Emotions for Lunch

My willpower and strength wavered since Noah died, but it was still there somewhere. Sometimes it just gets misplaced amongst all the stresses of life.

Lox, bagels, cream cheese, and sliced cucumbers. I remember thinking how Noah would’ve loved all this food, and being confused at the platters being there and him not. We had just come from the cemetery. My two-year-old son, Noah, had died in a swimming pool accident three days before.

It felt like I didn’t eat for months after he died. I couldn’t stand thinking about him never eating that béchamel and mushroom pizza we used to get at Trader Joe’s. Or him never ever again eating an apple in the shopping cart at Shoprite, then throwing that apple on the floor in the third aisle (which was the candy aisle). We would share a bag of chocolate licorice as we shopped and I would pay for the empty bag.

The stage of depriving myself food, especially anything that Noah loved, lasted a long time. I lost a lot of weight. By the time we began fertility treatments about nine months after the accident, I was eating so little. The pleasure of food was lost. At some point, I went from the need to deprive myself to not being able to stop eating. I don’t remember exactly when or how that shift occurred.

The stress of fertility treatments, money troubles, and the overwhelming brokenness of our lives made me look for something that gave some pleasure. Writing was too difficult at the time. The introspection that it required was impossible. Food binges became the easy way to squash my thoughts for a little while. I found myself constantly in the kitchen, eating anything. No food was safe. I didn’t even know what being hungry felt like anymore.

I never weighed myself but I knew I’d ballooned to the highest weight I’d ever been. I was out of breath and out of my mind. I never looked at my body anymore.

We switched fertility doctors after not having any success or options. At our new clinic, there were kinder doctors and nurses, and a medical study was being conducted! If we qualified, it would save us many thousands of dollars in our next fertility cycle attempt. We told the doctor we would do anything to get another chance. He smiled, “The nurse will call.”

I got that phone call in an Ulta Beauty store. Shopping for lipstick probably.

I answered my cell and went off to a quiet corner of the vanity-lit store. I was told in the most sensitive way possible that, based on my current weight, I needed to lose 55 pounds to qualify. And I needed to do it in about two months to stay within the deadline of the study. The nurse then said that she didn’t want me to hurt myself and that it would be practically impossible and she was so sorry. I remember crying amongst the lighted mirrors displayed on the shelf. I saw myself over and over, magnified in the shiny silver circles and ovals. I told her I would do it. I would be safe about it and I would do it. “Put us on the list,” I begged.

I had to willingly go back to the days of no appetite. No desire to taste or enjoy. I had to burn off this fat to have a baby again. To be a family again.

I started the very next day. I told my boss at my wine sales job that morning what I needed to do. We had a wine luncheon to go to that day (we had them often). Great restaurants and great wine, but I needed to start immediately. I remember telling him what I was going to order: a salad and beef carpaccio, and I would spit all the wine instead of drinking a glass or two of the one I liked best. He gently but firmly encouraged me to keep my eye on the prize. This was the last chance. We had to qualify.

I started walking every night after work. With a borrowed flashlight from my neighbor Kim, at first walking up any slight hill was impossible. My knees hurt. My feet hurt. I was so far from my goal. I talked to God while I walked, and Noah, and myself. The inner dialogue never stopped.

I walked and starved and walked and cried and starved and then started to walk a little faster. I was so hungry. So that’s what hunger feels like! It had been so long. I had nights when I reached my breaking point. I cried for so many reasons. I was hungry. I was tired. I wanted my son back. I was angry at my body for not getting pregnant. I was angry I’d let my gluttony get so out of hand that I may cause us to lose this chance at having a baby again.

Within the first few days of my new regimen, I went to see my regular medical doctor. This was the doctor who had to go out into the hallway when we told her about the accident a week after it happened. She didn’t want to cry in front of us. I remember she was out there for a while.

This visit, I sat down in her office and told her what I needed to do. I asked her if there was anything she could do to help me. I started a medication that would boost my metabolism and eliminate my appetite.

I tried a colonic. It was awful. The water flows in so strongly that it creates spasms in your stomach. It ironically felt like being in labor. I had hoped it would be an easy bonus to the exercise, starvation, meal replacement shakes, and pills, but it wasn’t. It was not only a pain in the ass but also an unbearable pain in the gut.

Then I started to lose weight. Numbers on the scale started dropping. I was now addicted to the empty feeling in my stomach. In a way, I was back to punishing myself for losing Noah. I was punished through gluttony and through hunger. That’s how much losing a child changes you. Basic functions to survive became skewed challenges. You’re not even sure you want to survive.

I’ve never been a woman who talks about dieting. I’m more likely to talk about the latest commercial for whatever bastardized version of Mexican food Taco Bell is featuring. It always looks so good on TV, with a catchy name like BurritoChiladaGordoDelicioso.

But now my body was about pure function, not form. Scientifically, there was a better chance of pregnancy occurring at a healthy BMI versus the form of a chips, bagels, cookies, and canisters of Pringles body I’d been inhabiting.

I did it. I made it to the weight I needed to be! The nurses and doctors were shocked and thrilled. I just kept smiling. My body was going to do it. I was giving it my all. Onto the blood tests, injections, and medications again, but this time it had to work.

We scrounged for the money we needed. Nothing was impossible. We would figure out a way.

December 26th, 2012, Miriam Phoenix was born.

When my husband or our daughter misplaces something in our apartment, and I know the item hasn’t left the confines of our home, I always say “It has to be here somewhere!” Miriam has started saying that too now. My willpower and strength wavered since Noah died, but it was still there somewhere. Sometimes it just gets misplaced amongst all the stresses of life. You shake out that blanket or move the decorative pillows around and you will always find it somewhere.

