same-sex couples

We Need to Break Up (or I’m going to prison): Baby Chpt. 9

J&ESince Bashert, and then I  began writing about our journey toward parenthood people have asked us why we didn’t just report the infertility clinic and Dr. Lizardo. The answer is a plain and yet complicated one: Fear.

We are a lesbian couple. Now to many fair-minded folks that may be a nonissue anymore, but remember our story takes place 10 years ago when it was not quite so chic to be out and proud. Oh, sure we were affectionately known in our neighborhood as “the girls,” but in our other social and professional circles we were made to feel outcast. We lost friends after coming out to the world. There were still iffy situations within our respective families. There was my government job where Bashert had to remain known as my “roommate.” There were many in our religious community that, at the time, treated us as pariahs – they avoided close contact, as if we had some kind of contagious disease. The medical community we had to deal with did not accept “us” and we had to use subterfuge in order to get what is was we needed.

We were scared of losing it all. Bashert was afraid that she would be found out and denied service. We were afraid we would have to go to some half-baked quack (the actual infertility doctor was very well qualified) or travel such distances that we could not financially afford, as others of our “tribe” had to do.

Were we naive? Yes. Were we blinded by fear? Yes. Would we do the same thing again? Not knowing what we know now, of course not, but at the time it was all we could do to hold on and move inch by inch toward our final goal – having a baby.

So, with that being said, I am glad to announce that after the blood test came back positive that Bashert truly was pregnant, we were able to break free from the infertility clinic. It was not a clean break by any means. They took what should have been one of the most joyous times of our lives and continued to interject fear and worry into Bashert’s mind.

The clinic nurse had called with the “official” results of the blood test, but after letting Bashert know she was indeed pregnant at the moment, her hCG (Human Chorionic Gonadotropin – wow, huh?) levels were uncomfortably “high.” They wanted her to come in as soon as possible to be checked out, after all, she was a high risk pregnancy. Read that as, more blood testing and vaginal sonograms. What the hell? I was getting ready to do bodily harm to someone at that place.

I could see Bashert getting more and more upset and when she told me all of this, I was done. I couldn’t take it anymore – not the pettiness of the money grubbing – not the emotional and physical torture they put her through – not the idea that these people wanted to control our very lives for another nine months. I told Bashert we just needed to call our own doctor and get some kind of straight talk and get the freaking hell out of Dodge. We had what we wanted, now let’s get some real help.

Our OB/GYN’ staff was absolutely wonderful! For the first time since all of this started I saw genuine pleasure in Bashert’s countenance. Our nurse explained in delighted detail just exactly what the high hCG levels meant (I almost fainted at this one) – it could be an indicator of multiple birth! It didn’t mean that Bashert had entered some high risk category of imminent spontaneous abortion. What a relief to talk to someone who actually sounded pleased at the insemination’s outcome. We set up some appointments and took a big sigh – we could really kiss that nuthouse goodbye.

Bashert was armed and ready when the nurse called back from the infertility clinic. As the woman rattled off the appointment date for the next blood letting and assault, Bashert calmly interrupted the woman and said “we” would no longer be in need of their services. She thanked the woman, but said “we” had made other arrangements with “our” regular doctor. From the sound of it, the nurse was not happy with this, but Bashert stood her ground and hung up.

I don’t think I have ever been so happy to break up with anyone as I was at that moment.

Now, what was that about having more than one?

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First a Bank & There Ought To Be a Law: Baby Story Chpt 4

J&ESince I couldn’t be directly involved with the physical proceedings, I threw myself into finding the perfect cryogenics bank and donor. First came the bank.

Sperm banks are regulated at the National level by the American Association of Tissue Banks (AATB). They are supposed to be regulated at the state level by each state’s respective State Department, but as we have all heard, the follow through is not always the most attentive. We wanted a place that stood by ethical policies that protected both the donors and the clients.

We wanted a place that did the most genetic testing possible at the time. As Bashert has Ashkenazi Jewish heritage on both sides of her family, we needed to make sure that the donor we selected didn’t have a history of known diseases prevalent in that type of lineage.

