TIME women

I Judged Women Using IVF Until I Had Trouble Conceiving

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I cringe at the thought of how judgmental I used to be

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I began my first and only round of in vitro fertilization in the very house in Atlanta where my mother had died of cancer just a few months earlier. The bureau in the guest bedroom that was once covered with my mom’s cancer meds was now blanketed with the syringes, medicine vials, and alcohol wipes I would need for my fertility treatments.

Starting IVF so soon after losing my mother probably wasn’t the sanest choice. But I’d learned around the same time I found out my mom was suffering from terminal cancer that I had the severest form of a disease called endometriosis. Surgery confirmed the only way I would be able to become pregnant was through in vitro fertilization.

My mom was still alive when my husband Alex and I decided we would go ahead with IVF. Her doctors in California had originally told her she had about a year left to live, and when I moved my mother out to Atlanta, Mom and I both anticipated we would be able to share my pregnancy, and that she would meet her grandchild before she died.

But the cancer had a mind of its own, and my mom died just six weeks after she moved to Atlanta. I didn’t have a lot of time to grieve before I had to make a tough decision. My reproductive endocrinologist made it clear that the scar tissue created by my endometriosis was growing so quickly, soon IVF would no longer be an option.

And, if I’m completely honest with myself, I had another, more tenuous motive, in choosing to undergo IVF so soon after losing my mother. As irrational as it now seems, I was looking for a sign. That she wasn’t gone forever. That part of her still remained close by, watching over me, wanting to make my dreams come true.

I went through the physically exhausting process of injecting hormones three times a day into my belly, getting blood drawn each morning at the doctor’s office along with regular ultrasounds, and afternoon phone calls from my nurse telling me about my hormone levels.

At the end of the first two weeks, my doctor harvested enough follicles to be able to later transfer two embryos into my uterus, ironically on the two-month anniversary of my mom’s death.

A week later, I took a pregnancy test (even though the clinic told me not to, false negatives and all that), and for the first time in my life, I saw two lines on the stick.

I was pregnant.

A phone call from my nurse a few days later confirmed the miracle. From that moment, the most complete form of bliss imaginable enveloped me. Every morning before he left for work, and at night when he returned home, Alex would talk to my belly (even though the creature growing inside me was only the size of a sesame seed) and kiss my stomach, and say “I love you” to what we thought would one day be our child.

But my womb wasn’t built right, not for carrying babies at least, and the rosebush planted in the sand soon died.

My nurse called me to say my pregnancy hormone levels were dropping, and I would miscarry within days.

Whereas the past few weeks had been in euphoric soft focus, now suddenly everything was real and sharp and painful. My baby was gone, and my mother was gone. Forever. Mom wasn’t behind the scenes, orchestrating happy events for the rest of my life. I lost the pregnancy, and with it all the hope I had in the world.

Soon after my miscarriage, Alex and I moved back home to San Diego, the city where we had met and fell in love years earlier. Out of the crucible of pain Atlanta seemed to represent, we had more time to reflect. We didn’t want to try again to get pregnant. I was emotionally wasted. I didn’t think I could survive another loss.

What might surprise you (because it sure surprises me) is how positive I feel about the whole medical wonder that is in vitro fertilization. I’d been trying unsuccessfully to conceive for two years when I underwent IVF, and the process allowed me to take back control of my fertility. With each injection, I was actively preparing my body for pregnancy. I finally felt I had some power and order in a world that, at the time, seemed so chaotic and random.

Word gets around when you’ve had IVF, and I often get asked for advice from friends, and friends of friends, whether in vitro is really worth it – worth the steep price tag, the physical pain, the emotional roller coaster. Despite my less than ideal experience with IVF, I tell these women it is their opportunity to take control of their bodies and their desire for a family.

I cringe at the thought of how judgmental I used to be toward women who had their children through IVF. In my 20s, I viewed celebrities as terribly selfish to undergo expensive fertility treatments when (I believed) there were so many adoptable babies who needed homes.

