Baby, plan your birth!

A couple of queer expats in Singapore on a quest to make a baby


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Parental Honorifics, or a modest request to honor my gender identity by calling me a nonsense word I made up

Hey all, sorry we’ve been MIA. We’ve both been super busy with travel, baby prep, and trying to get as much work done as possible in our respective careers before there is so much poop everywhere. I won’t promise to fill in the backlog (because I’m writing poems about the pregnancy instead!) except to say that the wee one is healthy, male-bodied, and due June 4.

Actually, the reason I’m writing here today is that I want to share something baby-related in a larger space than a facebook post permits. If you wandered here from facebook, I’m glad you’re reading.

Okay, so this is about what my parental honorific is to be. But I should back up.

If you didn’t know this, I’m genderqueer. What does that mean? It’s a subset of transgender, and it means that a person is not exactly male or female. Maybe somewhere in the middle, or a little of both, or some third thing, or whatever. For me, it means that I don’t self-identify as female or male. Sometimes I joke that my gender is velociraptor. I’m not planning on transitioning from my female body to a male body because that won’t actually line me up right either. Instead, I just kind of dress like a teenage boy but use female pronouns and get on with my life because I don’t really notice my own gender that much.

So, since I don’t identify as female, I also don’t identify as girl, woman, lesbian, butch, wife, etc. But usually, I just let these things slide because I can’t be bothered, and I understand that it’s with love when a friend says, “Hey girl!” and with acceptance when someone in Singapore miraculously calls me my wife’s wife.

Do you see where this is going?

Our child has to call me something. I have to pick that something, and I have to get a reasonable number of people on board to call me that something.

We thought about this for a long time.

We considered variations of Mom, which all felt very wrong. I love moms. I love my mom. I aspire to be as awesome a parent as the many moms I know. But I am not a mom. Our child will not have two moms.

We considered variations of Dad, which felt somehow less wrong, but still not right. I love dads. I love my dad. I probably identify more with stay-at-home-dad culture than anything else, but I’m still not Dad.

We considered Baba, which is the go-to parent name for many butch and genderqueer parents in the US. But it actually means Dad here in Singapore. So that’s not going to work.

We considered culturally appropriating some word for parent in another language. Not only did that feel icky, but I didn’t like any of the choices.

I briefly championed “the AP” or “the aged P,” but my wife says that not everyone likes allusions to minor Dickensian characters when being introduced to their kid’s friend’s parent.

Finally, we picked something completely random. You will laugh. But I hope you will get on board.

Dabo.

It’s not a name, no. It’s a couple of syllables a baby can say. (Da rhymes with ba + bo like in bowtie.) It means “I will give” in Latin. (It also means “bread” in Amharic, and “gold” in Aramaic. For the Trekkies among you, yes, it’s also the Ferengi roulette game.)

Mainly, it feels good. We’ve been using it for a couple of months, and we like it.

For our kid’s teachers, we can be his moms, sure. Teachers have enough to deal with, and I’ll personally be happy if they just remember that we all go together. But for everyone else, we’ll be Mom and Dabo.

There will be some downsides.

He will be the only kid with a Dabo, and if he wants to tell the other kids something else, that’s cool. We’re not trying to make his life more complicated than necessary. (We’re also not going to be in Singapore by the time he starts school, which will help. Maybe. Depending on where in the States we land.)

Not picking one of the recognized Mom/Dad names may also mean that strangers won’t immediately realize I’m his parent. The fact that I often look like a 17-year-old boy may not help. But E is confident that the parental glow will surround me. Perhaps more realistically, we may have to accept that strangers won’t know what’s up right away. But if the people we care about get on the Dabo train, then it doesn’t matter that much what the others do. (Besides, I have around 26 years of experience in having awkward conversations about my gender, my sexual orientation, and what the hell I’m doing in the women’s room.)

Which is why I’m writing this post. To introduce myself, perhaps for the first time (though you may have suspected), as a genderqueer velociraptor who’s going to be a Dabo in a few short months.

I can’t wait.

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burying the lede

We discovered a problem with baby-plan-your-birth blog.

There’s a certain amount of uncertainty that I’m completely comfortable sharing with the world (like the excessive use of pregnancy tests way before a positive result would be possible).

