November 2, 2016

Finding a new mantra

Breath in: I am Special.
Breath out: I am Strong
Breath in: I am Special
Breath out: I am Strong
Repeated for about 5 minutes daily for meditation and mindfulness.

I did this for years and this particular mantra always felt really exciting and energizing to me.  Until I realized I was poisoning my brain with these words.  As nice as it sounds to think "I'm special" it's a completely toxic mentality that implies that I'm somehow better than someone else.  And by repeating to myself "I'm strong" I was inadvertently reminding myself that weakness is to be avoided.  I was shocked to one day realize that my mantra had been making me sicker.  More disconnected, less willing to display vulnerability and less able to allow myself the human experience.

I have a friend who is also a recovering binge eater and we were talking one day about how helpful mindfulness and meditation is for the process of overcoming toxic emotions.  We were comparing notes on how we practice mindfulness and I suggested that having a mantra while meditating is a great way to bring the mind to the present and unattach from stray thoughts that may pass through the consciousness.  I mentioned that I used to have a mantra but was now looking for a new one since the old one no longer served me.  She asked what the old one was and I explained how "special" and "strong" didn't fit my new life view.  "But Hollywood, of COURSE you're special" she exclaimed with horror.  No.  I'm not.  Special implies that I'm inherently better than someone else.  Special implies that there's something about me that I didn't have to earn.  That there's something "unusual" about me when the truth is, there is no usual.  There is no such thing as a "regular" person.  And to really think I was special was the most pompous, self-serving mentality a person could have.

I will never forget the morning after I realized I wasn't special.  My initial reaction was one of shock.  I couldn't wrap my head around the idea that I was just a skin-bag.  Walking sawdust.  Nothing divine or elect about my existence.  I sobbed for hours and let myself grieve my specialness.  I looked in at my children, still sleeping in their beds.  Their soft bodies flushed from sleep and chests slowing rising and falling with breath.  I felt more daggers in my heart when I realized that they were no longer special either.  Just another metamorphosis of biology that could come and go through this world as their compositions infinitely changed into other forms.  I could barely bring myself to look at them in my shock.  But reality was impossible to deny.  It had been a long night of questions and tears and so that morning I went to Starbucks for a stiff shot of caffeine to get through the day.  I remember walking into the cafe, there was a long line of women in front of me in all shapes and sizes, all ages and races and this is when I realized the real implication of my discovery.  At the moment I walked in the most incredible feeling washed over me.  I wasn't special.  I was a part of this.  We were all connected.  We were all equally capable of accomplishing incredible things.  It hit me that the gift of this life isn't in  our uniqueness, but in our ability to relate and connect to those around us.  I stood in that line and a huge smile broke out on my face.  A few of the women noticed my grin and smiled back.  My being began to brim with excitement at the realization that I didn't need to be special anymore, I could just be.

Realizing my non-specialiness was a burst of relief.  I'm a part of the human experience which is pretty incredible but on my own I'm nothing.  People may choose to do exceptional things, but it is because nobody is special that makes all of human accomplishment that much more grand.  If we were all superheros it wouldn't be surprising at all when amazing feats were accomplished or courage displayed.  But as soft-bodies organisms who the mere act of getting out of bed in the morning can be seen as courageous in some instances, it becomes truly spectacular the things we can accomplish as a whole.

Giving up strength took less tears.  My whole life I've tried to live independently of others to secure happiness, health and success.  And my whole life I've known deep down this quest for independence was making me harder to be around, less able to empathize and less able to relate to others who didn't value strength as I did.  But whenever I would try and use others or work as a team or rely on others for validation I would become increasingly frustrated. I didn't understand that more valuable than being "strong" is being accepting.  When people failed to hold up their end of the bargin, rather than emotionally shutting them off and having the "I just have to do everything myself" I could just observe the situation, observe my feelings and accept that if I expect to be able to feel joy, I'd have to open myself up to pain.  Giving up strength also meant that I could be able to share my failures.  Once I stopped pretending to my clients that I was perfect and made only amazing health choices, I became so much more valuable as a health coach.  I started hearing clients say things like, "phew!  I was worried that you wouldn't understand!"  The discovery that my weakness and vulnerability actually made me more helpful to people was powerful.  The real gift I could give people wasn't strength, success or power, but understanding, and openness.

It took almost 6 months for me to find my new mantra.  But today's mantra fits my new life-outlook very well and I hope is a more healthy mentality to help me stay focused and calm.

Breath In: I am here
Breath Out: I am now

I am here: I had spent so much of my time worrying about what had happened in the past or what I wanted to have happen in the future that I'd often overlooked that perfectness of the moment.  At any given moment, when I stop and think about it, life is pretty amazing.  When I can take my brain and remind myself that I'm not in my past or in my present, most worries and fears simply vanish.  The present is a place of power and action.  A place of decision.  I want to live in each moment that I can control, not the times that I will never have control over and can drive my brain into fits of anxiety.  I am here.

I am now: This is my call to action and life.  If there is something that I'd like to accomplish, now is the only time it will ever happen.  I am not the person I was yesterday, last year or even 10 seconds ago.  I can detach from anything that happened then and know that yesterdays outcomes in no way determine today's.  And when I realize that I am not someone a week from now, or a year from now, it's helpful to me to stop procrastinating creating the life I want to live or the person I want to be.  The only time I can ever be that person is now.  The anxiety and expectation that used to fill my days has decreased dramatically.  I'm more able to be present in conversations.  To enjoy the moments with my children.  I really stop and listen to a friend in need.  I've been practicing clearing my head of responses and thoughts when listening to someone speak and just try and understand their words instead of formulating my reactions or responses.  From this practice it has seemed like life has slowed quite a bit.  The moments sweeter and longer.  I am now.

