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART). Ebo has Cystic Fibrosis, a genetic condition that mainly affects the lungs and the digestive system. Most people who have heard of CF know about that part, but few realize the CF also affects the male reproductive system. 99% of males with CF have a blocked or impaired vas deferens. I won't draw a diagram, but the important fact is that we are unable to conceive "naturally." Period. There is no maybe in this equation. No surprise ending.

Ebo and I knew this fact going into our relationship. Like I said before, when I was in my early twenties, I didn't think it was a big deal. So what if we weren't going to have kids? Having kids was the last thing on my mind. I couldn't have a child when I was backpacking though Peru or climbing the volcano Cotopaxi. Then two events hit me like a ton of bricks. I already talked about my beautiful goddaughter, D. being born. As soon as I held her in my arms, my biological clock began winding and the reality of our infertility began to kick in. I began to notice how many pregnant women were out there - and they all seemed to be in Target at the same time.

Around the same time, I decided to concentrate on medical anthropology in graduate school. I must explain that although my research has nothing to do with reproduction, a great deal of the research in this field revolves around pregnancy, childbirth, and midwifery. Even my advisor, for whom I was analyzing data, was completing a project on childbirth among African immigrants in France. I can't tell you how many articles I had to read about childbirth. One book in particular was called Birth as an American Rite of Passage by Robbie Davis-Floyd. She talks about women, though their childbirth experiences are "socialized" into the technocratic medical system. Although Davis-Floyd was very critical of the biomedical way of birth, I couldn't help becoming kind of sad that I wouldn't be welcomed into this system because I was unable to give birth.

Then came the final straw - Robbie Davis-Floyd was going to be teaching a class at my university. Not just any class, but one that was required in my program. I had to endure a whole semester of her talking about birth, pregnancy, and breastfeeding. I was forced to sit through a film entitled "Birth in the Squatting Position." She also assigned a book (which she edited of course) called Cyborg Babies: From Techno-Sex to Techno-Tots which critiques reproductive technologies like In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF). Needless to say, this class left me depressed. Not only was I not going to be part of the birth rite of passage, but it was also wrong for me to try IVF to try and do so.

After that horrible semester, I did another summer of research in Quito. While I was there, I thought a lot about if I was going to have a future as a parent. When I got home, Ebo and I decided not to think of children as something that will happen to us in the future, but start to make the idea of children happen for us in the present. This is when I began to discover the myriad of infertility message boards and online support groups. Thus our journey began.

I will post about our experience about each of our children later, but I will conclude now with this thought. My infertility journey was short compared to most. I don't claim to be a veteran and my scars do not run as deep. However, infertility is part of who I am. Even with two children, Ebo and I are still detached from the rest of the world. Perhaps it's because we haven't participated in that "American Rite of Passage."

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Canceled...and other random happenings

Yesterday I had just finished the final touches of my new syllabus for the seminar I was going to teach this semester. I had prepared my lecture/discussion for the first day. I had modified all of the assignments for the semester. I was patting myself on the back because this had been the most prepared I had ever been at the beginning of a semester. Then came "the call" - I was canceled. The University decided at the last minute that they could not hold onto a class with such a low enrollment. Mind you, I had the same enrollment number last time I taught this course, but I had double the students by the end of the second week. My students loved the class and enjoyed the project-oriented curriculum. But this time the University didn't want to take a chance on me. Money talks.

I'm really kind of bummed. Not only was I looking forward to teaching, but I was really excited about feeling like a "professional" again. The money wasn't the only incentive; in fact, I really don't make much. I just wanted to feel like I was contributing something to society. I know, I know - raising my children is contribution. I just wanted to have another identity for two days a week, know what I mean?

But maybe this is what I was asking for. Ebo said we shouldn't take the kids out of their daycare/parent's day out program we enrolled them in when I thought I was going to be working. He encouraged me to use this time for the dissertation. So is this a sign? Was I really getting the gift of time? A part of me really wants to just write, but then I really want to start earning a little money. I said before that adjunct positions don't pay much, but it does help pay for some of my shopping vices - crafty stuff, children's clothes, and gourmet coffee. I have inquired about a couple of part-time jobs, but we'll see.

