Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What I Said To My Daughter

She was snuggled in bed next to her sister when it happened. Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. As it became more clear he was going to take the title, my newsfeed blew up with women wondering what they'd say to their daughters in the morning. How could they break the news to their girls that a man who bragged about grabbing women by the actual vagina was just elected to the highest office in the land?
Well here's what I said.

"Good morning Chicken. Ya sleepy?"
"Yesssssss. Ughhhh. Wait Mommy, who's president?"
"Well Obama is for now. But last night Trump won."
Her face fell. "I need to potty."
She drug herself to the bathroom and after she washed her hands we cleaned her ears. She got them pierced this weekend as a reward for getting straight A's. She's been asking for a while to get them pierced, but was also super nervous about it hurting. I got my ears pierced as a baby, and I always assumed I'd just pierce my baby's ears too because that's what my mom did and it turned out fine. But I decided to let her make that choice when she got older. She's 7 now.
I made it clear that she could pierce them, but I was honest and yes it would hurt. I took her to the mall, but on the way I told her that even if we got all the way to Claire's, even if she was already sitting in the chair, even if they'd already marked her ears with the little purple marker, even if they opened the package of little sapphire earrings and I had to pay for them, even if they had the gun to her ears and were on 1...2...It was her body. She could say STOP at any time, and we would pay for the earrings and leave right then and there. She had the power to say no. She was the only person who could give consent about what happens to her body. No matter what.
She asked if she could scream, and I told her to scream away. She only yelped for a second, and she was THRILLED with her new little blue sparklies. She walked out of that store feeling like she'd conquered the world.
"Mommy I'm scared and I'm sad." She looked in the mirror as she brushed her hair.
"What scares you babe?"
"Trump is mean. What if he changes the rules? Josie said she is scared because he wants to make a rule that she can't live here."
Josie is Mexican. This isn't something my Sunshine heard at home. This is what a little girl she is friends with told her at school.
"Well Chicken he's actually not the rule maker. He's just President. There's another group of characters who actually write the rules."
"But what if he makes rules and we have to be mean? He's mean and he yells. And he's mad."

That girl might be a mess. She might have a strong personality that gets her into trouble and tries me like a free sample. But she is a rule follower through and through.
One day in class a bunch of the kids caught the bathroom break bug. One kid asked to go, then another, then the whole class all of a sudden needed a "bathroom break". Her teacher was just trying to get through the lesson, so she told them NO MORE BATHROOM! It wasn't malicious. She wasn't trying to abuse anyone. But for crying out loud those bathroom breaks can get contagious, and the poor woman can't keep up with all the government mandated schoolwork if every single kid all of a sudden needs a trip down the hall.
Well rule follower through and through, my Sunshine sat back down. But the thing is she really really had to pee. But the teacher said NO BATHROOM, so Sunshine didn't ask. She heard the rules, and rules is rules.
Math time came and went, and it was time for lunch. So Sunshine marched in line like a good little soldier. But she still really really had to pee.
Her teacher got them all situated in the lunch line, then she left to go have her own quick break all the while completely unaware that one of her ducklings really needed to potty. Again my Sunshine didn't ask because rules is rules. But she still really really had to pee. And no sooner had her authority figure left, but her bladder let go and she had an accident right there in the lunch line.
Mortified, she tearfully told the lunch lady what happened, and the blessed woman ushered her quickly behind the counter and got someone to discreetly clean up the puddle. Sunshine's shoes were filled with pee, so she took them off and put them in a bag.
Ms. April sent my Sunshine to the office to give me a call and she told all the kids in line that Sunshine's shoe had broken. She saved her from complete humiliation.
Instead of bringing a change of clothes I picked her up and brought her home for a little break. She changed out of her wet skirt with tears and we had a good chat about when it's okay to break the rules. I assured her that I would tell her teacher that going forward here's the protocol: Tell your teacher you need to potty. Ask permission to go. If you're told no, and you really need to go, you walk right out and go potty. She was still afraid of getting in trouble, so I assured her that she wouldn't be in any trouble at all because her teacher would be aware of this new set of rules.

We talked about that this morning. The President doesn't make the rules. But even if he influences the rule makers, and rules get passed that are wrong...It's okay to reject that.
No one can MAKE you be cruel. No one can MAKE you hate. None of us have to be afraid to stand up. We can still continue to speak out in the name of love and acceptance.

