Before I Was a Surrogate Mother: My Infertility Story

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This week is National Infertility Awareness Week. Did you know that one in eight people suffer from some form of infertility? That’s a shockingly high number. Shockingly high! And believe it or not, before I was a gestational surrogate mother and before I had my own three children, I was part of that one in eight statistic.

Hard to imagine, right? But infertility is a funny thing, you just don’t know who might be affected by it and in what way. My husband and I were quite young – in our mid-twenties at the time– so in no way were we the “typical” infertility patients (if there is such a thing!).

After plenty of testing on both of us (he was fine, I was not, but we didn’t know what was wrong with me except I wasn’t ovulating) we started several rounds of Clomid.  We had no luck– even the highest dose of Clomid could not coerce my stubborn ovaries to give up an egg or two to the cause.

It seems so long ago (well over twenty years now – so it really was long ago) but at the same time, I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember the longing I had to get pregnant, the desire I had to start a family, how badly I wanted to be a mother.  And I desperately wanted to see my husband become a father. I remember going to visit several different doctors and none of them having any answers for us.

I remember friends getting pregnant all the while we were trying.

I remember talking to our insurance agent one day about our health insurance policy and finding out we had zero coverage for infertility treatment. The agent (not so helpfully) suggested that we move to Maryland because they had recently passed a law mandating IVF health insurance coverage. I thought the agent was joking, but he definitely was not. Would we have to leave Virginia just to have a shot at having a family? We had already bought a house and my husband had recently started his own company in Virginia, so picking up and moving ourselves and a new business to a new state seemed just too complicated.

Life is known for throwing out curve balls when you least expect it and to make a very long story short (you’ll have to read my memoir when it comes out – the whole story is most definitely in there!), we put our infertility treatment plans on hold while we sorted out some other life issues – a big job change, two moves (though not to Maryland!), a home renovation, and more, not to mention attempting to figure out how we were going to swing the cost of IVF. And yes, as you might have guessed it, during this very chaotic, intense and distracting six months, we got pregnant. Surprise! (except it wasn’t really a surprise – like I said, you’ll have to read the book)

I have always had mixed feelings about this “beating infertility” story of mine. On one hand it has a happy ending – I got pregnant, loved it, was good at it, and decided to become a surrogate mother and help others. What’s not to love?

What bothers me about it is that it seems to buy into the old horrible advice of “Hey, just relax and have sex – don’t stress about it – you’re making it worse! It will happen when it’s supposed to happen!”

What a bunch of horseshit.  Not to mention rude. Rude!

No, I didn’t get pregnant because we stopped stressing about it. I got pregnant because I finally ovulated, knew it when it was happening, and had sex on that very day. There was no relaxation or luck involved – it was biological science, pure and simple. Although it might seem that we got pregnant when we stopped worrying about it and trying so hard, that had zero to do with it.

So when I went on to pursue surrogacy, I not only knew how much I loved pregnancy and childbirth, I also was keenly aware of what it felt like to desperately long for a baby and the frustration and devastation of not be able to conceive one. I knew firsthand what that pain felt like because I’d lived it for almost two years. But more importantly, I knew what it felt like to triumph over it.

And THAT’S what motivated me. I wanted other women and men to enjoy the thrill of laying eyes on their baby for the first time. I wanted them to be overcome with delirious joy. I wanted them to know for themselves the feeling of how love multiplies, not gets more scarce, as your family grows.

I wanted to help them remove themselves from the infertility statistics – I wanted them to no longer be part of the one in eight.

Not only am I proud to have brought nine surrogate children into the world for infertile couples, I am happy to have found my voice here on Surrogacy by Design. And this week, I’m honored to use it to speak up for infertility awareness, because everyone deserves a chance to be more than just a statistic.

 

 

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Trying to Improve Your Quilting? Just Relax!

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Is there any worse advice than “just relax?!?”

Hearing those words gets me more agitated than I was to start with, and brews up a healthy dose of resentment at the person spewing said advice.

Because seriously, if I’m that wound up about something that people are freely giving me advice, the odds that I can “just relax” about whatever it is are slim to none.

Zip. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

What does this have to do with quilting? I’m getting to that.