But there are no guarantees with adoption. A birth mother can change her mind. With international adoption (an avenue we pursued for a year) timetables change and foreign governments can alter the rules in the middle of the process. There’s also the completely natural desire to have a child that carries on your family’s traits. I often dreamed that my baby would have my mother’s warm, cat-shaped brown eyes, or my husband’s fierce intellect.

Ultimately, Alex and I decided to change how we viewed what our family should look like. Now, ours is a family of two adults. My husband and I have a relationship of smudged boundaries, where one of us does not feel whole and complete unless the other is present. Our connection brings me enough comfort and peace to be content with what we have, instead of focusing on what’s missing.

Recently Alex and I went to dinner on a Friday evening with our friends Susanna and David, recent transplants to San Diego from the East Coast. Alex and David had grown up together in New Jersey. And in a case of synchronicity, Susanna is a fertility doctor.

As we discussed our weekend plans, Susanna mentioned she had a birthday party to attend for a two-year-old. I asked if it was for the friend of one of her two young sons.

“Actually, no,” she answered. “It’s for the child of one of my patients.”

It took me a moment to realize what she was saying. “Your patients invite you to the birthday parties of the children you helped create?”

She smiled with humility. “I don’t really think of it that way.” But the answer was yes.

And there it was. IVF helps create families that once did not exist. Just because IVF didn’t work for me, that doesn’t mean it can’t make other women’s dreams come true. The word family can mean so many different things to different people. If medical advances can bring you the kind of bliss I once experienced, it’s a risk worth taking.

Beth Ford Roth wrote this article for xoJane.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Family

Watch Steelers Player DeAngelo Williams Dance to Frozen Soundtrack With His Daughter

The loving dad may not know all the words, but he sure is enthusiastic

The children’s entertainment juggernaut that is Frozen has Steelers’ running back and doting father DeAngelo Williams firmly in its grips as seen by a video Williams recently posted to Facebook.

The video shows the former Pro-Bowl running back and his two daughters singing along with the movie and Williams pantomiming the action on screen for the song “Love is an Open Door.”

Williams admits in his post that he does not yet know all the words to the songs, but he sure makes up for that in his enthusiasm in the clip.

This article originally appeared on SI.com.

TIME Family

7 Ways to Decorate Easter Eggs With Stuff From Around the House

Try these easy DIYs for festive eggs without any trips to the store

  • Dots

    egg-magazine
    Emily Kinni

    1. Collect magazines and newspapers, and use a hole punch to create dots from the pages.
    2. Use a paintbrush and craft glue to apply dots to eggs.

    Note: We used raw eggs for these crafts because they last the longest (assuming they don’t break!). However, if you’re nervous about cracked eggs or want to make this family-friendly, feel free to use hard-boiled instead.

  • Natural Dye

    natural-dye
    Emily Kinni

    1. Wipe down all eggs with white vinegar.
    2. Boil 2 cups chopped red cabbage, or the skins of 4 yellow onions, with 2 cups of water for 10 minutes covered. Strain out the cabbage.
    3. Take the water off of the stove, and place the eggs in the water while still hot. The longer they sit in the dye, the more intense the color.

    Alternate dye recipe: Mix 3 tablespoons turmeric into 2 cups of boiled water. Add eggs. Let soak 5 minutes. Remove with tongs and let dry.

  • Napkin

    newsprint-eggs
    Emily Kinni

    1. Separate out the colorful layer of a paper napkin and cut into half-inch strips.
    2. Brush craft glue onto egg and and apply the strips, lining up the design on each strip and trimming ends as you go along.
    3. Paint a layer of glue over entire egg to smooth wrinkles and create a satin finish.

  • Marbled

    shaving-cream
    Emily Kinni

    1. Cover a baking pan or plate in a layer of shaving cream.
    2. Add stripes and dots of assorted food coloring to the pan.
    3. Use a toothpick or chopstick to swirl colors throughout the shaving cream.
    4. Roll the egg around in shaving cream, leaving a thick layer of shaving cream on eggs.
    5. Leave egg on a drying rack or plate, and let it dry overnight or at least several hours.
    6. Rinse off quickly in cool water.

