Monday, September 29, 2008

I heart my commenters

Thanks to all of you, and especially those who weighed in about the bottles. You didn't all agree with each other, and my path is still not entirely clear, but hearing your opinions made me feel a lot better about both options. Sometimes it's very helpful to get an outside perspective, and it's also reassuring to get confirmation that the answer isn't obvious. Sometimes I wonder if I'm just getting myself worked up over nothing.

In response to Jenn's comment about waste management--excellent point. Their waste management is dreadful. They typically burn garbage or just leave it in piles to "rot" (which of course plastic doesn't do, so it eventually ends up in the river). It's pretty horrible. However, since their solution to bottle feeding is buying plastic bottles, my donating a few won't change that equation. There is an active resale market for usable items, though, and extended families share and support each other, so if I give my bottles to someone, they are likely to be used for many years to come by a variety of different women. Surely that isn't any worse from a waste management perspective than going into a Korean landfill or incinerator now.

For the record, Mystery thinks it's a no-brainer and that we should give them to the villagers.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

An ethical dilemma

One "nice" thing about having a husband from a quite poor country is that whenever we have gently used, or even sometimes very heavily used, items that we want to get rid of, we know a place that we can take them where they will enjoy a second lifetime of use and them some. We routinely take all of our used clothing and many other items to his parents' village, and it's like a very subdued party when we break them out (subdued because Mysterious people are not into effusive thanks, so they just accept the items silently, but then glow a little in appreciation).

The weather in Seoul has changed seemingly overnight, from so-hot-I-think-I-might-die to slightly chilly. Eggbert had mostly been going Al Fresco (except for a diaper) for months, but now I finally get to break out the fun fall clothing (yay!). So, one of yesterday's adventures for me was going through the summer stuff (such as it was) to figure out what to retire and what we will still use into the fall. That process involves an additional two steps for us--step one is deciding which of the "retired" clothes we want to keep in case we get lucky and end up with a #2, and which we want to donate, and then deciding which of the clothes should go to which village--Mystery's parents' village is always hot, and his brother's village is always cold, so we choose our donations accordingly.

When searching for an adorable shirt that I knew I'd stashed somewhere, I found myself rummaging through the drawer of abandoned bottles. We bought an array of different bottles when we were in the US last December, including Avent, Dr. Brown's, and Medela, not yet knowing which Eggbert would prefer. It turned out that she didn't care at all, so we used them indiscriminately for a while. Then came the Health Canada decision to prohibit the sale of baby bottles made using BPA (including both Avent and Dr. Brown's, but not Medela). I try not to be alarmist, but I'm quite fond of Canada, and tend to think the people of that fine nation quite reasonable when it comes to issues of safety and health. So, away went the Dr. Brown's and the Avent (I should mention that both companies have responded by creating new lines of BPA-free bottles, but the bottles that we have are the old versions).

So now here we are with a supply of perfectly good, almost-new, but possibly toxic bottles, which creates a dilemma. Some people in Mystery's village use bottles. Everyone breastfeeds from the beginning, but sometimes things go wrong and people are forced to switch to bottles. The parents can often ill-afford bottles and formula. Awareness about industrial toxins there is poor, and bottles there are certainly not deliberately made to be BPA-free, although it is possible that some local brands happen to be BPA-free for other reasons. So, it's hard to see how we would be doing any harm by giving them our Dr. Brown's and Avent bottles. However, it also feels very uncomfortable to give poor uneducated people something to use with their precious children that I don't think is good enough for Eggbert, even though it would save them some money, and is likely to be equivalent to the product that they would otherwise buy. It just FEELS wrong, even though I can't come up with a logical argument against it.

If you're reading this, what would you do?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Small but mighty

Eggbert turned 10 months old today. I absolutely cannot believe how quickly the time is flying by. This time last year I was waddling around with her kicking me from the inside, and now I have this huge active funny little girl. Amazing!

Well, technically she isn't huge. We haven't weighed her yet this month, but she's in the 8th percentile for height, and last month she was only around the 20th for weight, so she's actually quite small. She seems to be growing steadily at her own pace, though, so no worries.

