Sister Helen Prejean – Raising a Baby Activist

Every morning, my daughter and I stand in front of her dresser mirror, and we read “She counts 112 blessings every day” from a piece of artwork in her room.  Then, starting with the top her head, we count her crown, forehead, eyes, down her face and end at 15 with her heart.  Every day, I end it with “And your heart is your biggest blessing.”  My hope is that kindness, if nothing else, will be her mark on the world.

As I begin this series of Raising a Baby Activist interviews, I can think of no better way than with the key element of compassion.  If you haven’t heard of Sister Helen Prejean, perhaps you have seen the movie Dead Man Walking, starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn, based on her book Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty.  For me, her work is the epitome of human compassion and dignity.

Sister Helen Prejean 2
Helen in the doorway of the death row facility at Angola Prison ~ Courtesy of Ministry Against the Death Penalty

With a third book soon to be released, Sister Helen is on the road spreading her message, encouraging people to educate themselves on the issues around this controversial topic.  I recently had the opportunity to sit down with her communications manager, Griffin Hardy, to learn about her journey, work and mission.

Early Life

Born in 1939 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Sister Helen’s father was an attorney, and her upbringing was one of privilege.  They had servants in their home, not unusual for families of certain means during that time.  When she was 18, she became a Catholic nun.  In the 1950s, nuns wore habits, Mass was said in Latin, and the sisters received male names.  Their work was assigned within the church confines.  Sister Helen taught middle school English and was a religious education director.

With the liberalization and modernization of the Catholic church known as Vatican 2, nun habits were abandoned, original names restored and, much to Sister Helen’s dismay at the time, roles changed to working out in the service of the community at large.  Her response to this was “we are nuns, not social workers!”  Indeed, she was resistant to these changes from the traditional, but these changes led her into a whole new world, and her life’s work.

New Life Experiences

In the early 1980s, Sister Helen attended a retreat with her religious community, where the presenter, a sociologist named Sister Mary Augusta Neal, addressed the Gospel of Jesus, Luke 4:18, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,”
New International Version (NIV),

presenting that idea that the Good News is that the poor will be poor no longer.  This was a defining moment in her life as she realized the need for human compassion among all people.  She moved to a housing project in New Orleans, where she dedicated her life to working with and helping the poor and underserved.

She was living in low-income community that was 100% African-American.  She realized that those folks who served her home as a child were only familiar to her on a first-name basis.  Her new neighbors were providing her with a new perspective into the “other America”, and woke her up to a new way of seeing all people as she learned about them and their different life experiences.

Sister Helen Prejean 1
Helen in front of Hope House in the St. Thomas housing project ~ Courtesy of Ministry Against the Death Penalty

Her work in this community involved improving literacy, and working with a prison coalition.  The director of the coalition asked if the sisters would write letters to Death Row inmates.  That is how she came to know, and become spiritual advisor to Patrick Sonnier, the convicted killers of two teenagers, sentenced to die in the electric chair of Louisiana’s Angola State Prison.   Pat Sonnier’s case was the one that involved his brother, Eddie, testifying against him in exchange for a life sentence. Eddie died in 2013 and Sister Helen had continued to visit him on a regular basis in the years since Pat’s execution in 1984.

Looking back on this connection with Sonnier, Sister Helen jokes, “The problem wasn’t writing to him.  It was that he wrote back!”  And so, this pen pal began to reveal himself to her, then asked her to visit him.  She made the 3-hour journey to the Louisiana/Mississippi border to the death row facility where he was being held.  There is not much information to prepare one for this experience as much information about facilities of this nature is deliberately kept secret.  This was a completely foreign experience for Sister Helen, and one that proved to be an enormous light bulb moment.  She spent several years as Sonnier’s spiritual advisor, helped him secure a new lawyer and was present at his execution.

Activist Life Lessons

“People are more than the worst thing they’ve ever done in their life.” 

