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Ask Me Anything: How I Survived Domestic Violence

Ask Me Anything: How I Survived Domestic Violence

Ask Me Anything is a collaborative series featuring individuals and families that are facing challenges or are unique in some way. People can ask them anything they’d like to know about their story as long as it’s respectful.

The goal of this series is for people to gain a better understanding of those in unique situations. Open communication is key to understanding one another. If you would like to be featured in a future post, email me at caitlin@realmomrecs.com.

Other topics in this series include:

Postpartum Depression

Transracial Adoption

Creating a family using donor eggs

This post was written by guest blogger Elizabeth Brico of Betty’s Battleground

RealMomRecs Ask Me Anything: How I Survived Domestic Violence

How did you find yourself in an abusive relationship?

Looking back, I was clearly groomed. My abuser was seven years older than me, which is a lot when you’re a teenager. I was experimenting with drugs and knew him from that world. He was a meth addict and for a while I just thought of him that way: as this eccentric tweaker that I found interesting and I remember wanting to interview him to write a play about him or something. But he pressured me into trying meth when I was fifteen and then just totally messed with my mind until I thought I was in love with him. There were a lot of warning signs. He actually once admitted to raping a woman, but I was so naive I thought he was telling an odd joke I didn’t get.
RealMomRecs Ask Me Anything: How I Survived Domestic Violence
An impressionable teen at 15
By the time we started dating, there were a lot of indicators of abuse. He’d say really cruel things. He would disappear for days; I would hear rumors that he was cheating on me, once with a thirteen year old girl. I would hear rumors that he had done really terrible things to other girls and women, but I was so in love with him, I just couldn’t believe it. When he pushed me, I rationalized it. When he finally started hitting me and strangling me, I was too in shock. I had never been treated that way before and I didn’t know what to do. So I just…stayed. I mean I would leave him, but then he would beg me to come back and all I wanted, at that time, was for him to change and accept my love and love me back. So I followed my hope instead of what reality was actually showing me.

What factor finally influenced your decision that you had to escape the toxic relationship? How were you finally able to get out?

I actually wrote an entire blog post that goes into the details of this, but the short answer is: my son. My son was born after I had been with this guy for four years. We stayed together for a few months, but when my son was a couple months old, his father randomly flew to Japan-without telling me-to visit his 5 year old daughter for the first time. He tried to say he was just being a good dad, but what about the newborn infant he abandoned without a word? Anyway, when he got back he relapsed and became really violent again. On one occasion, he almost killed both my son and I, and it made me realize that there was no way out. My son was going to end up dead or harmed unless I got this guy out of our lives. I turned my ex in, and he was sentenced to five years in prison.

What did you learn about yourself from this situation?

Well, I suppose in terms of positive attributes I have gained, empathy for others is the biggest one. I used to be really judgmental of people who did things differently than I thought I would. But the truth is, you never know what you would do in a given situation unless you’re in it, and the truth will often surprise you. I also learned that I am stronger and more resilient than I thought. I can sure take a beating. And I have a hard skull. Literally. I have had my head repeatedly punched in to pavement and turned out okay.
In all honesty, this experience left me really damaged. I have PTSD from this, and every day I have to combat feelings of deep hopelessness and depression. I have survived more than one suicide attempt, and I struggle almost daily to remind myself that I do have a reason to live. Trauma like this gets trapped in the body, so it’s really sad to know that I will, for the rest of my life, live in a body that has been brutally abused. There are some abuse survivors who say that even though their abuse was terrible, they wouldn’t change anything about their past because it helped shape them and they love themselves. I don’t feel that way. There are some days when I suppose I do, but I really hate having PTSD. I really hate living in this body, and it’s nothing to do with how it looks, but how it feels.

How do you feel your situation affected your children?  Do you fear they might repeat the cycle of being in abusive relationship themselves?

Only my eldest child, my son, was fathered by my abuser. My daughters are both my husband’s and never witnessed any of that stuff. My son was so young, 8 months old, when his father got out of his life, that I’m sure he doesn’t remember any of it. Last year, my abuser re-entered my life by first establishing paternity and then filing a custody suit, but last week he dropped it. I hope that’s permanent. I think that yes, he could influence my son to be an abusive person, if he were allowed back into his life.
How I Survived Domestic Violence
My son and I
My son, however, has severe autism. He is totally non-verbal, still in diapers at age 9, and has developmental and cognitive delays. The cause of autism is still unknown, but new science is pretty certain it’s a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Now, which environmental factors caused my son’s autism is impossible to know. I was on anti-depressants for the first month or so of my pregnancy, and those have been potentially tied to autism. I was prescribed them to combat the depression I was feeling due to being abused. My ex also abused me while I was pregnant, pretty viciously. Prenatal trauma has been hypothesized to be a factor in the development of autism. He also physically and sexually abused me in front of our infant son. There’s not a whole lot known about the effects of trauma during early infancy, but childhood trauma can have some devastating side-effects. I do believe that the things my ex did at least contributed to the severity of my son’s autism, if they didn’t cause it altogether.

How has PTSD influenced the way you raise your children?

