Sunday, December 18, 2011

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Home Stretch

Speaking of stretch, I have witnessed Orit's belly get to its current and probable peak size. Baby Aaron (and as you know from following along the journey - last name not Harpaz) is contemplating his readiness to come out and greet the world. At any given moment it can happen. The due date is two and half weeks away. So I suppose we can safely call this the home stretch. Naturally, the anticipation of it all coming to a climax is a source of high alert. But it's being done with calm energy and focused ideas of what's to come. Stay tuned for what's to be with an update...

As far as the quiet period of the pregnancy, I can bring you up to speed. The second stage. When it's absolutely obvious that a woman is pregnant. Not the awkward stage where it's not clear and no one is “gonna go there”. Some women flourish through this period. With others, it's the unfortunate downward spiral of letting herself go. My beautiful wife is definitely of the first variety. Flourishing indeed. Everything about the ideal within the idea of a beautiful pregnant woman is present in her. From beginning through to this pending end, she has carried herself and carried this baby with a giving heart and body. Nourished him from inception. And done so with grace and beauty. Now she is absolutely ready to give him the right of passage to life. Meaning, she’s ready to give birth to baby Aaron. And the most asked question is "isn't it gonna be difficult, emotionally to give up the baby?" The answer is quite frankly, no. A little shocking for the person asking, as they don't expect it that way. And the reasons are simple and many. We/she have been indirectly in this world of surrogacy for years prior to living it. This particular personal experience has been in the coming for 2 years. There is no genetic connection to us. We/she went into a pregnancy with the sole purpose of giving birth for someone else. Their child. Not ours. We’re the ride into the world, beyond that it out of our hands. The one sole purpose. Not be parents again. Becoming parents, is a lifetime of purpose. We already have that with Little Man. And the closer the birth gets and we see strollers, diaper bags, Baby Bjorn’s and lack of sleep, the more grateful we are that we don’t have to live that this time around. If anything, this process is one step closer to solidifying the conviction of not having another child of our own at this moment. Maybe never. Who knows what will actually happen in the future. The world is full of surprises. Just not in this particular case. None here. Everything was and is spelled out ahead of time. And therefore, the most natural thing for us to do is to be eager to do this last and final act of handing Aaron off into the arms of our ever more anticipating friends, J & R, his parents. And us, we’ll look back knowing we made a small mark and a strong bond and move on to the next stages of our life. So no, it's not gonna be hard emotionally. On the contrary. It would be difficult emotionally if we had to take care of a baby beyond the birth. I think the explanation educates the inquirers. And I think, in most cases they get it. And those that do are touched.

Which brings me to some of the looks, confusion and responses we encounter. People are vocal about the obvious visual picture of a belly. They’re quick to want to converse about the belly. Mix it with their natural assumption of happiness for our having another baby. Mazal Tov! And they are quicker to be taken aback by the unexpected response they get. Especially when Little Man is around. He tends to like to take the lead - "no, it's not my brother" pause. "He's my surrogate brother and his name is Aaron ***** **********." pause. The reactions and facial expressions we face in that moment - PRICELESS. Sometimes it's a slow coming to understanding. Other’s quick. Always with shock as the realization sets in. Always with interest and further questioning, regardless of their politics or beliefs. The mental picture of their miffed looks is always a source of laughter in recounting the stories and becomes a part of the story as a whole.

Joking aside, the pregnancy has progressed as it should and as expected. On-schedule. With healthy numbers. Monthly meetings with the midwives are now weekly. The care is thorough and professional. One or both, J & R are present and as much a part of these and everything else in an attentive, sensitive and generous way. A Doula has been found and those wheels are in motion. Little Man wants to be a part of it (obviously not the raw full experience at the end) and definitely meet Aaron. So we’ve enlisted a few hands and backup plans. As goes with my work, which has to be covered in case I must run. And I’ve been crazy busy for a long stretch now. Three more days and I’m done. Until the next time (and you never know when that will be so you take it all). Discussions on logistics have taken place. Decisions have been made. Lists are being made. Standby...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


A bit of a writer’s slump accompanied me throughout this blog drought. Not that there's not much to write about. It's just that it's been more of a physical slump that had an affect on the mental. I’ve been plagued with a series of "issues" that have abruptly forced me to take heed of my health and introduced me to my "midlife" period. Not the so-called “crisis” leading to an extravagant new sports car. I could only wish - right now I'm dreaming of the Dodge Challenger. But, sort of a wake up call introduction to my newly arrived 40's.

My knee surgery took place the end of May. I had anticipated and feared it for so long. And like all hindsight lessons, there was something to be learned. It was simpler and quicker than expected. I woke up the morning of and went in to the surgery center at 6:45am, less than 2 miles from home, with my chin up but clenched fists of nerves. The nurse took my blood pressure prior to inserting the IV and took a step back - the numbers spoke of my nerves from the pending needle (and procedure). We decided to take a moment to breathe deep and have me take a little somethin’ somethin’ to calm me down. A few minutes later it was done. The IV was in and I was still conscious. Little did I know then that was to be the first step in my overcoming syncope and my fear of needles, as would it would be one of many to come. Through the IV, the first step of the anesthesia had begun. I remember being wheeled into the surgery room, the eyes of my orthopedic surgeon recognizable behind the mask and next to him the anesthesiologist introduced himself. Then fade to black.

I woke up an hour later (surgery was 45mins) and that was that. All done. I was sent home bandaged, with crutches, though able to walk on my own. My recovery at home began. Lots of ice and two days of not removing the bandages. I didn't experience pain, only swelling and tightness. Manageable enough to be able to physically work so long as it didn't require bending the knee. Work was quiet as I consciously decided to not take on any projects for a window of time. And so I immersed myself into an intense and prolific period week of woodworking and building in my man cave garage. I built a TV cabinet and a little side table. I modified and refinished another old side table and an outdoor bench. I couldn't sit still. And didn't feel the need to do so as long as I did things slowly, with care and tending to the wound. The following week, I went in to have the stitches removed, only to find out there were no stitches under the two band-aids hiding two little scabbing puncture holes on each side below the kneecap. It looked like an alien face with the kneecap being the large forehead and the two holes red eyes.  I mean shit, not even stitches! And I had all this anxiety going into it. Anyway, swelling aside I was happy to be where I was. Until, that is, I heard about the crystals.

