Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I finally get it

It's now about four years since I first read an infertility blog and more than that since I found message boards. During that time, I've read a lot of heartfelt posts and comments that have hit me right in the gut because I could connect so completely with what the writer was saying, experiencing, and feeling. Other posts, I didn't have the personal experience to relate to, but I could imagine the situation, and could feel profound empathy, even though I had never been exactly in the same place. But every now and then, I've read something, obviously coming from a place of sincere emotion, that made me think, "hunh?"

The community affected by infertility is large and diverse, so it's probably not surprising that we sometimes have different emotional reactions to the same basic set of problems. I've always thought of myself as someone who makes a great effort to try to understand other points of view, and who usually eventually achieves at least limited success. However, I have been genuinely mystified by some things that I've read over the years.

The "primary vs. secondary infertility" discussion is a great example. Anybody that's been around the web block a few times has run into this classic debate: which is worse, primary or secondary infertility? I have always been dumbfounded by people who claimed that secondary infertility was worse, or even in the same universe as primary infertility. It's not that I don't believe that they believe that, but it has always been clear to me that there is something that I'm not getting, something that they're not getting, or both.

I once read a message board post on a board for women who had been trying to conceive their first child for several years in which the writer explained that she wasn't so much upset that she didn't have children, but rather that it wasn't her choice. A number of other women agreed. I was flabbergasted.

Finally, I've never been able to really grasp how someone could struggle with infertility for many years without seriously pursuing medical help if they could afford it. I've seen lots of women that I admire and respect choose this option, and I respect their choice and believe that it must be best for them, but something in my heart has always cried out, "but don't you want to at least TRY?"

A few days ago, I was thinking about this, probably prompted by this post, when suddenly, I had what was to me a revelation. Probably everybody else already knew this, but just in case, I'll spell it out: Grief about infertility is a different problem from grief about involuntary childlessness. Infertility is at the root of both, obviously, but these problems are made of fundamentally different stuff.

Infertility is by definition a failure to be able to (easily, at least) do something that most people can do--have sex and end up with a baby just like that. Learning to live with the fact that you can't do something pretty basic is hard. Since most people or couples are not aware that they're infertile until they try to conceive, it is usually a shock, and feels like a loss: of self-esteem, of control, or dignity, of hope. Many feel betrayed by their bodies. Made less a man or a woman. Frustrated and helpless as they watch others effortlessly (and in some cases, without even wanting it) do this thing that they can't do. It's hard.

Involuntary childlessness can happen for a number of reasons, including medical problems or the absence of a committed partner coupled with the unwillingness or absence of means to become a single parent. It seems that people react to involuntary childlessness in a huge number of ways. For some, it marks every day with sadness and the feeling that there is something very important missing, while for others, it seems to fall closer to the feelings that I have about my own involuntary mansionlessness, which can be summed up as "it would be nice, but whatever".

It seems to me that a lot of the things that I haven't been able to grasp about people's varied responses to infertility can be explained by the idea that while most infertile couples are upset by both the fact of their infertility and their involuntary childlessness, the relative importance of each of these factors varies dramatically between people.

It seems to be a spectrum. On one end, there are the people that don't care at all about being infertile, they just want a child. For people of this type, the realization that they are infertile often leads to an immediate decision to adopt. On the other end, there are the people who are gutted by the loss of their fertility, but bothered less by childlessness itself. In the middle, there are people who are bothered by both to a fairly equal extent.

I'm in the middle, but closer to the first type: I was more bothered by childlessness than infertility. For the first year that I was trying, I was definitely upset about infertility itself. It seemed so unfair that I couldn't just have sex with my husband and get pregnant like a normal human being. Teenagers can do it. People with serious substance abuse problems can do it. People who make godawful parents can do it. Why couldn't I?

At some point, I got over that. Five stages of grief later, I think I really am at a place where the infertility part of infertility doesn't really bother me too much. Of course it would be lovely to just have sex with my husband and end up pregnant. I still fantasize about that happening for us, but no longer in a desperate, unhealthy way. It would be nice, but the main thing that would make it nice is if it resulted in a healthy live baby at the end. I am no longer concerned at all about the process. For me it's about the outcome.

When I think about infertility and childlessness separately, all of a sudden, I "get" what other people have been telling me about their feelings. It DOES suck to be left out of a great miracle like natural (unassisted) conception and reproduction. If that was your dream, then I can see how IUI's or IVF or donor conception or adoption wouldn't feel like a solution to your problem at all. And I can also see how secondary infertility could seem particularly cruel--having experienced the miracle once without even realizing that it was your one and only time, only to find out that what you thought was the trial run was really the final event.

For me, while infertility itself was a blow, it was one that I could take. What brought me to my knees was fear of childlessness. Fear of not having a child that was genetically part me and part Mystery, but also fear of not having a child at all. So to me, secondary infertility already feels a bit like the promised land.

I still am bothered by the fact that I may not end up being able to give the Egg a sibling. I will try, but failure is a very likely outcome. And if I fail, it will hurt. But this time, I know I'll be OK. I am not childless. I have a little Egg who sets my heart aglow with joy every day.

My period arrived on her first birthday. I am now officially trying to conceive again.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The power of speech

Well, Eggbert has finally decided to grace us with a few words, and at the same time to cement her reputation as a nursing-obsessed drama queen. Without further ado:

Her first word (in Mysterious): Oh no! (it's one word in the Language of Mystery)

Her second word (first in English): boobie

Needless to say, I'm mortified that I taught my innocent child such a silly name for the human breast. Nonetheless, I plan to tell this story at her wedding.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

View from the other side

If you're wondering where I've been lately, the answer is sleeping. For the first time since Eggbert was born, I now have a reasonable expectation of 7-8 uninterrupted sleep every night. It doesn't happen every night, but it happens more often than not. Several times in the last two weeks or so, I've caught myself thinking "what is this feeling, I feel great!" and then realizing that this is what it feels like not to be sleep-deprived. Now I've never been one to take sleep for granted--I've always had a healthy respect, nay, love, for the stuff, but I am still finding myself astonished at how much of a difference a good night's sleep makes.

Yes it's true that I'm still bf rather a lot, despite the closing of the all-night bar. I had originally planned to exclusively breastfeed until age 6 months, wean by 9 months, and be doing another IVF cycle by now. It kind of cracks me up to think about it. I clearly had never met myself, or Eggbert, if I thought that was going to fly. It might have worked if Eggbert had been a different baby, actually. I do have a spine somewhere under all of the mush, but I just wasn't equipped to deal with denying the boob to a baby that was (well, actually, is) absolutely passionate about it. I expected that she would like it, but I had never expect that she would love it so much. To this day, she cackles with glee when the boob comes out, and dives on it, making little happy sounds, whenever she sees it. Every. Single. Time. It doesn't matter if she just ate 3 seconds ago. The boob always fills her with delight.

