Sunday, September 30, 2012

Social Safety Nets.

Gah.  Where to start?  I don't know what the beginning is, I'm not even sure that it has a definite start-point.  But somewhere in the last couple of years, this funk began.  If you're a married woman, with a kid, and a career, you probably have met this funk at some point, too.  The funk is that of struggle, specifically with some one close to you.  And yourself.  All at the same time. 
It's been a rough year or so for our house and family.  There was a great beginning with the birth of Miss E and her daddy and papa's delight, but most of the rest has been downhill.  The death of my sister, the shenanigans with my dissertation, the horrible academic job market, the fight over one kind of historic-ish house, and my diagnosis as PDD-NOS have all put a damper on the mood on Cedar Street.  Not that things had been easy before then, mind you, but it's gotten a lot harder lately.
Part of it is my own fault, and I'll admit that I do jump too readily to help out when and where I can.  It's how I was raised.  At the same time, while I've been busy jumping to others' aid, there's been a tremendous lack of support for our household.  We're not in either of our home towns, we don't have family close by, we're not members of a church, we don't have a lot of the social support systems that other people do, and that were common even fifty years ago.  Our extended families have typically come to us for help, not the other way around, and Dwight and I both find it hard to ask for help.
We did seek and find help a few years back with couple's counseling, and that was a huge boost for us.  Lately, however, The Funk has been creeping back, and with a vengeance.  
See, it's tougher than Dwight or I thought to either go to grad school or to parent a small child.  And that makes keeping a relationship stable even harder.  Unfortunately, we were too busy keeping everything else afloat to pay attention to our marriage.  And so, we'll likely do what we've been doing for 11 years now- making our own safety met as best as we can.  If that means being less involved in the community, pulling back on our workloads, whatever.  Of course the absolute *need* for this readjustment of priorities and refocusing of energies (and realization of exactly how bad things had gotten) had to come on the wedding day of two of my best friends.  Gotta love perfect timing, right?
What's the point of all this, besides whining?  To point out the fallacy of the right.  Mr. Romney's made some interesting declarations lately concerning "the 47%" and "borrow money from your parents if you need to."  That idea- that family and/or charity will come to the need of people instead of the government- is great if you have family that's in a position to provide the necessary assistance, let alone family.  These two things are not always available, and in an age when more and more people are moving away from their families to follow a job or education, they're even less likely to have access to familial help. 
Feel free to call me a crazy liberal, but isn't this the point of government?  To provide a safety net when no other safety net is available?  Not every person has the privilege of having outside sources of support when they fall.  Are they worth less than those who do have that privilege, or do they deserve a safety net any less?  Don't all people deserve at least a chance?  Isn't that part of the promise of the US?  I think it is.  Please correct me if I'm wrong.

Friday, September 28, 2012

School's in for Summer

Originally publilshed on the Kent Patch on June 14th, 2012.

It's only mid-June, but I have to say that this summer is shaping up quite nicely.  I've been making progress on my dissertation writing, enjoying the weather, and catching up on quite a bit.  Summer usually brings new experiences and challenges for me, and this year is no different.  Monday, I began teaching science at Kent State's Upward Bound program for underprivileged youth across Northeast Ohio.  I dare say that in three days, they've taught me as much or more than I've taught them (just don't tell my students I said that).  This has been a big change for me, since I've spent the last six years teaching undergraduates at Kent and Hiram, and high school students are a far more different demographic than I had expected them to be.
Not many people know this, but for a brief 3 quarters at Ohio State I was an education major.
Fortunately, a spring break field trip to the Everglades with one of Ohio's best ecologists changed that major, along with a helpful reminder of how loud, chaotic, and smelly a classroom full of kids could be.  I've maintained my interest in education, but aimed at older students, and as little as like actual kids, I still consider them absolutely amazing in theory- they are our future, and just amazing creatures.  If only they weren't so raucous and juvenile.  But I digress.
I don't by any means consider myself to be a person of means.  I grew up in a lower middle income family, lost my father to cancer when I was fourteen, and moved out of the house my senior year due to differences with my step-father.  Especially since my sister's suicide last August, I don't feel particularly lucky.  In the past few days, I've learned exactly how lucky I actually am, thanks to the teachers I've had.
These students can do amazing  things.  They can come up with great questions.  They can get the right answer to anything I ask of them, given the right support.  Are they perfect?  Most definitely no.  But they're kids, and pretty amazing kids, in spite of the lot they've been given.  Foster care, raised by grandparents, one just recently back in housing, parents in jail or rehab; my 22 students represent a side of society that I've had the benefit of never having experienced first hand, and they've come through it intact and still wanting to learn.  And even over the summer, on a college campus away from their community!  Kids really are pretty amazing, when you think of it, and I've gotten to meet some astonishing ones during my time in Kent.
That fact gives me hope, honestly.  For all my complaints about students and the state of education, I am hopeful.  Even when we cut support and funding for education, children's health and nutrition, and other services that benefit kids, they still manage to beat the odds.  Not all of them, of course, but some.  I just have to wonder what those kids who manage to rise above will remember when it's their turn to be a part of society.  Will they remember being a priority, invested in, and valued, or will they remember budget cuts, losses of services, and being pushed aside?
One of my favorite quotes is the saying that "We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, but borrow it from our children."  What kind of tenants will we be today?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Inequality in Equality