During surgery, the issue I was having with my knee (as well as my feet during unexplained excruciating week long pain flare ups) became apparent that it was not only as a result of and/or overcompensation from the torn meniscus that was being corrected. There were very clear deposits of crystals built up around the joint. These crystals form as a result of the body either overproducing uric acid or not flushing enough of it out. Either way the level of uric acid is higher than it should be. My new unfortunate condition is called Gout. Most of you have heard of it, but don’t know what it is or associate it with older, fatter unhealthy people. Of course upon hearing this, my mind quickly went to a dark place. What is it? Why is it? Why me? What does it mean for my future? I'm not an overweight, medieval king gorging on a huge turkey leg dripping fat down through my beard. I'm an active, healthy young man of 39 (that recently changed to 40). My weight to height ratio is right on. So why? Who knows? It's not caused from diet or lifestyle. And regardless of the fact that I don't know of any blood relatives that have Gout, it tends to be a hereditary thing. And bottom line, it's no longer about why, but rather what now?

The Internet is both a blessing and a curse in times like these. The initial search for knowledge can take you down a never-ending path of information overload. Conflicting, overlapping, and confusing stories of personal experiences, medical and natural recommendations. A whole lot of quackery too.

The next stage is dealing with doctors, tests, medications and insurance. Dipping into this world, you come to realize that we're just lab rats constantly tested and adjusted for the benefit of large corporations making money. Healthcare in America. More like Healthsale. Don't get me started. I have a lot to say about the topic, but it's not something I wish to write about.

Anyway, our bodies are intricate and all the systems are interwoven. When one thing happens, it's safe to say other issues lay in wait or as a result. As I was trying to figure out my way of treating The Gout (as Little Man calls it), a few tests showed other issues that are most likely related but no one can say. One smaller kidney than the other, higher than usual blood pressure and too much protein in the urine. What they can say is here, take this medicine... All I can do is continue to educate myself and find the right balance of treatment for myself.

So it's been a long few months of both post surgery rehabilitation and getting back to a sense of normalcy as I chart out my lifestyle choices for the second half of my life. I have finally come to a place that I can both write about this not so healthy episode as well as have it under control. I'm active again. More so than before. I am living and eating healthier. I’m exercising regularly. I'm experiencing a much stronger and better me that looks forward to continuing the road to health, strength and longevity. Some medications are involved which make me unhappy with the thought of it being a permanent thing. For now it’s my course. And like an alcoholic at an AA meeting that has comes to term and is there to overcome the addiction, I can stand tall and say out loud - My name is Gal and I have Gout.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Moving Right Along

I wish I had the inspiration to write on a daily basis. More so, that there was actually something to write about on a daily basis. But, the tolls of life are a collection of small change and it takes me a while to fill up the piggy bank. In the meantime, day-to-day life has its ups, downs and detours. Currently we're in the carpool lane driving in cruise control so it's difficult to remember who's following behind.

I suppose the two topics that need to be addressed are surgery and surrogacy.  I'll go about it alphabetically.

I made it through surgery. Not that I was expecting not to. But the fear of "syncope" was greater than the intricacies of the procedure itself. Alas, one month later I am sans limp and slowly working my way through physical therapy to rebuild the muscles around the affected area. Most importantly, I'm back to work. Two small horizontal incision points are transforming themselves into scars. Shaven hair is growing back. I'm at that awkward stage reminiscent of puberty or a competitive swimming (minus the broad shoulder and big chest). In prepping the area, my leg was shaved below the knee, leaving sort of what I would imagine a Franciscan monk look of a haircut on my leg. In an effort to balance out the upper left leg (as well as the whole right one), I took to the razor and did away with it all.

There is more to deal with in my knee recovery and other issues discovered through the scope that poked around. I won't get into it here yet as I need more time to live it before I can put it on paper. This is less of a day-to-day journal and I'm better at writing in hindsight with 20/20 vision and a clear head. So on to the next story line.

Orit is at 14 weeks into the pregnancy and feeling good. The nausea as a blanket feeling is history. There are still moments here and there, but they pass quickly. The belly has popped out a tad and to those that know, it's obvious why. Otherwise I imagine all others in this overly political correct world are quietly thinking she's had one too many burritos.

There have been two ultrasounds since last I wrote. Both done at UCLA  as we've graduated from fertility to the reality of the pregnancy. One scheduled scan at 12 weeks followed by another follow up on the 13th. The later one calmed the previous' slight scare. It's almost like the case of looking for a problem. If you look deep enough, long enough or enough times at anything, things that should not be, can and most likely become apparent. Explains the bliss of ignorance.

Whether you're certain in your faith that all will be good or are certain in your resolve that you'll take what comes along no matter what, you can choose to forgo some of the many tests medicine and technology offer along the path to bringing in a life. For both those reasons, with Little Man we chose this path, along with several other "alternative" ways (funny how natural is modern day alternative, but that's a whole separate discussion) culminating in his birth at home. It was our child. Our lives. Our choices and decisions. Our outcome. And ultimately, our happiness. And though we are able and in the midst of making this happiness possible for R & J, this time it isn't solely our choice to figure out the ways. That is a joint work in progress.

