Saturday, November 17, 2012

Working Meditation

Chalice labyrinth
I'm not sitting with a still body and mind.
I'm not walking a winding path, quieting the clamor in my head.
I'm working.

I'm standing outside at the door, waving in cars and walking women and their companions into the building. I'm chatting mindlessly, trying to give them something to hear and focus on, something to drown out the cries of, "They kill babies here!" I'm standing on the sidewalk, waiting.

Escorting at a local women's health center on the mornings they provide abortions is an exercise in living my personal values and religious principles.

I am not Buddhist, but many of the principles of Buddhism inform my personal, spiritual development, chief among them Mettā, or LovingKindness. There are seven principles of Unitarian Universalism, but the first two in particular have called to me, planted themselves deep in my mind, begging me to nurture and cultivate them.

I'm trying to shape myself into a person whose default setting is Mettā, who persistently holds in her mind the inherent worth and dignity of all people, and who practices justice, equity, and compassion, in all human relations.

And so on escorting mornings, I practice without ceasing.
I'm filled with easy love and compassion for these women whose dignity I'm striving to preserve by walking with them and acknowledging their fragility and humanity. But while the work of escorting is a way of walking my talk, as it were, it's the waiting in-between patient arrivals that is my true mediation.

It's when I'm standing alone and silent in the cold, looking across the parking lot at the women and men holding their bibles and rosaries, the women and men who moments ago shouted painful words at fragile women, that I have to work at lovingkindness and compassion. And so I say to them, within myself, "I see you."
I see you. You are not a faceless monster. You are not my enemy. You have worth and dignity, simply by virtue of being human, of being sentient.  You are part of me, because we are all connected. And as much as we are different fingers, we exist on the same hand, stretching out to make a difference in the world. Just like me, you are trying to stand up for what you believe in your heart to be right. Just like me, you are trying to make a difference in the lives of women in need, save them from a bit of sorrow. Just like me, you think, you feel, you love. Maybe you'll go home, as I will, to a family who loves you with all of your virtues and flaws. Can I see you as they do? Maybe you'll go home to a hollow, empty house, but glad you had a little bit of time to be with others while you stood watch over the clinic. Whoever you are, I see you. 

Namaste, Shalom, Salaam, Amen, Carry the Flame.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Validation Makes Hearts Happy

I feel like I've lost the blogging groove. It's not for lack of blog fodder; rather almost for an excess. I'm too busy actually living my life to write about it. But there have been no dearth of developments, the most recent and major being sending my 7-year-old to public school.

When you enter the system as former homeschoolers (technically I'm not a "former" homeschooler, since I'm homeschooling my 4-year-old in Kindergarten this year, but HE is a former homeschooler), you expect a certain amount of ... uncertainty from the system. You expect to be frowned upon for having bucked the system. You expect to be treated, maybe, as a little bit of a leper.

I'm pleased to say that has not been our experience in even the slightest of ways, and Q's school has been amazing at helping him with the transition, getting him services for his special needs, and keeping me in the loop as to the goings-on.

I got just such an updating phone call from the school social worker today. She called primarily to discuss options for deterring persistent chewing behavior, but also took the time to chat with me about his transition process. She told me how much she adores him, what an amazing, awesome little boy he is, and what a fantastic job we have done parenting and teaching him. Now it sounds like I'm tooting my own horn here a little, maybe, but you have to know that over the past 7 years, I (and my husband, but mostly I) have done so much questioning, second-guessing, and self-criticizing. I have rarely felt I was the parent I wanted to be, I constantly re-evaluated my approach to parenting and learning, to discipline and health, to social activity and psychology. Even having him evaluated for an autism spectrum disorder (Asperger's) was a huge question mark for us right up until we did it. So to have someone who sees children day in and day out, who is a professional, who is objective, who has no reason to spare my feelings or stoke my ego, to have someone like that all but rave about how wonderful my child is and give me the credit. Well, it did my heart good and put a very nice exclamation point on my day.

The other nice thing to happen was that school pictures came home. I DEFY you to look at this face and not smile.

Friday, August 31, 2012


Jude (my 4-year-old) woke up twice last night, crying pitifully about a headache. After the second time, I pulled him into our bed, wrapped my arms around him, and kissed his head until he fell back asleep. As I lay there with his little arms clinging to me, I thought about how fast he's going to grow up. I thought about how awesome he is right now, and how I'm probably going to forget it all in the coming years, since I've sucked at blogging lately. Excuse the cell phone photography. The best camera is the one you have with you.

Jude... He's almost 5 now. He is athletic - tall and lanky, and busy busy busy. He loves to run, jump, somersault, and flip. He was running in a slalom pattern today, side to side while moving forward. It was pretty amazing, coordination-wise. When he does fall down, he's quick to jump up and say "I'm ok!" If he's ever not ok, kisses (especially from mom) are still the perfect remedy.

He's pretty much the sweetest person I've ever known. And probably Quentin was sweet when he was this age, too, and I've forgotten it because he's almost 8 now. But I can go back and read about it in my blog. Jude tells me at least a half-dozen unprompted times every day that he loves me. Often, he'll holler it across the house out of the blue. "I love you, Mom!" - and the way he speaks is slightly accented, as though he were from a different part of the country. His Os are very round and true, rather than pretend a's, like most midwesterners.