PTSD made me incapable of raising my son. I was diagnosed with PTSD around the same time he was diagnosed with autism. I had already been struggling and needing a lot of help before then, but it became clear that we both needed a lot of care and support and I wasn’t going to be able to give him his best chance at life so I put him in the care of family. He’s been in my custody legally, but due to my ex’s recent custody suit, my mom is now filing for third party custody. My husband and I do hope to take him to live with us one day, but it’s a really complicated situation and this custody suit made it a lot worse.
I was addicted to drugs for a while, before I got pregnant with my older daughter. I had a lot of guilt and shame about that, but have since learned it was an instinctual way of self-medicating my hyperaroused nervous system, which was that way because of PTSD. Even though I am clean now, I am still struggling to fix my financial situation and learn healthy ways to relax and deal with triggers.
RealMomRecs Ask Me Anything: How I Survived Domestic Violence
My daughter and I
My PTSD symptoms mean I get depressed often and anger easily. Having my abuser come back into my life caused a resurgence in a  lot of the symptoms I had thought resolved. I am now on medication to prevent myself from having PTSD nightmares, which are far worse and scarier than regular nightmares. Sometimes it’s hard for me to focus because I dissociate. I am often afraid to go outside, which affects my kids sometimes. Making phone calls induces a lot of anxiety within me, which is problematic if I need to set an appointment or something. I have to really prioritize self-care. My daughters don’t always understand why my “me time” is important, but if I didn’t take it, I would have a break down and probably end up attempting suicide. I did attempt suicide last year, on my birthday, which is also the anniversary of an especially bad assault. I was away in a psych ward for a few days afterward. My daughters show concern now when they hear sirens; the older one asks sometimes if they are going to come take me away. I am sorry for that, though I try my best not to blame myself because it’s not my fault that I have PTSD. I think I am going to have my older daughter go to some kind of therapy soon so that it hopefully doesn’t affect her later in life.
RealMomRecs Ask Me Anything: How I Survived Domestic Violence
Just being Mama
On the plus side, I am more caring and empathetic. Although I have to fight the urge to snap, I understand that place of deep rage and disappointment that causes them to throw fits, and when you understand something, you are better able to help ease it. I also display strength and courage daily, and I know how important it is to promote my daughters’ self-esteem. Honestly, I think the positives will manifest more when they are teenagers, because I’ll be (hopefully) better able to deal with the catastrophes that teenage girls get into.

How does your past relationship and your PTSD affect your everyday life?

I am less trusting. It is hard for me to get close to people. My husband often complains that I’m not affectionate enough, but it just doesn’t come naturally to me anymore. I am anxious often; I can’t work a conventional job. My self-esteem is terrible, which affects everything. Sex does nothing for me, which my husband hates. When we first met, I was still using, and the drugs helped fix whatever is wrong with my system so that I really did enjoy sex. Now he blames himself, and I have to keep reminding him that my body is numb. I am dissociated; I can’t feel anything. My ex raped me on numerous occasions, so sex often causes mild flashbacks. I love my husband and I want to make him happy. But I just can’t get into it anymore. I’m hoping therapy will eventually fix that.
RealMomRecs Ask Me Anything: How I Survived Domestic Violence
Just married!
My friendships have suffered. I can be quick to anger and quick to take offense, and if the other person doesn’t actively try to repair the friendship after a fight, then the friendship ends. My self-esteem is so terrible that I feel like everyone is better off without me. Honestly, I feel subhuman on a regular basis. PTSD is a lonely, shaken existence.

How are you planning to move on/move forward in life?

I go to regular therapy: weekly individual counseling and a weekly peer support group. Blogging about my trauma and experiences with PTSD has also helped me get some of it out of my body and head, and also to connect with others. Writing has always been a big part of my life. It is my big dream, and what I got my education in. I still hope to become a successful, published author. I’ve been trying to write a fantasy trilogy for close to a decade, but recently realized that maybe I need to get a trauma narrative out of me first. Maybe that’s the blockage that is preventing me from writing this thing, and if I write a memoir or some kind of trauma narrative first, even if I never publish it, maybe then I will be able to write my novels.
Also, I recently started writing a play and that has brought a feeling of life back to me that I had actually forgotten was possible. I love the theatre; I recently got to see my favorite play again (Sam Mendes’ production of Cabaret) and it sparked me in a way nothing has in a while.

What would you like people who don’t have any understanding of what you went through to know?

Domestic violence is incredibly complex. Nobody expects it, and facing it is harder than you will ever imagine. Leaving your abuser means facing what happened to you. It means potentially developing PTSD, which you only get once the trauma ends. There are often other factors as well. Don’t judge people for staying, and if you know someone who is being abused, don’t try to shame or guilt her into leaving because it will have the opposite effect. Negative reinforcement does not work; she’s already getting that from her abuser.
 
As for PTSD: it never goes away. Never. It can be treated; symptoms can be reduced, but it will never be cured. A person who has PTSD will always be traumatized so please don’t tell or expect her to “get over it.” If you “detox” someone for being negative due to PTSD, you are committing a cruelty that will harm her more than you will ever know.
 

What advice would you give to someone in the same situation?