  • Chick and Bunny Easter Eggs

    chick-bunny-eggs
    Emily Kinni

    For the chick:
    1. Draw eyes, nose and whiskers onto the egg using a fine Sharpie.
    2. Cut out paper bunny ears. Attach each ear with craft glue.
    3. For the nest, cut a portion of a toilet paper tube in a spiral strip.
    4. Paint the tube yellow. Manipulate the spiral into a tangled nest shape.

    For the bunny:
    1. Draw eyes onto the egg using a fine Sharpie.
    2. Cut out paper wings and beak, and attach with craft glue.
    3. Cut a segment of paper towel tube roll and cut one edge in a jagged shape to mimic grass.
    4. Paint the tube green. If it’s too wide for the egg, cut a slit and tape the tube shut at a smaller diameter.

  • String

    string-eggs
    Emily Kinni

    1. If you have a child who went to camp, you probably have plenty of friendship bracelet string at home. Cut a few contrasting colors into different lengths. This will make it easier to wrap string around the egg.
    2. While wrapping the string tightly around the egg, use craft glue and a paintbrush to adhere string to the shell. Trim excess string as necessary.

  • Sharpie

    sharpie-eggs
    Emily Kinni

    1. You can use plain eggs, but we chose to dye our eggs beforehand. Try the natural dye method from our previous tutorial.
    2. Once the dyed eggs are dry, use a Sharpie to draw designs on the eggs. You can use ours for inspiration, or create your own!

    This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

    More from Real Simple:

TIME Culture

The Underwoods: A Less Perfect Union

Kevin Spacey (L) and Robin Wright (R) in the first season of Netflix's "House of Cards."
Melinda Sue Gordon/—Sony Pictures Kevin Spacey (L) and Robin Wright (R) in the first season of Netflix's "House of Cards."

In a two-party system, compromise is truly the only way forward

(Note: This contains House of Cards Season 3 spoilers.)

The third season of the award-winning drama ‘House of Cards’ once again delivers an addictive dose of intrigue and brinkmanship, but the latest 13 episodes also dissect the anatomy of a marriage, as Frank and Claire Underwood are battle-tested in new ways that would easily break lesser couples trying to survive the crucible of Washington.

The Underwood union is a central theme of ‘House of Cards,’ and is among its most compelling, as it gives us as viewers a cultural lens through which to explore the show’s broader questions about the acquisition and exercise of power. For Frank and Claire, marriage and politics are tightly intertwined; one does not exist without the other. This seemingly unlikely combination is what makes this couple’s relationship unique, but what also threatens to prove its undoing.

For my part, I engage with the thematic sway of marriage in the show from a personal perspective. The show debuted a month before my own wedding, in February 2013, and being married—even more so than living in Washington, DC constantly surrounded by the trappings of other institutions of power—has definitely informed how I experience the House of Cards. Over the past three seasons, I have gleaned what wisdom I could from the Underwoods and have seen the advantages and the pitfalls of a political approach to marriage.

Read more: Here is the power of American angst

Though they may not seem a likely pair, marriage and politics need some of the same ingredients to work. Some elements—like respect, diplomacy and pragmatism—are more readily acknowledged, while others—like strategy, bargaining and persuasion—we might be less willing to admit are necessary. And connotation matters: compromise and manipulation are two sides of the same coin, viewed from different perspectives.

Frank and Claire Underwood bring new meaning to Otto von Bismarck’s famous definition of politics as “the art of the possible.”

In Claire, Frank has his main advisor, chief strategist, and biggest champion. Her charm is deployed with world leaders and on the campaign trail, she helps him plot political moves from the safety of their home, and she bolsters his confidence in the private moments when he falters.

In Frank, Claire has found adoration, affirmation, and a partner with ambitions she helps him realize, even as she works towards her own goals. His love of his wife is apparent in the spoken and unspoken, he encourages her political aspirations – at times, at his own expense. As a unit, they work their way to the highest office in the land through unconventional (read: unscrupulous) means.

