Slow to process and picture post

I keep starting posts and stopping them when the words don’t come out right.  There don’t seem to be the right words to be able to express what I’m feeling.  There is now this entirely separate person here and I’m responsible for their every care.

Bath time with our Blooming Bath :)

Its unbelievable and humbling.  Its more work than I ever thought I’d be able to joyfully do in a single day, compounded every day for the foreseeable future.  I’ve cried less than I thought I would and I’m amazed my postpartum hormones are so level and keeping me sane.  I never knew it was possible to not sleep more than 4 hours in a row for such an extended period of time (and I hear I’m lucky!).

“Daddy time” is his favorite part of the day

I’m amazed we were trusted with this task.  I’m amazed my body is helping to sustain this little guy.  I feel like I’ve been so slow to process this miracle, from the pregnancy to the birth to the day to day life with this little guy, and all my posts echo the same “I can’t believe this is real” feeling, but it really seems too incredible to have actually gone right for this to be our reality.

It sounds strange, but I didn’t recognize him when he came out.  This was my son?  I had dreamed about our child for so long but I had no idea who he’d be.  He was just an idea.  Except, now he’s not…he’s an actual breathing, burping, pooping, cooing, almost smiling entirely separate person that looks at me with this innocent eyes and says,

Here we go!  Our adventure is just beginning!  What will we do today?

Wow.  Just, wow!

Advertisements

Secret language of sub-fertiles

So the first time I watched this interview with Piers Morgan asking Beyonce if she was going to have a baby soon, my ears perked up at that line “Only God knows” and the serious tone her voice took.  Am I reading too much into it?  Maybe.  But that’s my husband’s line of what we used to answer before it was totally out there that we were trying to have a baby or to people we don’t know that well, “in God’s time”.

I wish I could be this awesome at answering this question.  She’s like, my role model to answer prying questions with humor and grace.

So what do you think, Beyonce with baby trouble?  I hope not, but if so, it was predicted here first!

 

These things come in threes…

Got two pregnancy announcements over here today, so does anyone have something to add to it? It seems these things come in threes and I was kind of hoping just a little bit that #3 would be a sub/infertile blogger.

 

Maybe Sunshine from the other day counts? (Congrats Sunshine!)

Anyone else have something to tell us?

 

I’m sure you’d be screaming it from the rooftops if you were.

Teaching NFP as a subfertile couple

Believe it or not, one of the first things I thought of when we didn’t get pregnant right away was

Oh great, now no one we know is going to believe that NFP works.

And I don’t think that was a crazy thought.  I’ve been in the NFP world long enough to know that when women or couples are considering usage of NFP, barely anyone actually does their own research (though these amazing people do exist – and can I include myself in that list? ha!).  In fact, I would venture to say that after hearing about NFP for the first time, the overwhelming majority of people rely purely on anecdotal evidence when discerning whether or not to use NFP.  For example, the couple that taught them NFP may be old and totally ‘out of it’ or they knew someone they once heard of who got pregnant using NFP or the couple teaching them has 6+ children so NFP must not work.

I wanted so badly to be that teaching couple that people could relate to.  And I know that in reality that translates into making a good first impression.  Being that young couple that looks just like them.  Still in school, trying to figure out how to foster the best marital relationship.  My husband and I feel so passionately about promoting healthy marriage and this being such a huge part of my conversion story, we just knew that this was our calling.

But now part of me feels like we have just another reason for people not to believe us when we stand up there, explaining the scientific details of how NFP works.

Oh, they can’t get pregnant.  No wonder they’re down with NFP.

And it sucks.  I don’t want to be another anecdote.  And I don’t understand why God would give us such a calling and at the same time, such a handicap to hurt our effectiveness along the way.

But, eventually, I know its not about us or what we do or say that will change people’s minds anyway.  I could shout from the rooftops what a gift fertility is (and I have and will continue to do so) but that doesn’t mean people will listen.  It is not people that change people.