If you look for guidance or advice on free-motion quilting, one of the most common things you’ll hear is that you should just relax, play, and enjoy the process. Which for the most part, I agree – I mean, why is anyone sewing or quilting or doing anything else by hand if they don’t actually enjoy the process? Enjoyment should be the name of the game.

But that doesn’t mean that quilting (or knitting, or painting, or whatever) is always easy. Sometimes it’s a challenge, especially if you’re making something for someone else (like a wedding gift, AHEM).

It took me a few days to decide on how I wanted to quilt this quilt. I knew in the back of my head that I wanted something swirly, something with nice round lines, something that evoked movement and rhythm. So I set about to draw it on paper first.

Paper Drawings

 

Eh, that didn’t go so well. So I tried again, and tried again, and tried again. I tried different variations of swirls, hoping to get one just right. It took a few days of stops and starts, but eventually I got to the point of drawing something I was happy with.

 

Practice

 

So I grabbed some scrap fabric and tried out my swirly stitching and ahhhhh, yes, I was pleased! Onto the real quilt!

 

In The Machine

 

But before sitting down to tackle the whole quilt, I grabbed something else.

 

Headphones

 

They’re cordless headphones that are paired with my computer (which is where I keep my whole music library). I punched up some music on my iTunes and started singing along.

 

Stitching1

 

And frankly, I was amazed by the results. It took me a while to realize that my quilting was actually different than usual. Maybe it took me 15 minutes or so to figure it out?

As I’d stop and examine my work so far, I was definitely more pleased than usual with my ability to make swirls and hooks and waves and other rhythmic shapes. My stitches were much more even than they usually are, my circles were rounder, my designs just looked better. It struck me that I felt a lot better about the process – I was definitely enjoying it a whole lot more than usual.

And honestly, I think it was what I was listening to. Any guesses? (I’ll shock you with this revelation – it was NOT Hamilton!).

I was listening to the soundtrack from Les Miserables.

It’s been years since I’d listened to Les Mis and lately I’ve been telling my daughter about how gorgeous the melodies are, so that’s what I put on while I quilted.

And I felt my whole body get into the music – it’s impossible not to with such a moving story and lyrics and the beautiful singing – and I kind of forgot about my quilting. I just moved my arms and body along to the music and sang to myself and the lovely whirls and swirls appeared on the quilt in front me. Crazy, right? I know. Crazy!

I think it also helped that my cordless headphones really block out other noise as well (not so great for my family calling me from the other room and I have no idea what so ever – well, not so great for them but pretty sweet for me), including the sound of my sewing machine, whirring and quilting and reacting to every move of my hands. I didn’t hear it at all – and that was a pretty cool thing. I’d never realized how much of a distraction it is to hear myself sew – I mean, that’s kind of counter-intuitive – but regardless, it made a huge difference. Really huge!

Stitching2

 

So it seems that the combination of drawing my designs out for several days until I felt confident in one of them, putting on music that I found to be beautiful and engaging, and blocking the sounds of my sewing machine was some kind of magic combination. The whole experience felt much more natural, much more relaxed, and I was much more happy with the results.

Maybe learning to “just relax!” wasn’t such bad advice after all!

 

p.s. – I would show you the picture of the whole quilt, but on the off-chance my bride-to-be friend sees this, I don’t want to spill the beans! I’ll make the reveal after she’s seen it, promise!

 

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My Go-To Quilting Resources

Wedding Quilt

 

A couple of weeks ago I showed you the beginning of a quilt I was working on, and it’s come together very quickly and easily (I love it when that happens!). The pattern really is just a bunch of rectangles made into blocks, and then squared them up at wonky angles. I’m glad I broke down and bought the book for $4.99 because as simple as this quilt looks, I never would have figured out the correct angles without it. It was definitely money well spent!

I still have to put together the back (it’s not going to be fancy, but I have an extra block and I do want to personalize the quilt with the bride and groom’s names) but that doesn’t worry me much. I am, however, a little stumped on the quilting.

 

Quilt Top

 

This isn’t a full view of the quilt – it’s actually longer and wider. But it definitely has the “dancing bars” effect that I was going for because my friend loves dancing, so I now want the quilting to also capture that vitality.