Back to the scare. As we all know, the human body is created on a very precise schedule. What we don't all know is every step along the way. We leave that to the textbooks and professionals. Often scans and other tests along the way, can help us pin point exactly every step of the way and how it relates to where things should be in the schedule. Which is all well and good, if everything is going by the book. The scares come in with the footnotes. The little deviances of human nature. At 8 weeks, the intestines, which are already developed pop out and protrude outside of the fetus to make room for the development of the rest of the organs that later intertwine beneath. By the 12th week, the intestines go back into place.  Or so say the books. The scan at 12 weeks showed something still outside. There is nothing that can be done about this abnormality at this point. If it were to remain this way, it would be handled after the birth. But, regardless it is an abnormality and therefore a source of concern. Another scan soon after can either confirm the problem or a correction back to schedule. Needless to say, the stress level going into the follow up was high. And though I personally could not be present due to work, I was on edge until I heard the results via text - all looks good! Relief. No protrusions other than possibly a little normal one. And though it's not 100%, it looks likely that there's a boy in that oven. We are yet again, where we want to be. And I feel comforted enough to write and share the news.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Since I just finished speaking of nausea and utter helplessness, the natural transition of topics brings me to the present stage of the surrogacy journey. Last I wrote of the actual pregnancy "catching," as they say. Our elation of the milestone achieved against the odds was high, full of personal pride and hope for the future for the now certain life being nurtured by the giving womb of my beautiful life partner. Blood tests show numbers and numbers reflect scientific certainty. And although we're in the midst of a scientific adventure, we're visual people and naturally the next focus of anticipation is just that visual aspect. Seeing the heart beating. Hearing it. Not just through hormone levels, but on a screen. However vague looking it may seem on an ultrasound it's our first real indication of actual life. And further stepping into the anticipation, the next question to be answered is, how many?

Unfortunately, the morning of the pending appointment that was to answer this question, Orit awoke to the unfamiliar feeling of the negative side effects of pregnancy. Morning sickness. Morning used loosely. Weakness had crept in for a few days prior. My vibrant and strong wife was beginning to feel not as herself and needing the assistance of horizontal moments throughout the day. Little Man spared us any of the ill effects. He developed and grew throughout a picture perfect pregnancy and birth in the comfort of our own home (I may just have to write about that whole experience one of these days). Obviously enjoyable enough an experience she'd want to recreate, otherwise we certainly would not be on this particular course. If not for ourselves, definitely for a couple in need. In come J & R. Who are obviously now members of our extended family and co-pilots of this voyage.

So this first appointment had to be rescheduled at the last minute. With it crept in a sense of disappointment that maybe, although still hopeful, this would not be as smooth a ride as we'd hoped for. Regardless, we would overcome and come out strong. A few days passed. The nausea and fatigue persisted in a manageable enough dose to allow her (us) to make it to our now rescheduled appointment. Armed with pressure point nausea wrist-bands and vitamin b6, we arrive at the familiar waiting room of the fertility center. R, the intended mom, arrived alone this time. J unfortunately is sick. We have a chance to discuss future options of and for the pregnancy. And then the three of us anxiously walk into the ultrasound room and begin the experience.

We have video of the ultrasound. iPhone camera to the rescue. Little Man wanted to be present to see it, but understood that school took precedent for him at this stage. I promised there would be documentation. The computer is turned on and up comes the familiar screen we all know to be an ultrasound. Appears a clear bean shaped, black void. Immediately described by the nurse as the uterus. Go figure, the ultimate bearer of life looks like a bean shaped black void. And in the bean, there’s a seed growing. A little roundish speck of white amongst the darkness. It's the only thing visible in there. So the initial thought following "there it is," is "only one!" Relief. There's a flickering of the rhythmic pulse that's not accompanied by sound yet as the Doppler setting is not yet turned on. So we see one. We see a heartbeat. Emotions are setting in the room amongst the 2 female main players. At the switch of a button, the sound of the Doppler kicks in and we now hear the heartbeat. Rhythmically fast and true.  And the flood gates open as tissues are passed and Orit and R celebrate their joint Mother's Day gift. Orit mentions it's R's first and that thought sets in as they hold hands to cement their bond.

So there you have it. The man made science succeeded as planned defying the odds. Numbers and percentages have told the story thus far. Nature is taking over and the old familiar story of humanity is to be retold through new eyes that are about to be formed.

The fetus is tiny at this point. Only 6.3mm, coincidentally corresponding to the 6 weeks and 4 days of the pregnancy count. A millimeter per week. As we finalize the visit and talk about the next appointment, a still photo print out of the ultrasound is offered as a souvenir. There's an awkward moment where the image is dangled in mid hand off, unsure of who's hands it should land - mom or surrogate? The silence is disrupted by Orit saying to R, "it's your baby, you take the picture." We laugh, and hug and say our goodbyes. Until the next time. The final time for the fertility specialist before he jumps ship and hands off the baton to the next captain of the ship. His job is done. There are other women trying their hand at fertility.

Following the ultrasound appointment we got back home armed with the good news and right away hit a rough patch. Over a long almost 2 weeks of nausea beyond the morning, throughout the day and night. No vomiting. Maybe that would have helped, but it wouldn't come. Weak, helpless, apetiteless and f****** miserable. The world continued to spin around her. And she picked up a sinus cold to top it off. It hurt seeing her so uncomfortable. Nothing helped. Just time and shut eye. Positively the most time I've ever seen her spend in bed in all our twelve years. Orit is usually the opposite of sedentary. She was worn out from feeling worn out. Down and out. Finally, we discovered a homeopathic formula that has taken care of the bulk of it the majority of the time. We believe she's reaching the tail end of this cycle and see it’s end. Back to being a functional super mom, though still with little bad moments.

We're currently looking for the next captain for our freelance crew. The doctor of our collective choice to take the reins for the prenatal care and birth. Which brings in another decision to be made given our alternative choices in life. Doctor or Midwife? Hospital or birthing facility? We knew going into this thing that a home birth would not be much of an option. Not our baby and not our choice to make. There is the matter of the other couple involved. All we can do is let our minds and hearts be known and hope that we can all be on the same page along the way. Home birth is beyond the comfort level for R as she mentioned. But she is still open to alternative ways. A midwife, natural birth is within our scope. The research for options is being done. So that's where we're at and where we're heading.