If you are being abused, you need to first leave. As scary a prospect as it is, it really is the best and most important thing.
There is an app called “Aspire News” that disguises as a regular news site but has DV resources: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.collectiveray.aspire&hl=en You can also call 211 or visit their website to find local shelters and resources if you are in the United States.  211.org  If you follow @PixelProject on Twitter (or just check out their page) they tweet worldwide DV and sexual assault survivor resources every day. You can also tell your doctor and he or she should be able to help you.
It is scary as hell- there’s no doubt about that. But you cannot start healing until you leave.
Once you have left, you need to reach out for support. Professional support, like therapy, but also the support of family and friends. Even if you’ve been estranged due to abuse, if you explain what was happening, there are people who will help. If you truly have no one, then please go to a peer support group and therapy.
I wrote a guest post about self-care specifically targeted for abuse survivors, which you can read here: https://www.makeit218.com/blog/2017/4/26/8-self-care-techniques-to-heal-after-abuse. It is really, really important that you get professional AND personal support. PTSD develops when a person experiences trauma and does not get enough support afterward. You can prevent it by accessing support. If you do get it, aversion to therapy is a symptom- but fight it. Fight it and go to therapy because symptomatic remission is possible. 
 

About the guest blogger

How I Survived Domestic AbuseElizabeth Brico is a freelance writer, playwright, poet, blogger, and DV survivor who writes about living and parenting with PTSD on her blog Betty’s Battleground. She hosts a mental health link library on her blog, which opens for new links with a new theme biweekly, so if check out “Off-Fridays” if you write about topics related to mental health and mental illness. When she’s not actively momming or blogging, Elizabeth can usually be found writing, reading, or watching speculative fiction. You can follow her on Twitter: @bettymama206 and Facebook: facebook.com/bettysbattleground

Ask Me Anything Series: Creating a Family Using Donor Eggs

Ask Me Anything is a collaborative series featuring individuals and families that are facing challenges or are unique in some way. People can ask them anything they’d like to know about their story as long as it’s respectful.

The goal of this series is for people to gain a better understanding of those in unique situations. Open communication is key to understanding one another. If you would like to be featured in a future post, email me at caitlin@realmomrecs.com.

Other topics in this series include: Postpartum Depression and Transracial Adoption

This post was written by guest blogger Joanne W.

Ask Me Anything Series: My decision to use donor eggs

Our Children Were Conceived with Donor Eggs

After 10 years of trying and 5 failed IVF cycles, this was our option.

My husband and I started attempting pregnancy when I was 29 and he 31.  One year after our wedding.  Not old by my standards.  My mother had 9 kids naturally, with her last at 42, and my sister had 3, so I assumed my fertility would turn on when I decided.

I had been on birth control pills for 10 years due to severe menstrual cramps.  They allowed me to carry on a normal life.  It had been suggested that maybe I had endometriosis, but I never had it tested.  So I went off the pill and we had married sex.  That’s what people do.  Have sex then get pregnant.  This carried on for close to a year when we decided that we should look into why we were not getting pregnant.  I did some basal temperature and ovulation timing stuff.  No go.  It was time to see a specialist.

I was a Labor & Delivery nurse and hubby a physician, so we checked in with a fertility doc we knew.  By this time (life carries on) I was in my early 30’s.  After a thorough evaluation, it was suggested we not waste any more time and go right to In-vitro Fertilization (IVF).  So we did.

Our Attempts at IVF

IVF is a complex medical experiment.  They tell you up front that they cannot guarantee anything because there are so many factors that go into successful pregnancy and birth.  They can give you best-case statistics and you go from there.  Being a nurse, I felt ready and willing to do this to start a family.  My husband was right at my side.

This is not a story about IVF, so I will give the shortened version of that.  Tests, shots, appointments, needles, IV sedation, and more shots.  Over a 6 week period.  All to get many eggs out of my ovaries—called an egg retrieval.

The goal is to mix his sperm with my harvested eggs, get fertilized in a petri dish, and transferred back into my uterus a few days later.  Once this is done everyone waits 2 weeks to see if pregnancy is achieved.  For us, no go.  So we hopped right back on that horse and tried IVF #2.  Cycle, rinse, and repeat.  Again, got eggs, got sperm, but no pregnancy.

At this point we felt we should seek a second opinion.  We did our research and transferred to a new office.  IVF #3, got eggs, got sperm, no pregnancy (it should be noted: When we showed up for this embryo transfer, all the power blew out in the building when we walked in the door.  A superstitious person would take this as a sign from the universe, but we snubbed our noses at the universe and waited for the power to go back on).

With 3 failed IVF attempts, we got off the horse, caught our breaths, and life carried on.  We found a 3rd doctor, highly rated, right in our backyard.  So we started again.

Seeking Answers

We put our trust in this doctor because we had to.  He wanted a full, complete workup redone.  So I did it.  He found a few things that turned up that could cause infertility, but were not absolute reasons for it.  1) A mild uterine septum and endometriosis, which I had surgically corrected.  2) MTHFR, which is a genetic marker that could raise your risk for blood clots.  So I took blood thinners.

No one could find a true reason why I couldn’t get pregnant, but he offered a treatment of these findings to give it the best shot.  IVF #4 proceeded as expected, but no eggs.  No eggs means no pregnancy.  “Let’s do this again,” we said.  So IVF #5 proceeded.  Got eggs, got sperm, no pregnancy.

infertility disappointment

By this time I threw up my hands, said enough is enough.  We gave it a good college try.  Time to move on in life.  And we took a break.  We looked into adoption, but never felt like it was the right choice for us.  So we carried on.

