Ramadan Day 13 – It’s a Privilege


 

what is most heartbreaking
about an obsession with beauty,
is that it begins with a belief
that something is ugly
-nayyirah waheed

 


 

Do you want to be a mother?

 

Right now, I’m up to my ears in babies. Sperm banks don’t give you pictures of the donor. Not as an adult anyway. They give you baby picture(s) of varying quality, as supplied by the donor.

 

I’ve never been the kind of person who squeals every time she’s in the presence of a baby. I like them, and I know I’ll love mine. But yours are usually just okay. Unless I know you, in which case your baby probably did make me squeal. When I know that a part of you walks around in the world, I’m happy.

 

I once thought to myself that I should license and create a domain uglybabies.com because there’s nothing wrong with a baby not looking like it should be cast on pampers.com. Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder, and never has that been truer than when using a sperm bank.

 

It’s like asking somebody who doesn’t have a sweet tooth to run into the candy shop and pick the best candy.

 

I told someone, either my sister or Bollywood Heartthrob, “What am I supposed to do? It’s not like I’m trying to date these guys. I’m not sure how to pick. Am I supposed to go with a deep attraction or feeling or something?”

“Nope, definitely not. They’re babies!”

Ok, that was confusing.

 

Right now, my obsession is with dimples. If I pick a guy with dimples will my baby have dimples? I always used to want the one my sister has. My nephew fell off of a night table when he was young and now he has a dimple too.

 

Once my family went to Monterey and had clam chowder without me. But they didn’t want me to feel left out. They came back from the wharf with a picture of me, my sister, and my brother mashed together and hung it on the fridge. It would be what our child would look like? Yes, I know my family is weird, and in our defense, so is yours.

 


 

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photo credit: B.L.

 


 

I regret to inform you that the Lin mashup was frightening.

 

I wasn’t able to write yesterday. I had a terrible fight with a family member. Yes, during Ramadan. Yes, I totally lost my temper. Yes, I did it during a holy time. Yes, I feel some kind of way about that.

 

With family, we can treat somebody terribly. We can say things that we would never say to a lover or a friend or a colleague or even a stranger, because they’re not going anywhere. WE KNOW THIS. They’ll still be our sister or our brother or our parents the next day. Yet fighting with your family is one of the worst stressors we have.

 

Maybe it’s because we’re related that most of us never take the time to solve our underlying issues when it comes to family. We think that tomorrow or the next day we can deal with it. Your sister is never going to leave because she can’t. And before we know it, we have a year’s worth of tomorrow or the next day’s problems.

 

Before we know it, somebody has left

Even if you’re still in the same room

drinking orange juice and watching tv

 

I texted Bollywood Heartthrob who patiently waited for the full story of my family quarrel over text sobs. It’s probably one of the first times that I’ve ever truly felt comforted by a text exchange. Usually, I cringe inside when people ask me how I’m doing over text. I’m a writer, I want to say, we know how hard it is to convey feelings through words. How far away we always are from really knowing how another person is doing.

 

I knew that if I picked up the phone that I would start crying and wouldn’t be able to speak. Superstar said many comforting things, but in the middle of it all – this text floated out from her:

 

Being a member of a family is a privilege, not a right.

 

In so many ways, I’ve always taken it for granted that I love my family, and they love me. It’s something my father instilled in me repeatedly – you do everything for family. Reading it last night, that statement broke my heart a little. What does it take for someone to understand that family is a privilege?

 

Three sperm banks later, I’m ready to give the Bank a five and call it a day. Yes, I’ve decided, I would like to be straight and, especially, to have a hetero-normative life and relationship. I could deal with every part of it, I imagine, except the reality.

 

Here’s a proposed e-mail to the California Cryobank: Yo, you’re an institution. Could you just pick out somebody, anybody? P.S. Their ears can’t be bigger than mine because I’ve been feeling self-conscious all day about my ears. P.S.S. Also, it’d be nice if they weren’t flat-footed. P.S.S.S. If a family member has had a heart attack or cancer, that might not go so well with my genetics. P.S.S.S.S. What if they have childhood asthma? No. Addendum: Ok, this isn’t a requirement, but it’s a strong, strong preference. They can’t be allergic to cats or dogs. Because I am, and I don’t want my kid to have to suffer the way I have.

