Friday, March 30, 2012

Marriage Is....

We dread campaign season.  For the months leading up to an election, our ordinary lives are interrupted by waves of sadness and anxiety as we realize that, once again, the everyday securities of life afforded to others are-for us-being decided at the ballot box.

It is a very vulnerable feeling when our financial and legal peace of mind are up for popular vote.  Call us picky, but these are rights we'd rather not place at the whim of the electorate.  We do not wish to be used as pawns to embolden the ever-catered-to "values voters".

This May, North Carolina voters will decide whether or not to amend our state constitution to limit marriage to solely male-female couples.  Gay marriage is already illegal in North Carolina, so the amendment is in many ways redundant and superfluous.  However, the amendment will further restrict the rights of any unmarried couples- gay or straight- and create legal snafus, conundrums, and outright catastrophes surrounding important issues like child custody, hospital visitations, and estate settlements.  Some consequences, such as dealing with the burden of drawing up cumbersome amounts of legal documentation, will be annoying and inconvenient.  Other ramifications, like being denied the right to be with your ill or dying spouse at the hospital, are cripplingly heartbreaking and heartbreakingly crippling.

The inevitable finally happened. Today, on the way home from work, I saw my first "Vote Yes" yard sign in support of the amendment.  On the sign were very predictable words: "Marriage.  One Man.  One Woman."

After my initial, visceral reaction of hurt and anger, I was struck by another thought: this definition of marriage is far too simplistic.  To me, marriage is an experience, an active journey.  Marriage is not a pair of nouns- the people in the relationship.  Instead, it is a vast and varied collection of verbs- it is what the nouns in the marriage do that makes the marriage a success or failure.

While my definition of marriage certainly won't fit on a yard sign, I feel compelled to offer some sort of rebuttal to the people who put that sign up in the first place.

Marriage is.....
- not complaining about the hard day you had because you know your spouse's day was even harder
- arguing and then talking through points of contention
- never belittling one another
- seeing the same outfit for what feels like the 5,000 millionth time
- spending your day off taking your spouse's car in for an oil change
- going to funerals together and holding onto each other for dear life
- taking evening walks in comfortable silence
- remembering to go on dates every now and then
- feeling safe enough to share your lowest points and show your worst self
- wanting to greet your spouse with your best self every day
- excitedly waking up early to fix your spouse breakfast in bed
- having someone to curl up with on snow days
- facing medical scares together
- staying up late on a school night to talk excitedly about future plans
- paying bills and somehow making ends meet
- ditching the lingere and wearing mismatched pj's and socks to bed
- laughing till your cheeks hurt
- receiving a humbling amount of grace and forgiveness
- feeling the vulnerability of knowing how shattered your life would be without your spouse
- witnessing your spouse grow as an individual and being a source of encouragement for the journey
-  tackling life's challenges with humor and tenacity
- being able to finish your spouse's sentences but letting your spouse speak for him/herself anyway
- splitting up household chores to knock them out quickly
- welling up with pride and gratitude as you think, "This amazing person chose ME."
- resting in the unconditional love of another

Perhaps, dear yard sign maker, I DO want to redefine marriage.  Your definition just won't work for me.  Marriage is far more expansive and infinitely deeper than the easy slogan of "one man and one woman".  It is an adventure and a resting place, a challenge and a comfort.  It is one of the most significant and powerful life experiences a person can have.

And my marriage is my business, not the business of voters.

Please spread the word and encourage any and all North Carolinians you know to vote NO in May.  We would be exceedingly grateful for your support.

Monday, March 12, 2012


Where DO babies come from?