I did try to get things under control earlier. I tried night weaning in August, and it was a disaster. The first time she woke up at night and a boob wasn't forthcoming, she screamed blue murder for what felt like an hour. She never really seemed to settle down, she just finally seemed to collapse with exhaustion. I was holding her and trying to calm her for much of it, but she was just so angry and upset that nothing that I could do helped. It was awful. I really think that even the staunchest CIO supporter would have been shaken. I held out for three nights, counting the minutes until the sun rose, so it would be "morning", and I could give her the damn boob already. After the third awful night stretched into the third awful day (she was horribly cranky, I was horribly cranky), I decided that maybe for whatever reason, she just wasn't ready. Since then I have felt like a terrible wimp, so it felt really validating to my instincts as a mom that this time, she whined a little for five minutes the first night, was easily soothed, and that was pretty much that. I don't think she's even woken up at night in a week, and when she does, it's just for a quick cuddle and then back to sleep (and let's face it, that's almost better than uninterrupted sleep).

So here we are. These days, I'm nursing her in the morning, and then not again until about 7 pm, then again at 8, and occasionally again when I go to bed, if she happens to wake up. I stopped pumping over a month ago, and will finish my frozen breastmilk stash early next week, so she'll soon be on cow's milk throughout the day. There are still no signs of my period, but I'm trying not to stress about that. In a while, once I'm sure she's doing well with the cow's milk, I'll work on phasing out the 7 pm feeding. After that, well, I don't know. We'll have to see.

That wasn't even what I was going to post about. Last weekend I spent some time with a friend from my Korean language class that I hadn't seen since the week that Eggbert was conceived, because she no longer lives in Korea. She is now 15 weeks pregnant with her first child. I realized that this was the first time that I'd had a friend be pregnant for the first time after me. All of my friends had their first kids years ago (mostly about 10-20 months after I started trying to conceive, as if to torture me), so it was my first time being the one in a position to offer advice. I'd love to say that I was graceful about it, and carefully kept from spewing assvice, but honestly nothing could be further from the truth. So many words spilled out of me on a huge number of topics from birthing and breastfeeding to how to choose the right stroller/pram, that I thought I might drown in my own verbiage. It wasn't pretty. Luckily, my friend had the patience of a saint. I hope that she understood that I was just excited for her.

The most interesting thing about this encounter, though, was seeing how nervous she is about this pregnancy. She conceived easily, and has never suffered a loss, yet even at 15 weeks, she can't stand to buy anything, or plan anything, because she's so conscious of all of the things that could (but probably won't) happen. She could barely even mention the due date without saying something like "if we make it that far", and she admitted that she had tried to arrange an ultrasound during her four-day visit in Korea, just to reassure herself that the baby was OK. Hearing all of this really challenged my own stereotypes about "fertiles", and the difference between "fertiles" and "infertiles". It turns out that there are nervous types on both sides of the fence, and that conceiving easily doesn't necessarily guarantee peace of mind. Who knew?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The bar is closed

Dear customers of Mommy's Milk Bar,

This notice is to inform you that MMB will no longer be providing 24-hour service due to staff exhaustion. Our new hours of operation are 7-8 am, 6-10 pm weekdays, and 7 am-10 pm weekends and holidays. We apologize for any inconvenience, and as always, we appreciate your loyalty.


The Management

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Bedside manner?

Yesterday Eggbert and I went to the doctor for flu shots. We have been going to the same International Clinic (nested within a major hospital) since we got here, so the nurses all have known me and Eggbert since before she was born. Eggbert's appointment went swimmingly. She was weighed and measured (15th percentile and 12th, respectively), had her temperature taken, and was pronounced cute, smart, and healthy by the doctor. She didn't like the shot much, but got over it quickly when offered a boob. (My doctor's office is great. They have a private place to nurse little ones right there.) All in all, a good visit.

Then it was my turn. I had to go to a different doc to get the vaccination prescribed. I didn't request my normal doc, since I wanted to get an appointment right after Eggbert's for the sake of convenience. They ushered me into an office, and there was the Asian version of Doogie Houser. I swear this kid was 12. He said that he was a resident and would be taking my medical history. I wasn't thrilled, since I knew this would take forever and Eggbert and Mystery were waiting outside, but I know that residents have to learn somehow, so I said OK. He asked a million questions in just about the worst English that I've heard since I've been here. (This isn't a criticism--my Korean is abysmal and I'm grateful that there is a clinic where I can get care in English--I'm just setting the stage here.) I answered them all to the best of my ability--3 or 4 times in some cases because his comprehension was about as good as his speech. Then he asked the question. "When was your last menstrual period?"

I laughed and said "it's been almost two years now--well, not quite, I think it was February 2007. I had a baby last November and am still breastfeeding."

He stared at me and said "two years?"

"Well, not quite," I said, "more like 20 months. 10 months since the baby was born."

"Is there something wrong with you?" (Remember, this is the DOCTOR!)

"No, I'm still breastfeeding and haven't had my period yet. I have a baby. I'm breastfeeding."

"Have you been diagnosed with menopause?" (Again, remember, this is the DOCTOR!)

At this point I was shouting. "It's called lactational amenorrhea. It's perfectly normal!"

He kept staring at me, lip trembling.

Finally the "real" doctor came in, and prescribed the damn shot.

I am still livid. I really don't feel that I should have to PAY for the privilege of explaining the facts of life to a so-called professional. I wish that I could attribute it to language problems, but he clearly understood the word "baby", and had my chart right in front of him, so the information was all there. And the bedside manner? Imagine if I hadn't been a neurotic infertile (which he obviously didn't know, because he clearly hadn't read my chart), and didn't know that lactational amenorrhea is, indeed, normal. I probably would have been terrified.

Actually, I am terrified. I'm terrified by the fact that someone could pass medical school without learning even the basic facts about female reproductive biology. Horrifying.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Perfect moments

Since I started the IVF cycle that ended up producing Eggbert, there have been, interspersed among the normal ups and downs of life, a series of moments so perfect, so sublime, that they take my breath away. The moment that the second line popped up on the pregnancy test. The first time I felt movement. The first time I saw her, wet and confused and so, so beautiful. Her first smile. Her first laugh. A million quiet moments just being with her. Kami reminded me the other day that these moments are worth sharing.

Last Sunday, I had one of those moments. It was the first cool weekend at the end of a long, sweltering summer. While I'm a hot-weather fan in general, the weather has put a damper on our ability to take Eggbert on fun outings, since she tends to get too hot and fussy pretty quickly. So, we were quick to take advantage of a cool but sunny day.

The Han River runs through the city of Seoul, and a long narrow park runs along much of the south bank of the river. It's a typical city park--only 50 meters or so from one side to the other, but it's a precious green space in a sea of concrete. There are bike paths, playgrounds, and lots of nice places to sit and just be. We took Eggbert to the park, and she had her first ride on a swing, and took her first steps on grass. She was both confused and delighted. Watching her toddle along, wearing a cute outfit coupled with the ugliest shoes known to man (more on those another time), holding Mystery's hands and laughing. I realized that I was completely, perfectly happy. There is more to me than being a wife and mommy, but I can't think of anything that could bring me such complete joy than just being with the two people that I love most in the world, healthy and strong, sharing an adventure on a sunny day.