  • There have always been light bulb moments and the reveal of new perspectives for this humble and amazing woman.  When she met Sonnier, she saw a human being.  Her service means being present with people where they are. It means having empathy and reinforcing human dignity.  There is more to these people, who many view as nothing but monsters.  That is the bottom line.
  • A regret that Sister Helen in the case of her role in Patrick Sonnier’s life was that she didn’t connect with the families of his victims until they happened to meet at a parole hearing.  They are not on the opposite side of this, and she doesn’t have to choose a side to be present with people.
  • Human dignity is not only prisoners, but everybody.  Developing, reinforcing and applying general awareness daily.

 How to be an Activist

“Ignited passion can happen at any age.”  We are so often paralyzed by the injustice of a situation.  Once you’ve made that realization, do something.  If Sister Helen can accomplish coming to this understanding at 40, imagine what young people can do.  The sooner you start, the easier it is to apply human dignity to your work daily and effectively.  There are different levels of commitment, but every person has the ability to do something.

  • Write a letter
  • Contact an elected official
  • Attend a march or rally

The sooner you start, the easier it is to apply human dignity to your work daily and effectively.

The Death Penalty

For a very long time, the political framework of the death penalty put all parties on the wrong side.  As time has gone on, everything from subjective faith-based beliefs to financial concerns.  Democrats added abolition of it to their platform in 2016.

It is a widely held belief that it is more cost-effective to put an inmate to death than to sentence them to life in prison, without the possibility of parole.  That is not the case.    The counterintuitive Truth is that it costs more to house and kill a death row inmate.  Though Republicans may not publicly oppose it, Democrats and Republicans have formed a coalition on this important social issue, for independent reasons.  Even the very Republican Koch Brothers are in support of Social Justice Reform!

Most people don’t know much about the death penalty because a lot of information about the process is kept secret.   That’s the only way that the death penalty continues to be propped up.  It would be very difficult to defend the idea of taking a defenseless person, shackling them, marching them into a room, putting them on a table, and pumping them full of poison. It’s the most premeditated of killings. It’s the most premeditated of killings. Rather than defend the indefensible, our governments do all they can to hide the realities of capital punishment. Laws have been passed to hide just about everything about the process.  We know more about how veterinarians euthanize pets than about how our government kills human beings. -Griffin Hardy

Today

Sister Helen has 35 years in her line of work with Death Row inmates and her work in under-served communities.  She was present for 5 more Death Row executions.  She is the public face of the Ministry Against the Death Penalty, and is currently spiritual advisor to 2 Death Row inmates and also works with the families involved.  She is releasing a new book in the fall, River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey.

As Ella & I count her heart as her biggest blessing each day, my hope is that she is inspired by the work of activists like Sister Helen Prejean, whose heart is surely her biggest blessing.

Sister Helen Prejean 3.jpg
Helen visiting with Dobie Gillis Williams. Helen was Dobie’s spiritual advisor. He was executed at Angola in 1999 ~ Courtesy of Ministry Against the Death Penalty

My deepest gratitude goes to Griffin Hardy for taking the time to talk with me about this crucial issue in our American society.  The work of the Ministry, and all its staff, are instrumental to the education around all of the complexities of the death penalty.  I’m certainly inspired and more informed now.  I hope that you are as well.

To donate, purchase her books and support the continued work of the Ministry Against the Death Penalty, please go to https://www.sisterhelen.org/ .

My Article was Published! Here’s the Link

I have been reading this online publication for some time now, and I love it. Today, they published an essay that I wrote from my heart, about the day that we met our daughter. Thank you, Motherly, for sharing this piece of our journey.

https://www.mother.ly/love/the-minute-we-got-that-call-i-knew-you-were-our-daughter

7 Ways to Honor Your Adopted Child’s Transracial Identity

As I look back so fondly on our adoption experience, I want to share some lessons that have come out of our multicultural family, created through transracial adoption.

As I learn more, I will do more. We work hard every day to be the best and most supportive parents that we can be.  As a mother, a middle-Eastern woman, an activist, and a Citizen of the World, I have a base knowledge and first-hand experience of the issues surrounding racism but adopting our daughter was a new experience for both me and my wife.

We approached our decision to adopt a Black child easily because we believe, like many people, that “love is love”, “all you need is love” and that “love has no color”.  Love is undeniably important, but it is not enough.  In the case of our transracial adoption, it quickly became apparent that these sentiments are naïve, and lined with a cozy layer of privilege.