Some other friend, Carol just identified me as a "Rockin' Girl Blogger." Thanks, Carol! When I originally started this blog, I didn't have any intention of showing it to anyone. However, recently I decided to come out of the blogging closet and open myself up to my friends and the general public. I think I need the support and it feels great to know that I have people cheering me on. But with this decision comes responsiblities...I now have to answer to the blogging community! My first task...identify other Rockin' Girl Bloggers:

1. Snoopy's Crafts: Joanne rocks! I know Carol has also identified her as "rockin'," but I want to mention her again. Carol rocks, too, but I can't tag her back
2. Bama Girl: I met Bama Girl through a message board called "Rubber-Ducky." She supported me when we were going through the adoption process for Destructo Boy. She is now waiting for her daughter to come home from Guatemala.
3. Inca: I also met Inca through Rubber Ducky. She has been through a lot of heartache, but she uses her experiences to help others.

The following two bloggers don't know me personally, but I read their blogs on a regular basis:
4. Twice the Rice: Ji-In is an adult adoptee from Korea. Her blog is very insightful and critical and I have learned a lot about how I want to raise my son.
5. Inconceivable Journey: Jenna has written a wonderful book about her experience with infertility. She now writes a blog (or epi-blog) that chronicles her life where the book stops. She is also going through the adoption process. She is also the person behind the "Traveling DVD Club" (see sidebar).

I salute you, rockin' bloggers!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Teaching - my other distraction

My hectic family life isn't my only distraction from writing. Ever since I got home from my final trip to the field, I have been attempting to look like a "professional" by teaching classes at two universities. It makes me feel like I'm actually using the degree that I been working on and the past six years haven't been a total waste. But it is kind of counter productive; every moment I spend preparing lectures, correcting midterms, and meeting students adds up to hours I could have spent writing. But like my time with my family, it really doesn't bo ther me that much. To tell you the truth, I love teaching and could reasonably spend the rest of my career ABD (All But Dissertation) and teaching adjunct. But I have to answer to others besides myself.

So today I'm putting the finishing touches on my syllabus for next week. Wish me a productive semester!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Going Native

In an undergraduate anthropology course, a professor had us read Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. We compared the character Kurtz's experience to that of Bronislaw Malinowski (who is described to all anthropology students, including mine, as the "father of ethnography") as revealed in his not-so-culturally-relative tell-all diaries. In the end, Kurtz's is found behaving like the "savages" that surround him. Because anthropologists have historically studied indigenous and other non-industrial groups, early ethnographers-in-training were warned not to be come Kurtz - not to get oneself so immersed in their studies that they never return to the "civilized" world. Anthropologists are thought to be the most in danger of "going native" because it is a part of their job description to become an active participant observer of the "exotic."

Today, anthropologists are not really concerned with "going native"; in fact, most of us find that phrase outright offensive to us and the people we study. However, the idea of me "going native" has crossed my mind several times as I try to put my dissertation together. No, I am not going to become a hunter-gatherer or a herder. I'm not even going to do a Carlos Casteneda and make my career by taking hallucinogenic drugs. But many aspects of my life are starting to mirror my informants', though I can tell you this is not voluntary.

Let me first explain to those who do not know me: I have spent the last six years following several families in Ecuador. The focus of my research is how they cope with having a child with a disability. Most of the children are non-ambulatory and will require care well into adulthood. Over the years I have collected many stories that describe heartache, fear, sacrifice, and unconditional love. Parents not only have to fulfill their roles as mothers and fathers, but they become caregivers, teachers, and therapists for their children.

