Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Birth of a Book

I started my journey to surrogacy two years ago this month, and it's been a life changing process that has been filled with so much knowledge and patience and hope. During the matching process with Baby Mama and Baby Daddy I began to talk about what surrogacy was with my friends, family and my children.

Everyone always asks me what my kids think about all this. Do they understand that this baby isn't a sibling for them? Do I think they'll be sad when we don't bring this baby home? Do they get upset when I can't do things with them because I'm pregnant?

Surrogacy is a complicated subject to discuss with lots of adults. They question the ethics of it. They question my attachment to the baby. A lot of grown ups just can't wrap their minds around why a person would do such a thing. Women tell me they could never "give up the baby". They'd want to keep anything growing in their wombs. And I totally get it! But kids are surprisingly easy to talk to.

Our conversation basically just went "Hey you know how I grew you in my uterus?" They looked up from their cereal and  confirmed, yeah they remember me saying something about that once. (Sunshine asked about a tampon sign in the bathroom of our favorite burger joint once and got a 3 minute description of the menstrual cycle.)

"Well," I told them. "There's a mommy who wants a baby, but she doesn't have a uterus." They asked why and I told them she got it taken out because she had cancer. They wanted to know if they would get cancer. I told them I didn't know.

Then I told them my uterus was still working, but that I only wanted two babies. They asked if I would give them an older brother, and I told them if I had another kid it would be a baby and probably a girl baby since that's what their daddy makes. Then I asked who wanted to ride by themselves at Disney World because if we got another baby that would mean we'd have 5 people, and that's an odd number. They decided the dog we have is all the additional siblings they need. 

Then Sunshine said "Well if your uterus works why don't you grow a baby for Miss (Baby Mama)?" I asked if she'd be okay with that and she looked at me like I was nuts. "Um yeah that would be the nice thing to do," she told me. Jeez don't be an ass. You're not even using that dusty ol' uterus.

And that was that. As far as they were concerned I had a uterus that I wasn't using that was perfectly capable of growing a baby for a mommy who really needed help. Why not?

Still I heard other surrogates asking for tips about talking to their kids about their journey, and it got me thinking that maybe they just needed a story. And wouldn't you know it...story telling is my specialty.

I wanted to write a story that was simply about family. It didn't need to scream surrogacy or IVF or explain what a uterus was. I just wanted it to be a universally sweet story about families helping one another. Kids don't like to be preached to. They like to be entertained.

So I sat down and hammered out a little story about a chicken taking care of a duck egg. But the story fell flat. I couldn't get into the characters, and it seemed forced. I scrapped it and just sat on the idea for a while. In the mean time I was signing contracts and getting ready to cycle for our first transfer.

Then as I got to know Baby Mama the story kept coming back to me. She did work rescuing sea turtles, and I thought it was so cool that she was protecting baby sea turtles while I was working to grow and protect her own baby.

The idea for the book kept sloshing around until one night I woke up from a dead sleep with the entire thing written in my head. I got my phone out and jotted down some extensive notes and crashed back out.

The next day I shaped the story and soon sent it off to P.C. Zick, my editor, for some honest feedback. She'd worked with Florida Fish & Wildlife, so I wanted to make sure I wasn't making any glaring technical errors with my setting or characters. I chose gators as a nod to my alma mater, and of course I chose turtles as a nod to Baby Mama.

I loved the story, but the ending just seemed...off. It was missing something.

I based the story off of our own journey. We started with 10 embryos, much like the turtles started with 10 eggs in their nest. I researched to make sure that 10 eggs was a reasonable clutch for snapping turtles. It was. I used snapping turtles because I couldn't think of a scenario where sea turtles would be hanging out near alligators. Maybe they do, but I couldn't get past it being kind of weird. I also had a really horrible cheesy ending where the Mama Turtle names her baby Ally Gator Snapping Turtle. I'm super glad I killed that darling. After I slept on it I realized that it was constipation-inducing level of cheese.

I had the first draft written right before we transferred the one surviving embryo Baby Mama and Baby Daddy had from her retrieval. When that transfer ended in miscarriage I realized that was the missing piece of the turtle's journey. Surrogacy isn't just about a woman grabbing an embryo, sticking it in there then popping out a baby like it's some kind of easy bake oven. Loss is a big part of infertility, and there are often several bumps in the road. But those bumps shape the ending.

So I changed it up a bit, and I had Mother Gator carrying two eggs back to the turtles. And although both eggs don't make it back, the ending meant that much more because Mama and Papa Turtle were overjoyed just to be parents. They got the baby they were meant to have. 