Then there’s that weird time of uncertainty when you think you might know something, but you’re not sure if you know something. And if you’re right, that’s great, but a bit anti-climactic because it builds up slowly from such small place of hope. And if you’re wrong, you look like an idiot who can’t read a pregnancy test.

Which is why our blog has been so very, very silent.  Spoilers! It’s good news!
We also did some backward induction, which many of you also may have done. If we were not successful in making a tiny human, then there should be a disappointed (yet hopeful) post about a few days after our last one.  Then maybe another post about how we’re really crossing our fingers really hard, or else we have to figure out how to ship even more sperm to Bangkok.  Maybe some hilarious antics would ensue.  None of those posts have appeared.

Of course, there’s also the chance that the whole things was a bust, but that we were too crushed to report it to the world. Or that I decided I wanted more public/private boundaries.  These would also be reasonable guesses, though wrong.

Here comes the actual lede… (I was never much of a news reporter)

So we are delighted to report that so far, we have been amazingly successful at coaxing a tiny human into my person. It grows! It has a heartbeat! It hasn’t self-destructed yet!

Convoluted? Yes.  The word “pregnant” still gets stuck in my throat and backed up in my fingers.  Sounds very adult. Or something I need to be very, very careful to avoid so I don’t end up a homeless teen living on the street, selling my organs to pay for diapers.

In Bangkok, H provided many  necessary reassurances  that “of course there’s a good chance it will work.” She was, like a good wife, lying to my face to help me feel better. She later confessed that she was expecting a minimum of three physically upsetting and financially costly procedures, and probably close to five.  I have proved her wrong! Champions!

Proving the existence of tiny parasite was no small endeavor.  Within a few hours of my last post – yes, I waited several hours before taking another test-  the pregnancy tests looks just the tiniest, faintest bit purple when you sort of held it up against the light and squinted..  H thought I was crazy. I blame poor FaceTime resolution (she’s off on a book project at the moment, so she can only obsess remotely).  So of course I took a few more tests.  And bought some other brands.  And I may have taken… fourteen … in total before they were all, resoundingly, purple and positive and pregnant, completely exhausting my bulk pack of tests.

My doctor later scolded me for wasting so many tests; she reminded me that there are other, needy people could have used them.  I didn’t realize that pregnancy test access was an issue in Singapore, but I remain duly chastised.

Things have since been confirmed visually (there’s a heartbeat! in my stomach! wtf! I am a timelord!), and with a lovely host of symptoms.  Did you know that french fries cure nausea?  They do.  Wonderful.

I’m not sure what direction our blog will take next; I’m loathe to report all my unique and special snowflake pregnancy experiences. (Oh look, now I’m vomity.  Oh, but now I’m a nature goddess coaxing new life into the world.  Oh!  Now I can’t fit in standard size cars.  What will parasite do next? Hint: the same things all parasites do – bust out!). However, I’m hopeful that our experiences as queer expats in Singapore making a human might provide some interesting insights, or at least a few good stories, in the coming months.

For example, my first prenatal visit with our kind but reserved ob-gyn:

Doctor:  Congratulations. I’m going to put you at 6 weeks as of today. Now I’m going list symptoms you may have. Please don’t interrupt me.
Me: Okay…
Doctor:  You may feel tired, nauseated, vomiting, gas like cramping, boobs hurt, emotions up and down, dizzy, muscles hurt, indigestion, heartburn….
Me: ….
Doctor: ….. Don’t drink alcohol, or smoke. Don’t get too fat. You are not eating for two.
Me: …..
Doctor: See you in three weeks.

Efficient.

 

– E


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Very patiently waiting with much patience quite patiently

I’m not a particularly patient person.

It is only after exercising considerable restraint that I managed to take only three pregnancy tests in the past week.  They’re all negative, of course, because it turns out there was a reason the clinic said to wait two weeks before taking a test.  Pregnancy tests detect levels of human chorionic gonadotropic (hCG) in your urine, which don’t show up in detectable levels until somewhere between 10 and 14 days past ovulation, depending on the sensitivity of your test (I have no idea what mine is; the “bulk pack”  didn’t include those sorts of superfluous details) and your own body’s response to harboring a tiny parasite.  Which is why it is so important that I test, just to be sure, at 6, 8, and 10 days.  Just in case all of medicine is wrong and my heart science is right.

