"Exit Game or Continue?"

The news of my SIL’s latest pregnancy had got me thinking about second chances. Not that becoming pregnant four months after Liam passed away is anything but a “second chance.” I mean, I know that no one or nothing is ever going to replace the love that she has for Liam. But I do have to say, she is very lucky to be able to have another child. And she is truly blessed to be given an opportunity to “reset” her course in life. I truly hope and pray that this pregnancy is much more smoother than her pregnancy with Liam.

I just wish that with infertility, there was also a way to have some sort of “second chance.” Sure, there is always the ability to go through more procedures and take more medications in order to assist with procreation. But that isn’t my point. I wish there was a way that I could clear out my tubes, fluff up my uterus, and pump up my ovaries … all at the touch of a button. Kinda like a reset button on any game system like the Nintendo Wii or Playstation.

But it doesn’t work like that, does it? It’s not that simple. With going through any ART (assisted reproductive therapy), it’s a matter of deliberation & discussion, finances and timing. What’s the best procedure out there for you? Can you afford to do any of these procedures (as many states still do not mandate insurance companies to pay for certain ART procedures)? Where are you at during this time in your life … in other words, can you afford to take the time off from work to follow the strict regimen and timing of your cycles?

And let’s not even get into the discussion of adoption … okay, well yeah … I guess I will because that, too, requires a lot of deliberation, discussion and finances.

I can tell you from my current emotional status of taking baby steps towards adoption that it’s overwhelming. International vs. Domestic? Both of them are very different types of programs with different set of rules. International programs include so many different countries with so many different government regulations. Domestic adoptions have their own separate nuances: open vs. semi-open? Or basically, how involved do you want the birth family to be with your child? Then of course, there’s always the thought that maybe the birth parents might change their minds. Either way, it’s incredibly terrifying to me to think of how much scrutiny that Hubby & I will be under with whichever program we decide on.

Really, I guess with the whole adoption thing (since I know that this is my next step), I wish there was a way to NOT go through the whole Home Study portion of it. My cultural background as as Asian-American has always leaned towards being more of a private person. We’re not apt to open up so quickly in front of complete strangers. (Now, on line or blogging … different story, for me anyway.) I know the logical reason WHY this needs to be done; it’s obviously for the protection of the prospective child that we might adopt. But then the one thought that keeps running in my mind is that if I was pregnant with my OWN biological child, I wouldn’t be under such scrutiny. That’s when I REALLY wish I could hit that reset button.

So given all that’s involved and all that I have been through with ART, I have to say I am actually pretty amazed I chose to “Continue” on this crazy infertility game rather than choosing to “Exit” or quit. I just hope I continue to have the energy to keep moving forward.

Jamaican Me Crazy

Well, I’m back from sailing the Caribbean Sea … albeit, reluctantly. If I didn’t have to return to work to make up for all the money we spent on this trip, I would still be out there in the wide open waters.

I blame the Cancerian in me. Having been born under a water sign, I find myself being attracted to oceans and lakes. And I also blame the Filipino in me. After all, the Philippines is a country formed by a multitude of islands (over a thousand, in fact) in the Pacific Ocean. That definitely makes me think I should be a permanent “Island Girl.”

Anyway, back to our Royal Caribbean Cruise. The reason we booked this vacation was mainly to celebrate my parents’ retirement. This was going to be the first family vacation in over 15 years and was to include my brother & his wife along with Hubby & me. Unfortunately it was only to be Hubby & me with my parents. (Ha … that only meant more chocolate and dessert for me! Tee-hee!) Regardless, we all had TONS of fun and enjoyed an absolutely relaxing vacation.

We sailed out of Port Canaveral on Sunday the 18th on our ship, the Mariner of the Seas and spent the entire first day of the cruise at sea. The ship is literally a city on water. Not only did they have the typical amnemities of your usual cruise ship (theatre, beautiful dining rooms, many lounges and bars, huge pools), but they also had an ice rink, a basketball court, and a 9-hole mini-golf course. I swear, we lived in this “city” for 7 whole days, and I STILL feel like I haven’t explored it all.