I have no doubt as I continue experiencing and learning my mantra may change to suit new realizations and I welcome such change.  But today I don't worry thinking about what that might be.  Today I choose life, action and connection.

October 31, 2016

I don't know who I am and it's better that way

In fall 2014 I attended a personal development conference and learned about how our concept of "identity" can either hold us back or open us up to amazing growth.  The presenter, Robert Fritz, an expert on the creative process (https://www.robertfritz.com/wp/) asked us to get out a pen and write down a list of "Who you think you are."  I happily started scribbling and came up with the following list:

Mom, wife, Mormon, Health Coach, Flake, Benac, Sister, Artist, Creator, Texan, Writer, Speaker, Bookworm, Violinist, Night Owl, Sociologist, Peacemaker, Independent, Dreamer

Fritz gave us all a moment and then said to the room of 250 people, "however you define yourself on the level of who you are is fiction.  Anyway you try to define yourself is fiction.  You don't know who you are."

I was stunned.  I was certainly all those things!  How could that not be me? That list of happy words that summed up a life, hopes, roles and more.  Certainly that had to be me?  My face showed my anger. This man didn't know me.  How dare he try and wash away my well-worn identity.  "Everything on your list is just something you do, not something that you are," he explained.  "Many of the things on your list probably relate to your relationship to others indicative of possesion, not an identity."  I examined my list.  It was true, if I took away all those things there was no doubt I would still exist.  I would still be me. Fritz then told us to pair up with a partner and repeat over and over to them the following phrase for 2 minutes:

   You don't know who you are.
   You can't know who you are.
   You don't need to know who you are.

As shocked as I was after the first exercise, this second one had my stomach in knots.  How could I face my partner and tell them they didn't know who they are or that it wasn't important?  I sobbed through both the giving and the receiving of the phrases.   I was terrified, livid, confused, deeply heartbroken.  And I knew he was right.  All those things that I was letting define me weren't actually me.  The person I was wasn't contingent on me having kids, knowing how to play violin, attending meetings on Sunday, being kind, I simply was.  I exist.  If I woke up tomorrow with no memories, I would still be me.  If my entire family disappeared overnight, I would still be me.  Those things I'd written on the list were things I did or owned, not who I essentially was.

Robert Fritz then gave me the gift.  He said, "Since you don't know who you are, you don't have to worry about what you're going to be.  You can just enjoy the experience."  And then I realized, losing my identities, breaking away from the roles I had shoved my existence into meant that I could instantly create total freedom in my life to create anything I wanted.  If I didn't need to be a creator, an artist, a mom, and just allowed myself to be there was no reason at all I couldn't create without limits.  I realized what I hadn't put on my list.  The identities I didn't see myself as.  Those were holding me back just as much as the identities that were written down.  My definitions of self stole from me the one essential truth, I am free every moment of every day to create the exact life I want now.

After this exercise the group took a 15 minute break.  I was shell-shocked and went outside to think.  I found a spot by a creek next to the conference room and just sat, looking at the water running by processing what I had discovered.  Three of my friends passed by from the conference.  Dear friends who shared my religion and career.  I must have looked awful because one of them came up to me and gave me a huge hug then said with great love, "don't worry, Hollywood, we know who we are.  He got it all wrong.  You are a child of God."  I just looked up and gave her a weak smile.  I didn't feel like telling her that I was excited to give that up.  That for me, the identify of being a divine being actually hurt my growth more than helped it.  That giving myself an expectation of pleasing some perfect, judging God and having to rise to live a divine existence had no part in my passion of what I wanted to create in this life.  All my identities could vanish overnight, and it would leave me more free, excited and passionate than ever to just go and live an amazing life free from expectation of how I should or shouldn't be.  I sat back down to watch the river again and my group of friends passed on.

As I've continued personal growth since then, I've learned that this concept is also central to buddhist philosophy (listen to podcast #4, The Illusion of the Ego here: https://secularbuddhism.com/podcast/) In the years since this experience, I've come to find that for me there is way more joy in living a life of passion than a life of purpose.  Purpose to me implies I create expectations for myself and how things should turn out.  Passion implies I live a life that creates joy, vitality, excitement and am open at any given moment to new experiences and ideas even if they conflict with prior ideas I may have held.  Passion versus purpose implies to me that I can give up trying to prove something to myself or others.  It implies that I suck the moments out of each day in gratitude for what is, not what should be.  It's been very exciting to see all the areas I've been able to grow in over the past few years once I gave up the idea of conforming to a specific identity.  When I do find areas that I'm frustrated in, I'll do a quick identify check and see if there's some expectation that's creating discomfort.  When there is a task that I don't want to do, is it because I don't feel like it fits into my role as a "wife" and should be more of a "husband" task?  Or when I'm disappointed that my business doesn't meet the exact goals I want in a certain month, am I shaping my identify on my business or rank?  Does my identify as a violinist mean that I get anxious about performing if my skills aren't up to snuff and I don't want to mess up?

The longer since this experience, the more value I find in it daily.  Today I'm passionate about living in a way that brings joy to myself and others.  For anyone interested in some great resources on living mindfully and in-the-now, I recommend the 30 podcast series on http://secularbuddhism.com.  Love to you all and enjoy the journey - Hollywood.