Can Folic Acid Mitigate Autism-linked Effects of Pesticides?

New research suggests that taking over 800 micrograms of folic acid around the time of conception can help mitigate the autism-linked effects of pesticides.

Among the rows of grape-drenched vines and bars full of empty wineglasses, is my hometown: Napa, California (aka the most perfect place to return to as a vino-loving adult).
But growing up in such an agriculturally-dense valley has invisible dangers. Like the massive amount of pesticides dumped on those moneymaker vineyards, and the potential link between those pesticides and Napa County’s No. 1 ranking for the rate of childhood cancer in all of California.
Additionally, a study out of nearby UC Davis showed that “women who lived within a mile of agricultural fields where organophosphate insecticides were applied during pregnancy had a 60 percent increased risk of having children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.”
A large body of research has shown that consuming a folate-containing prenatal vitamin reduces a child’s risk of later developing an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
But new research suggests that taking over 800 micrograms of folic acid around the time of conception can helpmitigate the autism-linked effects of pesticides.
Children whose mothers were taking the folic acid had a significantly lower risk of developing an ASD, even when the mothers were exposed to pesticides on a daily basis.
Mothers who took less than 800 micrograms and encountered household pesticides had a much higher risk – a risk that increased with repeat exposure.
Napa is just one example, but it helps illustrate a much larger picture. Many Americans are exposed daily to dangerous pesticides – both from nearby agriculture and in their own homes.
Many of these women can’t control their environmental or household exposure to pesticides, but studies like this can help put some of the power back in their hands.
It’s important to note that research like this does not determine causality. A lack of folic acid around the time of conception does not cause autism. Nor does consuming an adequate amount prevent it.
Instead, this research notes a statistical significance between the prevalence of ASD in children whose mothers had taken 800 micrograms of folic acid (the amount in a standard prenatal vitamin) compared to those whose mothers didn’t, when they were both exposed to pesticides.
This suggests that folic acid can help mitigate the harmful effects of pesticides on a developing fetus. Beyond prevention methods, the implication of research like this is potentially even greater. When cells are developing rapidly in utero, folic acid acts to assist the DNA. Understanding exactly how this happens and if/how it can help prevent ASD (among other developmental disorders) is the next step in protecting our children while they’re still in utero.
Most mothers-to-be already understand the benefits of prenatal vitamins rich in folic acid, but there can never be a shortage of studies to support its benefits. If you’re planning to conceive, research has shown nothing but positive outcomes to an increased folic acid consumption.

6 Reasons to Have the Sex Talk With Your 3-Year-Old Instead of Your 13-Year-Old

If you have a little one you should be thinking now about how and when you want to introduce the topic of sex to your child.

One of a parent’s greatest responsibilities is to teach their child about life’s big stuff. In the very early days of parenthood parents teach their children that their needs will be met by responding to their cues and cries. As they grow, parents teach them to identify shapes, colors, letters, and numbers – the things that help them make sense of the world around them. As they mature into their teen years parents help their offspring begin to understand the gray between all the black and white and how to define the beliefs and values they want to incorporate into their lives.
Somewhere along the way they’ll also teach them about sex. While most parents are excited to see their kids acquire new knowledge as they grow, many are squeamish or apprehensive when it comes to teaching their kids about where babies come from and how bodies work. Whether it’s a desire to keep kids “innocence” intact, a discomfort on the parents’ part, or a general feeling that it’s not the right time, many parents put a hold on the sex talk far longer than is in the best interest of their kids.
If you have a little one you should be thinking now about how and when you want to introduce the topic of sex to your child. Check out the six reasons below that starting the conversation with your child when they’re young is far better than starting when their older.

1 | Nothing sounds weird when you’re a kid

In many ways, kids are blank slates. In the first few years of their life they accumulate a vast well of knowledge about the world around them. When they’re very young, before formal schooling, much of this knowledge acquisition is passive – they watch you use a comb and a tooth brush each day and, by a few months past their first birthday they’re using those objects as you do. To kids, what they see, and what they hear and learn just is. It’s not weird or awkward or unbelievable. So, in the same way you explain electricity or rainbows or butterflies to your kid (which are all kind of unbelievable when you think about it) when you explain sex at a young age they typically take it at face value without any of the awkwardness that adults often place on it.

2 | It’s not just one talk

Sometimes, when parents think about the “sex talk,” they imagine it as one comprehensive conversation that covers everything from biology to gender identity to pleasure. Not only does this really up the pressure to get it right, it also makes it feel like it’s probably way too much for a preschooler to take in. In reality, talking about sex with your kids should be an ongoing conversation that starts in toddlerhood, when first questions arise, and grows with them as encounter new ideas or find themselves in new social situations.

3 | It’s actually pretty simple

While the topic of human sexuality is rich and deep, the biological basics are actually pretty simple. Many parents shy away from talking about sex with their young children because they don’t want to discuss the details. The good news is that when you’re talking to kids they don’t have a desire or need for the kinds of details that make most parents squeamish. In preschool, most kids will begin to ask questions about where babies come from – by answering the questions that kids ask, no more and no less, parents will be providing the simple answers that help their kids understand the basics.

4 | You’ll actually be the first one to give them the information they need

Many parents who wait to introduce the topic of sex with their kids do so because they want to “keep their kids young” or “preserve their innocence.” While this is problematic for a number of reasons, these parents would be disappointed to learn that their kids are not living in a bubble of innocence. The reality is that kids are talking about sex and, if you want your kids to have accurate information that resonates with your family’s values, you’ll have to introduce the topic early.