When we get a new class of clients, before we start our first NFP class we make small talk and study those faces, some eager, some bored, some there for the other one.  They don’t know anything about us, maybe other than we’re going to talk to them about mucus and sticking thermometer’s where? (correct answer: mouth!).  But a single question will bring everyone together and remind them why we’re here.

We just ask about their upcoming wedding and there’s an instant smile on everyone’s face. An excitement that we all can relate to about the new relationship about to occur, as the bride looks at her soon to be groom and gushes about the details of the event.  An appreciation for this new, sacred relationship.  After all, that’s why they’re pursuing a Church wedding and taking the necessary classes.

And then as we warm up to each other, there are always those same first questions. Somewhere along the lines of

“So you guys are going to teach us how to not have 20 children, right?”

And that’s when my heart sinks.  I realize how different my husband and I are.  How our path is not the common path.  I remember that naivety that I see in their faces.  The thought that oodles of children and the associated financial and emotional drain is the biggest marital concern that everyone is trying to avoid.  The innocence that there’s not something worse out there that’s capable of tearing at the very seams of your marriage.

I just want to grab them by the shoulders, shake them, and tell them now that they should be so lucky! I want to save them from planning out their life and getting their hopes set on dreams that they have no control over.  I want to tell that even if things don’t go as planned and they have a ‘surprise’ baby that was not orchestrated in the month they set aside, that there are still worse things.

But I don’t.  People don’t change people.  The spirit does.  We laugh and continue on, because our path is not the common path.  Even in our NFP class, we’re instructed to not spend too much time on the infertility slides because statistics say that the young couple sitting in front of us will get pregnant.  And while I once held my breath that everything would be OK with our client’s fertility, when I do hear from past clients about their new pregnancies, I breathe out a sigh of relief.  And I am once again reminded that our path is not normal.  Normal people get pregnant.

As a subfertile couple teaching couple, those Duggar family comments make me realize how even though our path may be different, we can still focus and teach about what a gift fertility is.  Because we believe so strongly that if there’s one thing that’s worse and threatens the sanctity of marriage more than oodles of children and the associated strain they cause, one thing that’s worse than the physical and emotional pain of infertility, its the lack of appreciation and respect to that gift of fertility.

And we’re there to provide an example and to teach that if they keep their focus on God, they will be able to get through the things that life throws their way if they just stick together.  Because ultimately, that’s what we’re doing too.

I just hope they see it like that.

An exchange of hope

I saw this picture today and thought, wow, I have a good looking husband did I really go to India?

Traveling is not something I take for granted and is something that I hoped and hoped for for so long.   I get giddy like a schoolgirl as soon as I plan a trip and quite literally bounce off the walls.  I always wanted to travel when I was younger and I’ve always been drawn to the idea of distant places, probably because my dad would bring back strange mementos from all over the world but pictures were few and far between. So I was left to dream.

Exactly 5 years ago I did my first (and only) international service trip.  I was thinking about applying to the Peace Corps after I graduated college and knew I needed to have more experience doing similar activities if I was going to commit to two years of it.  We were to go down to a tiny village in Nicaragua with a group called Engineers without Borders and install a solar panel at their school to produce electricity.  We’d also be performing a health survey and testing the household wells for contamination in order to plan the next trip.

I wasn’t Catholic at the time.  And it wasn’t remotely even on the radar. So imagine my surprise when I was looking back through pictures and found this one:

I’m the one chilling on top of the ladder installing wires in the church, right up next to a giant crucifix and a giant mural of Jesus.  A little foreshadowing, perhaps?  We were supposed to install the solar panel onto the school, but when we got down to the community, the residents told us they wanted it to serve their church instead.  This being a secular trip, I remember we all talked about it and eventually justified the change in plans because the church really served as their community center so we wouldn’t really be promoting their church.

I’m not lying when I said I developed a love of children on this trip.  My younger brother is only a few years younger and we never really lived around younger cousins, and although I’ve done my fair share of babysitting for neighborhood kids growing up, my experience with little kids was limited.  You know those people who just attract kids?

My friend reading "Huevos verdes con jamon"

Yeah, that wasn’t ever me.  That was always the other girl.

