Identity Labels

Anybody remember the old-school Dymo label-makers? I’m not talking about the fancy electric ones where you can type in whatever you want before printing it up. I’m talking about the ones where you turn the dial to choose the letter and squeeze the handle (as hard as possible) to imprint it on the red or black vinyl tape. And G*d forbid if you misspelled a word and have to start from the beginning.

For some reason I was thinking about that label-maker this past weekend. And really, it started last week when I received a wonderful email from an old High School Friend (HSF) that I hadn’t heard from in years. She had responded via Facebook in regards to the post in which I admittedly found myself questioning my purpose in life.

HSF talked about how, as women, we are always questioning ourselves about what we truly want in life. That we’re always finding a way to label ourselves while simultaneously trying to achieve more than what we can physically and emotionally handle. And that, in the process, we tend to lose perspective of who we really are in the grand scheme of things.

For HSF, it’s a matter of juggling multiple identities. She’s a wife, a daughter, a mother of three (beautiful) children. She’s also a free-lancer, a founding president of one of her alma mater’s alumni groups. Yet as beautiful as her life appears (especially from perusing through Facebook), she admits that she’s still coming to terms with the “Successful Career Woman” label; especially as she’s currently staying at home to with her three young kids.

The point of HSF’s email was not to point out how much different her life was to mine; rather it was simply to point out that regardless of how we view our lives, we only limit ourselves by placing labels on who we are or what we do. And furthermore, why can’t we just enjoy the path that we’re currently on and embrace who we are while traveling down this path?

I must admit, I’m still struggling to deal with the valid points that HSF has brought up. I’m sure it has to do a lot with the many years of believing that “Motherhood” was the end-all be-all for a woman’s livelihood. (I contribute this, as always, to the strong Filipino cultural influence that I identify with.) And, even though I’ve accepted the fact that I can’t have biological children of my own, I still long for something to fill that void that Infertility has robbed me.

Furthermore, with my recent unemployment situation, I feel as though I’ve been stripped yet another label that I’ve identified myself with. That “successful career woman” identity flew out the window the day I found myself surreptitiously without a job.

And really … that’s what this post was trying to explain.

While I’d love to “give up” those labels that I’ve placed on myself, I also must admit that it’s these labels that I’ve come to rely on to “ground” myself, so to speak, when I’ve otherwise felt lost. It’s these labels that help remind me of who *I* am in the face of uncertainty:

  • I’m a Wife.
  • I’m an only Daughter.
  • I’m a Sister to my Brother.
  • I’m a friend.
  • I’m Filipino-American (1st generation).
  • I’m Catholic.
  • I’m a nurse.
  • I’m a writer.
  • I’m infertile.
  • I’m child-free after infertility.

When looking at who I am; what I believe is the center of my core … it’s pretty obvious that there are those identities that I have no control over. These are the identities that have been imprinted on my soul; the ones that I cannot change. The ones that I’ve grown to accept as part of who I am in this life.

Then there are the labels I’ve chosen for myself (Catholic, nurse, writer, friend). Those are the identities that, despite the years of time and investment I put into them, I can readily let go. But do I really want to do that?

The problem, as I see it, is when one of these identities has been lost; especially at a time where I wasn’t ready to a) let go of that identity, or b) accept that identity for what it is.

Take for instance, the part of myself that identifies with being infertile. This was one label I never expected to own. But the fact of the matter is that after one year of trying to conceive (waaaay back when, it seems), we were unable to get pregnant. By definition, infertility is the inability to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term after 12 months of trying to conceive. That’s a fact. There’s no way I can change that pat of me; there’s no way I have control over that situation.

But take the part of me that identifies with being child-free after infertility. We tried everything that we could possibly do (within our own capabilities both financially and emotionally) to give ourselves a biological child, but that just never happened. And because we thought long and hard about our other options, Hubby & I chose to accept that living child-free was what was best for me. And believe me … it was not an easy choice to make.