We need much more than love to be the best parents that we can be to any person. I’m not talking about money. I’m talking about a resourceful awareness, the willingness to foster the growth of the child as an empowered individual, and the ability to use our own experiences to make life the best it can be for the future of our adopted children.

We must push our own boundaries, go outside our comfort zones, and help our children build their own racial identities, with all of the complexities that come with that, from day one. That is how we honor them.

In this article, using my own family as an example,  I will highlight 7 ways in which you can honor the identity of your adopted child, our daughter, Ella, in my case. As I do not intend to lump all people of color into the experience, I will speak only from the perspective of our cultures/ethnicities.

Lola Shahdadi

1. Learn the Facts.

As a multicultural family who adopted through the foster care system, we received little training from our agency regarding transracial adoption.  We were given book suggestions about the subject, but the lack of emphasis left us ignorant to what it all meant for our child. Focused insight is necessary and crucial to prepare families appropriately to raise a child who is not of the same ethnicity and/or culture as them, or who is a person of color that is not the same as the rest of the family.  As a result, I had to learn ways to honor this need for my child and our family.

Our children are adopted into our families, and that is often not their choice.  Providing a safe space for children to find their own identities (in my daughter’s case, as a Black woman) would be egregious to ignore.

We read books about adoption, tell stories of the day we brought her home, and talk about how special her Adoption Day was.  Keeping her birth parents in her story is crucial.  They are where she came from.  They gave her life!  This will not ever be ignored.  This is part of honoring who she is.

2. Understand the issues surrounding our child’s ethnicity.

I must be direct when I say that when adopting transracially, it is crucial to be educated about the issues of ethnicity (perhaps one about which you know a little beforehand), and an understanding of ethnic-racial challenges both now and potentially, in the future.  Adoptive parents need to make the extra effort to allow their adopted child an opportunity to experience people who can be mirrors for them, and where they can feel a true sense of self and community.

In order to do so, learn the correct language/terminology (racism, cultural appropriation, transracial, for example), and use it, openly, as a mirror for others.  Depending on where you live, this can be a real challenge.

Adoptive parents have fears that the child will identify so much with people who are the same ethnicity as them that they will leave their adoptive family.  When our children grow up knowing that they can trust us to put their needs first, that will not happen.  This is the best way to offer that knowledge.

Lola Shahdadi

3. Make community connections.

Give them racial mirrors. Children need to see themselves in others. This includes people who are the same color as them. I will go anywhere and do anything if it is in the best interest of my child. I attend a radically inclusive church. It was started by a gay man, is attended by same-sex, adoptive, and biological families, transgender people, people of color and those with diverse backgrounds. They celebrate diversity at every service.

Since I am a stay-at-home-working-mom, and my daughter does not attend daycare or preschool yet, my wife and I have joined programs that provide child development and enrichment classes across our city. This has given us the opportunity to meet many different families and experience diversity in safe settings.

I have joined parent groups that enrich our experiences. For example, we participated in Black History Month events at our LGBT Center this year.

Now that our daughter is a mobile and aware toddler, I watch her notice when she sees mirrors of herself.  I watch her love it.  If you don’t have these kinds of activities in your local community, drive the distance.

I cannot emphasize this enough!  Join in-person and online support groups.  There are many amazing groups out there, and many more families like yours than you might realize.  I am a member of some incredible online transracial adoption groups.  TAP 101 and Transracial Adoption Perspectives are two of the best that I’ve found on Facebook.  If there is a shortage of the type of support group that you need, start one!  You can be a change-maker.

As with any online engagement, consider the history/politics/conflicts of these groups by having dialogues with the admins and founders.  If they are open, honest and willing to engage, you’ve found your place.

Gaining the education and tools you need can be the enrichment your child needs to face the challenges that come with being a transracially adopted person.  We have the power to empower. Read. Research. Do.