Though diabolical, the Underwoods are also devoted, loving and, in their own way, affectionate. After two seasons, the couple long managed to come off as somehow aspirational, with a twisted take on many of the ideals married couples hold dear.

Frank and Claire have reinforced the notion that marriage is something to be protected through an unbreakable code that must be adhered to at all times and costs. Chief among those previously unbroken rules: The inner circle is sacrosanct, and loyalty is paramount. Now, in the third season, seeing these sacred tenets crumble – especially after their nearly three decades of marriage and its attendant murder and mayhem – is both foreign and jarring.

This sense of loyalty has never included sexual fidelity, which is clearly a vow that has been broken by both Underwoods. But the idea of one’s spouse as their top priority without exception has been demonstrated again and again in this show. They are the keepers of each other’s secrets, and each knows the other better than anyone else. Early on, the couple makes the decision to forgo having children, choosing instead to raise their political fortunes – a difficult and rare decision. And this season, despite his misgivings, Frank appoints Claire as to the high-profile and high stakes position of U.N. ambassador, not because of her expertise, but out of love.

For their kind of closeness, caring too much about others or allowing too much influence from outside of the marriage are liabilities neither Frank nor Claire can afford. And any action at the expense of one’s spouse – as is the case this season, when Frank and Claire’s emotions cause professional and personal damage – is an unforgivable betrayal.

These rules are the foundation for the next tier of laws, important in both matrimony and politics: Control the narrative and stay on message. As important as how people relate to each other is how those on the outside looking in would describe their relationship. In the first two seasons, with their backs against the wall, Frank and Claire turn to each other, not on each other. They strategize solutions, together. And in scene after scene, they are a team, moving in unison – a formidable image, and one that creates the kind of marriage others envy and admire.

But this season, we see daylight breaking through between the Underwoods and corrupting what they’ve built. As president, Frank makes choices at odds with Claire’s thinking. Her unusual absence is notable on the re-election campaign trail. They literally invite someone else – a presidential biographer – to come in and evaluate them. He comes away assessing not Frank’s first term, but their union.

At one point during a heated argument over their competing ambitions and priorities, a disgusted Claire utters, “I can’t believe we’ve become this.”

“Become what?” Frank asks. “Like everyone else,” Claire responds.

What does it mean to be “like everyone else”? Petty. Easily affected. Needy. Not a team.

How did this happen? In part because Frank and Claire violated another political must: believe in yourself at all costs. Fear and doubt are not an option. They are the dark clouds that block otherwise reasoned focus and judgment and expose our vulnerabilities.

Key to keeping these twin liabilities at bay is the final principle: People must feel valued – which is different from feeling like equals – and be acknowledged as an essential part of the team. In Episode Six, the Underwoods apply a dual approach to negotiate the release of hostage Michael Corrigan, who is being held by the Russians for his stance on gay rights. While Frank tries to reason with Russian President Viktor Petrov, Claire attempts to coax Corrigan into a compromise to secure his release and a diplomatic victory for her husband’s administration.

In an exchange she has with Corrigan in his jail cell, we get insight into Claire’s view of marriage:

Michael Corrigan: Isn’t that what marriage is about? Accepting people’s selfishness? You, of all people, should understand –

Claire: You know nothing about marriage…

Michael Corrigan: You think it’s about sacrifice?

Claire: I think it’s about respect.

By the end of the episode, Claire has publicly disrespected Frank by disrupting his televised news conference and derailing his tenuous diplomatic deal with Petrov. Her betrayal of the law of staying on message in favor of her own feelings foreshadows her climatic divergence with Frank at the end of the season, which leaves their impenetrable façade seemingly irrevocably cracked and an audience heartbroken.

Read more: Can a radical center save the United States?

Season Three ends with a marital cliffhanger, leaving Frank and Claire’s future hanging in the balance only months after the couple lovingly renewed their vows in the South Carolina church where they were wed nearly three decades prior. We’re left to wait until next season to discover whether their marriage or Frank’s presidency will survive.