5 | It will keep them safe

In order to keep themselves safe in the world, kids need to know the basics of their body. When parents provide their kids with proper terminology and help them begin to understand the concept of consent, they’re giving them important tools that will help them stay safe.

6 | It sets the tone for a lifetime of openness

Every time you answer your child’s questions openly and honestly, you’re showing them that you’re someone whom they can trust. If you want your big kids to come to you with their big questions, make sure you’re available to answer their questions when they’re little.

How You Can Wholly Support Someone Who’s Infertile or Has Experienced Pregnancy Loss

Second to the pain of infertility or pregnancy loss, the most painful part of losing a child or not being able to have one is dealing with people’s comments, questions, and well-intentioned advice. Even though most comments or questions are meant to be helpful or uplifting, they can actually seem insensitive and naïve.
In 2011, I learned firsthand how hurtful loved ones and complete strangers could accidentally be.
November 30th began like any other work day. I got up and got in the shower. That’s where the normalcy ended.
As I flipped a towel over my wet hair, I heard and felt something pop inside my body. I was overcome with instant pain, not too dissimilar from excruciating menstrual cramps. At first I thought I had pulled something. I tried stretching it out, laying down, using a heating pad. The pain only intensified. I called my husband in tears, knowing I needed help, knowing that something was wrong.
After many painful tests at the hospital, a vaginal ultrasound included, I learned that I was pregnant. We had been trying to conceive for two months and had no idea we had been somewhat successful. I had been blacking out and moaning in pain, but I forgot all that and sat up and reached for the doctor.
“Can you save the baby?” I pleaded. I didn’t care about my own body in that moment. I only cared about my baby, the baby I didn’t even know existed until that moment. But that didn’t matter. My only wish was to save my baby.
The doctor promised to do what he could, but it was out of his hands. It turns out I had a ruptured ectopic pregnancy. Not only could I not save my baby, but she almost took me with her.
I marveled at the whiteness and starkness of the operating room as they wheeled me in, just like in the movies.
“This is going to be painful,” one of the nurses said as they turned me on my side and moved me to the operating table.
Painful didn’t begin to describe it. The weight of the blood in my abdomen crushed my internal organs. I felt my eyes bulge out of my head, and in the moment, I prayed for death. I begged for it. I knew I was dying, and I just wanted it all to end, to find relief.
While they strapped a mask over my face, I remember screaming “NO!” over and over again until the drugs mercifully kicked in.
Emergency surgery, a removed fallopian tube, and four blood transfusions later, I was once again childless and full of physical and emotional pain.
About six months later, I took the precautionary measure of getting a hysterosalpingogram, which consists of dye being pushed into my cervix to see if my remaining fallopian tube was open. Once again, I was met with heartbreak.
My remaining tube was blocked with thick scar tissue that could not be removed without risking even more damage. Even if it could, my uterus was misshapen, so additional surgery would be required to make my uterus baby-ready. At that time, pregnancy wasn’t an option for us.
The comments poured in, from both the inexperienced and the experienced, from everyone from my fellow church members to my own mother. Most people were simply trying to help, and they didn’t know how to respond to the gravity of the situation or the emotional torment I felt. Even their good intentions couldn’t take the pain and trauma away.
In fact, most times, it only amplified it.
If you’ve experienced hurtful comments after pregnancy loss or infertility, the most important thing to remember is that they aren’t meant to be hurtful, even if they do cause emotional harm. If you know someone who has experienced this loss, and you’re not sure what to say or if what you want to say will be hurtful, the best thing to do is to be mindful, considerate, and empathetic.
Here are some comments I received that did more harm than good, why they don’t help, and what to do or say instead:

Silver lining comments to uplift or minimize pain

“At least you know you can get pregnant now!”
“You didn’t even know you were pregnant? Oh, then that loss isn’t so bad.”
“You could always just use a turkey baster.”
“You’re lucky that you’ll never have to go through childbirth,” or “You’re lucky you won’t have to worry about your body and stretch marks after having kids.”

How they’re meant to help

It can be difficult to see a loved one going through a painful experience. These types of comments are meant to be upbeat, happy, funny, or help the person see their experience from a new perspective.

But even though comments like these are meant to minimize emotional pain, it can actually feel like the person is trying to minimize the experience itself and the grief that comes along with it. This makes the person in pain feel as though they’re not allowed to grieve deeply because they should be looking at the silver linings instead.

What to do instead

Sometimes allowing yourself to grieve is one of the hardest parts of infertility or miscarriage. Grief is a natural part of these experiences. It’s a natural – and healthy – part of life. If you’re the one that needs to grieve, let yourself.

Write out your feelings or find someone you can talk to, someone who won’t judge you when you say shocking or alarming things as part of your grieving process (like a faith-based crisis or simply feeling hatred or bitterness toward those around you who aren’t going through it).

If your loved one is going through this, be there for her. Lend her your listening ear. Let her get it all out, unfiltered and raw. Sometimes that alone can lift a portion of the weight off her shoulders.

Remind her that she doesn’t have to look at the silver linings yet and to take the grieving process one step at a time. Most importantly, tell her that you’re there to listen whenever she needs to talk.

Comments meant to give hope

“God has His reasons,” or “Everything happens for a reason.”
“Time heals all.”
“I know exactly how you feel.”
“There’s always adoption.”

How they’re meant to help

Part of the grieving and healing processes requires finding hope in the future. It may not be the hope of having children, but it can be a hope to feel whole again, to feel happy, or even simply content. Many people who say these types of comments are trying to make the person feel better by offering hopeful statements.

