Thursday, July 17, 2014

Bella, You're 5!


You turned 5 today! Happy Birthday!

Can I be honest about something? Four is the first age I'm sad to leave behind. This has been such a great year and such a great age. Although I don't have the feeling many women seem to experience of wishing to keep you bottled at a certain age, if I had to pick one, four would be it. I can't wait to see what five brings--I think it will be fantastic--but four was so great that I'm a little grieved it's over.

You've taken off this year, kiddo. Your verbal skill have exploded again, and your vocabulary astounds me. You describe things so well, and can always clear up confusion for us now when we don't catch your meaning the first time you ask something. 

You come out with hilarious lines like this one: "This spoonful is huge! Enormous! Chuck full!" Or, when I ask you if you understand why you're in time out, say.  "Because I did something 'spicable." (You meant despicable).

One of my favorite things about this year is that you've got the attention span to love to listen to us read chapter books. We've read the Beverly Cleary books from Ellen Tebbits to Henry Huggins to all the Ramona books, and you loved every one. We gotten a lot of giggles out of the fact that if a chapter had something to do with underwear, it invariably ended up being Daddy's turn to read. 

Once we read nearly every book Cleary wrote, I bought you the audio books of all our favorites. I didn't realize that would mean that I would have to listen to Beezus and Ramona approximately ten times in the course of four months, but I'm still happy I did it. I don't any other little kids who contentedly listen to audiobooks for hours on end in the car, and say things like: "Whoever reads the most books wins."

(You are SO much like me, and that statement made me positive that I was nailing this whole parenting thing.)

After the Beverly Cleary books, we moved onto Gooney Bird Green, and then the Monty series by Johanna Hurwitz. I think my favorite conversation we've had about books happened at the end of that series:

Daddy: "Don't you want to read the last chapter? I want to see how this ends."

You (with a trembly voice and tears in your eyes): "But I don't want to read it. I don't want the stories about Monty to be over!"
Along with our read-alouds,  you've been working hard at learning how to read yourself. You've done so well and we're so proud of you--you're at the stage where you can sound out almost anything phonetic, but reading continues to be a bit laborious for you. Still, it's a joy to watch you conquer it. And sometimes it's funny. Like when on one line was the word "fun", and on the next was "luck". Guess what word you accidentally put together that day? (I managed not to laugh, but it was the hardest thing I did that week!)

Along with reading, you love your TV and movies,girl. I have to admit, I would pay a lot of money to force the writers of Sofia the First to have to sit through the Baby James episode as many times as you've made me listen to it. (In the background. I draw the line at mother-daughter activities that involve me sitting through such insipid television.) You've also gotten to the point this year that you're so involved in the movies you watch that you'll laugh, cry, or scream at the screen, depending on what's happening. We've gotten a lot more careful about what we show you, because the amount of tears you shed over Lassie Come Home makes me hesitant to read Charlotte's Web  or let you see Old Yeller.

For as many ways as you're so like your mama, there are many other family members I see in you, too. Like your daddy, you have an innate understanding of math, and you have fallen in love with building Legos sets. The two of you build them by the hour together. Like him, you like everything to be precise and accurate--and will correct anyone who isn't both. 

Like your grandpa, you dislike change. You threw a half-hour-long tantrum because I switched some of the pictures on our walls and burst into tears a few days later when we got rid of an antenna. (Seriously, kid, you've got a few issues if we can't throw away an ugly piece of superfluous wire.) 

And you're a bit like your Aunt Rie, too. On Silly Sock night at AWANA. you told me very seriously: "Everyone but me can wear silly socks. I want to look pretty." 

Speaking of AWANA (and other church activities), your understanding of spiritual things ranges from spot on to hilariously off. Like this conversation we had earlier this year:

You: "Were you naughty when you were a little girl?"

Me: "Yes, of course."

You: "Really?"

Me: "Sweetheart, I'm still naughty now."

You: "No you're not!"

Me: "Yes, I am, honey. I try to do what God tells me to, but I mess up, all the time. The Bible tells us that all people mess up and do the wrong things. Jesus was the only perfect person."

You: "No, Mommy. You're perfect, too."
Or these conversations about prayer:
 You:(looking up at the ceiling): "God, I want to marry chocolate cake. I want it to have a mouth and nothing else!" (Looks at me): "What did He say?"
Me: "I think He's in heaven having a good laugh because you're so silly!"

Me (finishing up a prayer): "In Jesus' name, amen."

You: "It's in Jesus' name WE PRAY, amen. If you don't say the right words, God won't know you're praying!"
But along with those sillier moments, you memorized over forty Bible verses this year for your Awana group, and were so meticulous about saying them word-perfect that leaders started calling you "Pastor Isabella" as a joke.