January 22, 2015

Bound



The boys in my seventh grade gym class really liked watching me run.  I thought it was because I was fast.  I would see them pointing at me and smiling on the side of the track and I ran even faster with great pride.  I was strong and loved ending gym period with a shirt drenched through with sweat. What I didn’t know was that they had made up a nickname for me. “Jello.”  As a dessert, it’s kitschy and delightful.  As a metaphor for a developing 13 year old who doesn’t know enough to buy a bra, not so much. 

I was vaguely aware that my body was going south on me but didn’t spend much time thinking about it and just threw a bulky maroon Harvard sweatshirt over my outfit every day that year.  Who had time to think about the triviality of boobs when there were Roxette tapes to memorize?  Trees to climb?  Poems to write?  I didn’t understand the enthusiasm of my friend Kelly who actually bragged to us at a slumber party about her pink lacey bra and showed us the exercises she’d been doing to increase her bust even more.  Gross.

But as seventh grade was wrapping up, one of my friends sheepishly mentioned to me that she had overheard my cruel nickname being thrown around by the boys.  This was shame as I’d never felt it before.  Along with that shame came outrage and exposure.  With all the things I wanted to spend my mental energy on, I really had to worry about this now?  How could I ever face those boys again?  I went from being a wildly outgoing tomboy to barely being able to look anyone in the eye for the last few weeks of school.  How many of them were in on it?  I stopped trying to fun faster than everyone else.  I felt betrayed by my body.  What was wrong with the body I had?  Why the need for this ridiculous change?  But I was smart enough to know I’d been beat and I finally understood that the Harvard sweatshirt had to go.  I went to my mother in disgust.  Could she buy me a bra?  Even though I had five older sisters, I didn’t think to ask them for a loaner.  We were an amazingly private group, I can’t remember ever once seeing one of them change in front of me growing up.  Heaven forbid I ask them to share underwear with me.  My mother of course was fine to add yet another thing to her shopping list for her nine children and picked up a B-cup on her next run into town.  It fit perfectly.  

The first time I put it on I was appalled at the constriction I felt.  How was I expected to take in carefree lungfulls of the fresh Connecticut air with these straps all around my chest?  I felt like the contraption was visible through anything I wore.  All my white shirts simply had to go.  Was this really how I was supposed to spend the rest of my life?  Shackles around my heart?  Terrified of a strap showing and evidencing my defeat?  But they had called me Jello.  So I wore it.

My family moved to a different state over summer break.   I did not cry to leave the only place I’d known and loved since birth.  In my new school in Texas, I did indeed rack up lots of nicknames, but they were all good-hearted and ones I was proud of.  I ran fast.  And my chest was bound.

A few months ago my second grader asked when she would need to wear a bra.  Twenty four hours later she had a fully stocked dresser drawer.  Bras with panda on them.  Bras with peace signs.  Bras in the technical sense only, those junior trainers don’t do any heavy duty.  My fourth grader was similarly equipped.   I made a big fuss over it and got excited for the new accessories they could add to their wardrobe.   I lied to them about how delightful it was for me to get my first bra.  They took it all in with excitement and now love to wear them to school, the neon straps making no efforts to hide on their shoulders.  They will undoubtedly be called names at some point.  I know this.   As a mother, I often feel like I’m the little boy with his finger in the leaky dike trying to prevent the floods from overwhelming those I love.  My seven year old already has pimples. Pixie’s teeth protrude at angles that make her unwilling to smile openly in pictures.  Their body odor is impossible to hide despite layers of deodorants and frequent bathing.  They are incredibly resistant to the idea of daily hair brushing.  But their chests are bound.  And my chest is bound to theirs.   And God help the soul who ever calls one of them Jello.

January 14, 2015

Uncomfortable

We've been exploring the idea of getting seven year old Cher private help to deal with her speech impediment.  The speech therapist at the public school told us that since it's just her inablility to make the "R" sound, he won't be able to spend more than 5-10 minutes a month with her.  There are just too many other kids with bigger problems.  So Spike and I began exploring the idea of hiring a private therapist who would be able to spend as much time as we were willing to pay for.

When we told Cher that we were thinking about getting another therapist, she got really excited.  "Oh thank you, Mom!  Mr. Smith [her public school therapist] makes me really uncomfortable."

"What do you mean, "uncomfortable?" I asked?  Cher immediatly turned her head and said softly,
"Oh nothing.  Forget about it."

My mommy-radar went bezerk.  "Cher.  Tell me what he does that makes you uncomfortable.  I need to know.

"It's not a big deal, I don't want you to get mad at him!"  Her eyes started filling with tears and she shrank into the big armchair with fear on her face.

I keep telling myself to stop, but I do indulge in local news on occasion and am far too aware of some of the the sickos that have infested our schools.  You hear about them all the time. There was one teacher in particular that sticks out from a radio story I heard a few years ago.  An elementary school teacher in California who would duct tape his students mouths closed, blindfold them, then place live, gigantic cockroaches on their faces and photograph them.  I wish that was all he did, but there's even more horrific details you don't even want to know about but I've been unable to purge from my brain.  So I was NOT going to let this go.

"Cher.  I know you're scared, and I promise everything is going to be all right."  I went and sat next to her in the arm chair and held her hand.  "Honey, I need to know what Mr. Smith is doing that makes you uncomfortable.  It can be very dangerous when kids keep secrets about adults.  Please tell me."