The problem is that they are shared when the person is still in the thick of grief. They haven’t gotten to the stage yet where they can even begin to feel hope in the future. Hope is powerful. But it has its own place and time during emotional trauma and healing. In the heart of my trauma, it was nearly impossible to focus on the future.

What to do instead

It’s okay to be happy and hopeful around the person grieving, but let yourself exude it in your actions rather than your words. You don’t have to say anything about hope. When they’re ready, they’ll feel it from you, and then they’ll know you’re a safe harbor for them when they start exploring the new stage of healing.

Once they start talking about the future with hope, you can help it grow into something more stable by simply listening and encouraging them softly.

Comments meant to shorten the grieving process

“Don’t worry. Soon you’ll be back to your old self again.”
“You’re not over it yet? It’s been weeks/months/years.”

How they’re meant to help

Going through the grieving process is hard, and so is watching someone you love go through it. From the other side of the experience, you want your loved one to heal and be alright again, but chances are your loved one is still processing and trying to heal.

Comments like these may be meant to shorten the grieving process, but they can actually add more time to it.

What to do instead

Ask them what they need from you. Ask them how you can help, and if they don’t give you an answer (it’s hard to do when in emotional distress), give suggestions on how you’d love to help.

It can be as simple as doing the dishes, dropping off a dinner, or even buying them some beautiful flowers. The most important thing is to remind them they’re loved, no matter what.

Questions about the future

“When are you two going to have kids?”
“So, what are you going to do now?”

How they’re meant to help

These questions can range from someone being curious to a simple, innocent getting-to-know-you question. No matter how innocent, they can hurt when in the middle of dealing with the emotional pain of losing a baby or not being able to get pregnant.

Sometimes they’re just conversation starters, and the other person doesn’t realize that they’re being hurtful and opening an emotional wound.

What to do instead

Instead of asking questions like this, allow the person in emotional pain to talk about it first. Let them guide the conversation. This will let you know what they want to talk about and what they’re comfortable discussing.

Look for cues in their body language and what they say. It’s okay to ask follow-up questions if they bring up the topic on their own. If they don’t want to talk about it anymore, it will most likely be clear in their body language. Or, they may tell you it’s a sensitive topic. Either way, respect their need for privacy during such a difficult time.

For those of you going through the pain, remember that these comments aren’t meant to harm. They come from people who are concerned and who love you. If from strangers, they simply don’t understand the depth of your situation and your grief. Be patient and kind. It’s also perfectly acceptable to turn them into teaching moments.
If you’re outside the experience and watching a loved one go through it, also employ patience and kindness. Be understanding. Be empathetic. Be aware.
When it comes down to it, we can all do a little better and be a little kinder. It can make a world of difference to those who need it the most.

Finished "The Handmaid's Tale"? Try These Other Dystopian Novels With Something to Say About Motherhood

These brilliant novels, which tackle the topics of maternity and parenting, are must reads for any sci-fi geek.

When I read “The Handmaid’s Tale” 20 years ago, I didn’t have any parenting experience to shape my response. Watching the Netflix series now, I can relate deeply to the desperation of infertility and to the horror of losing a child. The following is a list of other dystopian and science fiction novels which tackle the topics of maternity and parenting. Inhabiting these main characters, you might imagine how you would survive in a broken world without parents, how far you would go to keep your children alive, even for an uncertain future, and the ramifications of varying gender dynamics on family structure.

OctaviaButler

Parable of the Sower

by Octavia E. Butler

Change. It’s the theme of this post-apocalyptic novel and the basis of the belief system birthed by 15-year-old Lauren Olamina:

All that you touch
You Change.
All that you Change
Changes you.
The only lasting truth
Is Change.
God Is Change.

What is parenthood if not total, utter change? That’s why this is the first dystopian novel I think of as a companion to Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”, though (spoiler alert) Olamina doesn’t actually have a child until the sequel, “Parable of the Talents”. What she does in this first book is set out to survive in a disintegrating near-future landscape, attracting followers and establishing a community. Olamina’s interaction with the dangerous and unpredictable new world is informed greatly by her “hyper empathy syndrome” – a metaphor for parenthood if I’ve ever heard one.


BirdBox

Bird Box

by Josh Malerman

In a world gone mad, motherhood is stripped down to the bare bones of survival, with no room for snuggles and bedtime stories. Freedom and permissiveness would be deadly in this world, so Malorie has trained her two small children, Boy and Girl, to focus completely on their surroundings, to hone their hearing for a journey they will make in blindness. Then she risks everything and relies on their training to give them a remote chance at survival. The threat in “Bird Box” is enigmatic. Anyone who sees it becomes both homicidal and suicidal, hence the need to stay blindfolded at all times. It’s an exciting read, and a nice escape from pressing mom questions like, “Do I really want to take both these kids to the grocery store, or should I order milk from Amazon?”

TheChildrenMen

The Children of Men

by P.D. James

Much like in “The Handmaid’s Tale”, the human race is threatened by a loss of fertility. When a pregnant character is revealed, I had to wonder if this new desperate society would treat her as a commodity rather than a person with rights. In “The Children of Men”, it has been more than two decades since the last child was born. People are so desperate to “mother” they treat pets and dolls like infants. The last-born generation, now young adults, enjoy freedom and privilege as they represent the last traces of human childhood. In this dystopian vision, youth is fetishized and parenting inclinations are transformed into role play.


