mom-a-tude-a-thon day 1040: grateful every fucking day for this one

Every mother’s day, we used to go to The Boston Photographic Center and famous photogs would take giant polaroid pics. This is my most favorite one of my guys.

At first I did everything I could not to get pregnant. It seemed easy back then, like I might fertilize an egg just by going on a date. ROGUE SPERM ALERT! I was an obedient birth control user. A poster child, really. I would not have to make the decision to keep or abort a baby. I knew it would undo me, so I faithfully used my diaphragm (which felt like the size of a flying saucer. “Earth to Toni’s vagina.”), the pill for a short time (which made me gain 10 pounds in about six seconds), condoms (which the guys were never too happy about).

My mom had me at 41, and I swore I’d never wait that long, because I was always worried she would die before I was ready and didn’t want to impose that same anxiety on my children (little did I know I WOULD NEVER BE READY FOR HER TO DIE). A stomachache would send me on a year-long hunt for the reason and that reason would be that I had stage IV endometriosis, and all my organs were glued together, and as the doctor said, so eloquently, “You’ll never have a baby, because your insides are a mess.

But fuck you endometriosis, and fuck you even harder, doctor with no bedside manner, I did. I did have a baby. Not saying it was easy. Because it was not. There was not one easy thing about it. It was three years of physical and emotional pain, tests, surgery, anxiety and eventually a desire to get in bed, and stay there, for like, EVER.

But after one miscarriage and three years, the test was positive. Two lines appeared. I checked and re-checked. And nine months later, I had a little boy named Jake. I had a baby. I had a healthy baby. Three years later, after two months of trying, I was pregnant again (I actually thought it might not be mine). I had a healthy little girl with more hair than most full grown orangutans.

It’s my 22nd mother’s day. There is a lot more to say. A. Lot. More. To. Say. But because I have a big breakfast in bed waiting for me, I will say this: I love my kids more than all the words the alphabet can make. Jackson Robert Gabriele and Alexandra Louise Christina, Riley, my buddy (who is my dog, but I’m pretty sure I gave birth to) : you are everything, plus french fries.

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In Santa Monica, all grown up.

 

gratitude-a-thon day 433: scrambled eggs

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I waited to have kids.

It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do with my vast skills (wrapping a nice gift, making an awesome poster) and when I finally did, I loved it, and wanted to focus on it. Pregnancy could wait. My mom had me at 41, I was in no rush. Nobody educated me on how fertility plummets like a skydiver with a faulty parachute, as you age.

Then I got a stomachache when I was 32. It was no ordinary stomachache, of course, it was Stage IV endometriosis. My inside organs were glued together; my ovaries were so garbled they couldn’t get the eggs home from the grocery store. It took a year to figure this out. And then it took another three years to solve it. And the view on the way to the end result was not like a fall foliage tour, but more like a tour of duty in Afganistan. Um, yeah. Infertility is not something to put on your bucket list.

Everything turned out more than ok. I have two children, and they are the best thing I have ever, or will ever produce. When I think that I almost missed this ride, I feel a deep sense of terror in my gut, because for me, it’s been like a PhD program in Giving, Ingenuity, Stamina, Grace and Pure Unadulterated Joy. But miss it, I could have. Easily. I got exceptional help, from a doctor who was one of the only kind in his field, and who was surgically able to use a microscopic tool to clear my insides like a farmer ploughs his fields before seeding. But I was lucky. Really lucky.

So, this thing with Apple and Facebook covering egg freezing has had me thinking a lot. Half of me is happy that we are finally getting real with the fact that fertility does indeed decline as you age, and that a woman’s eggs, once farm fresh, start expiring with every birthday cake she sinks her teeth into. See, this idea that a woman can have it all, is a Bernie Madoff quality lie. We can, of course, have it all.  WE JUST CAN’T HAVE IT ALL AT THE SAME TIME. So, women who want to have a career and put off having kids, often have fertility issues. Women who have kids before they begin their careers in earnest, have a harder time getting into the work force, because they’re up against all those woman who’ve been working instead of breeding. Women who try and do both, stress themselves into a juggling act the likes of which belong center stage at a 3:00 Barnum & Bailey Circus performance.

The thing is, only a female can give birth. Fact. Pregnancy and becoming a mom, affects a woman’s career at some point in time (unless her career is being a stay at home mom, in which case, GODSPEED, working is so much easier). Doesn’t this new egg freezing benefit ask women to get in their best years before they have kids? That kind of bothers me. Even though, at the same time, I am encouraged that at least this is a move that confirms the idea that there is a time limit on pregnancy (which for a while, it seemed like we were pretending, there was not). Many women, can of course, get pregnant at 40, but for a whopping number of them, it’s much harder, with less favorable statistics, and no time to re-think the decision to have waited.