So, as some of you may have noticed, I was recently visiting New York City for the first time this past weekend.  I was speaking as a part of a "Personal Stories" panel at the eighth annual Men Having Babies seminar.  My part was to discuss the point of view as a traditional surrogate and egg donor.  The whole trip was amazing, and I had a great time, especially in Chelsea and The Village, not to mention the Highline.
One of the things that took me by surprise was the prevalence of gender disparities in alternative reproductive methods. 
I'll be the first to acknowledge that- biologically- there are very good reasons to focus on gay men and their options in family building, as that whole not-having-a-uterus aspect of being a cis-male does make procreation more difficult than it is for a cis-female.  At the same time, there are similar non-biological hurdles to family building for both gay and lesbian couples.  Legally, both have to go through some form of second parent adoption, pre-birth order, or other mechanism in order for both parents to be recognized as parents and given the protections afforded to legal parents.  Medically, both have to obtain donor gametes from a third party.  Psychologically, both have to deal with the emotional reality of having to involve a third party in their family, how and when to disclose information to the resultant child and friends and family, and the potential risks of involving a third party, including the potential for threats to their family autonomy. 
Yet, I have never seen or heard of a conference on these issues geared at women, only men. 
And selling services to the men that need these services is big business for surrogacy and egg donor agencies, lawyers, IVF providers, and more. 
Yet, there's very little spent on addressing women's needs in these areas.
It all feels very lopsided to me; as if the fact that in this particular instance (that of family building) men being at a biological disadvantage to women is a grave injustice that must be corrected.  What about the women who have to face very similar issues in family creation- don't they also deserve help, advocacy, and advice? 
I also lost track of the times people referred to surrogates as "carrier", "vessel", "host", or "uterus", and I can assure you that my eye twitched every time it happened.

But I assure you, for all my kvetching on here, the seminar and trip was actually a very positive experience.  Seeing New York City; seeing such loving, compassionate people wanting to raise children; seeing the difference that love and hard work has made in just a few years- it was all far more than worth the negative thought experiments. 

Mamas, Cycles, and the March of Time

Originally published on June 1, 2012, on The Next Family.
Cycles are important, especially to women. Our cycles mean a lot to us: are we pregnant? (congratulations, again, Lexi and Devon!), are we mature? are we in good health? are we at the end of our child-bearing years? – all of which can be addressed in part by our cycles. As a woman, I’m no different in that, and like all women, I’m so much more than that one dimension.
For anyone who hasn’t noticed, I’m an ecologist, and I study frogs. That makes spring in our house a little different than most houses. Where other mamas start noticing the warmer weather, the spring rains, and the flowers, I see humidity levels, time at sunset, hours of dark, and insect activity levels. I start obsessing over the weather- is it warm enough? Is it wet enough? Is there enough daylight? When will the FROGS START TO CALL?! Summer in our house involves lots of late nights driving around count frog surveys, and days counting and measuring tadpoles.
See, most people think of scientists and professors and imagine serious, disciplined, dare I say it- stodgy. Yeah, we’re really not like that, we ecologists. Well, some are, but most not. Herpetologists (people who study amphibians and reptiles, like me) are a little further on the “not your typical professor” scale, and the furthest I’ve ever seen are the elasmobranchs, who study sharks, skates, and rays. They know how to party. But I digress.
My year’s research can live or die by knowing cycles, and how to predict my study organisms. A single big, unexpected event means an entire year is gone. Believe it or not, even though I was working in Ohio, in 2005 hurricane Katrina destroyed my study site and wiped out a year of breeding for the Northern dusky salamanders of Big Pine Hollow. It behooves me to be anal-retentive about the natural world, know what’s going on, and have a good idea of what’s going to happen.
Cycles help with that burden; they give me an idea of what to expect, a baseline if you will. While our current Gregorian calendar, like all other calendars, is man-made and has all the fallibilities that come along with that, it serves a purpose. Wood frogs around here call in late March, spring peepers early April, green frogs in May, bull frogs in July, and so on. Except for years like this, and years like this have gotten more common; years that are less predictable, further outside the normal cycles and limits that we expect, and that’s bad, although it does have its up-sides as well.
Years like this make us re-examine. Years like this remind us that cycles can be wrong, that stochasticity occurs, that life is not predictable all the time. And sometimes I need that reminder, in both the good ways and the bad. Not all surprises are bad, in fact, some are amazing. Sometimes the surprise is everything falling together perfectly. Sometimes the surprise is a species that isn’t where you had expected it. Sometimes the surprise is an experiment that works out just the way you planned.
Other times, it’s the cycle that gives you a little nugget. Those long cycles, those ultridian cycles, the ones where you know they’ll happen again, but you don’t know when. Or you know when, but it’s a looooooooonnnnng time. Like Transit of Venus or Haley’s comet long. The point to this whole ramble is buried in those little nuggets.
Always remember that sometimes the unexpected is just what you need, and sometimes you have to adore the beauty of things you take for granted, because cycles can change and those spring wildflowers might not make it up next year. Challenge yourself to notice the cycles a little more, and see all the wonder that there is out in the natural world. Appreciate the unexpected twists of fate. Look up at the stars, out at the sky, and down at the flowers. And never forget that in a finite universe, the molecules from those stars that no longer shine had to go somewhere, and nature is the best recycler around.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Comic Relief

