Saturday, December 31, 2016

Theme for New Year 2017: Self-Improvement

I used to make a laundry list of New Year's resolutions.  After keeping and reviewing my sheets of paper, I realized that all I was doing was listing what I wish I were accomplishing, and just rolling it over from year to year whenever it didn't happen the previous year.  I didn't actually have any specific plan in place to bring my "resolutions" to fruitition.  So I stopped making resolutions.

Recently I read about an alternative that piqued my interest.  In lieu of specific things to check off a list, some people think of a term or phrase to help them guide their overall approach to the year.  A theme, so to speak.  Almost immediatly I knew 1) that I wanted to try this, and 2) that my theme for 2017 would be "self-improvement".  This idea probably appeals to me in large part because of its minimalistic approach.  The goal is not what follows; the goal is "self-improvement".  It's a very subjective goal, but then, I'm only accountable to myself, so why not?

I have several areas of my life where I have specific action plans in mind to reach the overall goal of self-improvement.

In February, I hope to start meeting with a spiritual director.  I'm waiting for February because a couple of women from my church are being certified in January, and I hope to start meeting with one of them.

Since August, I've been going to monthly Confession.  Similar to broken resolutions, I've noticed that I tend to confess the same sins over and over again, which has helped me isolate some underlying problems that need to be addressed.

Daily prayer and Scripture reading. I was doing pretty well until my son was born.  As could be expected, having a newborn and a preschooler has thrown me off my game.  First thing in the morning was working well for me, but I'm squeezing in as much sleep as I can right now to help ward off postpartum depression and anxiety, which debilitated me for months after my daughter's birth.  And when I get some alone time in the evenings, I'll be honest, I feel like I should use at least some of that time to pray, but I don't.  So this is definitely an area in need of improvement for 2017.

We do pray together every bedtime as a family, and I've tried to pray the Guardian Angel prayer in the mornings with my daughter, and the Angelus at noon.  So we'll want to solidify these practices.

On a positive note, though, when the PTSD-style thoughts creep into my mind, I immediately call on the name of Jesus to push the enemy away.  And you know what?  It works!  So I suppose these count as spontaneous prayers, scattered throughout the day.

Retreat.  I'm not sure I'll be able to swing an overnight weekend retreat this year, as Fernando will only be 9 months old for the women's retreat through my church, and a year old for the silent retreat through my alma mater, and I'm not sure what our nursing status will be by then.  Though I am certainly hoping to not be nursing at night by then, but we'll see.

I've been slowly revamping my wardrobe.  With minimalism as my guiding light, and keeping femininity and modesty at the forefront. The idea is to have only items that I love, that fit me, and that go with more than one other thing.  My color scheme is neutral, so black, white, gray, brown, beige.  I am on a mission to find some solid colored tunics, or mini-dresses that I'd wear as tops, as well as a couple more maxi skirts.

My skin routine seems to have to change as I no longer have oily skin but rather combination.  So I'm in need of a new cleanser.  I think for moisturizer I will stick with the shea butter I got for my daughter last year.

I do want to have a bit of makeup on hand for going out, as eye liner in particular makes me feel more confident and, well, pretty :)  So I'll need to find something with natural ingredients.

I'm due for a new pair of glasses, and I think I'm done trying to get frames that are as inconspicuous as possible.  I think I want to go bold for a change! All around red frames, maybe?  This may end up less expensive as well, since I've been paying for the glass to be treated so as not to be as visible on the bottom, where I don't have a frame.

Exercise.  I suppose this should be in a category of health, but I'm being real here.  I want to lose the rest of my pregnancy weight and get my pre-pregnancy abs back, not because it'll mean I'm healthy, but because it'll make me feel confident and, well, pretty again ;)

Emotional Health.
Basically, I want to deal with my mommy issues with the help of a therapist so I can be a better mom to my kids.

But also, as mentioned above, I'm actively warding off postpartum depression and anxiety.  I refuse to succumb to it again.

I think that covers what I think of when I'm thinking of self-improvement.  So there it is, out there in the virtual world, hopefully to keep me accountable, so that this time next year, I can post about my successes :)

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Holiness, Not Perfection

I have been spending my time on my parenting blog lately because I felt I had said all there was to say for now about my spiritual journey, because I was much more vested in my parenting, and because I had considered merging the two blogs together.  This last point remains unresolved.

As for the other two points, I have come to realize that my spiritual drama, as recorded in the posts on this blog, was in no small way affected by my serious postpartum anxiety and depression.  As it turns out, I had several risk factors for PPD, but due to the early breastfeeding... challenges, shall we say, it went undiagnosed during my postpartum midwife visits.

For starters, I had an awful time getting breastfeeding started with my daughter.  Painful latch due to her being small (5#10oz) and having a low palate (read: I'd have to get the nipple down her throat to avoid it being munched on), resulting nipple damage (as in, piece of skin hanging off and blood trickling down), resulting in mastisis and yeast and breast abscesses needing drainage (twice), leading to the need to supplement with formula, which my idealistic personality did not take lightly ("I'm such a failure for not being able to fully nourish my child!")

Once breastfeeding finally started to get better, we sold our house and moved out of state.  Not only was the move itself stressful (just because that comes with the territory, not because of anything in particular), but also because it meant a new place and environment (I hate change and am very slow to adapt and adjust), and social isolation (because I didn't know anyone, but also because I was exhausted from pouring myself into my new role as mother, unable to tolerate my daughter's cries.)

As I look back, this went on for months - six or seven, to be exact - before life started to gain a new normal and I finally began to have tiny pockets of time for myself that allowed me to think.  And when this happened, I realized that I hadn't been nourshing my relationship with God, and I just lost any sort of connection to the strong faith I thought I had when my daughter was born.

I have met a friend who has experienced something similar.  She used to be religious, or at least spiritual, but after the birth of her son, she has been completely blase about the whole thing.  There's so much talk about people turning TO God after having a child, but to this day I can't find much information about the opposite phenomenon.

Long story short, I now see that my loss of faith was one of the casualties of my postpartum depression and anxiety.  My daughter is now 3 years old, and it's only been about 4 months that I've felt at home again calling myself a practicing Catholic.  The final push in the right direction happened at a spiritual retreat.  I have received the Sacrament of Reconciliation every month since the retreat.  I prayed daily until about 6 weeks ago, when my son was born, at which time prayer became much more sporadic, but is slowly finding its way back into my routine.  I started enjoying the emailed readings of the day associated with daily mass (I had been signed up for years, but had been ignoring them).  Mass stopped being a routine and became a joy again.

The thing I feared most during my "spiritually independent/Deist/Quaker-Reform Jew-wannabe" time is challenging my faith in a good way, it seems.  I'm having to start explaining the basics of our Catholic faith to my daughter, and it's forcing me to truly consider what I believe - as a Catholic - and why, and how to best articulate it to her.

Am I back to where I was three years ago, spiritually?  No.  But interestingly, we went to our old Franciscan parish for Christmas Eve Mass last night, and both Alex and I agreed that we missed our current church!  I was adamant when we moved that we'd never find another church community like Saint Francis, where our daughter was baptized.  I have very fond memories of our time there.  But now I see we have both grown in interesting ways and no longer thrive in a church that focuses on community fellowship.  Instead, at our current church (OLPH), there's the community, but there's something much more meaningful at the center of it - a holy priest who sets the stage for a reverent Mass.  It's a New Order Mass, and yet Fr. Erik manages to keep the occasion solemn yet joyful.  His entire demeanor  points to Our Lord in the Eucharist.  He comments on the Mass, going off script.  He pauses  and kneels in front of the Tabernacle after Communion as the choir sings a "Communion Medidation".  He speaks directly to us, the people, about what the Lord is revealing to him in his private prayer time.  You can tell that this man spends time with the Lord, that he takes his calling seriously, and that he has a genuine love for the people God has entrusted him with.  I love Fr. Erik, and I credit "his Masses" to keeping my interest piqued while I attended merely out of obligation or tradition.

At any rate, I am Catholic, but it doesn't mean I necessarily agree with everything that is taught "top-down".  Nonetheless, I respect the reasons behind all the church teachings, and I certainly take them into consideration.  What's more, I wrestle with things I disagree with and try to challenge myself as to why I disagree.  Why do I give more credit to societal views over church teaching?  Am I that much of the world that I value what's "PC" over what's being faithful to the church of God?  Perhaps there are things I don't need to agree with, or undersand.  I try to focus on those areas of Catholicism that bring me joy, that help me grow into a better person, and figure the rest may be there for others.  Because there's something for everyone in the Catholic church.

Turns out that the Catholic church - like me - may be striving for holiness, not perfection.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

How Parenting Has Affected My Faith

I am happy to be returning to this blog with the annoncement that I am, once again, "fully Catholic". That's not to say that there's really such a thing as a "partial Catholic", just that I FEEL Catholic, and that I am actively living a Catholic life, however imperfect, striving for virtue and faith.

It has been a long journey, over two years.  Being given several months of clarity to reflect on what went wrong before being launched into the postpartum period again next month, I've been able to determine what went wrong.  Why did I lose my faith?  What can I do differently this time around?

You see, I pretty much blame postpartum depression/anxiety on my loss of faith.  So as I prepare to give birth to baby #2 next month, I worried that any progress I may have made in the interim may be compromised yet again in the postpartum period.

Prior to the birth of Maya, Alex and I were very involved in our church community, had an active prayer life at home, and had overcome several trials of faith.  Our prayers had been answered with the blessing of our daughter, and it killed me to be feeling anything but eternal gratitude to God.

Here's what I believe contributed to my postpartum depression/anxiety and the resulting loss of faith.

1. Breastfeeding challenges. Within a week of birth, I suffered nipple damage that resulted in a breast infection (mastisis), breast absceses that needed to be drained twice, and a yeast infection, all of which contributed to my limited milk supply and the heart-wrenching decision to supplement with formula.  It took a full two months to resolve our breastfeeding challenges, thanks in huge part to a godsend of a lactation consultant, Angela, and the fact that Maya had a chance to grow a bit, thus resolving the low palate issue that caused the initial nipple damage.