The first port we docked at (on Tuesday) was Labadee, Haiti. Now I know what you’re thinking … why would ANY cruise ship include a stop in Haiti. However, I am here to tell you that of all the ports we docked at, Haiti was both Hubby & my favorite. But that’s because where we were staying was a private beach owned by Royal Caribbean. There was honestly not a whole lot of activities to do at that destination … but we didn’t care. The beach was beautiful and the water was refreshingly cool. We checked out some local tourist attractions and learned a little history. (For instance … Did you know that Haiti was the first completely run slave country to gain it’s independence? Or that a buccaneer is a “retired pirate” who was now supporting piracy on land by mostly running trading posts?) But mostly we just hung out at the beach enjoying the slight breeze and napping on lounge chairs while listening to the waves. It was THE BEST place to start off our vacation.

The next day (Wednesday), our ship docked at Ocho Rios, Jamaica. I was looking forward to our tour excursion at this location because this was the day that was going to be able to encounter dolphins. We headed out to Dolphin Cove in the morning where we were first told to explore the whole park. This place not only had dolphin, but they apparently had a shark show (which we didn’t see). They also had areas throughout the park where you could encounter other animals. I actually got to handle one of the beautiful parrots and Hubby & I also got to hold a giant iguana … it was definitely a unique experience. But the main attraction of the day was being able to touch and feel and KISS Misty, our dolphin. She was an absolute cutie! We were able to witness her do some awesome tricks in front of us, too. Although I wish we could have done a little swimming with her (that package was mucho expensive!), I’m glad we didn’t … as we didn’t see those groups witness any more than we did, nor did they actually get to hold onto their fins and swim with them.

While still in Ocho Rios, our next stop was the Dunn’s River Falls. Our tour excursion included the ability to climb these falls and then relax in all it’s glory. So here I’m thinking of my trip to Oregon, where climbing the falls meant taking a wooded trail to the top. Oh no. In Jamaica, climbing Dunn’s Falls actually meant climbing the tiered rock-formation falls. Now, I think all would have been fine and dandy if we would have known exactly how these falls looked like before we decided NOT to take the 45-minute guided tour up to the top with the regular “tour group.” Instead, we were approached by a tour guide who offered to take us up the falls all by ourselves. Well. It was definitely an adventure for us and after about a half hour of climbing against strong currents and taking the “nontraditional” tour group route (not to mention acquiring a few war wounds along the way), we made it up to the top of the falls, out of breath but proud of ourselves for surviving the climb. Afterwards, we were planning on doing a little shopping but … 1) We were too annoyed by many of the locals at the Dunn’s River Falls market approaching us and trying to get us to buy something we didn’t want, and 2) We were too freakin’ exhausted after that climb. So instead, we headed back to our trusty Mariner and relaxed the rest of the day.

Our fifth day of our cruise (Thursday), we docked in George Town, Grand Cayman. Again, we booked a tour excursion that would take us around most of the island. Our first stop was to check out Cheeseburger Reef (aptly named for the fact that the reef sits directly in front of the local Burger King … at least that’s what we were told) to see all the exotic marine life via a semi-submersible boat. Along the way to the reef, we got to see a few shipwrecks underwater (the Cali and the Balboa) as well as a few stingrays.

Afterwards, we climbed aboard our “tour bus” and got the tour of the island including a stop at the famous “Seven Mile Beach” as well as the Tortuga Rum shop where we could sample both rum and delicious rum cakes. Eventually we ended up at a little town called Hell. Of course we had to take pictures of ourselves in Hell, go to the bathroom in Hell, and even send a postcard to a couple of our friends (those whose addresses we could remember!) from Hell. Way too many puns to come up with when you visit a town called Hell. Seriously though, the reason the town was named Hell was because of the interesting rock formations that were found in the area. Makes you wonder if this is what Hell really looks like.

And finally, our last stop was the Boatswain’s Beach / Cayman Turtle Farm where we got to see many a sea turtles in various stages of life (from little hatchlings all the way up to 20 to 30 year old sea turtles). The best part? We got to pick up the 2 year old sea turtles and feel their shells, fins, and soft heads. Way cool. The worst part? Well, knowing that we were actually visiting a “farm” where they breed turtles both for sustaining the species as well as for commercial reasons. In fact, after the tour was over, my Dad went over to the attached Botswain Resort’s restaurant and got himself a little cup of turtle soup where he proceeded to offer some to Hubby & me. All I could tell him was I could never bring myself to ever eat turtle soup again after meeting “Squirt” from “Finding Nemo.”