She stared into my eyes and then cracked.  "Well, it's just that I really think he hates me.  Every time he comes to the class to pick me up, he gives me a look like this:"  She suddently screwed up her face and made the most terrifying expression of insanity I'd ever seen.  I can only equate it to that moment in the movie "Pee Wee's Big Adventure" when truck driver Large Marge goes nuts in the cab.  It was impossible to stifle my shriek. 


Cher hung her head and waited to see how I would respond.  "Don't worry, hon.  You don't have to go back," I said softly.  She gave a huge sigh of relief, gushed her thanks and skipped off to play piano.  As relieved as I am to know that Mr. Smith wasn't doing anything truly awful, it really was just the push I needed to get Cher that extra help. Later that day as I was setting up an appointment with the private therapist, she asked me if I had a referral.  I was tempted to tell her that Large Marge sent me. 

(Haven't seen this classic movie?  First, hang your head in shame.  Then watch the "Large Marge" clip here

January 11, 2015

Baby Blue-Prints: A Sibling Donor's View

 (pseudonyms used)

In June 2013 I found myself scouring the internet nightly searching for terms like "sibling egg donation" and "psychological effects of gamete donorship" and "egg donor success stories."  There were precious few search results but I read through the content of each result multiple times.  I wished there was more.  I wanted to find stories of sisters who had teamed up for egg donorship to create a life despite the hand they were dealt.  There were a pair of chummy sisters in England.  And another cute sister team on the east coast who had been interviewed and shared their story with an accompanying photo of them standing triumphantly over a fluff-headed toddler.  And then vast amounts of clinical studies which discussed the various types of lab-assisted baby making and the potential impact but each study concluded that there simply wasn't enough data to analyze. I also found all sorts of infertility chat boards where hungry hearted women wished endlessly that they had a sibling willing or able to donate.  None did.  I couldn't find a single discussion board for potential donors, just potential moms. What I found was that sister-to-sister egg donorship is either very rare or people just weren't talking about it.  I definitely wasn't able to find an answer to my question:  Was giving my sister one of my eggs going to ruin everything?

She hadn't asked for one.   I had been emotionally supportive of their long journey to conceive but it had been almost seven years and they had no dirty diapers to show for it. One afternoon while chatting with my dad on the phone, he had vaguely mentioned to me something about "a really big disappointment" with my big sister Maisy's latest invitro cycle.  I made up an excuse to end the call, stepped out into the backyard where Spike was mowing the lawn, motioned for him to cut the engine and yelled out, "can I offer Maisy one of my eggs?"
"Uh...if you want to."
"K, thanks!"
I stepped back inside, the door swung shut, and I texted Maisy and said I had something to run by her and would she please call me.  She called back the next morning on her way to work.  I'm not one for small talk so I just let her know I'd heard she'd hit another obstacle, and my eggs were farm fresh should she need any.  I was pretty surprised when she replied that they had actually just met with her doctor the day before and had discussed for the first time the option of finding an egg donor.  Three days later I was in a fertility clinic getting a sonogram to see just how good an offer I had made.  The results came back that I was plenty fertile and met the preliminary requirements for donorship.  I scheduled a trip to the east coast for more screening.

After the initial appointments made and potential timeline laid out, I finally started really thinking about the offer I had made.  Spike and I have two beautiful, healthy, smart daughters but had hoped for more.  Between the two of us we make great fajitas, inappropriate jokes and campfires, but doctors agree that our baby making days are over.  I'd spent the first two years after we found out  moping around our house struggling to redefine my sense of purpose.  It took a while, but I'd truly come to peace with our reality.  I've jumped headfirst into a fulfilling career, indulged in my hobbies and soaked up all the time possible with my children.  I now know better than to take them for granted and our family time has increased dramatically in quality.  We are rich with the joy of our children.  Why ask for more?  But questions surrounding my offer began bubbling up faster and faster.

What if going through this process brought back the feelings of loss I'd worked so hard to heal?
What if I became angry seeing my sister with a baby I wished was mine and our relationship suffered?
What if got too attached to their child and freaked them out?
What if my husband took this hard emotionally and felt negative feelings towards my brother in law?
What if I had only offered because deep down I just wanted another baby myself and this was a twisted way to do it?
What if the baby had a birth defect? 
What if the procedure caused some sort of long-term internal damage in my body?
What if the baby turned out to be the blond haired boy I'd always dreamed of for myself?
What if none of the eggs take and I let my sister and her bank account down? Just another failure for us all?
What if ... what if... what if... and the internet provided no answers.

The "what if" I kept ending on was "what if this actually works and my sister gets to experience motherhood like I've been able to?" In the end, this was the question I kept landing on.  No other experience in my life has been nearly as rewarding as the creation and parenting of my Pixie and Cher.  When everything else fails, they keep my heart warm and safe.  It was undeniable, I was blessed beyond belief and had blessings to spare so Spike and I packed our bags for Boston for additional testing and evaluations by Maisy's medical team.  Spike had been a steady source of support and enthusiasm from the moment I asked him and I was very happy to have him by my side on this adventure.  His easy sense of humor about the whole situation helped me relax on that long plane ride.