2. Loss of familiar surroundings. Almost as soon as the breastfeeding issues were resolved, we sold our house and moved to be closer to Alex's work.  While this was the best decision for our family without any doubt, it did bring about severe stress.  For one, the house we spent a decade together, the house where I had just given birth to our daughter, was gone.

3. Loss of a support network. We moved out of state, away from what limited support network I would've otherwise had.  I didn't know anyone, friend or relative, and was very isolated home alone with a newborn.  As much as I've wanted and enjoyed being home with our daughter, in retrospect I see that I really needed some sort of social outlet to help normalize the situation.

4.  Neglect of healthy lifestyle.  We resorted to convenience foods, low on the nutritional scale, and certainly didn't think beyond getting sleep whenever possible.  There was no thought of exercise, or hydration, or a social life outside the home, or personal development, or couple-time.  There was only being "on" with full-on care of our baby, or desperately catching some sleep whenever possible.  In my case in particular, sleep is a big necessity.  My body requires 8-10 hours of uninterrupted sleep to feel fully refreshed.  Needless to say I was not getting any meaningful stretch of uninterrupted sleep, much less the amount my body needs.

The above put me into survival mode.  I was just going from day to day, trying to make sure our daughter was safe, fed, clean, repeat.  I had completely ignored all other aspects of myself, my identity, my life. I avoided leaving the house, including to church, for the first month or so, finally venturing out for Christmas Vigil mass, because I didn't want germs around my precious baby.  So even before we moved, I had distanced myself from the church community that meant so much to me.  Somehow, prayer also got lost in the shuffle.  There's no other way to describe it: I was in survival mode.

I had ridiculously high expectations of myself and what it meant to me to finally be given the opportunity to parent, to be a mother.  That's why our breastfeeding challenges were such a deep blow to me.  I couldn't even articulate the disapointment I felt over having to introduce a bottle on day 6 of Mayas life, of having to feed her factory-produced formula that I couldn't vouch for myself.

This muggy mental state that resulted, primarily from sleep deprivation but also from unrecognized stress factors (the move, social isolation, and already feeling like a failure in motherhood) contributed to the onset of my postpartum depression and anxiety.  It either didn't kick in until after 6 weeks post-partum, or I didn't realize it was already underway until then.  Afterall, I did go to my 2 week and 6 week postpartum visits with my midwife, and they do screen for depression, yet it wasn't flagged at those times.  By the time my 6 month postpartum visit came around, I had been to hell and back mentally.

For four months straight, isolated and sleep deprived, I suffered from horrible visual images of worst-case scenarios popping into my mind throughout the day.  There didn't seem to be any discernible trigger.  If one of our dogs caught my attention, my mind went straight to my baby being attacked by the dog.  If I wanted to go sit out on our balcony with baby on my lap, my mind went straight to accidentally tripping and dropping baby over the banister.  I know parents worry, but this wasn't worry, this was as if I was having flash-backs of horrible things that actually happened.  I imagine post-traumatic stress disorder works in a similar way.  There's no reason for the thoughts, they just creep in and take over any sense of logic.  I stopped watching crime shows with Alex at this time, and the news, thinking that perhaps the violence there is what subconsciously triggers violent thoughts for me.  It's now been over two and a half years since I've been censoring what I view.  (And if you knew me, you'd know how much I enjoyed watching shows like Elementary or NCIS with Alex.)

Presumably because my mind was constantly occupied with violent visuals or subconscious fears of another vision episode catching me off guard, I just went about my daily life on auto-pilot.  Around four months post-partum, I started being able to incorporate housework into my daily life.  I took tons of photos and videos of my precious daugher.  I was very keenly aware of the miracle she was in multiple ways.  My entire life revolved around doing everything I possibly could to give her the best start in life.  I jumped into attachment parenting with both feet first, and only in retrospect have I realized that I completely ignored one of the principles of AP: balance.  I did not seek to balance my daughter's needs with mine at all.

Most of our parenting decisions I continue to stand by, even though outsiders may think they contributed to my sense of overwhelm.  However, I definitely went overboard with a few, and this is where hope enters in.  Having recognized that I did not do Maya any favors by neglecting my own mental health, I intend to be vigilent and proactive about my own mental state with her baby brother.

First of all, I do not have to worry about moving or social isolation this time around, which already gives me a sense of ease.  We are settled into our new house and I've made friends locally.  As for breastfeeding, I cannot predict if we'll also struggle or not, but I know now to immediately seek out a lactation consultant if need be, and we know of one through our church.  We have develped a bit of a sense of community at our new church, and my faith has returned to a good working place. I know that there are a few things I have to keep at the forefront of my mind in order to avoid slipping back into mental chaos.

Daily prayer.
Weekly Mass attendance.
Monthly Confession.
Regular visits with friends (most likely playdates)
Regular alone time while kids enjoy daddy-and-me time (we started this with Maya)
Daily exercise: family walk or yoga while the kids play or dancing with the kids
Weekly one-on-one connection with each child (while Maya is having daddy-and-me time, baby brother is having mommy-and-me time, and vice versa)
Every few months, Alex and I need to find a way to connect just the two of us.  (We don't require frequent date nights, as the past three years have proven.  We are happy to take Maya with us when we go out to eat, and that is always a nice treat with no need to worry about childcare.  Also, car trips usually allow for adult conversations, though lately our little jibber-jabber has been struggling with giving us our own conversation time.)
Annual spiritual retreat.  I don't know if we'll be ready when baby brother is only 8 or 9 months old, as the annual women's retreat through our church is in August.  It will all depend on his sleep and nursing.

Which actually brings me to the Balance aspect of attachment parenting, and how I hope it will contribute to a saner post-partum period and baby/toddler years.  I did not hold anything back when it came to breastfeeding and cosleeping. What's more, I took it upon myself to practice elimination communication, which was great during the daytime, and Alex and I both agree that it was worth the effort (Maya has been diaper-free since 18 months, completely out of pull ups for backup on outings since 2.5, mostly bc we finally got up the courage to trust her.)

I was able to reestablish exclusive breastfeeding for three months before solids entered the picture with Maya, and I wanted to make up for the formula I had to feed her in the first three months of her life.  I still intend to breastfeed on cue, however - especially if we are spared the trauma we went through with Maya - I now know that you can, indeed mix breast with bottle without any dire consequences (something I feared the first time around but was forced to find out was unwarranted), and so perhaps we can have some night feedings done by daddy with pumped milk, and if so, I may very well be able to attend next year's spiritual retreat.

Sleep.  Sweet sleep. I simply cannot provide the same environment to my second baby as I did to my first, as that would involve neglecting my older child.  I cannot be of any use to either of them sleep-deprived, and so I will be more strict in this sense.  I do not adhere to crying it out.  I do not believe in "sleep training" per se.  However, I do now recognize that just because a baby cries doesn't mean I'm doing something wrong.  I simply did not want to hear my daughter cry, and that was a mistake. With my son, I will take a different approach.

For starters, since we saw how successful it was for us to watch our daughter for signs of needing to use the potty, and how that enabled us to keep from teaching her to go in the diaper, then why can't we apply the same approach to sleep?  Basically, we will watch him for signs of sleepiness, and place him in his bassinet to fall asleep there.  I won't make it a habit of letting him fall asleep at the breast every time, even though I know it's only natural that he'll get drowsy nursing.  I won't just drop him off and leave the room, either.  But I want him to learn that sleep is something that he can do on his own, if still in the viscinity of loved ones.  I don't see why I didn't do this with Maya.  I kept a meticulous log of the times she ate, slept, eliminated!  I could've easily looked back to see when I should be encouraging sleep by placing her down instead of letting her get used to falling asleep in our arms, especially at my breast.  I will be keeping a log with baby brother too, so after the first week or two, I will look back to see if a rough "schedule" could be drafted for his sleep times.  (I do shutter at the word "schedule" on one hand, but on the other hand, I know that limits allow freedom, both for me and the kids, so I just need to view it as something we do in moderation, but that we do do.)

And as for elimination communication, we will definitely do it again, but I will definitely not deprive myself of further sleep in order to be putting him on the potty in the middle of the night when he's still peeing multiple times at night!  (I did this with Maya, and had to take a break at 10 months to save my sanity.  Lo and behold, when I returned to it a few months later, I noticed she was able to hold her urine all night, and she actually started staying dry at night before daytime dryness.)  So we will defintiely take him to the potty during the day when at home, but we will definitely not stress about him wearing diapers on outings, and I won't be getting up at night to put him on the potty for the first year. If I'm up anyway, to nurse him or change a diaper, then of course might as well sit him on the potty.  But I need to stop waking up at every little sound and movement my cosleeping baby makes!  If he pees in his diaper at night, so be it.  The trade off is a happier, better rested mama.  I'm sorry, but my Eco-Idol needs to go.  I do now think that sanity is worth a diaper in the landfill (since I'd want disposables at night to minimize discomfort and thus wake-ups; cloth during the day for sure!  I'm not planning on worrying about accidents left and right either by letting him go diaper-free before his skills have been tested.)

So with those three parenting adjustments, the different set of circumstances in our living situation, and my conscious decision to maintain a balance in my own well-being, I hope to keep post-partum depression/anxiety at bay, and by extension, keep my faith growing and going in the right direction.

This post started out being about the state of my faith, but I think the practical analysis will prove to be more helpful in its application.  Bottom line, I do not want to lose my faith again.  I am choosing to remain Catholic.  I am choosing to believe in the fundementals of Catholicism.  I am choosing to focus on those areas of Catholic faith and spirituality that nurture my desire for holiness and virtue.  I am choosing to ignore those areas of faith that create in me any sense of doubt, skepticism, or temptation to "use my intellect or reason".

