How my wife’s deceased mother is helping us conceive a second child

Recently, my wife’s father decided to sell the family home. He has let his daughters know that anything they don’t take home will be pitched, so my wife and her sister have spent some long day’s going through their old family home.

My wife’s mother was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer just a couple of months before we met (so about 10.5 years ago now), and she battled for 4 years before passing away. She spent most of those 4 years in their home, and had a hospital bed in the family room near the end. She acquired a lot of medical supplies during that time, and a lot of it was shoved in the basement after she passed away. While my wife was sorting the family’s old stuff and looking for sentimental items to save from the dump, she found a box of sterile specimen cups and a box of sterile 10cc syringes.

One needs both of those things to make a baby using at-home artificial-insemination, and both of those things are awkward and slow to collect through pharmacies (you can get one at a time without inviting questions…).

And that is how my wife’s mother is helping us in our journey to conceive her second grandchild, even after she’s gone. I think she’d giggle about it if she knew. ❤️

Glimpses of a passion for more than motherhood

When I became a mother – literally, the second my daughter was born and placed on my chest – I lost all interest and passion for anything else in my life. My evaporated passion for research, psychology, and career was worrisome for my wife and others in my life because they feared I’d never return to school to finish my doctorate. My wife, particularly, had lost a part of me that she’d always found attractive – one of the things that drew her to me as a partner was my passion and drive toward my dream career.

In the time since I became a mother I’ve found the patience and determination within me to continue working on my doctorate, but the passion hadn’t returned. Very recently, however, I met with someone I used to volunteer with and we got talking about teaching, teaching theory, and adult learning. That was always one of my passions and a part of the dream career I used to envision for myself, but it, too, had fizzled out. But as we talked, I felt a tiny spark ignite in my brain (or in my soul, maybe), and I started to feel passion for teaching again. I started to feel excited to get back in the classroom. I started to yammer on and on about adult learning theory. When the conversation ended, my excitement diminished again over the course of the day. But it’s almost as if a pilot light had been re-lit. Now it takes less to trigger me into excitement over the research and theory I used to be passionate about.

Today I was randomly wondering why women are expected to make so much noise during sex, and men aren’t. I Google Scholar’ed it and started reading feminist research on sexuality and I felt hungry for it, like I couldn’t ingest enough of it. I started to crave a good conversation on the topic and wanted to call up a peer who specializes in this area and go for a coffee.

This kind of passion for knowledge, for reading academic articles, for critiquing theory and methods, had been gone for so long. But I’m catching more and more glimpses of that old side of me. I’m hopeful now that I might actually return to wanting something more for myself than motherhood alone. I’m hopeful for this because I don’t want to deny myself of the career I’d always dreamed of because of the way I feel about motherhood RIGHT NOW. I don’t want to wake up one day feeling less completely consumed by motherhood and realize that I’m discouragingly far away from that dream career that I had been so close to before motherhood.

Ripley’s Aquarium

Avery’s sick right now with yet another daycare virus, but thank goodness the virus held off until after our weekend trip to Ripley’s Aquarium in Toronto. We took Avery’s cousin as a gift of an experience (instead of toys) for his 2nd birthday. The two toddlers totally fed off of each other’s excitement and were completely wild and untamable for the entire two hours we spent there. They got into screaming matches at the fish, Avery became a “runner” and made us wish we had one of those backpack leashes, and she also showed bravery and confidence that we hadn’t seen before. They were both so far out of their shells that it took sheer exhaustion to rein them in again when it was over.

Our daughter’s relationship with our donor

On the weekend we went to our donor’s youngest daughter’s first birthday party. We knew that by choosing a close friend as a sperm donor we’d need to be OK with seeing a lot of each other; there was always a risk that once our baby was born we’d feel awkward about it and it would have a negative impact on our friendship. But we certainly didn’t anticipate that having him as our donor would make us closer as friends, and would see us spending more time together as families. I think this is a sign that our donor arrangement has gone really well.

At this birthday party, our donor took the time to play with Avery. He really engaged with her. It made me contemplate all the fears and trepidation we had while we worked out our donor contract. I used to worry a lot about people (either our donor, society, or even Avery herself) seeing him as a “father figure.”

But now, after watching them interact and knowing from the past 18 months of experience that there’s no awkwardness or selfish intentions, I want to see their relationship grow.

I feel a desire to be crystal clear about language here, though. We still don’t see him as a father figure, and we still don’t refer to him as a “biological father”. I don’t think he would, either. We refer to him as our donor, and we describe his role as the person who donated sperm to us so WE (my wife and I) could have a baby. Any special relationship that blossoms between them doesn’t have to change that language.