We also needed a bank that supplied IUI ready special sauce. Not all places did.

One of my own criteria was that the donor be anonymous. Bashert and I talked about that one extensively. My reasoning was emotional. If I wasn’t able to contribute genetic material, I at least wanted to be the full other parent to our child. To me, a anonymous donor is as the dictionary describes – one who gives without need of recognition or acknowledgement. I didn’t want any ghost of parental figure lingering in the background of our lives. We would have the pertinent information, such as, medical background, family histories, physical characteristics, personality reviews and so on to give to our child when the time was right. I just didn’t want another physical person in the mix. Three’s a crowd.

So, I was looking for a place that was shown to follow ethical practices, have IUI ready specimens, perform extensive genetic testing and have donors that agreed to remain anonymous. And oh, yeah, we had to be able to afford it.

Well, in 2002 that narrowed down our choices quite nicely. It even eliminated the bank we have right here in our home town. It would have been wonderfully convenient and less expensive, but we just didn’t feel it met our picky standards. Besides, it sort creeped me out knowing that the donors could have come from right next door. Silly, I know, but there you go.

We ended up with one of the larger banks located out of state. It had been around for some time and seemed to set the standards for what a cryo bank should be and met the qualities we were searching for. The next step would be setting up an account and finding the perfect donor for us.

I am going to pause here for a moment and tell you something about myself. I am a mild mannered person, quite shy really and it takes a lot to get me visibly angry. But mess with anyone I love and it’s Bruce Banner to the Hulk in three seconds flat.

Now, in the previous chapter I said that I was not able to attend the actual appointments with Bashert due to our situation. We had to maintain covert operations in order to achieve the goal of the mission. Little did I know what indignities (sounds like such a small word for her suffering) Bashert was having to endure. She kept me in the dark about many of them so that I wouldn’t go to the clinic and get myself arrested.

It makes my blood boil even now to recall the horrific circumstances she had to go through with one of the doctors. I could deal with the attempts to overcharge us and even the onslaught of negativity that came from a place that was supposed to be about giving the gift of joy to parents, but I could not deal with was the physical violation that occurred.

You see, part of the process in verifying that a woman has viable eggs is a vaginal sonogram. It is an invasive procedure that should be handled with the utmost of respect, care and gentleness. Bashert’s original compromise with the ID was to do one ovulation cycle and then have the sonogram. What Bashert didn’t know was that her ID had a partner that filled in when he was not available. It just so happened that her ID was not available the day she was to have her sonogram done.

It is always discomforting to have your regular physician replaced at a pivotal point, that’s why I have disliked going to team practices where I am never quite sure who I will be seeing on appointment day. Knowing that Bashert was already on edge about a procedure she had never experienced before and had not been told what to really expect, the change up created an even more heightened state of unease.

I did my best to try and give her support as I kissed her goodbye that day. What she told me later had me ready to wrap my hands around Dr. Lizardo’s throat. If I had known the rest of what Bashert did not reveal, I am not sure we would have Yoda right now.

When I came home from work that afternoon, I expected to find a partner relieved that the deed was done, but happy with the results. Instead what I found was a visibly shaken woman who had obviously been traumatized by the doctor who was supposed to be helping. (see Bashert’s site for her revealing story). I was ready to report that freaking doctor to the head ID,  the AMA, and whoever else I could find. If I’d known then what I know now, I would have reported it to the police (after I had beaten the living hell out of the woman).

This woman, this “doctor”, who supposedly took an oath to protect her patients had basically raped Bashert when performing the vaginal sonogram. Dr. Lizardo made sure there were no witnesses – all the staff was gone, including the attending nurse. She used undo force and did not listen to Bashert’s concerns. She offered no real apology or comprehension as what she had actually done.

Bashert didn’t let me in on the whole story at the time. She wanted to go ahead with our plan to have the baby she so wanted. She didn’t want to jeopardize anything even in the face of such degradation. She felt constricted by the limited choices we had and for whatever reason, Dr. Lizardo seemed to realize that Bashert was bound by that. What a fucking situation to be in. Even with the partial information I had, I was so beyond furious.