Deciding to Use Donor Eggs

For some reason we decided, when I was 37 or 38, to go back to our 3rd doctor and find out our other options.  He kindly told us at this point donor eggs were our best bet for conception.  So donor eggs it will be.

We embarked on a journey of obtaining eggs from another human being, and what a journey it was.  My doctor’s office pointed us in the direction of an outside agency that coordinates these things.  Here’s how it worked for us:

–Private agencies form to connect egg donors or surrogates with egg wanters.  You are usually directed to one of these agencies through a fertility clinic.  People who have some sort of healthcare or fertility background usually start donor agencies, but there are no legal standards for opening one.  It is essentially a dating service for eggs (or surrogates).

Choosing the Donor

As an egg recipient we are given a password to log into a database of faces and profiles to try to pick an egg donor that most resembles you or your family.  “Someone that looks like they’d fit in the family photo,” we were told.  You see pictures and stats (height, weight, age, education; medical, social, psych. and family history).

If you think scrolling on Pinterest is time consuming, try finding the person whom you would like to get genetic material from. 

Once you find said person, then you have to find out if they are available.  Not always the case.

We found out that a young woman (18-24) can register to donate, have her photo and stats put up, and wait to see if they are contacted.  When you pick someone from a database, they may have submitted it 3 or 4 years ago.  As we found out, that 21 year old is now 24 and in graduate school, or touring Asia for 5 months.  It means that not every donor is available on your timetable.  The egg donor has to do an IVF cycle to produce eggs for retrieval.  This requires time and travel.  Some donors are not readily available.

Failed Donor Attempts

So we picked one, who we liked, who was available.  “YEAH, this is going to happen” we thought.  Legal paperwork signed, appointments set.  She never showed up.  The nurse from our doctor’s office called and said,  “this does not usually happen”.  We had already paid some $7000 to the donor agency.  They said pick again.

So again, we picked someone.  At this point it was less about picking someone that looked like me and more like someone my husband would pick if he were dating.  You come to these terms because once you commit to having kids with donor eggs you make decisions you never thought you would.

Our second donor was available, willing, and ready.  Contracts signed, appointments set, plans made.  About 3 weeks into the 6-week IVF cycle, I get a call, again, from the nurse.  Turns out this donor had donated through another agency in the area and upon having a workup was found to not be a successful candidate.  This was not known until some medical stuff was being worked up.  So, again, we were let down.

The agency apologized up and down, repeating that this does not usually happen.  They screened so well they don’t know what happened.  We asked for all our money back and they agreed.

Now, most people would take this as a sign from the universe to abandon this idea and move on.  But my husband wanted to be a father and I wanted to create our family, so we kept going.

Finding a Donor Match

We found a new agency, picked a new donor.  She was ready, willing, and available.  We found out that she had donated before and was successful.  In our state (IL) each agency is supposed to limit how many times a donor is used to reduce the genetic redundancy in the population.  It’s something like 5-6 times in a 50 mile radius.  Some mathematical probability thing.  But we knew she had success so we saw that as a positive.  (I know there are other people out in the world with the same genetic line, but I don’t have a problem with it.  It doesn’t cross my mind unless I think long and hard about it).  Appointments were made, legal papers signed, and again, we tried.

Legal requirements: 

  • Each party (egg donor, egg recipient) needs their own legal representation.  We were provided a list of attorneys in the area who specialize in reproductive law.  It is a real specialty and we are grateful there are those who made it a specialty.
  • In my state (IL) we have some pretty strong laws protecting both parties.  Eggs are considered property.  The donor is trading her genetic material for an agreed upon price.  The contract usually prohibits either party from seeking out the other party for any reason.  If some major medical finding is discovered that has consequences for either party, the lawyers act as the go-between.
  • The person, or couple, receiving the eggs is called “the intended parents”.  Intended parents pay for both legal sides and all medical care for the donor.
  • Before going through with a final donor cycle, each intended parent couple must have an evaluation with a licensed psychologist who specializes in reproductive issues.

During this evaluation we learned that it is in everyone’s best interest (kids, family, etc.) to know how the children were conceived.  We knew we did not want this to be a secret.  We know we wanted it to be an early discussion, as part of the fabric of our children’s lives.  The psychologist was able to assist us with finding children’s books that address them being conceived from donor eggs.  Also, our fertility doctor told us he has never had a client who regretted using donor eggs.  They are your kids.

Finally, success!

On our first attempt using donor eggs, we obtained 6 fertilized eggs.  2 were transferred into me and 4 were frozen.   We chose to have 2 placed to increase my chances of having a child.  Our doctor had to take my health and age into consideration when agreeing to the possibility of twins.  I am tall and healthy, so twins it was.

Positive pregnancy donor eggs

Using donor eggs allowed me to conceive a pregnancy on our first attempt.  I carried a healthy twin pregnancy up to 36 weeks, when I was 39 years old.  I had no problems and our twins were born healthy.  This showed me that with enough medication my body could do pregnancy.  I have no answer as to why my own eggs prevented it.

Genetic similarity between our children and their donor

When someone has a baby it is very natural to look for familiar features in her face.  Whose eyes does she have, a nose like Grandma, etc.  I knew I wouldn’t see my traits so I didn’t look for them.  And it didn’t bother me at all.  I’ve never expected to have children with my features.  I am pale white and my husband is African-American.  I knew any children I had, with my own eggs or someone else’s, would inherit beautiful tan skin and some version of dark and curly hair.  We just hoped they would be tall, since we are both tall.  The donor we picked is my height.

