An Even Bigger Change of Life – Time to Confess

I’ve been plotting and scheming lately, and it’s time to fess up to what I’m doing. Partly because I’m bursting to talk about it, but also because I think it might be helpful to someone if I document this journey I’ve decided to undertake. I should really say that it’s a journey we’ve decided to undertake, because it involves my boyfriend, too.

The plotting and scheming I refer to has nothing to do with writing, though I still do that of course. After all, I have a trilogy to finish. This is far more personal, however, and I’m sure many will judge me for my decision. Yet, everyone close to me has been cheering us on.

My boyfriend and I have decided to attempt to have a child – well, at least one, possibly two, depending on how things work out. Having a child at our ages (I’m 45 and he’s 51) becomes complicated just by itself. On my end there’s an additional hiccup. I’ve had my tubes tied since my early twenties. That combined with the age of my eggs makes things difficult, to say the least. There’s little point in getting my tubes untied and trying to conceive by the usual means. We certainly have no problem practicing the maneuvers, but the odds of conception are practically nil. It would be a waste of time and money, most likely, and surgery is always a risk.

This leaves us with IVF, or in vitro fertilization. My eggs will need to be harvested, fertilized, and then implanted at the appropriate moment. From my understanding, this will cost us quite a few thousands of dollars. Are we still going to go through with it? Hell, yeah! For that matter, we’re already spending a fair chunk of change just getting ready for it, and we haven’t even had our first fertility appointment yet.

Let me explain.

The older eggs get, the less healthy they are. However, until recently doctors believed that we were stuck with the eggs we were born with, and there was nothing we could do to improve on them. Or, if we allowed our egg health to decline there wasn’t anything we could do to get it back. Now it’s looking like there’s a lot we can do to make things better, which includes certain vitamins and nutrients, as well as switching to a fully organic diet. Our food bill skyrocketed this month, and it’s probably going to cost me a couple hundred dollars a month for vitamins and such, in addition to buying a water cooler so I can drink spring water rather than tap water with all that chlorine and fluoride in it. I’ve cut out caffeine, alcohol, and sugar, too. Plus I’m getting out and walking a fair bit.

You’re probably wondering if all these changes are making me crazy, and they’re really not. I guess it’s true what they say. If you want something badly enough, you’ll do what you have to do to get it. I used to think of myself as a person who couldn’t achieve my goals, and most of that had to do with my writing (and the fact that I’d never published a book). Now I realize I’m perfectly capable of attaining my dreams, seeing as I’ve got two books published and I know there are more on the way.

How does my boyfriend feel about all of this? Actually, he’s even looking forward to potentially crazy mood swings when I have to start injecting myself all the damn time. I was warning him about what I’d heard of the process, and he said he couldn’t wait. I thought he was being sarcastic, but apparently he was serious and couldn’t wait for the whole thing to happen. Huh. Well, colour me surprised. Honestly I’ve never known a man who was so into the idea of having kids – with me at any rate.

So far we’ve gone to my family doctor, and she’s referred us to her favourite fertility clinic. They called a few days ago and booked us in for the end of August. It’s good timing, seeing as I only started trying to improve my egg health around the end of June, and apparently your egg cycle needs at least 90 days of healthy living, though the full egg-production cycle is 150 days, I believe. By the time we’ve both been tested for our potential fertility, and they can get me started on the constant injections, it should be a good 90 days of proper nutrition and supplementation.

I haven’t yet started the prenatal vitamins, which they recommend as part of the preconception process now, but I’ll start that later this week. I just want to keep my folic acid down a bit. They’ve been doing studies that indicate too much folic acid may be part of what causes autism (through Johns-Hopkins, so I trust the source, though it’s not yet peer-reviewed). I’m going to take only half the prenatal vitamins they recommend, and also choose the lowest level of folic acid I can find. I’ll still be supplementing with it, in order to prevent spina bifida and other issues, but I don’t want to overdo it.