And because, she nails it right on the head … here’s how Pam from Silent Sorority recently described the reason why she and her husband chose the child-free path:

“It got to the point where the potential heartbreak was actually more overwhelming than the glimmer of very small hope.”

In any case, my point is that with our decision to live child-free, I dealt with having to let go of one chosen identity and accept a new chosen identity. I had to let go of that identity of motherhood that I held on for so long. and I had to accept that living without children, despite the incredible longing to have a biological child of our own, was my new identity.

As I said before, the decision to live child-free wasn’t a choice that we wanted to make. It’s not that we didn’t discuss opening our hearts to adoption. Or opening our wallets to more infertility treatments. Simply put, identifying ourselves as living child-free was a choice that we had to make. Hubby & I needed to weigh our options to decide if that the small glimmer of hope was worth the insurmountable heartbreak we’d already been through. Hubby & I needed to make this decision so we (or rather *I*) could maintain my sanity.

Because if I didn’t put that label on me, I’d still be struggling to determine who I was … if I couldn’t be the mother I had always dreamed about.

And of course now … my new identity crisis is to determine what to do with my career. But I will take a page out of HSF’s book and learn to enjoy the journey while I discover what’s next.

How about you, Blog World? What parts of yourself keep you grounded? What labels do you place on yourself? How do you identify yourself?

Thoughts on Adoption

Today, an article appeared on the New York Times regarding Russia’s decision to suspend adoptions to the U.S.

More Pics from Kairi's visit

The reason that Russia called for a halt on all adoptions of Russian children by Americans, in my opinion, was justified. I do believe that there needs to be further investigation from both sides of the ocean (or Bering Strait, I suppose).

As one half of an infertile couple, who at one time seriously considered adoption as a method to start our family, what this adoptive mother did was simply outrageous.  And furthermore, her actions have now affected any other potential adoptive parent who have invested much time, money and emotions in adopting a Russian child. This woman effectively shattered many dreams of many people.

Simply put, this breaks my heart.

******

Speaking of dreams … During our engagement, Hubby & I had multiple discussions about how our future would be. We dreamed of owning a house big enough for at least 4 kids with a yard big enough for the dog we would own. We dreamed about how great our careers would be and how we would somehow manage to balance work life and home life.

And we dreamed about how incredible it would be to raise our children; how we would help our children find that balance between being American and being Filipino. We would make sure that they could be proud about their heritage and still be able to embrace the environment in which they lived.

Tyler at the Lego Store in Downtown Chicago

After all, Hubby and I were half- and first-generation** Filipino-Americans. We knew, first hand, the struggles of growing up with half our feet steeped in Filipino traditions and the other half finding a way to assimilate into the Western culture. This was especially evident when we were teenagers growing up in the ’80’s.

I mean seriously … Hubby & I have joked around about how we learned about typical American Teenager behavior from watching John Hughes (RIP … ) movies. In reality, that’s  actually not that far from the truth.

But I digress.

Another one of our dreams as an engaged couple looking towards our bright future had always been about adoption. Yes … adoption.

We had always dreamed about opening our hearts and home to other children who might not have been given the same love and opportunities and life that we had. Specifically we looked into adopting internationally, because we wanted to help a child with transitioning into the American culture much like we had while growing up. We wanted these children to embrace their new environment while being proud of where they were born. Much like we were.***  Err … rather are.

However, in that foggy crystal ball version of our future, adoption was something that Hubby & I planned to do after we had children of our own. After we were able to produce offspring that contained both of our DNA.

Kairi loves her Big Brother
Kairi loves her big brother ...

Call us selfish, but we just really wanted to see our genetic traits in a biological child and then be able to raise a child through adoption. This child might not share the same genes as us, but would share the same love and warmth and upbringing as our biological children. And for me personally, it was a chance for me to see Nature vs. Nurture at its best.

Unfortunately we never did get to see that nature part. At all. And if I was a strong enough person, I might have been able to see the nurture part. At least with raising a child.

******

I applaud anyone who has sought to adopt as a means to start or add to their family.