I handed her the Girl Scout shirt her Mimi bought for her.
"What's the Girl Scout Promise?" I asked her.
"On my honor I will try, to serve God and my country, to help people at all times and to live by the Girl Scout Law."
So no matter what, no matter who gets elected, we will live by the Girl Scout Law.
We will do our best to be Honest and Fair
Friendly and Helpful
Considerate and Caring
Courageous and Strong
Responsible for What We Say and Do
Respect Ourselves and Others
Respect Authority
Use Resources Wisely
Make the World a Better Place
And Be a Sister to Every Girl Scout.
Those are OUR laws. As long as we follow those we don't have to worry about who's in charge of the country. Because are strong women. We are in charge of ourselves. Political leaders might influence lawmakers. But OUR laws trump any hate. We can stand as beacons in this dark world. We will add light. We don't hide from the darkness. We face it head on. We are strong and we are united.

We have sister Girl Scouts who voted Democrat. We have sisters who voted Republican. We have sisters who voted third party. And our sisters before us fought for our right to cast our votes and let our voices be known. All of our voices. We all basically want the same thing. We just have different ideas of how to get there. We have a responsibility to listen to our sisters, and we have to find our common ground. We can stand together and make the world a better place.
Our voice in the world has to be one of hope. And it has to be strong. This election will not grab me or my daughters by any part of our bodies. I have been sexually assaulted. Let me tell anyone who has never lived it, it is scary. It makes you sad, and angry and ashamed and hurt. It makes you feel weak and powerless. But we are not weak and powerless. This vote doesn't define me or my daughters. It doesn't change any part of our journey. If Hillary had been elected our mission would have been the same. We are charged with bringing good into the world. Every single day we are to push forward. We demand respect. We help those in need. We are kind to those who are not kind to us. Because light can pierce darkness.

To my sisters who voted for Trump. I know you have your reasons. I still love you. We just have different life experiences. As long as we stay on the same team, we can still fight for our daughters. Your candidate now has a responsibility to pony up and do the things you voted for while refraining from the things that scare us. From the deepest part of me I really am rooting for him now. I am hoping that the version our country gets is the version you see, not the version we're afraid of. All the world's a stage, and our election has made caricatures of the candidates. I am holding on to hope that your candidate will see the fear in our sisters and brothers and will do his best to put those fears to rest. My hope is that he will work damn hard to show the minorities, women and the men of this country that he is working for all of us. No more fear. No more hate. America is already great. Let's keep moving forward. Maybe he will surround himself with people who will speak for those he has hurt and he will do what he needs to do to pull us all together. If someone who has said so many hateful and divisive things can turn it around and become a voice for inclusion and tolerance then I have hope for our nation. You voted for policy. You voted for change. I have to believe you didn't vote for hate. But maybe if he has a real change of heart, his most deplorable supporters will follow him into the light. I am ever the optimist, and I am going to send out good vibes into the universe for him to bring about the positive changes you voted for while uniting us as a country.

To my sisters who are afraid. You are heartbroken for your daughters. I feel for you so deeply. But take hope. We are stronger than we appear. We are braver than you think. We will keep climbing. We will keep fighting. YOU are the leader of her world. Not the president. Use this election to talk about the qualities you want to instill in your daughter. Don't let her see you defeated. Stand strong. You have the real power.

Sunshine turned her earrings as she looked through the rain drops out the car window this morning. I hugged her, kissed her head and she grabbed her pink sparkly bag. As she walked into school I read the words on the back.

Girls Can Change The World.

Be the change today Girls. Chin up and be the change.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016