Kids didn’t scare me, I just didn’t know how to act around them.  But boy, these kids broke me down!

Helping me put together the solar panel

 

And I particularly love this one!

By the end of the trip they were flocking to me!

And then there were these most adorable little twins with strawberry blonde hair.  I was so shy around them but by the end I snatched one up because he was too adorable not to have a picture with.

I’d just met the hubs a few weeks prior to leaving on that trip and when I think back to that time, the feeling I get in my stomach is synonymous to the feeling I remember having when I first met him.  It wasn’t quite love at first sight, but after our first couple conversations I had the distinct feeling that this man would change my life.

One of the last days on the trip we had a couple hours free in town and I wanted to send him an email to let him know I was thinking about him.  I asked our translator how to say “I miss you”.  Well, somewhere along the way I messed it all up and I proudly signed the letter “Te extracto mucho” which, all Spanish speakers already know, is definitely not how you say I miss you.  Its been our little inside joke ever since.

Anyway, that feeling that I get in my stomach, those butterflies of a new love, a new approach to life, and the feeling that you can go out there and change the world, all wrap up as one for me.  I’ve decided its the feeling of hope.  Before we got to the village, we thought we were going to change the world.  And we’d do it starting with this one community.   A few tests later and we realized how contaminated their well water was.  Bacteria and nitrates, it was no mystery why the rates of disease were so high.  We sat around contemplating what would be our next project.  A health center, a better school, clean water.  They needed it all.  How could we change the world if we couldn’t fix the problems in one village?

But we had to start somewhere.  We could give them a bit of electricity.  And the next time, a clean water source.  Although the basic civil infrastructure was what was lacking, engineered solutions could only skim the surface of what was really a political and sociological problem.  We worried if what we offered would have longevity.  Electric generators were common in the town and they powered tiny TVs and radios.  They could have easily used our solar panel for the same after we left.  Would our water system made out of PVC last or would they get tired of walking all the water to the town center to get clean water and just go back to using their contaminated well water?

Towards the end of the trip, it really hit us that all we had to offer was the idea that there was someone out there who was willing to help.  A hope of something that was greater than themselves.  Of course we could help provide limited tangible assistance as well, but we were unconvinced that that was the most valuable thing we offered.  Its frustrating, seeing a situation that you can’t change even if you really, really want to.

Of course the big surprise was that they offered us hope as well and planted the idea that we worried about all the wrong things.  How could they seem so happy, didn’t they know they had nothing?  Where were our children, our families? the younger women wanted to know, as they were our age and already had little packs of children running around their ankles.  A party they threw for us actually turned out to be a lengthy, fiery sermon about Jesus.  Too bad it was lost on us as only a few of us understood Spanish.  But the music and dancing later was universally understood as a celebration.

Soon after I returned from that trip I decided to go to grad school and study drinking water treatment.  With more education maybe I could help people on a larger scale.  Soon after that trip I also started attending Mass, which led to the start of my faith journey.  And soon after that trip I followed that butterfly feeling and started dating my now-husband.

My life really did change directions from that exchange of hope.

I wonder how anyone’s life in that village changed.

Controlling your happiness

I’m sure most of you have seen these studies that reveal that parents report lower levels of happiness than their childless counterparts.  If you are anything like me, the fact that these two articles exist drives you a little crazy for two main reasons:

1)     There parents go again, completely taking for granted what others long to have so much.  How do they not recognize what gifts they have been given?!

And the second, perhaps more upsetting reason:

2)     If there is truth to these findings, does that mean that things won’t get better if/when I ever have children?  Is it actually possible to feel worse than I do right now?

These recent postings by Rae on the philosophical problem of happiness have also had me thinking about this whole conundrum of “happiness”.  It seems that a person’s experience and perceptions of happiness can only be influenced by internal and/or personal experiences, so happiness is inherently a “selfish” or “self-oriented” experience and cannot be based on some cosmic balance of right and wrong.  So, maybe happiness is influenced by some mix of hormones, habits, and personal situation.  But I think I can get more specific on the “personal situation” front.