One advantage of being a short girl is that she is comfortably close to the ground, which is a very good thing because she falls over constantly. She has just learned to walk (my little girl walking? how did that happen so fast?), but she tends not to look out for toys, adult feet, or anything else that she might trip over. This morning she slipped and fell when moving at top speed on some condensation from her sippy cup (which I had put in the refrigerator in a misguided attempt to make it more appealing). She also gets so excited sometimes that she just falls over for no good reason. It's hard to watch, but she's so fast that we can't catch her every time either, so we're learning the hard way that babies are tougher than they look. The amazing part, though, is that no matter how many times she falls, she's always up and moving again 10 seconds later. I have no idea where she gets that toughness, but I am most impressed with it. I never would have figured the Egg for such a brave little soul. Especially since she's terrified of pop-up books.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king

When I first encountered virtual spaces for the infertile, I did so through a common point of entry, the internet message board. And on these forums I learned many things, including a ridiculous set of jargon (AF=Aunt Flo for menstruation, what is this, third grade?), the normal stages of an infertility workup, and that some people can't help turning everything into a contest.

On the mommy boards, it's "my nine-month-old child is walking, discussing philosopy, and training for the Olympics, while building a photography portfolio in her spare time", or "any parent that vaccinates/doesn't vaccinate is a child abuser" and on the infertility boards, discussions often degenerate into either "my infertility is worse than yours" or its equally unappealing cousin, "I'm not as bitter as you are." Both games are not just unpleasant, they can be actively damaging. I've seen infertile women trip over themselves to beat up another infertile for expressing a negative feeling, just to stay in with the fertile "cool kids", but on the other hand, women with children, even infertile women with children, are occasionally flayed for daring to claim that they have problems. It's a jungle out there.

Seeing all this really was an education to me about how little we actually know about how others perceive us. I will forever be grateful for some of the lessons that I've learned through the magic of anonymity--study after study has shown that people are much less likely to lash out at you when they can see your face, which means that the internet boards provide a rare forum in which to learn how people really feel about certain opinions (or innocent statements made using an unfortunate choice of words) once the kid gloves are off.

One of the claims that invariably gets a rise out of the primary infertiles is that secondary infertility is worse, because once you have a child, you know what you're missing. The first time I heard that one, I thought "wow, people really can rationalize anything," yet that idea is put forth so frequently, and with such obvious sincerity, and by such thoughtful and rational people, that it seems unreasonable to dismiss it out of hand. Clearly some people do have the experience of discovering how much they want children only after the birth of their first child. However, that was not my experience.

I have wanted to be a mommy for as long as I can remember. I vividly remember a day when, having recently learned where babies come from, I asked my mother how long I would have to wait before I could make my own baby. My mother, to her credit, did not have a heart attack or rush me to "Chastity Belts R US", but rather calmly explained that most girls start menstruating at between 12 and 14 years of age. I remember feeling utterly dejected, since that seemed a lifetime away. I also remember telling my college roommate (at the ripe old age of 18) that my ideal age for having my first child would be no later than 24. Well, my life didn't work that way, but it wasn't because my goals changed, it was because a happy marriage was part of the picture for me. I wanted a husband AND children. And I didn't find Mr. Mystery Right for the longest time. During the single years, I never really worried about finding Mystery. I knew that he was out there. And so he was. But I did worry about children.

Then Mystery came along, but the children didn't. And I worried. Oh how I worried. Being single was no problem for me, but being infertile felt like a disaster. I have never been able to imagine a life in which I felt good about not having children. At 34, and then 35, and then 36, and then 37, I had a lot of time to contemplate the picture of a childless life, and it always looked awful.

Now that Eggbert is here, I can finally say with conviction that for me, primary infertility was worse, infinitely worse, than secondary infertility (although I exclude infant loss from that statement--that's a whole different kettle of fish). While we were trying to conceive Eggbert, I was consistently miserable. Every time I tried to get a little bit happy about something, one of the million little emotional land minds associated with infertility would blow that joyful thought to smithereens. Now that Eggbert is here, I am happy. I still have problems sometimes, but as long as the Egg is safe, happy, and healthy in my arms, infertility no longer has the power to suck all of the joy out of me.

Having said that, I am beginning to get a glimmer of understanding of what other people say when they say that before you have a child you don't know what you are missing. I don't agree at all that it's better to be childless than to have to settle for a family size that isn't quite what you had in mind, but I do see now how having one child makes you lust for more. Before I started trying to conceive, I planned to have two children. Then I just hoped and prayed to have at least one. Now that I have Eggbert, I sometimes indulge in lengthy fantasies of having three, four, or even more. I can see how it happens that people who didn't plan to do so end up with really big families. Children are addictive.