If you haven't yet, go check out Rampaige's Busty Girl Comics right now!  Some amazing body image and self-acceptance comics about women's shapes, and the problems (and perks) they create for the person in that body.
The most recent one, especially, is absolutely fabulous.  Look at her belly!  Look at her belly!  :D  Even stretch marks are a part of us, once they're there, and remind us of how strong our bodies are.  Love your body, because you only have one.  I know it's hard to do sometimes, but it's when you're down that you need the most love, right? 

Friday, September 21, 2012

On the Topic of Legitimate Rape

Originally published on The Next Family, September 7th, 2012.

It’s a very odd couple of weeks in the news, enough to make me wonder if my long time dream of time travel had come true in a “Monkey’s Paw” sort of way, and I’ve awoken in 1950-something. Talk of “legitimate rape,” “honest rape,” “forcible rape,” forms of conception, and eleven-year -old kids that deserve to have been raped. In case you’ve been living under a rock, all of this is framed in the discourse on abortion, and specifically personhood rights for the unborn (well, except the remark about the eleven-year-old; that’s just cruel and asinine). Now, I wasn’t there in the bad old days of the coat hanger and before Roe vs. Wade, but I’d wager the rhetoric was worse, although I’m not sure by how much.

I can respect a pro-life stance, even if I myself am pro-choice; I have plenty of friends that are pro-life for various reasons and to varying degrees, but we mostly get along. I say “mostly” because saying that any group got along all the time would be a lie now wouldn’t it? Even when we don’t necessarily get along, we’re civil and respectful, and while no one typically persuades anyone else, in the end we’re still friends. I think that’s how most of us are in our day-to-day lives, with people we know, or at least I like to think that’s the case. You’d never know it from the news, though, and I may be delusional in thinking the way I do.

Thing is, while all the talk from the likes of Akin, Ryan, Paul, and Passidomo make it sound like these are just misspoken words or verbal accidents, there’s a certain logic to these unhinged statements. What they effectively do is blame the victim and dehumanize the woman involved, and by extension, all women. As a meme that’s been going around Facebook states, a woman deserves to be raped because she’s scantily clad just as much as a man deserves to be kicked in the balls when he doesn’t put on a cup in the morning. Victim blaming is the easiest of these insidious tactics to dispel because all it requires is a simple respect for others.
The other lines are a bit trickier, in part because they rely on that first step above: respecting others. But once you do that, you have to think about dichotomies. See, any time you categorize something, you imply that not everything fits in that category. For there to be “honest rape,” that implies that some rapes are “dishonest,” or a case of “buyer’s remorse”, and nothing could be further from the truth. Rape is never OK, there is nothing that a person can do that makes them worthy of being raped. To say that they are worthy of rape is to say that they aren’t human, plain and simple.

Finally, using lies and fallacies like women’s bodies “shutting that whole thing down” and pregnancies not resulting from rapes is blatant propaganda and dishonesty, on top of victim-shaming and cruelty. More importantly, it is absolutely unacceptable for those who should be held as role models to be spreading this misinformation and mischaracterization, and even worse when this is done by a member of the House Science Committee. There is a place for opinion, if you could even call these opinions, but it is not situated somewhere north of facts, at least not in the real world, which these people have arguably left behind at this point.