WomanOnTheEdgeofTIme

Woman on the Edge of Time

by Marge Piercy

While trying to protect her pregnant niece from her violent pimp/boyfriend, Connie is committed (again) to a psychiatric ward where she receives visits from an ambassador of the utopian future in Mattapoisett. Still with me? What’s immediately apparent even through the complex narrative is a stark contrast between the gritty portrayal of mothering roles in Connie’s present and the neat, idealized childrearing of the future. In Piercy’s future feminist utopia, babies are grown in brooders, and men and women share parenting duties equally. The way science fiction tends to tidy-up parenting makes me wonder why we are so attached to the idea that there must be a better way. I still can’t imagine even the most feminist utopian future could work out the primal messiness of parenthood.


TheMatterofSeggri

The Matter of Seggri

by Ursula K. Le Guin

If “Woman on the Edge of Time” solves parenting by creating total equality between the sexes, “The Matter of Seggri” reduces men to objects of pleasure and entertainment, giving women all the power. Due to a reproductive anomaly, male children are rare, so women also far outnumber men. One alien observer notes, “In this we see the curse of GOD laid upon this race…” Yet, the inhabitants of Seggri don’t seem to see their situation as a curse. Le Guin’s novelette is told from the perspective of five narrators – both male and female, native and foreign – offering a broad perspective on how different characters experience Seggri’s gender-power arrangement. The story can be found in Le Guin’s 2002 collection “The Birthday of the World: and Other Stories”.


AmmoniteNicola

Ammonite

by Nicola Griffith

In “Ammonite” author Nicola Griffith goes a step further than Le Guin’s “The Matter of Seggri”, and invents a world devoid of men. On a planet colonized by humans, a virus has killed all the men and many women there. The surviving women remained and evolved into a complex and (mysteriously) fertile civilization. Griffith does not allege in her alter-society that fathers are unnecessary in parenting, but that gender does not determine parenting or power roles as much as our stereotypes might suggest. The story is satisfying in both its revelations about the biology of the planet and the personal transformational journey of the main character, a visiting anthropologist who eventually crosses the line between observer and native.


TheTestamentofJessieLamb

Testament of Jessie Lamb

by Jane Rogers

Tired of those bleak stories of mass infertility threatening the human race? How about this twist – bioterrorists unleash a virus that kills all pregnant women, and 16-year-old Jessie is dealing with the implications. The only way scientists have figured out how to produce a live child is to impregnate voluntarily comatose women, and Jessie considers signing up for the program. For the sake of this novel, motherhood is no more than incubation…and an act in which women sacrifice their lives completely for the continuation of the species. It’s not hard to imagine a progression to a less voluntary incubation program like in “The Handmaid’s Tale”. Though the book won the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2012, it is often criticized for its adolescent voice and unanswered questions. While frustrating, the book does provide another lens through which to examine personal family decisions and broader questions of protecting a threatened society at great personal cost.
 
 
 
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"I Might Be Pregnant Again" and All The Emotions That Come After

This would be our fourth child together, and she wants me to be happy so that she can be happy. I want to be happy about this, too. I really do.

My wife tells me that she might be pregnant again, and I get that sinking feeling in my stomach like I’m back in my college theater program moments before I go on stage, or back when I rode roller coasters and didn’t care about the sudden ups and downs. Didn’t care about that steep, first drop. Back when I enjoyed the feeling of speeding out of control.

Problem is, I can’t decide if this news is good or bad. My wife looks into my eyes and I know I’m showing my hand. The more I remain silent, the more I reveal.

This would be our fourth child together, and she wants me to be happy so that she can be happy. I want to be happy about this, too. I really do.

We (she) had been talking about having more kids recently, ever since I turned 40. I said that I was nervous about childbirth at our age and she said I was being ridiculous and that we were both perfectly healthy and capable. I was not convinced.

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Twelve years ago, when my wife told me she was pregnant with our first child, I was watching a Yankees game. It was a good game. Close. Joe Torrey was managing.

“Are you sure?” I asked, eyes on the TV.

“Positive,” she said, holding up five pregnancy tests, fanning them out in one hand like playing cards. A full house.

Afterward, we’d hugged and laughed and talked about the timeline to delivery and wondered about when we would tell our parents and friends and who we would tell first and what the baby room would look like. We guessed at the sex of the baby and thought of names, and we sat and laughed and cried tears of joy and pondered the future. Our future. Our new, larger family. But not a lot larger.

Back to the present, and my wife and I sit on our bed. I’ve turned away from her. All three of our kids (ages four, nine, and 11) are asleep in the middle.

“Wow.” This tiny declaration is all I can manage. I know it’s not the response my wife is hoping for. I do not think to reach out and hug her.

“I don’t know for sure,” she says, her voice low. “I had some spotting and I’m late. I’m going to wait a few more days before I take a test.”

“Wow,” I repeat.

Comic Jim Gaffigan does a bit about the stigma associated with having a big family. He says that after three children, people stop congratulating you and start treating you like you’re Amish.“Four kids, huh?” he chides. “Well that’s one way to live your life! (pause) Can you make us one of those wood fireplaces?”

It’s a funny routine, but laughter is not one of the emotions rising inside me right now, sitting on the edge of our bed. Stupid bed, I think to myself. You’re the one who got us into this mess.

Is it a mess, though? Why do I feel this way?  What’s wrong with having a large family? What’s wrong with having four children? Am I pressing my luck? Doubling down?

I mean, we already have three healthy children. Why would we need another? Why would we want another?

Am I being . . . greedy?

“Say something,” my wife commands.

But I cannot speak. I’m at the crest of the first, giant hill again, seated in the front car, hands choking the safety bar. If anything comes out of my mouth, it will be a scream.