Monday, May 16, 2011


I am about to go under the knife. I first started writing in this blog (which was originally set up as a photoblog for the Theo Progress Reports) as a way of getting through the one and only other surgery that has touched my life.  Last August, Little Man had his tonsils and adenoids removed in what after the fact proved to be a very wise decision, though it certainly didn't feel like that in the midst of recovery. The positive results of his breathing were immediate. The healing from the procedure, THAT was difficult. And yet, if under the same circumstances someone were to ask my recommendation on the procedure, I'd definitely say yes. Easy to say in hindsight and I'm thankful for being there. While in it, I channeled my feelings towards documentation and story telling. The only way I'd like to ever re-live those moments is by going back and reading my posts of the time. Otherwise, I hope to never have to see my son through any such experience.

Now it's my time. My turn. I've written of my knee problems before. More with the hope of avoiding any sort of invasive procedure. With the somewhat comical twist of my spiritual shaman sister's new age techniques of transatlantically healing me with the power of her focused mind. Yes, I'm a bit of a skeptic to this realm, but I love my sister and was and always am happy to open myself up to giving her a chance. I had nothing to loose. In her mental travels of visualizing the internal workings of my torn meniscus, she was led to see a monkey jumping out from within my knee. I know, I know. A monkey? Yes, a monkey that claimed to be my inspiration. He had been trapped in my knee and was now out and free. You'll just have to look far enough back in my writing and seek the corresponding post to satisfy your curiosity should the itch need be scratched. And still, do so with an open mind. The bottom line of this inspiration monkey turned out to be quite a prolific period of my artistic flow. Thus, inspiration came freely and led to more and more writing, woodworking, and the ever-continuing polaroiding and life of art in all it’s formats. Inspiration continues as the words find their way to this page and the stories I tell find their way to your eyes. So for that, I thank my sister (and the monkey).

Unfortunately, the pain in my bad, left knee has persisted and gradually worsened. My right knee, which has no tear, over compensates for the other's shortcomings and is heading in the degenerative path, occasionally acting up. So, I have finally taken the step (intended pun) to do something about it. All of you millions of people (wishful thinking of my readership) out there that have had arthroscopic knee surgery have been telling me of how simple and common this procedure is. It has been perfected over 30+ years as the technologies advanced. Should calm my nerves and make me feel at ease. But regardless of how small the incision may be, the idea of having anything protrude through my skin and beyond makes me nervous. Not for the obvious reason. Unlike a tattoo where the needles quickly go in and out of the top layers of the dermis, just beneath the epidermis, and more like a consistent scratching beyond one certain spot, injections and surgeries (both of which I am not a fan of) go further, deeper in. And more disturbingly, stay in longer.

My zero hour of May 24th is nearing faster than anticipated and the nerves are beginning to make their way into my consciousness. Less of the actual surgery itself. More from the two upcoming needle occurrences that are to happen prior to the deed. Routine pre-op blood work to determine my body as surgically fit a week before the procedure, followed by the anesthesia on the day of. It may seem odd that those are the two things I fear most. More than the actual procedure and its recovery.
You see, I recently found out the name to a condition that I've suffered from since childhood. Vaso Vagal Syncope. It's not rare. It’s actually quite common. Maybe one of you live with it too. It's not anything I've ever been ashamed of, even prior to now in discovering it's name. Basically, I'm a fainter. Not for nothing.  My trigger is needles. Those that go in deep and stay in for a period. I've had no control over it in my life thus far and have learned to live with it, through it and despite it. Luckily, I don't have to face a needle too often. Or maybe not. Maybe regularly facing it is the answer to overcoming. At this point, I'd rather find another way.

It doesn't always happen at every instance, which has made it more difficult to identify over the years.  The path of symptoms, though are always the same when it does. Through my numerous experiences I learned to recognize them and prepare for all they bring. To make sure I'm lying down and make it be known as a possibility. When it does happen, it's not the physical act of the faint that scares me. The sudden hot flash, sweats, paleness, loss of vision and the tingling sensation as the black out begins to set in. The loss of speech and hearing followed lastly by the dark void. Dreams. Then on the other side, a slow, disorienting return to consciousness that starts with hearing while the eyes still see black. Fuzzy vision slowly refocuses to normalcy. I'm used to it. I recognize the feeling as it's about to happen, during and after. If this were the only part of the whole process I'd be a relatively happy camper. It's the side affects thereafter that hit me hard.

Just as I make my way back into this realm and finish assuring whoever it is, lucky enough to be in my presence, that I'm ok, it happens, it's happened and I'll be fine... that's when my body takes me on the wild ride along it's painfully familiar way of dealing with the next phase of the now dreaded process. Like a 24hr bug, I'm stricken with immobilizing nausea and vomiting. And just like a 24hr bug, it's gone at the end of its cycle. But in the midst of that day and night, I'm as miserable as I could possible be. Utter helplessness. The current healthy mind doesn't let me formulate the words to describe my hatred for that moment. Bottom line is it just absolutely sucks. And it's this post-faint period more than anything else, I fear and wish to avoid. Which may perpetuate the anxiety deep within the mind that causes the trigger in the first place.

Over the years, this fear of the after life of my meetings with a needle, have much surpassed the actual fear of the needle itself. It's not the physical prick or conscious pain. It's not at all about pain. My threshold for that is high in all other realms. As I've been told over and over again, it's all in the head. When that needle is in for long enough for the mind to decide if today is the day, somewhere in my psyche, the emotional trigger kick starts what's called the Vaso Vagal response. The part of the nervous system that regulates heart rate and blood pressure malfunctions. A message is sent by the brain for the heart rate to slow and the blood vessels in the legs to widen, allowing blood to pool down there. Which in turn lowers blood pressure suddenly. Blood flow to the brain quickly diminishes and thus we have syncope, or in layman's terms, the faint. In most cases, such as mine, the most dangerous part of this condition can occur from physically falling and injuring the head or other body parts during the faint. Thus, the lying down. Otherwise, there are no other health implications. It just happens. Shit happens.