It takes an incredibly strong and capable person to be able to put themselves through all the rules and regulations and investigations into your private lives just to raise a child that is not biologically your own. I know this from reading other IFer’s blogs about adoption and from talking to adoptive parents about their own experiences. From going to adoption agencies to gather information on our own.

... And Tyler loves his baby sister

Reading about Russia today also reminds me about other countries such as China and Guatemala that have also placed restrictions on potential adoptive parents from the U.S. And it’s because I know how long most of these individuals have been waiting for their chance to raise an internationally adopted  child. For those who have faced infertility, it’s the chance to raise any child.

And if I had enough strength, adopting internationally would have been my chance in passing a little bit of myself … that bit about being proud of my heritage while embracing the uncharted territories of being a first-generation immigrant … to my adoptive child.

~~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~~

** Hubby was born in the Philippines and migrated to the U.S. at the age of five; effectively making him a “half-generation” immigrant. Of course, depending on what version of immigrant generations you go with, Hubby & I can be seen as 1.5- and second-generation immigrants. At least that’s what Wiki says … )

*** Well … okay, so I was born in the U.S. … but hopefully you understand what I mean.

Cutting The Strings

Click on the jug for other 2009 submissions

This post has been a long time in coming. Truthfully, this should have been written a few months ago. However, between preparations for the audit at work and having just recently had the conversation with Hubby a week ago, the timing just didn’t seem right.

A year ago earlier this month, I was in Chicago interviewing for the position that I now hold. The very same one that has given me much stress and headaches over the past 11 months. The same one that has made me realize exactly how strong I really can be … without the hormonal emotions getting in the way.

I specifically mention the “hormonal emotions” for a reason. That’s because when I look back during those active “baby-trying” years , I can now see how much strength I needed in order to get me through that period.

Except I can honestly say that I never feel that I was strong at all during that time period. I felt as I was living day-to-day, hoping that somehow I would catch a break from all the “hard work” I was putting into starting my family.

Whereas with the “challenges” I faced this past year … well, they didn’t feel like a day-to-day struggle. There was always an end in site for each new challenge I faced. From the very beginning of “Operation: Move to Chicago,” there was a goal in mind that was achievable:

  •  
    • Find an apartment; check.
    • Start new job; check.
    • Survive living alone in new city for three months with seeing Hubby only on the weekends; check.
    • Get through six months at new job without being fired from “My way or the highway” boss; check.
    • Live through high profile work audit with dignity intact; check.

Everything I faced since moving here was (relatively) successful; with that bright light guiding me to the end of a dark tunnel.

Unfortunately that same bright light was never there when facing the darkness that is infertility.  And, in my case, definitely not successful … at least in the way that I defined success.

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There’s this memory I have from back in my high school years. It’s back when Disney began to start re-releasing classic movies on VHS tapes. The idea was so that a person could own these movies before they were put back into the “vault” of classic Disney animation.

My mother totally bought into that smart marketing ploy. In fact, she bought many videos including The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and … if I can recall, Sleeping Beauty. AND she wouldn’t even open them; storing them away in her dresser, in her own personal “vault.”

“Not fair,” I remember telling her. Especially since I loved Ariel and Belle. “Couldn’t we just open them up and watch them once?”

“No,” she had told me. She was saving them for her future grandchildren. So that she can sit down and watch these movies with them, whenever they came over to visit.

This memory, as inconsequential as it may seem to others, is one that cuts me incredibly deep. It’s a reminder of how I’ve failed to fulfill my parents’ dream of becoming grandparents.

Never mind that I already felt horribly bad that my body was not able to give my husband a child of his own. This specific memory reminds me that I’ve probably disappointed my parents as well. That I haven’t been able to give them the grandchildren that they’ve always wanted.

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I’ll be honest that one of the many reasons Hubby & I moved to Chicago was start fresh. There had been way too much emotional Infertility baggage that I had been carrying around for years. And although I had been working very hard at purging that baggage, I could never fully put it away … at least into a place within me that could make things manageable.