On that topic, the update on my fertility is that there is no update. Eggbert is almost 10 months old and there are still no signs of my first post-partum period (or PPAF, as the cool kids say). So, while we have been "trying" all along, it hardly counts. I have been assuming that we'll need IVF again, but thought that we'd at least give it a couple of months of the old-fashioned way first, but either way, no period means no go. The obvious solution to this problem is to wean Eggbert, but that is easier said than done. Some kids don't seem to care one way or the other but Eggbert LOVES her some boobie. I have stopped pumping at work, and am just relying on my freezer stash to get me through the day, but she still nurses a lot at night and in the morning. When I get home from work, she throws herself at me and clings to my boob like a drowning man to a life raft. Her face lights up when the boob comes out, and she dives at it ecstatically. All of this does not give me the impression that what she really could use is a nice bottle of formula! I suppose I could just cut her off, and eventually I'll have to if I want to have even a chance of success in trying for #2, but she really doesn't seem to be ready for that yet. So here I am, with plenty of extra time to google things like "postpartum amenorrhea" and "natural conception after IVF". But as of now, I'm still googling with a smile on my face.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Shades of gray

I think that I was at least 20 before I realized that I was white. Of course, like every American, I had filled out 20 billion forms before then asking for information about my race and ethnicity, but the little box that I checked had never seemed to offer any substantive information about who I was; it was kind of like being asked my shoe size. Like just about every kid, I figured out that I was female early on. And I cared. Being female is a huge part of my experience in this world, and of my identity. I learned that I was American when I was two, and my family moved to England (everybody talked funny). I learned that I was from the northern United States in elementary school, when my (southern) grandparents came to visit and my friends giggled at their accents. Yet even though I grew up in a pretty diverse community, as US goes, my race had never entered my consciousness prior to my early adulthood.

I think that there are at least three reasons for my failure to grasp the fact that race matters in America. First, I was raised by liberal intellectuals, who had accepted as the ideal the concept of "color-blindness". They never talked about race, and disapproved intensely if others did so. I was taught that everybody was equal, and in their formulation, equal meant the same.

Second, my friends of color (some of whom were transracial adoptees or biracial) seemed almost as confused as I was, at least in the early years. Our parents didn't talk about race, and neither did we, so if they had experiences that made them uncomfortable, they weren't given the vocabulary or the forum in which to explore their feelings, so I never knew that these feelings existed.

Third, I was white myself. It's easy to deny the importance of race when you are in the majority, and especially when you are in the empowered majority. I think that I unconsciously thought of whiteness as the default, in a manner analogous to the way that nobody seems to think that they have an accent when speaking their native language. They are just normal. Everybody else has an accent.

But I am white. Boy am I white. So white I'm almost blue. I like the vast majority of things that white people like. I even dance like a white girl (so embarrassing).

Mystery is not white. He's medium brown. He is, of course, also not American. He grew up in a country where most people looked like him. Therefore, he also tends to see his own race as "normal" and not particularly noteworthy. So, there we are, brown and white. Living happily together. Tra la la. People look at us funny sometimes no matter where we are, but I'm really not sure whether that is because we look mismatched or because we're so darned cute (I'm kidding; he is cute, I am quite frumpy). Either way, it doesn't bother us.

So, where does that leave Eggbert? She's either half-and-half, both, or neither one thing nor the other, depending on how you look at it. She is the only one who can really decide. In the mean time, we think that she's both, and that she's perfect. People in both of her countries of origin tell us that she's beautiful, and seem proud to claim her as their own, which of course warms the cockles of my heart, but to be honest, I worry.

I worry that she will be discriminated against. I worry that she'll be exoticized (lots of people think that "mixed" kids are beautiful, and to be honest, I agree, but sometimes it goes a little too far, and becomes kind of disturbing.) Worst of all, I worry that these things will happen, and I won't see it, won't "get" it, won't know how to help, or even when to try, because her experiences will be so vastly different from mine.

It would be nice to say that if she does experience hardship when we move back to the US, at least she has Mystery. As a brown man living in a non-brown country, he should not only understand her experiences but provide her with a strong role model for how to handle the challenges of being different, right? Well, perhaps, but I think that it's quite a different thing being both foreign and a racial minority than being a racial minority in your own country (and biracial kids are in the minority in pretty much any country). As I said, Mystery grew up in a place where everybody looked like him, so even though he's in a minority in the US (or Korea), he developed a strong and secure sense of self before he ever set foot in a country where discrimination was even a consideration.