As difficult as it was for me to watch Frank and Claire unravel this season, considering marriage as politics leaves me encouraged. Both ebb and flow in cycles. Spouses, like incumbents, must sometimes work to maintain their positions. And in a two-party system, compromise is truly the only way forward.

Though the Underwoods’ marriage may have looked like matrimony’s version of American exceptionalism, they share the same flaw as all politicians: They’re human.

Errin Whack is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist who writes about culture and politics. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY Entrepreneurs

Here’s a New Theory About Why People Become Entrepreneurs

mother and daughter shopkeepers
Ariel Skelley—Getty Images

Nurture beats nature when it comes to small business ambitions, according to a new study.

It’s long been known that children with entrepreneurial parents are more likely to become entrepreneurs themselves. But new research quantifies that effect—and goes a step further by suggesting why exactly that might be.

The study, published in the latest Journal of Labor Economics, found that upbringing, rather than genetics, seems to have the biggest effect on the offspring of self-started business owners. The researchers did something prior studies (which mainly focused on twins) hadn’t: They examined the career choices of thousands of Swedish children raised by either adoptive or biological parents to compare the relative effects of nature and nurture on the entrepreneurial impulse.

Adopted children, they found, were 20% more likely to become entrepreneurs if their biological parents were also entrepreneurs. But if it was their adoptive parents who were entrepreneurs, it was 45% more likely children would follow suit.

“The importance of adoptive parents is twice as large as the influence of biological parents,” wrote authors Joeri Sol and Mirjam Van Praag of the University of Amsterdam, and Matthew Lindquist of Stockholm University.

The authors controlled for the possibility that kids might just be inheriting the family business (or money to start a new business) and continued to find the same effect—which suggests that kids were simply seeing their parents as role models. That would also explain why gender had a big impact on children: Daughters in the study were most likely to become entrepreneurs if their mothers were—and sons if their fathers were.

These findings may also have implications for educators and policymakers who care about growing small businesses. The greater the effect of nurture on career choices, the authors wrote, “the larger the potential benefit of programs aimed at fostering entrepreneurship.”

The biggest takeaway for parents? If you want your kids to become start-up success stories, you should first try to become one yourself.

TIME

Michigan Woman Expecting Baby Girl Gives Birth to Boy Instead

"I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me"

Bentley Thomas Williams of Belleville, Michigan, isn’t even a month old, and he has already given his parents the surprise of a lifetime.

Back in October, a 20-weeks-pregnant Danielle Williams and her husband Kyle visited the doctor’s office for a sonogram to determine the sex of their baby, reports ABC News. The technician who performed the procedure informed them they would be welcoming a second daughter to their family in March.

So imagine the look on the couple’s faces when the doctor delivering Danielle’s baby on March 3 lifted up their newborn and announced, “It’s a boy!”

“I had been up for 24 hours and I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me,” Kyle said of the reveal.

While inaccurately identifying the sex of a fetus at 20 weeks is extremely rare given today’s technology, professionals say parents should use more than an ultrasound to learn if their child is a boy or girl.

“The point of the sonogram at about 20 weeks is to check for the important stuff like brain development and the chambers of the heart,” Ob-Gyn Dr. Jennifer Ashton told ABC News. “Sex is impossible to confirm without a test like an amniocentesis that looks at chromosomes.”

Once the Williamses determined their new baby boy Bentley was healthy and not hiding any other surprises, the parents decided to have fun with the gender switch. To reveal the real sex of their baby to the boy’s grandmother, mom and dad asked grandma to change the infant’s diaper and filmed her reaction.

Baby Bentley also met his older sister Peyton, who is excited to have a brother in her life. The 2-year-old took the name planned for a (formerly) female sibling, Charlee, and gave it to her new doll instead.

Just by being Peyton’s brother, Bentley is automatically a member of Peyton Pals, the nonprofit started by the Williams family to raise awareness and funds for those with Diamond-Blackfan Anemia (DBA), a rare blood disorder.

According to Fox 2, Peyton is one of 800 people in North America with DBA and requires routine blood transfusions to stay healthy.