Finally now, at 39, armed with a definition and knowledge of the condition, I may just be able to find a way of not just recognizing and living with it, as it’s been, but actually avoiding it. There are techniques that can be applied to try to avoid the response. I used to think simply lying down, turning away and trying to distract myself was all I could do. I know now that's not enough in my case. Raising the legs allows gravity to discourage the misguided message the ventricular system receives from the mind. If the darkness begins to creep in still, a critical window of 2 to 3 seconds exists as the symptoms leading into the black out take hold. Rhythmically flexing or pumping the leg muscles can help the blood push back upwards (actually downwards, when the legs are up) and return the flow back to the brain. Simple techniques that theoretically make perfect sense. Seems almost too simple. They’ll soon be tested. But it obviously took my lifetime of experience in recognizing my body's way of coping to get to this understanding.

Simplicity, I hope will win over my little battle with the condition. I will take my new techniques with me and utilize them this week at the next needle face off. And I will overcome. No fainting means no followed misery, and thus a personal victory.

Oh yeah, and the knee surgery. It's almost a secondary thing. I'm certain that will go smoothly. And all I've heard and read will ring true as recovery speeds along and the pain will be a memory of past. I look forward to that day when I can say to Little Man - "YES let's do that, cause my knee DOESN'T hurt."

Monday, April 18, 2011

Notes From A Cafe

Pistachios are being cracked with salty fingers. Scooby and Shaggy are once again cowardly hiding from some ghostly-evil-not-so-genius-after-all-demagogue, looking to rid of the gang of teenagers in a last push towards world domination.

And that's all I managed to write on the flight before being distracted by the uncomfortable muscle aches of immobility that kick in the minute you hear that click of the seatbelt. We made it through the first domestic and later transatlantic flights. We crossed a continent , an ocean and a sea. We watched movies, did math, tossed and turned in sleep attempts (Little Man being much more successful) and comically climbed over the guy that slept through it all while blocking the isle seat. It took a couple of pseudo attempts to gather the courage for climbing over a sleeping stranger. Then, that too became normal. And we made it to the other side. Out through the automated doors that spill out to the main reception hall for arrivals, Little Man ran into the awaiting arms of Saba and Safta. And so, our Israel 2011 visit begins.

A few days later, I sit in an Israeli sidewalk cafe, sipping on my upside down coffee (the practical Hebrew translation for cafe au lait) and amongst the many ponderings that roam my inner thoughts are; what makes ice so American that nowhere else is it typical to serve it with a Coke? Little things that seem insignificant like this add up to the more substantial reasons of why I am no longer a resident of this country. There are many. There is a tension and aggressiveness that looms over the relaxed atmosphere of the full to capacity sidewalk cafes, frequented by the wide spectrum of the population. News on a radio, tv or spoken of in person is heard in the background of any given time and place. There is a love hate relationship to this way of life that is typical to all immersed in it. On the one hand it's emotionally and
aggressively defended towards those who chose to attack it from the outside. On the other, it's battered from within by it's insiders like a no holds barred cage fight. It's like a racial joke that can only be told by the same culture that's being joked about. Only insiders can take the piss out of the inside. Anyway, I'm not gonna get into the passionate inner struggle of who I am or where I belong. Not in this post. Probably, mostly because it's not much of a struggle anymore with every year passing. I am in a good place. regardless of where I physically reside. I am settled and satisfied. With life, my life and myself. Not to say there's not a need to aspire for more - always. There is work to be done and roads ahead to travel. My hope for the future is to continue as I have thus far - with pride and without regret. In the meantime, I take pictures, make art, write, live, give and get.

So I sit here a continent, an ocean and sea apart from my wife, with pride and hope for the journey that I spoke of two entries ago. The surrogacy journey. The one that has been all on paper and talk thus far, has officially begun in it's actual manifestation. It's been a long theoretical journey of which we are now stepping over the threshold of reality.

As I begin to type these words into my iphone for the first draft of this piece, there is a chance that currently existing cells will continue to multiply to the point of a human creation. A day prior to this father/son family visit Little Man and I are on, was the "transfer" of two healthy embryos that belong to our hopeful couple, the Intended Parents. It's a very clinical way to speak of them. And as they're warm, loving people I will give them the respect they deserve by naming them without naming them. J & R are each their first initial and from so forth will be regarded as such.

