Sunday, July 6, 2014

The View From 9,144 Metres; Dads' Perspective

So it's Ellie's two month birthday, which means we are way past our deadline for writing this post, but I'm sure you will understand it's been a busy few weeks.  Our life is now scheduled in two hour blocks, roughly the time we have between putting Ellie down after a feed, and being woken for another one, so finding the time to recap on the past year and give this remarkable story justice has been difficult to say the least. But my little girl is asleep (for now), which means I have a two hour window (fingers crossed), so here we go...

The goodbye

One of the nicest surprises of this journey has been the amount of quality time we managed to have with Mandy and her family, both during and after Ellie's arrival.  The downside is that it made saying goodbye so much more difficult, as our relationship with Mandy now has such depth. We had a proper goodbye with the entire family over lunch the day before our departure, then saw Mandy again on the way to the airport for a quick breast milk exchange and lunch date. Both were hard, but we managed to suppress the groundswell of emotion - a potent combination of happiness, sadness and mostly gratefulness - that was just waiting to burst forth. There were tears from all of us in the parking lot, and when we drove away from Panera Bread on the way to Sea-Tac Airport, M and I both broke down at the symbolic end to this incredible journey.

The flight

One of the (few) joys of living so far from Mandy is that we racked up plenty of airline miles, which gave us lounge access, making the 7 hour wait at LAX a little more bearable.  Ellie was a dream on the flight; the cabin manager took special interest in our story, giving us VIP treatment, bringing us gifts from first class and we have since made a friendship with him via social media.  (and with that I will say, if you're flying to Australia with a baby, Virgin Australia will treat you right :)



The arrival home

After 25 hours of travel, we were certainly not in the mood for a grilling from Customs when we arrived back home... I don't know whether it was the "don't mess with us" look on our faces, or Ellie turning on the charm, but we had zero issues at Australian immigration and were waved through by the Customs official with a shriek of delight upon seeing Ellie's hair.  We were very happy to see a very excited grandma and aunt waiting on the other side, pink balloons and all.

The kids

One question we are often asked is how Kimba the dog has adjusted to life with a 'sibling'; we are happy to report she has done so with remarkable ease.  She stays nearby to Ellie, but keeps her distance. She sometimes mimics, but never touches. Apart from the occasional 'kiss' on Ellie's ear, for which we have 7 years of training by M to blame. And besides, it's incredibly cute to watch, especially now Ellie is smiling.









The reaction

We are privileged to live in a very tolerant and diverse area and have a large support network of family and friends, so the reaction of the general public was never really a concern. But even beyond the 'inner circle', the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Aside from the odd awkward comment, in which we feel more embarrassed for the person speaking than for ourselves, we have been embraced by our community. From work colleagues, to our local butcher, to the woman who cuts my hair, people are just happy to see the obvious joy that Ellie has brought to our lives. We never really thought they wouldn't be, of course, but the ordinariness with which people treat our non-traditional family is heartening all the same.



The administration

Lest you thought this journey was completely rosy, let me share some of the administrative burdens we have had in dealing with the Australian government.  No part of this journey has been illegal mind you, however the administrative processes of various government departments is certainly a few years behind. Like the passport application - despite having a birth certificate with two dads, I was forced to call myself 'mother' for the purposes of this particular form.  We were also told Ellie's head was "the wrong shape" for an Australian passport - like she has an American-sized head or something?!  Similar insignificant yet annoying issues cropped up with the Family Assistance office, the health insurance office and the Citizenship department.  But we are done, Ellie is a dual US and Australian citizen, with two passports, and we are now considered a family for all purposes in all countries. I cried a little when I saw all our names on the government ID card. And that feels good.

The relationships

We have enjoyed introducing Ellie to family and friends, and something that has surprised us is that many of our relationships have taken on another rich layer.  We have more in common with our friends with children; family relationships have taken on more depth and context; and there is certainly more to talk about at the watercooler at work.  One of the most special relationships that has developed is the one between us and our egg donor (who you may remember is my cousin and good friend). It has been so nice connecting with her at this deeper level; watching her bond with Ellie; introducing Ellie to her biological grandparents and cousin and seeing our already close bond flourish.

Everything has changed

...yet many things have stayed the same.  We no longer sleep through the night, but we love the special 3am feed. We no longer have as much time to spend together as a couple, yet we are closer than we have ever been.  M no longer has a desk job to go to, but works harder than he ever has. Our life is scheduled in two hour blocks, but has more depth, context and love than we have ever known.

The Future

The question that is on everyone's mind (and many people's lips!). We see siblings playing together and can't help but think that's something we want for Ellie and for us. We have agreed to give it six months before making any concrete plans to grow our family. At this point in time, after such an overwhelmingly positive experience, we couldn't imagine doing this again with any other team, and the decision must be right for many others so isn't ours alone to make.  In the meantime, however, my two hour block is up and it's time for another nappy change and feed. And I couldn't think of anything else I'd rather be doing.