The entire Williams family is now back home and working on getting Bentley settled, including shopping for baby clothes that aren’t pink.

This article originally appeared on People.com

TIME Family

They Called Her the ‘World’s Ugliest Woman.’ It Only Made Her Stronger.

Lizzie Velasquez arrives at the premiere of "A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story" at Paramount Theatre on March 14, 2015 in Austin.
Michael Buckner—Getty Images for SXSW Lizzie Velasquez arrives at the premiere of "A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story" at Paramount Theatre on March 14, 2015 in Austin.

The experience inspired Lizzie Velasquez to appear in a new documentary

Lizzie Velasquez will never forget the day she came upon a YouTube video with 4 million views and thousands of mean comments naming her the “World’s Ugliest Woman.” She was only 17 years old.

“When I saw it my whole world just felt like it crashed at that moment,” Velasquez, 26, tells PEOPLE of the experience that inspired her new documentary A Brave Heart, which premiered on Saturday at SXSW in Austin, Texas. “I thought, how in the world can I ever pick myself up from this?”

But Velasquez – who weighs just 63 lbs. due to a rare syndrome that doesn’t allow her to gain weight – did just that by becoming an anti-bullying activist and motivational speaker.

“If I ever see that person [who made the video] I would jump on them and give them the biggest hug in the world and tell them, ‘Thank you for bringing the best thing that has ever happened to me in my life,’ ” she says. “That video changed everything and it has given me the platform that I have now to be the voice for anyone who’s ever been bullied – and not just myself.”

After giving a TEDx talk that went viral, Velasquez was approached by the group Women Rising and director Sara Bordo, who asked if she could document Velasquez’s daily existence and efforts to lobby for the country’s first federal anti-bullying bill. She also gained the attention of YouTube star iJustine who is an executive producer on the film.

“I’ve met so many people who have come up to tell me their personal stories, and a lot of them express the same feelings that I have, especially reading things online,” says Austin-based Velasquez. “Hearing those stories really validates what we’re doing.”

Though her goal is for people to know that “for you to be able to do anything, you have to learn to love yourself first,” her life is not without struggles.

“I experienced bullying as early as the first day of kindergarten and there were times where I wish could escape out of my body,” says Velasquez, who is also blind in one eye.

“But I have the most incredible support system in the world,” she says. “They let me have those times when I just want to cry. But I give myself a deadline and say, today’s my sad day but tomorrow when the sun comes up it’s done.”

This article originally appeared on People.com

Read next: See 100 Years of Korean Beauty Trends In Just 90 Seconds

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Family

I Bullied Myself Into Breastfeeding

Mother holding newborn baby in arms.
Julia Wheeler and Veronika Laws —Getty Images Mother holding newborn baby in arms.

Claire Howorth is the books editor at Time.

Isn’t the strident case for breastfeeding just one more way of putting women in their place—as selfless slaves to the furthering of the human race rather than members of it?

Brace ourselves, mamas. Scientists in Brazil have discovered more evidence to support the theory that the breastfed shall inherit the earth. Not only are breastfed babies supposedly more resistant to sickness, better bonded with their mothers, and less likely to die from SIDS, but now we are to believe they are going to grow up to be smarter and richer, too.

And I include my own infant daughter in “they.” Despite the fact that my daughter has a cleft lip and is undergoing a presurgical treatment that makes nursing impossible, I have exclusively breastfed her by pumping all of her milk. I’ve done it partly to give my baby all of the potential benefits, real, exaggerated and imagined. But, if I’m being honest, I’ve also done it under pressure and guilt.

Feeding your child should be the ultimate you-do-you. Instead, it’s become everyone-else-do-you-dot-dot-dot-or-else. For all the talk about evil formula companies plying us with propaganda, like so many ounces of corn syrup down a newborn’s unwitting hatch, I have only ever felt swayed — or rather, forcefully wrenched — by the other side. By breastfeeding proselytizers whose boobie-thumping sounds a lot like mom-shaming. Add yesterday’s headline to their gospel.