Honestly, the part I was most nervous about was seeing Maisy's husband, Ravi.  He had been in our family for almost 7 years, but because we lived on opposite sides of the country, I'd never spent much time with him and, let's face it, this had some massive "awkward" potential.  Additionally, he's from Hyderabad, India and I didn't know if there were any other culturally significant issues I should be aware of.  Was he secretly against this whole thing and was just trying to please his wife?  I simply hadn't spent enough time with him to even begin to estimate what he was feeling.  My sister's hospital-appointed therapist had suggested we all read a book to prepare us for the process called, "Mommies, Daddies, Donors, Surrogates: Answering Tough Questions and Building Strong Families."  The book had promised that all four of us adults involved would be having very unsettling dreams about each other and had also detailed many worst-case scenarios for third party reproduction.  To my great relief, I just kept dreaming about chicken eggs but many of the stories had made me nervous.  I drummed my fingers all the way from the airport to their home where Ravi waited.  When we arrived, he was the one to fling open the front door to greet us.   As soon as he saw us, Ravi gave me an impossibly large grin, grabbed me and we hugged like excited children. There was not a second of awkwardness and never has been.  When I asked him about what his family in India might think of this arrangement, he told me that his grandfather had actually given one of his newborn sons to his childless brother to raise.  There was a precedent in his own family.  Baby sharing among siblings had been going on for generations.

During my preliminary visit to Boston for screening. Left to Right: Maisy, Hollywood, Ravi


As a point of interest, both my sister and her husband have Ph.Ds in molecular biology and genetics and have worked specifically in embryo development, manipulation and testing.  They met each other in a lab at Cornell, fell in love, and have been making sweet science ever since.   Maisy had even taught a class at Harvard about embryo development - a cruel twist of fate considering their personal struggles.  So it turns out the idea of some petri dish mad science was all right up their alley.


Once in Boston, part of the process required by insurance was for the lot of us to get together for a good old fashioned counseling session with a professional.  Best to discover any emotional land-mines before it was too late.  I'd never been to any sort of therapy/counseling before and braced for a jarring session where my deepest, darkest secrets were extracted through my nose and bottled up to go on display.  Luckily this was not the case, but the therapist did bring up some new points for me to "what if" about.

I was reminded by the therapist in this group session that the minute the egg was out of my body, it was not mine.  I had signed legal paperwork to this effect.  Any parenting choices Maisy and Ravi had were theirs to make and I should not assume I had any impact on the decisions they made for the baby's future.  The therapist threw out some scenarios.  How would I feel if they decided to physically punish their child?  Would I get upset if they raised it in a different faith?  What if there were extra frozen embryos that they decided to throw out, sell to other women or donate to science?  What if they got a divorce?  What if they didn't provide their child with a good education?  By the end of the therapy session, I had even more questions but my resolve was strengthened.  I could handle it.

I also had to visit with a nurse and learn about all the different shots I would be giving myself at home prior to the egg-retrieval procedure.  She pulled out a case full of vials and needles and proceeded to give impossibly hard to understand instructions for about 15 minutes about the different doses.  "Is this all written down somewhere?" I asked?  She handed me a stack of paperwork. "I have to know whether I can do this on my own before I leave.  Can I do a test shot right now?"
"Sure hon."  She filled a syringe with saline and showed me how to pinch a roll on my belly.  "Just flick it in!" she said.  I flicked and suddenly the needle was back out in the air and blood oozing from a prick on my stomach.  "You have to keep it in," she chided good-heartedly.  I tried again to flick it in, but my hand would always stop stubbornly about half an inch from my belly and I couldn't get it to break the surface again for a good 5-6 attempts.  Finally I just turned my head and channeled my inner karate kid.  Hy-YAH!  The needle was in and it was staying in.  I injected the saline, pulled it out triumphantly, and knew I'd be able to pull this off.  We were going to do this.  I could give myself shots, we could make a baby, we could all live happily ever after.  I bragged to the others for the rest of the day about my awesome injection skills.

A really helpful thing I learned from all the therapy and reading I did was to think about my contribution of the egg as completing a genetic blue-print.  A single cell does not a baby make.  But it would provide Maisy's body with the missing instructions she needed to create an amazing life, which grew from her body, was nourished by her blood and nutrients, and would be 100% hers.  Of this, I felt confident.  The doctors even told us that as sisters, the baby may very well have just as much of her DNA as it would of mine.  Since siblings share roughly half their DNA, probability suggested that one fourth of the DNA of the baby would be the same as Maisy's.   

The final egg retrieval wasn't for another month so I went back to playing "what if" for a few weeks in Las Vegas.  We decided rather than keeping this a secret, like there was any sort of shame or scandal in it, we would be very open with family and friends.  I was very relieved Maisy had chosen this because I'm notoriously bad at dealing with emotions that I can't express out loud.  Not surprisingly, the family was excited for us.  My other siblings approved.  My parents were over the moon.  Spike's family took it in good stride.  The good-will of the people we loved was behind us and now we had the power of dozens more earnest prayers to carry us along our way.  