And we've seen such a generous heart in you, although it sometimes is a bit embarrassing, like when you shouted out the car window to a homeless beggar: "Don't worry, man! You'll find a job with money!" (I was grateful he had a good sense of humor. We shared a laugh.)

And at times, your soft heart leaves me floundering for words:

You, looking at our Operation Christmas Child shoe box: "What little girl is this going to? What's her name?"

Me: "We don't know her, Bells."

You: "Then why are we buying her a Christmas present?"

Me: "Because her parents don't have the money to buy her any presents, so we're going to do it instead."

(Long pause during which you look perplexed) 

You: "Do we have money?"

Me (thinking you're worried you won't get any presents this year): "Yes, honey, we do."

You: "Then why don't we give the girl's family our money?"

Me: "UMMMM..."

We realized this year that, like me, you are content to sit on the couch with a book or a TV show and never get up off your bottom. After 20 minutes of "hiking" with your cousins (who were happy to run all over the place), you said: "Exercising is harder than I thought." So with that realization, we put you in ballet and soccer. Although it's unlikely that you'll be a prima ballerina or a soccer star, you've improved so much at both. 

Our favorite line about soccer from you came while we were watching the World Cup. After about 20 minutes of listening to Daddy and me shout over near-misses by the U.S. team, you said: "It would be easier if that man wasn't in front of the goal." (That was, by far, one of everyone's favorite Facebook comments of yours I relayed this year.)

As you have been for the last year or two, you remain very interested in marriage, motherhood, and everything of that sort. You told me very seriously one day that when you're 31, you're going to start looking for a husband, and another day that you plan to marry Prince Eric. On another occasion, you asked me how a baby gets out of a mother's tummy. I answered, and shuddered as I thought of the fact that it won't be long before you ask me how the baby gets IN there. You've prayed very earnestly that you want God to put one girl baby and one boy baby in your tummy, and have been VERY put out with me when I suggested that you don't get to choose the genders of your future children.

Daddy and I feel pretty secure that you're enjoying your childhood, because you often say things to us about how you want to replicate it for your children someday. You told me you want two big dogs, and want to train them to be good like Zaira and Razo. You say all the time how you want to be an author and a mommy when you grow up, just like me. You told me one day that your favorite song is the lullaby I've sung to you since you were a baby. (Yes, I cried.) And you informed me that you're my biggest fan,

We also have absolutely NO qualms about whether you've got a healthy self-esteem. You've come out with lines like: "I am the most beautifullest girl in the world." And although you will parrot back one of my favorite momisms glibly (It's not your job to be pretty), it's clear you believe you are. Like the day we had this conversation:

You were whining about something silly and looking at yourself in the mirror as you cried.

Me: "Do you look a little ugly when you cry?"

You: "No."

Me: "Oh, do you always think you look beautiful?"

You: "Yes. except when you put me in ugly shirts like you did the other day."
It's been clear this year, too, how much you've already internalized about your beginnings. You talk about M all the time, and while I can't always answer all your questions about her, I've been so thankful she's real and important to you.  

We can't wait to see what this year brings, kiddo, as you start kindergarten and piano lessons and add a hundred other adventures to your list of accomplishments.

Today, we're off to the zoo with your best friend from pre-school. And we're going to enjoy every moment of your first day of being 5!

Love you, little one. More than my own life.

Happy Birthday.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

This Shouldn't Bother Me Four Years Later...

I was invited to a baby shower yesterday. As a rule, I don't attend baby showers. I have gone to a few. Some were for family members and I couldn't get out of them. A few were for friends who were so supportive during my hard times that I wanted to be there to celebrate their good times with them.  

Usually, I'm glad to be invited to go to the shower, even if I don't want to be in a situation where people are celebrating a pregnancy. It's nice to know people want my company, even if I don't think I would make very good company in that particular situation. Yesterday, instead of being grateful for the invitation, it hit a sore spot.

The sore spot had nothing to do with the woman who the shower was being thrown for. She and her husband have struggled with infertility and decided to adopt. They were on a waiting list for about a year. A few weeks ago, out of the blue, they got a phone call, asking them if they wanted to pick up their son. I'm so thrilled for them. 

The sore spot is because this new mom was never pregnant, but people who aren't her family members are throwing her a baby shower. That never happened for me.

The school I taught at threw baby showers for all the pregnant women who worked there. They didn't host one for me. The group of acquaintances (I wouldn't call them friends) who are putting on this shower and I have a very superficial relationship. I'm happier--and I'm sure they're happier--now that we're content to leave our relationships with each other at that level. Still, it grates on me that they do these things for other women when they've treated me like my status as a mom is somehow second class.