On a closing note, what all of these comments have in common is a reflection of the fact that there are plenty of people in the US and the world who still consider women to be second class citizens, and not worthy of the same respect as men and not able to be trusted with decisions regarding their own body. In fact, talking about rape as another form of conception ignores the woman entirely, and focuses simply on “rape->baby” and in thirty-one states, the woman continues to be ignored by laws that allow fathers via rape to have the same rights and access to their progeny as fathers via IVF, intercourse, or adoption (yes, you read that right, rapists can sue for visitation, too). The same goes with personhood amendments which instill legal status on all embryos, including those created via IVF. Many prominent pro-life activists are opposed to personhood statutes, because those statutes go too far in limiting rights, and would effectively bar IVF due to concerns on how to deal with all of the extra embryos created in the process and the need to figure out what to do with them (and a desire to avoid additional Octo-mom situations).

Personally, I will always support a woman’s right to bodily autonomy, the same as I respect a man’s right to bodily autonomy in the circumcision debate. If we can’t control our own bodies, what do we have control over? And let’s face it, this discussion is not about protecting the unborn, or caring for children- if it were, we wouldn’t have such a high national child poverty rate. The discussion on different types of rape, abortion (and in part, surrogacy) is about control. Women are not chattel, and any politician- or human, for that matter- would do well to remember that all 7 billion plus humans currently alive are here because of a woman (or two).

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Of Hope and Humanity, Part Two

Originally published on May 18, 2012, on The Next Family.
I gave birth on a Tuesday, in the early morning, and Thursday afternoon we left the hospital. The guys were still staying in town one more night because our discharge was later in the day and they had a six-hour drive home (plus a lot of time for stops this trip). So Friday we had one last goodbye, and then they were off. A few hours after they left, we were off, to Minneapolis for my annual professional conference. My first experience with pumping and traveling, and it was quite the learning experience at that. By the way, frozen breast milk travels through TSA screenings perfectly well, while fresh is infinitely harder. Just so you know. Everything went well, and on the little one’s one-week birthday, we were on our way back home. I have to credit daddy and papa (my intended fathers) for being amazing during this time. I had emails, phone pictures, calls, and updates. We were all sharing pictures and gushing on Facebook, and things just went outstandingly well. We had talked ahead of time about how to handle afterwards, what expectations we all had, what to do and not do, so we were prepared, and I think that was a huge help in navigating those hormone-driven and sleep-deprived post-partum and early infant days. It also helped that daddy is a counselor, and deals amazingly well with people. As things calmed down and I got back into work, there were changes, obviously, but we all dealt with them as they came with copious communication. I took some time to focus on myself, and pamper myself some, not by time off of work (yeah, graduate students who want to graduate don’t really do that), but with things like eating out, massages, and using pumping time as time to read, play online, whatever. We set up a time to go visit the new family, marked the date on the calendar, and just enjoyed the end of summer. I had my prospectus defense scheduled, so I spent a lot of time getting that document ready, editing, and practicing questions (which, ironically, I’m going through again as I prep my dissertation for defense). Life was good. What no one communicated about, and what no one expected, was that Monday morning call from my mom and her husband. What no one expected was that our first reaction would be “Did her husband do it?” when we heard of Kim’s death. What no one expected was that the answer would be no. Kim had married an older man early on. She was half his age when they married in her 21st year of life. She and I had been close as kids, we’re 4.5 years apart, but our dad died when I was 14 and she was 9, so that made us closer than other kids with the same span between them. In some ways, I had thought of her and been protective of her as a mother would. By the end of that week, we would be driving across state, going to a *very* private memorial, and saying goodbye. I don’t deal with funerals well. I may do dissections frequently as a biologist and not think twice about it, but dead people freak me out. Seeing my little sis there literally took my breath away. Hearing the comments of “She looks so good” made me gag. Fewer than thirty people were allowed in to pay their respects, but my in-laws and another surrogate that was local to Kim and had known both of us came for me. Daddy and Papa sent flowers. My dear friend Kristina, who had watched Kenny when I was in labor sent cards compulsively. At my prospectus defense, ten days after Kim’s death, one of my advisors gave me a card. Towards the end of August, when the date of our big trip came up, I was informed of a second memorial for Kim. This would be the larger service, with the cousins, and extended family. This would be not the stiff pastor speaking of some other Kim, but family sharing and crying and eating, with no preserved body and a pillow carefully hiding a missing occipital bone. It was to be the same day that we would be with the new family. Again, I was separated from our family; so instead, I celebrated with “my family” by going to an outdoor concert with Daddy, Papa, and their little girl. There was music, and outdoors, and food, and love- and that was my memorial for her. To say the healing process was hard would be an understatement. We walked as a family, me, Dwight, Kenny, my mom, and her husband, in an Out of the Darkness walk in Cleveland in October. We had t-shirts printed with an image of Kim with fairy wings that I had put together. Most days, I was able to drag myself out of bed. Oddly, when I read my teaching reviews for that term, my students praised me; I laughed at how well I had managed to fool them into thinking that I wasn’t falling apart. I went to grief counseling. I still sit here, nearly ten months later, in tears as I type. Grieving is not something that gets easier with practice; I should know, I’ve done this before. And, by a huge twist of fate, my commencement and hooding this summer falls on her birthday, and just after the one-year anniversary of her death. A part of me sees her laughing somewhere over this fact, probably with our dad. She always was the drama queen, and wanted to be the center of attention. Well, this year her birthday will be for both of us. This is my payback for all the years of having to share my birthday with her half birthday. I’d take back every mean thing I said just to share a birthday with you again.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Post I Didn't Want to Write