This is what many lesbian and gay couples have to go through just to have a family.  Humiliation and violation without recourse. And people wonder why we are fighting so hard to get the rights we deserve.

At that point, no matter what the ID said was needed, we were going to stick to the plan, get the insemination done and get the hell out of Dodge. As the kids say today, that place was “whack”.

To get this accomplished, it was time to pick a donor.

Secret Sauce: Chapter 3 of my version of our baby story

J&EOkay, I know two women cannot make a baby together, at least at this point in time. We are sort of minus one component, the squiggly little guy production factory; the secret sauce, if you will. So what does the resourceful lesbian couple do? Why research cryogenic banks of course. It seems many kind gentlemen finance their college educations with possible life-giving donations.

During the initial research, we found that most reputable banks required that we work through a doctor’s office or a fertility clinic. There were a few places that would ship directly to your home, but since we were new to this and I wasn’t quite ready for turkey baster 101, we decided to discuss our options with our OBY/GYN.

Our doctor is a lovely woman, great sense of humor, wonderful bedside manner and general nice person. She had/has never once blinked an eye or made any kind of issue about Bashert and I as a couple. She is about as grounded as they come and we knew she would give us the straight poop, so to speak. We were a bit disappointed, okay, a lot disappointed, to find out that while she would gladly be the one to see us through any pregnancy, she wasn’t set up to do inseminations. She told us we would need to seek out an infertility clinic to aid us in the insemination process if we didn’t want to try at home.

As fate would have it again, we met a couple who had just gone through this process. Their sage advice – don’t let them know you are a same-sex couple. What? This couple was turned down by the two clinics in town because they were a lesbians. They had to go 100 miles away to find someone to assist them. Bashert was shocked at this, but I found myself angry and frustrated. Here we were determined to face the world as a unified front and we are being told that for our most important act as a couple we must go into hiding again or travel outside our community? Criminy! Not a good way to start out in my opinion. But Bashert was determined (again) to see this through come hell or high water, so she hatched a plan. It’s always a little scary when she comes out with, “I have a plan…”

She would present herself as a single woman.

Confession time here. I know I have been talking all out and proud, you know, “We’re here. We’re queer. Get used to it.” sort of thing, but the reality of it was different. One of my jobs was with a local government agency, a local Georgia government agency. That meant no protection under the law. I could be fired for my relationship with Bashert. It was the same damn thing as her “moral turpitude” clause and the South Carolina state laws that prevented me from fighting all out for full custody of my daughter. The people I worked for weren’t exactly readers of The Huffington Post. I still had one foot in the closet in order to pay the bills. Sometimes, economics does win. So, Bashert’s plan of action was a bit hard to take, but like the economic reality of my job situation, it was necessary to achieve what we ultimately wanted – a baby.

I hated being left out of the loop. I couldn’t be there to hear all the little things, the details that usually get lost because, well because, Bashert is a hypochondriac. If one thing is mentioned that sets off her worry button then all else is lost while she chases down her imminent death inside her head. I couldn’t be there to hold her hand and let her know all will be okay. I couldn’t be there to participate in the steps leading to the creation of our child. I just couldn’t be there. And it hurt.

The amount of information that Bashert came home with from that very first visit was astounding. We were so grateful that the doctor took the time to write everything down, but then as I found out what all he had suggested, it sounded like this guy was all about taking time. And for us time meant money.

The infertility doctor (ID) was suggesting that Bashert got through six to twelve cycles of ovulation to make sure that she could get pregnant and that was after waiting three to six months to make sure she was ovulating correctly! Each cycle would mean another visit to and testing at the clinic, as well as, a vial of the secret sauce for each insemination try. This guy was out to bankrupt us even before we got started.

I know the money talk may sound crass and you may say, hey if they were that determined what did money mean? Well, eating for one thing. We had hopes and dreams, but eating and keeping a roof over our heads seemed important too. I was putting in as many hours as I could at my second job and Bashert was working full time for the club, but we were still barely making ends meet. Any extra money we made was set aside for “plan baby”.

