Saturday, May 07, 2011

Mother's Day Honesty

This Mother's Day weekend I'm contemplating the good, the bad, and the ugly of Choice Motherhood.

Let's start with the ugly.

Some of us are struggling to become mothers. Some of us are struggling after motherhood. Financially, emotionally, physically, logistically. This is not an easy journey.

I know Choice Moms with strong salaries and secure jobs, who are extremely stressed trying to juggle work obligations while also being the mother they want to be. And, of course, I know Choice Moms who have lost jobs, whose bank accounts are strained, who are dealing with taxing health issues.

This is not an easy job to do alone. Keep reading the "support network" keyword posts on for insight. Every one of us have bad days....months....stages.

In my case, I am now working two jobs (since this Choice Moms work doesn't pay much!). Maintaining balance has been difficult, even as I rejoice in being able to pay off credit card bills.

The Bad
As my kids curled up with me in bed to watch a Netflix movie together -- and I thought about the fact that I haven't talked to my own parents for two weeks -- I realized with a major thud how short-lived this parenting chapter is for our kids.

Every day they march step by step to the door. Gad, my nearly 12-year-old daughter has even now told me my penchant for Aerosmith and Blind Melon and Jimi Hendrix is "old" and she takes her musical influences from friends, not Mom. Ahh. Shook me to the core. Her Hip Rock 'n Roll Mom is already Square!

Think about how eager we were to spread our wings at age 18. How birthday celebrations stopped being something we shared with parents. So many holidays I spent with friends in New York City while my family was in Minnesota.

Because I am the age that I am now, though with much younger children than most of my contemporaries, I see how they are attempting to refashion their lives After Kids. And I remember a friend telling me how sadly my dad reported to him long ago: that after I left for college I never came back home again. (Interestingly, the summer after my daughter was born I DID come home again; spent three months with them while on maternity leave, and we've been closer again now than we were for about 20 years pre-kids.)

The Good
And this is where the Good comes in. The yin and yang of Motherhood. However long the struggle. However much the stress. When we focus on becoming and being a parent, we are opening up a doorway that will forever change the arc of our life.

Whether we conceive with IUI or IVF...whether we find a fellow Choice Mom friend to share embryo donation with...whether we adopt, or use a known donor, or a donor egg...this process of becoming Something More Than We Are Alone is to be cherished.

Whether you are currently a Mom, or preparing to be one in the future, take time this Mother's Day to honor yourself. You are on a sacred path.

Happy Mother's Day!

-- Mikki

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Do your children know who you are?

Before you start feeling guilty about the images you didn't put into scrapbooks about your kids this winter, I want to give you a fresh new project to think about.

For Mother's Day this year, I'm preparing a photo book about ME to give my kids.

Before they came into our lives, we dreamed about what kind of mother we wanted to be -- what kind of child we might have. Then our child was HERE and we love them and nurture them and pick up after them and earn money to feed them and clothe them and we warn them about dangers like stairs, sockets, sharp things and strangers.

In an instant, it seems, the philosophy of parenting -- what is the wisdom I want to share with you, my beloved child? -- slips further away as we concentrate on the day to day.

This year, however, I'm digging out my old notebooks, kept in the years leading up to Motherhood for me, and the photos of me from my 20s and 30s looking bright and thin and adventurous. And I'm compiling them in a Shutterfly memory book that is all about their Mom, the kind of life I led before they came into my life...and what I hope for THEIR bright future.

Making it easier, I found a list I had made, just post-divorce in my early 30s, titled "What do I know?", written six years before I became a Mom. It includes nuggets like:
• I don't like people who don't respect and accept individual choice
• I love music and I love to dance
• I admire calmness, wit, confidence, intelligence and grace
• I don't like the spotlight but do insist that I stand apart from the norm
• I have confidence I will land on my feet eventually, whatever the situation

One of my notebooks contains lengthy journal entries from trips I took in Eastern Europe, Madagascar and Australia. Others are notes for novels I have nursed.