The results of the articles above as well as the personal experiences I have had regarding the “desire-but-delayed-if-not-denied” fulfillment of being a mother in myself and in others, have led me to conclude that happiness is directly related to the control we have in our lives.

So I guess in order to understand where I’m going here, first we have to consider compared to who are parents unhappier? Compared to those who have chosen to intentionally not have children?  Or compared to those who cannot have children for reasons beyond their control?  I highly doubt that the control group was of the latter category.  I do not doubt that new parenthood has its fair share of challenges.  Being parents involves being completely selfless and putting the desires of someone else entirely ahead of your own, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for the rest of your life.  I believe a large part of the “unhappy” lies in completely being out of control of what that little person does, eats, sleeps, etc.  A major event has literally made you realize that you are not in control of your own life anymore.

Similarly, those of us that are waiting to become mothers and fathers have also had this profound realization, albeit from a different angle.  I do believe that this is one of the major reasons of the psychological stress that women facing infertility: a loss of control of one of the most supposed basic actions of humanity, procreating.   In fact, the only ones that are under this delusion are the ones that are delaying children by choice, aka, the happy ones.  Of course the big myth is that we were ever in control, but I guess what matters to our happiness is our perceived control.  I believe when people finally get pregnant and/or adopt after trying to grow their family, one of the first lines out is “It was all worth it”, meaning “although that time of being out of control and lost was really awful, eventually I regained some control and got what I so desired.”  It makes sense.

It seems that no matter our lot in life, there’s no easy way out.  At some point, you must come to the realization and actualization (because thinking about and living it are two different things) that you are not in control.  And yes, that will rock your world and affect your happiness.  For those of us with the desire imprinted in our hearts to be a spouse or a parent, its the acceptance that you have no control over making your dreams of a family come true.  For already parents, while the feeling of being out of control might not come with the first, maybe it will come with the second or third child.  I think its possible to try to surmount the chaos and feign control with different parenting strategies, just as it is possible to try different fertility treatments to “master” the art of having children, but the truth is still there.

It seems that the most genuinely happy people I know are the ones who are best able to roll with the punches and see the meaning of the bigger picture because on the surface, we can’t control much of what happens.  My dad’s favorite quote is “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react.”  This is where faith and reliance on God become critical to having an inner peace (which may closely resemble surrendering to God’s will) which may not be the same as that “naïve happiness” that you once had, but it will be deeper and longer lasting.

Anyway, these thoughts give me comfort when I think about if and when we’re parents, will we really be better parents having gone through this time?  I think we will be, if not because we’ve already embraced the fact that we are not in control.  Or at least we’re trying to.

I know its a constant battle, but I am curious if there’s anyone out there that’s really been able to do that permanently.  I guess that’s the fun of being human :)

Having a family in grad school

On a school visit a few years ago when I was applying for graduate school, I remember one of the professors I was interviewing with mentioned that the best time to have kids is during graduate school, not squeezed in after tenure like most people try to do.  I’ve heard stories of people having kids during grad school and labs that are teeming with little kids that play by their parent’s desk as they work in lab.  It seems like the flexible schedule would make for an ideal time to get married and have children, doesn’t it?

But this has not been my personal experience.

I don’t believe that grad school is actually family friendly. At least not engineering.  [Maybe this is part of the reason why there are no females in science and engineering.]

I know anecdotal evidence doesn’t make the strongest when making such a broad claim as this, but I can’t help but go by what I’ve personally seen in my lab.

  • Part time isn’t an option.  Two (male) students in our lab have had children in the past year.  One (international) student’s wife is also in grad school.  They have alternated days of working in lab for this past year in order to accommodate both of their schedules.  The other (American) student has a wife that works full time from home.  In order to accommodate their schedules, he comes in in the morning anywhere from 3-5am  and works till noon and then goes home and takes care of the baby while his wife works from 12-8pm.  Our boss has recently said this is no longer acceptable.
  • Most international students send their children back to their home countries to be raised by their parents while they finish graduate school.  I think this is a hidden secret that no one talks about and is particularly common for Chinese and Indian students who populate a large percentage of science and engineering graduate students.  The aforementioned student in our lab is in the minority of students who actually try to have their children raised here in America, although he has been pressured by my adviser to send their child back to China.
  • Apparently my husband living in another country is not a unique enough situation to warrant “extenuating circumstance” to give me permission to do non-lab-essential work outside of the office (i.e. in Mexico).  I am going against my adviser’s wishes and incurring a pay cut.