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.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The minimalist mom's guide to baby shopping

Life doesn't always go the way that we plan. On our third date, Mystery asked me how many children I wanted, and I said "I want to have one, and then maybe one more, what about you?" He told me that he had it all figured out. He wanted to have two really close together, so they could be best friends, and then wait a long time, until he missed having a baby, and then have one more. I laughed and pointed out that if he was serious about that plan, then he had better look for another woman, since at my age (I had just turned 31), I'd be too old for that third baby by the time we got around to it.

There are several things that are noteworthy about that anecdote. First is that we knew very early on in our romantic relationship that we were going to be together, and that we wanted children to be a part of our future. Second is the fact that I was undoubtedly the worst third date ever. Pointing out your aging ovaries to your new boyfriend is always bad form, but when that boyfriend is nine years younger than you (yes, I was a cradle robber, but I swear, he was a very mature 22), it could almost be seen as an act of willful self-sabotage. Nonetheless, Mystery stuck around, and has put up with me ever since. Mystery is a good egg.

After a couple of years, we decided to move back to the US and to get married there. Then the USCIS (formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service, or INS) got to have its fun with us. It took one year and about $4000 to get everything sorted out with his visa and flights, and about another $1500 to get his green card once we were married. I was in graduate school at the time, and therefore a bit financially challenged, but we managed, and were happy.

Then infertility struck. We were luckier than some, in that our insurance (which came with my post-graduate job) covered 50% of diagnosis of infertility, and 50% of some treatments, but we still spent several thousand dollars on tests and treatments. Unfortunately, our insurance specifically excluded IVF, so at the end of it all, we were still childless, sadder and poorer.

Things started to turn around when we moved to Korea. Rather than facing a $15,000 bill for an IVF cycle that had only about a 35% chance of resulting in a viable pregnancy at my age, we were looking at $3000/cycle. Not trivial, in fact rather painful, but given that it would likely take 2-3 rounds to work, manageable. So we went for it. And it worked.

And $10,000 later (with all of the fees for prenatal care, the fun fun trip to Singapore for amnio, and then the copay for the delivery), there was Eggbert.

She was worth every penny and more. However, that didn't change the fact that we had a lot less in the bank than we might have liked, especially given that we have been a one-income family since arriving in Korea (Mystery can't legally work here).

I had long ago abandoned as irrelevant any dreams that I had about decorating a nursery or shopping for baby clothes, or what have you. Infertility had made it clear that such things are just the wrapping on the present. Throughout the early stages of pregnancy, I didn't even think about shopping for baby things. It was so hard to believe that after everything, I could end up with a take-home baby. I contented myself with enjoying the journey as much as I could. However, eventually it became clear that some preparations would need to be made. At that point I realized that I had two problems:

1) a tiny one-bedroom apartment in a very expensive city

2) all of the baby items that I had been taught were indispensable cost $1 million each, or weren't available in Korea at all

Problem number 1 could have been solved by moving to another neighborhood. However, we love our neighborhood, and it's so central and convenient that we can walk everywhere, including the grocery, hospital, and my work. Moving would not only result in higher rent (assuming that we moved to get a larger apartment), but would also probably mean that we needed to buy a car. And then drive that car. In Seoul. Which would solve all of our problems by making me die of fear.

So we decided to stay put and just manage, which meant that we didn't have to decorate a nursery, because we weren't going to have a nursery.

That meant that we had to fit all of the baby's things (purchased for the low low price of only $1 million each) into our tiny apartment. That process has given me a real education on the difference between need and want. It turns out that while there are a bewildering variety of almost-irresistible baby items for sale, you really don't NEED much at all to take care of a baby. In fact, I think that the average first-world family spends enough on completely unnecessary baby products in the first two years to fund at least one round of IVF at US prices.

Here are the things that I actually needed in Eggbert's first nine months:

-a car seat (we don't have a car, but do take taxis from time to time)
-about six outfits of each size (plus extra onesies when she was a newborn)
-swaddling blankets (when she was a newborn) and a few other blankets
-a breast pump and bottles (only necessary because I had to go back to work)
-baby wipes
-diapers (well, I suppose that I could have gone diaper free, and substituted some additional outfits instead, to make up for the greater frequency of laundrering)
-a baby carrier (I use a baby bjorn)
-a blender (we make our own baby food)
-a small spoon
-some towels and rags
-baby nail clippers (a nail file also worked when she was a newborn, but now she's far too impatient)
-baby tylenol (I felt like we needed this although we actually never used it)
-baby soap/shampoo

I think that's it. We do HAVE more stuff, some of which we use, but I think we could have managed without any of it if we had to. For example, we have a crib, but since we cosleep, we just use it for naps, and as a safe place to put her when we need to do something without her underfoot. We also have a stroller, which I LOVE, but don't strictly speaking need (although I do think it would be hard to manage with no stroller and no car-my back is only so strong). We have approximately a billion toys, all of which were given to her, but honestly, she's as happy playing with an empty plastic bottle or my (cheap waterproof) watch as she is with the fanciest toy. We also have some lovely books, which I'd hate to do without.

And about a zillion adorable outfits that she outgrew before she ever wore, all gifts.

When I was thinking about Eggbert's material possessions, it occurred to me that the most noteworthy things were those that didn't make the list. For example, Eggbert doesn't have a high chair, or a bumbo chair, or any other kind of chair. She did have a baby tub, but she mostly bathed in the sink as a newborn, and now in the shower (Mystery is very clever in developing age-appropriate bathing techniques). She doesn't have a diaper genie (just a normal garbage pail with a lid), or an exersaucer, or a pack-n-play. And it's fine.

It will be interesting to see what happens when we move back to the US (probably in about another year). Will I go crazy buying her things just because I can, or will I be able to stick to just getting things that actually make a difference in her quality of life (or ours)? I don't even know what to hope for. On the one hand, I must admit that I am dying to get a room ready for her (assuming that I ever get her out of my bed!) On the other hand, I kind of like having a minimal amount of stuff. It works for us.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Another interesting moment on the subway

The Korean obsession with appearances is a frequent discussion in mixed (Korean and foreign) groups here. Aesthetics are considered very important in every arena of human activity, from the obvious (art, design, architecture) to the astonishing (beautifully gift-wrapped juice boxes), but nowhere is the focus more intense than on personal beauty. South Korea has one of the highest rates of plastic surgery in the world. I've seen at least three people with the bandages indicative of a recent nose job in the last month, and apparently eye surgery (to add a fold and make the eyes look rounder) is even more common. People of all ages are generally neat and well-dressed any time that they appear in public; I look quite the slob by comparison.

I mostly don't bat an eye anymore when I get into a mirrored elevator (it's very common for all four walls to be mirrors) and see everybody taking opportunity to shamelessly preen during the 30-second journey. In fact, it's quite liberating to know that nobody will look down on me for checking myself out (although rather less pleasant to realize how badly I will fare if I ever have a run-in with the Seoul fashion police).

I thought I was used to all of this, but today I saw something today that stopped me in my tracks. In a subway station, there was a vendor selling undergarments--mostly bras, but also some other items--all lacy, but also sturdy and serviceable, probably targeting women in their 50's. Bras here seem to be padded about 90% of the time, so everything was holding its shape quite well, but there was one shape that looked a little off. Upon closer inspection, I realized that I wasn't actually looking at a bra at all. It was a pair of heavily reinforced biking-short-like underwear, complete with two full round pads right where the arse should be: padded control-top underwear for women that find themselves having a crisis of gluteal inadequacy on the subway.