We have a folder containing numerous photos of our egg donor.  From her birth to adulthood.  Pictures of her parents and siblings.  A few times in the early months and years I would pull this file and look for something.  Maybe my brain couldn’t see it, but I cannot see any resemblance between my children and the egg donor.  We see traits of my husband.  We’ll see how they grow and if this changes.

A second successful pregnancy

When our twins were about a year old we decided to add to our family, and get pregnant again.  Because we were 40 and 42 we didn’t feel we had much time to wait.  We went back to the doctor and requested one embryo to be transferred.  He cautioned us that this next attempt would use a previously frozen embryo and would have a lower success rate.  But much like previously frozen chicken, there was not much difference.  I took my meds, embryo placed, and I carried a healthy pregnancy to 41 weeks.  I was 41 years old.  Our 3rd child is happy and healthy.

Having twins was/is a wild adventure.  And having 3 kids in 2 years is a game changer.  That is another discussion for another day.

I successfully conceived and carried 3 children using donor eggs.  In hindsight, I wish we had gone this route 8 years earlier, after 2 failed IVF cycles.  I feel we wasted too much time “trying” with my eggs.  You don’t know what you’re in until you’re out of it.  No one could make that decision for us.

Explaining their conception

In the future I plan on sharing our story with our children.  They are currently 5,5,& 3.  We have already started reading the children’s books about egg donation so it is a normal idea.  I will show them pictures of the donor, if they want to see them.  Because their genetic line is affected I want to be completely open and honest with my daughters.  This will have implications when/if they decide to have children.

Can a child ever find their donor?

We were told that there are websites that donors and kids conceived with donor eggs can try to link up.  The legal parties do not endorse this.  This is for those who are curious.   One party would put in “I am donor #123 from X agency who donated at this time”.  The recipients could put in “I was conceived at this time with donor #123 from X agency”.  If both parties want to meet it’s on them.  I don’t know that I would encourage my kids to do this when they are older.  But each of them will have their own needs on this in the future (think “The Kids are All Right”).

Special considerations about fertility treatments

  • Expense:

Fertility treatments and using donor eggs is VERY expensive.  Even if you have good insurance, fees paid to the donor, agency, lawyers, etc. is all out of pocket.  DO NOT bankrupt yourself to have kids.  We had wonderful financial resources through insurance and personal funds.  We were able to shell out $20,000 + in cash.  Going broke to have kids will put you in a very difficult financial place.  It would be hard to get out of it.  And having kids is hugely expensive.  I do not recommend borrowing from your 401 (k) or anything like that.

  • Time and energy:

I had a part-time job with flexible hours.  My husband had a job with flexible shift work, so I was able to fit this in my life.  Also, I had no children, so I had a lot of free time.   Each cycle takes a lot of planning and coordinating of schedules.  Fertility clinics try to work with working couples to fit their schedules.

  • Unused embryos:

Going into this process, my husband and I did not have a set # of children we wanted.  We went in just to get pregnant.  Once we had our twins I thought I couldn’t do that again.  The workload and sleep deprivation pummeled us.  But I knew I did not want to make a final decision while I was tired.  And then we decided to have another child.

Again, big workload and sleep deprivation, but I did not want to make any final decision while I was tired.  In fact, after my 3rd I decided I wanted to go back and finish with 3 more kids.  To use up all the embryos we have.  I am one of 9 kids, so I decided that we could create the fun and loving family that I grew up in.  My husband did not share my enthusiasm.

The emotional impact of having unused embryos

My parents had 9 kids over 22 years.  We would be trying 6 kids in 6 years.  You cannot have more kids with someone who does not want more.  This hurts my heart, but I know I cannot do that to him or our family.  So, we still have 3 embryos in storage waiting to be dispositioned.  We pay $500 a year to keep them stored.  To me it feels like having someone in a stable coma with no chance of survival.  It’s just up to us to sign the paperwork.  We, or I, am putting this off until I am emotionally ready to accept this position.

If you have a problem deciding what to do with left over embryos, do not do this.  You do not know how you will decide because you do not know what you will get.  What if you have 3 embryos?  Can you manage 3 kids?  What if you have 23 embryos?  Then what?  You have to be prepared to make these hard decisions.  Nothing prepares you for this.  I was raised Catholic but maintain a pro-choice position.

A choice of love

Ask Me Anything: Creating a Family Using donor eggs

Choosing to start a family using donor eggs is a wide-open adventure.  But is also a choice of love.  I was willing and able to use donor eggs because I love my husband and wanted to give him children and build a family with him.

I want my children to know that each one of them was very intentionally produced.  No accidents here.  They were planned, sought out, and worked for.  We have our family on purpose.  Only time will tell how my children will react to this truth.  I believe it will change as they age.  We will answer their questions as best we can.  I want them to know we did this with good intentions, based in love.

guest poster donor eggs

Joanne is a professional registered nurse, wife to hubby of 17 years, mother to 3 pre-schoolers and a dog. When she is not running the household she likes to sleep (undisturbed), read, drink coffee, and converse with adults.  
She is trying to intentionally live a life of clean eating and clean living.  She exercises regularly and tries to figure out what’s for dinner each night.  Her greatest asset is kindness.
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Thank you to the following bloggers who contributed questions to this post:

Ask Me Anything Series: Postpartum Depression

Ask Me Anything is a collaborative series featuring individuals and families that are facing challenges or are unique in some way. People can ask them anything they’d like to know about their story as long as it’s respectful.