One issue I currently have is the pain medication I’m on for my hips. I’ve cut back, partly because I had a shot of something called Visco put directly into my left hip joint. I still have to have the other hip done, but my pain has been lowered enough that I can cut back on Gabapentin and Tylenol 3s. The opiates are the worst thing, because they can kill your ovulation, so I’m down to 1.5 to 2 pills a day of those. Gabapentin is mostly an issue once you’re pregnant, to the best of my knowledge, though I’m going to do more research on that. I was taking 4 Tylenol 3s a day, so I’ve cut it to just under a half (on average).

I’ve lost weight since my boyfriend and I got together, which helps with my hip pain, of course, and allows me to be even more active. Eating nothing but healthy food is helping me lose additional weight. Being overweight affects ovulation as well, and since the plan is for hyper-ovulation so they can extract a bunch of eggs at once, I really need to make sure I’m ovulating.

I’m also avoiding things called xenoestrogens. They’re in damn near everything, including hand lotion, nail polish, shampoo, body wash, lipstick, etc. And the kicker is that you absorb 100% of what goes on your skin, as opposed to only about 10% of any xenoestrogens you might ingest by mouth. Your organs actually filter out 80% to 90% of what you might get orally, but they can’t do anything to filter out what your skin absorbs.

What do they do that’s so bad? Well, they act like estrogen, and too much estrogen makes you infertile. It can cause things like micropenis in boys – I’m assuming it’s when women are exposed to it during pregnancy, since the penis is already formed when the baby comes out, but it could also impact the eggs in a way that causes it. I’m not certain of my facts there, but I’d just as soon avoid having to deal with that issue with my potential son. Then you get things like breast growth in men (who use products that have xenoestrogens in them), and lowered testosterone.

In order for women to be fertile, and for proper implantation to occur as well, it’s progesterone that they need. Too much estrogen is pretty bad. I’m actually taking hormone supplements to regulate estrogen levels, and that’s correcting any issues I’ve had with my periods, too. I never really noticed it because my periods were never that bad, but I have less cramping and other symptoms usually synonymous with PMS. Thankfully I’ve never been particularly moody with PMS either, though I certainly get plenty moody when some guy asks me if I’m PMS-ing just because he’s done something to piss me off.

Speaking of periods, though, I’ve switched to organic cotton tampons, seeing as the other ones are made with cotton that’s been sprayed with oodles of pesticides. It never even occurred to me before that it would be an issue, but apparently cotton is one of the most heavily sprayed crops, and it’s not a good idea to have that stuff anywhere near your nethers. Those tissues are highly absorbent, and pesticides can also act as xenoestrogens. Yippee.

One thing I haven’t done is switch my wardrobe to safe fabrics. I figure any cotton stuff I buy to wear will, or has been, washed umpteen zillion times. Nylons and polyesters aren’t good in general, though, so I think I’ll work on at least using natural fabrics where anything bad can be washed out. I tried hunting down the organic cotton underwear, but there was a sizing chart issue and so I had no idea what size to order. Plus my weight loss has changed my underwear size.

Thankfully I didn’t have a lot of bad habits that needed to be broken. I don’t smoke and I don’t take illicit drugs – not even pot for pain simply because it doesn’t work for me, and it apparently has an effect on fertility, particularly in women. I drank a bit of alcohol once every couple of years until pretty recently. When my boyfriend and I got together we would have a beer or two when we went out, which was pretty frequent at first, but I started to go back to my old habit of not drinking even before I started on this fertility kick.

My diet was the worst thing. Too much sugar and too many preservatives. Granted, I wasn’t going for fast food at all. The worst I had there was Subway. Now everything has changed. I drink black, decaf, organic coffee. I drink lots more water, and I also drink herbal tea sweetened with organic honey (or whatever the pure, unpasteurized stuff is called). I’m rather shocked at how well I’m doing. I’m taking Maca Root capsules, which are supposed to be amazing for fertility, but I still have to add a few other supplements, like CoQ10, the aforementioned prenatal vitamins, and Royal Jelly.