On Friday, the Mariner docked us on the last port of our cruise, the island of Cozumel in Mexico. After disembarking our ship, we were immediately directed onto this super-sleek looking ferry that would take us to Playa de Carmen. Oh, don’t let the mission statement of Mexico Waterjets fool you. They certainly got us to Playa de Carmen in a timely manner, but not without making the best of us (who, by the way have BEEN on a cruise ship now for over 5 days) absolutely sea-sick. It was not a pretty site, let me tell you.

But I digress. This particular shore excursion was the one reason that my parents picked this exact cruise itinerary. It was the ability to spend the afternoon at a well-known Mayan Ruin, Tulum. We had an awesome tour guide, Saul, who is half-Mayan and half-European. (That was the first of many things that I learned that day … that the Mayan people are quite alive and continuing to practice their traditions. Kinda made me feel silly, thinking that the Mayans were an extinct civilization). Once we got to the ruins, he took us on a rather quick walking tour of the site and gave us a brief history of what the ruins were used for (mostly a spiritual site with sacred temples). Afterwards, we were told to walk the ruins at our own leisure. I would have loved to spend the time walking around and reading all the different signs which would explain what each building was meant for … however, the minute Saul was finished with his part, the skies apparently decided to open up and let the flood gates open. Of all days, this was the day Hubby & I decided not to bring a change of clothes or towels, as we weren’t expecting to go swimming. But hey … we also weren’t expecting that there would be a beautiful beach at the Tulum Ruins either.

So since we were already soaked to the bone, we decided to head down to the shore and stick our feet in the sea. Let me tell you, not only was the beach and the sea absolutely breathtaking during the storm, but the water was incredibly warm and inviting! So after we “swam,” we figured we needed to find something to help us dry off. And that’s why we are now proud owners of a hand-made Mexican blanket. (I’m pretty darn sure we would have never bought one if we didn’t find it necessary.) We then headed back onto the ferry (dreading every moment of it) and was shuttled back to our ship. We would have loved to do some shopping back in Cozumel, but unfortunately we didn’t have enough time before our ship was to leave port.

The last day of our cruise was spent at sea, taking us back to Port Canaveral. I liked the itinerary of this cruise mainly because it sandwiched 4 days at different ports between 2 days at sea. That way you had time to get into “vacation mode” before spending 4 hectic days on each stop. And then you have the last day to unwind and relax before heading back home.

A few more notes before I finally end this long blog post.

• Hubby & I cracked up when we saw the day of the week placed on the carpet of the elevator on the ship. I mean really … why would they spend the time to change the day on the carpet every day? Well, we found out midway through our cruise that we DID start losing track of the days. (Now THAT’s a vacation!!)

• The food on the cruise was absolutely fantastic! The only “complaint” I had was that the chefs MUST put something in our food to make us hungry all the time. I mean, seriously. Two hours after eating this incredibly HUGE Thanksgiving meal, I was once again starved and ended up trying get my hands on as many chocolate-covered strawberries during the midnight buffet. (BTW, best Thanksgiving EVER … didn’t have to cook OR clean!)

• Our waiter, Francis and his assistant, Chouzyu (sp?), were wonderful. After a couple days, they both just seemed to know exactly what and when we needed certain things. Oh … and the fact that they supplied us with endless desserts always made my dinner all that much better. (One night, I swear, I couldn’t decide which one of the three desserts I really wanted … and then next thing I knew, Francis was bringing me ALL THREE of them. I swear, it was my wildest “dessert-lover’s dream” come true!)

• And Dad … I love you to death. But next time, ask us before you go out and buy FOUR cartons of duty-free cigarettes to bring back home … especially since you’re only allowed one carton … and ask us to claim the other two cartons. Next time, I really WON’T hesitate to flush them down the toilet.

Okay. I guess I best be wrapping up this post. I think I’ve made it long enough. But hey … I can’t help it. I’m seriously still on “vacation mode.” In fact, I REALLY want this feeling to last as long as I can.

Yeah, yeah … I can just hear you all saying “Quit it. Stop now. Jamaican me crazy!!”

If you’re interested in seeing more pics of our trip, click on the album below.