God exists.  God created me.  God loves me.  Death is a mere transition to a more complete state of being with God.  These things I know and believe with every fiber of my being, and these are the things I want to nurture from a uniquely Catholic perspective, because why not?  Catholicism is my heritage, it's a beautiful religion, and it makes no difference that others may find exactly the same thing in another tradition.  To each their own.  Catholicism is for me.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Are We Related?

I have been doing a little geneology with the help of DNA tests with the ultimate goal of finding Maya's genetic siblings and donors.  In the process, I tested myself, my dad, and Alex, just to get my feet wet before we figured out how to collect Maya's saliva, and to get a little used to all the jargon and navigation of the various websites.

Two things I've learned that have sort of put on its head everything we think we know about family relations.  I've long held to the belief that blood is NOT thicker than water.  That circumstantial relationships are in now way inherently more valuable than those we forge out of our own free will (ie. family vs friends).

Likewise, I've never doubted that if we adopted a child, it would be our child through and through, no questions asked.  Adoption was actually our plan A. When we were pursuing open adoption, I likened incorporating the birth family the same way one incorporates one's in-laws - you inherit them with the spouse or child that you gain.  You may not like them or get along, but they are important to your spouse (or child), so they're important to you.  End of discussion.

But nonetheless, I still believed that these were philosophical interpretations of family relations, and that in the end, if push came to shove, genetics were still important and still defined the basic, natural (as in based in nature, not to be confused with "normal"), idealized definition of what it means to be a family, to be related to someone, to know one's roots.

Ah, one's roots.  And this is where things start to get interesting.  As it turns out, our DNA, our genetics, is not the be-all-end-all of our heritage the way we might think.  For instance, one might accept that if someone is related to one of my parents, then automatically, that person is related to me.  Right?  Not necessarily, if your definition is based on pure genetics.  You see, we don't inherit all of the genes of both of our parents, as this would mean a doubling of genes with every generation since the dawn of time.  So we lose many of those genetic markers that would tell us that we are related to someone because we share the same genes.

One can have two siblings with the same two parents come up related to different people based on DNA test results.  There's not even a generational gap to blame here!  It's just that which genes we inherit are completely random.  Granted, this generally happens as you start to move a bit away from the nuclear family and get into cousin territory, but the point is that when looking at a physical drawing of a family tree, there likely wouldn't be hard core genetic evidence to prove each person on that tree is related to each other person in that same line!

So what makes us related to the relatives we don't share genes with?  Social convention!  Not even the fact of growing up together, as would be the case with an adoptive family.  Not even knowing each other intimately, as in the case of spouses.  There are people in your family tree whom you've never met, never even heard of, with whom you may or may not share a single gene, and yet they're "family".

Or are they?

And this is where I think defining family becomes of utmost importance.  I grew up in my own biological family.  My immediate family is small by most standards.  I know my grandparents (4), aunts (3), and first cousins (5), which add up to 13 people (I also knew my maternal great-grandmother).  I have never seen all of them together in one spot.  We were never very close.  So to have a DNA test suggest that people with last names I've never heard of, from areas of the world I've never been to, are my "family" is completely ludicrous.  I don't know anything about my parent's cousins, much less their kids, or the siblings of my grandparents (with the exception of my maternal grandmother, who was an only child).  We share relatively close family members, and yet if you put us in a room together, we would be complete strangers to each other.

Another interesting layer is the fact that gene loss over generations in families that have mixed between ethnicities (I'd venture to say this means all of our families if you look back far enough), this means that not only that we have relatives of ethnicites different from our own (which in modern times is a very common occurrence), but more surprisingly, that depending on who procreated with whom, our own ethnicity could have been totally different from what we accept it to be.

With mixed race individuals, whose relatives intermingled recently enough to be aware of it, some people claim one race over the other (often the one that they most stereotypically resemble as far as their phenotype goes, but other times the one of the parent who had the biggest influence on their upbringing, regardless of shared phenotype), while others insist on membership in both.  (I say "both" rather than "all" because it is most common to have each parent strongly identify with one race or ethnicity, even if they themselves are mixed, resulting in two main competing racial identities for the offspring.)

But what about several generations into the future to our modern day mixed race individuals?  They are not a new phenomenon.  So what about that mixed race individual in our own family tree, say a hundred years ago?  For instance, I am Polish, of two Polish parents, born in Poland.  Until I took my DNA test, I thought of myself as "100% Polish", at least genetically speaking.  (Socially, I went back and forth between Polish, American, and Polish-American.)  My DNA test revealed mixing among most of the European peoples over the years, with only 75% "Eastern European" (so not even 75% Polish - this could include modern day Ukraine, Lithuania, Slovakia, Belarus, the Czech Republic, and Russia (countries that currently border Poland), as well as more than a dozen other countries considered part of the eastern bloc.  Believe me, we differentiate between each other!  So who knows how much of that 75% is "truly" Polish.

But these are still all white nationalities, albeit with some phenotypical variation among the northern versus southern countries.  What about that interesting 0.2% West African and 0.1% North African ancestry that may be small percentage-wise but nonetheless was enough to come up on my chromosomes.  I also tested my father, and I got these genes from my dad - his mom, to be exact, as they're only on my X chromosome that corresponds to my dad, and only on his X chromosome.  But he also has 0.4% South Asian and 0.2% East Asian that was not passed on to me.  At what point did his ancestors stop being African and Asian?  Had they procreated with other Africans and Asians instead of Europeans, we'd be seeing very different results.

Am I supposed to identify only with my most recent ancestors' race/ethnicity?  What if the percentages had been much higher, and I'd be much closer to my African and Asian ancestors? (Are my dad's Asian ancestors my ancestors too?  Because I didn't inherit any of those traits.)  This is what mixed race individuals with recently mixed relatives (parents, grandparents) are forced to decide, because society sees us as belonging to whatever race or ethnicity we happen to resemble, completely regardless of what our genetics say, or in what culture we were raised.

Perhaps that is the problem - that we allow others to label our racial and ethnic identities, and that we think we can do likewise for others.  This is what is wrong with our modern American racial categorization system.  It's not based on science.  It's not based on people's lived experiences.  It's based on looks.

And yet.... what about the now infamous Rachel Dolezal? That controversy proved that while we may like to label people based on what they look like, we don't like it when people once labeled a certain way take it upon themselves to try to change that.  It's not enough to be labeled by others based on one's looks.  Those looks have to also conform to our preconceived notions of what people with certain recent ancestors are supposed to look like.  Confused?

I'm not saying Rachel Dolezal had a right to claim membership in the Black community.  But let's be honest, if her DNA test happened to reveal a previously unknown 6% African ancestry, even though she had two "white" parents and "looked white" herself, would she then have a right to that part of her ancestry?  Or would it have to be more recent?  25% (one grandparent)?  Where would the acceptable claim to African heritage change over for her?  At 12%? And why that number and not 50%?  So really, the idea that someone can label someone else based on something as fickle as DNA or - even worse - as unreliable as phenotype is highly unscientific and subjective, not to mention seemingly a waste of time.

In summary, we may claim membership in an ethnicity of a more recent ancestor even if we didn't actually inherit any of their genes.  But someone else with a more distant ancestor of a different ethnicity who passed on mere trace amounts of that ethnicity may not have a right to claim membership in that ethnicity.  Kind of blows your mind, doesn't it?  I know for me, it makes me question everything we think we know about what makes a family and what constitutes one's ethnic or racial identity.

When I first shared my DNA results with some friends, mentioning my 0.3% African heritage, the immediate question-in-jest was, "So now you're Black?"  But it's a valid question.  Remember the "one drop rule"?  A person with 50% Black parentage was marked as Black on their birth certificate, and if they went on to procreate with a white person, even though their child would technically be 25% Black, their birth certificate would state Black.  And then that child could grow up to procreate with another white person, but still their technically 12% Black/88% white child would be marked as Black on their birth certificate.  All because of a social convention that allowed outsiders to label people according to the mere presence - however small - of Black ancestry.  According to this reasoning, yes, I would be Black!

But does that actually make sense? No, you say?  How is this any different from any of the racial labeling that we do? There's not really a good solution, is there?  We can't exactly say that people can label themselves whatever race they feel like it, because racial labels would lose all meaning that way.... Or, wait, maybe that's exactly what we need to do to forge into a post-racial society?  Then again, that sounds too much like a color-blind society, which would be pretty dull and also divorced from reality.  We do have differences based on cultural upbringing and physical features, and these should be celebrated.  We shouldn't fight over who is the biggest victim or whose culture or features should determine the standard.  I don't have the answers, just more questions.  But I've definitely become a stronger racial skeptic through considering these questions.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Religion, Emotion, Community

This may be obvious to some, but I've been thinking how being religious is essentially being emotionally-driven.  At least that's what it means to me.  When I think about the time of my life when I was most religious, I was on an ongoing emotional ride.  I don't mean that I was moody, but rather that I saw the world through a series of feelings.  I interpreted everything around me according to how it made me feel. Actually, I think I still do, in general.

What's changed is the feelings that now arise when it comes to religious topics are no longer what they used to be.  They're not passionate, mysterious, encouraging, even interesting or interested feelings.  Overall, religion stirs in me a feeling of ambivalence.  There are aspects of religion that actually make me feel slightly disappointed, repulsed even.

And yet, I know I still have it in me to experience feelings of awe, gratitude, beauty, enormity, peace, joy around religion.  It has to be a particular scenario.  It looks like this.

I'm alone, and it's quiet.  I'm surrounded by beauty - either of nature (which I hardly think I need to explain), or traditional church art: stained glass letting the sun's rays sparkle as they sneak in.  Statues of figures expressing their own emotions, of piety, wisdom, compassion, sorrow, peace.