The vast majority of the time, I love my life. I am so grateful for Bella, for my marriage, and for some of the exciting things that might be on the horizon for me. I don't spend a lot of time or energy letting myself feel bitter or frustrated that we did not have more children or that there are (insignificant) people in my life who were not always as sensitive or caring as I would have liked.

But when I get an invitation like the one I got yesterday, those negative feelings will sometimes reappear. Because there are some hidden costs to surrogacy I never knew I would have to pay. 

That was never clearer than when our second surrogate miscarried a few years ago. I was at a mom's group the day I found out, and two of the women there sat at a table with me and we cried together. One woman, however, when she asked me what was wrong , and I told her our surrogate had miscarried that morning, said "Oh." 

Not "I'm sorry." 

Just "Oh." 

Most of the women at the mom's group just ignored the situation, never saying a word to me about it in the days and weeks that followed.

When I shared my frustration about it with another friend, she told me, "You have to understand, people think that because you're not carrying the pregnancy, it's not as emotional for you when a miscarriage happens." 

I laughed. 

Because as any intended parent knows, it's worse-- whether or not other people who have never had to take shots, undergo an egg retrieval, or spend tens of thousands of dollars on a pregnancy attempt spend five seconds trying to understand that. 

I've had people insinuate that because I didn't carry Bella and did not breastfeed her, I don't understand the bond that creates between a mother and child. 

Again, I laughed. 

Because I've known plenty of people who carried a pregnancy and then breastfed who don't seem nearly as attached to their children as I am to mine. Not to mention that I've seen more than one instance of mothers who turned breastfeeding into something selfish--it was about them, not about what was best for their child. 

When we looked at our two options--adoption or surrogacy--I didn't realize that the one we picked would have hidden costs. That there would be some (albeit unimportant) people in my life who would celebrate a pregnancy or an adoption, but wouldn't celebrate with us because we chose the road less traveled. That people would believe a miscarriage for us wasn't a big deal. That people are foolish enough to believe that housing and feeding a child is what creates a bond, not living with her and parenting her for the eighteen years afterward. That 4.5 years later, I would still have moments where I have to grit my teeth and remind myself that my choice was just as legitimate as anyone else's. 

What's wonderful is that those moments are just that. They're moments. And all the other days are filled with the joy of being a family. 

There were some hidden costs to choosing surrogacy. But I would pay all of them--the ones I expected and the ones that surprised me--to end up right back here with the family I've got. 

And I'll just keep saying "no thanks" to those baby shower invitations.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

You're 4!

Happy Birthday, Bella!

I can't believe you're 4! This is one of my favorite little girl ages, and I'm having so much fun with you. You are turning into such a helpful, caring, cautious, stubborn, and loving little girl, and I simply adore being your mother.

It's been a good year. A friend told me not too long ago that her MIL (who had an only child that grew up to be this woman's husband) told her: "I never planned on having an only child, but once I embraced it, I realized how wonderful it was." That comment resonated at the time and I've come to realize how true it is, kiddo. Having an only child--at least when it's YOU--is fantastic. I enjoy it more all the time, and I every day, I'm less sad and more excited that you're going to get all our time, attention, money, and adoration. You don't seem any worse for wear, either. If anything, you seem to like not sharing me.

It's been an eventful year. We got another puppy. Sometimes you love him. Other times, we have to save him from you.

You started pre-school this year. You've made some good friends, experienced your first bully (Mommy had a hard time with that one! I was so glad when he was asked to leave the school.), and told me matter-of-factly that you were going to marry Carter when you grew up (And his mommy and I both wanted to cry. No boys. Not yet. Not for like another 10 years. Or 20, if you're so inclined.)

Daddy and I have realized that you have the memory of a steel trap, little girl. You don't forget anything, and we're learning to be careful what we say around you. We didn't realize you would start quoting us to anyone who would listen--and that some of it would be about toileting. But your memory is also great, because I knew that by 3.75 you've already absorbed more about your beginnings than some adults. Because this was our conversation in the car back in April:

You: "When my daughter's a teeny-tiny little baby, she'll be in my tummy."
Me: "That's right."
You: "Unless my tummy's broken. Then she'll be in someone else's tummy like I was."

(And I cried, of course.) 

While there are many days that I'm not sure if I'm doing all that well at this whole mom-thing, most of the time you make me think you're satisfied, no matter my own doubts. Whenever anyone asks you what you want to be when your grow up, you say "A mommy!". I've told you dozens of times now that you can be anything you want (a doctor, a librarian, an artist, etc.) as well as be a mother. You don't seem interested in anything else. And it makes me melt. Especially when you say things like "Mommy, I love you inside my heart."