5. Provide the opportunity for open conversation about race, culture, racism, and community.

For our very verbal 2-year-old, conversations are simple but meaningful.  We talk about the different types of families that we see (two daddies, two mommies, a mommy and a daddy, siblings, one very strong mommy or daddy).  We read books about the colors of us.  We talk about different things that other cultures value and care about, and we ask her lots of questions.  It’s amazing how much she answers back with her own thoughts!  When she notices someone that is also Black, she feels comfortable sharing this, and we encourage it.

Our hope is that discussing adoption and ethnicity, and all that comes with it, is so natural for her that she won’t remember some big talk about these topics.

Get books with characters that look like your child.  We have some wonderful books that provide mirrors for Ella, and they help encourage her to express thoughts and feelings in a way that we cannot.  She loves to pick out which hair looks like hers.  She’s starting to pick out people who have the same skin color as herself.  I knew it was time to start styling her hair with twists and pigtails because of the conversations during story time.

Share other adoptee stories.  There are many online and written opportunities in the form of blogs, memoirs, online spaces, and transracial perspective groups.  There are spaces online to begin and advance knowledge.

6. Every family is unique. Have your own traditions.

Along with engaging in our own local community, we travel, learn about the world, and are developing our own family traditions.  When we travel, we look for experiences which are unique to the culture of where we are visiting.  The experiences have been rich and plentiful for all three of us.  It has special to see the world through the eyes of a child.

We live in a major metropolitan area with a multitude of opportunities.  We have the privilege of living in a diverse neighborhood, playing with children of color, have multicultural experiences, and will send her to a diverse school, when the time comes.

We also honor our family unit.  We are unique in our own ways, and that is something in which my girl takes pride and joy.  We have traditions around the family table, our own backgrounds, cultures, and ethnicities. We take pride in these traditions and our toddler already acknowledges how much that means to her.

7. Discuss Challenges.

Use examples from their own experiences, those of the people of color in your world, as well as those out in the world at large, and throughout history.  As I hear more and more about the racism and civil injustices of the Black community in our country, I realize just how important this is.  We have books about the challenges and successes in the Black community, from slaves to civil rights activists to lawyers, doctors, scientists, and artists, and we have already begun reading them.

I anticipate many more lessons as our daughter grows up.  Steps toward knowledge and empowerment allow us the opportunity to minimize the challenges, or at least allow her to feel heard and supported as she faces and embraces them.  We want our daughter to know about herself as a Black woman, where she came from, and to make her own decisions about where to go with it all.  I hope that she becomes an empowered woman, with a strong sense of Self.

This article was first published in theParentVoice.Com, an online magazine for multiracial, multiethnic, and multicultural families on (date). It is republished here with permission.

How to Choose Your Word of the Year

IMG_1220

Happy New Year!  As I end the first day of 2018, I want to share a process that has a very special place in my life.  It’s a consciousness-building exercise that I have found eliminates the sense of failure when my “resolve” leaves me.  Instead of the stress of a New Year Resolution, I choose a word to guide my year.  I have had so many successful experiences as a result that I just had to share.

What is a Word of the Year?

Seven years ago, my dear friend told me that she chooses a word to guide her year instead of a resolution, and I decided to join her.  I have chosen ‘Create’, ‘Grow’, ‘Learn’, ‘Enjoy, ‘Practice’ and ‘Connect’.

The Process

  • The word I choose needs to apply to all areas of my life.  I want it to work for my  inner self, my family, my job, relationships and present and future goals.
  • I look at my life as it is at present.  What do I really want?  What has worked?  What needs work?  I take an honest look at everything and everyone around me and see where my role in my own life is a success and where it needs work.
  • I focus on the things that I want, and the goals I have, using the Law of Attraction.  By placing a word in front of me, I have been able to manifest my dream life.. I Created art, a home, a family.  I Learned how to knit, make art in new ways, lessons about myself, how to cook Paleo food.  I Enjoyed my healing processes as I faced health challenges, seeing the world through the eyes of my child, and becoming a blogger and writer.
  • I imagine what I want my life to look like, without reservation.  Dreaming our ultimate dreams has paid off!  I look at the money I want to make, the ways I want to go about it, the steps I need to make it happen, and who I want to become.