I probably sound like a nut with all this, but I’m looking at very bleak odds here. I have to produce not only a high number of eggs, but ones that are as healthy as possible. I also have to make sure my uterus is healthy. Good times. Luckily I’m not the type that gets stressed out easily, because that can be a huge factor in fertility issues. My boyfriend and I have both procreated before, so if we’re infertile it’ll be a recent development rather than a lifelong issue, so making healthy choices could make all the difference.

My boyfriend is also pretty familiar with this whole thing, seeing as he was a sperm donor before his son was born. He was extremely fertile in that respect, so I’ve got very high hopes that this will work out. So long as there is a batch of healthy eggs (or embryos) to be used, a woman can carry a successful pregnancy well after menopause. According to my doctor at my last physical, I’m nowhere near menopause. I guess the average age in Canada is around 51 or 52, and I’ve shown no signs of perimenopause. Everything is as regular as can be.

You might wonder, if I wanted more children, why I had my tubes tied – and especially at such a young age (I had just turned 22). Well, there are a few reasons. First, my doctor at the time recommended it. I couldn’t take the pill, and an IUD made me bleed for two and a half months. The only other options for birth control back then were extremely inconvenient for anyone in a monogamous relationship. I’d had a total of three miscarriages by then (one before my daughter was born and two after), and I didn’t want to keep going through that. It turned out to have something to do with the boyfriend I had at the time, rather than my own physiology, so I wasn’t happy that I’d ‘sterilized’ myself for no good reason. In retrospect I think the doctor was tired of seeing the plethora of young women getting knocked up so they could go on welfare or ‘trap’ some young man into taking care of them. I could be wrong, but it’s the impression I have.

Strangely, the people I thought who would be so against us doing this, have been very supportive and encouraging. We’ve been told that we’re exactly the kind of people who should be having children, so I feel pretty good about that. Even my adult daughter seems pretty happy and excited about it. We were out shopping one day, and she suggested we go look at baby stuff. Apparently any children my boyfriend and I have now will be spoiled rotten, because my daughter was looking at all these outfits and saying she was going to buy this, that, or the other thing for ‘the kid.’

I’m no better in my level of excitement or prematurity. I’ve already looked at cribs and stuff. We’ve discussed names we like, and pretty much all the decisions parents have to make when a baby is born, like breast feeding, circumcision, religion, vaccinations, you name it. We got all the deal-breakers out of the way (or non-starters as my boyfriend calls them), seeing as there wasn’t much point spending thousands of dollars to do this if we couldn’t agree on some of the more important issues. We’ve also discussed what to do if there are congenital issues. In one way it’s lucky we’re going through IVF, because they can actually check if an embryo is healthy before implantation. That doesn’t rule out all issues, of course, so we may be faced with tough choices later, but the fact is he’s already told me he would never interfere in my right to choose. Of course, I can’t imagine being with a man who would.

I did tell him any kids we have would have his last name. I have no interest in carrying on my own last name, with the exception of continuing to use it myself because it’s who I am now (and my name has been changed far too many times – something I wrote about in a previous post). He thinks kids should have their father’s last name, but not for the reasons you would think. He believes it engenders a deeper sense of responsibility in the father, if his children carry his last name – and some men need that reminder. He doesn’t. I already know what kind of father he is, even under less than ideal circumstances, so I have no fears there. If I did I wouldn’t have even considered this.

How much is this going to cost? No idea at this point. In the US an egg harvesting cycle would cost about $10,000, and I’m okay with that. Canada’s a bit different, however. At least some portions of it will be covered by our healthcare, such as our initial appointment. In fact, Ontario Healthcare actually covers fertility treatments now, but there’s a 3-year waiting list and we can’t afford to wait that long at our age, so we’ll be paying for anything that isn’t generally covered by our regular insurance. As we go through all this I’ll keep track of it and talk about it more when I know what’s covered and what’s not.