When I started my study, I was newly married and wasn't thinking about children. By the time I finished my fieldwork in 2005, I had become a mother. My experience started out as abnormal - because we had conceived via IVF, my pregnancy was immediately labeled as "high risk." By my third trimester, I was really at risk. I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia at 28 weeks and my daughter (Sassy Girl) was born at 32 weeks. My fieldwork was not only cut short, but I had a lot more worries than I was ready for. I knew having a child would be difficult and take up all my time, but I never envisioned having a 2 pound baby in intensive care. Even after she came home, my time was spent going to specialists, pumping milk, and being worried. Day care was out of the question - Sassy girl's immune system wouldn't be able to handle it. And I couldn't embrace the idea of another person taking responsibility for my daughter, especially when she was so sick.

A year later, I resumed my fieldwork and taken Sassy Girl with me to South America. I thought I would resume my life...then after we came home the unimaginable happened. Sassy Girl contracted E. Coli and ended up in the hospital with kidney failure. I almost lost my little girl. Again. It took her over a year to fully recover.

I don't think people really grasp what Ebo and I went through, especially other parents. I have been told by countless well-meaning mommies and daddies that I worry too much, that my kids are fine, that "they know what it's like." I know every parent worries about their little ones, I feel like I live in constant fear. Because of the kids's histories, we take every sniffle, every fever, every pain very seriously. I feel like my whole life is on hold because I'm waiting for my kids to be "well." And I don't even know what "well" would mean.

One of my informants is a woman Susana with a daughter named Gabriela. Gabi has severe cerebral palsy and is also visually impaired. Susana considers herself fortunate enough to be able to stay home and care for Gabi. However, being a caregiver has affected her own health. When we last spoke, she needed surgery to fix a hernia, but was afraid to have it done because it would mean that there would be no one to take care of Gabi. At the same time, lifting Gabi in and out of her wheelchair was making her problem worse. Living with the pain didn't phase her - "Es la vida," she would tell me.

Granted, my daughter is able to walk and does not have any impairments. My children are more than likely to grow up healthy, despite their tough beginnings. I also don't have a hernia and am able to take care of myself (most of the time). Yet, I must say that dealing with my kids' health crises changed me - I no longer have the same priorities. Yes, my degree remains unfinished. But I'm not going to take a back seat to my kids' lives just to be able to put "Ph.D." at the end of my name.

What did happen, though, was I started identifying a lot more with my informants' stories. I could relate to their struggles with doctors, specialists, and therapy. But could I relate too well? It seemed like the more progress I made on the dissertation, the more my kids would get sick. Was I "going native"?

If anything, my experiences will make a great preface in the finished work.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

A Balancing Act

Wow - I only published one post and already I took a hiatus. Thus is the story of my life - it seems like I'm always taking a break from something to take care of the thousands of mini-mommy-crises that happen on a daily basis. These happenings are not all negative, but most are exhausting. Right after my maiden voyage post, my family took a week long trip to New York City. Ebo had to go to NYC for some training, so we naively thought that this could make a great family vacation. Though we had a great time and the kids (for the most part) handled everything well, we decided that New York City is a vacation we maybe should have saved for when the kids are older, or at least old enough to be out of a stroller. Then, after a week of recovering from the vacation, Destructo Boy caught some heinous stomach bug, which he eventurally shared with me (he loves his mommy!). All of this, added to the fact that I haven't done any real work for a few weeks, just made me want to vegetate and watch Law and Order reruns instead of being the dilligent dissertation writer I set out to be when I started this blog.

So right now I'm committed to getting my butt in gear. The past week I have searched the city for all the cafes with free Wi-fi. Unfortunately, the kids are out of "school"/daycare until the end of the month, but I have found a great economical alternative to the unreliable babysitters I seem to find. The newest phenomenon in childcare seems to be drop-in babysitting, or "Playcare" centers. A couple of times a week, I drop the kidlets off and they are able to play on the giant indoor playstructure, explore the hundreds of toys we don't have at home, or just run around like crazy while supervised by staff who have had background checks. They are even provided a meal if I order one, which means two less lunches I have to fix that day. Now, I usually don't leave the kids for more than three hours at a time, but I'm hoping this gives me a chance to get a few things done while it is still daylight out.