My word for 2018 is ‘Nourish’.  I will

  • Nourish my family.
  • Nourish my health.
  • Nourish my creativity.
  • Nourish my wanderlust.
  • Nourish my daughter’s sense of wonder. 
  • Nourish my marriage.
  • Nourish my friendships.
  • Nourish my emotional body.
  • Nourish my spiritual journey.
  • Nourish the environment.
  • Nourish my blog.

What is your word?  Leave me a comment and tell me why you chose that word.

Happy Holidays! 5 Ways to Make the Holidays as Awesome as Thanksgiving.

Merry Christmahanuwanza!  As pumpkin spice is not-so-subtly shoved aside for peppermint everything, I wanted to be sure to gift you with a holiday post.  Our family celebrates Christmas, and honors all other holidays, and I have to tell you that as hard as I try, I hate Christmas.

There.  I said it.

IMG_8321
I got this and the idea of our elf toilet papering the tree from Pinterest. Such fun!

I love aspects of  it; decorating the tree, and now that Ella is 2, stuff like Elf on the Shelf is a hilarious challenge and tons of fun.  My wife & I make an epic amount of Christmas cookies to take to all of our neighbors.  That part is awesome.

But the rest of it – the “hustle and bustle” (aka the shit storm of chaos) is for the birds! It’s stressful, expensive, unnecessarily complicated and it makes me miss the simplicity of Thanksgiving.  I wish we could combine the two seasons;  Just a turkey, family, friends, a tree, an elf and some alcohol.  So delicious and simple. 

cropped-ellaoct2016-84831.jpg

There are awesome ways to simplify, but they require discipline..

  1. You can give handmade gifts, like photo ornaments — so let’s hope everyone you give a gift to wants a photo of your child on their tree or in their home at all.
  2. Bake cookies and give those as gifts — as long as you aren’t a mediocre baker that will be amazing amidst the 300 lbs of junk food already trickling into to every home in the name of festivities.
  3. Call your family and tell them  that you aren’t giving gifts this year — and find that one relative who starts a rumor that you’re having money problems (there’s always one).
  4. Make it about the kids — I have nothing snarky to say about this.  I love this idea best of all.
  5. Keep it light and fun! — Seriously.  As soon as we took this approach, the holiday became about our little family, friends, food and fun, and I stopped being stressed.  We spend time with the people we love and eat and drink to our hearts content.. just like Thanksgiving.

    View More: http://paolaspagnolettiphotography.pass.us/witmer2017
    From our family to yours, Happy Holidays!

Parenting Through Grief: What I’ve Learned

Lots of things change when we become parents.  Last year, my uncle died only 8 weeks after being diagnosed with cancer, leaving his young wife, 2 small children and extended family and friends devastated.  In April, I had spine surgery, leaving me unable to bend, twist or lift (my daughter or almost anything else) for 6 weeks.  Recovery to the point where I felt normal again was a long 3 months.  Recently, I ended a 27-year friendship that had become toxic.  It has been quite a year.  How I handle these things now versus how I would have before becoming a parent is vastly different.

As the 1-year anniversary of my beloved uncle’s death approached last week, I felt grief in its current form take over me like a wave of sadness that was only relieved by a hike to the place where his ashes were spread.

  • As a parent, I can say that having my girl’s sweet face to greet me each morning has been a game-changer in how I process just about everything, including such deep loss.  On days when I would just cancel my day and go back to bed, I’m up, engaged and engaging.  While I am lifted up out of my own sadness by the busy life of a 2-year-old, I’ve learned that this cannot change the actual processing that needs to take place in my grieving
  • Let Nothing Stop You From Taking Care of Yourself

Having a supportive partner, I’ve been able to talk openly, when I could verbally express myself, about the impact that my feelings of loss have had on me.  Recently, I also decided to pursue grief counseling.  It is here that I learned the lesson to let nothing get in the way of taking care of yourself.  Find things that are just for you – a hobby that brings you calming enjoyment, exercise, meditate, try acupressure, get back to listening to your favorite music.  Having set times to write each day or each week has been part of my healing process.  Whether it is posting a new blog post or free writing, I get into a groove and it is my relief.