Now I've seen everything.

Friday, July 25, 2008

To pee or not to pee

I realized today that I haven't written anything about life in Korea for a very long time. Being a mom gets a lot more of my attention these days than being an expat. Nonetheless, I continue to marvel at the ways that living overseas can make you think about things that would ordinarily never cross your mind.

I give you exhibit A. I have been living in Korea for almost two years now, and I have never heard a Korean woman pee. This is not a result of failure to frequent public bathrooms. I drink a lot of water while I work, so at least twice a day, I visit the nearest bathroom, where I get the choice of sitting on an western-style porcelain throne or squatting over an Asian-style porcelain hole. (My choice depends on my mood.) This bathroom is shared by women from a number of different offices in the building, so there is generally at least one other person in there. When I see them go in ahead of me, they go into the stall, close the door, and then... nothing. When I finish peeing, they're still in there, and nothing has happened. Alternatively, if a door is closed when I go in, I sometimes hear a flush and someone leaving. However, I've never, ever, heard anyone actually make the telltale sounds associated with pee hitting porcelain.

So what are they doing in there? And how? And why?

I got a clue a few days ago, when for the first time, I was in a different public bathroom (now I'm sounding creepy--I don't actually seek out opportunities to pee in public, I swear) and saw a button on the wall enigmatically labeled "etiquette bell". I pushed the button, out came the sound of a toilet flushing. As I doubt that most people find the sound of a flushing toilet intrinsically pleasant, I am forced to conclude that the purpose of this device is to cover up other sounds. Is it possible that this entire nation is so shy of bladder that they have to make flushing sounds to be able to "perform"? If so, what is it that they want other people to think that they are actually doing in there? I have always thought of peeing as the LEAST offensive thing that one might be doing in a bathroom stall.

I had honestly never previously considered the possibility that an adult woman might go that far out of her way to avoid having someone hear her pee. The sound of pee is just water on water. It is what it is, and everybody does it, after all. I admit that I don't relish the thought of listening to people performing other bodily functions (something that Mystery assures me is a constant assault to the senses in men's bathrooms). But peeing?

So now I have become self-conscious as well. I don't know how to pee without making a sound (how do they do it?), and I certainly don't want to become known as "that disgusting foreigner who makes the peeing sounds", so these days, I make sure that I pee alone.


There are a lot of reasons that I haven't been posting lately. I've been incredibly busy. It's so hot and steamy in Seoul that every time I try to gather my thoughts, my brain melts. Eggbert the 8-month-old big girl takes even more of my time than Eggbert the tiny baby did. But really, I think I've been struggling because the thing that I most want to blog about is giving me a blog identity crisis.

This started life as an infertility blog. I was desperate for a baby. Yes desperate. I admit it. That word has all kinds of negative connotations, but it is also the right word. Those were dark days, and putting my thoughts and feelings down in black and white helped. Getting feedback from so many kind readers helped even more. I really don't know how I would have managed without all of the support.

Now, my life is very different. I'm happy, and I'm a mom. Having Eggbert was by far the best thing that has ever happened to me. I thank my lucky stars every day. Every minute of my life isn't perfect, but every minute is better because she's here. While so many people experience post-partum depression, I feel like I've been in a place more like post-partum euphoria. Which makes it hard to blog. The thought of infertiles who are trying to conceive their first child coming here and reading about how great having a baby is makes me feel physically ill. They KNOW how great having a baby is. That's why infertility sucks so much. So what to do? Lots of people decide to make a fresh start at this point, either by retiring, or by starting a new mommy blog. That seems like a great option, except for one thing. I want another child, and somehow I doubt that infertility is done with me yet.

So, for now I'll stay here, and try to make the infertile mommy thing work somehow. If my brain doesn't melt first.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

One step forward, two steps down

In case you've been wondering about the long silence, I've been on blogging hiatus since I'm currently in the Land of Mystery visiting the in-laws. We've been here for three weeks now, and are for the most part having a lovely time. Eggbert has proven herself to be a wonderful traveler. I'm not sure that it says anything good about our lifestyle that her first tooth came in at 35,000 ft on the flight here, but it definitely speaks well of her that she remained her normal cheerful self throughout.

We have run into one little bug in the system. Here in the Land of Mystery, there aren't cribs. All babies cosleep. It's a good system, mostly, or at least it was for a while. However, we have found that beds in hotel rooms are not as readily baby-proofed as our own bed at home.

A few days ago, Eggbert learned how to crawl. She promptly celebrated by waking up at 2:40 am and crawling off of the bed. She is fine. Not a scratch. However, I almost died. I normally pride myself on my cool head in a crisis, but Mystery assures me that I was completely hysterical. I just remember her screaming, then me screaming. Then she was OK, and my heart started again. It was horrible.

I may never sleep again.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

More on milk

The other day, I read Julie's post about breastfeeding #2. I have been thinking a lot about breastfeeding lately (yes, this is yet another boob post), partly because I'm supposed to be stopping soon. The plan was to exclusively breastfeed for six months (check), start introducing solids (check), and then start weaning. This all sounded logical and good when I made the plan. I want to try for another baby. I suck at getting pregnant, so we must assume that it'll take a while, and that IVF might be involved. I'm 39 years old. Clearly time's a-wasting here. Given this scenario, lactational amenorrhea is rather inconvenient, so the sooner we can bring it to an end, the better.

The only problem? I like breastfeeding. It works for me. It is the one step of reproduction that my body seems to be able to handle on its own. I couldn't get pregnant naturally even on the most romantic of vacations, while relaxed, thinking of "just adopting", and doing acupuncture. I failed Clomid 101, 102, and 103. My infertility ate IUI's for lunch. Even my first round of IVF failed. Pregnancy was great, but I had scare after scare, and could never quite relax and enjoy watching my body do its thing. This breastfeeding thing has been different, though. My milk actually came in, on its own, without any heroic measures on anyone's part. Eggbert had an awesome latch. Yes, there was a cracked nipple here and a sleepless night there, but on the whole, it worked. It works! So remind me why I'm supposed to stop doing the one thing that I'm good at to go back to doing the thing that I suck at again?

Julie's post, though, made me wonder about something else. Is it really true that total strangers actually accost bottle-feeding moms to criticize them? I had never imagined that even the most militant breastfeeding advocates could be so insensitive, judgmental, and just plain rude. I guess I've been out of the US for so long, but I had no idea that the mommy wars had gotten that out of hand.

I was also mildly taken aback, at first, when I read a comment that said, in part "That story made me all weirdly booby-achy and wanting to nurse other people's babies. Which is by far the creepiest instinct I've ever felt." For a second, I thought "wow, that IS creepy". Then my mind flashed back to a few days ago, when I was walking home from work and stopped to look at a kitten. I was just thinking "damn that's cute", when I felt a gush of milk came out.