When the time came, Spike and I packed up the girls and the four of us flew back to Boston to help make a cousin.  My daughters were fascinated with the whole idea.  We had explained to them that my sister was just missing a teeny-tiny piece to get the ball rolling and I was giving her mine.  Cher, my six year old, was concerned that I would be hurt during the process and very anxious about the procedure.  I carefully explained that I was in no danger.  I outlined the procedure of how the eggs would be taken, how the baby would be made, and how my sister would take the blueprint that Ravi and I provided to create the actual finished product. We explained that while my daughters had many cousins, this cousin would be unique.  My girls were going to have a special responsibility to love and care for this cousin in a way that they may not with other cousins.  The genetic half-sibling relationship was mentioned, but not emphasized.  They took it all in with wide eyes and joined in the adventure with us.
Playing dress up at Ravi's lab at MIT to document the adventure the week before the egg donation.  Trying our best to look like hard-core scientists.  Adults left to right: Spike, Hollywood, Maisy and Ravi

Once we arrived back in Boston, Maisy and I did our shots together during the days leading up to the procedure. We enjoyed our time dreaming with their family about the possibilities of what this trip could mean.  On the day of egg-retrieval I was briefly put under for the simple outpatient procedure.  I spent the next day in bed with a little soreness but was back on my feet soon after.  We were surprised to find that I had very few eggs during the particular month that they were retrieving eggs, less than half of what we'd seen from prior months.  They had expected to be able to take at least 20 mature eggs, they got only 10.  That was hard news to get.  Only ten eggs.  And of those ten, only seven were fit to be fertilized.  Now we needed to wait and see how many eggs were actually fertilized and developed to embryos.  The call from the lab came, they had successfully created three embryos.  Just three. I felt a bit panicked.  I watched their faces so see any signs of regret.  Had I failed again?  Were they disappointed in me?  Had I accidentally messed up my shots? I knew how much money this had cost and what a high-stakes game we played.  We all discussed our feelings of frustration that this particular cycle had been so low-yield and conjectured reasons why that might have been so.  My family flew back to Las Vegas two days after the egg retrieval and I couldn't shake the feeling that it was all for nothing. That this was all going to be one spectacular, expensive, emotionally draining failure.

A few days later, a doctor implanted two of the embryos in Maisy.  They tried to freeze the third, but it failed and was not fit to freeze.  During pregnancy testing a few weeks later, they found that only one embryo remained in the uterus.  One.  Just one chance.  Both Maisy and I have experienced failed pregnancies and this was going to be a very long nine months.  We talked frequently during the pregnancy and she at one point expressed to me her concern the she felt like there was an alien growing in her womb.   She struggled to feel attached to a growing baby that she felt may not be her own.  Luckily, those feelings faded as the pregnancy progressed.  I consistently tried to downplay my excitement in case things went south, but it was hard not to get giddy at the photos she sent of her growing belly.  Could we really pull this off?  Was it foolish to indulge in hoping?

The One.  That's what I thought of the growing baby since there were no second string embryos in the sidelines.  If this singular life failed, the insurance wasn't going to cover another attempt.  Our one egg was in one basket.  A few months into the pregnancy, Maisy and Ravi started referring to their baby as "Boots" so I switched to calling it that which proved much less stressful. "It" eventually became a "she."  I spent the nights googling images of what Indian/Caucasian babies might look like.  I'm short and blonde, Maisy tall and brunette.  I kept scouring the internet to find previous voyagers who had taken this journey but found that Trip Advisor just didn't have the information I needed for this particular destination.

The week of Mother's Day 2014 I got a text that Maisy was heading to the hospital.  Another text that the baby was born.  Another frustrated text from my mom saying nobody could get Maisy to send a picture or call.  I waited nervously then at 12:30am on May 8th, my phone rang.  Maisy.  We cried and celebrated together and I even convinced her to text me a picture of her prize.

Her name is Mia. And she is amazing.

Her full name in Sanskrit means "Magical Gift."  And it was fabulously magical what we did - from two families who had struggled with the depression and pitfalls of infertility, we were able to band together and create this amazing, beautiful, magical child.  I wanted to see her!  I wanted every little detail!  But on the opposite coast, I could only think about giving my sister her space to bond with her new baby.  I had read in my internet searches about a woman who had used her sister as a donor, and after the baby was born, the donor sister had crowded her, been at the house all the time, and was suffocating the new mom.  I didn't want to be that donor so I waited.  I watched as my parents and other siblings descended on Boston to meet the baby and soaked up all the photos they posted.  Maisy was the luckiest of new moms and Mia was a great sleeper, didn't cry much, and was born with fantastical amounts of dark, curly hair that made her instantly crush-worthy (and I should note the dark hair was a huge relief to us all!).  I waited quietly but finally cracked after most of my family had been to Boston to see her.  When Mia was a few weeks old, I timidly asked Maisy on a phone call if it would be okay for me to come, "yeah, it's kind of weird that you're not here!" she said.  I felt such relief and booked a ticket that day for the weekend.

A plane ride full of "what ifs."  This was it.  This was when I found out my real intentions and what my deeper feelings might be.  Would I be jealous?  Angry?  Overbearing?  How well did I really know myself?  Spike had stayed home to watch the girls so I spent the five and a half hour flight on the verge of a nervous breakdown, trying to practice deep breathing and reminding myself that there was no going back.  I needed to step up and be the emotionally mature person my family hoped I could be.  The person I wanted desperately to be.

After the seemingly endless day of travel, a taxi dropped me off at Maisy's house.  My sister answered the door and lead me back to the nursery where Mia lay asleep.  Maisy gently roused her and picked her up tenderly from the crib.  My sister the mother, standing in an elegant nursery, with this little miracle pressed against her chest.  As I looked at them both, I had a feeling unlike any before and can only equate it to how grandparents must feel towards their grandchildren.   Mia was definitely a part of me, and I craved being with her, but the actual gift from this whole endeavor was seeing my sister as a mom.  Seeing her so naturally tuck and arrange and sooth this tiny baby with the inborn instincts of any mom.  Seeing the bedset and quilts that Maisy had sewn for Mia to welcome her to the world.  Seeing my brother-in-law turn into a puddle of mush with love for their daughter and trying to translate his wild baby talk.  Watching as Mia wrapped her tiny fingers around Maisy while she fed, gazing up with trusting eyes.  I loved watching them love each other, probably just like grandparents must love to see the family cycle continue.  Mia was definitely more than just another niece to me, but it was crystal clear who her mother was. 