Here’s what I’m thinking. Might it be a smarter, more innovative answer for Apple and Facebook to focus on childcare options, creating job sharing, and hiring women who are older, and have already had families, in addition to this new egg freezing coverage?  Might that be the truly progressive way to look at the dilemma faced by women all over the world who want to have children, and want (or need) to have a job, too?

Even though I waited, falsely thinking I could easily pop out a kid at 40, I got lucky (and it was by no means an easy, fun or enviable ride). Not every woman gets so lucky.  You know what I’d be grateful for Apple and Facebook? I’d be grateful for more options for mothers to be in the workplace, that don’t just include a way to put your eggs on ice for later use. You need maturity for this gig, but you also need energy. We need expanded opportunities for working moms. Apple and Facebook, and other companies, need to think bigger. Like, iPhone 6 Plus, bigger.

gratitude-a-thon day 432: october

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My October baby. God, I love him.

It’s been in the 70’s all week. Yup, October summer. I have been sweating like a marathoner. I thought I was having a heart attack a few times. I’ve even had the air conditioning on. But today is in the 50’s. There’s no sun, but it feels more right. This is what it’s supposed to be like in the fall. I’m going to climb into a big sweater and go to Ally’s soccer game. I will be complaining about the cold by tonight. This is what it’s like to be a human barometer.

October is close to my heart. It’s the month I became a parent. After a rocky, have-sex-on-demand, temperature-taking, surgery-laden, ben & jerry’s-eating three year odyssey of trying to have a baby, I finally did. We named him Jake. I forgot you could have a boy, because I grew up with all girls, so I wasn’t sure what to do with him at first, but it wasn’t long before I realized that this little guy with the enormous eyes would change me, mold me, demand me to be better at every turn. He was worth those three years of sadness and pain, tests, and agonizing disappointment. I would do it again and more, if I knew he would be the result. He is my sun, and my son. And he is October.

gratitude-a-thon day 257: jake is 19!

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I thought I would have kids later, like my mom did. I was working in advertising, which i really liked, and Peter was busy trying to get tenure, and we just thought we’d have babies in our late 30’s. But, then I got a stomach ache that wouldn’t go away. I found out I was lactose intolerant during the myriad of tests that were run, and while that discovery helped the pain some, it persisted. An exploratory abdominal surgery resulted in the doctor telling me this by phone: “You’re a mess inside. You’ll never have a baby.”

Yes, that happened.

The next three years of infertility would be like an emotional hike up Mt. Everest, followed by a depressing descent into the Grand Canyon. We’re talking get out your insurance card and your savings account, because you’re going to get poked and prodded in places you like to keep private, including your wallet. You’re going to have surgery, and need therapy, and make Ben & Jerry’s stock go up, way, way up. You’re going to have sex on demand and sex when you’re mad and sex in your sleep. You will no longer see anything but pregnant women and babies. Even in your dreams. You will wonder what’s wrong with you. You will ask the clouds why you can’t just be like everybody else, planning a nice summer baby, so you can take nice long walks to lose the pregnancy weight. You will want to move to another planet where babies are hatched from seeds you plant in your weightless backyard.

If it weren’t for an exceptionally talented doctor named Robert Hunt, who performed a five hour surgery that rid me of the stage 4 endometriosis that was preventing the egg and sperm dance, and allowed me to conceive naturally, and the Mind Body Program for Infertility run by the talented Ali Domar, which helped me through my severe baby-less depression through meditation and cognitive restructuring, and allowed me to meet a group of women just like me, I wouldn’t be celebrating my son’s birthday today. But I am. And let me just say, he was worth the wait.

Happy birthday to my boy, Jackson Robert Gabriele, who made me a parent, who has taught me more than any philosopher, any institute of higher learning, any text book there is. To my guy, who has pushed me to be my best self, opened my eyes to the deepest kind of emotion, made my heart grow like the grinch’s when he finally learned his lesson. To my little bunny, who is charming and brilliant and interesting and funny. To my messy, first born on his birthday, you gave me a whole new kind of life when you came tumbling into the world 19 years ago. You’ve helped me heal the ugly wounds left by a difficult dad, and shone a big fat light onto what’s really important in the world–relationships. Whether they’re family, or not, you’ve helped me see that having people you love in your world is better than anything else there is.

I love you in the deepest, hardest to get to parts of my heart and the dead center of my soul. I am proud of you in a million little ways. I admire you and wish for you all that is real and good. This is the first time we aren’t together on your birthday, but make no mistake, you’re right here in my heart.