                For the past 6 months or so, Danielle and I have been in the process of trying to start a family.  Since we are biologically sperm-deficient people, this process has been understandably difficult to navigate.  Fortunately, the path has been rife with humor, without which we might have succumbed to worry and desperation.  Instead, we have in many instances laughed till we’ve cried.  (You have to have a pretty sick sense of humor when you’re spending ass-loads of money to have a baby.)
                When we announced to friends and family that we were thinking of getting pregnant, there were plenty of creative suggestions from the peanut gallery.  A few friends actually offered their sperm, which we politely declined.  (They smoked too much pot to produce good swimmers, frankly.)  Turkey baster jokes abounded.  Some friends encouraged us to go to a bar, get really drunk, and try getting pregnant the old-fashioned way.  (This was vetoed immediately.  We have watched the afterschool specials, and we know how that story ends.)  But perhaps our favorite suggestion came from my twin aunts, who were particularly proud of the scheme they cooked up.  You see, Danielle and I both have brothers.
                “Elaine,” one aunt exclaimed to me, “we had the BEST idea!  What if Danielle’s brother is the donor for YOU, and then your brother is the donor for DANIELLE?  That way, the children will be related, and they’ll just feel like they belong.”
                While we were flattered that they had put so much thought into our fertility process, we were not at all eager to follow their plan.  Ummmm, ….ew!  I don’t want my brother’s sperm going anywhere near my wife’s body.  Just the thought of this turns me into a squirmy second grader busily inoculating myself against cooties.  Furthermore, this plan would raise all sorts of questions as to what role our brothers should play in our children’s lives.  Can you see us on the road at Christmas saying, “Kids, we’re just 10 minutes away from Uncle Daddy’s house!”  Fortunately, I know our brothers and their significant others would be equally resistant to the Brotherly Love method of sperm donation, so our children are saved from this cesspool of incestuous-ness.
                For a good amount of time, Danielle and I thought seriously about choosing a friend be our sperm donor.  That way, our children could grow up knowing their biological father.  This person would not be one of their parents but could play some sort of role in their lives.  We even had a particular friend picked out.  However, we could never muster the gumption to bring up the topic.  I mean, really.  How does one go about requesting sperm?  “Hey, Bill.  I love what you’ve done with the place!  By the way, what’s your stance on artificial insemination?”  I’ll be darned if that topic just never comes up naturally in conversation.
                After giving it a lot of thought and talking with our doctor, we decided to use an anonymous donor through a cryobank.  With the sperm source secured, we thought the majority of our decision-making was through.  Boy, were we wrong! The Donor Edition

                Cryobanks are very thorough at gathering information about their donors.  This is a good thing because you can learn about the medical history of each potential donor’s family.  You can also select donors with physical features like hair and eye color that resemble your own in order to up your chances of having a kid that looks like you.  For an extra cost, you can access donors’ personal essays and see pictures of the donors as children and adults.
                Initially, I felt very superficial paying more money just to see donors’ pictures.  I reasoned that we should select our donor based on more meaningful characteristics like health history and IQ scores.  As long as donors had our same hair and eye color, we did not need to see photos to know if a donor would be compatible with our family.  However, - and Danielle will be delighted to see these words in type- I was wrong.
                It is amazing how a visual image can create a sense of connection and familiarity or elicit thoughts of, “Nope!  There is no way you will be our donor!”  Some of the guys looked too cheesy, dramatic, macho, or preppy.  Anyone who wore too many gold chains or looked like he might be remotely affiliated with the mob was immediately nixed.  Super hippy-dippy guys made us worry that our babies might come out smelling like patchouli.  With each rejection of a potential donor, we felt like such snobs, as if we were hurting the guys’ feelings or something.  However, we were looking for just the right fit.
                We eventually discovered a donor whose photos looked eerily similar to pictures of my father as a young man.  I am a Daddy’s girl, so I would love for my children to look like their grandfather.  My mother loves the way my brother’s smile reminds her of her father, and I would love to experience that same feeling of familiarity.  What a gift to be able to look at your child and love not only them but see in them the face of another dear loved one!  Since Danielle is going to carry our first child, selecting this particular donor would ensure that our child would look like an exact combination of the two of us.  We strongly connected with this young man with a familiar face and knew that our donor search was over.  After viewing hundreds of donor profiles, Danielle and I were ready to order sperm “units”.
                When we went to place our order, we discovered that our chosen donor was- get this- sold out!
                Back at square one, Danielle and I resumed our new hobby of profile-surfing.  The process could be likened to cruising for a date.  You dismiss some people instantly, linger on some profiles, and simply shake your head at others.  Two particular criteria began to gain some prominence in our search.  As a part of the donor questionnaire, potential donors were asked to describe their hobbies and to name a favorite book and author.  We began to read between the lines of some of the hobbies.  Likes videogames?  Translation: increased probability that he is lazy and lives with his mother.  Really into boxing?  In other words: is in shape but has potential anger management issues.  We tended to lean towards musicians, writers, and outdoor enthusiasts.  They seemed to be a safer bet.
                And as for books?  Well, let’s just say that you should not leave the “favorite book” section of your questionnaire blank if you want to father Danielle and Elaine’s babies.  It’s bad enough not to have a favorite book, but failing to list a book leads me to believe that one is not able even to NAME a book.  This simple omission knocked several men out of our potential donor pool, and the words, “HOW can you not have a favorite BOOK?!” were exclaimed a number of times during our search.  Of course, the favorite books also had to be quality works.  Anyone proclaiming love for Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue, for example, must stay many degrees of separation from Danielle’s birth canal.
                In the end, our donor won us over with his words.   Sure, his hair color and facial features looked like a mixture of Danielle and me.  He also had a good health history, high IQ, and had ambitious plans for his life.  More importantly, his donor essay was well-written and took a level-headed perspective.  He was not overly emotional or overly effusive about the prospect of fathering children.  What really sealed the deal, though, was when he described one of his family members as a “voracious reader.” 
Oh, Jerry McGuire.  You had us at voracious.  You had us at voracious!