Opening Your Heart: Slow Down for the Christmas Spirit to Bloom

J horses.jpgThis last couple weeks has been crazy. And I have not been graceful about it. I haven’t felt productive either, even though I’ve checked a bunch of things off my list.

Writing has been one daily activity that I’ve repeatedly put off. I haven’t felt the space for it, and yet my internal pressure to express rises. Reading about a research study on what we can do to act compassionately is giving me a clue to my own reaction to Christmas pressures.

Turns out, when we rush, we close our hearts. Christmas is the time of the year that we are meant to intentionally practice compassion. And yet, there is so much to do around the holidays, that we tend to get rushed. Turns out that being in a hurry actually crushes the Christmas spirit.

In a study of seminary students, designed to understand how compassion becomes action, the students were asked to prepare a sermon on which they would be evaluated. Half were given a random section of the bible to study, and the other half were given the parable of the Good Samaritan to study.

Each student was then sent one-by-one across campus, on a path that led them by a man moaning in pain on the ground. Who stopped to help this stranger in need? Not the ones who studied the Good Samaritan.

The key factor in taking compassionate action was how rushed the divinity students felt. The more rushed they felt, the less likely they were to stop and offer help to the stranger in need.

When we are rushing through our days, pushing to get the next thing done on our list, we literally tend to ignore people around us, and their needs.

Here are a few ways I’m choosing to slow down and let the Christmas spirit blossom–I offer these as gifts for your heart.

  • Affirm gratitude in the giving: “I give thanks to the Giver behind each gift and to the one Giver behind all that I give and receive.” While I’m are writing cards, shopping or wrapping or mailing or distributing gifts, I’m praying for the people to whom I’m giving that they may receive these blessings fully. As I’m opening cards and gifts, I’m also praying to receive and give thanks to the One Giver behind all our efforts.
  • Practicing forgiveness. I’m praying for anyone with whom I feel in conflict or a sense of unrest. Forgiving myself, too!
  • We’re having both a “spiritual Christmas” and a “social Christmas” to keep things balanced. I meditated for 8 hours with my community earlier this month. Tomorrow, I’ll support my husband Rick to meditate with the community.
  • On Sunday we’re going to a Christmas service, on Christmas Eve, we’ll enjoy a Christmas play together.
  • I’m stopping even for a moment, looking into another’s eyes, smiling and saying Merry Christmas, just to serve that person in front of me.
  • On Christmas morning, very early, before anything else happens, I’m going to meditate deeply and let the Christ Consciousness be born in the cradle of my heart.

Even simplifying can seem overwhelming in itself, so here’s just two essential attitudes that will kindle the Christmas spirit.

  • I’m saying “Yes!” with all my heart, to all I have before me. Try it…you will feel a new Christmas energy rush in to help you give and receive everything with calm joy!
  • Always remember who you really are: a loving, giving person, doing your best to be kind to everyone and under all circumstances! Merry Christmas blessings to all!

~ From 12 Ways to Spiritualize Your Christmas, written in collaboration with Savitri Simpson, and originally published in Elephant Journal.

The New Hope Cycle

Many times along my journey to motherhood, I said “I won’t do that”—surgery, in vitro fertilization (IVF), ovum donation—“I’ll just adopt.”

After countless vaginal sonograms to count the eggs I produced on hormone-stimulated cycles for IUIs (intra-uterine insemination), we saw a pattern of high egg count—repeated counselling for multiples—but no conception.

When we did conceive, we miscarried. Our third doctor, Mitchell Rosen at UCSF Center for Reproductive Health, hypothesized that something in my uterus could be blocking conception. He recommended looking inside.

The look inside would happen in the operation room of a hospital under general anesthesia, and if there was something there, the doctor would remove it: Surgery. My husband, Rick, reminded me that I had said “no surgery.”

Now things looked different to me:  a new doctor, new information, a new possible answer. A new hope rose for conception of our baby.

The look inside revealed a false wall of tissue in my uterus. If an embryo attached to that false wall, it would not receive sufficient blood flow to grow. Dr. Rosen removed it. His hunch was a good one. I felt new hope for conception grow again after the surgery. Never say “never.”

When the pattern continued—more stimulated cycles, IUIs, no conception or miscarriage (we had 5)—our new hope became IVF. At this point, I was 42. My chances of conceiving and carrying to term a child with my own eggs was 2-3%.

These odds are a serious hope-dasher—or they should be—but on the road to fertility, hope springs eternal. I thought: “Someone was in that 2-3%. I had great egg production. It could be me.”

The price tag of IVF, on the other hand, was daunting. In the US, $18,000.

I liked my doctor, even though it was a 6-hour drive for us one-way to UCSF. With some effort, we had a phone consultation about how he would do the IVF in our case. “I’d put all the embryos in,” he said. He also counselled us to consider ovum donation. The cost of IVF was about a third of my annual salary. The cost of IVF with ovum donation was closer to half at $35,000.

At this point I discovered Resolve, and someone suggested going overseas for IVF, and South Africa. That seemed waaaay out there for me.

Online I found clinics near family we have in Australia and Europe. I filled out the inquiry forms online. Crickets. I didn’t hear back. (How can you put up an inquiry form, and not respond to inquiries, especially about a health concern that is so time-sensitive?) I needed compassion in the form of responsiveness.

Then, I wrote to Cape Fertility Clinic in Capetown, South Africa. Less than 24 hours later, I received a response. One of the doctors, not a nurse or a receptionist, wrote back to me, right away.