September the eleventh has come and gone, and I have managed to refrain from saying much until now.  At this point, I don't think it's disrespectful to discuss the very difficult issues that the anniversary of eleven years and two days ago brings about.  It may be odd, but I prefer to give a little space when I deem necessary, as opposed to bowling people over at a sensitive time.
Unfortunately, this year brought more pain and suffering, as there were attacks on US embassies in the middle east, most notably Benghazi.  This was after a trailer of a movie the Innocence of Muslims by "Sam Bacile" and promoted by Terry Jones, the Florida Quran-burning pastor (note, I'm choosing not to link any of this, as it's pretty vile, in my opinion; feel free to check Google, but I'm not going to promote them more than simply stating facts).  It has yet to be proven that the attacks were connected to the movie, or even planned attacks (as opposed to protests that were "lucky" and got out of control), but whatever the connections, the date was not a good one.  Not that there's ever a good time for attacks, but hopefully you get what I mean. 
There's no question that the movie- reprehensible as it may be- is legal in the US and is protected speech, which is part of what makes it so hard for the rest of the world to understand.  We love our free speech here, to the point where we along what many other nations would consider hate speech, and with no repercussions to boot.  We also have the freedom of religion that lets us worship, pray, and believe however we choose, and the freedom to believe in nothing at all.  What we haven't quite figured out yet- and granted, we are a relatively young nation- is how to balance these rights with the responsibility to not be jerks, and to tolerate and even embrace others' beliefs.  I've talked about this before, and I'll talk about it again, but there is no right that does not carry with it some responsibility, also. 
And this is where it gets tough.  After September eleventh, we hurt mightily as a nation and we had every right to do that.  We had the responsibility to not take that hurt and behave like a wounded beast and attack whatever was closest.  We had the responsibility to not use our hurt to fuel our hate against people who don't believe the same as us, at home and abroad.  We had the responsibility to not use superficial appearances as a reason for revenge against innocent individuals.  We abused our rights in the wake of 9-11, and we are continuing to ignore our responsibilities to the world.  These responsibilities are greater yet, due to our *massively* over-powering military force in comparison to the rest of the world. 
If we as a nation are ever not going to be at war again, we have got to start to understand the implications of our actions, and the entitlement of others to the same rights that we enjoy.  At this moment, let's stand up and act as the bigger nation that we are.  To all those nations that felt attacked by the movie, they felt that they were attacked by the whole US, as in their country a video like this never would have made the light of day, and it's very possible they reacted as though that were the case.  Let's show them the benefits of our rights, so that they might embrace the ideals behind those right and push for them inside their own country.  Let us remember to give them the benefit of the doubt.  Let us remember to be humane, and recognize the humanity in others.  Is their action excusable?  No, by no means.  Is it understandable?  Most definitely.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Loving the Simple Moments

Originally published on the Kent Patch, June 4th, 2012.