All of a sudden wanting to nurse other people's babies doesn't sound so embarrassing after all.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Speaking of sucking

People, you are not going to believe this. If infertility doesn't suck enough, how about having the clinic LOSE your last best embryo? I don't mean lose as in it dies. I mean lose as in they can't freakin' find it!

It's a true story folks. Please go give Kate a big hug.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Worst blogger ever

Wow. I suck.

Over a month without a post. It's not that I don't have things to say. I'm overflowing with things to say. They're coming out my ears. I recite them to myself as I walk down the street. I think about them so loudly that I swear people in Brazil must be able to hear me. But the more thoughts build up, the less able I am to write them down. I seem to be caught in a trap, having too little time to post something long, and feeling like the longer it is between posts, the more I should say. So, I wait for that mythical free hour in which I can pour out my soul, and it never comes around.

This working mommy gig is hard. Wonderful, but hard.

I'm very lucky. I like my job, and I LOVE being a mom. I am not coping with post-partum depression or lingering medical issues, and my daughter is healthy and delightful. Heck, I even hit my pre-IVF weight a few weeks ago while still maintaining a healthy chocolate intake. You can't ask for more than that.

Well, actually, yes you can. I would like about five extra hours in each day. Four for sleeping, and one for anything other than working and playing with the Egg (like cutting my toenails, combing my hair, emailing my sister, or blogging). As things are, I get up, take care of the Egg, go to work, come home, take care of the Egg, go to bed. Lather rinse repeat. Mystery is a rock star when I'm at work, and does pretty much all of the housework AND cooks dinner so I can focus on spending time with the baby when I'm home, but still, it boggles the mind how busy I feel.

Seriously, working moms that also blog, how do you do it?

I realize that there are other options, like putting Eggbert in a playpen (oh, I'm sorry, play yard) for an hour, even though she whines, or foisting her off on her daddy more often, but I worked so hard to have this baby that I want to spend every moment with her that I can. It's the highlight of my day.

So here I am. Happy. Busy. Haven't had a decent night's sleep in months (another story for another day, I think). Somehow managing to steal a minute to READ blogs from time to time, but not managing to write much.

I guess that's OK. It's going to have to be.

I do want to say this one thing, though. I have composed this lengthy post in my head that will probably never make it to light reflecting on the meaning of infertility after the fact. Here is the essence of it: infertility is not a psychiatric problem. It is so often treated as such--as if the infertile is creating her own misery by not accepting her fate or coping with it more gracefully. The fact is that infertility is upsetting, stress-inducing, depressing, and potentially life-altering. It often CAUSES emotional problems. However it is not an emotional problem itself. The best cure isn't an attitude adjustment, it's a treatment for the condition itself.

For me, it was simple. I was infertile. I was miserable. I did IVF. I got pregnant. I had a baby. I felt much, much better.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Infertility? Not a fan

One of the life lessons that I've always struggled with is that life isn't fair. Since I was a young (and rather whiny) child, I've been unable to keep myself from whinging "but it SHOULD be!" I drove my parents crazy by starting to cry whenever I saw e.g., a panhandler, because I thought that they should somehow save the day. I still struggle with the idea that I should somehow accept that sometimes life sucks, and that, well, that's life. Because it SHOULDN'T suck. Right?

It wasn't until I discovered my own infertility that I realized that not only is life not fair, but that many people, far from having compassion for people in pain, actually despise them. Having a rather Pollyanna-ish view of humanity (no, really, I do!)I tell myself that this is just a protective mechanism. To look at someone in pain and to attempt to truly appreciate what they are going through is to open yourself up to a world of hurt. It's easier to just slam your heart shut, and think of a thousand reasons that it's somehow the person's own fault (and therefore, that it could never happen to you).

When you're infertile, you really can't win. If you're under 35, then you obviously bought it on yourself by not having the good sense to "just relax", you uptight bitch. Or just maybe you secretly hate children. Or maybe you don't want it badly enough (just ask J-Lo!) If you're over 35, then you were selfish and waited too long, squandering your fertility while you held out for Mr. Right, or put your career first, or did something else that was ridiculously self-indulgent (because after all, wanting your child to have a loving father and a roof over his or her head is pretty unreasonable). If you are diagnosed with an actual medical problem, then obviously you must have contracted it during your former (or current) career as a filthy slut.

If you have somehow brought this bad karma on yourself, then the first thing that you must do is accept your fate. Obviously you should "just adopt". There are so many children out there that need a home. No wait, if you do that, then you are kidnapping a child from his birth parents (if it's a domestic adoption), and from her home and culture (if it's an international adoption), causing the child a "primal wound" that will never heal. How selfish can you be?

Obviously you should seek treatment. Insurance doesn't cover it? Well why should I pay for your problems? Look, do you want a child or not? If you're not willing to remortgage your house, sell your car, and live in a cardboard box, then do you really expect me to feel sorry for you? Really, if you can't afford to spend $50,000 on treatments, how do you expect to support a child?

What? You're doing IVF? But it's so unnatural. Who are you to "play god" like that? Are you really so in love with your own genes that you can't open up your home to one of the millions of children who are just begging to be adopted? You must be really "desperate" to spend tens of thousands of dollars to try to have your own child. Why can't you just give that money to help poor women raise THEIR children?

Considering donor gametes? Listen, buster, buying children is wrong. It is unconscionable to deprive a child of her connection with her genetic parents. You sick bastard.

NOT considering donor gametes? What is the matter with you? Are you so narcissistic that you can't love someone that doesn't look like you?

Obviously it just wasn't meant to be. You should live child free. Never mind that this means that the very thought breaks your heart. Not everyone is meant to be a parent.

Choosing child-free living? See, I KNEW you were too selfish to be a parent. You deserve your infertility.

Conceive without intervention after many years of trying? See, I TOLD you you were just being a drama queen.

Conceive with help? Boy are you lucky. Don't you dare even think about whining if you have trouble conceiving a second. Don't you know that thousands of women would give anything to be in your position?

If you've read this far, then you're probably wondering where on earth this all came from. Aren't I supposed to be off on a cloud somewhere relishing every moment with my beautiful healthy girl? Well, for the most part I am. I am happier now than I have ever been in my whole life. Eggbert is delicious (and currently asleep, hooray!)I love being a mama. My dream has come true. However, having come out the other side doesn't seem to have allowed me to just shake off all of the bad feelings. Not so much for me (although I'm starting to really struggle with the question of whether and how to try for #2, but that's another topic for another day), but for all of the other couples still dealing with primary infertility. I know that chances are that medical science will never get to the point at which no couple has to deal with this problem. To some extent I can accept that (although I hate it). Life isn't fair and all. However, every time I read yet another hateful article in which infertile couples are pilloried for whatever they've done to try to deal with their situation, the old bitterness comes rushing back. We as a society may not be able to get rid of infertility, but why on earth can't we at least lose the attitude?

(I thought about posting links to articles or comments that put forth every single ignorant opinion depicted above, but even looking at that stuff makes me feel horrible, so I don't want to inflict it on anyone else.)