So putting some physical distance between myself and the baggage (which held waaay too many memories of hurt and disappointment), as well as the physical location where most of these memories occurred, was something I felt I needed to do.

And it’s with the blessing of my very supportive husband that we found ourselves moving out-of-state; away from the only “home” I had ever known.  All this is in effort to be exposed to new people and to be open to new challenges. To have a fresh outlook on where Hubby & I stand in our quest to have a family.

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Next October will be my 20th High School Reunion. Part of me is interested in seeing where everyone is at in this stage of life; to see how far they’ve come since we were teenagers. Then there’s the rebel in me that thinks, “Pshaw … HS Reunions are so ‘Peggy Sue Got Married’! We must break this cycle at once!”

And then there’s the Infertile (with a capital “I”) in me. The one with no children. The one with nothing exciting to show for my life over the past 20 years, other than a degree (only undergrad, to boot!) and a good job. I’ve no kids to brag about; I’ve no incredible 3,000 square foot house to talk about. All I have is a decent walk-up apartment in the city and fur children that shed hair all over the place, including my clothes.

At least I have an incredible husband who I can show off and brag about.

As it is, I’m still debating on whether I want to go or not. However, what I do know is that a bunch of the HS friends that I still keep in touch with, will be planning a more low-key get-together some time next year. That should, at the very least, be a “milestone” something to look forward to next year.

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I’ve had the pleasure of (finally) seeing my new family physician, not once but twice in the past few months. One was the quick one-over, “Hi, nice to meet you” -type of visit. The second was my yearly female parts check-up.

Both times my physician asked me if I was interested in pursuing further treatment for my infertility. And both times, I told my physician I still wasn’t ready to make that decision. I was in the midst of still adjusting to my new job in a new city.

And I needed more time to separate want vs. need, hope for the future vs. more disappointment, treatment vs. acceptance.

Let me say it’s extremely strange to go from living in one State where In vitro Fertilization (IVF) is not covered, to currently living in a State where it now is. To now have that option to choose what course of treatment that Hubby & I would like to pursue in creating our family.

For those that don’t know, infertility treatments are sometimes not covered by health insurance in certain States. There may be some aspects of treatments that are covered (such as the work-up and, at times, the medications), but for the most part infertility treatments — and specifically IVF is not.

The Infertile RN in me thinks it’s utterly cruel to allow coverage for the work-up of the infertility diagnosis and then turn around and not cover the treatment for it. Even though IVF is not a “guarantee” that one would be successful in starting a family, there’s still that little bit of chance that it becomes successful in “curing” that person’s infertility.

I relate it to treatment for cancer. Much like chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy is considered standard treatment for a person with such a condition … it’s never a “100% guarantee” that the cancer would be “cured” or go into remission.

It’s that double-standard in treatment of a health condition that bothers me the most about the lack of coverage in IVF treatments. Because, quite frankly … the RN Case Manager in me (the one who works for a health insurance company) strongly believes that people have the right to choose how they would like to pursue treatment and have the Health Insurance that I pay for assist in coverage for that treatment.

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This January, it will be a year since I’ve lived in Chicago. And April will mark the official date that Hubby & I will have lived together in this bright new city (well, new to us anyway).

During this past year, Hubby & I have had a chance to open our hearts and minds to different possibilities. We’ve had the opportunity to accept where we’re at when it came to reassessing our options in creating our family.

We’ve talked about IVF and the impact it may have emotionally for me … Both if it wasn’t successful and if it actually was. But even though we know the option of IVF is available to us in the fine State of Illinois, both of us have decided not to pursue that route.

We’ve also had the opportunity to discuss adoption more in depth. To decide if this was the right path for us to take. And the more we thought about it, the more we decided that this was also something we wouldn’t be a 100% comfortable with. (Okay, I admit it. It’s me. I’m the one who fears that I’ll just end up being disappointed again. And I fear that I’d get stuck down that rabbit hole of darkness once again.)