Last Thursday was a day that started like all others in this normal, mortal world. A small window of that morning, was not. Orit was told to drink a lot of water prior to coming in. More correctly, she was told to come with a full bladder. Those of you who know her, know that she does as she feels. In altruism as well as basic physical needs. So when the girl has got to pee, she's got to pee. She's gotten quite creative in the past with this topic. Like the one time with a diaper... They picked the perfect internal organ to fill up completely for this procedure. She's told that it would not be the first time should the valium relaxed muscles give into the urge of peeing right there and then on the medical table. We all would understand, but no one wants to see it. Apparently, the bladder being full pushes down on the uterus and makes it easier for the fertility specialist to see what he's doing on the ultrasound. Which in turn makes it easier for the rest of the peanut gallery to follow along as well. Those of us in the grand stands are yours truly and J & R. R, who's gone through this procedure twice herself (now you know which one is the intended mother), is knowledgable in more than just this procedure but in the whole fertility medical world. She's an RN and besides her personal experience and journey, has also worked in the fertility field. I suppose every case is different and every couple and surrogate has a different relationship. Ours is such that when they asked if they could be present, Orit (and I) didn't hesitate. It's their baby and so long as they're comfortable being in the room and following along, we are. I'm not the one who's vulnerable, legs up in stirrups. And Orit is certainly not shy. Once she's positioned and prepared under a blanket, they come in and the fertility party commences. Music and all (a little background ambiance believe it or not. I think it was Buena Vista Social Club). Orit, a little loopy from the valium given her to relax her body, is laying down in position. Me at her side. J & R behind us. All anxiously glued to the ultrasound screen like patrons at a sports bar waiting for the kick-off. Don't ask me why I chose this metaphor as none of us are neither bar patrons nor sports fans. The doctor and his assistant are on the working side of the blanket. Activity begins on the screen. A catheter is inserted and is immediately and clearly visible on the ultrasound screen. A window reminiscent of a dumbwaiter opens from the adjoining room where the embryologist passes the two embryos in a syringe with a long tube. Kind of like what we see on tv when the doctor asks for a tool and it's handed over with two hands in a sterile and procedural manner. There is a formality to the hand off. The long thin tube is inserted into the catheter and the syringe is pushed in. And poof, two little specs are seen as white dots on the screen being pushed out of the tube and into the abyss of the uterus. And that's that. Two minutes and it's over. The most uncomfortable part is the full bladder. She is now free to pee. But "please don't get up just quite yet... I'll bring a bed pan," the nurse said, as we all exited the room. I then come back into the room for a quiet, intimate wait of 20 minutes as she dozes off into a sleep. I believe it's the first time Orit has ever taken any kind of medication such as Valium, so it's natural that it knocked her out. And then we are finished. As a souvenir, we're given a 4"x6" photo of the two embryos (as seen through a microscope and by this time multiplied into 8 cells) that have just been placed in her womb. And off we went for lunch at the Nickel Diner. Back to normalcy just like that. Just another day in everyone else's world.

The chances of a pregnancy "catching" as they say, are less than what you'd imagine. Around 30 percent. These were embryos that have been frozen for several years after all. But we're hopeful that the host body and her determination to make this happen will defy the odds. If anyone can make it happen, it's Orit. There was a chance that they'd not survive the thawing. But both did. There is a smaller chance that they will both "catch" and there will be twins. Right now we hope for one. For the deed to be done. That's the gift we signed up for. The reality of carrying twins is not what Orit would chose given absolutes. Though she will deal with the realities of the science and nature, and take the chances as they come. In the meantime rest is the prescription. It's why Little man and I are here in Israel alone. School dictates our schedule these days and spring break is here. There are only so many windows. As Orit remains a world apart, we are still very much connected. Technology facilitates it. The heart and soul make it real.

Ten days following the transfer, a blood test is taken to determine results in absolute terms. Since a week has past, in a few days we shall all know where we stand. Maybe before, the body will give it's own signs. None thus far. For now we wait and cross our fingers. Nature is taking it's course.

And so on then 10th day, I am expecting and awaken by a video chat, an email and a call -"Congratulations! You are going to be a surrogate daddy!!!" And so it is. Coincidentally falling on our 12th Anniversary (which will be celebrated together upon my return). Looks like I'll be making some trips to Whole Foods for that particular flourless chocolate cake she craved with Little Man. Or maybe this time it will be something else. Either way, I'll be happy to go. Welcome to my life.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Moments That Stay In (And On) You

When Little Man was 3 and a half, he and I went to Israel on our yearly family visit. The first of it's particular kind as it was just the two of us, sans Orit. Sans Mommy. Two things came out of our little male bonding trip that will never leave me.

The first, started as an idea that culminated in a permanent imprint on my arm a few years later. The story of my tattoo started at the airport on this trip. Two bags in hands, a backpack and a 3 year old boy can make for a stressful airport and transcontinental voyage experience. One that we not only passed with flying colors, but actually managed to enjoy. I remember telling him on the way to checking in the bags that I cannot hold his hand. That I need him to stick by me in the crowd and hold me by the arm. The inside of my forearm at the time was a little higher than was comfortable for him to reach, but still doable and preferable to him pulling on my pants and pulling them down (I like to wear my pants low on the hip to begin with).  I can't say it was exactly at a certain moment right there and then that the idea materialized in full clarity. But it was this experience both there and back that planted the seed.

I started experimenting with the idea when we came back to mommy's waiting arms. Over several days, I had Little Man place his hand on a large ink pad we had bought for art projects and stamped my arm with his hand print. Each day, on a different spot and angle in attempts to figure out exactly where and if this was really something I wanted to live with for the rest of my life. Ultimately going back to the visual of his hand at the airport knowing that was it. We made several hand prints on paper until we got the right one. And then sat on the idea, letting it brew for what turned out to be a few years. Not on purpose. Just happened that way. Until the day I decided it was time. At 38 years old, I knew it was now or never. Out  of my own personal laziness and lack of knowledge on tattoo artists, I called my long time friend Keith and asked him who he thinks should do this tattoo. I've watched Keith transform his body over several years and knew he would take the task seriously and with a great sense of responsibility. He said he would make it his quest to walk me through the spiritual path of my first tattoo and I was certain that whoever it was he found, that would be my choice. A few days went by and the answer came in the form of a text. "Eddy Deutsch. That's our man." That was it. Eddy was my guy. The text continued to say Eddy won't know about me "until tomorrow but give him a call on Thursday or Friday." Not only did he find me the right artist, he made sure he'd know about me. Though Keith didn't know Eddy or have work done by him, he made sure to use a mutual contact to get my story to him. So, no more sitting on it. The time was now, the artist was decided. It was time to schedule and just do it. I did a little research online to see some samples of the work and his background. I was happy and not surprised to see he was more than well respected and a top leader in the field. Keith delivered on his promise and I made the call. We had a couple of exchanges and a date was set. I began to mentally prepare myself to overcome my fear of needles.