Yes, maybe this is just the situation in my lab, but still, my lab exists!  All of these situations that I’ve witnessed in this lab over this past year have made me realize how undervalued family is in academia in general and how hard it is to be a female who has a family in this field.  I’m not saying it can’t be done, its just very difficult.

And I needed to vent.

PS:  We’ve met the writer of this comic strip and he’s hilarious.  We also gave him a few ideas for some comic strips that he wrote down (we saw him!) so we’re still hoping to see some of those published one day…and THEN grad school will all have been worth it.

We’re getting smarter…in all ways!

My brother-in-law sent my husband and I an interesting article published in the New York Times from this past weekend, entitled Educated Women Opting for Motherhood.  Did anyone else happen to see it?

The crux of the article is that in general, the percentages of women not having children are increasing across racial and ethnic boundaries, as compared to 1992.


However, when we look at this same information across educational degree attainment, we see that the percentage of women who are achieving advanced degrees (Professional, Master’s, and PhD) and have never had children is decreasing.

So what does this mean? There are probably several takes on why this is happening, so I’ll just throw my hopeful idea for what I think out there.

Maybe this idea of New Feminism is finally catching on!  Educated women are realizing that being mother’s is not only a fulfilling career option but also a smart option, for themselves and our society.  The outdated view of feminism that includes our reproductive biology as a burden is becoming a thing of the past, especially for those most educated. Now if only we could get past the stigma of having more than two children

One can hope this trend continues!

Do you have some other ideas for why this trend might be occurring?

Children as commodities

I read a post at Project M the other day about why couples desire to have children.  I thought it was really beautifully written and brought up a lot of points that my own husband and I have come to as well.  In summary, Kathleen describes how the desire to share her love with her own children comes naturally from the abundance of love that she shares with her husband (although she says this much more eloquently – so you should go read the article!).

I’ve been trying to put down in words for a couple weeks now why my husband and I want to have children and why its so frustrating to not be able to in the mean time (in case it isn’t obvious!).  The thing is, over the course of coming up on the short end of these desires month after month, I’ve realized that some of the reasons I have are incomplete.  That maybe I should re-evaluate why we’re trying to start a family in hopes that I’ll develop less frustration at our current situation and more peace in why we’re here, as well as develop other possible life routes since, as we all know, fertility is not guaranteed.  For simplicity, we’ve come up with a couple reasons why we desire children that fall into these two basic categories:

  1. We want to pass on our genes. I like my husband enough to think that this world would be a better place if there were more people with his qualities!  And I don’t think I’m too shabby either :)  And OH how I would love love love to see little mini Michael-son’s running around, a perfect little blend of our physical features as well as a literal, tangible reflection of the love we have for one another!  We could enjoy them being all cute and tiny and tolerate the bad times knowing that the overall package was worth it!  We could be kids again as we’re with them growing up, what fun!  It would be an easy career path for me to choose to stay home to raise them and I wouldn’t have to think about what else to do :)  In short, we want children because they’d be incredibly cute (as a result of our genetic mixtures, of course we’d think they were perfect!) and provide us with loads of entertainment as we raise them.
  2. We want children in order to become less selfish. This is actually probably my husband’s number one reason to want children.  And he says this often.  We’re both afraid of becoming more and more selfish as we grow older and only having ourselves to worry about.  With children comes great responsibility, not only with our time and emotions, but also physically and financially.  I really believe that these sacrifices are necessary to help guide you towards greater treasures (the heavenly kind) and help teach you to value human relationships greater than material wealth.  Nothing worthwhile is easy and we all know that raising children isn’t a walk in the walk!  This is ultimately what I feel we as Christians are called to do, to build up the kingdom of God.  With greater incomes and more opportunities to spend money on ourselves, we might be tempted to take more elaborate vacations/buy nicer things than we would if we had many tiny mouths to feed right in front of us.  Would that really be the best use of our resources?  We know that the sacrifices in having children are far outweighed by the benefits we (and the rest of the world) gain from having them.  We would partake directly in building up the kingdom of God by raising little souls to glorify him!  What greater calling is there than that!