What will we do if my eggs (or his sperm) don’t work out? Well, nothing. Call me selfish or picky, but the whole point to this is for us to have our own child – together. There are donor eggs and donor sperm out there, but neither of us is interested in that at this point, and I doubt we will be. There’s always the possibility of adoption if this doesn’t work out, but we haven’t discussed that yet. I don’t even know if they allow people our age to adopt.

Yes, we know how old we’ll be when our child(ren) reaches adulthood. And, yes, we’re both looking after our health to make sure we’re alive as our kids grow. The fact is, no one knows whether or not they’re going to survive to see their children grow, and we’ll both be well under the average ages when men and women in Canada die. We’re not dealing with alcoholism, drug addiction, or other risky behaviours that will shorten our lifespans.

The fact is, I’ve been waiting my whole life to meet the man I wanted to have more children with. The one where I could imagine him being a full partner and truly sharing the whole experience, as well as the responsibilities. Now I have, and I’m not letting even a small chance of experiencing that slip from my grasp.

What’s in a Name? Kin, Labels, Etymology and More!

The seemingly simple topic of names is actually chock full of complexities that nobody fully understands. There are so many layers and levels to it, that it boggles the mind. Every one of those areas has differing schools of thought, too, and all cultures are different. When you’re talking about something so personal as a name, people can’t even agree on whether or not it is personal. For instance, there are those who think it’s nothing but a label, and we should do without labels entirely. I have to say, this would be a very confusing world if we had to say, “Hey you!” in order to get someone’s attention. The artist-formerly-known-as-Prince-and-was-subsequently-known-as-Prince-anyway is probably the best illustration of what happens when someone doesn’t have a name (or label if you will). Most of us would agree that we prefer to have a name rather than a serial number, and find even social security (US) or social insurance (Canada) numbers to be dehumanizing. Besides, names are easier to say. Usually.

So, let’s all pretend to agree that we need names. On to the next step. You have a kid, you stick a name on it, you register the birth and name with the government – I assume that all depends on what country you live in, too, but I’m going with what I know. In Canada you can’t even leave the hospital without register a name for your kid, and in the US you used to be able to wait a while before settling on a name if my understanding of the system is correct. I don’t personally understand that approach, but at the same time I’m also reading the Game of Thrones books (no I have not seen the TV series – I’m debating whether or not I even want to – it is TV after all), and there are customs in there where people don’t name their kids until they’re about two years old because it’s considered unlucky and too many kids die before that age. Hmmm. I’d think you’d want a name just in case they do die, so there’s something to stick on a headstone, but I suppose the idea is to not get too attached to them. Good luck with that.

Now anyone I’ve ever known who has had a kid, myself included, has sweated the choices. Most of us realize that it’s a bad idea to name your kid something they’re going to be picked on for, but then there are those who don’t want their kid to be like everyone else. Being one of the ones who was picked on, I would advise prospective parents to think twice about weird names. In fact, if you have a weird last name, it might even be time to bite the bullet and make some legal alterations to it, so future generations don’t grimace whenever they speak it aloud, or get pissy when they constantly have to correct people who misspell it. My last name is the perfect example of that. Everyone assumes there’s an R in it. There is not, and the last time it had an R in it was probably centuries ago. Just because there’s another group of people out there who chose to leave the R in their name, does not make it true of my own family. In my case I no longer have to worry about spreading my name about. My daughter doesn’t share it, and I’m beyond the point of having more children.

On the flipside there are those who have had family pride instilled in them, so that their name makes them stand a little straighter and throw their shoulders back. More power to ya. In my case I had some decent relatives, and then there were the ones with the yellow buck teeth – first cousins who tried to get me into bed. Yes, I know. Ick. Both the teeth and the cousin part. First cousins might be legal in some places, but I wasn’t going there voluntarily. Those teeth were a good reminder of why first cousins are a bad idea, in fact. Not only inbreeding, but inbreeding with visible flaws.