Dr. Heylen was direct, compassionate and ethical. With his clinic’s track-record on IVF, my 42-year-old odds were 3% to conceive and carry to term with my own eggs.

Dr. Heylen also counselled us to consider ovum donation. The odds would shoot up to 80%. I wasn’t ready to give up my own genetic heritage. Given my egg production, and their method of growing the embryos to blastocyst phase, he agreed to do IVF with me.

Dr. Heylen is Belgian. The clinic uses European protocols, perhaps a bit ahead of the US. The cost of IVF at Cape Fertility Clinic was half that of a US clinic—including travel, renting a car and staying in a private cottage in Capetown for a month. My mother offered to help us finance it. New hope rose again.

Dr. Heylen’s accessibility meant so much to me. To this day, he’ll respond to my emails himself, right away, the only delay being he’s usually sleeping when I write (12-hour time difference). The combination of accessibility and direct, ethical responses to my questions gave me confidence to overcome the seeming foreignness of South Africa, and make the double-continent airplane jump around the world.

We had a brilliant time in Capetown. The clinic care was excellent. Two embryos made it to blastocyst phase. They were starting to slow down their growth when Dr. Helen implanted them in my womb.

We did not conceive. This hope left me in the 97% percentile. It all seemed crazy to have done, but it was a chapter that I had to live, and now close.

It was like walking through a forested valley. I could only see some yards ahead before a twist in the path blocked my view. No vistas to help me see why the path meandered so. Each new hope was a rise in the foothills, so I thought I could see where the path was leading, good reason to leap over this log or ford that creek. But it was a long hike up a steep mountain. Some times it was cold and dank in that valley. My heart did not know who to trust.

I didn’t keep my promise to never do this or that. Would I to adopt?

Yuba river

The Inspiration

The inspiration for Conception Story was the journey to conceive my son. And what a journey it continues to be.

Conceived with the generous gift of an anonymous donor in South Africa, after 8 years of losses and fertility treatments, Luc Tayten (“the Light of Great Joy”) Hunter Bend was born on his due date, May 7, 2010.Luc 12 days old

Eight years of losses, and now eight years of living with this ebullient soul (and a few others), I am ready to share what we learned—and are continuing to learn, along the way. All the “not pregnancy” pee strips, sonograms, injections, surgeries, doctors, statistics, and choice points are still fresh for me, but not with the same emotional charge. Now, with my grief complete, I feel only compassion for anyone walking this path. And a passion to share solutions, to see it all as a gift.

Today, what’s astonishing me is how Luc’s conception story continues to unfold for him. I carried him in my womb for 9 months, nursed him at my breast till he was almost 4 years old, and he claims he’ll co-sleep with me for the rest of his life. I am definitely his REAL mom. And yet he is profoundly aware of his adopted genetics and “donor” mom.

I made Luc a book to tell him his conception story—how loved and wanted he is—and gave it to him as a gift on his second Christmas.

Why so young? For a few reasons…First, the psychological and emotional process for adopted children is well-known. It’s essential that children know their parents relationship with them from the beginning. A surprise can create a break in attachment and complicate their self-image. This is true also for children conceived with any kind of fertility intervention, especially a genetic adoption, like ovum or sperm donation.

Second, I needed to fully process and grieve my own loss of passing on my genetics. I could not delay this grieving. As soon as he was born, people noticed that Luc did not look like me. His olive skin, dark brown-auburn highlighted hair, his rich brown eyes are not from my blonde hair, fair skin and blue eyes.

Third, I needed to prepare for his questions. I needed to be able to answer them at his developmental level, be there for him, not just awash in my own memories and emotions about the 8-year-get-pregnant trudge. Making Luc’s conception story was a way for me to grieve, and process all the complications of navigating the fertility treatment system. Otherwise, all this stuff would flood my brain. He would feel my complicated emotions, but not be able to understand what he was feeling from me.

His questions did come, in layers of increasing curiosity and concern from 2 to 8 years old. So far I’ve been able to address each one calmly, at his developmental level. But they are getting tougher as they become more about his identity.Luc with guitar

I have owned this domain name for six years, repaying each year, not quite sure what I would do with it. As Luc’s conception story unfolds for him, and he peels back layers into deeper and deeper territory—belonging, family, race, difference, trust—I know Conception Story needs to come alive.

I am here to share our story of adopting genetics, both the challenges and the grace that come with raising a child who feels all of that deeply. I want to help you have the courage to conceive your child, and to tell their conception story.

Born 13 days after Luc in May of 2010 is Tru, a spectacular Anglo-Shagya Arabian horse. My mare, Giselle (Luc named her “Mama G”), actually played a pivotal role in conceiving Luc. Pregnant together, we walked the Redwood forest trails to stay in shape as we grew our babies. Tru lives up to his full, registered name—“My True Companion”—and like Luc, Tru teaches me about heart and courage, boundaries and love. Plus nutrition.Tru J and Luc

In 2015, our family stepped onto the spiritual path, and moved to Ananda Village, a modern ashram community of yogis living for joy and dharma in the Sierra Foothills of California. I’ve been meditating twice a day for almost 3 years now. Meditation has seriously re-wired me. It’s re-wiring our whole family, as Luc meditates and does yoga in his Living Wisdom School.

The spiritual path has raised my consciousness to the grace flowing through every loss, every joy, every moment of life. It’s time to share the grace…tulips with light streaming