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Parenting after IVF — The Teenage Years
And your very flesh shall be a great poem.
– Walt Whitman
There has been a tragedy here today — it was revealed to me that I am parenting completely hormonal teenaged daughters. Even though Hannah and Taylor will turn 15 next month, I was virtually certain that I had escaped most of the horrible dynamics typical of the age. Maybe, because of my epic struggle with fertility, which meted Sisyphean torture for years on end, a higher being was rewarding us with chill kids. Or maybe Hannah and Taylor had both been thoughtful, spiritually rich, eternally obliging and funny — essentially highly-evolved young women — in reciprocity for the good I have tried to seed in life. Maybe the cosmos had finally granted me a pass, that I would get off easy during their teenage years. No matter the cause, I always flexed my ego’s muscles when a mom or teacher would praise my twins’ kindness, patience and respect. Whew, I thought, there really is some merit in karma and the beatitudes. My loved ones and I paid a huge price upfront with fertility treatments and now I’m on cruise control. Parenting teenagers is actually a breeze.
That was yesterday.
Today I was the recipient of an experience that only parenting adolescent daughters can unleash. Here’s how it went down.
After lounging around the condo in Vail yesterday, Taylor exclaimed that Hannah had just posted a Facebook entry from Costa Rica where she is on break with her soccer team. My solar plexus thrummed then settled in, as it does only when I get to be with my children after having been apart. It’s the kind of clunking into place that I imagine astronauts feel as they reattach their ship to the space station after cruising around, untethered from the vessel that gives them life.
So what’s a middle-aged, incredibly hip, former fertility patient mom to do? Naturally I got on Facebook, with the intention of posting an unfettered confession of how I still love her every bit as much as I did during those samsara-slow days after she was born, when she promptly developed pulmonary hypertension, then tried to die on us. I wanted to say that I love her just as when I sat vigil by her incubator, reading aloud The Velveteen Rabbit to her, thinking this may be it, she may be gone in a few hours, so I better read to her now rather than regret that I hadn’t if she died. When the swarm of nurses at the desk had stopped talking, then turned my way en masse, I met their eyes, evenly, without a flinch, summoning my most ominous Fierce Momma Wolf Face. I knew they thought I probably was developing an ICU-induced psychosis but I held my ground. I was impaled by the love that I had for this delicate creature with translucent skin, swathed in tubes, dressings, catheters, her left wrist sliced open in a last ditch, frantic effort to gain access to her failing circulatory system. (She still has that scar in the shape of a cross, which I like to think of as God’s sign that she was claimed by him, though I doubt the surgeon who performed the venous cut-down would concur.) That fugue of days and nights in the NICU, I felt spectral as if I were luminous with love for these hummingbird-like creatures, my daughters, splayed under the harsh glow of the bili lights. Finally, after years of fertility treatments, I was a mother, a word so foreign in regard to myself that I used to practice it in the car on the way from the hospital to the hotel: mom, mother, mommy.
Back in the Vail condo, the screen of the Mac waited patiently. I typed a few words to Hannah, then deleted them, thinking my confession of love too demonstrative, not quite stoic and Protestant of me. I rewrote the post, cloaked in humdrum language, believing that Hannah would decipher it, knowing that it really read I love you more than life itself. She would answer from her Costa Rican orbit — Explorer to Mother Ship. Request Immediate Re-entry for Refuel. My post actually read, "Hi Han, I hope you are having fun," which indeed she must have been, what with all the beach shots of her and her soccer team. I intentionally omitted the most pressing question that all mothers wonder: Did you pack enough clean underwear or — God help me! — did you even pack underwear?
Then the tragedy: not two minutes later, she shushed me from 3,189.3 miles away, even managing to squeeze the word “creepy” in the same sentence as “Mom.” She shut me down like a diseased fast food restaurant. The only logical response was that I must send her off to boarding school when she returned — one in, say, South Africa — where she could shush the locals and call them creepy, as I blissfully continue my sedate — okay, boring — life stateside.
Just as when she was hummingbird-Hannah in the incubator, I was impaled again, but this time by the realization that I have kept a vow that I made with God when they were born, which is, help them learn to walk, then to walk away. One of the three world-class embryos, as the kindly embryologist billed them, had for the first time in her life rebuked me. On Facebook. Where 89 billion people can log on to see me redressed by my hopelessly adolescent daughter whose adjective du jour is creepy.
I passed the rest of the night in a funk on the couch with a book and a bag of fun-sized Twix, feeling like I’d gone to seed, that I don’t know this stranger, this enfant terrible who’s sending me decorum directives from a jungle via Facebook where she is parading around in a bikini so tiny that she might just as well have saved the money and stuck Band-Aids over certain key places.
Then I remembered: oh yeah, she’s almost 15, she is a teenager for God’s sake, running into fences, barreling through life, bucking and lurching her way to independence. They say this is life when parenting an adolescent, whoever “they” is. My mind flashed back to the few seconds that I got to see my girls through the embryologist’s microscope — three pudgy spheres of hope that I might have the privilege of parenting. I thought back to my tacit, foxhole prayer as I stared into that scope. "I’ll make a deal with you, Big Guy: you grant me a baby and I’ll grant you that I will show up every day to try my hand at fostering a whole, loving human being. I will teach her to walk, then to walk away.