Thankfully, I anticipated my tendency to do this, which is why we bought a bulk pack of pregnancy tests way back in December.  I love diagnostics!  (Thanks, Amazon!)

H asked that I share with the group my pregnancy testing ritual, I suspect because she enjoys it when I embarrass myself publicly.

1.  Try to convince myself that there is no point in testing something that will come out negative with 95% certainty.

2.  Figure, hey, let’s just give it a go, wouldn’t it be nice if it were positive?  After all, I have so many tests in my drawer.  Also, I’m bored.

3.  Procure the “pregnancy testing cup.”  These tests need to be dipped, which requires a cup. After great consideration, I settled upon the Hendrick’s teacup that came free when we bought some fancy gin at duty free.  It’s just the right size, with a nice wide mouth, but more importantly, it makes me feel like classy English royalty when I use it.  As you do.

Breakfast of champions, pregnancy test of queens

Breakfast of champions, pregnancy test of queens

4.  Fill the pregnancy testing cup.

5.  Dip cheap-o pregnancy strip in cup for 5 seconds.  (The instructions say 3.  I’m an overachiever.)

6.  Watch all the colors move around.  Oh god!  Could it be positive?!

7.  Watch all the colors vanish.  Nope, never mind.

8.  Wander away for the 5 minutes you’re supposed to wait for a result.  It will only change to positive if you don’t look at it.

9.  Nope.

10.  Obsessively check the internet for reasons there might still be a negative test at day X but ultimately positive results, even though my heart feels like I should be able to tell by now.

11.  Repeat.

Closing note regarding perspective.  I realize waiting two weeks to find out whether you’re pregnant is an amazingly common occurrence, and surely at least some of you are laughing, remembering the first go, and then the second, and then the third, and then the thirtieth … I fully acknowledge that in the world of all hardships requiring patience and perseverance, this is somewhere above “waiting for dinner despite being very hungry” and below “saving up for a nice vacation that won’t come for six months.”  I just like sharing.

-E


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Where do babies come from?

IMG_3312

Where do babies come from? Bangkok, of course!

Babies come from Bangkok! We hope.

After a whirlwind of emotions, we set off for Bangkok on Tuesday night.  By the time we boarded, we were both pretty much done with everything – we spent the flight basking in the emotional turmoil of gloriously bad ABC family dramas.  Perfect.

Of course, I break that sweet, television-induced sedation by spending the rest of our evening scouring academic articles for everything known about IUI, trigger shot-to-ovulation timing, and whether 24 hrs vs. 30 hrs vs. 36 hrs matters at all.  Confirmation bias abounds.  Everything will be okay.

safefer-1

Swanky clinic – image from their brochure, as they reasonably asked we not take pictures.

Bright and early Wednesday, we headed to our clinic, which turned out to be about 300% more swanky than we expected.  We huddled in our padded furniture pod alongside 30+ other families and waited to meet with the doctor. Despite everyone’s disappointment that I had not done things “properly,” the doctor (and her army of ultrasound technicians) seemed reasonably optimistic.

We broke for lunch, I tried not to eat too much street food (so hard!), and reconvened in the afternoon.  We donned our baby-making costumes – sexy sterile crocs and hospital caps and gowns for both of us.

crocs

After prepping very, very slowly, to help delay the insemination time as much as possible, it was time to make some babies.  The doctor brought out our washed, processed, and ready for action sperm, which came in a lovely shade of pink.  I got all situated, and then the team got to work.

I was more than a bit nervous because most experiences I’ve had with doctors poking my insides have been negative.  I researched other folks’ IUI experiences, which, of course, were all over the place.  Usually, the range was from “didn’t notice” to “it was uncomfortable.”  So I shouldn’t worry?  Wrong.  Always beware the use of “uncomfortable” in a medical setting.