When we have a technological option — formula — but we are made to feel as though there shouldn’t be a choice, isn’t the strident case for breastfeeding just one more way of putting women in their place? Selfless slaves to the furthering of the human race rather than members of it? It’s not a nanny state; it’s a mommy state.

Sure, I sound a little purple, but so does all of the breastfeeding hype. If you properly mix your formula with clean water, your baby is just as likely to kick ass on the SATs, and probably inherit some of the earth him or herself, like my boss, my boss’s boss, and my boss’s boss’s boss, who were all formula-fed and none the shabbier for it. To think that a woman is seduced into a feeding decision by the Willy Wonkas at Nestle or Mead Johnson gives none of us enough credit, or power.

I have had resources that many women do not: a supportive husband and family, an unusually generous paid maternity leave, guilt- and stress-free time and space to pump at work, and the intellectual background to fully understand all of my options, never mind research the hell out of them. Those things have allowed me to make the “natural” choice.

Recently, formula tempted me. My daughter is a string bean — healthy and long but lean — and I thought I would drop a couple ounces into her diet in the hopes it would help chunk her up. (One feeding fable is that formula-fed babies are bigger; breastfeeding, by the way, does not prevent obesity!) I also fantasized about giving up pumping — more time to play with the baby in the morning, a long night’s painless sleep, the ugliest of the yellow machines returned to its native hospital. Then, yesterday, I reversed course. It seemed crazy to give my daughter anything other than breast milk when I had stayed in the game for three long months, never mind she had caught a cold and suffered diaper rash — maladies breastfed babies are supposedly more likely to avoid. If I want her to be richer and smarter, I’ve gotta stick with it for nine more months. “So far as I can tell, people need to believe that breastfeeding is better precisely because it’s harder,” Amy Sullivan wrote. I may be one of those people, an overachiever who needs to be “mom enough” by Searsian standards.

So there I sit with my pump, the Jack to my Ennis, muttering, “I wish I knew how to quit you.” (Shout out here to my fellow EP’ers [Exclusive Pumpers, for the uninitiated], the overlooked underclass of breastfeeding moms who “do it with a bottle,” as I would like our spring break t-shirts to read.) I smugly tell my mom friends about my ability to feed the baby her daily intake while continuously growing my freezer stash, where I’ve obsessively, almost perversely, stockpiled slender bags of frozen milk so my baby can survive nuclear winter my return to work. The bottles of thick, hearty Similac lie in a plastic bin under her crib, shamefully out of sight but never out of mind. I tell myself I am able to feed her from my own body, and that I should be proud of this. What would people think if I had never even tried to go this route?

As Laura Kipnis writes in the excellent forthcoming book Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids, “What’s with all the sentimentality about nature anyway, and the kowtowing to it, as though adhering to the ‘natural’ had some sort of ethical force… Sure, we like nature when it’s a beautiful day on the beach; less so when a tidal wave kills your family or a shark bites off your arm.” She goes on to say that technology has liberated women more than suffrage. Kipnis is specifically mulling labor and childbirth, but let’s throw formula in with C-sections as medical alternatives to whatever biology intended for those of us who are biologically incompetent. And I suppose I mean alternatives to death; if we didn’t have formula and C-sections, that’s one “choice” biology would give us. (C-sections — I had one — are a mom-shame topic for another day.)

A wise fellow mother recently told me that she refused to ever utter a self-deprecatory “I’m a bad mom.” “You know, ‘I forgot to do tummy time today — I’m a bad mom.’” “Bad moms” don’t mean it, of course. It’s just casual self-flagellation, the result of being conditioned to think that if we don’t do every last self-sacrificial thing we possibly can, even at the cost of comfort or happiness, or, God forbid, pure convenience, then we aren’t doing it right. It’s the same womp-womp tone in which I talk about introducing formula into my daughter’s diet. But you know what? To hell with that.