Given enough time alone with my thoughts, I'm able to allow my surroundings to penetrate past the outer layer of my earthly identity, and resonate deep inside, reminding me of my spiritual self.  I feel - yes, feel - a part of something bigger, something that isn't limited by religious explanations or human labels.  I'm reassured of life being something far beyond mere earthly existence.  It's vague, yes, but familiar and certain.

Religion, the religion of my upbringing, is likewise familiar, but neither vague nor certain.  Organized religion is very specific as to how the world around us ought to be explained, and how each of us ought to live our lives.  And yet, there is only flimsy evidence, at best, to support any of their claims.  It's the familiarity that keeps me coming back.  It's the link I have to my personal spirituality.

The two used to go hand in hand so well.  At first, because I was ignorant of what the Church actually taught, so I was free to run with whatever interpretation happened to occur to me.  Also, because I was surrounded by family who likewise had their own interpretations, and those are the ones I went with. Finally, because I was convinced of the Church's own explanations and fully believed what was taught.

Over time, I lost a sense of community I didn't even realize I had.  I no longer believed what the Church taught, so I was at odds with other church members.  And I didn't maintain relationships with relatives nor form new ones with others who had similar views.  It's hard to find people with my same views on spiritual matters because they are so eclectic.  (That's why Alex and I get along so well.)

So here I am, with no religious or spiritual community in spite of regular church attendance.  And no personal spiritual practice that I blame on the business of motherhood.  And all that's left is complaints and guesses as to when exactly my exodus from the faith began, and if there's any hope of ever returning.

I don't care about being "right" or even knowing "truth", which so many religions claim to provide, but which I don't believe can be explained, only experienced.  I only miss the emotions that gave me a consistent spiritual high from my religiosity.

Pious people will say this is the wrong reason to seek religion.  That one shouldn't expect religion to make us feel good.  These are the people who believe their religion is "the truth", so we can't really find common ground.

Secular folks will tell me to find fulfillment in other areas of my life.  But this is dismissive of the very real grief that I feel for having lost something that was once very dear to me.  I don't expect them to understand, either.

There's probably others like me who just muddle through, keeping their disappointments - in themselves, circumstances, their religion, or all three - to themselves.  They put on a happy face, pretend that nothing has changed, and just find other passions to occupy the empty space inside that was once fulfilled by their faith.

I find it hard to believe that that's the best I can do.  That that's what God wants for my life.  Yes, that's right, just because I'm not religious doesn't mean I don't believe in God.  I most certainly do.  I do not know the nature of God, other than that God is creative and awe-inspiring and eternal.  I don't know if God is personal, in that I can talk to Him or that He has a personalized interest in my life.  I used to believe this, but I just don't know anymore.

Perhaps the problem really is just with having to reset my expectations.  Religion has always been a big part of my life in one way or another.  I turned to it for comfort and explanations and community.  Maybe I just need to find these elsewhere in order to be satisfied with the diminished role that religion now plays in my life.  I may need to split these up - comfort from one thing, explanations from elsewhere, community somewhere unrelated to either one.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Birth Options Ambivalence

Feeling majorly blah.  About this pregnancy and the inevitable birth options.  About my plateaued spiritual life.  About life in general, really.  But here I want to focus on the birth options aspect.

My daughter was born at home.  It was a planned homebirth, and all things considering, it went well. 13 hours of early labor that really was nothing to write home about, and I see zero reason for having any need to be in a hospital during that time.  Five hours of active labor which commenced with my waters breaking, and the first two of them spent alone, as Alex was stuck in traffic coming home from work.  He had to make the hour and a half commute because our daughter came two weeks early, and he had to tie up loose ends to start his family leave earlier than expected.  By the time midwife and birth assistant arrived, I was in the zone, butt naked without a care in the world.  I've never felt so in the moment as I did during labor.  Neither the past nor the future existed for those several hours. I pushed for a mere 15 minutes, and voila!

However, our birth tub never got filled, I didn't really utilize the hypno babies techniques because I felt confused as to what I was supposed to do when on D-day.  Hypnosis and water were the two comfort measures I was counting on, so it sucked not having either.  I needed several interventions after delivery (stitches, IV, pitocin to stop blood loss).  Our nursing relationship was off to a rough start from the word go, taking nearly three months to finally regulate.  And I suffered postpartum anxiety (probably depression too) for over six months.  I didn't hold my daughter skin-to-skin immediately after birth because she was wrapped in a blanket, probably bc we wanted to discover the baby's sex on our own.  I took meticulous notes of sleep, diaper changes, and nursings, and I didn't put Maya to the breast until a full hour after birth, right around the time we found out we had a girl.

Then I felt drained and sleep deprived, as I suppose is to be expected, wearing disposable underwear to soak up my lochia (sexy, I know), and had to drag my tiny, under 6 pounds baby in what looked like an abnormally humongous car seat to the pediatrician three days post birth, which felt sort of counterproductive to having gone through all the trouble of having her at home.

We waited to tell people to avoid having masses of visitors when we were trying to bond, which proved to be sort of unnecessary and backfired a bit with some people.

All in all, I planned the birth I thought I wanted if it was going to be the only such experience I would have, which I didn't know would not be the case until recently.  I made decisions based on the ideals I read about - much like I generally do in other areas of my life.  I wanted to avoid a hospital bc I didn't think I could advocate for myself as a first time mom, shy to start, against hospital bullies.  And considering the hospital that we were closest to, that was probably a pretty spot-on consideration.

But birthing at home meant a lot more responsibility shouldered by us, from arrangements, to purchase of supplies, to clean up.

To be fair, I have nothing to compare my experience to, but trying to be objective, I'd probably give it a B+.  Apparently, shortly after birth, I had two conversations, with Alex and my mom, stating that I felt I've accomplished what I wanted - I could say I had a homebirth, and that should there be another baby, I don't feel as strongly about it anymore.

And that brings us to today.  I'm pregnant a second time, and I'm having to realize that I cannot - nor should I - try to do everything the same way I did with my daughter.  The siblings will be two separate individuals, with different needs etc.

But I don't have a great alternative in mind.  I mainly feel disappointed that I didn't use hydrotherapy or hypnotherapy during my first birth, and I wonder if it really would've made a difference.  I'd like the opportunity to find out, and I'm trying to decide if another homebirth is the best scenario to do so. I sort of know what to expect, we have better circumstances that should allow us to prevent some of the pitfalls of our first experience.  It's not so much that our homebirth was such an amazing experience.  It wasn't.  It's just that I'm concerned about the policies of the hospital being imposed on me, my baby, my family, my birthing time.

I'm concerned that in spite of agreement to the opposite, my birth plan will be ignored.
That I will be put on the clock from the moment I show up, and that my labor will stall due to unnecessary interventions such as fetal monitoring, IV, or just the stress of being in a strange environment.
That I will be told what I can and cannot eat or drink.  (Granted, I had no desire to eat during active labor, but it was amazing to have graham crackers with nutella as my first mom meal, courtesy Alex.)
That I will inadvertently feel pressured to deliver on someone else's schedule.
That I will be encouraged to get an epidural.
That I will be discouraged from freely moving about and assuming various positions.
That I will be separated from my husband or my baby at any time.
That I will be rushed to let my baby go through routine checks so they can check me off their list, instead of letting us bond immediately afterwards.
That I will be put in a situation where I will have to deliver my baby in a way I don't want to - outside the tub, or worse, on my back.
That I will be yelled at to push.  I actually want to try not to push at all this time around!
That I won't be allowed to leave with the placenta. Therefore I won't be able to get it encapsulated, something I hope will help keep ppd/a at bay this time around.

Ok, so really, I don't really see the appeal of going to the hospital to deliver my baby.  I'm just thinking I want it to go differently than the first time.  But that can and will happen with another homebirth.  We have debriefed, we know what went "wrong" and what can be done differently this time around.  Weather I deliver at home or in the hospital, neither choice is the "easy" way.  Either way, I still have to "go through it".

I should count my blessings that I have the full support of my husband, and that I have a dedicated person (my sister in law) willing to come up to watch Maya so that I don't have to worry about her and she can still be nearby, arbitrary policies be darned.

So my conclusion is that switching to the hospital may seem like a quick fix, but in reality it would be a disaster to opt for that option barring any real medical reason.  I already know how it can go, and even if it's not ideal or the way other women have described their experiences, it wouldn't be so bad if my other birth experience were as good as the first.  Even if not better.

Ok, so what remains is to make the commitment to the midwives from before, which includes $300 out of pocket, always a good incentive for me ;)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

How to Grow Up

For years I have reflected on not feeling like an adult, mulling over theories as to why that was. Sheltered upbringing, shy disposition, internalized negative views about myself.  Now that I am in my late (argh!) 30s, I know what I need to do to shake this nonesense once and for all.  Basically, I cannot care what others - my mother in particular - think of me.  I cannot go through life trying to please someone else.

It doesn't matter if my mom approves of what I eat, how I raise my daughter, or who my friends are.  It doesn't matter what she thinks about my decisions or preferences.  She has her own opinion, but I have mine, which is equally valid.  I am not her.  If she takes it personally that I make different decisions from ones she would make, that is frankly not my problem.

Of course I hate to see my mom upset or disappointed, but I cannot keep thinking that these reactions can in any way be mitigated by me.  I do not control her - and she does not control me.  I say this, I believe it, now I wonder how long it will take before I internalize it and start living as though I'm my own person, regardless if I have my mom's approval or not.  Her approval doesn't make my decisions ok.  My decisions need to be ok on their own.  Only I am responsible for my decisions, whether she likes them or not.

It's going to be hard to try to overhaul 30+ years of trying to please my mom though. Still, it's the only way to go forward.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Hot Spiritual Mess

Reclaiming my faith hasn't been easy.  (Well, neither was early pregnancy, or moving in the midst of the worst nausea I could've imagined.)  I joined a Catholic young adult book club and just finished reading the book that we are starting to discuss on Tuesday (I can't seem to pace myself.)  Made for More by Curtis Martin. When I first read about this book study, I hadn't yet made the leap back home to the RCC.  I actually asked if this book would be a good fit for someone who didn't quite believe at all.  By the time I ordered the book, I had technically come back home, and was eager to read about how I was made for more.