The goal of this series is for people to gain a better understanding of those in unique situations. Open communication is key to understanding one another. If you would like to be featured in a future post, email me at caitlin@realmomrecs.com.

This post was written by guest blogger Jenn R. of This Mommy Is Real.

Ask Me Anything: Postpartum Depression and Anxiety

When did you realize you had PPD? Did you seek help right away?

Around the third week post birth I realized something was not right.  I had a difficult and unexpected birth process, and I suffered from insomnia and anxiety right after.  I felt really out of it and not connected to anyone or anything. I didn’t feel any motherly bonding or blissful moments. In my mind, my son was a baby, but not MY baby. While I provided care for him like every mother should, I felt like a shell or a robot doing a job.

My mind would not rest. I was constantly worried and scared.  In the third week, I experienced a very debilitating panic attack in the middle of the night. The next morning, I realized that something was very wrong and that I needed help.  I started calling the local urgent care office, but eventually spoke with an online psychologist the same day.

Can you share with us the signs or symptoms of PPD so new moms can recognize it better?

PPD and PPA can happen to experienced and first time moms. It’s not guaranteed that a mother will experience it with each birth. PPD and PPA are different from the “baby blues”, which are temporary and fade within a few weeks or so.

Some signs may include:

  • Excessive crying
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Irritability, anxiety or feeling overwhelmed
  • Insomnia or eating problems
  • A feeling that something isn’t right
What was it like parenting with PPD? 

Truthfully, to this day, I can’t remember all of it because I was constantly in a fog. I do remember that it was very difficult. My thoughts and feelings consistently affected my ability to function normally. I am a first time parent, so I was already struggling with childcare skills. PPD/PPA didn’t make it any better.

The lack of sleep and constant struggle with breastfeeding made it worse. Because I was anxious, I felt like my son could sense it when he nursed.   I felt like a complete failure. I was nothing like the person I used to be, and I could not recognize the person I had turned into. I was no longer confident. Instead, I was a fearful person who constantly suffered. I cried constantly.  Certain thoughts were always running through my mind:

  • I am a failure at motherhood.
  • My poor child is going to suffer because I am a bad mom.
  • I can’t do this. Please don’t leave me alone with this baby.
  • I am so scared. What if I hurt him?
How do you think your mental state affected your child?

A lot of mothers worry what affect PPD / PPA has on their children. The only issue I saw was when we were nursing.  I’m sure that my anxiety and lack of sleep affected the feedings and his ability to be comfortable. However, aside from this, the good news is that as babies, they are too young to commit this period to memory. As long as their needs are being met, and they are not neglected, they are unaffected. My son is proof positive. He is known as the “super happy baby” out of the baby groups. He smiles all the time, and is hardly cranky.

What was the most frustrating thing that people would say to you during that time? 

It was really difficult when people called it a “phase” or “just the baby blues”.  I know they meant well, but this is the time when the mother is so vulnerable, so statements like that feel dismissive.  Sometimes it seemed as if what I felt was not important or trivial.

It was also really difficult to see other mothers (both in person and on social media) have seemingly perfect experiences. I definitely didn’t feel that way, so seeing that made me feel worse and alone.

What was your response to that?

In the beginning, I would remain silent, or I would start crying without explanation.  I had no idea how to process my feelings and deal with their intentions at the same time. However, as I slowly began to cope and recover, I learned to be my own advocate. Because it has made such a significant impact on my well-being and my role as a mother, I started to share what I was really feeling and how it was affecting me.  I became more assertive and open which actually shocked people because they don’t necessarily understand PPD/PPA and its effect on mothers.

Did you use any medication to help battle your depression? Was it effective?

In beginning, I did not. I was very anti-medication because I was afraid of effects on my son (research shows little to none depending on the medicine). I attempted non-medicinal strategies for a couple months.

Eventually I decided to include medication in my recovery because I felt as if my recovery was stifled.  My body rejected the first medication. After a few weeks, I switched to the medication that I am on today. I haven’t had any side effects, and I feel as if a fog has been lifted. While I still have my moments, I am able to recognize them and deal before they overtake me. I am in a better mindset to utilize my coping skills. There is a new clarity, and I think it has given me the opportunity to take more initiative in my recovery.

What strategy was most effective to overcome your PPD?

I don’t think there is just one catch-all strategy for overcoming PPD and PPA.  For me, it was a combination of the following:

  • Having a strong support network (friends, family),
  • Consistently attending and participating in a PPD/PPA Support Group
  • Undergoing Therapy with a Psychologist that specializes in Women’s Issues
  • Seeking the assistance of a Psychiatrist that specializes in Maternal Mental Health –  she was in charge of reviewing my medication requirements

There is one thing that I did on my own which I felt was instrumental in my recovery: I challenged myself to avoid isolation at all costs.