I also -- from a time when I was especially finding my way to a new stage of life -- have quotes that will very much be part of my special Mother's Day book to my children. Such as:

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage" -- Anais Nin

"I learn by going where I have to go." -- Theodore Roethke

"True life is lived when tiny changes occur." -- Leo Tolstoy

"Discovering in every man that which distinguishes him from others is to know him." -- Hermann Hesse

"Develop interest in life as you see it, in people, things, literature, music -- the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls, and interesting people. Forget yourself." -- Henry Miller

I will pick a few images and photos to make my own personalized Mother's Day card from me to them. And I will even make a special thank you card to my own mother this year, for helping me become the kind of Mother I am.

What insights do YOU want your children to know from you?
For this Mother's Day, write it down.
Even if your children aren't here yet, or are well gone.

-- Mikki
P.S. If you blog, Shutterfly is offering 50 free cards for people who mention their special photobook and announcement projects. Click here.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Special resources for the Choice Mom community

As we develop more (largely FREE!) e-books and other special guides for the Choice Mom community, I thought this would be a good place to list everything so far available. This list will grow, so keep checking back.

Choice Mom Guide to Donor Sperm
The 28-page guidebook offers Q&A about key sperm bank policies... suggestions on how to make contact with donor families... resources for talking to your child... explanations about washed v. unwashed and more... expert insight on genetic testing... and a checklist of questions to ask your sperm bank.

Do I Have a Dad? CD tracks
This special 50-minute audio compilation features interviews with four experts (including two therapists from the Bay Area) about talking to our children about "daddies" and donors. It includes conversations with six Choice Moms about the kinds of questions and concerns they face as their children start using the daddy term or connect with their known donors. And it includes the insight of an anonymous donor who has had contact with grown offspring.

Choice Moms Guide to Fertility
Excerpt, from Choice Mom Cathi: "I never knew what a dolt I was about female fertility until I tried to understand my own. I wish it was as easy as coping with a bad golf game or quitting smoking. Practice doesn't help, and there are no tasty spearmint Bun-in-the-Oven gums to chew. No, there are long uncomfortable minutes with your toes in the air (I seem to recall that some don't conceive this way, but I'm having trouble remembering the concept). I tried ovulation test strips. These are great because I never get tired of peeing on things, especially my own hands."

Choice Mom Guide to Adoption
A 100-page compilation of expert insights and personal Choice Mom stories about the myths and realities of: building transracial families, negotiating open relationships with birth parents, the cost and accessibility of adoption to single women, bonding with your adopted child, parenting over 40, foster care options, and much more.

Choice Chat podcasts
With more than 34,000 downloads, these popular conversations cover everything from negotiating with a known donor, to everything you might want to know about at-home insemination, to profiles of women on the Choice Mom journey.

Choice of Choice Moms: 2010
Our top tips featured on in 2010, featuring everything from Organization to Building a Support Network, Q&A to Commentary.

Top 10 Choice Mom Profiles: 2010
A compilation of some of the best personal stories shared on in 2010.

Voices of Donor Conception
Whether you are married or single, understanding the ramifications of using donor gametes can be scary. Here are unique perspectives shared from donor-conceived offspring, an anonymous donor, and the co-founder of Donor Sibling Registry.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Conscious Conversations #2

Here it is...the end of the month when we focused on Conscious Conversations, and it took me weeks to get to THIS conversation with you. Isn't that the trickiness of our lives? How to make time for what matters, when the minutia of everyday gets in our way.

My daughter is nearly 12 and we've been having the most fascinating conversations lately. Nothing about the lack of a father in her life -- other than her recent thought that if I had a husband I wouldn't have to work so hard. Nothing about the donor who helped me create her life, someone she knew once upon a time when we all lived in the same city but who she has not been curious about since she was seven.

We've been talking about things like how to pick your friendships. How to engage emotionally with friends, when your natural inclination might be to protect yourself from having them know how you really feel. Politics. Religion. How to make a difference in the world. Whether to sell the house and -- now that I've largely decided NOT to move to a smaller place, why I'm making that decision, based on logic, not simply emotion. Why it's okay to not be perfect. How to avoid being bossy. Career options (she's currently leaning toward forensic anthropology). College options (she's currently leaning toward Cambridge in the U.K.). The fear that overwhelmed us when a classmate she knows was reported missing, from the end of the school day until she finally returned from a friend's at 10pm.