It's summer now, by the school calendar (but still technically spring until the solstice!) and routines are changing.  Kids are at home, camp, grandparents, or a babysitter's, teachers are preparing for next fall, farmers are in full swing running between the field and the market, some businesses have new hours, and the library is open on Sundays.  This can be a stressful time, and for most of the families I know, it requires some careful planning, especially if summer activites like lessons or sports are involved.  When we have our routines, life is pretty comfortable.  One doesn't have to think much, just repeat what you did yesterday, right?  Changes tend to be difficult for humans.
At the same time, sometimes seeing things through a new perspective, or facing new challenges can help us grow and learn.  We never know how much we are capable of until we're forced to go a little further than we have before.  And routines can let us go a little too far into "auto-pilot" mode at times.  Autopilot is great for not having to think, but it's not so good for being mindful and observant, noticing what's going on around us. Finding the right balance between routine and change is important for most people to live their best.
Funny thing is, we humans aren't the only ones who need cycles as well as spontaneity.  The whole universe is built on this combination and finding that balance.
Today marks the full moon, specifically the strawberry moon by some accounts, or the last full moon before the solstice.  The moon phases are a great cyclical phenomenon.  They're predictable, constant, and familiar.
Tomorrow, June 5th, marks the Transit of Venus, visible in our area starting at approximately 6:04 PM EST and continuing until about 10 PM.  This is where we can actually watch the shadow of Venus pass across the sun as it travels in between us and the sun in straight line.  The entire transit will take six hours, but that pesky night sky will interfere with out view of the last four hours.  The transit is actually a cycle, but it won't recur for another 105 years.  For real spontaneity in the skies, think of meteorite showers which should appear in July and August.
Remember wether you're looking at the moon tonight, the transit* tomorrow, meteor showers later this summer, or a starry sky any clear night to break out of your routine a bit.  Try something new, push yourself a little harder, and never forget to take time to notice- really observe- what's going on around you.  Even if you have to schedule it.  If you don't, you might wake up one morning and realize that you're the only one that missed something extraordinary.

*A word of caution on this one- NEVER look straight at the sun without the proper equipment, which is shade #14 welder's glass.  If you don't happen to have those lying around, other options for making a home projector can be found here.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Thoughts on The New Normal

Tonight premieres NBC's take on surrogacy, The New Normal.  Brought to you by the folks that brought you Glee, The New Normal highlights David and Bryan (a gay couple who have decided to pursue surrogacy) and their surrogate, Goldie, and follow the journey to parenthood.  There's a requisite woman-bouncing-on-a-man sex scene for the ex (briefly, and not much skin shown- It *is* NBC, after all), over the top stereotypes, a bigoted grandma and adorable daughter, and a "uterine terrorist" for the first surrogate Bryan and David meet.  Even with all this, the pilot is worth a watch, and I have hopes that they can fix the mistakes. 
The show has a lofty goal- to try and make families headed by same-sex couples more widely accepted and understood, and bring surrogacy into popular culture conversations.  To quote a friend of mine who is a father via surrogacy- "I think even if they get it partly correct it will help. Look at modern family. It's largely based on stereotyping but at least it's gotten people to talk about families like mine. :-) A step in the right direction! :-)"  And that shoot-for-the-stars-reach-the-moon attitude has worked enough times in the past, there's no reason to think it won't this time.  
Really, the more we talk about this, the more we get alternative families out in the public, the better we are because we get closer and closer to fully accepting them as just another form of family that picks up the thrown peas one at a time like ourselves.  If you're wondering about the possibilities, or have been a part of alternative family building, then you might want to weigh in on your experience over at Living the New Normal on Facebook.  That page is put together by the same organizers bringing about Men Having Babies, where I'll be speaking as part of a panel on September 22nd.  Follow along, find information, and make your voice heard.  

Love is Love, Family is Family.  And it's time everyone understood that.

Friday, September 7, 2012

More Fun Stuff on the Horizon

The press releases have gone out, so it looks to be official.  I'll be speaking at Men Having Babies seminar in New York City on September 22nd. 

New Writing Gig

For anyone reading who enjoys music (and if you don't, you should), check out Buzzard Tracks: Northeast Ohio Music News and Reviews.  You might recognize a friendly face there, but the main author and brain-master of this project is Jeff Wanser of the Hiram College Library.  This is an interesting site focused on highlighting music and artists from Northeast Ohio specifically.  If you weren't aware, Cleveland is in fact the home of rock and roll, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Even if you aren't a fan of rock and roll, we're lucky to have a *thriving* musical scene with huge diversity, from indie to folk to chamber to roots (of many nations).  So check out Buzzard Tracks, check out local artists, and learn a bit in the process.  If you're a musician with an album out, check with Jeff- he's always looking for new tunes for the library and the blog.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Matter of Convenience