But a blossoming relationship seems kind of nice to me now, whereas before it was a bit terrifying. I like the idea of him caring about her. I like the idea of her knowing, and hopefully even liking, the person who contributed to her genetic makeup. She can look for bits and pieces of herself in him, if she chooses to. (She can also look for parts of herself in my wife, because genetics only takes you so far in making you who you are). I like that if she has questions about her genetic heritage, she can just call him up and ask.

This comfort with, and even preference for, a relationship between our daughter and her donor has taken me by surprise. I guess there’s really no way to predict what your kid’s relationship will look like with a known donor, or donor-siblings. I’m so thankful that ours seems to be better than we expected, when it could have gone the other way almost just as easily.

30 Days of Blogging, Day 25

I am so thankful that Avery has a cousin the same age as her. Since her sibling would/will be quite a bit younger, it’s so great to see her forming a relationship with the other kid who will probably be with her for the rest of their lives, as long as the family stays close.

This weekend we visited my sister-in-law for an overnight and the kids, who are 5 months apart, played like it was 1999. The laughter, happy screams, and even tough sharing or hitting moments made my heart full. They are growing up together, learning from each other about how to be in this world.

Avery also has this with daycare, but I know one day we’ll part ways with our daycare provider and the friends she has made there, when school starts.

On another topic, the drive home from our visit with family showed a new, more mature side of Avery. We had a long day full of fun, and left at bedtime. Long car rides at bedtime have historically been disastrous for us – Avery gets overtired and doesn’t want to be stuck in her car seat and screams and screams (once for almost all of a 2 hour car ride). But tonight she really seemed to get it when I said we were going home and would be going to bed as soon as we got there. She was calm. She was tired, rubbing her eyes and yawning, and still didn’t sleep in the car, but she was SO PATIENT. She asked me to sing her songs, she babbled to herself, and she just sat quietly and stared off into the distance for a while. No tears. No whining. I am loving this new level of communication so much. It’s so hard when they’re little babies and can’t understand why you’re making them do something they don’t want to do, and can’t hold their delicate shit together for long. That’s not to say toddlers can hold their shit together WELL, but it sure does get easier and easier as they get older!

Savouring Sunday

Today is my wife’s birthday. I’m throwing her a surprise party, and trying to play it cool this morning before guests arrive. Yesterday was a manic day of getting the house and yard ready for the party, and my wife was micromanaging me in the kitchen, questioning why I was prepping so much food (her: “This is WAY TOO MUCH FOOD! Are you crazy??” – – me: “I want to be eating leftovers all week. I need a break from cooking”). 

Yesterday was nuts. I ran myself ragged, all with a baby attached to my leg or my arm. She’s going through a clingy phase. By evening I was feeling touched out and told my wife I needed to step away for an hour or I’d be too impatient to handle the bedtime battle. Stepping away helped, but it was still difficult to keep calm later as Avery cried and pleaded with me to not go to bed (she whines “bad Ga toe blee dudu poepoe…” etc., while reaching with all her might toward the closed bedroom door. 

I went to bed pretty exhausted last night, but the yard and gardens look pristine, the house is actually CLEAN (underneath this morning’s avalanche of toys), and I want to take a step back and enjoy today. 

Usually when we have guests over I get anxious and can’t relax and enjoy, but today I am determined to savour my time with my wife and my baby and our friends and family. I want to sit in the backyard with a beer, hold my kiddo in my lap, and listen to the conversation. Wish me luck! 

This post is in response to a daily prompt

4 Permaculture Tips that Saved my Veggie Garden

If you’re just starting out at vegetable gardening, you’ll probably be starting with the popular plants like tomatoes, zucchini, and maybe some herbs. Most people can successfully grow these, but sometimes the garden conditions you are working with (i.e., sun, soil, water) make even these common plants an uphill battle to grow. I’ve found that by applying some of the principles of permaculture to my backyard veggie garden, I’ve decreased my gardening workload and increased my yield. 

Now, by its nature, gardening takes years in the same plot to really perfect the growing. So don’t worry if you’ve just bought a tomato, a zucchini, and some herbs, plunked them in the ground or in a pot, and were hoping for the best. It might work out pretty great for you, or you’ll find some things that worked and some things that didn’t. Gardening – especially veggie gardening – is art on a canvas that gets wiped clean every winter. You get to recreate and try new things every year. Hopefully these lessons I’ve learned in permaculture techniques will help you as your garden grows and changes over the years to come. 