Isolation has a profound effect on the intensity of PPD/PPA. Thus, it is important to take the steps to talk to trusted friends, family and mental health professionals. It’s important to take yourself out of physical isolation as well – having some freedom and a change of environment will help. Once you put yourself out there, it becomes easier to talk about the situation; it helps you become more receptive to care and coping strategies. You feel less trapped or stuck in time.

What advice would you have for new moms who think they might have PPD?

If you suspect that you might have PPD or PPA, don’t feel ashamed to speak up. Your OB should provide you with a simple post birth questionnaire. It asks you about your feelings and well-being. A certain score indicates that you might be suffering. You shouldn’t feel bad if that’s the score you get. It means you will be getting the help you need!

Don’t be afraid to seek help. Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself. You’re doing this for both your well-being and that of your child. Remember, you are NOT alone and this is common.  These moments are all but temporary, and you will find yourself again.   PPD and PPD ARE treatable and there resources out there to help mothers like us.

Jenn R lives in California with her husband, dog and young son. She began blogging this year to help herself and others recover from Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. When she’s not in the blogging world, she works full time the import / export industry and sells on the Poshmark platform as a hobby. You can read more about Jenn at thismommyisreal.com.
Thanks to the wonderful bloggers who contributed questions to this post:

Ask Me Anything: Transracial Adoption

Ask Me Anything is a collaborative series I’ll be running featuring individuals and families that are facing challenges or are unique in some way. People can ask them anything they’d like to know about their story as long as it’s respectful.

The goal of this series is for people to gain a better understanding of those in unique situations. Open communication is key to understanding one another. If you would like to be featured in a future post, email me at caitlin@realmomrecs.com.

Ask Me Anything: A Transracial Adoptive Family

Having a family that doesn’t “match” means we attract attention wherever we go. Even living in a diverse area, we still stand out in a crowd.

We get a lot of questions and comments when we’re out in public. I’m happy to say that the vast majority are positive.  The number one comment I get is, “you have a beautiful family”. Sometimes I feel like this code for “I’m noticing that your family is different”, but I’ll take the compliment.

Other comments are not so friendly. People have asked prying questions or made assumptions about my kids’ birth parents. Strangers ask me if any of them are my “real” kids (HINT: they are all very much real).

My goal is to openly discuss transracial adoption so people will be more familiar with our situation and other families that look like ours. Following are questions from other bloggers who are familiar with my family but don’t know us in real life.

Meghna Dixit of Love, Life & the little one asks, “What are your thoughts on adoption? When do you know that you are ready to adopt?”

Everyone’s journey is different, but for me, adoption is something I’ve always wanted to do.  I’m not sure where the desire came from but it has been on my mind since I was a young teen. Fortunately for me, my husband was open to the idea. It wasn’t a plan that he would have come up with on his own, but we talked about it prior to getting married and he had a lot of time to think it over.

We decided together that we would adopt first, before attempting to have biological children. It was also important to us that we pursue adoption for kids that were in need of a family, which is why we chose to adopt from foster care vs. domestic infant adoption.  We were not interested in marketing ourselves to birth mothers and being “in competition” with lots of other couples who wanted to adopt.

To us, the purpose of adoption is to find families for children, not find a child for the family.

June 2010: Our first trip as a family of 4
Kayla Nigro of Adventures of a Young Mother asks, “What was the process to get your two children? How long did it take? Was it stressful?

Because of the route we chose to pursue, the process for us was very quick. First we had to become licensed foster parents, which took a few months. The home study was a little stressful, but being a social worker myself I had a good sense of what they were looking for and didn’t go too crazy alphabetizing my canned goods or anything.

Mostly they just want to ensure your home is safe and you have a clean background check.

We had to have a room prepared for the child in advance which was a little strange. I think at this stage in the game our friends and family started to think we were crazy. Having never tried to get pregnant and having been married for less than a year, we were collecting any and all baby/toddler items we might need for whatever child we could be placed with. Some people were supportive from the get-go and others tried to talk us out of it. Not having the same support as we had with our biological children is something that still bothers me to this day. On the other hand, there were people that were kind and helpful at this stage and I’m very grateful for them.

Adopting from foster care means that there is a good chance you will have some foster placements that end up being reunified with their birth parents or going to relatives instead of becoming available for adoption. This did in fact happen with our first foster baby. While it was extremely difficult for us to care for a child and then see him go, we had faith in the process and believed he was going where he needed to be. That whole situation validated our reason for wanting to adopt prior to having bio kids: we knew that we could endure having a child leave, but we didn’t want any children of ours to have to endure saying goodbye to a child that had been ours for however long.

As it turns out, we didn’t have much time to wallow in our grief after saying goodbye to our first foster child.  Less than four hours after he left, we were called for Tiana and Zari.

John with Tiana and Zari
Inez Bayardo of For the Love of Mom asks, “I’m sure there have been times when you feel a question is inappropriate or going too far. How do you handle these types of questions?”

Being an adoptive mom has forced me to learn how to be assertive. While the majority of comments I get are positive, I have been asked some that are nosy, strange, or outright rude.

I could write an entire post about the crazy things I’ve been asked, but for the sake of brevity I will just name a few that stand out in my mind:

Where did you get him? Asked completely out of the blue while grocery shopping with Zari when he was a baby.

How much did they cost? This was asked directly in front of my children who were both old enough to understand at the time.