On a sweeter note:

Do you remember my friend H, who lost her twins at 19/20 weeks last year, and had been on bed rest since week 9 of her next pregnancy (also with twins)? She made it to 34 weeks, and delivered two beautiful healthy girls! They are now home. Sleepless and loving it.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Night and day

I recently arrived back in Seoul after a ten-day trip (during which my internet access was limited--hence the lack of new posts) overseas. It was a great trip, but it's good to be home.

Seoul is more and more feeling like home, which is kind of ironic, since it has become clearer and clearer lately that we won't be staying too much longer. I was originally hired with a verbal agreement that I would be employed for three years, and a one-year contract. The contract is written so I have the option to quit whenever I want, though, which is nice. We are now a year and a half into our stay, and while there has been talk about making my position permanent, it has become clear that this would not be the best decision for my family. While I have grown quite fond of living here, Mystery is having a very hard time. He hasn't made any friends outside of our "couple" friends, who are really my friends and their mates, doesn't speak the language, so he feels really socially isolated. He also really misses living in the US. This is also not a great place to send a foreign kid to school. She would never be accepted socially in a public school, and I really don't want to send her to international school (too expensive and isolating). Given that none of these things are likely to change, we are starting to talk about our exit strategy.

Realizing that my time here is limited has made me see the city with new eyes. I recently realized that while Korea is not a particularly nice place to be pregnant (or to shop for baby things), it is a wonderful place to be the mother of a young baby. Not only did I get a government-mandated three-month paid maternity leave even though I am foreign and a newcomer, but people have bent over backward to make having a baby a pleasant experience. I don't mean that my coworkers had a nice shower for me. They did, but that's something that would happen anywhere. What wouldn't happen just anywhere is the way that people go CRAZY for Eggbert whenever I take her out in public. It isn't just the grandmother types and little girls that you sort of expect to pay attention to babies. Young men, old men, teenagers, other kids, as well as mothers and grandmothers stop to stare and admire her. I can't go anywhere without a chorus of "cute", "beautiful", "look, a BABY!" following me. While I don't normally like being the center of attention, when it's directed at my beloved baby, I bask in it. It makes me feel like she is embraced by the community, and is safe and loved. People are also MUCH more considerate of her needs than they ever were when she was still in utero. I get jostled a lot less, and routinely get offered seats on the subway (ironic, because she's really light, so standing isn't a problem now, but I sure could have used those seats when I was 8.5 months pregnant and had ankles the size of tree trunks). I don't think it's just because she's foreign, although curiosity may be a factor. Babies are just so rare here that people seem to appreciate the fact that they are truly special and miraculous creatures.

In sharp contrast, I ran into an American acquaintance the other day (a youngish man) who hadn't yet met Eggbert. She was in the baby bjorn, so he couldn't look at me without seeing her, yet throughout our entire 15-minute conversation, he never once asked about here, commented on her, or even looked at her, even when a gaggle of Korean kids stopped to look at her and squeal in glee. It was a pretty amazing display of disinterest. I think that if I hadn't been so amused, I might have been offended.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

All better

Well, that was fun while it lasted, but the Great Boob Crisis of February seems to be over. Whew! I don't know what it was, but after much massaging, heating, and (unbelievably painful) breastfeeding, the lump is gone, and most of the soreness has dissipated.

The lovely M-B asked how I got my supply up on the left. I'm not really sure what actually worked, but what I did was:

a) ALWAYS fed Eggbert on the left first. Sometimes I just let her finish on the left (she was usually happy that way, which is why I was always suspicious that it was a pumping problem, rather than just a supply problem), and sometimes I switched her in mid-feed.

b) When pumping, if I needed e.g. five oz, I didn't just pump until I had 5 oz (which invariably resulted in 4 from the right and 1 from the left), but rather pumped until I had half from the right (or a little over half, in the beginning), and then stopped pumping on the right and just continued on the left until I got the other half. My left is MUCH slower in production, so pumping for the same time on both sides meant that my right was doing all of the work. If I didn't get enough from the left in a reasonable period of time, I stopped, but then pumped again in a half-hour or so until I had enough.

c) Breast compressions on the left both while feeding and pumping (thank you Hadjare for this suggestion). I was absolutely amazed at the difference that this made while pumping. I often got an extra ounce or ounce and a half after I thought that the left had completely given up.

After a few days of this strategy (which was kind of a PITA, and probably wouldn't have been possible if I was working full-time), the left started producing WAY more. It was kind of amazing, actually.

So, I'm going to stop obsessing about my boobs and move on to something else now. Thanks for listening.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

More boob issues

I had big plans to write a contemplative post about what it means to be infertile with a child, but I'm having a little crisis, so we've interrupted our normal programming for this bulletin:

My boob hurts. I don't mean that it's a little sore. It REALLY hurts. It hurts all of the time, but when Eggbert nurses, it feels like I'm being stabbed. There's also a big hard painful lump near the base of the breast. However, I don't have a fever or redness, so I don't think it's mastitis. I have a doctor's appointment on Wednesday, but that seems like a very long time from now. Any thoughts? Tips? Sympathy?

This is the boob that was underproducing. The funny thing is that after an unhealthy level of attention and cosseting, it had started producing like a champ. Yesterday it yielded 4.5 oz pumping, which was a new record. I do think it was partly just a pumping issue (it still takes a lot longer to pump on that side), but the supply is clearly up too, since the letdown has gotten a lot stronger. Could this pain be related to its new productivity?

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The twins--not identical after all

Someone in my household is suffering from a severe case of nip*ple confusion. It's not Eggbert. She has a very clear philosophy regarding nip*ples, which can be summed up as "Gimme NOW!" Silicone or skin, it doesn't matter. Every nip*ple is a wanted nipple. I feel rather guilty about what an easy time we've had of the whole breast/bottle issue, and give 100% of the credit to Eggbert's voracious appetite. She's small, people, but she eats like a big girl.

I'm not actually sure if I'm the one suffering from confusion, or if my nip*ples themselves are confused. I think everyone would have been 100% happy if I were a stay-at-home mom. However, I have started back to work part-time (remember, the Egg has a stay-at-home dad, so somebody's got to bring home the bacon) two weeks ago, which has given the pump a central role in my daily routine. I've managed not to have to pump at work yet, but that means that I have to pump first thing in the morning, and then again right when I get home from work. Eggbert usually can manage with just one 4 oz bottle during the four-hour period that I'm at the office, but occasionally has two, so we have to have two ready, just in case. Anyway, every morning, when I stagger out of bed, place a milk-drunk Eggbert (who has been feeding off and on for the last hour or so) in her crib (while Eggbert has no interest whatsoever in sleeping in her crib at night, she doesn't mind at all hanging out in there for a little while in the morning), grab a cup of coffee, and sit down to pump.

Did I tell you that I have a new pump? After my initial misadventures with the Med*ela Mini-Electric* (pain, bruised nipples, and very little milk, the trifecta of pumping), my sister got fed up with my whining and got me a Pump in Style** for Christmas. I also followed the recommendations of two brilliant commenters and got a bigger size of breast shield. Clouds parted. Angels sang. Not only did pumping no longer hurt, but it actually resulted in milk. Amazing!