Later, after I’ve brushed my teeth and washed my face, I find a small  space on the edge of the bed and watch Gaffigan’s bit again on my laptop. “You wanna know what it’s like to have a fourth (child)? Imagine you are drowning . . .  and then someone hands you a baby.”

Without warning, I laugh. Softly at first. I watch the bit again and laugh harder.

Soon, I have tears streaming down my face and my belly hurts and I can hardly breathe. I don’t want to wake anyone (especially my wife, who has found a skinny spot on the opposite side of the bed), but the harder I try to contain myself, the more everything wants to rise to the surface.

After a few moments, I look down at my family, a tangled mass of legs, arms and hair. It certainly has been a wild ride, these last 12 years. A scary, unpredictable ride, full of twists and turns, loop de loops, and corkscrews.

Wild, sure, but exhilarating.

What I do then is I wipe the happy tears from my cheeks and rub my belly where it is sore from laughing. Then I carefully reach across the mountain of breathing bodies and find my wife’s hand. I squeeze it gently and she squeezes back. A squeeze of assurance.

There is room yet in this bed. Space still on this speeding train. Whatever happens next week, I know we can handle it. We will continue the ride, wind in our faces, hurtling onward into the unknown, and loving every single second of it.

Older Dads May Raise Smarter, Geekier Kids

A recent study shows there may be some clear benefits to having an older father that positively impact a kid’s education and career.

Men who are living the bachelor life longer may be onto something. More men, especially college educated ones, are waiting longer to have kids, and these older men are raising smarter, more successful kids overall.
According to a recent Pew Research Center analysis of data from the National Center for Health Statistics, only 14 percent of men with a bachelor’s degree or more had their first child before they were 25. In addition, from 1980 to 2014, there has been a 58 percent increase in the number of men age 35 and older having a baby. This trend is leading to a whole generation of children with older fathers. Although there may be some concerns about fathering children at an older age, a new study from New King’s College London published in Translational Psychiatry suggests that sons of older fathers are smarter, more focused on their interests, and less concerned about fitting in with their peers.
Researchers from King’s College London and The Seaver Autism Center for Research and Treatment at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in the United States collected behavioral and cognitive data from 15,000 male twins in the United Kingdom who were part of the Twins Early Development Study (TEDS). When the twins were 12 years old, they took online tests that measured ‘geek-like’ traits such as non-verbal IQ, strong focus on the subject of interest, and levels of social detachment. Parents were also asked whether their child cares about how they are perceived by their peers and if they have any interests that take up a large amount of their time.
 
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Using all of that information, the researchers computed a ‘geek index’ for every child in the study. Overall, higher geek index scores were reported in the sons of older fathers. This pattern even showed up after controlling for the parent’s social and economic status, qualifications, and employment. In addition, they found that ‘geekier’ children do better in school exams, particularly in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects.
The study shows how there may be some clear benefits to having an older father that positively impact a child’s education and career. One likely reason for this correlation, according to the experts involved in the study, is that older fathers are more likely to be established in their careers and have higher socioeconomic status than younger fathers just starting out in their career. Therefore, the children with older fathers could be raised in a more enriched environment with a stronger focus on academics and career building. These children would also tend to have access to better schools with extensive resources and opportunities.
But what about the risks of fathering a child later in life? Since men do not go through menopause, they can have a child until they are using a cane. Just look at Mick Jagger, who had his eighth child at the age of 73. According to Men’s Health, in most cases age is not really a problem for men. The majority of older dads do not have fertility problems and are able to father babies without serious physical or developmental problems.
However, there are some risks involved with being an older daddy. As men age, there is a greater chance of producing sperm with mutations, which can pass along health problems to the child or make it harder to conceive. A study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that women with partners age 35 and older were 27 percent more likely to have a miscarriage than those with partners 25 or younger. Previous research also has shown that children of older fathers are at a higher risk of autism and schizophrenia.
So, what does this mean for women, since our biological clocks are ticking and we do not want to wait too long to have kids? On one hand, it may not be a good idea to pressure our significant others to have kids right away. Let them turn a little gray before taking on the huge role of fatherhood. On the other hand, there are some possible health risks with waiting too long to have kids. Or maybe women should just try and look for older men to be the father of their children? There is no right or wrong path to take, and you certainly can’t plan love. But it’s always interesting to have this knowledge in our back pocket to see if it really works.

Finding My Way Around "Advancing Age" and Into Motherhood

Advancing Age got the last laugh when two weeks later we got the news that I wasn’t pregnant. I needed to take a long hard look at my 40-something body.

“Promise me, Barbara, you’re not going to wait until you’re 43 to begin trying,” my gynecologist pleaded. Well, I made us both proud by conceiving easily when I was 41. Then I became pregnant again at 42. Great. Well, not so great. The trouble was, both pregnancies ended badly.
Then my husband and I tried a round of IVF after discovering I still had “Decent Ovarian Potential,” as the reproductive specialists like to say. I produced four eggs that were retrieved during what I liked to call “The Great Egg Hunt.”
However, from those four, only two eggs were able to fertilize. The slimmest of slim pickings perhaps, but they were considered grade one, cream-of-the-crop embryos, which were then transferred from sterile Petri dish to my drug-induced, lush uterine lining. (Ha, in your face, Advancing Age.)
Naturally, Advancing Age got the last laugh when two weeks later we got the news that I wasn’t pregnant. The time had come: I needed to take a long hard look at my 40-something body.
 