In non-medical settings, the phrase “uncomfortable” refers to anything from a chair with insufficient padding to an awkward social situation.  Maybe the over-full feeling you get after too much pizza.  Uncomfortable.  In medical land, “uncomfortable” is everything short of getting your arm cut off or passing a kidney stone.  It’s more like how spraining your wrist is “uncomfortable” or getting a bronchoscopy is “uncomfortable.”  HA.  It is “bad.”  Simply bad.

Despite the “uncomfortable” nature of the procedure, of course, I was a champ.  That is, if by “champ,” you mean that I hyperventilated, experienced an extreme blood pressure drop, and nearly passed out.  I went through those smelling salts like a champ, that’s for sure.  Aced it.

Then it was over.  I rested for an hour with my book, leaning on my right side as I was told to to help direct the little swimmers toward the good egg (still waiting for an academic paper on that) then we headed out for lunch and a relaxing evening.

And now we wait.

-E


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Countdown?

Alternate title: Dr. C and the tournament of the … doctors. 

Rose bright and early for our daily visit to Dr. C  to be probed and photographed (on the inside! eek! it hasn’t gotten old yet).  Dr. C asked if I was “feeling ovulatory today.”  Yes! I have been directing good, pro-ovulation thoughts all day.  It’s hard work, too.

A brief panic when Dr. C adds “Oh, the follicle is collapsing.”  What?  Collapsing?  Buildings collapse. Civilizations collapse.  Tiny follicles do not collapse.  Turns out it was her fun way of saying that it had an oval shape rather than circle shape.  Really?  Word choice.  Please.  My heart.

At the risk of way too much gross detail, the now oval-shaped follicle is big and strong, and it was ready to be injected with magic hormones.  These magic hormones ensure that it is released in a timely fashion, ideally during business hours.  I hear it’s more effective than our other option, pro-ovulation thoughts + prayer (probably not the best strategy for two atheists).

I survive my jabs (like a champ, no less), we celebrate by buying tickets to Thailand for tonight and eating CPK. (Yes, there is California Pizza Kitchen in Singapore. Globalization is magic.)

Then, problems.

IUI planning is a bit of a math equation, but everyone has a different equation and very strong opinions that theirs is the only correct equation.

 

Bangkok clinic’s equation:   20+mm follicle + 11pm shot + 36 hours + IUI = BABY!

Dr C’s equation: 20+mm follicle + 8am shot + 24-48 hours + IUI = BABY!

 

These are different.  See the differences?  We got the 8am shot, so Bangkok clinic is not pleased.  They have so far suggested that we (a) wait 50 hours to do IUI (not in anyone’s equations), or (b) cancel the entire thing.  Checked back with Dr. C and she said that we could (a) wait 24 hours, (b) wait 36 hours, (c) wait 50 hours, and it wouldn’t matter. We tried to get the two parties to duke it out, but with no luck. Apparently they have other patients, or something.

Then there’s Google.  Everyone on Google also has their own equation. 24 hours is the best!  Oh, well you should do two IUIs, one at 12 hours and one at 36.  You should have sex, then have an IUI, then have sex again. You should get your IUI while standing on your head and reading Shakespeare (okay, maybe not exactly that last one). Pages and pages of very specific anecdotes, which are especially unhelpful because not only is every person is different, only some people are going through the same procedure as us, and even fewer are going through the exact same procedure with unknown fertility background and no fertility drugs. So we have no idea.

On the other hand, this feeling of stress and uncertainty is familiar. We’re back at the place where we usually are – having absolutely no clue what is going on, wishing we had taken more biology/anatomy classes in college, and strongly desiring an authoritative pamphlet.  There should be a pamphlet.  (More on the general lack of pamphlets to follow, I promise.)

– E


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Dr. C and the tournament of follicles

On Tuesday, we had our first appointment with our new queer-friendly OB/GYN at Mt. Elizabeth Hospital!

Dr. C is efficient and respectful and doesn’t seem at all bothered that we’re gay. (I don’t think much fazes Dr. C.) When we walked in together and E introduced me as her wife, Dr. C looked at me and asked, “Are you getting pregnant, too?” After I said no, she pretty much lost interest in me, but in a normal I-don’t-have-much-bedside-manner-and-you’re-not-my-concern kind of way that my dad-friends say they’ve also experienced as the non-baby-carrying parents.