I’m really undecided on how to quilt it, though. I could go with something simple and easy, like an allover meandering stipple, but I feel like I’m moving past that a little bit. Swirls, maybe? Or possibly interlocking blocks? Whatever I choose, I want it to exude movement.

When I don’t know how I want to approach a project like this, there are a few resources that I like to turn to:

 

Cameli Book

 

“First Steps to Free-motion Quilitng” by Christina Cameli is a great book even if you’re not a beginner. The section of hand-drawn free-motion designers is super-valuable and it has plenty of inspiration for how to pair projects and quilting designs.

 

Walters Book

 

Quilting Goddess Angela Walters has written many books and all of them are great. I really like “Shape by Shape” though because she approaches quilting as a task of filling in defined shapes, rather than tackling one big quilt at once. There are so many possibilities!

 

Craftsy Box

 

I’ve purchased two great classes from Craftsy which are full of great ideas and practical strategies. The first one is “Creative Quilting With Your Walking Foot” by Jacquie Gering and it teaches tons of techniques you might never have imagined you could do with your walking foot. She also now has a follow-up class on quilting with a walking foot, though I haven’t taken it (though I imagine it’s fabulous as well).

The second class I took though Craftsy is by Christina Cameli, author of the book above and it’s called “The Secrets of Free-motion Quilting.” It’s absolutely mesmerizing watching Christina at work and she’s such a warm, engaging teacher you can’t help but feel you can tackle the quilting world after taking her class. She also has a follow-up class offering to this one, but I haven’t taken it.

Surely between all of those sources I’ll come up with something, right?!? Let’s hope!

 

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Five Big Surprises from Hosting an Exchange Student

AFS Exchange Student

 

It’s been about six weeks since we took in a high school exchange student from Chile. It was kind of a quick decision on our part – we knew a boy who’d been in the States since late August but didn’t quite click with the first host family he was matched with. When we found out in January that he was looking to change families, we offered to host him.

What’s a little unusual about our arrangement is that we’ve known him since September, so there wasn’t really any kind of getting-to-know you transition needed once he moved in. We’d already spent considerable time together, talking about what his life is like in Chile, his family, his school, etc. So there were no surprises there.

I’m happy to report that for the most part, things are going really well. It’s an adjustment for all of us, for sure, to have another person around so much of the time. More dishes, more noise, more food, more planning, more laundry. More everything, really.

Most of all, though, there have been a lot of unexpected opportunities to catch a glimpse of myself in the figurative mirror. I know that’s what these exchange programs profess in their organizational literature, but reading it is one thing while living it is quite another.

I’m sure I’ll encounter plenty more revelations before his stay is over, but these are the big things that have hit me as we’ve started out.

 

1. I’m not entirely sure I’d have the guts to live with another family for a year.

First, there’s the food. It’s one thing to take a trip and order from a menu while away and it’s quite another to drop into a family’s meal habits and be expected to conform. I suppose it could go either way – successfully or not – but how miserable would I be if I really didn’t like the food?

And the whole family dynamic thing – it most definitely takes a special kind of person who can step into the middle of a family and feel at home – and I’m for sure not that kind of person.

I admire the kids who can do that.

 

2. Our student from Chile is every bit as American as we are.

The first few times I used the term “Americans” to refer to those of us from the United States, our student was a little indignant. Confused, I asked him why it bothered him, and he replied that he was an American too because he lives in South America. He very clearly saw himself as an American, as well as anyone from North, Central, or South America. He definitely did not appreciate me referring to people from the USA as “Americans.”

So what does he call us, those of us who live in the USA? “United Statesians” he said (but of course). It’s interesting (but not surprising) that we’ve co-opted the term that applies to two full continents of people and grabbed it for our own. Hmmmm.

 

3. Our political system is too damn complicated.

It’s lucky for him (or maybe not?) that he came to the United States during an election year. His first observation of the process? Sooooo many debates, he keeps saying (can’t blame him there).

And he is confused by the process and relentlessly asks questions about it (great questions!) and I wish I could give him more straightforward answers about the process, but no dice. What is a caucus? Why do some states have them versus primaries? If a candidate gets the most votes in a state, do they “win” that state? (not necessarily, there’s that pesky delegate thing). Why do some states divide their delegates and others give them all to one candidate? Why do people care so much about the voting in Iowa and New Hampshire? Why does the whole process take a year and a half?