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From the outside, I must say, it looked good, easily 10-years younger than my chronological age. But inside I heard them. My eggs, clamoring loudly as the elderly and decrepit sometimes do: “We’re cranky as hell and we’re not going to reproduce anymore. Now let’s play bingo.”
Next my husband and I explored donor eggs, but I wasn’t interested. Honestly I was pretty much over my body and still angry with it for failing me not once, but three times. I also didn’t like that the donor would be anonymous.
I couldn’t imagine growing up not knowing where my obnoxiously loud laugh came from, or the million other traits that I can trace back to the cast of characters who passed along my genetic code. I wanted a child of mine to have this knowledge, too. That’s when we turned our hopes to domestic adoption.
This was also the time I realized I needed to be on friendly terms with my body again. I started seeing a therapist. It helped. There’s nothing better than having scheduled appointments for a good talk and an ugly cry over ill-fated pregnancies and the sobering fact that my tired, old eggs would have no part in creating a child with the man I loved.
Then – after 18 months of numerous pre-adoption legalities, another glance into donor eggs, and one monumental, earth-shattering decision from a woman I had come to know in the months leading up to the birth of her child yet barely knew – I became a mother at the ripe older age of 45.
From that moment, eight years ago, I have never looked back. I never held on to the moniker “infertile.” I never wished that I was able to become pregnant, because I could never have been pregnant with her, my daughter.
My feelings are confirmed one bajillion times over, each and every time I catch a passing glimpse of her blonde hair, or hear her voice whining away about some toy or treat she has to have. She is it. She is my child. My very heart. I am forever grateful that it is she who calls me “Mom.”
This article originally appeared in Adoptive Family Circle.

Measuring the True Cost of Infertility

“Relax, it will happen,” isn’t the most helpful thing to hear when struggling with infertility. And the pain of it is difficult to measure.

As a young adult, I lived in fear of pregnancy. In the small town where I’m from, enough girls became pregnant in high school that the saying “it’s in the water” wasn’t just a funny joke. Way before I became sexually active I knew having a baby young changed your life choices. I had ambitions. I wanted to go to college. I wanted to travel the world. I also believed I could have children later in life. My father had a friend who had a baby at 40. Her success left quite an impression on my twelve-year-old self. If she could do it, so could I.
My infertility journey began after a miscarriage in my late 30s. I took the loss hard but thought becoming pregnant again would be easy. When getting pregnant didn’t happen right away, I became obsessed. Each day that passed I became even more determined, yet alone. It seemed that everyone around me was darting down the path of parenthood without a glitch. When someone I knew became pregnant, I would casually ask how long it took to conceive. The answer was always, “we got pregnant on our first try.” These conversations made me feel as if I was the only one deficient, old, and barren. I remember interviewing for a promotion at work and not getting the job. The co-worker who got the promotion was pregnant. The heaviness of failure consumed me.
 
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One year after the miscarriage, I found myself in my doctor’s office. She explained that the tests indicated a low ovarian reserve — a fancy way of saying that the number of eggs left had diminished. She went on to say that due to my advanced maternal age (a term for anyone over 35) the remaining eggs might be at a lower quality. Having a baby wasn’t impossible, it was just highly unlikely. I was devastated.

The biggest toll of infertility is the silence

I couldn’t talk about my infertility. My struggle was somehow my fault and confiding in others would be highlighting my imperfection. Instead, I attended baby showers, lived through Facebook birth announcements and baby pictures, and listened to mothers complain about their children. All of it seemed unfair and hurtful. Every new baby born was a personal attack against me. It wasn’t logical.
I even stopped talking to a good friend of mine when she became pregnant. Staying connected seemed too hard. I couldn’t even talk about my feelings of shame and frustration with my husband. He kept telling me to relax and be patient. His biological clock wasn’t ticking as hard as mine. Our different perspectives only further highlighted how alone I was.

Infertility is not only silent, it’s physically draining

Each month that passed, my obsession increased. I woke up early each morning and popped a basil thermometer in my mouth to check for ovulation. I rubbed progesterone on my wrists in the first half of my cycle to extend the luteal phase (giving the fertilized egg more time to plant itself in my uterus). I went to acupuncture three times a week to increase the quality of my eggs. I popped an organic, raw-food multi-vitamin that gave me heartburn. I decided to complete 30 days straight of Bikram yoga to cleanse my reproductive system.
I stopped sleeping. Once I was up for 36 hours straight. I saw a psychologist and a doctor to get a prescription for Ambien. I bought a juicer and grew wheat grass. The smell eventually made me gag every time I drank the green goo. There wasn’t anything I wasn’t willing to do or try in order to increase my fertility. I was physically drained, yet I couldn’t stop.

Infertility is also expensive

Most insurance policies don’t cover infertility. Not even diagnostic tests to determine the problem are covered, let alone a more costly procedure such as In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). Vitamins, supplements, and diagnostic tests add up fast. Once I learned that my problem was a low ovarian reserve, I knew that IVF was the best choice. I researched clinics in the San Diego area where I lived, and the minimum amount was 15 thousand dollars. The cost didn’t even include medication, which could be anywhere from three to six thousand dollars. On average the procedure is 20 to 30 thousand dollars.
The worst part is that there’s no guarantee. For someone with my problem and age, I had about a 20 percent success rate. Flip that around and that’s an 80 percent chance of failure. Most people go through IVF multiple times before the procedure results in a live birth. I read stories of women getting second mortgages on their houses or borrowing thousands of dollars and being unsuccessful multiple times. Eventually, they had to come to terms with living in debt, childless.