The ID listed several options when it came to the secret sauce. Here comes the scientificy stuff. The first option was ICI or intracervical insemination. This is the form of artificial insemintation (AI) that most resembles the way sperm is introduced during actual intercourse.  The sperm is deposited near or into the cervix and the boogers have to swim the race. Not much prep work is done to the sperm before the AI takes place. The sperm remains “unwashed” – we rolled with laughter when we were introduced to that term! The chances of becoming pregnant with this option were roughly the same as anybody’s. (This is the one people do when choosing to do AI at home.)

The second option was IUI or intrauterine insemination. In this AI, the sperm gets a shower first – it is referred to as “washed”, really can you keep a straight face? Anyway, the sperm is washed so that it won’t cause cramping and have the uterus just turn around and kick the little guys out. Because the sperm is place in the uterus, usually directed toward the side the egg is scheduled to release, the chances of pregnancy go up a good bit.

The third option was IVF or in vitro fertilization. This is one of the most complicated procedures.  While technically still a form of AI, it is usually listed separately because it involves removal of the eggs, inseminating them outside of the uterus and then implanting them back in. Expensive, painful, more than a beggar’s chance of multiple births, but no more guarantee of viable pregnancy than any of the other methods. I can safely say we ruled that one out first thing.

After some time of discussion, we decided (outside of the clinic environment obviously) that we would choose the IUI. From the preliminary research of cryo banks, we figured we had enough money saved for two vials of the secret sauce and we needed as much bang for our buck as we could get. We also knew that we not could afford six to twelve months of visits and testing. My insurance (from my second job), just that year had begun to cover domestic partners and would pay for most of the testing, but not the visits or any actual insemination procedure. And my friends, the clinic demanded money up front,. No cash – no service.

Along with the discussion about what type of AI, we had to discuss how to circumvent all the testing and waiting the ID wanted her to do. He was treating her as if she couldn’t get pregnant and that was not the issue at hand. We finally came up with a compromise that she would present to him. She would agree to one month ovulation trial and the vaginal sonogram to verify that she had viable eggs to make the whole thing worthwhile to try.

Again, Bashert had to go face down the ID alone. Give that woman credit, she stood her ground and laid out the plan. I don’t know what she said to him, but she got what she wanted. We had advanced to the next round – one part fun, the other part down right criminal.

Friends, now what? Chapter 2 of my version

J&EI have to admit it didn’t cross my mind that our friendship would be anymore than that; friendship. Considering the gruesome breakup I was experiencing, I certainly was not looking for anything more. But somewhere between that first, “Geez, why doesn’t she just go away?” and my realization that I was going to be devastated if she really did move to Israel as planned after her graduation, the relationship had moved into something else entirely. Much to the amusement of our other friends (yes, I made more friends regardless of what my daughter Nené might say) we became a couple. The story of the in between is quite a tale unto itself, but that is ours to savor and occasionally let tidbits out, but for now I move on to the next step: cohabitation.

When Bashert and I first moved into together, it was as if we were on vacation every day, well at least at home, well at least some of the time. You know that closet that you hear about gay people coming out of? Well, let us say our life was pretty much one big walk-in.

I was still immeshed in that nasty ongoing divorce and my attorneys at the time suggested that I not reveal to my daughter the true aspect of our relationship. The laws in the state of South Carolina, the state that had power over the divorce proceedings, were not kind to those of my ilk. The ex-husband-to-be was not below using any and all means to keep my daughter away from me and cut off any kind of financial support he could. Bashert and I were forced to set up a farce of a roommate situation whenever Nené stayed with us.

Bashert had graduated and was in the “real” world teaching art at the local Catholic high school. I know, joke in the making: Jewish, lesbian teaching at Catholic school. When she was hired, she had to sign a “moral turpitude” contract. This meant that they had control over her so-called moral behavior even outside of school and oh, let us see – what was the official 1997 Catholic standing on homosexuality? Oh, yeah – get the hell off our property, die and burn for eternity. We were forced into another farce of pretense. Not that we were very good at it, in either situation.