 

Go ahead, go down the google hole. I just gave you about thirty ways to sink yourself right in.

 

Irony #1: if I were picking an egg donor based on my family health history, I wouldn’t pick me.

 

One of my favorite donor comments (that my mom also enjoyed): “I’m donating my sperm because I know any child with my genes as a blueprint would be really lucky.”

 

The first play I ever acted in, I played a Korean egg donor based on a real-life person. (I may even have a picture floating around somewhere…) What is life without irony? I asked a friend of mine to consider donating sperm. As this friend processed his feelings about sperm donation, he began to have more and more reservations. It was a stressful situation in a difficult time, but of the many things I remember about that interaction, one thing stands out. He told me that he never wanted children so he didn’t want children out there from his sperm.

 

What is nature and what is nurture? You don’t screen for features or genetic testing in the same way when you’re using a partner’s sperm. When you’re a mom you can’t screen for nurture.

You have to assume evolution.

Deep down inside, not knowing what my baby is going to look like is killing me. I go back to that conversation with T about how it’s a crapshoot. I go back (again) to the night I told her that I wasn’t going to be able to use sperm from a friend.

 

“You know what it means letting someone you know, your friend, become a sperm donor?” she added. “It’s asking for drama! Who knows, 10 years from now, 5 years from now, if they don’t change their mind about being involved, it’s their parents. I mean, you’re making a lifetime commitment to this person. You should take advantage of one of the benefits of being a single mom. You don’t have to deal with anybody else’s shit when you make decisions about your children.”

 

My friend Blissey gave me advice as a straight, single mother of two 10-year old twin girls. She and the girls’ father divorced when they were almost five. “The nice thing about not depending on any partner is that you won’t have to deal with the constant disappointment of wanting someone to help out. The hard part is that it’s hard not having somebody, though if you can afford somebody to help, do it. The worst part is that when you have to discipline your kids. There won’t be somebody else to help discuss or to provide another perspective for you, or to balance what you’re saying.”

 

Over the years, I’ve asked many of my friends who had single parents and asked them if they would intentionally become single parents. Each of them said no. (If you’re my friend and you’re not saying no to that question – please come talk to me!) They all talked about how amazing their mothers were. How much they’d given them. But that it seemed like it’d be too hard, and they wouldn’t want to go through what their mothers did.

 

None of the single mothers I know have ever said it was easy. They say it’s really hard. None of them say that they regret it, in the slightest.

 

“You know those questions would be more accurate if the mother could be anonymous, right?” My sister once told me.

 

Knowing that the children of single mothers sometimes grow up dreading the fact that they’re parents do sacrifice for them (as do parents who are couples) is probably why I haven’t given up on writing or lawyering, even though I keep telling myself that is what I have to do. I think of how I felt when I heard about what my parents sacrificed to raise us. Everything. I felt Rotten. Maybe a little ashamed. Maybe I still am. A little bit ashamed.

 

“You’ve always had problems even when you had the time to write. Have you ever considered that you’ll write more efficiently, or write at different times when you have a kid?” The things that Doctor says!

 

But even this far along in the journey, the truth is that I’m stressed out. If it weren’t for Ramadan, for this fast, for this Ramadan journal, I wouldn’t be writing.

 

Last night, Queen and I ended up having a relaxing video hangout. They needed to clean their room. I needed to hang out with somebody and not think about the fight I’d had. It was soothing to talk about queer Muslims. After I tell Queen about some shitty interaction with family or friends, Queen usually says: “You know it’s not about you, right?”

 

This time, Queen said a corollary, “So you know that you being upset isn’t about them?” Queen folded a couple more shirts. I was too tired by then to sleep. It was so late. So I kept hugging my pillows and talking. We wandered around from topic to topic.

