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!