Rewriting the ending to the story was just the beginning of the real work. I had to now figure out where the heck I was going to find an illustrator. I've got another book I wrote for my kids that I illustrated. It's just a silly story meant just for them, so I really didn't care about having beautiful artwork to accompany it. I haven't even published it because it's just something I pull out for them from time to time.

But the Turtle's Tale needed art. And I just so happened to know a lovely girl who just finished art school at SCAD. I've known Victoria Allen since she was just a wee thing in high school. She's been BFFs with my brother-in-law since my first baby was just a baby.

It also just so happened that she grew up in Louisiana, and my book was set in the swamp. It's like this book was made for her to illustrate. I sent her the manuscript, and the sketches she sent back blew me away. It was almost scary how close to my own ideas they were.

I also didn't realize how lucky I was that she said yes, because not only did she crawl inside my head and pull out the most breathtaking illustrations for this story. But she also did all the design work for the book with only minimal nitpicky feedback from me. (minimal right Vicky?! The hyphens!? The damn trim!)

It was a long road, and at times it seemed to crawl at a turtle's pace. We hit our own snags and hangups with production and printing. But right around Christmas she sent me an email titled FINAL. I couldn't believe it was actually this close.

And so...just about a month before I'm set to bring this sweet little baby into the world and into the loving arms of his parents, we pushed out this amazing story of surrogacy and familial love.

I hope you enjoy A Turtle's Tale as much as I do. I hope it can help surrogates and intended parents to open up communication about what surrogacy is. And at the very least I hope it's just a good read.

Thanks for coming along on this journey. We are just about 6 short weeks away from my due date, so that means we are really headed into the home stretch here! Things should get pretty interesting in the next few weeks as we go on BABY WATCH 2016!

Monday, January 11, 2016

Boogers, Babies and Boobs

I'm halfway through my 33rd week and I am DYING!

Luckily it's not the sweet Nugget but the DAGGUM CEDAR!! It's determined to kill me slowly I'm sure of it.

We did however have some drama last week that was semi-nugget related. I had my midwife appointment on Tuesday after I returned from my brother's wedding. I managed to make it more than 3,000 miles and 50-some hours in the car without a hitch. I also Cupid Shuffled and boot scooted all over the dance floor at his wedding without a single complaint. 

Ok actually my Nana complained a bit. I apparently was "scaring the peewaddle out of her" when I did the Twist. But what can I say? I was so incredibly happy for my brother! My new sister is the absolute bomb.com and her sister is an OB nurse, so I felt totally covered.

So when I got back I knew I'd have a pretty routine midwife visit. We did the usual "how ya feeling"  and I told them about the intermittent pelvic pain I've been having. She let me in on the secret that apparently that gets worse and worse with each subsequent pregnancy. I gained a new respect for Michelle Duggar FO SHO. The midwife just suggested a super sexy support belt, which I still need to order. I just don't want my husband to see me in that thing and get me re-pregnant because I'm going to look so damn fine.

Also during this visit I had my weigh in...ummm ouch. Suffice it to say I'm only one pound away from my DELIVERY WEIGHT with both my girls. I actually don't feel like I look that much bigger, but again...I have body dysmorphic disorder. What I see in the mirror is often not reality remember? I see earth goddess...reality is heifer.

Still the very sweet and wonderful midwife assured me I'm fine and not in the fatty fatty two by four category yet. So bless her. I'll be sending an edible arrangement on Monday.

Then they reminded me that I'd agreed to the pertussis vaccine. I got it after I delivered Sunshine because they recommended everyone who was going to be around the bebe get it. There was a big whooping cough outbreak when she was born, so I figured what the heck. I don't get into the vaccine debates. I personally vax, but I can tell you for sure my kiddos had some pretty bad reactions. So I get those who don't vax or those who delay or whatever. I just do me and mine. You do you.

So this time I wasn't going to get the Tdap because I don't plan to be around Nugget all that much in the beginning. I'm headed out on vacay soon after I pop, although Baby Mama claims she's going to be calling me begging me to come help take care of the little squirrel. Little does she know, none of us knows what the heck we're doing in the beginning. Bwahahhaha

But the doc said Nugget would get immunity through me if I get the vaccine, so I obliged. Whatever I can do to give this kid the best chance right out of the gate. So I got the shot. It was the teeniest tiniest needle, and I didn't even feel it. But I think Baby Mama was about to pass out just watching them stick me. The delivery room should be fun! BWAHAHAHAHA

So we scheduled our next appointment, they gave Baby Mama a lollipop for being so brave, and we headed out. They told me to expect some soreness in the arm, but I honestly couldn't possibly see how that teeny little dose in that bitty bitty needle would even register.