Infertility causes you to lose spirit

I had this sense that whatever I was doing didn’t matter or wasn’t worth my time. I would be out with friends and the moment seemed lifeless and bland. I was stuck and couldn’t move forward. When I saw a mother with her child, tears would spring to my eyes. I would think why couldn’t I have a child? Why was something so easy for her, so hard for me? I began to lose my drive and my spirit, and I stopped making plans. The future looked bleak.
A good friend of mine told me about a friend who struggled with infertility. Her friend decided after many years of trying to live life childless. In this decision, she also promised herself that she would make it the best life possible; otherwise, the choice would be too hard. Her words stuck with me. Perhaps, the time had come to give up. I began the process of letting go of becoming a mother.
But something stopped me.
I stumbled across the book, “Inconceivable: A Woman’s Triumph Over Despair and Statistics” by Julia Indichova. It was being discussed in an online forum for infertility. I devoured the book. The author, like me, was older, had Czech roots, and had a low ovarian reserve. Her personal account of her infertility journey inspired me to look past the science and into my emotional blockage.
I began to practice visualizations like she did. I discovered that despite all my best efforts to conceive, a deeper part of me believed that I would never have a child. I thought I didn’t deserve a baby. I learned to break through this certainty through visualizations. I imagined myself holding a child to my chest. I imagined one beautiful egg dropping down and being fertilized. I watched myself stand in a river with all my fears washing through me.
I then started to sense a shift. I was sleeping better. I began to make plans. I researched IVF treatments in Tijuana, Mexico. Three months later I underwent the procedure. I decided that if this didn’t work, I would live my life childless. Not only childless but to the fullest.
I waited two weeks for the IVF results. When the call came, I had my husband answer because I couldn’t bear to hear the news. I watched his face for any sign of whether or not my life would include a child. No sign.
Then, he smiled.
I was pregnant. I couldn’t believe the results. Joy streamed through me. Nine months later I delivered a healthy baby boy.
Recently, a friend of mine struggling with infertility asked me for advice. My first thought was to say, “relax, it will happen.” Then I remembered how advice like this would have brought me little comfort on my infertility journey. Instead, I told her to be patient, be kind to herself, and to confide in trusted friends.
What I didn’t say to her was that the scar of infertility, despite finally being a mother, is never quite forgotten. I look at those years as the dark years. The true cost of infertility can’t be measured.
But after the darkness has passed, when you hold your baby in your arms, the struggle is worth the pain. Perhaps, that’s what I should have said: The journey to your child is worth it. Don’t give up.

DNA Relates You, But Here's What Makes a Family

“DNA doesn’t make you family,” a hand-stamped keychain from Etsy will remind you, “love does.” Now I know it’s way more than that.

Around the time I started telling friends and family I was dating a girl – in other words, when the whole gay thing became official – I unexpectedly mourned the idea of having a child that was genetically descended from both me and my future partner.

Maybe I cared because, growing up in a mixed family, comparing nose widths, head shapes, and hair thicknesses was a form of entertainment. Over the dinner table on a good day, my dad would make fun of my mom’s long, skinny Caucasian nose, and my mom would make fun of my dad’s wide, meaty Asian nose. Maybe it was just silly banter, or maybe it was a way of making sure that my brother and I felt lucky about our moderate noses and secure about our blend.

Almost a decade later, when that same girlfriend (now wife) and I decided to have kids, I initially wasn’t interested in doing any kind of (in my mind at the time) “unnatural” fertility or insemination procedures, at least none involving my own body. Coming from a family of holistic health freaks, Christian Scientists, and cheapskates, I was distrustful of any medical intervention that wasn’t 102 percent necessary. “We’d just adopt,” I thought, believing I was being the logical one.

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My wife, who’d been adopted at birth, was determined to carry a baby and pass on her DNA. The arrangement wasn’t ideal, my brain reasoned. I’d be the only one left out of this genetic scheme, and out of any future conversations about who looks like whom. We’d have to use sperm from either someone we knew or someone we didn’t know. (Which would be weirder? It was hard to say.) Plus there was all the medical “stuff” we’d have to deal with.

Then our baby was born, and after six intense weeks that felt like one six-year-long day, those worries all seemed so far away that they were completely irrelevant.

“DNA doesn’t make you family,” a hand-stamped keychain from Etsy will remind you, “love does.” Now I know it’s way more than that.

Family is setting the alarm (actually, two: one for backup) for 11:30 pm, 1:30 am, 3:30 am, 5:30 am, and 7:30 am, and spending an hour and a half each time wrangling a little wire attached to a syringe filled with formula into our newborn’s mouth, in addition to breastfeeding, so she can gain the recommended one ounce a day.

Family is holding our breath listening to a tiny human’s shrieks, sneezes, and wheezes in the bassinet next to our bed and hoping she’ll make it through another night. Family is walking out of the drugstore into harsh sunlight and shielding my kid’s eyes before even thinking of putting on my own sunglasses.

Family is having 97 nicknames for someone who doesn’t even know her own name yet. Family is making up enough original songs in two weeks to produce three absurdist children’s albums and headline four experimental live performances at the (insert hottest New York venue here, I have no idea about these things anymore) but not caring about any of that except for soothing one very small person for the next 30 seconds.

Family is wiping someone else’s spit-up chunks, belly button cheese, and eye crust. Family is counting pee and poop diapers so we can defend our collective honor to the pediatrician at our next appointment. Family is being part of the same freaking fart cloud.

Maybe I’ll never be able to recognize our daughter’s nose in the contours of my ancestral line, but I’ll know it’s the one I’ve coaxed boogers out of with my bare hands and watched the light shine off of as I bounced her into a temporary state of serenity by her favorite window. That’s more than enough for me.