My son's been two-wheeling on his bike for about three months now, and we've been riding to and from school every day.  He thinks it's "AWESOME!!!" because the bike rack is reserved for third through fifth graders (and he's a first grader) unless you ask the principal (which we did).  It's totally understandable, because who wants a first or second grader riding to school on their own?  We do it as a family, and the principal is OK with that, so he gets to be one of the cool kids, as far as he's concerned.
Since he's still new to bicycling, he isn't that confident about, well, anything other than straight.  He's getting better, but starting, stopping, turning all make him a tad nervous, which is good because frankly I sometimes wonder if he has any self preservation drive at all.  Typically, we ride as family with me in front, Kenny in the middle, and Dwight behind.  I usually get pretty far ahead, about a half a block, and then wait for them the stop signs to catch up.  Since he dislikes stopping and starting the most, and to speed things up, I try to time when I leave as close to when Kenny and Dwight pull up as possible.  He thinks that's pretty cool, too, and announces "That sure is convenient!" every time he can just kind of glide through an intersection.  We've tried explaining the idea of forethought and planning a few times now, but to no avail.  He attributes the ease of his riding to fortune, or sometimes his own skill, but never thinks that others might also play a part.  It's understandable; he is only six. 
So I have to wonder when the Republican National Committee will grow out of this phase.  Their convention theme of "We Built It" shows a similar logic pattern of ignoring others' contributions to individual success.  Employers did not build the workers they employ, and the skills those workers possess.  Entrepreneurs did not build our highways and roads and interstate system.  The railroads did, in fact, build the railroads, but on 200 mile swaths of land granted them by Congress, the unneeded parts of which could be sold to pay for the building process.  Plenty of research is courtesy of grants from the government, and not just crazy speed-of-ketchup studies- medicine, physics, computer science, chemistry, biology, and more all have made significant progress in the last fifty years due to public funds. 
Now, I'm not trying to say they haven't done anything, but there are plenty of factors that have allowed business to thrive in this country that have nothing to do with individual business owners.  I'm the daughter of a small business owner and entrepreneur, I grew up in that world.  Heck, I owned a small business myself for a few years, but when I didn't want to put the time into it, and had done with it what I wanted (mainly advocacy and education), I backed off of it and focused on my career (not blog writing, oddly enough, but biology teaching and research). But they need to have a little perspective, and recognize what others have done to help them get to where they are today. 
This is a society, a community, and we work together or we don't work.  No one can do everything that needs done by themselves, or at a profit.  And frankly, it's a lot better world- in my opinion- when we have friends and neighbors who are collaborating instead of competing.  It's better to work together than to fight with each other, that's just a waste of energy, time, and resources. 
I hope my son soon grows out of this "phase" and understands long term repercussions and empathy, and I hope the Republicans do, as well.  This is not Ayn Rand's world; Atlas is not all he's cracked up to be- he's a myth.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Originally published May 12, 2012, on The Next Family.
TNF: How has it been blogging for TNF? 
It’s been great.  I love reading all the different perspectives here, and all the types of families.  I especially enjoy seeing the common themes across all families (“Am I doing the right thing?”  “My kid isamazing!”  “How do I explain this to a child?”  “Parenting is hardwork!”  those sorts of minutiae), and how those themes are interpreted through different lenses (adoption, surrogacy, same sex parents, single parents, etc.).  And let’s be honest- writing about something besides invasive plants and native amphibians is a great distraction from my dissertation, even if my advisor disapproves.
TNF: How is your family like every other family and how is it different?
We’re the same as every other family in that we love each other, even if we do sometimes struggle.  We have to juggle work, house work, social life, school, community work, extended family, and much more. We’re our own best support system, and know we can count on each other.  But, like every other family we have our own unique variation of life.  I’ve heard that most kids don’t attend professional conferences for vacation.  And I’ve heard a rumor that it’s not normal for a six-year-old to know more about TARDISes and Daleks than s/he does about sports.  I guess our main difference is our extreme collective geekiness.
TNF: Did your family accept you and your lifestyle? If yes, explain and if not, explain what you have done to help them to accept your decisions and your lifestyle.
Eh, some members of the family accept various parts of our life more than others.  I don’t think that there’s anybody in either Dwight’s or my family that 100% agrees with how we live and the choices we make, but for the most part, the differences are in the details, not the broad picture.  Some family members aren’t fond of surrogacy and/or our closeness with the LGBTQ community, others dislike our activism. A few family members disagree with our choice to pursue higher education, and some just wish we didn’t live where we do (usually wishing we lived closer).  But if we all agreed on everything, life would be dull as all get out.
TNF: How do you juggle the work at home with your jobs?
Hahaha!  I’ll let you know that answer when I figure it out, probably sometime after I conquer the mass of clothes to fold.  I don’t tend to balance things, more often than not there’s one area of life that gets lots of attention, while the rest is ignored.  And then something that was being ignored gets all the attention, while everything else is ignored.  And the cycle continues…
TNF: What lessons do you feel are the most important to teach children in this day and age? Are there any lessons they, or perhaps we as parents should unlearn?
Most important: There but for fortune, go you or I.  Don’t hold someone else’s situation against them, because you could find yourself in a similar situation someday, and then you’ll need others to be understanding and supportive, as you’ve been in the past.  Practice not sympathy, but empathy.  Lesson to unlearn: Judging others.  We’re all in this life together, and we can choose to either be a positive influence or a negative influence, and prejudice, discrimination, all the “-isms” preclude our being a positive influence on the world.
TNF: Any words of wisdom to pass on to our readers?
Look past direct effects.  Yes, they’re easier to understand, but they’re less interesting and don’t show the whole picture.  And you can do a lot if you just set the bar low enough.  Either do a few things well, or try a bunch of stuff.
TNF: Anything you want our readers to know about you or your family?
Know that I’m not trying to be a jerk or insult anyone ever, I just don’t often have the right words.  And I’m about as blunt as a club. But I do care- a lot.  So feel free to call me out when I screw up getting the point across.  I’m a work in progress.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Post in Which I come out (but not in the usual way)