By this time Nené was around nine years old and it was pretty apparent that we weren’t doing such a good job keep ourselves in the closet around her. I found a crumpled note in her room after a weekend visit. “Mom – I think you are gay with Bashert”. I guess it is hard to explain to a nine year old why Mom’s “roommate” is involved in most every aspect of our lives and not have her be suspicious. Trying to be something we were not in order to keep Nené in our lives was causing more damage than helping.

Things at Bashert’s job were not much better. Bashert took her ring off each morning before work, a painful thing for both of us. She took “beards” to various school functions. We separated whenever anyone from her school was seen in our vicinity when we were out and about – even at the grocery store. Despite the precautions we thought we were taking, we ended up having our car keyed and wonderful rumors were heard about us being seen making out in the Winn Dixie parking lot. Really? At least they could have picked a more up-scale place than a grocery store parking lot..

On a weekend excursion to Atlanta, we stopped in a jewelry store and lo and behold, Bashert heard a student call her name, “Hey, Miss Smith!”  Arg. We couldn’t even relax when we went out of town. The closet was getting mighty stuffy.

In 1999, after two years of teaching there, the Catholic school Bashert was working for suddenly “lost” their funding for the art department and her contract was not renewed. Funny how the funding was “found” two months later when they hired a new art teacher. I’m just saying.

Now at this point you may be wondering why all this background. Why not just jump right in with the baby story? Well, to understand some of the coming story, you had to know some of the back story. You see, it took those years of struggle – finding each other, overcoming our differences (still working on that one occasionally), hiding from family and the world – to build the determination and convictions needed to start fresh as an open and proud family.

After Bashert lost her teaching job, we decided that whatever job she found it would have to be one that accepted us. No more hiding. I also made the decision to fire my attorneys. All the secretiveness had done nothing to further my cause, in fact, it had done more harm than good to the relationship with my daughter. It wasn’t until Bashert and I made the decision to “come out of the closet” together that Nené started to come around.

Bashert found another job as a graphic artist at a place that really didn’t care one way or the other about her personal life and I found an attorney who specialized in representing gays and lesbians. We were on our way. The only thing left to work out was my lingering strings tying me to The Jackass. Bashert wanted to expand our family and I did not want to bring a baby into our relationship until I was able to say I was free and clear to be hers. You see, as liberal as my views had become, I was still old fashioned enough to say that we needed to be “married” before we had kids.

It took two more years before the divorce could be finalized and believe me it wasn’t for want of trying on my part. By the time it was all said and done, I had graduated with my BFA, started not one, but two part time jobs, Bashert had started working for a private dinner club as Membership Director and Nené had begun high school. It was a long haul to get to that sad, but relieving day in May.

Once the shock of the reality of my divorce had worn off, Bashert wasted no time in preparing for our commitment ceremony – she had that fierce determination going again. On July 27th we were standing in front of 50 of our closest friends and family to proudly show them that we were committed to living an open and loving life together. It was a beautiful ceremony that people still talk about today 12 years later. I only hope our legal wedding will be half as warm and special when that day comes (hint, hint to the federal government).

After the ceremony, Bashert began talking in earnest about wanting to have a baby. I admit it, I was nervous. I was now 40 years old, trying to maintain two jobs and going through the teenage years with Nené. One by one, Bashert knocked down my arguments, made sure to include Nené every step of the way and had me convinced.

We were going to make a baby.

A baby story – my version of the tale

J&EMy partner Bashert is writing a series of exposés on our journey to have a baby (Yoda). She is amazed by all the wonderful responses she is receiving. I’m not surprised at all. She can tell a story, that woman. She pours all her heart into what she is regaling and lays it on the line, warts and all.