Maisy wanted nothing more than people she could talk to about her experience.  For the past seven years, she had spent much of her time bonding with other moms who were also infertile but now that she had a baby, she felt almost like she'd been kicked out of the club.  She was hoping now to find  those who could honestly share her excitement in motherhood.  Of course she naturally wanted to share them with me and so for the first time since we started this wild endeavor, I gave myself permission to fully release my fears of the unknown future and to simply be a part of the miracle.  All that was left was joy.   I allowed myself to join the celebration, to stop trying to downplay or minimize my feelings for fear of putting anyone off.  I spent the week watching Mia's mother and father step into their roles.  I easily fell into my role of the doting auntie who happily passed the baby back to mom when she started fussing.  

Mia is eight months old now. She cut her first tooth this week and is learning to crawl.  My little girls and I eagerly check Maisy's photostream each night before bed to see the latest images and videos of this little miracle and we cheer with each new milestone.  Helping my sister was the best thing I could have done to heal my own bruised story of motherhood and strengthen it in a way I never dreamed possible.  The joy this has brought not just me, but my husband, children, Maisy, Ravi and their family is infinite.  At this point I have a lot of things I'm curious about, such as once Mia grows older, what will she think of our arrangement?  Will she be as excited about it as we are?  But the plague of questions that made my stomach roil are gone. There will inevitably be awkward moments to come but I'm confident calling this "magical gift" a success.  And I never would have guessed that part of the gift was for me.




My sister and I decided to put this on the internet in hopes that anyone searching for more stories about sibling donorship finds it.  We have still not yet been able to actually meet or talk to anyone else who has done a sister-to-sister donation and would be more than happy to talk to and share more of our experiences with anyone who has questions or concerns.  Or even better, if you have done a sibling egg donation and are so inclined, please contact us, we would love to hear your experience as well, we know our story has still just begun!  We hope in the future this isn't such a rare occurance as the world embraces the amazing technology available and the options for infertile couples continue to grow.  Parenthood is worth the "what ifs!"

January 3, 2015

Tail Tucked

"So what exactly is the problem with the dog?"
"Well, she keeps pooping in the house, won't stop barking when she's outside, wants to lick our faces all the time and is super hyper."
"So...she's acting like a dog?"
"Yes."

We had to admit defeat today and report ourselves as bad dog owners.  Poor Pumpkin was returned to the animal shelter after a few months of frantic pooping, licking and loving us to insane amounts.  I admit I always thought I was a dog person.  I had grown up with a dog and still get weepy at the thought of her death.  That dog was my family as much as any of my other eight siblings.  So now that our kids are older, we decided to jump in last February and do the dog thing for the same great experience. But two attempts later, the problem is clear.

This afternoon we scooped up sweet, adoring Pumpkin and took the drive of shame to the Henderson Animal Shelter.  When we stepped inside she was already trembling and her licking reflex in overdrive.  The hipster behind the counter gave me a dry look but I steeled myself and robotically walked forward.  I was doing a good thing.  I was getting a dog out of a home that didn't love her.   The girls and Spike had both begged me to return her. She would find a better home.  She would find people who's hearts melted at her gaze and let her sleep nestled into their bosoms during the night.  I could be giving her away on Craistlist or selling her to the Asian diner down the road, but I chose the responsible path of admitting defeat and leaving her in a safe harbor.  This is what I told myself as I walked up to the counter.

Seven year old Cher insisted on coming with me.  I was hesitant at first because I didn't want her to break down sobbing like I did when we surrendered our first dog this past summer.  But she was adamant that she thought returning the dog was the right thing so I brought her along for moral support.  As I stood at the counter filling out the form with my reasons for surrendering Pumpkin, Cher sat behind me with her eyes getting bigger and wetter.  Her arms were latched around Pumpkins' neck and despite her best efforts to be strong, a fat tear plopped into the red fur.  I knew we had to get out quick before the wailing began but the hipster was in no hurry to let us escape our shame and wielded the exquisite torture mechanism of paperwork.

The form asked for the reasons we were surrendering the dog.  There were all sorts of boxes about possible aggression, medical conditions, potty training, cooperation with kids and other pets, etc. There were no boxes I could check to admit that I was just a lousy human being who didn't want to spend any extra emotional energy cleaning poop off my guest room floor or wrestling dirty underwear from our dog's mouth.  No box where I could check that I got a sick feeling in my stomach when the dog tried to lick my face in affection.  And definitely not a line where I could describe how her big, unblinking eyes creeped me out when they stared at me through the gate every day when I came home from errands.

So when he asked, "So...she's acting like a dog?" I answered, "Yes.  And we're just really bad owners and will be taking a break from pet-ownership for a while."  The hipster nodded his head curtly in agreement and tried his best not to look me in the eye, a grimace plain under his attractive facial hair.
An eternity later, a woman came to escort Pumpkin back to the kennel.  Char was holding her breath trying not to lose it and turning a sickly shade of green. The minute Pumpkin was out of our jurisdiction, I grabbed Char and ran to the car.  Her wails began the instant her door slammed.  They renewed tonight when I brought out a treat for the kids before bed, homemade pumpkin bread.  Whoops.