Caribbean Cruise 2007

Baby Picture

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A couple weeks I stumbled onto a picture that I had tucked away inside my dresser. At the time I tucked it away, it was the intent that I would someday look back at it and think, “Wow. I can’t believe how far I’ve come since then.” As it happened, that day I was busy looking for something else and I pulled the picture out and put it on top of my dresser (actually, on my mirror) and then went about my business.It wasn’t until yesterday when I was talking to a newly acquired friend, about my recent find that it hit me as to what the picture actually was. The picture I found happened to be the picture of my “would-be babies,” the embryos that were implanted into my womb during my one attempt at in vitro fertilization (IVF). As I was telling my friend about the snapshot, I felt myself begin to cry yet once again.

I relived that period of my life yesterday afternoon as I told her my story and my struggle. She’s heard bits and pieces about it before, but never to the extent as I did yesterday. She had previously heard about the treatment I went through, all leading up to the IVF cycle. And she certainly heard about all the wonderful medications I had to inject into myself each month and especially during the IVF cycle month. But what she never heard (nor anyone else for that matter) was how emotionally spent I was after each monthly disappointment… especially after the failed IVF cycle.

What I had told my friend is that when I looked at that picture, it reminded me of how different a person I was since that period of time. And even how much more different a person I was since starting my infertility journey ten years prior.

Ten years ago, I saw myself as a pretty optimistic person. A “glass is half-full” type of person. If pregnancy didn’t happen, then it just wasn’t meant to be just yet. Almost a year later, I began to become cautiously optimistic. And by the time I had my first hysteroscope, my mindset was of “let’s just get the task done.” At my lowest “pre-IVF” point, I was definitely very pessimistic about any chance of ever getting pregnant. By that time I had already had done enough ovulation charting, had more than enough Clomid cycles followed by even stronger injectable medication cycles, and had enough surgeries to last me a lifetime. It was at that time I became a”glass is half-empty” person.

So when Hubby and I finally decided to try the IVF route, I knew I had to change my attitude. And although I knew that IVF was never a guarantee that I’d be able to get pregnant, I had to think positive. In fact, I couldn’t just think positive, I had to put every effort into making sure that I was going to be successful at becoming pregnant. It was actually not as hard as I thought, especially with all the hormones I was pumping into me. I knew then that if I had even a shred of doubt, I would fall deep into the abyss of pessimism.

So imagine how far I fell once I found out my IVF cycle was unsuccessful. I certainly did plunge deep into that deep pit of despair. There was the initial shock and disappointment, followed closely by hysterics for the next couple weeks. Anything at that time set me off into waves of sadness and tears. A year after the failed IVF attempt, when we made the decision to let our one frozen blastocyte “go,” it was like reliving all the emotions of the year prior.* And in that moment, I knew I would never be able to go through another IVF attempt. It was just too emotionally and physically painful for me to ever have to go through again.

After a period of time, I just became “numb.” Crying seemed to be useless, and to tell you the truth, very humiliating. After all, in my culture, crying is only appropriate for a set amount of time. After that, crying is just considered a sign of weakness as we are taught to quickly “get over” our loss and “move on” right away. So after awhile, I learned to stifle my pain and pretend as if nothing was wrong. I pretended to be “over” the failed IVF attempt and let people believe that I was just content with my current situation. I also let others believe that eventually my Hubby & I would be working towards adoption. And truthfully, I tried to convince myself of that for the next three years.

However, as the past three years went by, I unconsciously knew that something was missing. By all standards, I looked like I was okay, but inside I felt miserable. I probably would have continued to go on feeling like this if it wasn’t for the news that we received a year ago next month. That news was of my sister-in-law’s pregnancy. And well, if you’ve read my previous posts (not to mention the most recent posts of Liam’s life), you’d know that I didn’t handle the news very well. As of recently, I’d like to think I managed the most recent events rather decently, but it’s only after I spent this last year talking (and subsequently blogging) about the gamut of emotions I’ve been through.

So where am I at now? Well, obviously I’ve been crying a lot lately (cultural behavior be damned!). In fact, I think I’ve cried more this past year than I did over the last ten years, since I started this crazy infertility journey. I know for a fact that all the events that have transpired over the past year is responsible for the river of tears (not to mention the trails of tissue paper) that follow behind me. And while it’s been a terribly difficult year, I do have to admit I feel I’ve grown a little more emotionally stronger from it. I would think that just by being able to post my “baby picture” shows that I am. (At least I hope so).