Though I really don't have anything tangible to show for myself, I have had a chance to catch up on some reading for a paper I would like to write. Many articles have been written about the challenge of being an anthropologist and having a family, but most have been written in the perspective of the anthropologist's work being a career priority and a significant source of the family's income. This is not the case in our family. Though my research was fully funded, my life as an anthropologist did not come even close to covering our mortgage, living expenses, or fertility treatments. I still brought home a good paycheck from teaching and other research, but Ebo clearly has been the one with the stable income. Before Ebo and I decided to become parents, I mistakenly thought that I would still have some time to finish graduate school. It would just take more time than I originally thought. However, what I have found is that yes, there is time if I seek it, but my priorities have shifted and I no longer seek to use my free time to dive into my work like I used to. It's not that I don't have an interest in my research anymore, but certain circumstances have formced me to compromise and re-prioritize how I am to spend my time and energy.

In an edited volume entitled Children and Anthropological Research, Barbara Butler and Diane Turner (1987) described how anthropologists with families have tried to separate their academic and personal lives even through their spouses and children are very visible to the groups they research. This assertion depends on the assumption that the anthropologist considers her work to be "professional," which they define using W.E. Moore (1970): A professional is a person who earns most of his income from a full-time job for which he has been educated; joins others like himself in the occupation's organizations; enjoys a sense of occupational autonomy; views his work as providing a services to his clients; and most signficantly, he treats his occupation as a 'calling' with an 'enduring set of normative and behavioral expecations.'" My question is, what if it is virtually impossible to earn most of my income as an anthropologist? What does that do to my status now? I cannot work full time as an anthropologist. Even before children, I did not earn enough to live without Ebo's income. Most of my fellow graduate students survived on loans, working odd jobs, or living off of what we called "The Lunch Box," or our code for "spouse of anthropologist."

The fact that I didn't earn enough money didn't affect me before Sassy Girl and Destructo Boy came along. Sassy Girl was born early and had a myriad of health issues, so day care was out of the question for the first six months of her life. Ebo and I decided that I would put my work on hold not because I was the woman, but he was the one with the higher paying job. (Well - I guess I was the lacatating one, too...but I am trying to make a point) Her well-being consumed me - I has worked so hard to be a mother that I wasn't going to screw it up by not making my beautiful daughter a priority. Crises and events came and went (including the wonderful arrival of Destructo Boy), but it became increasingly difficult pick up where I had left off. I had changed, my life had changed, and my perspective on my career had changed. I was encouraged several times to get a nanny and just finish, but my reluctance wasn't just about the money. Deep down inside, I am a control freak. I didn't want other people raising my children, especially when they both had health issues.

I hope to turn these ramblings into an informative paper about academics, family, and gender to present at some conference. Perhaps I have found a new research interest, or maybe I just need some therapy. Either way, I just need to get it all out so I can move on.

References Cited

Butler, Barbara and Diane Michalski Turner (1987). Children and Anthropological Research. New York: Plenum Press.

Moore, W.E. (1970). The Professions: Role and Rules. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

It's now or never

Three years ago, I was feeling a sense of urgency. My husband and I had a lovely home and I was doing well in graduate school. My proposal received funding and I was well on my way to finishing my dissertation research that I had started three years prior. But something in my life was missing...that something was children. Fast forward to now...I have two beautiful children and am the happiest I have ever been. However, I still feel there is still something unfinished in my life. This is the disseration that I started three years ago.

I must give a little background. My husband (who I from now on call "Ebo") and I married in 1999 after four years of dating. He is the love of my life and I have never doubted for a second the decision I made to marry him. Coming from me, this means a lot - I doubt everything. But when we got married, we knew we were going to have problems when we decided to have children. Ebo has a genetic condition that prevents us from conceiving a child without some major intervention. We knew the extent of this problem well before we decided to get married, but when I was in my early twenties, having kids was the last thing on my mind. I didn't think the concept of "infertility" was such a big deal. I couldn't imagine the inability to have children would consume my life and take over my identity. Yet three years later, we were on the baby bandwagon and both our lives were forever changed.