And this is just in the past two months.

What we haven't yet talked about is the time I sat down with a man we've been spending time with, who asked for her weekly help teaching computer skills to the elderly in an adult education class. About how I had to consciously ask him questions to ascertain why he is an unmarried, childless man in his 40s who loves working with kids.

I haven't yet talked to her about what I learned in a PTA-led discussion with a police detective, after a released sexual offender moved a block away from my son's school. Including the fact that statistically the highest prevalence of sexual abuse comes when a single mom gets a boyfriend who becomes entrusted with care when she's gone. Or about my own history with date rape.

These are all big, scary conversations. And as she gets closer every day to the time when she will socialize with adolescent boys, what is her model for how to interact, and protect herself, and focus on becoming true, trusted friends before anything else happens?

What might be of interest to some of you -- especially Thinkers and Moms of young children who are starting to ask questions about "dad" -- is that most of the conscious conversations we have with our children have nothing to do with their origin story.

It's an important conversation to have regularly, of course. But what it all comes down to, really, is that we build the kind of relationship with our kids that enables us to HAVE these deep conversations. It starts with those "simple" origin stories -- why are you here, why did I make our family the way that I did, who matters to us. But then we graduate on, with that openness and honesty as backdrop, to the bigger questions that concern our kids as they get older: who am I, and what do I require from the people I choose to be in my life?

-- Mikki

Monday, March 07, 2011

Conscious Conversations #1

A friend called out of the blue to ask to catch up after months of absence. We talked about how hard it is for him to find interesting women to talk to about non-superficial things, and how he wondered if he’d ever find a partner.

We talked about the new role models I was attempting to add to the lives of my children. He asked, "When are you going to stop finding people who add to your kids’ lives, and start finding people who add to yours?"

Then we parted for what will undoubtedly be another six months before the next catch up.

My friend is 22 years old.

There are always interesting things that come up in my conversations with this young man. This is why we are friends, even though there are more than 20 years of age difference.

As Choice Moms we spend so much time figuring out how to have a child, how to take care of an infant, how to answer questions about our child’s origins to others and to them. Literally years can go by when we hunger for real conversation, perhaps without even knowing it.

My tipsheet for friendships, now that my kids are older and I’ve been able to assess what can get lost:

* Do you have someone to gossip with and/or vent with in semi-regular phone calls, that has little to do with motherhood?
* In an emergency, when you need someone to watch your kids with little or no warning, who do you call?
* Who helps you take life less seriously?
* When the kids are at sleepovers, who do you hang out with?
* If one of your parents dies, whose shoulder do you cry on?
* Who do you talk to deeply about something you are passionate about: politics, education reform, philosophy, literature, science, spirituality?

As I’ve mentioned in other commentaries, I’m learning and growing in my own journey right alongside my children. Motherhood is always transformational. One of the things I’m finally learning to do is rid myself of energy drains and simplify life as much as possible. It feels better.

But my kids are now 7 and nearly 12. The big hurdle coming up is, as my young friend suggested, "when am I going to start focusing on what I need, beyond what my children need?"

How are you doing on that?

Monday, February 28, 2011

The balancing act we all face

One of the hardest things I struggle with is finding balance.

Not so much between keeping work, motherhood and social life juggling at once. I've gotten better at that, interestingly, since I became a mother and realigned my perspective about what is important in life. (In my 20s I was a workaholic, in my 30s I was rediscovering the value of HAVING a social life, now in my 40s I am setting aside as much time as I can for family life.)

What I mean by finding balance is understanding when to persevere....and when to let go.

We hear how we have to "set our intentions" and "make a plan" to have a goal come true.

But especially as I get older, I recognize the value in letting some things happen naturally, and that it is folly to try to force square pegs into round holes. The trick is: how long does it take to recognize when something won't work, no matter how hard you try, or how much you ask the universe? And: when do you have to fight off despair, hopelessness and frustration so you don't give up too easily?