As I read the book, I realized that my mind found absolutely no objections to what was being discussed.  And yet, to say I believed, in the same way that I believe in a creator God and eternal life, that would not be accurate.  I believe in eternal life and a creator God with every fiber of my being, not so much as a matter of faith, but rather as a matter of fact.  I'm ok not knowing all the details, but those two things I simply cannot phathom not being true.

But as far as the Christian bend on spiritual reality, it's more a work in progress.  I'm making my mind up that I want to believe, I'm purposefully ignoring the thoughts and influences that in the past I've allowed to carry me away from the possibility of believing in Christ.  I'm trusting that God will meet me where I am, which, to be honest, isn't very close to where I'd like to be.  It's sort of like trying to convince myself that Santa Clause is real.  Sort of.

As I was reading, it occurred to me that one of my obstacles is the violence that is at the center of the storyline.  I have sworn off tv shows I used to love, such as the NCIS series, after postpartum anxiety got the better of me and my imagination would take off on its own with violent thoughts at random points in the day.  I have never gone - nor do I ever intend to go - to the Holocaust Museum, because I don't need the visual evidence to understand the enormity of the evil that took place.  It happened to my family, in my country, I grew up hearing first hand accounts of World War II.  It's as real as it needs to be for me.

Which interestingly reminds me of how there are actually people who continue to deny that the Holocaust actually took place.  Or American slavery.  These are the people who need to go to these museums, to watch the documentaries, to be faced with the reality head on.  But these are the people that I'm afraid I'm like when it comes to my faith.  Is the horror of the Crucifixion so great that my overly sensitive spirit simply cannot take it all in?  Is it too much for me to be able to form a life-giving faith around such a violent event?  

You see, in the heyday of my faith, I actually did meditate on the Stations of the Cross.  I actually did enter into the Way of the Cross.  I physically would get weak from the mere thought of what Jesus had to endure.  I ached at the sights of the blows, thorns, nails.... It became very real to me, and now I wonder if it was too real for me to handle.  

Am I simply in denial?  Is the reality of Jesus's suffering too much for me to handle, so I'm just blocking it out?  Does the thought of martyrdom as evidence of the convincing faith of the early (and later) Christians force me to realize that I can't sit on the fence, just observing my Catholic Christian faith as if it were an entertaining movie that I didn't actually have to get my hands dirty for?

I may want my religion, my faith, my spirituality to be minimalist, simple, clean, but being a true Catholic Christian does not allow for the easy route.  And so I am immediately faced with the choice - am I with Jesus, or not?  Am I a follower or just a fan of his work?  

You see, cultural or not, I grew up Catholic.  I believe in Purgatory.  I believe God desires salvation for all of us, and that even after death, we have the opportunity to return to Our Father.  So hellfire and damnation doesn't work on me.  I am not scared of hell, because I don't believe I'm going there.  I don't believe Scriptures prove hell, just post-death torment for those who didn't get right with God in time.  But I believe this is not eternal.  As I write this, I find it ridiculous.  Does it matter if the torment lasts a day or eternity?  As weary as I am of pain and suffering in my earthly life, you'd think I'd be highly motivated to avoid even a little bit of "cleansing by fire" (Malachi 3:3).

I am taking God's goodness and mercy for granted, I know.  I expect Him to be all-loving and therefore to understand my struggles and shortcomings and forgive me.  But I am not ignorant of what Jesus said when tempted by Satan: "You shall not put the Lord your God to the test" (Luke 4:12).

I still have a long way to go.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A Few Random Thoughts: I'm Pregnant, Moving, Reclaiming My Faith

So I am pregnant.  It was interesting that one of the first thoughts I had after learning that the embryo implanted was that this is my third pregnancy.  Up until recently, I kept thinking, do I count my very first, chemical pregnancy?  After all, it was only a week, and had I not been doing fertility treatments, I wouldn't have even thought anything of it, just a very heavy, slightly late period.  And what about the other time when the embryos just didn't implant?  Some people consider pregnancy to start with conception, at least natural pregnancy.  I once had an argument with a lady who claimed a petri dish was pregnant with IVF-conceived kids, until they were transferred into their mother's womb.  I did a lot of eye rolling during that argument. Just because I was aware of there having been a couple of embryos in my womb for 10 days before learning that they didn't implant doesn't mean I was pregnant with them.  Yes, I lost those embryos, but I lost an embryo this last cycle too, in the thawing process.  I was no more pregnant with this one than with the others.  I guess I think of pregnancy as a give-and-take. The kid's got to show an interest and effort in sticking around!

At any rate, I am remaining tentative as I wait for next week's ultrasound to confirm that all is going according to plan.  I've already shared the news with a few close folks, much sooner than I did with our daughter.  I think I'm just more resigned to the alternative, and I feel bad about that.  I desperately wanted each of the first three FETs to work because it meant the difference between being a mom and not being a mom.  This time, I'm a mom no matter what, and I'm not looking forward to doing the whole childbirth and newborn thing again.  But what I am looking forward to is our entire lives after these next two years.  When my kids can bond and grow close and share something neither I nor their dad can give them, and that's a genetic relative and someone who knows what it's like to not know one's genetic ancestors.

I keep feeling bad about not being as excited about this new baby, but if I'm being honest, I didn't bond with Maya either, until a while after birth.  But once I did, oh boy!  She's the center of my universe!  So I know it'll be the same with the new guy.  Of course, I also realize that no child, no person ought to be the center of my universe.  That only if I center my life on God will I experience an authentically rewarding life.  And I'm working on that.

As I become reacquainted with my faith again, I continue to be amazed at how God used this second baby to turn me back to Him.  I still have thoughts of doubt, but I remind myself that my faith isn't cut and dry.  I don't believe verbatim what my religion teaches.  I believe there is truth to be found in it, but I believe it requires discernment.

On a related thought, I've also thought about how I've been guilty of exoticising groups I don't belong to, both cultural and religious.  I'm trying to look at my own religious heritage with fresh eyes, and not as if only other religions can hold my attention.

We close on our house this week.  We start moving this week.  By the end of next month, my parents may already be moving in with us.  Life will never be the same again.  But then again, that's how you know you're living.  Life is not about standing in place, but about change.  That's why it's so important to try to live in the moment.  Appreciate each moment as it comes, but don't place too much importance on it, because it, too, shall eventually pass.  Only God remains the same.  Only the promises we have in Christ.  And I say Christ not from an exclusionary perspective, as in non-Christians don't have access to these promises. That's just the way I am choosing to make sense of the world around me.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Spring is in the Air!

And with it, it brings new life!  Today marks the third anniversary of Maya's homecoming (ie. the day we transferred her embryo).  Tomorrow we will find out if our last FET will give her a sibling or not. And over the weekend, yesterday in particular, there has been a resurrection of a different kind in my life.

For about the past two years, since after Maya's baptism and our move to Maryland, I have struggled with my faith.  At first it was just not a priority, then as I tried to get back into it, I realized I didn't feel it was a good fit and considered other faith traditions (yet again), and finally, I tried to makes sense of the label of spiritual independent and/or Deist.  Last August, I attended a women's retreat through my Catholic church as a last ditch effort to remain Catholic.  The advice I was given on that retreat was to not only keep attending mass, but to go back to receiving Communion, even if I didn't believe in the Real Presence or the creed, because God would meet me where I was.

So I decided that I still had a birthright to the label Catholic, even if others might call me "lapsed".  I tried to grow in the faith again by attending a Discovering Christ series with Alex (and Maya!), which went OK but didn't convince me of anything.  This was all of fall.  This spring we attended the follow-up to it, Following Christ, and it was even worse.  I was bored out of my mind and I might as well have been attending an atheist convention, because I didn't share any of the beliefs or assumptions that were being presented.  I had pretty much given up hope on truly being Catholic again, and made my peace with being a Deist.  I joined a couple of online Deist groups, which actually haven't been very active, and that was that.

But I wasn't happy.  This weekend I got an incredible urge to want to believe again.  I researched "making yourself believe something you don't" and "what's the harm in believing something that isn't true" and I read with great interest what a bunch of skeptics/atheists/Deists had to say on the subject.  At the end of their arguments, I was left with a singular observation.

I have long held at my core that the meaning of life is to find happiness, and to help others find contentment.  And my current spiritual trajectory just wasn't bringing me happiness.  I thought I was quite rational, believing only what the objective evidence (nature) would allow for, and simply didn't believe in the concept of God revealing Himself through a prophet or holy book.  But in the end, what good does it do me even if I do only believe in evidence-based facts, if this doesn't bring me joy?  Is truth only the sum of rational facts?

Upon further reflection, I realized that truth is relative.  Truth, beauty, love - these are not experienced equally by every individual.  One person can love another when others do not.  One person can find something beautiful when others do not.  One experience can be true for someone when it isn't true for someone else.  So while religion doesn't agree that truth is relative, and neither do atheists apparently (who reveal themselves to be just as religious as theists in that sense), my personal conviction is that truth and fact are not interchangeable.

There may not be facts to back up everything taught by my religion, but I can find universal truth in the interpretation, in the metaphorical meaning.  My problem has always been that I have been too literal.  I assume what I hear and read is literal unless and until proven otherwise.  I've tried to accept Catholic teaching on a non-literal level before, but yesterday, I think I was finally granted the grace to do so!