I have a little story for all the folks who bash on Target for getting rid of their gender signs. For those who think it really doesn't matter if something is labeled "boy" or "girl" and who think that parenting dictates how children feel about it instead of societal expectations and influences.
You've probably already pegged me as the bra burning feminist I am, but in case you haven't...Hello. My name is Towanda.
Suffice it to say I've tried to instill a healthy feminist attitude in my girls. Not the "girls rule boys drool" version. That's not feminism. That's asshole-ery. But the version that says "Women and girls are human beings with value. That value is absolutely equal to boys. Boys are our allies in this fight for equality. They are not the enemy. We are all people who have some kind of gift to offer this earth. Your skills and value include but also lie beyond being beautiful and having the power to reproduce."
But on Monday Sunshine came home really sad from school, and she didn't want to talk about it. When I finally coaxed it out of her, she said some kids at school (mostly girls) have been making fun of her for having "boy stuff".  Her favorite color is ice blue, she has an Avengers backpack and had worn a blue shark video game shirt from Old Navy to school that day. Yes we got the shirt from the "boys" section, but she liked it, so we just got it. She didn't even know it came from a section with phallic requirements. She just thought the shirt was cool.
When she told me she'd been picked on and even excluded from playing with the other girls for her wardrobe choices I hid my rage and told her that those weren't really people I'd want to play with anyway. She did say a boy from class actually gave her free admission to his recess club because he liked her shirt, and I secretly logged that boy down as "one of my favorite people." I then explained to her how flawed the girls' logic was, since there are plenty of female sharks in the ocean. Without female sharks there would be no sharks at all, so obviously sharks aren't just for boys. But she was still hurt. I asked if she still liked her backpack and shirts, and she said yes. But she didn't want the girls to see what she was wearing, and she told me she'd tried to keep her coat on all day (when temperatures reached almost 80 degrees). Heart. Break.
So I was crushed for my girl, and I wanted to punch some first graders in the face all at the same time. But I knew the kid had to find her own way, so we just talked a little about being ourselves. I told her I knew plenty of kids in her school who think she's the coolest BECAUSE she marches to her own beat. And this wasn't lip service. In kindergarten she couldn't walk into the building without kids from every grade calling out "Hey Sunshine!" or whispering to their dads "Look Dad! That's Sunshine! The girl I told you about." (It might have had something to do with the food fight she started with the 4th grade. But I'm trying to believe it's because she's a genuine badass. She didn't need to try and be anything she's not. My girl seemed slightly better after our talk, but my heart still hurt for her.
Then I was at the library dropping off some donations yesterday when I saw the answer. Sunshine is a Star Wars fan because she's watched the Star Wars Rebels cartoons, completed Jedi training academy at Disney and LOVES the Star Wars ride. She started the school year with an R2-D2 backpack and a Darth Vader lunch box, but until now she's actually never seen the movies! (I know...huge parenting fail). But they just so happened to have Episode IV sitting right next to the counter, and I snatched it up.
We came home after gymnastics, and I asked if she was down for watching it. She was beyond excited, so we popped popcorn and watched Luke, Han and of course Leia try and save the galaxy. She fangirled all over the place during the movie, but this morning is what rocked my world.
She'd been up late because we weren't about to go to bed without finding out if they escaped the Death Star. But she popped out of bed this morning ready to face the day. This never EVER happens because she's my child and we loathe the morning like vampires.
The first thing she tells me is "Thanks for letting me watch Star Wars last night Mom. I even woke up early!" I smiled and we got ready for school. It was spirit week, and she was supposed to wear exercise clothes, but she went straight to her drawer and grabbed her pink and black skirt and her Star Wars tee...the one that came from the "boys" section. She pulled it on, smiled the biggest smile and asked if that was okay to wear today. I told her heck yes.
She grabbed breakfast and babbled on about the movie and its awesomeness. Then on the way to school she said "Princess Leia is pretty awesome isn't she mom?" I agreed, and asked why she was awesome. She said "Because she didn't just wait around to be saved. She was a good fighter too." I again agreed and smiled to myself.
"But she's not that smart I guess," she said after a minute. I paused and asked why? She said "Because she got them stuck in the trash compactor!" I told her at least she took a chance. Everyone else was just standing around getting shot at. At least Leia had ideas and took action. She didn't care what anyone else's plan was. She wasn't just sitting around.
She said "Oh yeah! And they did escape. She's so cool."
She got out of the car for school with the biggest smile on her face. It's one I haven't seen in a long time. Today was the first day she's seemed excited and ready to face the world. And to think...I have a Disney princess to thank for that.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


I'm just cross posting from my surrogacy blog, but I wanted to update and say how excited I am to announce the publication of my first children's book! Here's a little backstory...

The Birth of a Book

I started my journey to surrogacy two years ago this month, and it's been a life changing process that has been filled with so much knowledge and patience and hope. During the matching process with Baby Mama and Baby Daddy I began to talk about what surrogacy was with my friends, family and my children.

Everyone always asks me what my kids think about all this. Do they understand that this baby isn't a sibling for them? Do I think they'll be sad when we don't bring this baby home? Do they get upset when I can't do things with them because I'm pregnant?

Surrogacy is a complicated subject to discuss with lots of adults. They question the ethics of it. They question my attachment to the baby. A lot of grown ups just can't wrap their minds around why a person would do such a thing. Women tell me they could never "give up the baby". They'd want to keep anything growing in their wombs. And I totally get it! But kids are surprisingly easy to talk to.

Our conversation basically just went "Hey you know how I grew you in my uterus?" They looked up from their cereal and  confirmed, yeah they remember me saying something about that once. (Sunshine asked about a tampon sign in the bathroom of our favorite burger joint once and got a 3 minute description of the menstrual cycle.)

"Well," I told them. "There's a mommy who wants a baby, but she doesn't have a uterus." They asked why and I told them she got it taken out because she had cancer. They wanted to know if they would get cancer. I told them I didn't know.

Then I told them my uterus was still working, but that I only wanted two babies. They asked if I would give them an older brother, and I told them if I had another kid it would be a baby and probably a girl baby since that's what their daddy makes. Then I asked who wanted to ride by themselves at Disney World because if we got another baby that would mean we'd have 5 people, and that's an odd number. They decided the dog we have is all the additional siblings they need.