So if anyone has a Tamagotchi they are no longer able to care for, we're scaling back a few levels and ready to offer it penitent shelter.  Or a pet rock.  But if you're not comfortable with even that, we get it.  We're monsters.
Pumpkin at the shelter the day we adopter her

January 2, 2015

Back for More!

For Christmas in 2014, I wrote poetry books for both my husband and my daughters and it just got me all itchy again to start writing more regularly.  I love my job as a private coach, but it definitely doesn't address my need for saying wildly strange things to large groups of anonymous humans and not knowing their reactions.  So for my 2015 New Year's resolution, my husband and I agreed it would be very good for my mental health (and possibly very bad for others!) if I made a commitment to blog at least twice a week on whatever tumbled off my brain.

I have to admit, I've been occasionally writing blog posts for the past few years, but haven't been publishing them because since there has been so little content, the pressure for the post to be "good" or "worth it" was a little too much and I was hesitant to publish.  So just know this post will be neither and I'm setting a low bar so I can stick to my resolution! I'm not enabling comments for a while but probably will after a few more posts.  Just trying to get my sea-legs back for now.

Today's topic, Cleanliness.  I had a feeling when I married Spike that he was a tidy boy.  Back in our courting-days, we had more than one date to the car wash where he fastidiously vacuumed his car for inappropriate periods of time.  Sexy, right? And I knew he'd had a job cleaning vacated apartments at BYU before we met and had mad cleaning skills.  Unfortunately for him, we met, fell in love almost instantly, and I proceeded to trash his world, his car, his house and his sense of dignity.  Fourteen years later, I find myself needing to lower my cleanliness level even more to keep up with his increased vigilance for neatness.  It is quite a chore to keep a messy kitchen when he's around but someone has got to do it.

It wouldn't do for me to live in a tidy house.  A tidy house means there are no more projects to be done.  No amazing feats in progress.  No excuses why I can't volunteer at every PTA event.  It's not healthy or natural and I refuse to be a part of it.  Tonight while I was working on a project, he snuck off with the girls and vacuumed under the couch cushions of all things!  WHY?!  What's even the point of that?  Little Cher came and ratted him out to me like a good daughter should.  And now here I sit.  On a coach with no history, no hidden treasures, no ecosystem and no soul.  It's all I can do not to run to the pantry, grab a handful of potato chips, crush them up and stuff them under the cushions again along with some broken crayons.  But I won't.  I'll just sit here like a movie star on my perfect couch and think about all the women who deserve my guy more than I do.  So many.



To close, here's one of the poems I wrote for my girls this Christmas based off their own misadventures in cleanliness:

A Fresh Start
On Monday mother filled the bath, but I read a book instead.
On Tuesday mother asked again, so I hid under the bed.
Wednesday came, she asked once more, I went to play with chums.
On Thursday Mother came to ask, she must so hate dry bums!
On Friday when the order came I faked a violent chill.
On Saturday she begged again, her tone had gotten shrill.
But Sunday morn I had to say, the smell was quite obscene
So Monday’s undies I did change, now I’m all fresh and clean!




August 13, 2012

What I'm Doing Lately

This is me 3 months prior to starting the program, and 2.5 months after starting.  Seriously.  I can't believe it either!
Hello, World!  Just my annual post on the now tenured Hollywood Flakes blog.  I've actually started a new site at www.sarahflake.com.  For those I'm not connected to on Facebook, I did want to let everyone know what I'm up to these days.  I got really fat, and then decided to lose the weight but couldn't manage it until I found an amazing lifestyle program.  It taught me how to manage portion control, stress eating, frequent meals, and offered lots of amazing support.  I went from a size 14 to a size 4 in less than three months and have never felt more amazing!  I've developed all kinds of habits and coping skills to help me keep the weight off and actually did so well on the program that I was trained and became a Certified Health Coach on the program myself!  I'm currently helping friends, family, and even a handful of total strangers across the country succeed on my same plan and am teaching them the skills I learned.  I'd love to help anyone out there who is struggling with their weight and looking for an end to yo-yo diets that leave you clueless after the weight comes off.

If you'd like more information, please visit my coaching website at www.sarahflake.com.  It's got a good overview of the plan and some great videos.  My coaching services are individualized, private and dedicated!  We can communicate over phone, email or text so it really doesn't matter where you live.  It's hard to do this kind of thing on your own and I've been through it and know how to get you there too.  I'm really excited about being a coach and am loving helping the people around me get healthier on the program.  And hey, what's better - reading daily posts on my blog or checking in with me individually all the time while you get your sexy back?  Spread the word to anyone you think is looking for support - it could literally save someone's life.

Live Well!!

November 29, 2011

Hollywood is on Kickstarter!

You know it's big news when I refer to myself in the third person in my post title!  My toys business is ridiculously busy and without giving up sleep altogether, I can't sew enough to meet demand.  Take a sec and watch my Kickstarter video here; http://tinyurl.com/7dcl2cd

There are all kind of goodies you can get from participating in my project like custom toys, zines, stickers, web shout outs, and generally warm fuzzies all around when my brand is known throughout the entire universe.  And as a special incentive for my poor, postless blog followers, if this project gets funded, I'll post every day for a month right here on Hollywood Flakes about anything BUT toys.