So at one point I seriously considered legally changing my last name. I can’t remember what it was that caught my attention, but at that time I realized something. My name would be what I would make of it. After all, it’s not a very common last name, so there are no massively famous people (for their celebrity or for their infamy) that I had to live in the shadow of, or overcome their reputation. I’m not a Lincoln or a Sheen, or even a Smith, which is so common no one would assume any relationship these days anyway. Not being in touch with any of my family members makes this easy as well. I will make my name what I want it to be, and so it doesn’t matter at all what it meant in my home town. This apple fell very far from the whole orchard.

Beyond what’s common, popular, known or there’s a built-in reputation that comes with it, there’s the meaning of the names themselves. Now, looking at my last name you would think it means land of sticks. It doesn’t. It translates from another word altogether and means land beside the hill. Weird huh? Of course, last names are like that. First name are usually the big conundrum for new parents. Boy names, girl names and gender-neutral names. I like the latter idea. If I’d had another child, Alex would have been a seriously-considered option. My daughter ended up with a name that was so common she usually had several other girls in her class with the same name. It wasn’t like that when I named her, or I’d have chosen something different. Something not weird, but not overly common either. Instead she got buried unwillingly in the popular.

Baby naming books or websites will always be needed. We want to know we’re not naming our kid something that means ‘pile of dung’ or something. Kids are cruel, and if they discover this, your kid is doomed. Yes, doomed. That will stick with them in every possible permutation for the rest of their lives. I was briefly nicknamed Spike in junior high (an 80s hair thing). People remembered. People almost got punched for remembering, but they remembered. I was okay with it in grade 8 – not so much in high school and later years. If I were faced with naming a kid now, I’d also be doing a Google search on the name, including middle and last, varying what I entered. You just never know. Maybe you haven’t heard the latest news about that serial killer in California, or the politician who just got caught doing the nasty with a chicken. With the internet now, kids will find out about those things. Sometimes people are bored and Google a person’s name at random. It’s not possible to completely avoid that kind of thing, but do your kid a favour and at least make an effort to do so.

Finally there’s equality. Woman got sick and tired of losing their last names, for one thing. For another, when you have a career and have built up a reputation, changing your last name can do a lot of damage. There’s no way to properly format a resume to state that at one place your name was one way, but then at another it was a different way. It might be alright if we all married once and stayed married. We just don’t now. Or very rarely. Sure, you can use the antiquated “nee” with your former last name after it, but seriously? Let’s be realistic about corporate life. Women who do that are looked at more than a little contemptuously. It tells everyone there that you gave up your identity for a man. If you’re willing to do that, the assumption may be that you will not take your career as seriously as a man would. Then starts that whole, “Women don’t belong in the workforce. They just can’t be relied on to stick with it.” They also tend to assume you will be taking time off to raise a family, and they will not make that same assumption with a husband. They don’t have a clue what you and your partner have decided to do about a family. They simply assume, and it’s not a career boost.

Beyond getting married and women not always changing their last names, or at least hyphenating them, babies come along to challenge your equality ideas yet again. After all, it’s no longer written in stone that children automatically take their father’s last name. Women are starting to say, “What? My last name isn’t good enough? My family is less important than your family? I don’t think so!” In fact, this isn’t such a new phenomenon as we might generally think. Royal families intermarried – one country’s prince to another country’s princess, and that sort of thing. These high-level marriages did not completely subjugate the family names of the brides, simply because that would have been an insult to an entire country. If the idea behind the marriage was to bond two countries, that sort of insult would nullify any benefits achieved by the marriage. Even among the lesser peerage, especially when the woman’s family was considered a station or two above the family of the man, women often retained their own titles of some sort. I’m foggy on specifics, but I remember seeing it on many occasions when I was doing research. Titles would be handed down to the children at any rate.