Then Sunshine said "Well if your uterus works why don't you grow a baby for Miss (Baby Mama)?" I asked if she'd be okay with that and she looked at me like I was nuts. "Um yeah that would be the nice thing to do," she told me. Jeez don't be an ass. You're not even using that dusty ol' uterus.

And that was that. As far as they were concerned I had a uterus that I wasn't using that was perfectly capable of growing a baby for a mommy who really needed help. Why not?

Still I heard other surrogates asking for tips about talking to their kids about their journey, and it got me thinking that maybe they just needed a story. And wouldn't you know it...story telling is my specialty.

I wanted to write a story that was simply about family. It didn't need to scream surrogacy or IVF or explain what a uterus was. I just wanted it to be a universally sweet story about families helping one another. Kids don't like to be preached to. They like to be entertained.

So I sat down and hammered out a little story about a chicken taking care of a duck egg. But the story fell flat. I couldn't get into the characters, and it seemed forced. I scrapped it and just sat on the idea for a while. In the mean time I was signing contracts and getting ready to cycle for our first transfer.

Then as I got to know Baby Mama the story kept coming back to me. She did work rescuing sea turtles, and I thought it was so cool that she was protecting baby sea turtles while I was working to grow and protect her own baby.

The idea for the book kept sloshing around until one night I woke up from a dead sleep with the entire thing written in my head. I got my phone out and jotted down some extensive notes and crashed back out.

The next day I shaped the story and soon sent it off to P.C. Zick, my editor, for some honest feedback. She'd worked with Florida Fish & Wildlife, so I wanted to make sure I wasn't making any glaring technical errors with my setting or characters. I chose gators as a nod to my alma mater, and of course I chose turtles as a nod to Baby Mama.

I loved the story, but the ending just It was missing something.

I based the story off of our own journey. We started with 10 embryos, much like the turtles started with 10 eggs in their nest. I researched to make sure that 10 eggs was a reasonable clutch for snapping turtles. It was. I used snapping turtles because I couldn't think of a scenario where sea turtles would be hanging out near alligators. Maybe they do, but I couldn't get past it being kind of weird. I also had a really horrible cheesy ending where the Mama Turtle names her baby Ally Gator Snapping Turtle. I'm super glad I killed that darling. After I slept on it I realized that it was constipation-inducing level of cheese.

I had the first draft written right before we transferred the one surviving embryo Baby Mama and Baby Daddy had from her retrieval. When that transfer ended in miscarriage I realized that was the missing piece of the turtle's journey. Surrogacy isn't just about a woman grabbing an embryo, sticking it in there then popping out a baby like it's some kind of easy bake oven. Loss is a big part of infertility, and there are often several bumps in the road. But those bumps shape the ending.

So I changed it up a bit, and I had Mother Gator carrying two eggs back to the turtles. And although both eggs don't make it back, the ending meant that much more because Mama and Papa Turtle were overjoyed just to be parents. They got the baby they were meant to have. 

Rewriting the ending to the story was just the beginning of the real work. I had to now figure out where the heck I was going to find an illustrator. I've got another book I wrote for my kids that I illustrated. It's just a silly story meant just for them, so I really didn't care about having beautiful artwork to accompany it. I haven't even published it because it's just something I pull out for them from time to time.

But the Turtle's Tale needed art. And I just so happened to know a lovely girl who just finished art school at SCAD. I've known Victoria Allen since she was just a wee thing in high school. She's been BFFs with my brother-in-law since my first baby was just a baby.

It also just so happened that she grew up in Louisiana, and my book was set in the swamp. It's like this book was made for her to illustrate. I sent her the manuscript, and the sketches she sent back blew me away. It was almost scary how close to my own ideas they were.

I also didn't realize how lucky I was that she said yes, because not only did she crawl inside my head and pull out the most breathtaking illustrations for this story. But she also did all the design work for the book with only minimal nitpicky feedback from me. (minimal right Vicky?! The hyphens!? The damn trim!)

It was a long road, and at times it seemed to crawl at a turtle's pace. We hit our own snags and hangups with production and printing. But right around Christmas she sent me an email titled FINAL. I couldn't believe it was actually this close.

And so...just about a month before I'm set to bring this sweet little baby into the world and into the loving arms of his parents, we pushed out this amazing story of surrogacy and familial love.

I hope you enjoy A Turtle's Tale as much as I do. I hope it can help surrogates and intended parents to open up communication about what surrogacy is. And at the very least I hope it's just a good read.

Thanks for coming along on this journey. We are just about 6 short weeks away from my due date, so that means we are really headed into the home stretch here! Things should get pretty interesting in the next few weeks as we go on BABY WATCH 2016!