In the Thinking stage, we wonder if we can handle single motherhood, and if we should keep dating. In the Trying stage, we wonder if we will ever have the child we want so desperately, if we are too old to make it happen, if we will pass that home study even without perfection. As Moms, we wish we could see what we are doing with our children today that will have the most impact so we can focus on that: preparing a sane family meal after providing financially and getting them to extracurricular activities while making time for play and extended family and reading and cleanliness and homework and our own mental break is hard to do every day.

Most of us tend to have a lot of stamina, which is how we got to this point in our journey rather than giving up and settling for something less.

How much pushing is too much?
How much hope for a miracle is simply not realistic enough?
How much time can we spend waiting and wishing, before we sit down with ourselves and make a new plan?

No one has answers to these questions. Which is what makes it so hard. There is no formula to achieving what we want.

But I did hear yesterday some sage advice on the subject.

My beloved minister told a story from author Rachel Naomi Remen about the Concorde jet that first flew across the Atlanta. A reporter discovered that computers kept the plane on course, essentially feeding each other readings and making course corrections accordingly. The reporter asked how often the plane was off course. "About 99 percent of the time," was the answer. Yet the plane was also expected to land in its destination within one minute of the scheduled time.

The lesson being that we might deviate greatly, daily -- hourly even -- as we move toward our goal. But as long as we remember where we want to be, it gives us the purpose we need. As Rachel put it: "Serving anything worthwhile is a commitment to a direction over time...It is less a work of the ego than a choice of the soul."

With that in mind, as I hem and haw my way through another week of choices and second-guessing and errors, I can keep front of mind that ultimately I am trying to find balance as a single mom, currently with two jobs, an old house, and a social life that needs work. There is no perfect course to that. I just need to be prepared to keep re-aligning myself whenever I get off direction.

What about you? What are you trying to stay on course to do?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Wish List: The Best Partners

Admittedly I've become pretty oblivious to Valentine's Day. But that doesn't mean I don't have dreams...

In one daydream, I have a fabulous boyfriend who is an electrician, so he can fix the fixtures that need to be replaced.

Last fall, I had an ultimate handyman for awhile. He was diligent and took great pride in his work. But after I mentally counted up hours, then asked for a preliminary bill, it went downhill quickly. He didn't take credit cards, and didn't like the idea of installments. So he stopped showing up, leaving many projects undone before I wanted to get the house on the market. Ah, financial woes drove us apart.

My daughter recently uncovered an essay I wrote years ago, after a backpacking trip through Europe, where a male friend and I -- to pass the time -- discussed what was on my ultimate wish list for a partner. My daughter was amused, and slightly appalled, at what I had written. It was a pretty tall list. Even my 11-year-old could see that. He would be a drummer with a ponytail AND a former corporate executive who had left that world for freedom. He dressed a certain way, fancied particular foods, read specific books and even had a slightly pretentious drink of choice (brandy -- that was supposed to be a flaw).

Granted, it was a laundry list created in humor. But once upon a time, weren't we all a bit lofty in imagining our ideal mates?

When I was in high school, I had an even stranger list. I've written about this before. I would pick 10 particular boys I knew and rank them in three specific criteria, in a highly complex mathematical equation that was going to tell me which one I should date.

Of course, I dated none of them. In fact, talked to very few of them. There were a few who were always on the list -- so I probably should have made the effort more. But as a fairly aloof person who didn't date even then, I spent much more time with my gay best friend than anyone else. (And the "Seven Dwarves" pack who were largely my four-wheeling and poker-playing buddies.)

Sense of humor has always been on the list. The rest varied considerably, depending on mood and age and stage.

As many Choice Moms discuss at our networking events, another characteristic that automatically goes on -- and stays on -- after we get on this path is "good with my kids." We are surprised, in fact, when we realize how many wrong people we could have avoided had we simply had our kids as a kind of litmus test. "Doesn't play well with youngsters" is a real turn-off. And in tandem, "plays well" often brings people into focus who never would have been there before.

I joked with a Choice Mom friend yesterday that I had the perfect partner suggestion for her: the build she likes, and good with his kids. "Isn't that all you need?"

What about you? No matter what stage you are in on this journey, do you still have a wish list? Does it look anything like the one you had when you were 25?

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy New Year!

Did you know we have an amazing e-book on the website this week....the best insights, expert tips and stories of the new-and-improved in 2010.

Check it out here