Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Down and Dirty on Diapering

This is a guest post from Stewart, aka "Papa":

Earlier this summer, I happened to catch an interview on sports radio of New York Jets running back Shonn Greene. At the time of the interview, the NFL lock-out was still in place, so Greene wasn’t permitted to work-out with the team in preparation for the upcoming season. He was on the radio instead to promote a big barbeque being held in the city for first-time fathers, sponsored by Pampers, that Greene and some other local celebrities were hosting. He mentioned that he is a first-time father himself, with a 7 month old son at home. Given the NFL lock-out situation, the radio interviewer jovially asked Greene whether or not, with all of his unexpected free time, he was keeping busy by changing his son’s Pampers. Greene laughed and said essentially “all but the poopy ones” -- which he left to his wife.

Jacob pointed out to me that this was a rather curious response for a man promoting a Pampers event to give -- “Pampers – best left to your wife!” -- and likely not the message the execs at the diaper company were striving for in pushing their brand on new dads. But I was more chagrined by the fact that he is skipping out on one of quintessential experiences of parenting a baby. That’s right, my entirely unsolicited advice for the Jets running back is this: You’re missing out! Change some poopy diapers!

Now we know why Shonn Greene wears gloves

I have been an uncle for approximately 10 years now, and throughout the first few years of each of my niece and nephews’ lives, whenever I saw them I was encouraged by family to change their dirty diapers. My family told me that far from them pushing on me a thankless job, they were actually doing me a favor -- taking on this role would afford me the enviable opportunity to embarrass my niece and nephews for time immemorial with the classic retort to any of their later flack: “I used to change your diapers!” While that was all well and good, I remained suspicious that the real motivation of their pep talk was simply to get out of changing a diaper. Now that I am a parent myself, I am sure of it. I must admit that there have been times when we’ve had guests over to see Max, and he decides to drop a little present into his diaper, that I’ve been tempted to continue the family tradition of “re-gifting” that present for our friends to handle.

So, armed with my suspicions, I never did change my niece and nephews diapers. After all, one of the great perks of being an uncle or aunt is that you get to spoil your nieces and nephews as much as you want. You become their favorite, and the second an inconvenient or undesirable parenting moment arises -- like a full diaper -- you get to hand those smelly little tykes back to mommy or daddy.

There was one exception. About two and a half years ago, I was asked to babysit my then two year old nephew Luke for an evening -- alone. Before leaving, his mother rattled off Luke’s nighttime routine, which included, if necessary, changing his diaper before bed. I just kept nodding: “oh yes, of course of course.” Well, when that fateful bedtime hour hit and it was time for Luke to get into his PJs, I realized I had no idea how to know if this change in ensemble required a diaper change. Or, more importantly, how to perform it. At this point Jacob and I knew that parenthood was in our future, so I decided I better go for it, before poor future Max became my guinea pig. Of course changing an active 2 year old is a little different from changing a sleepy, sedentary newborn. I ended up changing Luke in the bathroom while he was standing up and chattering away about whatever he was into at the time (trains, most likely, but I was too focused on the daunting task at hand to listen properly). It turns out that changing a child while he or she is standing up is a fairly unorthodox and advanced diapering technique, and I was way out of my league. And, wouldn’t you know it, his original diaper was dry and didn’t need changing after all. Too late. Thankfully, Luke didn’t seem to mind my fumblings with the tabs of his new diaper, or puzzlement over which was the front end and which was the back, or the sad, droopy end result that he wound up wearing under his PJs as a result of my ineptitude. But, while I was nervous all the next day that I would get a phone call from his mother about the plastic trainwreck I had patched around her son’s butt, the call never came and I breathed a sigh of relief. I had done it!

With Max in my life, I must have changed a thousand diapers by now -- of every degree of wetness and of every shade and consistency of poop. I’ve changed a poop in the men’s room of a highway rest stop in the middle of nowhere while feeling the collective stares of the truck drivers passing through as I sang “twinkle twinkle little star” to Max to keep him calm enough for me to finish the job. I’ve changed a poop in an airplane bathroom that had no changing table and was so small I could barely bend down to maneuver. I’ve changed a poop while wrestling Max on my lap while sitting on the toilet of a public restroom because the sink was too small and the floor was wet. And I’ve ventured into the women’s restroom to get the job done, stressing all the while over the reaction I might get from the ladies who could walk in at any moment. And as long-time readers of the blog know, Jacob has had his own diapering misadventures with Max, as chronicled in this early post, as well as this one.

Getting down to business
I know that I am far from alone in these experiences, and I’d love to read in the comments about your own diapering fiascos. But how are these experiences an endorsement for being an active participant in cleaning your child’s diaper messes? Put simply: it’s character building. It is not an exaggeration to say that in these small, trying moments of parenthood I’ve felt a particular closeness with Max, perhaps resulting from an intimate embarrassment shared and survived. I’ve also felt a palpable sense of accomplishment in carrying Max out of a restroom and back into the world looking perfectly clean and content, and me acting perfectly nonplussed, when in reality the past five minutes of changing his dirty diaper felt like fifty, with neither of us having any desire to re-live a single one of them. So Shonn Greene may think he’s making out by leaving the dirty diapers to his wife, but I strongly disagree. You may sacrifice a little of your dignity in the process of changing them, but it grows back stronger – like breaking down muscles in the gym in order to pump them up. Surely a pro football player like Shonn Greene can appreciate the value in that.