Wow. I can’t believe how far I’ve come since then.

* For a quick overview of our IVF history, we had 13 eggs retrieved, 8 of which were fertilized using ICSI, 3 of which “matured” enough, 2 of which were implanted in me. The lonely one that was left was frozen for the possibility of later doing a “frozen cycle.” What we didn’t expect was that we’d only have one blastocyte mature out of the 13 eggs that were originally retrieved. As there isn’t much success rate in doing a “frozen cycle,” let alone with only one blastocyte, Hubby & I elected not to proceed with that next step.

Saving Face, Losing Control (Alone? Part 2)

Well, my post has been up for over a week now, and no response from anyone. Hmm … the power of words wasn’t strong enough I guess. Really, I can’t complain. I’m seriously not trying to fish for comments at all. In fact, the reason I started to blog was more to get all these intense feelings and emotions out into the world. And in doing so, I do admit it feels good.

So why am I still feeling alone? Well, after posting my latest ramblings last week, I happened to stumble upon an article at work that helped explain a little about why I continue to feel the way I do. And now I’m sharing this information with whoever wishes to read on.

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The article discussed the reluctance of Asian-Americans to seek or use mental health services. It even goes on to cite that when Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders eventually seek professional help, the severity of their problems tend to be high, most likely because of the delay in seeking treatment until their problems reach crisis proportions.

It also states that Asians are not used to meeting with strangers and discussing their problems because many of their cultural beliefs go against this. Traditionally, Asians with mental health problems tend to speak first with a family member and then maybe with a close friend about their issues. Only after that might they consider involving someone outside their networking community. While talking to a therapist would be more accepted by a second-generation Asian person, many of the traditional values of their culture, such as seeking help from an “outside source,” still permeate their belief systems.

The reason, as the article states, that many Asian cultures associate seeking mental health services as a “weakness” is largely from the fact that these cultures stress “saving face.” According to the article, if a person was found to be talking to a therapist about issues that cannot be solved amongst family or close friends, this would be considered “losing face.” Once a person “loses face”, they can no longer function in his or her social network and are therefore not considered useful in certain situations.

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The findings in this article aren’t anything completely revealing to me, a second-generation Filipino-American. I have always, in some way, known that “saving face” was always something that our culture did. Growing up in the Filipino culture in the US, I have witnessed some situations where family or friends have had to “save face,” but I never had the “opportunity” to experience it myself. That is, until now … as I continue to struggle with infertility.

To give you a little more background, my husband and I are both Filipino. We both grew up in a typical Midwest suburb, met each other in high school, and married shortly after college. We started trying to start our family within a year of after getting married with (obviously) no success. Two to three years into our marriage, I was already on Clomid and doing the whole ovulation charting. We didn’t tell anyone about our problems because we figured that it was only a matter of time. And I’ll admit it now, we also didn’t say anything because, well … frankly, we didn’t want to “lose face.” For a while, it wasn’t a big deal with our parents that we were having “issues” until other family friends started to ask them when my husband and I were going to make them “grandparents.” And well, I can’t imagine what it was (or still is) like to have to try and “save face” for them.

Now the Filipino culture, like many other Asian cultures, places emphasis on family and on being a parent. Women, particularly, are seen as the nurturer’s in the family and are expected to manage the household and raise the children. The woman can still have a very successful career or work outside the home, but the expectation is that she is still the primary caregiver for the children.

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If infertility gets thrown into this mixture, many times it is “hush-hushed” because it isn’t an issue that: #1 other people, let alone Filipinos want to talk about, and #2 it’s a matter of being able to “save face.” If we don’t talk about it, it doesn’t exist and therefore those affected by infertility can still be connected to their social networks.

Now “saving face,” in my own personal experience, only works for a period of time until there’s a feeling of losing control. When no one talks about the problem, then the feeling of anxiety increases until loneliness starts to settle in. Questions like “Why am I going through this?” and “Am I the only one that has this issue?” suddenly become “I’m so alone” and “no one understands what I’m going through.”