All good questions, and ones we’re answering daily here, which leads me to only one conclusion – can’t we simplify the whole damn thing already?!?

 

4. Having four teenagers in the house is loud (REALLY loud at times) but it’s also more fun that I ever imagined.

It amazes me how seamlessly our student folded into Fuller family life (see #1 above – probably not something I could do very easily myself). He’s 17 years old – so now in the house we have an 18-year-old female college student, two 17-year-old boys, and one 15-year-old girl. Mayhem? Yes indeed.

But I’ve never been one to shy away from noise or chaos at home, as long as it’s happy, productive noise and chaos and it doesn’t interfere with anyone’s ability to sleep. These four kids get along very well. My kids get along well to start with, so adding one more into the fold only made things better. Ping pong showdowns and rollicking dinners and yelling at the TV during political debates – the more the merrier, we’ve found.

 

5. We Fullers are a happy colony of introverts and that has shocked people.

This is probably the biggest surprise of the experience so far, and it really has nothing at all to do with our student. When friends have asked about how it’s going, I’ve replied honestly – I say that it’s going fine, but it’s a huge shift for five introverts to have an extrovert living among us.

Some people nod with agreement; it’s a pretty simple concept to grasp after all. But one person flat out denied that we’re a family of introverts, while several others have expressed their shock at hearing me use that term to describe my family (it’s true, I swear – all five of us agree on it!).

Which of course has lead me to wonder about how others perceive my family and to marvel that at least to some people, we’re giving off an impression that’s very different from reality. Weird, right? What you know to be true about yourself and your family is not how some people perceive you. It’s a weird thing, and probably the most unexpected revelation we’ve had so far. Weird. Just weird.

 

Overall it’s been a lot of fun and the organization we’re working with, AFS-USA seems to be a strong, well-run organization that I’m glad to support. And I’m very curious to find out what the next several months bring – more surprises, I’m sure!

 

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Dreaded Quilt Math Means More Trials and More Errors

CroppedFabricStack

 

Two weeks ago I shared the bridal shower gift I made for a dear friend – travel bags – along with all the tutorials I used. Now that her wedding is only a month away, it’s time to start working on her gift!

Since she announced her engagement, I’ve known I wanted to make her and her husband-to-be a quilt. But what size, what colors, what pattern? I’ve been mulling it over for a while now.

 

FullFabricStack

 

Last week my Modern Quilt Guild met at Del Ray Fabrics in Alexandria and I found this luscious stack of fat quarters – the complete set of Anna Maria Horner’s new Loominous collection. The richness of the colors reminded me a lot of my friend, and I particularly love how the colors shift and shimmer in the light because of the way they’re yarn-dyed and some of them have little glints of metallic in them, too. So divine!

With the fabric selected, I then had to find the perfect pattern for the quilt. My goal was two-fold – to find a pattern that made the most of these gorgeous fabrics, and to find a pattern that captured my friend’s personality.

I didn’t want anything with too much cutting or piecing – not that I wanted to take the easy way out (I really didn’t), but because I wanted the fabrics to stand on their own. There’s enough diversity in the colors and textures that going simpler would definitely be better.

 

Pattern

 

I searched for hours before finally finding a quilt image on Pinterest that I loved. It had good-sized fabric pieces to really show off the Loominous, yet it was still sophisticated. Even better, the design seems to have movement to it – it feels rhythmic and reminds me of dancing, , which was absolutely perfect for my friend. Her family comes from Kenya and Jamaica and this design had a real vibrancy to it that I feel echoes her heritage so well. Score!

Unfortunately the link from the quilt image took me to a class offered in Arizona rather than to a pattern or tutorial. No good. I love my friend but wasn’t about to make a trip to Arizona. So I took to sketching it out to figure it out myself.

 

Notes

 

I pieced a few blocks based on my sketches and measurements but could not hit the mark. In fact my prototypes were not even close and I didn’t even know in what direction to adjust them.

 

Prototype

 

It should not have been a surprise that my quilt math did not measure up to the requirements of this quilt. Quilt math and I, we’re not the best of friends, you know? I had to come up with a Plan B.