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Prophecy Fulfilled

Earlier this month I celebrated a milestone birthday: I turned 38. I realize that most of you probably think that I’m two years early in making this proclamation, but let me explain why the age 38 has such significance to me. I mentioned in a post I wrote last March about the 10 year anniversary of my first date with Stewart that ever since I came out as gay at age 22, I envisioned for my future not only a kid in my life, but even the exact age I wanted to be when the kid was born: age 38. Because I felt like a late bloomer at the time, I rationalized that the intervening years would give me enough time to mature and get my shit together, which included plenty of time to experience being a single guy, and then plenty of time after that to find Mr. Right and settle down in a serious relationship. I knew I would need that stability and security before I could ever tackle parenting.

Still, picking age 38 to have a kid instead of, say, age 35 or 40, still sounds pretty arbitrary. But actually -- and perhaps this was purely subconscious -- the age 38 has numerical significance for me. Thirty-eight years old is the mid-point age between when my dad had his first child (at age 30) and when my dad had his fifth and last child, me (at age 46). At age 22, I knew that I would not even be close to being ready to have a child by 30. My goal for 30 was to be in a serious relationship, hopefully, or at least to have had a meaningful relationship by that point. On the other hand, I knew that I didn’t want to wait to start having kids until I was 46. While I am very lucky that my dad always had lot of energy raising me and is still spritely for his age, I can’t count on those wonderful genetic qualities being passed along to me.

Over the years after I came out, my age-specific goals somehow never left my mind. First I met my goal of being in a serious relationship by age 30, having started dating Stewart a few years earlier. By the time I was 35, Stewart and I knew that we wanted to start a family together, and my target age of 38 was looking good. But I decided that it made no sense to wait to try to get the age perfect, for several reasons. First, although I had reached a comfortable place in my life, I realized that even so there was never going to be a day that I would simply wake up and say: “Now I am ready to have a kid!” I don’t think anyone ever feels completely ready for such a major life change. So I thought Stewart and I should just take the bull by the horns and go for it instead of letting my goal of age 38 turn into an excuse to put off such an intimidating undertaking. Second, as I have discussed before, having a child through surrogacy involves a lot of factors, and you can’t pinpoint how long it is going to take before you are successful. We were very lucky to find the surrogate of our dreams almost right off the bat, and that she was as motivated as we were to get the process going and to get pregnant. So while Max arrived during my 36th year on this planet, becoming parents could have easily taken until I was 38, even starting the process as early as we did (see my last post about how surrogacy can take years for some couples).

There have been many birthdays past where I have lamented to myself: “Oh my god, I am now such and such an age and look where I’m at in life. I haven’t achieved x, y or z yet,” perhaps in relation to my career or something else. But now at age 38 I look around and I can’t believe the wonderful place my life has taken me. I am a stay-at-home dad, married to an amazing husband, and we are raising an amazing 15 month old son. Also, we have such a great support system from our families and friends. Despite the proclamation I made at 22 years of age about my life goals, in my wildest dreams I did not dare to imagine that I would be sitting where I’m sitting now. I’m more than lucky.

Friday, August 5, 2011

A Star is Born

Following up my previous post, last week Stewart and I spoke to prospective dads at the city’s LGBT Center about traditional surrogacy, just as we did in 2010. The meeting had an excellent turnout – doubling last year’s total – which is particularly impressive given that it took place in July when a lot of people are away. I’d like to attribute this bump-up to more people being open to traditional surrogacy, but it’s more likely due to the increasing popularity of surrogacy in general amongst gay couples in town. Now that we all can officially get married, pleas from our parents for grandkids inevitably follow!

As much as I’d like to report that Stewart and I were the stars of the meeting, that distinction must go to our traveling companion: Max. While bringing him allowed us to both attend, while avoiding the hassle and cost of a babysitter, our main reason for having Max attend was not for our own sake, but for the sake of the other members of the group. We wanted to show them that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

As many of you know, Stewart and I were very fortunate when it came to our surrogacy journey. We matched with our surrogate, Christie, a little over a month after we first posted our ad on the Surromoms Online website, began the fertility process a few months after that, and Max was born less than a year later. Believe me, this is a very quick journey to parenthood compared to most of the guys in our group. Sadly, there are couples who attend the meetings who we first met when we began attending them in early 2009 who are still trying to conceive a child through surrogacy. It is only natural for these couples to feel some frustration and despondency at the long wait for their time to come. Perhaps the child that they thought would be right around the corner has turned into a hazy abstraction for them, leading them to wonder if the long slog to parenthood is even worth it.

We brought Max to the meeting to remind them of why they have invested so much time, effort, money and heart into the surrogacy process. As they could see embodied in our Max, wobbling in front of them at the start and end of the meeting, there is a wonderful living, breathing, adorable, playful, maddening child in their future that is worth all of the struggles they have faced in their quest for parenthood. The best part for us: we could even see it in their faces as Max fearlessly worked the room with his chirps and babbles, stumblings and bumblings, and his big smiles when the group was forced to concede to him that he was, indeed, the star of the show. Not bad for a kid who can’t even talk yet!