For lack of better words, there is no support. There’s no one there to talk to about such issues and no one to empathize with what I’m going through. And it’s mainly because no one wants to talk about infertility. It’s a disease that no one, especially those who have a strong cultural upbringing such as Asians, can get a firm grasp on. I seem to think it’s because literally … there is nothing to grasp on to, as a person going through infertility isn’t visually sick. And that’s certainly different then, let’s say, my nephew Liam who is still in the NICU, or someone who is suffering from cancer.

Please don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to belittle any of these health problems because they certainly are life-altering events. These just happen to be health issues that people can readily understand and empathize why someone can be sad or depressed over. Infertility is not.

So this is another reason why I’ve been feeling alone in this journey. My husband and I do talk about these issues quite often and he certainly continues to provide me with much support. But sometimes it’s nice to be able to talk to someone other than my wonderful husband about these things.

Ya Ya Sisterhood

Last week, I had the opportunity to go up to northern lower Michigan (oxymoron, I know … but Michigander’s would understand) to spend time with a few co-worker’s at one of their weekend houses. Her place is situated just west of Grayling right on the Manistee River. This is the third year in a row that I’ve went and it’s always such a wonderful time.

Despite the fact that I work with these people day in and day out and that I do feel pretty close to them , every year I find myself initially hesitant to go. Part of it is because I’m extremely close with my husband and, although he understands the need for “girly time,” I hate to be doing fun things without him. The other part is that sometimes I think that I’m not as in touch with my “female ya-ya sisterhood” side as most women are.

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I grew up as the only daughter in my family; the youngest of two with my brother being a couple years older than me. It was overall a sheltered environment; having been a first-generation Filipino-American and having gone through 12 years of Catholic school. Based on that bit of history, I feel many times that I grew up in two different worlds. There was the world of school; where most of my friends were caucasian and maybe never encountered another person of a different culture before. For example, I can recall being called “My Little Shogun” by one of my friend’s parents, as that Made-For-TV movie was quite popular when I was in grade school. How wrong is that? First of all, wrong ethnicity. Second of all, Shogun is typically reserved for a male military rank in the Japanese army. And being only 9 of 10 years of age at that time, how does one respond to that?

The other world was the Filipino Family and Friends world. These are the other Filipino kids that I’d hang out with whenever Filipino social events would be thrust upon us. They were probably the only other people that could relate to how it was like being the only “Asian” in our class, but none of them went to the same school as I did. Therefore, how could we fully support each other in social awkwardness if we didn’t even run in the same social circles outside of these Filipino events?

Having lived in the two separate worlds has made it difficult to get close to someone … anyone. I think maybe that’s the reason that I feel very guarded when meeting people for the first time. Heck, it’s probably the reason I don’t feel comfortable telling people my deepest darkest fears. It would’ve been nice though, to have that type of person growing up. To experience what it would be like to be really close to another female person. To experience some sort of sisterhood.

I’d say the closest I ever felt to feeling that sisterhood was growing up with my three female cousins (all sisters) in London, Ontario. There are many summers and holiday breaks that I can recall staying at each other’s houses for weeks at a time. During those times we would do just about everything together. But the older I got, the more difficult it was to maintain such a closeness. Life and distance just got in the way. We just couldn’t spend as much time together as we used to, especially once we graduated from high school. Now the only time we tend to talk to one another is at big family events like weddings. But whenever I see the three of them together, I can’t help but feel just a tad jealous that, despite their ages and the distance between them all, they still manage to remain close. They still manage to have that bond of sisterhood.

So it’s that lack of “sisterhood experience” that initally made me hesitant to head up north with my female co-workers. Would I be socially awkward in situations? Would I commit a social faux pas? Would I snore too loudly or make other embarrassing sounds of bodily function? And because I’ve been emotionally bursting at the seams for the past few years, would one conversation about how infertility has affected my life throw me into embarrassing sobs?

Well, it turns out I did turn into a blubbering idiot that weekend. And even though I was initially embarrassed by my uncontrollable sobs or my rants and raves about work issues, I eventually felt more and more relaxed around them. I think there will always be a part of me that feels that I missed out on the female-bonding experience, especially while growing up. However, making that trip “up north” and talking to these girls has made me feel more aware that I do have them opportunity to experience sisterhood … I just got to take that leap.

To see more photos of the weekend, click below:

Girl’s Weekend