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 happenings...my 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.