The only snag is that every time I pump, while a fountain of milk gushes forth mightily from my right breast, my left breast refuses to yield anything for a good long time, and then FINALLY relents by producing a slow trickle, that drip drip drips into the bottle, producing a total of about 1-1.5 oz (the record to date is 2.5 oz, but that only happened once) in the time that it takes the right to produce 4-5 oz. I suppose this isn't actually a problem, since between the two, they're producing enough for the Egg, for which I am tremendously grateful, but why on earth the disparity? This may sound like a weird place for vanity, but I've always been pretty happy about my boobs. By all accounts they're a good size and shape, and I have always thought of them as symmetrical. However, while they still look the same, their behavior is so different that I just don't know what to make of it. Is the right actually producing 3-5 times as much as the left? If so, why? I make every effort to put the baby to each breast in turn, and obviously they both get the same amount of pumping, so how can the one be getting so much more stimulation than the other? Also, the baby seems equally happy with both, and feeds for the same amount of time at each, which I wouldn't have expected if the left was under-performing so dramatically. Or alternatively, do they just have very different opinions about the pump? Could it be that my left is very choosy, and prefers to only give up the goods for the baby, while my left is of looser morals, and will give it up for anyone that asks?

Does any of this actually matter? Probably not. As long as the baby is happy and healthy, I hardly see uneven pumping to be an actual problem. However, I do worry a bit that taking more out of the right every day will tend to reinforce any asymmetry in production that already exists, especially when I go back to work full time, and am pumping a lot more. And would that be a problem? I guess not, but it might make me look kind of funny.

Tell me the truth, dear readers (if anyone is still reading, given that I'm so bad about posting these days), am I the only one? Any tips for getting the left one a little more enthusiastic about the pump?

*Why didn't I buy a better pump in the first place? Only the Swing and the Mini-Electric are available in Seoul, and the Swing is the equivalent of $250, which is a lot to pay for a sub-par single pump. The Mini-Electric was about $150, which is still very steep, but more reasonable, given that I had it in mind that I might have to upgrade later in the US.

**I've heard rumors that the Symphony is even better, but I tell you that compared with the Mini-Electric, the Pump in Style is an embarrassment of riches.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Yesterday, out of the blue, Mystery asked me, "Do you ever think about what would have happened if our first IVF had worked?"

I looked at Eggbert and said, "what do you mean?"

He said, "you know, if you had gotten pregnant the first time, with a different baby."

My immediate reaction, "that would have been terrible!"

It's amazing how one's perspective changes, isn't it?

Friday, January 18, 2008

When bad news starts sounding like good news

A few weeks ago, I posted an update on my friend H, who is pregnant with twins again after losing her twin son and daughter to PPROM and preterm labor at 19-20 weeks last spring. When I posted, everything with the current pregnancy was looking good. She was on bed rest as a precaution, but everything was holding steady, with no signs of trouble.

Three weeks ago, that all changed. She went in for a weekly cervix check at 23 weeks and found that she had lost most of her cervical length, and that what was left had started funneling. She is also having regular contractions, so she is once again officially in preterm labor. She was given various meds and sent home to try "complete bed rest" (no showers even).

The good news is that the meds seem to be working. She hasn't lost any more cervical length, and the babies are still growing. She's now at 26 weeks, and her doctor thinks there's a very good chance that she'll make it to 28 weeks (when the chances of survival are much higher).

The bad news is that our standards for good news have dropped dramatically. When last I spoke with H, she said that she and her husband have stopped even worrying about minor disabilities resulting from prematurity. They will just be grateful if they get to take two living babies home. It's hard to argue with that. I just wish that things had gone differently, and that she could be happily decorating a nursery together and making a birth plan, rather than stewing in her own juices (that's four shower-free weeks now) on her left side in bed, praying that her babies survive.

They're little girls, by the way. Is it too much to hope that one day in the not-too-distant future, H and I can sit and watch our healthy children play together?

P.S. In response to the anonymous poster's question, no, this is not the tragedy that I was referring to, but since you asked, I thought I'd post an update. Thanks for thinking about H. She needs all of the positive thoughts that she can get.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The accidental co-sleeper

I never wanted to be a co-sleeper. In fact I was adamant about Eggbert sleeping in a crib. While I am not against co-sleeping in general, in our case, it seemed inappropriate for several reasons. First and foremost, Mystery and I are flailers. We both toss and turn, and have (accidentally, I swear) each awakened the other with a smack across the head more than once. So, we are particularly poor candidates for co-sleeping. In addition, I have a (perhaps irrational) fear that co-sleeping with an infant will lead to co-sleeping with a 10-year-old. Mystery and I like having a little "us" time in bed, and I don't like the idea of being accompanied by even the delicious Eggbert for years and years. Also, I have a friend who lost a six-week-old baby to SIDS, and while I am not completely convinced that co-sleeping is intrinsically a risk factor (the studies suggesting that it is are seriously flawed), I know I'd never forgive myself if something happened while co-sleeping. Finally, we do plan to keep Eggbert in our room for at least the first year, so having her in the bed too seemed a bit much.

That was then.

My plan was simple. I moved her crib right next to the bed, so that when she woke up in the middle of the night, I could pick her up right away, move to the glider (also conveniently placed nearby), feed her, and then lovingly return her to her crib. Putting her down while sleepy, but not asleep, would teach her to put herself to sleep, and ensure us a lifetime of all-adult bed time. Are the moms out there laughing hysterically at my naiveté yet?

Eggbert's plan was also simple. She would cry anytime I put her in the crib alone. Ever. After I fed her into a nice stupor in the glider, she would respond to my slightest movement toward the crib with howls. After several almost completely sleepless nights, I got the brilliant idea of nursing her in bed, so she'd already be lying down on her back, and I could just gently shift her to the crib without waking her. In response, Eggbert developed an exquisite radar system that allows her to detect breaches of the crib perimeter with uncanny precision, leading her to sleep soundly until my hands lowered her within the border, at which point she started awake and began whimpering.

We went back and forth for the first few nights, with her falling asleep in my arms, or later in the bed, but waking the second I put her in the crib. Then it happened. I fell asleep with her in the bed. We got four hours of delicious sleep, but I was absolutely horrified. I confessed to Mystery (who had adjourned to the guest bed prior to this incident in an attempt to both get some sleep, and give me more room in the bed to nurse Eggbert). He promised to check periodically to make sure that we weren't co-sleeping. And it worked. A few times. By worked, I mean that I fell asleep with the Egg in the bed several more times, and a few times he came in and noticed, and put her in the crib, at which point she howled.

I also won a few battles. Once in a while, she fell asleep and stayed asleep for a few hours in the crib. After a while I thought we were making real progress, when she spent over six hours in the crib each night.

Then we went to the US. In Korea, we can keep our tiny apartment at about 75 degrees F without much effort or expense. However, it would be impossible to raise my parents' house above 70 F without depleting the entire strategic oil reserve. So, the Egg no longer required her uncanny senses to determine that she was alone. The absence of a nearby adult was immediately detectable through a several-degree drop in the local air temperature. No matter how warmly she was dressed, she never slept for more than a couple of hours in the crib that her grandparents had so lovingly provided. I told myself that the (increasingly frequent) co-sleeping was temporary, and that we'd get back on track once we were back in Korea.