In the summer of 2011, I finished one journey as a surrogate, something I had done before.  A few short weeks later, I began a new journey as the survivor after the loss of an immediate family member, something I had also done before.  The synergistic effects of these events’ timing was to lead me on a completely different journey than I ever expected, but that has helped me grow to accept who I am like never before.
            Last week was the start to our family’s summer break.  I know it’s late, but that’s how we tend to roll.  My husband, Dwight, and I are graduate students (but I’m almost done!), and he works over the summer at his side job, so we have the summer off from our “real work” but with everything else that was going on, we hadn’t had any time to do anything as just a family so far; everything had involved other family members and/or at least some working.  So on Thursday evening, while sitting in front of the television watching some Doctor Who on Netflix, Dwight popped the question.  “Why don’t we go to Cedar Point tomorrow?” 
            Sounds reasonable enough, right?  Since we’re only an hour and a half away it would be a simple day trip.  We also have season tickets to Cedar Fair parks- which include Cedar Point- it would even qualify as a cheap day trip.  Our son Kenny had never been to Cedar Point, but he’s tall enough to go on any of the rides, and he had been asking about going to “the big kids’ kiddy park.”  After all of five minutes of discussion, we made the decision and set our alarm for early the next day, planning to be on the road by 8:30 AM, to put us there at 10 AM, when the park opened.  We went off to bed, and visions of Raptors and Mantises danced through our heads.
            The alarm didn’t quite work out as planned, so we awoke late, but the next morning, we worked on getting everything ready to go as efficiently as possible.  Well, I did that, and Dwight did something with his computer in his office that I wasn’t completely clear about at the time (and I remain so- he likes his private space and I’m kind of afraid to ask).  Shower and clean clothing- check.  Breakfast- check, but not anything really breakfast-like.  Kid out of bed- check, with bonus tantrum and fit-throwing.  Time to hit the road if we were to get there when we wanted- check, but it was another half an hour before we finally left. 
            If this sounds like a far cry from a well-oiled machine to you, then you’re a keenly observant reader.  If this sounds like a sure-fire way to make my head explode, then we’ve obviously met at some point.  And explode my head did, somewhere around the turnpike on ramp, when I realized we were running too late for me to get a coffee and doughnut.  By the time we got to the amusement park, I had in fact calmed down and was ready to have some fun.  A great time was had by all, although the day was not perfectly smooth sailing, but that tends to be how anything with a six year old generally goes.  By the time we got home that night, everyone was ready to relax some, and head to bed early. 
            All of the melodrama could have easily been avoided with some careful planning (or even some not-so-careful planning, like throwing food in the cooler the night before).  I’ve always known that I function better with lists and plans, and I’ve made this point to Dwight on many occasions, but this time it simply didn’t happen; spontaneity isn’t supposed to involve lists and plans, right?  All of this chaos is to introduce you to an all too normal chain of events for me, and to point out one way in which my Pervasive Developmental Disorder- Not Otherwise Specified (or PDD-NOS, for short) happens to show itself. 
            You can easily check into PDD-NOS if you like, but suffice it to say, this is one disorder on the autism spectrum.  Forget everything you think you know about people on the autism spectrum, because one of us might be sitting next to you right now.  Someone you considered “quirky” or “a bit odd” might indeed fall into these same ranks.  Ask my husband, he’ll tell you that he would never have imagined his wife of eleven years to have been on the autism spectrum.  But earlier this year, after living with it for thirty-one years, I was told that I do indeed have PDD-NOS.  It wasn’t until then that I had even heard of this, but all of a sudden friends of mine in psychology were chiming in with “Oh, yeah, that makes sense” comments.  I found this out after I hit a metaphoric brick wall while talking to my grief counselor after my sister’s violent and sudden suicide. 
            I had always felt different growing up, never quite fit in, and always had problems communicating with others, let alone relate to them.  For me, this was not necessarily a welcome pronouncement, but one that held a measure of relief and helped to give me some reasons.  It’s not been entirely helpful, in part due to the stigma and preconceptions around autism spectrum disorders, and in part due to my own reactions to the label, but overall it’s been useful at the very least.