I am reading right along with all of her other fans. It is funny to read about my life from the outside. Sometimes I laugh, sometimes I sit and make note of things I had forgotten and sometimes I revisit very angry moments. It was a roller coaster ride for sure. If you haven’t read her exciting tales of the road to motherhood then pop over to her site: www.bashert04.com.

I was teasing with her when she told me with wide eyes how many hits she had in under an hour the other night just after she posted another segment. I joked that maybe I should write my own version of what went on. She said why not? I thought about it and decided, why not? So I present to you my side of the story – our baby story.

 

We Meet

We met in college. In 1995, at the age of 34 and seeking some source of sanity, I returned to school to finish out my Fine Arts degree I started back when the dinosaurs roamed about. I was two years into a very nasty divorce and custody battle that would eventually drag on for another eight years. I was emotionally and physically scarred and needed a place to help me feel good and right about myself.

Learning had always been a refuge for me, but starting over was hard. I was so socially removed, I barely spoke above a whisper and held everyone at arm’s length. To say that I tried to keep to myself is a radical understatement.

Bashert was ahead of me in the program despite being nine years my junior. A couple of years earlier, she fought to gain her independence from an abusive father and get into college. Fighting hard for things is a major theme in Bashert’s life – keep that point in mind as we go through this story. She knew no strangers; she had friends and acquaintances all over campus.

As a sculptor, Bashert had no love loss for two-dimensional work. Give her some clay to play with and she is a happy camper. Back then the closest thing she came to painting was applying glazes to her ceramic creations. I had the reverse situation. Three-dimensional work and I just didn’t get along – never did; I still have the pinch pot I made in third grade as testament to that fact, the poor malformed little thing. No, give me paper and pencil and I was in heaven.

I never really painted before taking that class, but oh, it was love at first stroke! The way the paint moved across the canvas, pushing and pulling in a beautiful dance of negative and positive spaces. The sharp, piney tang of turpentine and the mellow musk of the oils were heady perfumes for me. And the colours – oh, the colours! The painting studio turned out to be my home. There was only one thing out of place there – Bashert.

It would be suffice to say that painting and Bashert didn’t get on, but add in that we later found out she was pretty much colour blind, that sealed the deal. At the time, I just thought she had been sent into my life to be yet another punishment for whatever hellbent life I had lived earlier. Shy to begin with and emotionally crushed on top of that, I did not know what to do with this girl.

I would arrive at the studio to find her sitting cheerfully at my station with a big grin on her face announcing that she “borrowed” some of my cadmium yellow or a cleaning rag or any number of other supplies. She would chat away as I tried to start my painting day and tactfully extricate myself from her. But she had worked it out so that her painting station was right next to mine and the badgering never ended. Often I would find myself staring in wonderment that she couldn’t get it that I was yearning to left alone.

Get it, she did not and the barrage of questions kept coming either about myself or ultimately about how to paint her images. “How would you do this one?” What colour should I use?” “Could you just take the brush and show me how?” My reply was always, “It is your painting.” I think this made me more a challenge to her. I remember going to my therapy sessions and telling the doctor in an exasperated voice, “That girl has some serious boundary issues!”.  I was already dealing with a vindictive ex-husband to be and a hormonal seven-year-old daughter, another aggravating person was the last thing I needed in my life. On some level I think I was relieved when the class was over just to end the torture from Bashert.

But remember what I said in the beginning? Bashert knows how to fight hard for the things she wants and for some unfathomable reason, she wanted to be my friend. She didn’t give up.

We went on a university sponsored trip to Washington, D.C. and she made sure that I couldn’t bury my nose in my crossword puzzle book on the ride up. She asked me to help her with the art gallery at school where she worked putting up monthly art exhibits. She asked for rides around town to her various other jobs, despite the fact that she hated my 1968 Mercury Cougar muscle car. I loved that car…sigh. But that’s another story.

All the while we were together, she would talk. And talk. And talk. Slowly, oh so slowly, those rides became stops and the talks became conversations, long conversations that lasted into the wee hours of the night. The aggressive girl with the boundary issues taught me how to be in the world again and somewhere in the midst, miraculously became my first friend in almost 15 years.