You have acquired quite the independent streak this year. You want to do everything by yourself (I miss your baby version of this pronouncement. You used to say "I want to do it by the self!"). You're trying to figure out how to buckle your own seatbelt, despite the fact that your arms aren't long enough. You love to wash your own hair, pick out your own clothes (and you've conquered the concept of matching!), and help me with chores around the house.

Just like your daddy, you very much want to do things by the rules. And while it's annoying at times (can't I please skip a verse in a song if I want to?), I am praying it lasts through high school (i.e. the drinking age here is 21, not 15!).

Your love of Disney princesses hasn't waned (it's become an obsession if anything). I love to listen to you quote entire scenes of dialogue, because that's all me, kid. Or sit as you "read" me any of the 50 books you can quote verbatim we've read them so many times. I can't wait to see what your version of Harry Potter/Twilight/The Hunger Games is as a teenager. And I can't wait to introduce you to all those books (and Anne of Green Gables, and Little House on the Prairie, and Shannon Hale's books, and Caroline B Cooney's, and, and, and...). But for now, I'm happy to read Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake for the 300th time.

This summer, you've been rocking swim classes and getting ready for ballet camp, and playing so many board games that we can't wait for your family birthday lunch to get a few new ones. We're busy and happy and are so glad that you're our girl.

So today, Bells, I hope you have a fantastic birthday, with your cupcake breakfast and your day at the amusement park with Daddy and me. And I want you to know how much we love you and how grateful we are to have had four such wonderful years with you.


P.S. Some other things you've said this year that cracked us up:

At the lake while swimming: "I'm walking on water, just like Jesus!"

One random lunch:
You: "When I grow up, I am going to get married."
Me: "To whom?"
You: "I don't know. I don't know him yet."
A few beats of silence.
You: "And when I grow up, I'm going to obey God."

Out of the blue one day:
You: "I like a lot of things, but I don't like what I don't like."

On the couch in our living room:
You: "Mommy, I want to live here for a LONG time."
Me: "Do you want to go to college when you turn 18?"
You: "That sounds like fun."
Me: "I met Daddy in college."
You: "And then you were really HAPPY!"

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


One of the many indications that my path to motherhood was a very uncommon one: my reproductive endocrinologist (who is an internationally known practitioner and surgeon), calls my cell phone himself and asks me to forward him information about our Indian surrogacy clinic to pass on to a patient. Seriously, who else has has their doctors call them to suggest referrals?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Happy 3rd Birthday, Bee!

Dear Isabella Juliet,

You're 3 today!

You're doing so many cute things lately. You're starting to tell stories that make sense. You can negotiate with us. You're developing a VERY clear sense of your own taste. And Bells, you're obsessed with Disney princesses. (This obsession thing is apparently genetic. I can see so much of myself in you!) You're learning some cute things from the movies, too. Right now, one of your favorite things to say when we tell you we love you is "I love you most" (from Tangled). For the record, it's not true. We love you most. I promise.

I don't know if you will ever care enough about your beginnings to read this blog someday, Bell, but I wanted to make sure some things are clear in case you ever do...particularly in light of many of the struggles I've written about this past year.

Bella, Daddy and I wanted another baby. We'll never try to hide that from you. Our first choice wasn't for you to be an only child--but when we made the decision that we needed to be done trying for more, our primary concern wasn't about us. We worried about you. We wanted another child more for your sake than ours.

I can't tell you how many times we've looked at each other in the last three years and said "Do we really want to risk changing everything ? Life is so great with Bella. Could we ever love another kid as much as we love her?" And the main reason we decided to try and were so disappointed when it didn't work was because we have loved being your parents so much we knew parenting any sibling of yours would be incredible, too.

So as you grow, Bells, I want you to remember something very important: You have always been enough for us. You will always be enough for us. There has never been one second of your life that we wished for a boy (we were hoping for another girl, to be honest. Neither one of us cared about having a son). There has never been a time when we wished you had a different hair color, eye color, height, weight, or personality.You don't have to be perfect, get straight A's, get into a fabulous college, play sports, sing like an angel, draw like Picasso, or write like Shakespeare. All we care about is that you grow up to be a godly woman with a strong character. There is very little you could do to disappoint us, baby girl. Please don't ever feel like you shoulder the weight of two or three kids' worth of expectations. As long as you love the Lord, whoever you turn out to be is fine with us.

So today, Isabella Juliet, on the day you turn three, I want you to know how grateful we are to be your parents. I want you to know how excited we are to watch you grow from the precocious little girl you are into whatever young woman you want to become. It is a privileged to be your mother, baby girl, and I love you so, so much.