Living in Korea has really brought home the lesson that race does matter, as much as you might prefer that it didn't. In Korea, as anywhere, when we're together, Mystery and I stand out like a pair of sore and mismatched thumbs. However, when we're alone, people react quite differently to him than to me. I get a lot more of both friendly curiosity and overt hostility, whereas he is more likely to be completely ignored (in a way that implies that he's invisible, not that he fits in). I have been physically assaulted on the street twice since I've been here (both times by people who were obviously mentally ill) while other people just scurried by and pretended it wasn't happening. Luckily, in both cases, I was twice the size and half the age of my assailant, so I managed to chase him off pretty easily, but it was still jarring. I have also been approached by the creepiest of men, spewing forth the rudest propositions that you can imagine, in ways that can't possibly have been designed to do anything but basically accuse me of being a prostitute. Given that I look about as sexually enticing as Oscar the Grouch on most days, there is absolutely nothing that should make these people pick me out of a crowd other than my race. On the other hand, I also have experienced acts of unusual kindness and generosity from complete strangers. Mystery gets none of the above.

In Korea, racial discrimination is not only common and overt, it's expected. I once got a greeting card from a former intern that said only "you're the nicest white person that I've ever met." I think that was supposed to be a compliment. Another former intern told me that she had a dim view of "foreigners" because of an unpleasant encounter that she had with an Englishman, but that when she met me, she realized that not all "white" people are bad. Another day, I was in a coffee shop and picked up a local student newspaper written in English (a huge score!). In the paper there was an article about students that volunteered in a local orphanage. They interviewed one of the students, and quoted her as saying that one of the babies was going to be adopted by a foreign couple, and that she cried and felt so sad that this poor child was going to be raised by foreign people that don't look like him. Now I am not criticizing this student. I think that there's a lot to grieve about any time a child loses their birth family and country, but I do think that it's noteworthy that she thought that being raised by parents of a different race was the main problem with this picture.

Knowing that people think of me more as a representative of an entire race affects me. It makes me think twice every time I step outside. Do I look too sloppy (Koreans are very neat; the answer to this question is always yes)? Do I smile too much? Too little? Should I push and shove in crowds like the Koreans do, or will it seem rude? Did that guy just bump into me a little harder than necessary on purpose?

And do I care? Is it actually my responsibility to be a "credit to my race"?

In the land of Mystery, it is similar. When living there, I was frequently asked if I was capable of doing things like eating certain foods, as if my digestive system might be fundamentally different from that of local people, and was sometimes told that I would like my food a certain way, because "that is what white people like". I once had a lengthy argument with someone over whether it was possible that I liked sugar in my coffee (I do), because he had seen other white people that didn't like sugar in their coffee, and therefore concluded that we all must have the same preference. It is also utterly ordinary there to refer to someone as "this white person" in front of them, even when their race has no relevance to the discussion (e.g., "this white person would like to buy some soap" from one shopkeeper to another), as if afraid that someone might fail to notice that, yes, this person is white. White women are also the victims of fairly relentless sexual harassment. I have asked Mysterious men why they react to white women in that way, and am invariably told that it's because they see white women in pornographic films. This information is delivered in a tone that makes it clear that the speaker thinks that this is a reasonable explanation.

In Korea, both laws and customs distinguish among races. Korean-Americans, even those born overseas who don't speak Korean and have never been here, are described simply as Korean, whereas Korean-born people of other races, including those that have lived their whole lives here and speak better Korean than English, are considered foreign. You don't believe me? Try this on for size. Male Korean citizens are required to do two years of military service. Ethnic Koreans holding dual citizenship must fulfill their duty or renounce their Korean citizenship. However, the requirement is optional for Korean citizens with one ethnic Korean parent and one Asian parent of a different nationality. Mixed-race Koreans with a non-Asian parent, meanwhile, are not accepted into the military. In Korea, ethnicity is virtually synonymous with citizenship. The notion of granting citizenship to people born here or foreigners that marry Koreans is as alien to them as the idea that ethnicity defines citizenship is to me.

While you would think that the longer that I was here, the more I'd feel like I fit in, but in fact, it has been the opposite. The longer I've been here, the fonder I've grown of the place, but the less I've felt like I fit in. When I walk down the street, or go to work, or pop into a shop, or take Eggbert for a walk, I feel blindingly, conspicuously white. Every minute. I don't mind the feeling. It just is what it is. It's interesting, albeit often uncomfortable. But I wonder if I could be so sanguine about it if I hadn't had the experience of growing up in a place where I was in the majority. And I wonder how I would feel about it if I couldn't leave and go back to a place where I wouldn't stand out. I wonder if that's what it feels like to be a minority in your own community in the USA. I guess that's something that I can never really know.