But I was really in love with this design. So after searching and searching for a tutorial or pattern for it, I finally hit upon a lead – a book that had this quilt on the cover (and presumably, the pattern inside). It’s an older book and one that I typically wouldn’t buy for myself, but my choices were to continue torturing myself with useless prototype blocks, or just suck it up and buy the book (which would you do?).

I chose the latter and was lucky enough to find a used copy on Amazon for one cent. Yep, one penny, plus $3.99 shipping. Sold!

And while waiting for the book to arrive, I’ve been passing the time with another project that makes me very, very happy.

 

Crochet

 

Forty blocks down, about 100 more to go. Once the book arrives I’ll have to set these aside, but that’s okay. All in good time!

 

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Let’s Put an End to Selfish Sewing

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Buzzwords – they’re everywhere – you can’t avoid them. Sandwich generation, click bait, solopreneur, amazeballs, I could go on and on (but I won’t, I promise). But of all of them, there’s one buzzword that I’d like to strike out of usage.

OK, it’s two words, so maybe that’s a buzzphrase? (look at me making up a new buzzword – how meta). You know what it is?

“Selfish sewing.”

Because really? SELFISH sewing? Since when did sewing become selfish?

If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s been floating around sewing circles on the internet for a few years now. It’s used to describe when you sew something for yourself rather than making something for your kids or partner or to give as a gift. There are selfish sewing blog posts and sew-alongs and hashtags and probably more.

Say what? How did sewing for yourself turn into a selfish act?

Truth be told, I sew a lot of things for other people for selfish reasons. I make gifts instead of buying them because I love the process of creating and working with my hands – I’d much rather spend three or four (often more!) hours making a gift for someone instead of driving to a store to shop or even sending a gift on its way with a few keystrokes from my laptop. I do, in fact, do both of those things from time to time, but store bought is definitely the minority of the gifts I give.

So that’s my own definition of selfish sewing – making gifts for people because I find it to be more satisfying than shopping.

But back to this “sewing for yourself is selfish” crap.

Very few people who sew today do it out of necessity – long gone are the days when there was little choice but to make our own clothes, kitchen items, and bed quilts. Not only is it more convenient and efficient today to buy what we need, it’s often cheaper too. So why do we sew?

Because we like to.

And there’s absolutely nothing selfish about that.

People have a wide variety of passions – running, watching sports, traveling, reading, etc. They’re pastimes plenty of people enjoy, and do we begrudge them for it? I don’t think so.

When’s the last time you considered a woman selfish for going to her book club? Or to the gym? Or to a baseball game?

You probably didn’t, because it’s generally seen as a well-deserved chance for her to kick back and have some time for herself, doing something she enjoys.

So although they might consider it novel or curious, I don’t think the non-sewing world thinks there’s anything selfish about sewing for yourself. And that makes me cringe even more.

Because “selfish sewing” is a term that was coined by people who love to sew.

If sewing is something that you enjoy, is something that challenges and stimulates your creativity, and is a pastime that results in tangible results, why should the word selfish ever be associated with it, no matter who you’re sewing for?

The implication is that if you’re doing something pleasurable, then the enjoyment of the process should be reward enough. Forget about the beautiful results! You don’t deserve them!

I’m calling bullshit on that.

Every maker DOES deserve to enjoy the results of their handwork. You deserve to piece yourself a gorgeous new quilt or knit yourself a cozy new sweater or sew yourself a cute new skirt. It’s more than okay for you to indulge in your passion of making and take time out from your busy day exclusively for you. Just because you enjoy the creative process does not mean that you’re limited to making things that are only for other people.

Allowing yourself to enjoy the fruits of your own labors is in no way selfish, I assure you. It’s actually pretty good self-care.

Making a gift for someone else is a way of acknowledging that you care about them. Making a gift for you is a way of acknowledging that you care about yourself. Plain and simple, right?

And that’s a pretty great thing to demonstrate to the ones you love, the ones in your life you sew for the most.

“I sew for you because you’re important to me,”

AND

“I sew for myself because I’m important to me as well.”

I’m not suggesting that you stop sewing for the ones you love. I’m merely suggesting that you add yourself to that list, too.

#sewingformyself

 

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