I started praying again.  Praying in the sense of speaking my heart to God.  Not just in lifting an intention in my mind's eye and envisioning it being immersed and enveloped in God's purifying light. I still think I'll treat intercessory prayer that way, at least for now.  But I actually spoke to God, to Jesus, to be specific.  I called Him Lord and it didn't make my stomach churn.  I think I have distanced myself from my previous literal understanding of God long enough that it is no longer a conflict for me to think of Jesus as Lord.  In the interim, God has become very distant, abstract, impersonal, unapproachable, unknowable.  Jesus is the opposite of all of those things.  And I do not feel like I'm betraying God-the-Father by lifting my heart to God-the-Son, bc I now consider the way God-the-Father operates is more from a distance, by delegating - if you will - to Jesus.  As I was praying in front of our Divine Mercy image of Jesus, I felt God's approval - all of God, including God-the-Father.  And I thought about the Trinity, a concept that gave me so much trouble before, and realized that it's not literal.  The Trinity is simply a Christian koan, a riddle that is meant to make us realize that we are never going to be able to comprehend the full nature of God, so we really should stop trying!

The timing couldn't have been much better.  I didn't even realize we were entering Holy Week.  We have a secular calendar hanging in the kitchen, and I have missed mass the last few weeks, so I had no idea where we were in the liturgical year.  And then yesterday at mass, I looked around at all the familiar rituals, objects, words, and I found comfort in them, and realized they were "true" all along, I just kept interpreting them too literally.

I give myself permission to disagree with certain interpretations and teachings of the Church, following the advice of the priest from my last retreat, namely that God would meet me where I'm at. I don't feel the need to be in agreement with other Catholics, or the Catechism, or the Vatican, in order to reap the rewards of Catholicism.  I give  myself permission to be a part of an imperfect church, even as the church denies being wrong on such issues as gay rights.  I believe it will come around, though perhaps not in my lifetime.  But instead of trying to find a perfect place of worship, which I think had become a scapegoat for my own personal imperfections, I am embracing an imperfect church.  And by extension, I am accepting myself as an imperfect being.

I don't like the term "sin" and "sinner", but synonyms such as missing the mark, being broken, veering off the path, having shortcomings... these are all undeniable and essentially all that "sinning" really means.  It's funny, I don't like to think of myself as a sinner.  It bothered me to no end how much focus there seems to be in Christianity on all the wrong we do, all of our mistakes, instead of focusing on how we can improve.  But if I'm being honest, how can I know what to aim for if I don't know where I'm coming from?  The message of Jesus is that my mistakes do not define me.  It's critical to be honest with myself and realize that I'm not perfect, but that it's ok.  It's my own fault if I focus on the mistake and not on the remedy.  The church has opportunities for both.

Later today I will be leaving the two Deist online groups.  I will continue focusing all of my attention on finding meaning within the religious tradition that was given to me as a tool as part of my birthright.  Yes, there is truth to be found in other religions, but that doesn't lessen the value of my own religion.  The other religions are not there for me to convert to, but to learn from.  My task is to work on my spirituality within the context of Catholicism.  There will be challenges and disagreements, but I know from exploring other faith traditions that this was going to happen no matter what, in every conceivable tradition.  The lesson is that we are not perfect, and neither are our human institutions (say, organized religion), but that's ok.  The challenge is to learn to live within an imperfect world.  To embrace acceptance.  To be content with what is.  To stop striving for a future time, a different place, and to get into the habit of perfecting every present moment, wherever we find ourselves.

Tomorrow I find out if we will have another baby.  I'm leaning towards yes, that he's a boy, and that he will become a priest.  And that he's the reason I have fully returned to the Church. I can't explain it any other way, except that today, I feel like fully Catholic again.  And I thank God for that.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Leaving Online Groups

Weighing the pros and cons of membership of an online group.  I recently chose not to rejoin a group that was very educational in terms of race relations and adoptee perspectives, because of the uneven playing field, for which I don't fault the administration at all.  I just feel like my continued presence was having a toxic effect on me.  I am a bit too literal and can't always decode the appropriate context, and when I hear something is offensive to someone, I run with it, even if it means risking destroying long-standing relationships.  The privileged voices in this group were volunteers, so they didn't need to consider my intention or give me the benefit of the doubt.  But in real life, I should extend those courtesies to others.  And since I don't like to maintain a double standard, the way I am in one arena is the way I want to be in all of them, which was proving quite troublesome in my personal life.

So I opted to find other groups that deal equally well in terms of racial issues, but also covers issues of disability, sexism, and LGBTQ concerns much more so than the other group did (though they did occasionally come up).  I find that even though the group rules sound pretty much the same as those of the group I left, I have not come across anyone telling someone else to sit on their hands and be quiet, no name-calling, no "you should Google before you speak" (as if we know what we don't know until someone points it out to us).  So I'm very happy with these other race-issues groups, and decided I didn't need to put up with being made to feel like the disenfranchised groups just to prove a point.

I'm one of those people who doesn't need to visit the Holocaust museum to understand the gravity of what happened.  It doesn't take much for me to see the light, because I do always assume I have room to grow and don't know everything.  It pisses me off when people treat me like "just another white girl", and whatever stereotypes that conveys for them.

That said, there is another group that I am now thinking I may want to reconsider.  The opposite problem is happening there.  It's a group for those involved with embryo donation, but it is entirely from the perspective of the recipient parents.  Rainbows and unicorns, as was the saying in the race group I left.  I've brought up serious issues to try to get people to consider the perspective of their children, and I've been dismissed as being too negative and in a recent thread, there was actually an onslaught of people who came to comment specifically - it seems - in an effort to minimize the importance of what I said, ignoring it altogether. And yes, I see the irony of my problem with this group versus my problem with the other group I left.

I have to wonder what's the point of my staying in this group.  It's a lot of oohing and ahhing and prayers and baby dust for those still trying, sharing pictures and merchandise ad nauseum of anything snowflake related, and really no education seems to be allowed.  I don't need support, I'm done "trying" - and I feel that way even as I sit here in my "two-week wait", 7dp5dt.  I don't need people's condolences over the embryo that didn't survive the thaw.  I don't need people praying to Santa-Genie-God to show favor on me.  It's nice to share the specifics of where I'm at during this cycle, but this cycle is just about over with, and I don't see any long-term advantages to continued membership in this group.

It's a shame, too.  I really want to mingle with other EA parents, but I see they have got to be similarly-minded, too.  As in, they have to want to parent by taking the child's perspective into consideration.  They cannot be of the mind-frame that as the parents, their word is law, that they know better, that the child is to be seen and not heard.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Collective Identities

I've slowly been coming to understand and being able to articulate what I feel in regards to my chaotic identity. Collective identity, by definition, depends on external validation.  It involves having a joint goal and values, and feeling a sense of "us versus them", even if it's only in a friendly kind of way.

Religion is one common collective identity.  So is national identity.  Both identities I've struggled with over the years.  On one hand, I've wanted to "belong", on the other hand I've prided myself on thinking for myself, not being part of the herd mentality.  I don't maintain any level of loyalty towards my alma mater, I'm a political independent, I'm nonreligious, I consider myself a global citizen rather than a proud American or Pole.  I've been paying the price for not having a collective identity, but that's because I'm still carrying an internalized sense of needing external validation. There is something subconscious that still tries to convince me that in order to truly be whole, I need an identity that includes others, not just me.

Perhaps the closest thing to a collective identity for me has been my interest in green living, attachment parenting, ecumenical perspectives, and social justice.  But there are so many varieties within each, that while I can certainly gain support for my values and priorities from these "groups at large", there's enough differences that I still feel like an individual among individuals.

So what I've come to see is that instead of trying to find a collective identity, I need to work towards transcending the need for a collective identity.  I need to work on identifying with all living beings, with life itself.  I need to be able to see the similarities between myself and any other given person.  I need Eastern Philosophy is what I need.

But then the social justice voices come out - cultural appropriation!  You can't call yourself a philosophical Taoist!  That's not true Taoism!  You must have the religious ritual and mythology if you're going to call yourself a Taoist!  And it worked - I politely set aside my desire to delve deeper in that direction, only now I realize that this attitude is the enemy of transcendence.  This idea that we need to keep to our "own" cultural traditions is how we stay divided.  Of course, I understand and reject the idea that white people should extract bits and pieces of what they like from any given non-white culture and then reframe it as a fad and make a profit from it.  But to limit which of the various human experiences I as an individual can draw from on my spiritual journey of self-impovement is poppycock.  That's the best word I can think of.

So moment of truth.  It would seem that I do not really know who I am unless I have a label assigned to me that allows me to trace back how others with the same label identify.  Sad but true.  I look at tight-knit religious groups or marginalized minorities who band together to fight for dignity and recognition and freedom to just be, and I admit, I get jealous.  My white privilege allows me to see their oppression as something to be envied.  It sounds disgusting, doesn't it?  But I'm not here to spin stories but to speak my truth.  This is why I have always been attracted to what I call "the underdog". Yes, it's my white privilege that lets me choose to root for them.  But so what?  I recognize that, now let's move on.

I understand that my jealousy of what I perceive to be a solid identity among marginalized groups is a form of exoticism, fetishization.  Instead of letting my imagination run wild in that direction, I need to really understand what's at the core of this feeling; I feel as though I don't belong, and I wish I did.

I now see this as a deficiency of character, this wanting to belong, as it's just a desire for external validation.  What I need to work on is establishing an identity that is self-contained on one hand - not dependent on the agreement of others, and universal on the other hand - allowing me to see myself as a drop in the sea of humanity.

To that end, I need to find lone-wolf role models and learn from them how to forge a truly authentic identity and sense of self.

Trying for a Sibling

I haven't written about this subject before because, quite honestly, I've been mostly ambivalent about the idea of having another child.  In my mind, our infertility simply meant "childlessness".  Now that we have a daughter, I consider us "cured".  Selfishly speaking, I don't really want to go through the newborn phase again, or anticipate another childbirth, even though I think my homebirth with our daughter went quite well.

Then again, I feel bad for the new kid, if this embryo transfer is successful, because I don't want her/him to feel like second best.  I'm sure that my heart will grow to accommodate two awesome kids, if the need arises, though.