Fair enough. As long as I’m allowed to support E when/where she wants my support. I wasn’t sure quite what to do with myself during ultrasound time, though. Dr. C pulled the curtain, so I hung out awkwardly and tried to get a look at the screen.

And creepily took this picture…

IMG_5401Anyway, the result of the appointment was that E’s follicles were still duking it out to see which one is going to be Egg of the Month. We have another appointment Monday to see if a champion has been crowned. If so, and if it’s achieved a certain level of growth, then Dr. C will give E the trigger shot (some kind of hormone cocktail that makes her ovulate according to a predictable schedule) and we’ll be off to Bangkok two days later for an insemination jamboree!

Things are finally coming together!

-H


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Tangent about firing of gay pregnant teacher (Part 2 – My experience as a gay teen at Marian High School)

This is Part 2. In Part 1, I discuss the recent firing of a gay pregnant teacher at my old high school, an all-girls Catholic institution in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Please read that part first, so you’ll understand the context in which I’m sharing my own personal experience as a gay teen at Marian High School.

(-H)

 

[First, let me disclose that I was a very unhappy teenager: depressed and suicidal and struggling with intense feelings of shame, anger, and self-loathing common to LGBTQ youth. I was no picnic to be around, and many of my peers were ill-equipped to deal with what I was going through. What I really needed was a different environment and/or decade to grow up in, but in absence of that, I needed counseling. (Good counseling. I had bad counseling instead.) I just want to acknowledge all of that right from the start. It was a bad situation, and I was a handful. I am lucky that my wife, who met me when I was 16, has a selective memory.]

I first started to notice my attraction to women when I was about 11 or 12. I had crushes on girls in middle and high school. If I’d had crushes on boys, it could have been a healthy normal thing. I would have talked about it with my friends, laughed, enjoyed the solidarity of growing up and developing romantic feelings. I would have been rejected sometimes, but my friends and family would have supported me, and I would have moved on a little wiser.

Instead, it was all a very shameful secret. It wasn’t cute or exhilarating or romantic to have a crush on another girl. It meant I was a sicko and my feelings were disgusting betrayals of my friendships. Those ugly, sinful affections had to be hidden and destroyed. To add to this, the girls I had crushes on (whether they were aware of it or not) were not always very well-adjusted teenagers themselves, and their rejections were sometimes especially cruel. I wasn’t actually out (in middle or high school), and I didn’t really have people to support me through my angst and heartbreak, in part because I couldn’t even admit, to myself or to others, that those things were happening. For a long time, I told myself that these were standard “friend crushes.” Later, when this seemed less likely, I fought my feelings. I prayed. I researched organizations that claimed to be about to convert homosexuals. I MacGyvered aversion therapy. I fought hard to be straight.

On top of the isolation and rejection, there was the gossip. Not just among the other students, but among their parents as well. The mothers at my public middle school talked about me. Some even talked to school staff about me. When I enrolled at Marian, one of the girls I’d crushed on in middle school also went there, and her mother wasted no time in spreading the word to parents and some of the staff at my new school. Because the girl’s last name and mine were close in the alphabet, we’d have been in the same homeroom and had nearby lockers, but her mother got the school to separate us, to move me. I was made out to be a threat.

I was devastated to learn that my fresh start had already been ruined. And because she was an adult, I had no recourse. When I saw her or her daughter (as I often did), I had to make nice. When the mother would greet me, I had to respond politely, “Hello Mrs. P—” and smile like she wasn’t a bully. She was the first of many adults who made Marian a damaging, exhausting, and unhealthy environment for me.

As a freshman at Marian, I became increasingly depressed and reached out to a teacher who was kind and empathetic and had the best of intentions in reporting my situation to the school guidance department. My school counselor, Mr. D, was another story. His only strategy was damage control. His stated belief was that my depression was a contagion that would infect other students if they knew of it. Therefore, it had to be hidden. (Anecdotally, I understand that he took the same approach with eating disorders.)