  • Don’t Hide Your Grief From Your Kids

My daughter is very verbal, especially when she wants to express her feelings.  This comes from our willingness to share our own feelings, talk about them and get through the feelings.  Being honest with our kids is modeling how to be healthy about their own stuff.  I can feel sad openly, and then when I’m okay, I can feel okay openly.  I want my daughter to know that she can do the same.  I do this in the simplest terms like “Mommy feels sad because she misses (someone).” And then, “Mommy feels better because this photo of him makes me feel happy.”

  • Slow and Steady

Trying to hide grief causes it to show up in less constructive ways.  If I’m in a fog over it and not processing it constructively, I become distracted, irritable or tired.  When I’m in it, it has to be a conscious decision to pull myself out, but I do it because it makes for a better day, every time.  I’ve learned that while it’s important to feel it, maintaining control of how it’s doled out is also crucial.

Someone who experienced the death of their child once told me that grief is a like an ocean that comes in waves, and ebbs and flows as it needs to, forever.  Indeed, it does.

National Adoption Month: “I Lush You Too, Mommy”

Happy National Adoption Month!

As I move into our daughter’s second year of life, I have so much to be thankful for!  Ella is small, but mighty.  She tells us about a lot of her feelings these days, and I am so grateful for her own self-awareness. She brings us never-ending joy, and she treasures us.  She tells us that “I feel happy” and “Mommy, Momma, Ella, happy family!” just about every day.   This allows me the opportunity to foster her expression, awareness and articulation even more.

I think about the weight of her adoption on a daily basis.  I write letters to her birth mother in my mind.  Sometimes I write them in real life too.  As I participate in groups like TAP 101 and  Transracial Adoption Perspectives on Facebook, learning the perspectives and experiences of adoptees, I know that my responsibility to honor my daughter’s ethnic identity, her identity as an adopted person, and as a Black female, is crucial.

My experience is just 2 years old, and I know it will continue to grow and change based on the needs of my child.  I know that my understanding will evolve.  Once I understood that being a better parent meant learning, growing, educating myself and teaching her how to embrace her own identity, the results were enormously rewarding.  As a toddler, she embraces her dolls, books, places we go, things we do and her friends who provide mirrors for her.  She understands that her family is made up of three different skin shades and one heart, and she kisses my hand every time we talk about it.

On Monday, November 6, the Parent Voice, an online magazine for multiracial families and their multicultural lives, published an article that I’ve written about this topic. Please be sure to go and read it and the many other stories, interviews and perspectives from other parents from around the world.  My article is based on my family’s experience, and the perspectives and lessons that I’ve received from other adoptees who were adopted transracially.

“Not flesh of my flesh,

Nor bone of my bone, but miraculously my own.

Never forget for a minute;

You didn’t grow under my heart, but in it.”

~Fleur Helinger

As I watch this person grow, from my 5 pound, 1 ounce baby to a toddler with her own thoughts, feelings, ideas and a very clear point of view, I ache with the depth of love that I have for her.

I eat up each moment because I know it is never to return, except in my memory. I relish in the delicious moments of tender hugs and requests to “hold-ju, Mommy”, and the chance to be by her side as she learns to navigate this world that is now hers.

This gift of motherhood is a privilege that is not lost on me. Her kindness and love of others, her ability to be a good friend already, her sense of adventure… My life is forever changed because she is my daughter & I am her mother.IMG_6492

Recently, when I tell her I love her, she responds with a big hug or by pressing her sweet little cheek to mine saying, “I lush you too, Mommy.”  That is everything.

IMG_6534

*updated on Nov 22, 2017*

Raising A Baby Activist: The Series – A Razzle Dazzle Mommy Announcement

Google defines an activist as:
ac·tiv·ist
ˈaktivəst/
noun
  1. a person who campaigns to bring about political or social change.
  2. “police arrested three activists”
  3. synonyms: militantzealotprotesterMore

    adjective

  1. campaigning to bring about political or social change.
    I have always considered myself an activist.  I’ve joined hands (Remember Hands Across America in the 80s?), walked out for peace, marched for rights and against injustices.
    Our Baby Activist
    AIDS Walk Los Angeles 2015 – 2 months old
    I’ve made signs, felt deeply, argued passionately, spoken up loudly and held true to those things that I believe in.  I will stand up against injustice, when I’m aware of it, and I’ve been called “passionate”. Haha! You could say that..