Ok, so, while I personally am inclined to think that the second reason for wanting children is a little more noble perhaps than the first, I’m realizing that there are major problems with each reason.  Let’s look at them again.

  1. We want to pass on our genetic material. Ok, if that came across as really cold and incredibly egotistical, that’s probably because at the root of it, it is. There’s no other way to get around it.  As cool as we are, we’re really not that amazing (I know, shocker, right?).  The world will survive without our little genes running around.  There’s really not too much else to say other than I think this is the hardest reason emotionally to tackle.  I think this is a natural desire biologically to pass on your genes, but having children that look like you is not necessary to serve the kingdom of God.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting these things and this is how God designed procreation to happen and these desires are not intrinsically evil!  I guess I do see it becoming wrong if my intense desire for these things causes me to sin, i.e., be envious of those who have this, etc.  (Wanting to have children to enjoy childhood again seems like an OK thing if that’s something that I like/enjoy/am good at, so nothing really wrong there!)
  2. We want children in order to become less selfish. Yes, I still do believe that having children is one path towards becoming less selfish, but just because you have children, it doesn’t follow that you’ll become less selfish.  There are plenty of stories of mom’s and dad’s out there that make you cringe with how selfish the parents are.  The biggest irony in wanting children to become less selfish, as my husband and I have discussed and we both agree, is that its not a good sign when your pursuit of children makes you selfish (since that’s what you’re trying to avoid!).  How awful is that!  I guess I’m saying that parenthood is not the only path to sainthood.  In fact, it seems the majority of saints weren’t parents (probably for a variety of reasons, but maybe one is because its that much harder!).  I should want to spend my money/time on others without being forced to! And to use children as your personal path to sainthood just doesn’t seem right, maybe since that’s an entirely utilitarian approach to something that seems so sacred.

Which brings me to my point. Partially through my involvement with the Ruth Institute and partially from my own experiences, I’m realizing that one of the most detrimental things we can do is treat children as commodities, in the same way that we treat our fertility as a commodity.  Children aren’t ours to create when we want because we just want themChildren are ours to accept – not demand – as gifts from God. It seems that viewing children as commodities is the same mentality that’s responsible for creating that weird possessive, controlling, hovering parent (as opposed to a parent that recognizes that they are merely a shepherd  guiding a soul in this life) and the “must-have-children-or-bust” infertile woman/couple (as opposed to someone struggling but still trying to accept their sub/infertility and/or other routes to parenthood).

We can’t think of children as accomplishing something for us, although they may sometimes and oftentimes do do awesome things for parents (and may play a part in helping them get to heaven), ultimately that’s not their main purpose.  A child’s purpose is to ultimately grow up to glorify God and find salvation through Him for themselves. In the same way that someone can use a boy/girlfriend or drug to fill a vacancy in themselves, we can use children.  I’m starting to really trust that if God requires me to have children to get to heaven, I will have them, biologically or adopted.  If not, I won’t, and I’ll find another way to serve Him.  God wants me in heaven, so, I should be at peace with either way.    I know I’m not there yet, but I hope one day I will be completely at peace with this because right now it still causes me a lot of anxiety.

Which brings me to my next point. I watched this video on CNN.com and words can’t really describe what I’m feeling.  A mixture of being angry, sad, disgusted and disheartened is probably close.  No one is entitled to children as they are a gift. But I do thank that video for helping me sit down and finally articulate why viewing children as commodities is so detrimental.  Such a slippery slope.

I’ve said it before, but I really do intend to post more on same-sex “marriage”.  Maybe I need some encouragement? :)