1. Pollinators are everything.

If you follow gardening, agriculture, or environmental news, you’ll know that populations of pollinators (like bees) are declining because of pollution, pesticide use, and loss of habitat/food sources. Without pollinators, most of the fruit and vegetables we eat will never form on the plants. Over the years I have learned that doing nothing to attract pollinators has had a detrimental effect on the amount of food I can grow. For example, I have 6 tomato plants in excellent, rich soil, I fertilize them, I water them, they get full sun, and they are properly pruned and tied to supports. The plants are extremely healthy and grow sometimes 5 feet tall. But each year I’m lucky to get enough tomatoes to eat in a few salads. Ideally, that many tomato plants would stock my freezer with tomato sauce to last all winter. In my neighbour’s garden, small, wimpy tomato plants are interspersed among a large wildflower garden. You should see how full with fruit these little plants get. They are so weighted down they look like they’re about to collapse. Unfortunately my neighbour’s front yard wildflower garden is far enough away from my back yard veggie garden that the pollinators she attracts don’t often find their way to my side. So on my list of garden to-do’s is to plant more flowers in and around my veggie gardens. There are a lot of flowers that are reportedly great companions to vegetables, and many are even edible. They also don’t have to take up a lot of space if you plant them interspersed among your veggies. 

    2. Plant for the sun you have, not the sun you wish you had.This raised bed only gets ~6 hours of sunlight a day, and peas, carrots and beets do best here.

    This has been a tough one for me… I have a big back yard and raised beds that are situated right in the afternoon sun. But if I look realistically at my yard, very few of my garden beds actually get full sun (i.e., ~8 hours a day), and the outside perimeter of my yard is pretty much in full shade all day. I also planned my garden when we moved here 6 years ago, and since then a neighbour’s tree has grown enough to completely shade the berry garden I had planted (the annoying part of gardening in the city…). If you plant plants that thrive on the actual light that your gardens get, you will be rewarded. If you plant high sun requirement plants (e.g., tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, strawberries) in insufficient sun, you will get leafy green plants with very little payoff. Waste of precious space when you’re trying to feed your family from an urban or suburban yard. I’ve started to adjust my garden to meet its changing light patterns. I no longer try to grow sweet bell peppers or eggplant, and I devote my two sunniest raised beds for the produce I know we will make the most use out of (like tomatoes). I also plan to move my asparagus this fall out of a spot that has become shaded thanks to tree growth, and I am slowly replacing my berry garden (currents, strawberries, yellow raspberries) with a wild native black raspberry that grows in the shaded understory of farm hedgerows around here. The berries are smaller and the thorny brambles are bramblier, but they taste amazing and they should grow like wild in my backyard. Which brings me to my next tip… 

    3. Plant native. 

    The young, curled up fronds of the wild Ostrich Fern are the culinary delicacy known as fiddle heads.

    I have been doing my research on native edibles and slowly changing my veggie garden from high needs annual vegetables (many from the Mediterranean, which is a long way from Canada!) to low maintenance native edibles from, well, right in my own backyard, so to speak. It’s amazing to discover what edible plants grow wild where you’re from, and an adventure in culinary creativity to learn to cook with them. For example, fiddle heads are a delicacy to buy in the produce aisle, but it turns out they grow rampant where I live as Ostrich Fern. I now grow Ostrich Fern in a shaded part of my backyard and have amazing stir frys with home grown produce as early as late May. The wild black raspberries, as mentioned above, are another example. There’s also a native perennial version of kale, called sea kale, that I plant once and eat from for years to come. So many hidden native treasures out there… 

    4. Mulch.Mulching is permaculture 101, and it’s not just for the fancy shrub or ornamental grass garden you see in posh neighbourhoods. The right kind of mulch holds moisture, provides nutrients to your plants, suppresses unwanted weeds, and will even attract beneficial insects (back to that point about pollinators!). I’m lucky enough to have a local organic mushroom farm that gives away a spent horse manure and straw combo that works GREAT as a mulch and as a tilled in compost for soil amendment. We can also use straw from our chicken run now. 

    These four points are some of the most important concepts of permaculture, and I’ve been able to apply them to my backyard veggie garden to make my life a lot easier. Gardening is always easiest if you can find a way to work with mother nature. Humans will never win in a battle against her (a fact I have to constantly remind myself every time a squirrel decimates my strawberries or my corn…).

    Quick update on life: 4 things 

    1. We have daycare!! Starting in September Avery will be going to a warm and sensitive caregiver with only one other 12 month old little girl, from 9-1, 3 days a week. We will slowly increase that to 9-2:30 4 days a week. It is the perfect situation for us. 
    2. Avery is getting into EVERYTHING. Crawling is awesome – I particularly love it how she can follow me around the house without needing to be carried – but the baby proofing has to catch up with her. Just this morning alone she cut her finger sticking it in the floor heating vent, she pulled an unattached wall heating vent over onto herself, she got her finger stuck in the cat door, and she pulled a book off the shelf onto her head. She’s also pulling herself up onto her knees, so it won’t be long before she’s reaching things even higher up. 
    3. The chicken coop is done (just need to build the run this weekend) and it looks like we will be getting the chicks in about 2 weeks.  
    4. We are booked up for almost every weekend this summer already. Too many family and friends, maybe? Oh well, at least Avery should be able to have lots of new experiences this summer (like camping, twice!) 