    When we became parents to a daughter, I knew that I had to be an example to her.  When Trump became president last year, I lost my mind with fear and panic because the fact that I have a daughter turned into the conscious – and necessary – realization that I have a Black daughter, and Don John gave racists and bigots everywhere permission to come out of the holes from whence they were hidden.

     

    And they did.  They danced in the streets, celebrating the permission to openly hate people of color, the LGBTQA community, women and anyone else they damn well please.  And they have not stopped since.  The KKK received a reboot after being shoved into the dark corners of society, left to hate under the guise of policemen and bar drinkers.  An over simplifiction?  Perhaps, but it’s not untrue.

    1485069766031Then, they killed Heather Heyer, and he publicly excused them.  As I watched her mother talk to the world, I ached for her.  It was my daughter’s second birthday. I also stood with her in solidarity to never let her daughter’s flame go out.  She did not die in vain.

    IMG_9571
    Photo by Lola Shahdadi

    As Lynne & I have paid close attention to this year of madness, we have vowed to raise our daughter to be an activist.  I now delve into the topics at hand, and those which have long concerned me, along with issues new to my life.  We will go beyond wearing pussy hats and making signs.  Our daughter will know what an actual activist looks like, acts like and thinks like because she lives it.

    IMG_4708

    In some of my future posts, I will have the series “Raising a Baby Activist”.  I have a lineup of activists who are so excited to share their stories of strength and change-making.  I am so excited that I could not wait and had to share this news!
    Stay tuned because it is going to be AWESOME.

The Girl With The Bulky Uterus: My Journey Through Infertility

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

It has taken me almost 3 months to write this post.

It was going to be the second post on my blog… The beginning of the journey that brought me here.  But as I sat down to write, I found myself avoiding the feelings of those years, feeling overwhelmed, amending the old feelings with how I feel today, which is very different from how I felt then. Hindsight is 20/20, and I am so thankful.  The physical and emotional pain I experienced have been replaced with joy and gratitude for the life I have now, but at the time, I felt very alone in my struggle.

So I am writing this in hopes that other women know that there are people who can relate.  That you know that you are not alone.

Infertility is an intimate struggle that many women experience, but the resources available for support are not easy to find.  To a degree, it’s still a taboo topic, attached to shame, grief, feeling like ‘less of a woman’ and so much more.  When I share my story with women who have experienced infertility in its various forms, I see a light in their eyes and hear hope in their voices that someone else understands.  I understand.

By definition, infertile women have bodies that are inadequate for making babies.  Conversations with fertile women about body changes from pregnancy, or the breastfeeding journey or whatever physical aspect becoming a biological mother may involve can feel incredibly exclusive.  Infertility affects our psyche and all aspects of our relationships; friends may not understand, sex drive is impacted, & the seemingly dashed dream of being a mother can be heart and soul-crushing.

I’ve always known I wanted to be a mother.  It was a desire so deep, I could feel the love long before I was ready to embark on the journey of motherhood.

So when my struggle with infertility happened in my mid-30s, it hit me like an avalanche. I’m a pot-of-gold-at-the-end-of-the-rainbow kind of girl and a believer in my own dreams, and when the dream of becoming a mother looked like it wasn’t going to happen for my wife and me, I can tell you that it felt like I couldn’t take a deep breath for a very long time.  Heck, I forgot to breathe on a regular basis.

As I look back on how it unfolded, I do have to admit that there were always signs of trouble ahead.

I began cramping before I even had my period!  Once, when I was 10, I doubled over in pain, my parents took me to the emergency room because they thought that I had appendicitis.  Nope.  I had cramps, though my period was a year away.  The signs were there. By my late 20s, I was seeing the OBGYN regularly to try to manage the pain and heavy bleeding that came with my monthly visitor.  I had tests, ultrasounds, CAT Scans, biopsies, cauterizations… I tried several different types of birth control & followed every instruction I was given by the medical professionals while this happened for apparently no reason other than my tough luck. I even left my post in the Fitness Protection Program and took up running because I was told that exercise was the best thing for reproductive health.  It did not help.  I wasn’t getting better and I didn’t know what was wrong.  I was beyond frustrated!