What I’ve been seeing as some of the latest trends are girls being given their mothers’ last names, and boys getting their last name from their fathers, or even the reverse. Sometimes the couple each retain their own last names with no hyphenation, but the kids get the hyphenated name and the boys & girls have the same last names. Again, there’s very old precedent in a way. Think of Nordic last names. The son of Odin was Odinson (like Thor Odinson). His daughter’s would have been Odinsdotter or Odinsdatter. They’re called patronymic names when they’re named after the father, but there were matronymic names, too, apparently. Laws changed and in some cases this practice was forbidden, but then laws changed again so people could go back to doing it.

I guess in a world where English-language people (like myself) are so openly egocentric that they assume the world revolves around their own basic culture, there were many who got confused by the ‘alternative’ practices. Then again, there’s a large portion of the world that places the family name first, and the given name second. So, in those countries the custom would be for me to be called Stickland Rain. I know that it’s like that in China, as well as in Hungary (or was anyway). Certain Chinese celebrities have swapped their names back and forth, confusing the masses of movie-goers, but if those movie-goers are too lazy to learn about other cultures I feel no empathy for them. Having worked in payroll and human resources, it was my job to know this stuff. In one place we had a large number of Chinese employees who were permanent residents, and I needed to know which name was the family name. As far as I was concerned, I needed to be respectful of the differences.

This brings up other issues with regard to this topic, doesn’t it? The whole thing about being an immigrant. See what I mean? A seemingly innocuous topic has turned into something fraught with meaning on every possible level. There are many who feel that if you come into a country then you should adopt your new country’s ways. Sure, legally I can see that. You obey the laws already in place, because by crossing that border it’s tacit agreement that you will abide by them. That does not mean your culture needs to be tossed out the door or disrespected. I know in Canada it’s always a struggle to accommodate certain religious beliefs, particularly in employment situations where there’s a uniform involved. When it comes to names, though, there are many who sneer at foreign names. I see it more in the US, but I see it in Canada as well. Racism is nowhere near dead, folks.

I have a friend whose last name is technically pronounced differently, but in high school he chose to anglicize it for ease of use. He refers back to the ‘when in Rome’ analogy. His family members were adamant that it should be pronounced the original way. I pronounce it the way he wants it pronounced, but my ex’s family is from the same country and he was taken aback by the way I said it. My only response was, “If that’s what he uses, that’s what I’m calling him. It’s his damn name.”

In the end that’s really what it should be as far as I’m concerned. My daughter is debating on changing her name. She does not like its popularity. She’s considering a variety of options, and some of them I think she would later regret. However, it’s her life, and I really don’t blame her for not being happy with what she has. Maybe George R.R. Martin and his Game of Thrones are closer to the truth on this one, though we certainly need to be able to call our kids something other than, “Come here you little…” when they’ve drawn on the walls in Crayon for the umpteenth time. The thing is, do we even know what to call ourselves as time goes on? Do we pick a name that sounds cool later in life, but then realize ten years down the road that it wasn’t exactly our best idea?

Thankfully it’s not horrendously expensive to change your name these days. I think it’s only about $170 in Canada, for a full, legal name change. Less than the price of a DIY divorce at any rate, and probably a lot less confusing. Having gone through umpteen dozen name changes myself – two marriages where I actually changed my last name, and the rest were from childhood and were not by my choice – I can tell you, it takes people a while to get used to the new name, yourself included. By the time I got married for the third time (and no, that one didn’t stick either), I was really sick of changing my name. My ex didn’t like it, but by then the most I was willing to concede was a hyphenation. We didn’t last long enough for me to make the change, which at least saved me from having to change it back.

Would a rose still smell as sweet by any other name? You betcha. It would just have to hear it a few times before it would answer to it.