What was their mom, a crack whore? Yes, someone asked this exact question. I wish I could say I had a witty response but I literally just stood there speechless.

Why didn’t their parents want them? I’m not going to discuss their birth parents and the reasons they are not able to parent.

Do they have the same father? Of course they do, my husband is the father of both of them! If you’re asking about their birth father, why on earth does that matter to you?

Personally I find it difficult to get snarky with people even when it’s warranted. Usually a blank stare accompanied by silence is enough to make the person think twice about what they just asked.

An early pic of me with Zari

When I’m by myself, questions don’t bother me as much. I feel like it’s something that goes with the territory of being a conspicuous family. I made the choice to have this family so I need to accept what comes with it. The questions that really bother me are when they are offensive and asked in front of my children. They didn’t sign up for this and they don’t appreciate being singled out or made to feel different.

I also make a distinction between questions asked out of nosiness vs. people genuinely interested in adoption. I’m happy to engage in a conversation with someone who opens with “I’m interested in adopting, would you be willing to answer some questions for me?” I still won’t disclose personal details that are part of my children’s story, but I will gladly talk about the adoption process in general.

Claire Lyons of The Frugal Family asks, “Do you find kids more tolerant than adults? How have your kids found school etc?”

I have absolutely found kids to be more tolerant than adults. In almost all cases, children accept our family on first glance without hesitation. In most cases they don’t even seem to notice anything different about us.

As the kids have gotten older (they are 7 and 8 now), they occasionally get questions from their peers. Their responses to these questions are as different as their personalities. Zari, always carefree, takes things at face value.

A classmate of his once saw me pick him up from school and was confused. She asked him, “why is your Mom white?” Zari looked over at me as if to verify that I was in fact what she said I was. Then he shrugged, and replied, “she was just born that way.”

Tiana on the other hand is much more aware and concerned about what others think. It’s important to her to fit in and she becomes embarrassed when people ask her about her family.

Liz Farris of It’s a Twinkie Life asks, “how did your bio kids handle the adoption process? And if they came after, how did your adopted kids handle the bio kids? Is there competition? How do they get along?”

Zari and Tiana were 3 and 4 when our first bio child, Elle, was born. They reacted as any child does when they get a new sibling. They loved the baby and also had typical sibling jealousy. This was especially true for Zari, as he was the one being “de-throned” from his place as the baby of the family.

Happy kids with their new baby sister

When our fourth child, Luca, came along, I noticed a slightly different reaction. By then they were 6 and 7 and had more questions about pregnancy and where babies come from. This sparked some thoughts about themselves and their birth parents. Tiana especially started asking things like, “why did she have a baby if she couldn’t take care of one?” I tried to field her questions honestly but with as much detail as she could handle and understand at her age.

Proudly holding their new baby brother

All four of my children behave like regular siblings. They have a normal amount of unconditional love for one another and a normal amount of sibling rivalry. Some combinations of kids get along better than others, but it seems to have more to do with personality type than genetic connection.

Just to verify my answer I asked Zari how he feels about his two sisters. He said “I love them both the same, and they annoy me both the same.” (You can always count on a straight answer from Zari!)

As for Tiana, she also loves all her siblings the same but I also know it means a lot to her that we have Zari. She is more sensitive to looking “different” and it is helpful for her to have someone in the family that looks like her. I’ve also spoken to adult adoptees who say it was difficult growing up without knowing anyone who is biologically related to them. I think this would be an issue for Tiana based on her personality, so I’m glad she has Zari.

Natasha Brown of Grits and Grace asks, “what has been the toughest part for you and your husband raising black children?
Learning to do T’s hair took some practice.

When the kids were first placed with us, I didn’t give much thought to the idea of raising black children. I figured I would need to learn some basics in haircare, but other than that all children need the same things, right?

Well, sort of.

With time I’ve come to realize that there is more to it than food, shelter, and love. Are my husband and I equipped to raise black adults in our society? The honest answer is, probably not. We can teach them what we want them to know (and we’ve already started), but we have not lived the reality that they are living being black individuals in the U.S.

Preparing them for adulthood is a huge responsibility that is not lost on us.

I started giving a lot more thought to this topic when Trayvon Martin was killed. When I saw his cute, boyish face all over the news, I watched in horror. I started to think about my cute little boy and how people would see him when he is a tall, strong, young black man. Could he be shot walking home in our neighborhood? The thought terrifies me.

John and I know that we are raising our kids with a certain amount of privilege. As young children, Tiana and Zari are afforded some basic white privilege by having white parents. We also know that this is temporary.

Once my children are grown and they go out in public without us, the world won’t see what school they went to or what house they grew up in. They will simply be seen as black. People will make judgments and assumptions about them. I’m sure it will be harsh and my kids will likely be unprepared for that.

We have began teaching them basic things like how to act around the police and how to conduct themselves in public. Sadly, I have already had to explain to my son that he needs to control his emotions because if he gets angry, people will be afraid. These conversations are difficult but I know they are necessary.

John and I also know we can only teach them so much.  They will also need some black role models and mentors to help. Transracial adoption doesn’t work without help. It isn’t for everyone and it certainly isn’t easy, but transracial adoption has been a wonderful blessing for our family.

One lucky family
Want to see more posts about transracial adoption? What other questions do you have? Leave a comment!