By the time I was in my 30s, with no diagnosis, I was distraught. The only solution most doctors could come up with was birth control pills, which I was avidly against because of  evidence that has shown that the change in hormone levels can contribute to breast cancer, which was prevalent among my maternal female relatives.

I was  caught up in the algorithm of our terrible United Sates HMO medical insurance business.  I never had the same doctor twice, my issues were not properly assessed and test results were not explained in full.  I finally met a doctor who heard my frustration, and I got a diagnosis, along with options and a drawing of what was happening to my body.  She told me that my diagnosis had been discovered a year earlier.  No one had bothered to tell me that.

I had a condition called Adenomyosis.  IT HAD A NAME!!! HALLELUJAH!

Adenomyosis is a condition in which the inner lining of the uterus (the endometrium) breaks through the muscle wall of the uterus (the myometrium).  Adenomyosis can cause menstrual cramps, lower abdominal pressure, and bloating before menstrual periods and can result in heavy periods. [3, 2017 WebMD ]

Now that I knew what it was called, I needed to understand what it all meant. This process was a nightmare. I was bleeding out, in constant pain, and taking and changing medications like it was going out of style.  I was hurting, physically and emotionally, and it felt like both were beyond repair.

I no longer trusted doctors because most doctors that I dealt with didn’t even know what my condition was. I used my own research to explain it to them.  The head of the OBGYN department in my insurance network told me to “either take birth control or have a radical hysterectomy.”  I was 31.  That would have put me into menopause.  Another doctor wrote in my chart that I had fibroids because he didn’t know what adenomyosis was. It was “just easier to put that down”.  In the end, I had those too… But not yet.

Even though we hoped to get pregnant, my wife and I had also always talked about adoption as an option for us.  Now the decision was made.  We began to take classes and filled out the large amount of necessary paperwork to adopt through the foster care system.  But the classes told of the pitfalls of the system and we got scared.  We learned of risks like losing a child that we loved because the system is set up for biological parent/child reunification.  We could have a child in our home for years and then they may be taken from us.  We wanted a child to come to us and never leave.  It felt too heart-breaking for us.

We decided to try artificial insemination.  Since I was the younger, healthier spouse (we thought), we decided that I would be the one to get pregnant.  It cost hundreds of dollars just to meet with the fertility doctor, and the first vaginal ultrasound revealed that my uterus had enlarged and was pushing my left fallopian tube closed.  I went to another specialist who tried to unblock it, but the process was unsuccessful.  However, I was told that I could still get pregnant in the right tube.

A few thousand dollars into the process, I got my period and it didn’t stop.  After 9 months, I had symptoms that took me to the ER to reveal that I was bleeding to the point that my hemoglobin (iron) levels were dangerously low and I needed a blood transfusion.  A hysterectomy (allowing me to keep my ovaries) was now vital to end the suffering.  At the time of surgery, my period had been going on for ten and a half months.  I woke up pain-free, and relieved beyond measure.  I was 37.

We went back to the foster-to-adopt process shortly after, with a better attitude and some extra support, and our daughter came home to us a year after my surgery.  She’s my wish-come-true.  I am honored to have come to be her mother through adoption.  I do not feel deprived.  It feels like she is of my body, even though another totally amazing woman carried her.

What I would say if you’re struggling with fertility issues is this:  Look at all your options.  Be your strongest advocate.  Make the medical practitioners that you encounter look you in the eyes, tell you all possible options and make them listen to you.  This is your body, your future, your life. But most of all, don’t lose hope that you can be the parent you want to become.

Though there are people who believe you need to carry, birth and breastfeed a child to be a complete parent, that is a ridiculous notion.  It simply isn’t true.  There are lots of ways to become a parent.  When my daughter calls out “Mommy!”, she’s talking to me.  See?  Pot of gold.  Biggest and best ever.

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

Up ↑