And all was normal until the next morning. I woke up groggy (which has been the story of my life since I HATE mornings) and got Sunshine off to school. We only live 5 minutes away, but by the time I rolled through car line and headed back home I felt unusually sleepy. And by the time I dragged myself up the steps of my house I REALLY felt sleepy. So much so that I brought Sweet Pea in my room, shut the door, turned on Netflix....and fell asleep for 4 hours.

It was insane! My morning grogginess usually fades after about 30 minutes or so of direct sunlight, but that morning was different. I'm just glad FireTV will play continuous episodes of Popples for me, and that Sweet Pea was engrossed. Because I was Out. Cold.

When I woke up my stomach just didn't feel right. I felt generally blah. I wanted to throw up or blow it out my backside, but nothing.

I wasn't hungry, but I knew by that time Sweet Pea would be. So I dragged my sorry butt to the kitchen and heated up some SpaghettiOs. It was the height of parenting let me tell you. As Sweet Pea sat there delighting in her Capri Sun and Chef Boyardee I forced myself to take a few bites of food. But the malaise set in again and I dragged myself back to bed.

Sweet Pea was all too happy to have herself another Netflix binge, and I've never been so happy for Little Einsteins in my life. I rolled over and started to go back to sleep when I noticed a nagging pain in my right side. I tried to ignore it and went to sleep, but just half an hour later it woke me up. It was stabby or throbby or dull. I couldn't really tell. All I could really describe it as was persistent. Then my eyes flew open.

"Appendicitis...right or left side" I texted Hubs. "Right" he texted back.

Welllll crap. I didn't really think I had appendicitis, but ugh what the heck if I did. I laid there for a while willing the pain away, but to no avail. Finally I figured I'd better call the midwife just to see what I could take for the case of the crummies I had.

I described my day to the nurse, and her response was "Triage NOW." Yeah but...can't I just wait and see... "NO. OB TRIAGE NOW!!!"

The nurse said appendicitis can be really sneaky during pregnancy because we chalk up the pain to round ligament pain. Then blah blah "more fatalities in pregnancy" blah blah. And the appendix moves in the last trimester especially because of the elephant growing in your abdomen. So I laid there for another 20 minutes thinking surely it would subside, but nope. Still there and throbbing.

I took the kids over to my nurse pal's house and she told me I better get my crap and go. So I trudged to the hospital. I reassured the Hubs that it was probably nothing, and that I'd rather he go get the kids when he was off work. But he came to the hospital anyway.

I don't even want to go into my hospital visit because it was so ridiculous. There was no physical exam, no ultrasound. No nothing. The nurse was obviously new, and had trouble getting any blood in the vial for my CBC. She got plenty on my bed and my purse, but not so much in the vial. Super sweet girl but come on dude.

She didn't tell the doctor any of my symptoms, only that I came in for abdominal pain. They hooked me up to monitors to try and see if I was in preterm labor, which I assured them I was not. My CBC came back normal and they released me with pages of information about preterm labor and how to do kick counts.

I was less than impressed. Especially later when I found out that a normal CBC isn't really a good judge of appendicitis in pregnant women because our immune systems are wonky.

I got home and crawled back into bed. The hubs took care of the kids and brought me some extra strength Tylenol for the pain. I passed back out until the next day.

Miraculously I woke up and the pain was gone! I felt like I could actually move and I got the kids up for school and got them out the door. I actually felt a million times better, so I started to clean up the disaster that was my living room. Buuuuuttttt my body had other plans. I totally got overzealous with my newfound health and landed back on the couch for a spell. I decided to take it easy for the rest of the day and just delight in the fact that I was starting to feel human again.

I spoke to the midwife later who said after reviewing my labs and chart that she suspects I had a pretty severe reaction to the vaccine. DOH! Still much better than appendicitis, but again....I get people who are wary of vaccines. I'm sure they're great for most of the population, and the benefits far outweigh the risk. But I can definitely see just cause for some people opting out.

So with that drama done I started to feel much more like a normal human until this weekend when the cedar pollen attacked me in cold blood. I have been sneezing and coughing so bad I can't get a full sentence out. Just from walking from my house to the car my eyes started watering and itching so bad that I had to pull over on the side of the road until they calmed down enough for me to make it home. So my eyes are now swollen shut, I have hives all over and my head is going to explode. Cedar season is a glorious time to be alive.

Mom took me to the pharmacist and they said basically I can't have any of the good stuff because I'm pregs. But they recommended Zyrtec. I tried taking a Benadryl, but it did nothing but make me drowsy and give me cotton mouth all night. So Zyrtec it is.

I took it and within 20 minutes my symptoms were gone! I had some congestion in my head, but I'll take that over not being able to physically open my eyes.