    Weekend Update

    On Saturday we took Avery to her first Pride event! She slept through the whole thing but what matters is that she was there. The not-for-profit I chair is host to my city’s Pride Week (although a subcommittee does all the Pride planning – I’m not at all hands on with that). Every year we go to the rainbow flag raising at city hall, and every year we have lingered at the Family Pride BBQ afterwards, just our little family of two adults… This year we were finally the members of the Community whom the event was thrown for  ❤️  Of course we spent the whole time in the beer garden, but we were there with two other families and their babies so it was still very family centred. 

    I was supposed to go to this month’s parenting book club meeting on Saturday morning, but I have been feeling so overwhelmed with STUFF I have to do – silly little errands, mostly, but it really takes away from my time to just enjoy my daughter. Lately we’ve been driving around from store to store, home only to eat and nap, and then as soon as she wakes, it’s back in the car seat. So I skipped this month’s book club. I still read the book, and I’ll still be putting out a review. 

    When we got home from the Pride Flag Raising, my wife got to work on the chicken coop while Avery and I puttered in the house. We also had a back yard cleanup bonfire, but it was too cold to spend much time outside with the baby. 

    Sunday we Organized, Purged, Tidied, Cleaned, Baby-Proofed… Avery’s “crawling” backwards now, and I found her next to an electrical outlet on Friday, so we got to work adding these handy do-dads to every outlet she can reach. Of course now I can’t plug anything in anymore because I can’t get the damn things off, but safety first. 

    We’re planning to let Avery show us what needs baby proofed (or removed) as she starts moving around more, but cupboards with cleaning supplies and electrical outlets aren’t things we want to think about AFTER she has had an encounter. We also strapped down top-heavy furniture. Otherwise, corners on coffee tables and books on shelves are free game until she shows us she can’t safely handle them. 

    Weekend update: Easter

    It was a beautiful spring long weekend. My wife got four days off (her new job gives both Easter Friday and Monday off!) and we only spent one day away from home. It was ideal. Busy, but at least we were busy in our own home doing our own stuff. Oh, and we were both sick, which was exhausting. We caught Avery’s bug. 

    Friday 

    I prepared an Easter dinner to have with my mom, and I managed to get the house cleaned too, all while taking care of Avery. It was one of those super mom days that balances out the days where I can’t even seem to get dressed by 5pm. My wife got a lot more progress done on the chicken coop, and my mom got a good visit in with Avery. 

    Saturday 

    I got some plants for the garden transplanted into bigger pots until all risk of frost has passed (mid May), and we sat on our first pub patio of patio season. Avery couldn’t get enough of the fries. 

    Sunday 

    We went to the in-laws for Easter dinner and Avery had a great time interacting with all the family she used to have stranger anxiety around. Except for her 1 year old cousin… She still has some issues to work out with him.

    Monday

    I had to go to work to invigilate an exam and Avery stayed home with her Mo. More coop building ensued, and some relaxing in the afternoon. 

    Sleep

    Since I last wrote about the floor bed arrangement, we have changed gears with sleep arrangements again. She seems to have matured a bit in the needing comfort area, because when she wakes through the night (which is still every 30 min to 2 hours) she doesn’t wail or cry in a panicked way. She cries in a complaining way now. So for a little over a week I have been putting her to sleep by nursing in the chair in her room, and then transferring her to her crib. The first transfer of the evening is hard. She needs to be really asleep to go for it, so it can take an hour and a half still. But after that all it usually takes to get her back down is a quick (2 to 15 minute) rock. She sometimes rolls around to get comfy after you put her back down, too, so she seems aware that she’s going back in the crib alone. 

    The problem I’ve had over the weekend is that I’m too exhausted to rock her back to sleep. My legs feel like they’re on fire and I just don’t have the will power and I instead sit down in the chair with her. Sometimes she nurses, sometimes she just cuddles. She falls asleep, but so do I. A couple of hours pass. This isn’t helping our “training” because she still spends half the night sleeping with me, and it doesn’t benefit me like bed sharing did because I’m so uncomfortable. 

    My wife took some of the night waking shifts over the weekend which was great for our “training”, but she can’t keep it up once she’s back to work this week. This will be my greatest challenge – staying the fuck awake through the night.