So what does this all mean? Well, readers. It means that Hubby & I have accepted that having children at this moment is not in our best interest. It means, that we have accepted the fact that we may never have children. (Okay, maybe it’s more like *I* accepted this fact, because Hubby was light years ahead of me in this thought.)

This means that we’ve consciously and deliberately have made the choice to begin living life child-free.

********

It’s taken me more than 12 years, but I think I’ve finally reached some closure in my infertility journey.

Yet even as one door has closed in my life, I’m still learning to live with the reality of this decision. My infertility is no longer a daily struggle, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have those “moments.”

And those “moments” are the reason I choose to continue writing on this blog. Except now, instead of this blog being about the longing to have a children, it will be about trying to let go of this longing. About learning to look forward to my new future with Hubby. The new journey we’ll be taking together.

It’s about trying to break free from these Apron Strings.

NIAW 2009, Pt III

(This is Part Three of a six-day series to celebrate NIAW. I’d say it’s because I “planned” it that way … but the truth is, the series started out as one extremely looong post. To start at the beginning, click here.)

273Again, not every couple who are unable to create and sustain a life will remain childless. There are those couples in this category that will end up opening their hearts to adoption. And to me, those infertile couples are simply incredible.

They’re brave enough to pursue the long and tedious adoption process. A process that includes all the legal matters and invasion into the couples’ private lives as to whether their home and their lifestyle is “safe” enough to care for a child. A concept that, quite frankly, can be unnerving as this questions a couple (who has been struggling to have a family) whether or not they are capable of being a parent.

Those pursuing adoption are also strong enough to face every emotion — all the anxiety — involved in the adoption process head on. Placement of a child (whether domestic or international) and the absolute fear of the unknown would be enough to throw any “normal” person into anxiety overdrive:

Will there be issues with the adoption country?

Will the birth parent(s) change his/her mind?

Will the child love me?

Will I be able to love the child as if he/she is my own?

Am I a good enough in the government’s eyes to be considered capable of raising a child?

Will I be deemed unfit as a parent?

Will the child be taken away from me?

Imagine facing those thoughts every day. In my opinion, going through adoption adds a whole new layer of complexity to infertility. And I am in absolute awe in which these couples who choose this path show such grace and compassion …

I only wish I had even a portion of such brevity, strength, grace and compassion that these people do.

(Yep. There will be more of this … tomorrow.)

NIAW 2009, Pt II

(This is the second part of a six-day series to celebrate NIAW. I’d say it’s because I “planned” it that way … but the truth is, the series started out as one extremely looong post. To start at the beginning, click here)

273And then there’s the biggest loss of all. Let me preface this by saying that not everyone experiencing infertility will end up in this category of loss. Because some will be successful with their pursuit in creating a child from within themselves. For some, it may be the creation of a biological child of their own. For others, it could be a successful pregnancy created from either donor egg, donor sperm, donor embryo, and even donor uterus. In any case, these are couples who have spent more than enough months in disappointment … and not to mention more than enough money on various medications and/or procedures.

In any case … for those others, like myself, that were not successful in their pursuit, they must deal with the ultimate loss — the inability to create a life out of one’s own being. For some couples, it could be the loss of a pregnancy; a miscarriage after having been able to create a life but unable to carry their baby to term. For every couple unable to achieve and/or maintain a pregnancy, it’s the loss of the ability to pass on a piece of yourself or your partner’s self onto another living and breathing person. To see your facial features on a child you created. To see your partner’s mannerisms in another living being. To know that you have continued on your lineage; contributed to the “Circle of Life.” Those things … and much much more are tremendously huge losses that will take more than the span of your own lifetime to mourn.

Some women feel the loss of the ability to experience a life grow inside of herself; to carry a child in her womb until that baby is ready to enter the world. For other women, it’s knowing that they will finally be able to nurture this child and bring him/her up in the manner that they’ve always dreamed about. And for others still (like myself), a combination of the two …

(More ramblings … tomorrow.)