Like so much of what we do in our Unit, it became a family thing from idea to ultimately materializing. As the scheduled time neared, Little Man asked more and more questions about the impending tattoo. About how it will be done and who will do it. We watched videos on YouTube showing traditional Yakuza Japanese and other tribal tattoos. How they're done by hand. Why they're done. Modern techniques with tattoo guns, how they're made and what makes them work. How they leave an image. Basically, immersing ourselves in the subjects' world through the internet, like we did prior to Little Man's surgery (see first few written posts in August 2010, if interested). The internet is an amazing tool for immediate gratification of knowledge and we use it in it's full capacity in these instances. This was not only going to be a spiritual right of passage for myself, but The Unit was going to be a part of it. And so it was. The three of us spent a couple of hours at Eddy's private studio. Little man got the run down on Eddy's customized tattoo guns. The hand print I brought with me was xeroxed onto carbon paper and the outline was transferred onto my arm. The rest was free form artistry with the original at hand (no pun intended) for reference. Little Man, closely watching every pass and and every wipe. The final result, a constant reminder of my flesh and blood, devotion, love and experience. Permanent on the flesh. I look at it every day with pride and wonder what emotions will go through my mind as an old man looking at the hand of what was once my 3 year old baby boy. In the meantime, Little Man has a unique place for a high five.

The second, is a simple story. And though I have nothing on my body as a reminder of it, there's an imprint on my heart. It was a typical evening in the beginning of Little Man's night routine. I remember at the time, he was using "I love you" in an excessive way. I don't exactly remember the circumstance of how and why he was overusing it, just that he was. Now I'm not sure if there really is such a thing of overusing "I love you," but I made an attempt to explain to him the importance of words, their meaning and power. I wanted him to understand that love is the strongest of all emotions and by overusing it, you can diminish it's importance. That was it. The evening continued and the conversation was forgotten and maybe even not quite understood, or so I thought. Later on, while sitting in the kitchen eating a late evening jet-lag induced snack, where Little Man got what he asked for in spite of the hour and sugar content, I was reminded of the capacity of the 3 year old child. Or at least mine. He looked at me with the intention of saying something. He started with "Abadada," and then paused. Abadada is what he used to call me (Aba is dad in Hebrew,  the rest and the combo I'm sure you understand and appreciate). I miss those days. Back to the moment of pause. His eyes told my mind it would be followed by "I love you." But, in that moment and the mischievous pause, our earlier conversation clicked. And as I was expecting the three words to follow, he surprised me with "I want you to be safe." I stayed composed enough to laugh off the moment together and I hugged him. But as he was finishing his snack, I excused myself for a moment and walked to the bathroom, where the power of that moment and his chosen words involuntarily forced the tears to flow.

I'm reminded of these two events  because we're about to embark on yet another father son only trip to Israel in April. Three and a half years later, now he's 7. Truly a Little Man. I look forward to the new adventures and moments we'll have and I look forward to what will stay with me (or on me) as a result.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Newest Adventure

I got asked today if I was ready for this new adventure my family has embarked on. Another person said I get to experience all the emotions and hardships of the ride without the benefits. Some of you out there already know what I'm about to drop on the rest of you. The rest of you are starting to wonder if I'll ever get to the point, but also know that I'll drag you on a little ride prior to doing so.

So what is the point? I don't really know. Do I write for me or for you? To inform or to justify, or simply to share? For now, let's call it an insomniac's rant.

I have been blessed with many things in my 39 years and I am very aware of them. We all make choices in life, some more defining than others. Some are made for us and we must either adapt, or not. Some just appear in metaphors. I look back at a critical night 13 years ago, on a dark wintry night atop a Brooklyn rooftop and remember one of my such moments. A light bulb lit up above my head and a flame burned within. I knew in that moment, I would be going on many adventures with the woman that now sleeps next to me as I write this. I scared the living shit out of her by making the proclamation right there and then, causing a set back that made me have to fight back for what I thought I had already achieved. Ah, relationships! But hell, that only made me stronger and more persistent, and the payoff, well, you guys have followed our son's life through my Theo Progress Reports for 7 years now. And our devotion to our "Unit," as I refer to my family, through images and words are in this blog and many emails prior to it’s inception. Some of you have been there since day one. Others have hopped on somewhere along the way. Some of you I know well. Others I look forward to meeting one day. But here, in this archive, is the categorically slow unfolding of our story.

So things have worked out for us in that sense. We have worked for us. Made it work. Quite an achievement in this day and age, which gives both of us a great sense of pride in ourselves and for one another. Respect and admiration maintain the flame of love. So much the opposite of what we perceive when just falling into the spirals of love. That chemical high we want never to loose is such an illusion and such the downfall for so many as it starts to fade and we scramble to hold on. As my mother told me through one of my depressive heartbroken late teenage stages, "it's easy to fall in love, it takes work to stay there." Was not what I wanted to hear then, but it turned out to be a saying I never forgot, nor will. I think I understand it now. But still, there is much life ahead and much work to be done.

And so another adventure has begun for us. How much do any of you know about the world of surrogacy? That crazy science of induced fertility where nature is cruel that started with that one “test tube baby” we vaguely remember from the news all those years ago in 1978. Actually, not so many years in the scheme of things. Louise Brown is her name. Imagine for a second being her and being the absolute first of a kind. Not a mixed breed or of a new race. Not with a new disease or mutation never seen before, but still created by nature’s hand. Not unique because of an achievement or an ability. It’s quite a thought in itself. It’s quite an achievement for humanity, regardless of your politics. One that was worthy of The Nobel Prize for Medicine for it’s inventor. Now Louise Brown has a son of her own, conceived naturally. In a sense replenished back to nature’s ways. We’ve advanced tremendously in this science. So much so that we all know it in it’s less crude and more scientific name as In Vitro Fertilization. It’s in our common vocabulary and our daily quest to reproduce. Orit and I are lucky in that we never had to acquaint ourselves intimately in it when we decided to start a family. Sure we knew all the trials and tribulations others around us, close and not so, where going through to get there. And it seemed like more and more were forced to take difficult routes on their quest towards it. Some around us made choices of aiding in science in the more alternative ways. That's when surrogacy first entered our lexicon and education.