Now here we are, and last night she spent four hours in bed with me, and four hours in the crib. Can we call that a tie? I would, except that after a 1:30 am feeding and diaper change, I caught myself putting a sleepy Eggbert back in bed with me after the diaper change. The diaper change had been precipitated by a feeding (you've gotta love that gastro-colic reflex), so I couldn't even pretend that I was putting her in the bed to feed her. It's now official. She has trained me to co-sleep.

Now what to do? We're working on getting her to take naps in her crib (not easy after two weeks of being held 24-7 by a team consisting of both parents, two grandparents, an aunt, and about a million other visitors), but even that is hard, and generally results in very short naps. Does anyone have any tips for how to get the baby back out of the bed into the crib where she belongs?

I should mention that:

A) I never move when sleeping anymore. I wake up aching from head to toe from having spent the whole night (or at least the most recent sleeping bout) in exactly the same position. So, I'm no longer worried about Eggbert's safety, but I'm increasingly worried about my own.

B) Aches aside, I must admit that co-sleeping is the most delicious thing on earth. However, I still don't want to co-sleep with a toddler, and I would like to let Mystery back in the bed on a more consistent basis some time soon!

The lovely M-B asked for photos, so here she is:

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

What a difference...

...a year makes

The year 2007 slunk into the room with a decidedly hostile look on its face, only to catch me in the act of kicking 2006 in the ass and shoving it out the door. On December 30th, I had realized that our first IVF cycle seemed to be a big flop, a conclusion confirmed by a negative beta on January 2nd. Mystery and I, recent arrivals in Korea, spent the holidays feeling rather alone and blue. Not the most auspicious start to a new year.

We greeted 2008 in the USA, at my parents’ house, as the parents of a new baby daughter. While we didn’t plan any particular festivities, an impromptu party developed when two of my father’s siblings made an unexpected visit from the east coast (warning us only the night before of their imminent arrival in the morning), and my best friend, her finance, and their two-year-old son dropped by. It was an odd mix of people, but it just worked, and everybody had a fantastic time. We didn’t manage to stay up until anywhere near midnight, but it was still the best New Year’s Eve of my life.

...a month makes

A month ago, Eggbert was approaching her 4th week of life. She was the light of my life, and yet I must admit that charming as she was, she didn’t actually DO very much. Eating and sleeping were pretty much her only activities, and her only signs of recognition of Mystery’s and my presence were the shrieks that she emitted when our service as general comfort-providers wasn’t up to standard. Now, only a short month later, she spends much of her day smiling, flirting with her daddy, and generally delighting us with all of her new skills. She can hold up her head. She can even “stand up” if her upper body is supported. She’s a whole new person, even though she’s still our beloved little girl. It’s just amazing to watch her grow.

...a day makes

The day we returned to Korea after spending the holidays in the US, I put the Egg down in her crib for a little while to attend to something else. After a few minutes, I heard cooing coming from the crib. I went over to investigate, and found Eggbert staring at a toy that I had hung from the bars of the crib a few minutes earlier. At first I wasn’t sure that she was really looking at the toy, rather than just in its general direction, but then she started to bat happily at it, cooing louder when she made it swing. And just like that, my baby showed me that after seven weeks of complete disinterest, she had finally discovered objects. Every day seems to have a new surprise in store for us both.

...a generation makes

Spending time with my parents, my parents’ friends, and my friends’ parents as a new mother was absolutely fascinating. Not only was it moving to introduce my child to her grandparents for the first time, it was also really interesting to hear the comments that were made (many obviously inadvertently) about my parenting. For example, I couldn’t count the number of times I heard various forms of the sentence “it won’t hurt her to cry”. Generally this occurred when the senior citizen in question was holding the baby and the baby started screaming. While I had in most cases already explained that Eggbert is a really predictable child, and pretty much only cries when either 1) she’s hungry, 2) she has a poopy diaper, or 3) she wants to be held. As my visit to the US coincided with her six-week growth spurt, the vast majority of crying episodes involved option 1. So, when I heard her crying, my natural instinct was to take her and feed her. However, the instinct of everyone else in the room seemed to be to discuss her crying, and then to jiggle her ineffectively for several minutes while talking about how crying wouldn’t hurt her. At first, I was bewildered by their apparent callousness, until I realized that when THEY were parents of babies, they were actually told not to “spoil” their newborns by reacting to their cries by promptly meeting their needs. It was pretty amazing to see that even though they realize that parenting styles (and the advice of parenting experts) have changed radically over time, they still reacted instinctively by (implicitly) criticizing me for attempting to feed Eggbert on her own schedule, rather than mine. Well, either that or they just didn’t want to give her up. In a few cases, it took quite a bit of doing for me to get the baby back to feed her. I have similar problems in Korea, where middle-aged and older women routinely stop me on the street to scold me for taking the baby out of the house while she's so small, in an inappropriate fashion (a baby sling), and inadequately bundled up (I would think that four layers is enough, but apparently not here in Seoul). I don't understand everything that they're saying, but the subtitles in my mind read: "WORST MOTHER EVER!!!" However, Eggbert's smiles and giggles, the new layer of chub on her little thighs, and the additional chins that developed over the last few weeks reassure me we're doing just fine, regardless of what the village elders may think.

...a baby makes

Now that I’m a mother, I can no longer do many of the things that I used to take for granted. Most of them I don’t miss. During the first six weeks of Eggbert’s life, we mostly stayed at home. We don’t have a car in Korea, so I hadn’t had to deal with the joys of car travel with an infant. After two weeks of frantic activity in the US, I can now safely say “Wow. What a hassle!” She’s a pretty good traveler, mostly sleeping in the car, but once you get her out at your destination, anything can happen. Shopping trips took twice as long as she invariably realized (and announced to the world) that she was STARVING right after we got her into the car seat, or produced an enormous eye-watering poop the second we reached our destination, forcing me to immediately become very familiar with the nearest bathroom. The real shocker, though, was realizing that while being there for a friend in need has always been a priority for me, having a baby makes even that impossible in some cases. One of my very dearest friends suffered a horrible tragedy a few days after we arrived in the US, and my first instinct was to rush to be by her side. As fortune would have it, I was only a five-hour drive away, rather than half-way around the world, yet I realized that I might as well have been on Mars for all that. Previously I had only considered the way becoming a parent expands your ability to love exponentially, I had never even thought about the possibility that it might also force me to become a bit more selfish, or at least self-centered, as I focus on caring for the one individual who needs me most.

...a family makes

Throughout my first two months of being a mother, I have repeatedly thought about how incredibly hard it must be to parent alone. Spending time with my parents, sister, and extended family while Eggbert is still so small was such a joy, and while there have been some moments when I could strangle Mystery (e.g., when he slept in until 11 am on days that I was up at 5), he’s a fantastic dad. While our road to parenthood wasn’t easy, having arrived makes me realize how incredibly lucky we are not only to have finally reached this moment, but also to be able to share it with all of our closest loved ones.

Happy New Year! I hope that 2008 brings good health and happiness to all of us.