Mr. D notified my parents (as was his obligation under the law) and required that I begin seeing a private counselor the school picked. Failure to continue treatment with this specific counselor would result in my expulsion. Unfortunately, the counselor was a bit of a dud, to put it kindly. But he was all I got. I was forbidden to talk with anyone else connected with the school about my feelings. Not the students, not the teachers, not any of the other school counselors, not even the school priest.

Mr. D provided a list of subjects I could discuss: schoolwork, sports, and boys. This last one was interesting. It is possible but unlikely that Mr. D was unaware at the time of my sexual orientation. (The other student from my middle school was also one of his counselees.) In any case, he instructed me that talking about anything else or upsetting any of the other students would result in my expulsion.

I’ll be honest. I was not very good at keeping my sadness to myself. After some missteps that landed me back in Mr. D’s office, I learned which students I could talk to, which students were unlikely to get upset or report me. I made some good friends who cared about me, even if I still wasn’t completely honest with them. In time, I also made a lot of friends from other high schools, friends who were beyond the reach of Mr. D. (Hey, E! Thanks for being my friend back when I was a mess!)

Mr. D was a poor counselor, but I don’t believe that his approach to “counseling” me was related to my sexual orientation. There was, however, an openly homophobic teacher at Marian who lobbied to have me expelled. (Pro-tip: when you turn 18, you can request to see your file.)

Two years ago, I wrote a letter to the president of Marian, lodging a formal complaint against that teacher. Here are some excerpts:

“I took two of TW’s classes (AP US History and AP US Government) and also participated in Model United Nations. TW regularly expressed anti-gay views in his classroom. Specifically, he repeatedly called homosexuality unnatural and immoral, stated that child molesters were most often gay men, and asserted on a number of occasions that gay people should not be permitted to teach in schools or hold any other position that would expose them to children. His classroom library also included several books on homosexuality as a disorder and the need and potential for homosexuals to ‘convert’ to a heterosexual lifestyle. The classroom environment TW created was one of moral absolutes in which gay students felt emotionally unsafe, as he consistently portrayed gay people as deviant, dangerous, and without value.

In US History class, these views were not connected in any way to the material we were studying, and in US Government class, TW brought up (and condemned) homosexuality as an example more frequently than any other current events topic, save possibly abortion.”

…..

“TW repeatedly used his position of power and influence to promote prejudice and discrimination against an already stigmatized and at-risk minority group. His conduct was entirely inappropriate and counter to Marian’s stated goals of teaching students to value human diversity and supporting students as they develop intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. TW’s behavior went unchecked despite my efforts to bring it to the attention of the administration through the guidance department.”

I asked for written apologies from Mr. W and from the school, and further demanded that the administration make it clear to staff, students, and parents that “regardless of one’s personal views or the views of the Catholic Church, the propagation of prejudice, defamatory misinformation, and discrimination will not be tolerated at Marian High School.”

I cc’ed the Archdiocese of Detroit, the ACLU, and three local newspapers. The president of Marian met with me two weeks later. She expressed dismay at Mr. W’s behavior and assured me that I would receive an apology shortly. The apology never happened. I regret that I became distracted with E’s job search, our move to Singapore, and our wedding, and I never chased up the administration.

After high school, I got as far away as possible from all of this, moving to California, then New Zealand, and now Singapore. It did get better, for me anyway. I suspect that I’m chemically predisposed to depression, but it was, in large part, situational.

To be a gay teen in a Catholic high school like Marian is toxic. Apart from Mr. W’s largely off-topic anti-gay rants, there were also the religion textbooks that told us homosexuality (among other things) was wrong. There was a pervasive culture of homophobia, sex-shaming, conformism, and political conservatism that made anyone who was different in the way I was different feel dirty, isolated, and silenced. In addition, my time at Marian had the incidental cost of turning me deeply suspicious of religion and religious people. There’s an anger there that I may never shake.

A lot worse has been done to gay people. A lot worse.

But it’s also the small things that conspire to make a culture in which seriously horrific things can happen. So we have to talk about those small things, too. I couldn’t talk about high school while it was happening. I wasn’t allowed to and I wouldn’t allow myself to. But now I can.

I was a child. I was vulnerable. And I was treated variously as a sexual predator, a pathogen, and a deviant.

That’s not acceptable.

That’s not what we do to the children in our care.

 

-H