Happy Birthday!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Funny Stuff

Ten Funny Things Bella has said/done lately:

  1. Bella: "Mommy is my daughter."
  2. Bella to Shawn: "Daddy, I love you. You're cute,cute, cute."
  3. Bella: "Mommy, your curly hair is fine and your forehead is very little." 
  4. Bella handed me a chocolate chip one morning, "So you will be healthy, Mommy." 
  5. Bella took one look at my bed-head and said: "You need a hat!"
  6. I started singing along to one of her videos and she yelled: "Mommy, stop singing! The TV is singing!"
  7. Bella: "Zaira made a mess of my life!"
  8. After watching Tangled 5,000 times, I've had to explain that mommies and daughters don't kiss on the lips like Rapunzel and Eugene. Bella is still not completely convinced.
  9. A few nights ago, after reading the story of Abraham and Sarah to Bella, who was obviously not paying attention:
    Me: "Who was this story about, Bell?"
    Bella: "God."
    Shawn : "Isn't she a little young to be giving that answer already?"
    Me: "No, Bella, God was in the story, but it was about a person. Who did we read about?"
    Bella: "Jesus."
  10. And last night, I heard Bella get up out of her big girl bed, go into the bathroom, and a few minutes later flush the toilet (score!). I kept an ear on what was going on upstairs. I heard her making noise for about another five-ten minutes, then silence. I assumed she'd gone back to bed, which happens some nights (other nights, she makes a bid for freedom). An hour later? We found her asleep on the bath mat, the light still blaring brightly.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Power of Choice

Well, it's been a few weeks now, and I feel like the worst of my emotional storm has blown over. Not that I've made an instantaneous recovery and am totally at peace, but I'm no longer breaking down in tears every day.

From the beginning (and I'm talking about the very beginning--finding out at 15 that I didn't have a uterus), the worst part of infertility has often been the frustration of feeling powerless. The frustration of being powerless where other people have choices.

When we found out about surrogacy in India, that feeling of powerlessness receded. Finally, I got some choices. I didn't have to wait on friends or family members to be ready to carry our child for us. I didn't have to prove that I would be a good parent to a social worker or an adoption agency. I got to choose when, who, and how. And for the last 3.5 years, that powerlessness has stayed at bay.

Since Dr. Shivani told us that my egg collection hadn't produced good results, that feeling of being without choices returned in full force. And I know that for a long time--possibly the rest of my life--the fact that other people can just get pregnant whenever they want to will bother me.

But I've realized something in the past few weeks: I do have choices.

I don't really like my choices, but I have them. We could try again, but my emotional resilience and lack of desire to constantly be saving $1,500 a month (and the real possibility that we could do it all to end up right back here) don't make it an appealing option. We could  try again with an egg donor, but that would be even more money, and I don't want to do that for some of the same reasons I don't want to adopt. We could adopt, but again, I don't want to. So we've picked the best of the options we've got: remaining a family of three plus dogs.

And I realized something else: I can make choices to make life easier for myself.

I co-run a mom's group at my church. I'm fulfilling my commitment for the year (which ends next month), but I'm not going to do it next year. Instead, I'm doing some behind-the-scenes stuff for them, which enables me to got to meetings when I feel up to it (many of the women there are good friends, some of whom are incredibly sensitive, so I don't want to bow out entirely), but next year I can skip meetings if I don't feel like going. And last week, although I was supposed to be manning the registration desk, I walked away from it when women started talking about trying to convince their husbands to have a fourth child (they didn't know my situation, so this wasn't as insensitive as it seems). I also chose not to let myself feel guilty about walking away.

I don't see myself going to many baby showers in the future. I'm not going to let people tell me I "should be happy for them!" when people announce pregnancies (I'm aiming for getting back to where I was after Bella's birth: indifference). I'm going to come up with some gracious conversation endings for when people inevitably say stupid things to me. If people have the nerve to keep pushing it when I try to end conversations, I may occasionally give myself permission to make them feel as uncomfortable as I can.

The other thing I've realized is that I am going to own the choices I've made--acknowledge that I chose the parts of my life that were under my control--and try to focus on what I have instead of the options that aren't available to me or the choices I didn't make.

During the days that I don't leave my house, this is already pretty easy, because I love my husband, daughter, and four-legged daughter, and there is nothing about my days with them I'd change (well, maybe I'd like Bella's tantrums to instantly disappear). And the more time I spend out in the world at large, I think the better I'll get at blocking out the temptation to envy others. After all, I don't really want their lives...just some of their choices.