Our personal experience was such that we just stopped trying not to start a family and it happened. Wham bam... (you know the rest), pregnancy. Then came the choice of having our child at home as nature intended in our eyes. Inspired by being present and witnessing the birth of our niece, Noa (second daughter of my crazy, amazing sister Ayelet who can see a monkey in my knee - see previous post INSPIRATION if you’re that curious). And so here we made another defining choice that led to our next greatest adventure to that date and our greatest invention to date. Theo came into the world following a picture perfect pregnancy (and well documented at that) as peacefully and calmly as we were ready to accept him. On our terms. In our space. And it's all been yet another adventure with every new day and new stage. And we’re both in love with him and every minute of him, through all the difficulties and challenges of parenting. Another saying that will stick with me throughout my lifetime, this one said to Orit and I by a complete stranger - "you're making a person, make a good one." Think about that. We may make a person for selfish reasons. And that’s ok. It’s human. But, for humanity’s sake as well as our own legacy, really invest in making a good one.

And here we are, beginning the next big adventure. The one you can guess by now, if you've read this far, where my wife checks off one of her "bucket list" items of doing something so selfless, so absolute in it's giving. So random in it's choice of recipients. How many of you think this way? Becoming a surrogate. Bringing forth to the world a child for another couple not able to do it on their own. Their child in our (Orit's) oven. We've had several close friends over the past 8 years that have exposed us to this world, albeit from the receiving end. And so it becomes normal. And so, the seed was planted (still metaphorically) in Orit's mind probably going back that far. And with her, a seed planted is a seed nurtured is a flower that WILL grow. So she made the decision and that's that, it's gonna happen. Obviously, mutual respect and admiration dictates getting me on board. And obviously, mutual respect and admiration dictates that I've been on board since the seed was just being planted. It came as no surprise to me. That's one of the reasons my light bulb lit up all those years ago.

So here we go. Moving on to the practicalities. So much of what we spend our energy on for many of us is just about making a decision. Once that weight is taken off, we are free to do. Next comes how to go about it? Research, education, agencies, meetings, questionnaires, forms, more forms, medical histories, etc... You'd be surprised at how detailed it all can get. But then again, you shouldn't be as it is bringing in a life. That was about a year ago when all that began. Fast forward; a set back in timing, first couple match attempt wrong for us, discussions with Little Man preparing, educating and involving him. Then came getting on birth control pills after many years of not (ironic, but needed to establish a regulated pattern for timing), needing a chicken pox vaccine cause Orit has never had the disease, and yada yada yada... A new couple is then presented on paper. We meet them. We like them. They like us. We have mutual sensibilities and expectations. A contract is drawn. There are lawyers. Amendments are made. Enter the fertility doctor and nurse. A mock cycle is done with estrogen in order to prepare the uterus for the embryo transfer and impending pregnancy. All very scientific, clinical and in a nutshell. The embryos have absolutely no genetic connection to us. They belong to the couple. The womb that will carry and give birth to the child is purely a vessel to ensure a birth from scientific specimen to the Intended Parent’s (IP's) arms and a normal childhood and life. There are several more steps along the way. A couple more visits with the doctor. A few more lunches and hikes with our new friends and partners of the journey. Here the story gets more personal. More intimate. More private. And because there is a specific contract, I won't get into the details of who these IP's are, what they do or anything else personal on their end. I will respect their privacy as promised and as my ethics dictate. The adventure from our perspective, I will try to document to the best of my writing and visual abilities, which is what I'm attempting starting here.

We are well on the way and anticipate the last stages of the science to be over with soon.  Stay tuned for more on the process. All systems are go. We are about to lift off towards the pregnancy stage. And that's where we are to date.

As for Little Man, you may ask how much is he involved and really understands at his age? Well, we've had many talks and have been very candid with him going back quite a while. Those who know him, know that he understands. He gets it. He gets us. He really likes, has had fun and feels comfortable with the couple after hanging out with them on two occasions now. And his assessment of their character is this - "he's gonna be a great dad and she's gonna be a great mom." What more can you ask for?

My mother posed a question. Of course she comes from that camp (seems to be a generational thing) that believes that we should have another child of our own. A sibling for Theo. Two are better than one. That's a whole other discussion and there are many reasons we could get into with all the pros and cons from both our points of view. And that may still happen one day regardless of our current belief that we are good with our "Unit." We are open to this journey being the catalyst that will ultimately help us make that future decision. We haven't done it thus far for many reasons that have led us to this moment. Until then, one step at a time. My mother is obviously concerned as is the nature of any mother. For Theo. For Orit. But she is also behind us in full support of our decisions as she always is after hearing our convictions. I love her for that. Her question was what if Theo grows up one day and begins to feel resentful of the fact the we brought another child into the world that wasn't his brother or sister? I was a little surprised at that, but didn't hesitate in my response. First of all we refuse to make decisions based on what if situations that Theo may one day face. We must empower him and give him the chance to establish his own feelings and trust us as we trust ourselves. Second of all, I can't see that happening cause if it does, it will mean that we failed our job as the parents we strive to be. If we do our job right, there will be no reason to resent, but rather take pride and appreciate us all the more for the choices made to give of ourselves.

So going back to my opening and the questions I've been recently asked. Am I ready? Yes. I am ready. And yes, I am prepared to endure the emotions and hardships that arise throughout. And no, I don't see it as doing so without any of the benefits. I have the enormously large benefit and privilege of being in this marriage. And I love my wife all the more for being who she is and doing what she does. This is as much my adventure as it is hers. This is what I signed up for.