 

“I’ve been thinking a lot about what a privilege it is to fast,” Queen said.

 

I agreed. We’d both been thinking about what it means to not fast because of mental health, in particular. I described to them the weakness I felt last year, being unable to fast because I was so depressed. “I didn’t think of it as a health exemption,” I said, “but it was.”

 

What if I feel depressed, and I have this baby, and I’m too tired to get everything that needs getting done, done? What if I’m too sad? What if I’m too alone?

 

Once, Cherry, a mother of two, one of whom is a special needs child, asked me: “How good are you at asking for help?”

“I’m not the greatest,” I said.

“Then you won’t be a good mother. If you want to be a mother the most important skill you have to learn is to ask for help.”

 

The acupuncturist told me to stop fasting before I try to inseminate. “Your body needs to be prepared to be pregnant.” I know that being pregnant is an exemption from fasting. Is there an exemption for a woman to try and get pregnant?

 

Is there an exemption for women who are trying to get pregnant who are queer and who are fasting about losing their temper?

 

Is there an exemption from having to go through this process and to reproduce by budding?

 

It’s a privilege to fast. It’s a privilege to try and get pregnant by having heterosexual sex. It’s a privilege to try and get pregnant without it and without a known donor because then you have to afford sperm. It’s a privilege to have a body that could potentially become pregnant via that sperm. It’s a privilege to have your mental health and faculties enough to make the decisions to go down the path of pregnancy.

 

When I pray, I ask God for a baby.

 

The Doctor once said: Instead of worrying about all the bad things that could happen, what if I considered all the great things that could happen if I were to become a mom?

 

I don’t look like many of the women I know. I’m gender non-conforming and a queer-do. I don’t think I even conform to other queers ideas of being queer. I was queer when I was nine. I was truly queer, as Cherrie Moraga said, so queer that even as a child before I knew about sex or sexual orientation, I was queer — she said this after she put on Digging Up the Dirt in Santa Ana. I am queer beyond words, beyond gender, and I am this way because before I knew what a queer was, I had a big imagination.

Growing up, people talked about how great my sister and my friends (the girls, not the boys) were with kids and especially babies. I was too busy throwing rocks and trying not to fall off a skateboard. When I was in my early twenties, all my friends began talking about having kids, but I felt awkward and strange joining in their conversations. Part of it was that I didn’t feel like I was like the other girls. I remember that my brother said when we visited Taiwan one year how excited he was that my sister would have kids one day. I became very upset. I have so many friends for whom it is such a burden that people expect them to have kids. They feel that not becoming a mother is becoming a failure. And I feel their pain. The difference is that they actually don’t want kids. I do. Almost everybody I tell that I want a kid is surprised at first. I know what it means to be pressured into becoming a natural woman.

 

Virgie, the kindest and one of the best people I know, asked me one day, “Do you want kids, Serena?” She was the first person in my entire life that ever asked me that question. My therapist. She was one of the only people who asked me that question through my entire twenties.

 

Of the women within a decade of my age (and I’m one of the eldest in the group) — in the tight-knit Taiwanese community in which I grew up — I’m one of only two women who don’t have kids and isn’t married.

 

“Why are you crying?

“Nobody ever thinks that I want to be a mom, and nobody ever asks me that. The few times I’ve talked about it — it’s when they’ve assumed I don’t want kids. I’m probably not ever going to be a parent anyway. I wouldn’t be any good at it. I’m not like my sister or my mom. I don’t like babies. Look at me — I’ll never be a natural mother.”

“I think,” Virgie said, “that you’d be a great mom. Think of all the love you’d give them. Think of all the creativity you’d share with your children. I think you’d give the most wonderful answers to their questions. You’d really understand them.”

 

“Family is a privilege, not a right.”

 

I want to be a mother.

 


 

btw – told you i had this somewhere…me as Lucy, an egg donor

 

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photo credit: cornerstone theater company

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