We took the kids to the playground for a bit and all was well until I noticed my eyes were closing again. But this time it wasn't the pollen. I was so tired I couldn't physically keep them open. My mom went and got the car, and by the time I dragged my butt in the front seat it was all I could do to buckle up and pass out. What. The. Crap.

I had no idea that Zyrtec is apparently just hardcore Benadryl. I passed out as soon as we got home, and I was out for the night. 

My symptoms returned almost exactly 24 hours after I'd taken the Zyrtec, but I was so afraid of not being able to function I held off on taking another one. Hubs in his infinite wisdom suggested I just take a half of one before bed. So I did that and it seemed to work better. I was actually able to get up this morning, but just an hour after being awake I was utterly exhausted and had to play Mommy and Sweetheart with Sweet Pea. That game involves her being the Mommy and I am the Sweetheart who desperately needs a nap. She makes me pretend soup, and sings me songs and reads me stories. All the while I nap as best I can. #parenting

I am happy to report that after our little napping game I am feeling a bit better. I had some hot cocoa, and I think the little bit of caffeine from the chocolate helped because I can actually be out of bed moving around in a less zombie like fashion. Huzzah!

I'm just super pumped that all this is going on during Sunshine's first cookie season as a Girl Scout. I was drunk as hell when I decided that being Troop Leader and Cookie Manager was a reasonably doable task while 100 months pregnant. But I'm in it to win it at this point. Luckily the other moms in our troop are equally as "whatever" as I am. So I'm sure they'll give me lots of slack...right girls? RIGHT!? *eye twitch*

I guess I don't really have enough going on because I also decided to start classes this month. For those who don't know I seriously love boobies. Love love those mammaries so much that I'm going to get certified to be a lactation consultant. It'll be a few years for me to get there, and there will be a lot of health science courses that will surely kick my butt. But I'm so freaking excited.

Since I was 9 years old my boobs have been a huge part of my identity (and my wardrobe choices). I got nicknames like "Big Boobs Magee" and "Jugs" in junior high. I think one boy even named them. Yes Helga and Olga have been celebrities since they sprouted, but I always secretly hated them.  Having a C cup in 6th grade isn't all it's cracked up to be. I was scrawny and ugly and had these giant mounds popping out where my overalls were supposed to snap.

They totally got all the attention, and I always felt like a side kick to my own body parts. Mothers of boys I was friends with and boys I dated called me foul names just for being busty. Even though my uniform was often a t-shirt and jeans, I was "trampy" and "slutty" before I'd even had my first kiss.

Then I had a baby, and I found a new love for those big ladies. They single-handedly sustained the life of my first born child. It was absolutely amazing to me. These sacks of fat actually had a purpose, and for the first time I could see the beauty in them.

Oddly enough not everyone does. When I was breastfeeding I learned that for every teenage boy who begged to catch a glimpse of these whoppers in high school there are now three angry onlookers who were appalled to see them at work. As long as my boobs were recreational they were fine to be displayed. But once I put these puppies to task they became pretty offensive. I actually understand people who are uncomfortable with nursing moms. I was never exposed to such a thing when I was little, so the first time my hairdresser took a break from perming my hair in fourth grade to go nurse her baby I remember feeling VERY awkward and a little icked out. I thought boobies were for private, and I shielded my eyes.

But she was the best hairdresser I had, and perms didn't die out quick enough. So I saw more and more of her nursing her baby, and I gradually realized she wasn't icky or gross. It was actually kind of beautiful and normal. When my cousin had her babies she nursed under cover in public, and I am ashamed to say I actually escorted her into the bathroom once. I was just there for moral support, but it wasn't until I had my own babies that I realized I should've tried to make her feel comfortable nursing right there at the table. Her baby had every right to eat with the rest of us.

When my own little cherubs came along I got a crash course in nursing in public. My little savage beasts refused to nurse under a cover. Sunshine looked like a feral cat trapped in a bag. She'd wail and howl and thrash, and I quickly learned that she drew more attention with a cover than if I just whipped it out and latched her on. So that's what I did. I went from cringing at the sight of a nursing baby to a full blown boobs-out breast feeder.

So this month I'll start my lactation classes, and I'll try to learn all I can to help Baby Mama. She has breastfeeding goals of her own, and I am so excited for her. (Yes you can induce lactation! She's trying to do it herbally, which is more challenging. But I'm her biggest cheerleader). And no matter what level of breast feeding she accomplishes I think it's absolutely amazing that women have the power to try.

Other than that our next midwife appointment is the 26th, at which I'll be 34.5 weeks! Goodness Gracious Great Balls of Fire!! After that we're seen at 2 weeks then EVERY WEEK! Which means I actually only have 4ish weeks until I'm considered FULL TERM. Yowza!

The next few months are going to be filled with all things baby, boobies and birth! Hoo RAH!