Last December, on Eggbert's first trip to the US, we had a layover in the San Francisco Airport. Eggbert was still a tiny thing, only five weeks old, and a number of people came up to ask about her. I was still basking in the glow of new mommyhood, so I was pleased to chat with anyone who was interested. At one point, a woman approached me, complimented Eggbert, and then started going on at great length about how much she wanted to adopt (after offering the information that her kids were all older, and that she was too old to have more). I didn't really know what to make of this, so I wished her luck and moved along. It was several hours before the penny dropped and I realized that she had been assuming that Eggbert was adopted.

I don't really know where I'm going with this post. I'm hardly the first mother to worry sometimes about the fact that we can't protect our precious children from the big bad world, and I'm also not the only person to gain insight into their own culture and identity by living abroad. I guess that the real bottom line is that once again, I am realizing how complicated this world is, what an incredible responsibility I have to Eggbert to try to help her grow up with her self-esteem intact in a world in which some people may value or respect her less based simply on her appearance, and how utterly ill-prepared I am for the task.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

New Month's Resolution

A few days ago, I popped over to Rachel's blogs to see what was going on in her fascinating life, and found to my enormous surprise and pleasure that she had given me a "kick-ass blogger" award. I would have thought that being such an irregular poster would have ruled me out of consideration for such an honor (really does it get better than "kick-ass"?), so I am rather beside myself.

One of the things that I like about Rachel's blogs (and indeed most of my favorite blogs) is that she doesn't just tell you what she thinks about a select range of topics, she also offers you a little piece of herself with every post: sometimes it's photos, sometimes it's personal stories, sometimes it's stories about her kids; it's always a treat. Thinking about these personal touches, I realize that I've been rather stingy in that regard, mainly because I try not to offer personally identifying information. When I first started this blog, anonymity was an imperative: I had just been relocated to a new country for work, and was on a short (renewable) contract, so having my boss find out that I was trying to get pregnant could have been a disaster. Even though my boss (or coworkers) were unlikely to be reading infertility blogs in English, it didn't seem worth the risk. It still doesn't. I also try to protect Mystery's personal information to the extent possible, because it just isn't mine to share. He wouldn't mind, but I think that if he really wanted to be the subject of a blog, he'd write one himself. Then there's Eggbert. At this point, she can't give me her permission to write about her in a public forum. I do so anyway, but I am careful not to reveal enough of the whole package to make her vulnerable to e.g., identity theft. Finally, I have a rather unusual biography that would make us pretty easy for a determined stalker to identify if I connected the dots for you. The up side of anonymity is that it allows me to be unflinchingly honest. Everything that I tell you here is true (other than the names). The down side is that I sometimes feel unable to share as much of the real me as I would like.

Having said that, I'm going to try to be a little more open. While I am reluctant to post tasty treats like photos or our social security numbers, I am going to try to stop playing it safe by avoiding controversial topics, as has been my policy to date. I will also start including a bit more reflection on my life in general outside of infertility and motherhood.

So, to start off this new leaf, my next post (which will be posted soon, I promise!) will be on a humdinger of a topic. I hope that it makes me more friends than enemies.

But before I run off to write that one, I first get to share the joy. It is so hard to pick just five people that kick ass, but here goes:

has always been one of my favorite bloggers. She is a wonderful and insightful writer, as well as being astonishingly supportive to her fellow bloggers. Nonetheless, she doesn't hesitate to educate her readers when they need a little kick in the, well, ass. I always enjoy her posts, and usually learn something.

Jenn is one of my oldest on-line friends (i don't mean that she's old, I mean that we're old friends.) She's kind, wise, and posts wonderful recipes from time to time, which always scores bonus points from me. She doesn't post much, but when she does, she is full of home-grown wisdom, and always cracks me up.

Kymberli needs a blogging award like she needs a hole in her head. She is already smart, hilarious, and so chock full of kindness that it could make you weep if you weren't already laughing so hard because she's so darn funny. She's an infertile mother of four plus one, a gestational surrogate, and if that wasn't enough, she's also an 8th grade teacher. This woman kicks more ass before breakfast than most people do all month. If you're not already a fan, go check her out. If you already are a fan, head on over anyway and tell her how much you appreciate her.

Miss Chris has a couple of blogs, including an infertility blog and a blog that describes her adventures as an American expat living in France (recently returned from Mexico). It is the latter blog that has me completely hooked. She's an amazing photographer and keeps me mesmerized with her gorgeous pics of her family, Mexico, and now France. If you haven't already, check it out.

Kami is a tough cookie. She has been through infertility and infant loss, and is now mother to the beautiful Little Butterfly through the miracle of egg donation. LB is only a few months old, yet Kami manages to write frequent, thoughtful, breathtakingly candid posts every few days. She has taught me a lot about what it means to be strong, and it's such a joy to see her come out the other side.