But for now, the three reasons we are doing one last embryo transfer are 1) to attempt to give our daughter a genetic sibling, a blood relative she could grow up with, 2) because we made a commitment to the batch of four, and two remain, and 3) because the alternatives - storing them indefinitely or returning them to our clinic's anonymous donor embryo program are not viable options for us.

Storing indefinitely provides no closure, something that is important for me.  It's a main reason I'm excited about this transfer, because in a matter of weeks, we will officially be able to put our infertility struggle behind us.  We won't have to hem and haw when people ask about when we're having another one - we'll just be able to categorically say nope, we're done.  We are raising an only child, thank you very much.  Or if the transfer works, people are less likely to ask about a third child, unless of course we have two girls, but some people are never happy so whatever.

Returning the remaining two embryos to the clinic's anonymous donor embryo program would introduce another obstacle in that we would always wonder if there's another genetic sibling out there.  Right now, we know she has three siblings with her donors.  If we find one of them, we find the whole bunch.  But if we let the clinic have them back, we'll never know what happened to them unless another family receives them and reaches out to us on the DSR (Donor Sibling Registry).

Having said all of that, we are traveling for the transfer and chose to come early to do my monitoring at the clinic, since we are being charged a flat fee this time, with no discount for doing outside monitoring.  In between the monitoring (which consisted of blood work measuring my hormone levels and a sonogram to check my lining, which was a whopping 11cm and they like to see at least 7cm), we have been driving around Florida visiting with family.  We're spending several days with my brother, which is allowing our daughter to hang out with her soon-to-be 6 year old cousin and his two soon-to-be step-sisters, aged 9 and almost 6.  While it is utter chaos with four kids expressing their excitement, it has been amazing to watch Maya observe the other kids, enjoy interacting with them, and therefore keeping busy without insisting on my constant presence or being zonked out in front of her show.  It is exhausting to try to make sure she is getting social interaction with peers, because it means leaving the house and making an effort, and for an introvert like me, I'd rather not!

So now, as we count down to this Friday's transfer, I'm starting to actually hope that it works, that Maya gets a little sibling (sister ideally!  Alex and I agree that we know what to expect from a little girl and are too old to reinvent the wheel with a little boy!  Though originally of course we wanted "one of each")

I've been getting used to not carrying Maya this week, in preparation for after transfer, when I will be limited to what I should be lifting, and it's been tough.  I've noticed how much I still pick her up, so we've been having Alex lift her when need be or encouraging her to get around on her own.  Apparently she can get in and out of her car seat on her own, if given enough time and motivation.

I've also been noticing that nursing Maya is bothering my nipples, and since the meds I'm on may be messing with my milk supply, she's been wanting to nurse quite frequently, at night in particular.  I'm not ready for her to wean yet, but I sure do wish she'd keep it to daylight hours only!

Two days and a wake-up to Homecoming Day!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Am I Still Polish?

I had the strangest question surface in my mind the other day: Am I still Polish?

I've been doing a lot of thinking about the meaning of racial, ethnic, and national identity, how fluid and overlapping it can be.  How divisive.  And how ultimately ineffective in helping establish a meaningful identity.

For over thirty years I thought of myself as Polish.  I prided myself on being Polish.  I hung onto that identity because that's what I grew up hearing I was.  I was given that label and I internalized it without question.  I felt as though being Polish was a no-brainer, and to deny it was to offend my family, something I dared not do.

I clung to this identity even when it became obvious I didn't really know how to be Polish, or that Poles living in Poland (my relatives in particular) no longer thought of me as "purely Polish" due to the American influences on my values and preferences.  I insisted I was Polish because I didn't have any alternatives on my radar.

Being white in the United States, it seemed the alternative to a Polish identity (which carried with it a sense of belonging and a history) was to blend into the mainstream, the norm, the...ordinary.  I saw nothing special about being "white American".  

Now that I think about it, many misguided proponents of "white history month" and "white pride" movements try to base themselves on what they must see as the advantages of minorities. They - and I for the longest time - wanted to stand out from the crowd.  Even when being part of the crowd brings with it benefits of white privilege, the grass always seem greener on the other side of the proverbial fence.

Only in the last few years have I finally made the transition to thinking of myself as "Polish-American", trying to somehow combine both aspects of my experiences into a single identity. I fought this new hyphenated label, and I'm still uneasy about it, because when I think of Polish-Americans, I think of second, third, and later generations of people whose ancestors were Polish, but who themselves only maintain the genetic influences of Poland, and none of the culture.  Perhaps they're still Catholic, but just as likely not.  Hardly any of them know more Polish than a mispronounced "kielbasa" or "pierogi". Some may have visited Poland, but even these were no more than tourists.  There may be some Polish traditions still present in the home, but they may often have an American flavor to them.  In other words, I didn't really see myself as a "Polish-American" because I was more Polish than them.  Yet I was more American than not, so to ignore that aspect of my identity was incorrect.

But really, what I've been realizing more and more lately, and what brought me to my initial, strange question above, is that perhaps trying to hold onto the "Polish" identity at all no longer serves me. Maybe it'd be better to say that my family of origin is Polish, that I was born in Poland, that I speak Polish - my heritage language - to my daughter, but that none of this necessarily makes me feel the need to continue to identify with the label.

The thing about labels is that they carry with them expectations.  Once you label yourself - or someone else - certain assumptions follow.  I struggled with my Catholic identity in much the same way for a long time.  Being Catholic presumes certain spiritual practices, certain socio-political stances, certain priorities, certain beliefs.  And once these assumptions were no longer true for me, I had no choice but to question if I really should continue to identify as Catholic.  I had decided that I had a "birthright" to the Catholic identity by way of my Polishness.  Yet here I am questioning even that!

We use national identities to separate ourselves from each other.  Poles are known for certain folk arts, several key famous people, popular kitchen fare, idiotic Polak jokes.  But who cares?  These are not important reasons to separate people.  It makes a lot more sense to divide people according to sex, because certain undeniable biological experiences follow, and even these are not guaranteed and have been fought tooth-and-nail by feminists for several generations.

Why do I need membership in a group in order to take advantage of what the group is known for? Why can't I have a claim to things by virtue of our shared humanity?  Shouldn't all the things we admire or appreciate about any given culture contribute to the betterment of humanity as a whole?  Why can't so-called outsiders appreciate culture-specific beauty, food, music, art, traditions?  And values really aren't culture-specific, not to the exclusion of every other culture; they just tend to overlap by region, probably where multiple cultures were once a single culture.

That's the other thing, two thousand years ago - at the time of Jesus - there was no Poland.  But Poland is one of the older civilizations.  There are countless modern nation-states who have split from various other cultures and established their own identity.  For what, I ask?  Why this ongoing hair-splitting, this posing of us versus them?  Even among modern-day Americans, there's Yankees and Southerners, there's Democrats and Republicans, there's the filthy wealthy and the working-middle class - and various identities in between each pair.  Do any of these labels ultimately matter?  Do they bring happiness to their carriers?  Do they enable purpose-driven lives?  Or do they serve to divide, to feed our egos, our need to feel important, even at the cost of others, in order for us to feel a sense of meaning in our lives?

I recently read a quote about the meaning of life.  Namely, that there is no set meaning to life, save for the meaning each individual gives her or his own life.  And sadly, the vast majority of us automatically delegate that right, that privilege, that honor, to someone else.  To the groups we think we belong to.  To our nationality, our race, our sex, our socio-economic status, our profession, our religion.  When our life's purpose is tied to the "mission" of any sub-group of humanity, something that in no way benefits humanity as a whole, then our life's meaning is useless.  But if we are able to transcend all the various categories that work to put up division - both among us and within each individual, then we begin to see these labels as merely superficial, elementary, and not at all helpful in allowing us to live a meaningful, purpose-driven life.  

I'm not saying to ignore the ways in which we differ from each other!  Not at all!  I'm saying lets allow our differences to be what they are, nothing more and nothing less.  They are simple variations on a theme.  How wonderful to look around and see the different ways beauty expresses itself.  The different flavors cuisine can take on.  The different ways of looking at life and priorities and values. Observing these differences should give us pause, fill us with amazement, and give us pride in the unique expressions that life has taken within ourselves.  In no way should it make us start comparing ourselves to each other, wishing away some things while coveting others.

So, am I still Polish?  It doesn't much matter how I self-identify if others don't perceive me the same way.  When I'm in Poland, my awkward behaviors and uncertainty about the norms will immediately give me away, in spite of my Polish language skills.  When I'm in the United States, only rarely does anyone ever detect a bit of an accent in my speech, and this is generally when I've switched from thinking in Polish.  Otherwise, I look and act as if I am just one of many white American individuals. That's one of the beauties of the American identity - that individuality is actually expected.  While there is some group-think when it comes to choices Americans make, when someone goes against the grain, it is not enough to warrant being stripped of one's American label.  At least not for white Americans, that is.  It's not an ideal label, but it's much closer to who I am in the world than "Polish".

And while it may be technically true, "Polish-American" is not how I identify.  My past is grounded in Polishness, this is true.  But my present, and my future - no.  Even if it troubles my Polish relatives, I am not one of them when it comes to nationality.  I do not consider Polishness to be in any way better than any other nationality.  I feel the exact same way about Americanness.  In essence, I'm a global citizen.  My immigration is the single most influential aspect of my identity.  Because I don't fully belong anywhere in particular, I belong everywhere equally.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A Desire to Belong

I was watching some YouTube videos about the multiracial experience, and I was struck by how people can identify with a race or ethnicity that isn't obviously evident in their physical appearance. It was also interesting to hear that when multiracial people are perceived as "ethnically ambiguous", perfect strangers stare and ask stupid questions that they wouldn't ask "just white" people.  The take away I got was that no matter how hard they try, no matter which "side" they try to fit in with, multiracial people run the very real risk of being told they don't belong.