Looking back, it probably was the birth of my goddaughter that started the baby "itch." As my friends and I started graduating from college and graduate school, I attended a "wave" of weddings, beginning with mine. A couple of years later, the baby announcements started appearing in my mailbox. Photo creations from Shutterfly adorned with pink booties, blue rattles, or yellow ducks. When my best friend told me she was pregnant, I was elated because I knew this baby was going to be big part of my life. And then when I held her in my arms for the first time, I experienced both joy and sadness at the same time. Joy because this wonderful creature captured my heart. Sadness because I thought I would never experience this kind of joy as a parent.

Not that I didn't have a lot going for me at the time. Though I had become wary of leaving a career in elementary education to go to graduate school and persue a doctorate, I was doing quite well in my studies. I had started a pilot study in South America investigating the lives of families with children with disabilities. I was working on my grant, which would eventually be funded by the National Science Foundation. Ebo and I had a nice house in the 'burbs (I detest the suburbs, but it was a good investment). Up until that point, Ebo and I both knew we wanted kids, but we knew that to have them it would take some major sacrifice on both our parts. So after my goddaughter's birth, I went into major research mode. Ebo and I were not sure we wanted to go through in-vitro fertilization (IVF), which was our only option to have a child that was biologically related to both of us. So we spent our time and resources looking into adoption. However, a series of events (which I will probably get into in future posts) led us to the office of a reproductive endocrinologist (RE) and the birth of our daughter in 2004 (who I will refer to as Sassy Girl).

Even if you forget the IVF, my pregnancy with Sassy Girl was anything but "normal." Right before I started injections for the procedure, I found out that the National Science Foundation funded my research. This meant I had to get my qualifying exams finished so I could start my research. After I found out I was pregnant in February 2004, I had to haul major ass in getting my papers done. The day of my quals, I was three months pregnant, plagued with morning sickness, and nervous as hell that my committee would know I was going to have a baby. You see, even though it is not totally unheard of for a graduate student to be pregnant, it is certainly not a preferred step in the Ph.D. process. I wasn't going to tell anyone until my exams were finished and they handed me a Master's Degree. In the end, they were very supportive and very happy that there would be a new "member" to the department.

15 weeks pregnant, I traveled to Ecuador to start my research. My plan was to be gone for three months and return to the US in my third trimester. I got myself a great OBGYN in Quito and armed myself with every pregnancy book on the planet. I thought I was doing everything right. Then all hell broke loose in my 25th week...I fell down the stairs and bruised my tailbone. All was fine with the baby, but I decided to make a short trip back home to check-in with my doctor in the States. After a precautionary ultrasound, they found that Sassy Girl was not growing as she should and my blood pressure was getting higher. I had pre-eclamsia and I was not going back to Ecuador. I was going to the hospital. Long story short (again, you will hear it in future posts) my little peanut Sassy Girl was born eight weeks early, weighing only 2 pounds, 7 ounces.

Mothering a preemie and writing a dissertation are two activities that aren't easy to do together. Constant worry about Sassy Girl's health and development seemed more important than my data. I eventually returned to the field (with Sassy Girl and Ebo) in 2005 and finished the bulk of my research, but I still had to write the damn dissertation. Furthermore, wanting my family to grow (and knowing that I couldn't do it "naturally") was always on my mind. After long discussions, Ebo and I decided that though we were so thankful to have Sassy Girl, IVF was not an option for us anymore. We started the adoption process the fall of 2005 thinking it would take a couple of years for us to have another baby. But after a series of pitfalls, surprises, and rash decisions (all material for future posts), our son (Destructo Boy) came home to us in November 2006. We now had two children under the age of three. And the dissertation remains unfinished.

Which brings me to my blog. I am making my story public, but I am writing this journal mainly for my own benefit. As I look at my data and try to write, all of this other "stuff" takes over my thoughts - being a good mother, keeping my kids healthy, the importance of my work. A fellow graduate student once told me "Don't get it right; get it written." However, I can't seem to muster up the energy or motivation to do either. But I have to finish, if not for myself, for Sassy Girl and Destructo Boy. I hope that I can use this blog to organize all this stuff so I can finish what I started six years ago. It's now or never.