I hope my confessional encourages myself and other moms to feel good about whatever they need —or want — to do for their babies and themselves. And that’s because I’m a good mom.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Parenting

The Grandparent Deficit: Fertility Isn’t the Only Biological Clock

Grandmother and granddaughter walk
Getty Images

There's often one forgotten variable in the decision about having kids later in life

A few months ago I was sitting in the vast dining room of an assisted-living home in Washington, D.C., watching my 5-year-old niece bounce like a pinball between tables of seniors. It was a startling sight–that small, smooth blond blur amid a hundred crinkly faces. Her audience, mostly women in their 80s and 90s, grinned as she navigated all the parked walkers, canes and wheelchairs as if it were a playground.

Sahar is a bit of a celebrity here. Far younger than most of the other grandchildren who visit, she is a rare burst of kindergarten energy in a place where even the elevators move very slowly. She comes frequently to have meals with my dad, her grandfather. He’s 81, and she doesn’t know what he was like before dementia took hold. Nor does she remember her grandmother who died four years ago, except in the funny stories my sister tells so often that Sahar refers to them as if they were her own memories.

She and my two daughters are among a growing number of kids who will see their grandparents primarily as people in need of care rather than as caretakers. They are the leading edge of a generation whose mothers and fathers had children later in life. They’ve seen us juggle our jobs, their school schedules and their grandparents’ needs simultaneously–one day missing work to be at the bedside of a parent who’s had a bad fall, another day trying to call an elder-care aide from the back row of a dance recital.

It seems naive to say this tripart balancing act came as a surprise to me and my sister, but it did. Somehow, while we were worrying about our biological clocks and our careers, it didn’t occur to us that another biological clock was ticking down: that of our parents’ health. And while medical science keeps coming up with new ways to prolong fertility, thwarting the frailties of old age is harder.

Our parents seemed so vibrant, so capable in their 60s that we couldn’t imagine how fast things would change. We knew that three or four years could make a huge difference in our fertility, but it turned out that three or four years could also mean the difference between a grandmother who can take a toddler to the beach and one who can’t lift her newest grandbaby out of a kiddie pool because of arthritis.

My daughters may face an even greater grandparent gap. I was almost 39 when I had my second child. If she has a child at the same age, I’ll be over 80 when that grandchild enters pre-K. And I’m not alone here: about six times as many children were born to women 35 and older in 2012 as they were 40 years ago.

I’m aiming to stay spry, but by the time I become a grandmother, I’ll likely be past the age that my daughter can drop her kids off at my house for a weekend. Will I be one of those exceptional octogenarians who jogs every day? Will I be able to babysit, or will I need my daughter to find me a babysitter? I don’t know. But with about half a million people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s each year, plus the usual maladies of age, there’s a fair chance I’ll need some kind of help.

If I had thought about all that, I might have gotten pregnant a few years earlier, just to give my kids that little bit of extra time with my parents in their prime. Of course, it’s not as if my sister and I could have chosen exactly when we met the men who became our children’s fathers. Nor do I regret spending my 20s and part of my 30s living in different countries, doing all kinds of jobs, soaking up the world. It was glorious, and it made me a better mother. But I do know I’d give anything if my kids could have one more weekend at the beach with my parents in peak grandparenting mode–full of silly jokes and poetry and wry observations from extraordinary lives lived fully.

And now, amid the ongoing debate over when to lean into a job or a relationship or children, my take has changed. I want to tell my daughters, “Don’t forget grandparents in the high-pressure calculus of modern life. I would like to make it easier for you if you want to lean in and have babies at the same time. I’d also like to know your children.” Who knows if I’ll get that chance, given the million variables at play, but I want them to know it’s an option.

In the meantime, I’m leaning into this new phase, one ripe with gratitude even as my father fades, losing more of himself every day. My children are discovering that they are not always the center of the world. And while my little niece may never know what my dad was like when he used to hide Easter eggs or swim after us pretending to be a shark, his white hair pluming like sea foam, she’s learning something beautiful from her mother. She sees my sister visiting him daily, feeding him, talking to him. Sahar is seeing kindness firsthand. And she understands that the thin, confused man in the bed is someone worth loving. That he is family.

Schrobsdorff is an assistant managing editor at TIME


This appears in the March 30, 2015 issue of TIME.

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