I then searched for more specific videos about Filipino Americans, and again I was struck by the amount of animosity between so-called "FOBs" (fresh off the boat, ie. newly arrived Filipino immigrants) and "Fil-Ams" (Filipino-Americans, or those who have undergone some level of Americanization).  While the videos about multiracial people focused a lot on physical appearance as an obstacle to belonging in both races (or the race one predominantly identifies with), the Filipino videos focused on the ability to speak Tagalog without a particular accent, and other cultural traditions, values, and choices that are considered more or less in line with "real" Filipinos.

I remember how, for years, I tried to fit into what was supposed to be my rightful ethnic identity - Polish.  In spite of never forgetting the language, in spite of being able to read and write it, in spite of "looking Polish", I never felt accepted by any Polish community or group once I emigrated.  And on the flip side, perhaps due to my own desire to distance myself from mainstream America, I never felt a part of American society either.  Even though it has been nearly 30 years since I first arrived in the United States, I continue to identify as an immigrant.  There are still values and traditions that I have kept from my culture of origin, and there are values and traditions that I have accepted from my adopted country.  I am both, Polish and American, but I wouldn't say that I "belong" in the full sense of the word to either.

So then I think about my daughter and the various cultural identities that she has a birthright to.  I think about how I've been worrying myself sick trying to figure out the best way to help her have a shot at claiming the various identities.  But today I realized that I've been focusing on the wrong approach.  I've accepted society's definition of identity, race, culture, and its priority of such a label. I've accepted the - granted, very human - desire to belong as a given.   But there is something far deeper that I think I can offer my daughter instead of teaching her how to fall in line with other people's expectations.  The truth is that no matter how hard she tries, no matter how skilled she becomes, there will be members of any given group that will find a reason to try to exclude her, make her feel like an outsider.

Her Polish may be perfect, but she doesn't "look Polish". She may "look Filipino" but her Tagalog may be limited, along with her cultural knowledge, having not grown up in a Filipino household.  And while she has different white influence in both her upbringing (me, Polish) and DNA (one of her donors is British), no one would mistake her for "just white".  At first I thought she probably has the best chance of belonging in the Hispanic community.  She will grow up speaking Spanish and her coloring is the same as that of a lot of Latinos.  But Maya's looks have already been commented on by two Latinas - one asked Alex (her Latino dad) if his wife was Chinese, and another used a nickname ("chinita") to describe her.

So while I'm not going to pretend that we live in a post-racial society or that it's easy to ignore one's desire to know where one fits in, I also want to make it a point to help my daughter have a spiritual identity, something beyond physical and cultural boundaries. And of course, I will have to lead by example.  No longer caring about if I am accepted by Poles, Americans, Catholics, or anyone else.  I am me.  I am.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Belonging and Identity

My daughter was born to me.  I did not adopt her.  I have to get it out of my head that embryo donation is just an early prenatal adoption, the way I was taught to believe by my pro-life Christian online forum acquaintances.  This attitude helped me get over my desire to not go against any Catholic church teaching, which forbids donor conception but welcomes adoption, and which recognizes personhood from the moment of conception.  For my own sanity, I was able to pursue embryo donation and still feel completely aligned with my faith.  

But now that I no longer have a need to be in line with that - or any other - organized religion, I'm also free to look at the circumstances of our family formation without trying to spin it a certain way.

There was no legal adoption that took place.  My daughter never knew any other relatives, any other human beings, until she began to grow and develop in my womb.  Absolutely all of her experiences and memories have been shaped by me and Alex and the people we have introduced her to.  Her donors were in no way coerced to give her up, as is the case sadly in many adoptions.  Her conception was no accident.  It was very well planned and thoughtfully carried out.  She was dearly wanted from the beginning. (That is not to say that this doesn't apply to adoptees, only that the circumstances of their birth tend to have an element of bad timing.)

I look at artificial reproductive technology as a sort of pre-mixing of cake.  You get all the necessary ingredients together, and then if need be, you put the mix in the fridge until you are ready to put it in the oven.  And perhaps you premixed more than you could reasonably eat, maybe because you are concerned about messing up the recipe and having to dump one or two failed attempts, so you allow for a margin of error. So after one or two cakes have come out of the oven, you realize you still have the makings of another cake left that would be a shame to get rid of.  So you donate it, let someone else bake it in their oven and enjoy it as if they made it from scratch.  Obviously people are not cake, but I hope the metaphor makes sense.  

Now I know that any pro-lifers who agree with the Catholic stace of personhood beginning at conception won't be able to get past this comparison.  How can I talk about tiny little people as dispensable, experiments, donations?  That's where we differ.  I do not believe that Maya was already a person before her embryo implanted in my uterus.  I believe that all the ingredients for her physical body were there, but that she only became animated once implantation took place.  It was my blood, my flesh, the environment that I provided for her during pregnancy, that molded the raw ingredients provided by her donors into the unique individual that she became.  And she is not done becoming, either - none of us are!  We all continue to change and evolve according to the experiences of our lives, never arriving at who we think we are.  What we really are, deep down, is not limited to our physical incarnation, our earthly life.  But that's another story.

So, while I do think we have an obligation to honor her Filipino heritage, I do not think that we need to do this to the exclusion of her Polish and Salvadoran heritage.  These last two are the cultures that she was born into.  She wasn't born into a Filipino culture.  

Alex and I recently took a DNA test to see what our ethnic heritage is made up of.  Alex has a large portion of his heritage (about half) indigenous Central American.  In other words, he is half Native American, according to his genes.  He was not born into a Native American family or culture.  He was born into a Salvadoran culture.  Similarly with me.  I long suspected that I have some Roma heritage, and it seems that there is about an eight of my heritage that originates in South Asia, which likely means I was right.  But I was not born into a Romani family or culture.  I was born into a Polish culture.  

What's more, we both changed dominant cultures when our parents brought us to the United States.  Now our dominant culture is American.  So too with Maya.  My Roma blood, Alex's Native American blood, and Maya's Filipino blood all contribute to our physical appearance.  I have the least amount of non-white genes, and so you really have to know what you're looking for to see it in me.  Only my very white relatives have ever noticed my light olive complexion, dark brown hair, and light brown eyes as being possibly of an origin other than Polish.  And while I feel intrigued by this link, and as much as Alex would like to claim his Native American heritage, what really defines us is our American culture.

Now I know that there are two points to consider here, and I've only talked about personal identity so far.  Based on my experience and Alex's, I am making the assumption that Maya will view her Filipino heritage similarly.  She may not, but then again, my parents never anticipated the difficulties I would have with my identity when we immigrated to the US.  

The other point to consider though is how mainstream society perceives us.  People assume I'm Anglo-American, or at least "just white" with solid roots in American genealogy.  They do not see a Polish immigrant.  Alex was once assigned the boxes of "white Hispanic" without being consulted. Are we treated differently?  It is really impossible to compare my experiences with those of Alex.  

First of all, I am female; he is male.  Second of all, we have very different personalities.  I've struggled with my identity while Alex hasn't.  If Maya takes after her dad, which we have reason to believe that she just might, she'll take on a carefree attitude as well.  If she takes after me, the brooding type, then no matter what we do, she will analyze every little thing to the detriment of much progress!  

Bottom line, I think I'd be doing her a disservice by fixating entirely on her Filipino heritage, to the exclusion of her Polish and Salvadoran heritage.  If identity is formed in large part through culture, and culture is passed down through language and experiences and values, then she has more claim to Polish and Salvadoran - and American - culture than she does to Filipino culture.  But identity is still determined to a degree based on genetics, and that's why we can't simply ignore her Filipino heritage. Only as she grows will she be able to reflect on her own identity and determine which aspect(s) of her background are the most salient for her.  

Does Alex have a claim to his Native American heritage even though he wasn't brought up in that culture?  I think so.  But I think so in large part because it's a significant part of his genetics, and it affects his physical features and thus how he is perceived by others.  Do I have a claim to my supposed Roma heritage?  I doubt it.  Probably because the percentage is something like 12% or less, and it doesn't have a significant affect on my physical features or how people perceive me.  

What I find interesting about Alex's heritage and identity is this.  As a Latino, he is by definition multiracial.  His ancestors include Native Americans and white Spaniards.  If he had been born in the United States, with North American Native American heritage rather than Central American, he would not be considered "Latino" even if his white ancestors were Spanish speaking Spaniards.  Yet because he has the added layer of immigrating to the United States, within the US, his multiracial identity is replaced with the label of "Latino".  

Similarly, had my family emigrated to a different European country instead of across the Atlantic, I wouldn't be considered "white" as my primary identity, but Polish.  Our differences - mine and those of the people of our host country - would be highlighted over our commonality, opposite to what happened to me in the US.

Maya, had she been born into her donor family, would be a multiracial American, just like she is after having been born into our family.  She would be perceived the same by society - multiracial.  People may guess as to her heritage - Latina?  Part-Chinese? Some other mysterious and exotic combination? And she may very well get these questions from Filipinos and non-Filipinos alike, because she is multiracial.  Granted, Filipinos as a whole are made up of various racial admixtures, some looking more white, others more Chinese, others somewhat Latino or indigenous.  

To treat her genetic heritage the same as if she had been adopted from, say, a Chinese family, or even a Chinese-white family, by two white American parents, is to ignore the additional layer of identity that is created by the facts of her donor conception and subsequent birth into a different yet still multiracial and multicultural (and multilingual) family.

In the end, the best thing I can do for Maya in helping her form a sound identity is to educate myself not so much on transracial adoption, which doesn't technically apply to us, but on parenting multiracial children as a whole. Her being born into our family isn't what makes her multiracial.  That was a given from the circumstances of her conception.  What being part of our family does is allows for a more nuanced consideration of what it means to belong, to a culture, race, ethnicity, nationality.  

Who decides on the labels used? Who decides what percentage of one's heritage is sufficient to lay claims to that identity?  Who decides which type of heritage - genetic or cultural - is paramount? Who else if not the individual herself?