Sometimes I tell him that he makes my heart happy. Lately, he's taken to asking me if whatever he has said or done made my heart smile. "Always," I reply, "you always make my heart smile."

He gives me leaves that are shaped like hearts. He holds my hand. He always wants to give hugs and kisses, to me, to his dad, to his big brother. His skin is so baby-soft. His eyes are the clearest, most innocent blue. Right now, his hair is long and shaggy, and his bangs are pink because "I want my hair to be like yours, Mommy!" I ask him if he's a momma's boy, and he says, "Yep, I'm your boy!"

Jude can't wait for Kindergarten. He's so sad not to be going this year (and I am too, I think he'd be a perfect fit with the other K'ers). We walk his brother to and from school every day, and every day, he asks me if he's going to Kindergarten yet. He thinks that he gets to go as soon as he turns 5, and I'm thinking it's going to be a really sad day when he figures out that that's not how it works.

Ok this one wasn't taken with a cell phone. And it ROCKS, right? :) 

Jude loves to do whatever his big brother does. He's been asking to do worksheets lately, since his brother brings them home from school. He enjoys video games (Minecraft, Portal, Garry's Mod, Angry Birds, Plants vs Zombies). He can read. He's starting to get better at playing by himself, and sometimes he'll build elaborate scenarios with cars and trains and blocks.

He's a little feisty, still. Adventurous, too! He ate a cinnamon worm thing at the Xtreme bugs exhibit at the zoo. He's not always great at keeping his emotions in check (he's 4!), and sometimes  he'll throw things, hit, scratch, or bite - especially his brother. But he's so quick with a hug and an apology. He's definitely hard to stay angry at, hard to resist.

I'm pretty sure we'd have a dog already if we were allowed them here, because Jude LOVES dogs (puppies!) and when you pair that with his charming, irresistible demeanor, well, it's a dangerous combination.

I wish I could hold on to these moments forever. I wish I could actually preserve the feeling of his sweet, soft, and delicate hand in mine, his gentle little lips kissing my face, his thin yet strong for his age arms encircling my neck. Oh gosh, is he ever an excellent hugger!

Sometimes I wish my baby could stay 4.5 forever. I know he'll grow up and be an amazing person, but there is just nothing quite like this little momma's boy, who loves me infinitely and unconditionally, and shows me in all of his ways, every day.

But since I can't keep him this way forever, I'll take lots of pictures, and write this blog post, and come back and cry when he's a teenager. <3

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Surrounded by goodness

In the past five or so years, I've worked really hard to cultivate my network of friends and acquaintances, to rid myself of drama and emotional vampires, and to strengthen bonds with people who are kind, and who are real.

These past couple of months have brought home hard the success of that endeavor. For whatever reason, the people I know have been hit again and again with difficulties. From fellow surrogates dealing with early labor and other struggles, to illnesses of parents and children, to just plain postpartum fatigue, my friends have been struggling. But while that makes me shake my fist at the heavens and shout at the Universe, "C'MON, GIVE MY FRIENDS A BREAK," the thing that really gets me is the response from everyone else I know.

Every single time something bad has happened to one of my friends or acquaintences, someone else has come out of the woodwork to hold out a virtual contribution plate. And without fail, everyone else responds. My friends span the gamut of religiosity and politics: atheists, protestants, mormons, catholics, liberal and conservative. But they are all just plain good people, and they have been proving it in spades lately. There seems to be virtually no altruism fatigue. Despite the fact that it has happened over and over and over again, EVERY time, the kind people I've surrounded myself with step up and offer meals, money, time, and good thoughts to those in need.

Yet no matter how often it happens, I continue to be moved by the goodness that surrounds me. My faith in humanity continues to be restored and renewed, one crisis at a time. ♥

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Baking Someone Else's Baby

One of the things "they" tell you to do when you're launching a photography business is to maintain a blog. But not just any blog. This blog should be 2 parts recent work and 1 part YOU (or some other magic combination, I guess). I've always kept blogs, but this is a little different for me, so bear with me!

Here's something cool about me you probably didn't know (unless you're reading because you already love me, in which case, HI MOM), and a big part of my love of all things birth: I'm a surrogate. I have a blog that's solely dedicated to my surrogacy experiences so far, and I'll keep the details there.

But surrogacy and why I do it are a big part of who I am. I carry babies that aren't genetically related to me for gay men (who are obviously without uteri). I've never had a lot of money to donate to causes that are meaningful to me, but I do have a lot of heart. And, well, a uterus. So, as my friend Kelly says, My Uterus is an Ally!
C'mon, how awesome is this bumper sticker?
My husband wouldn't be too embarrassed, right honey? Honey??
The point of all of this is that tonight (this morning?) I'm here in Los Angeles again, getting ready to be implanted with Someone Else's Baby (or baby-to-be, as it were). I'm nervous, excited, and for the first time, all alone. Tomorrow morning (later this morning?) is the embryo transfer (11 a.m. PDT), and I'd love to have you cheering me on. ♥

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Self, Fear, Inspiration, a leap of faith

One of my favorite things about the photographers I admire is their ability to blog in their own voice. Maybe it's my background in journalism or my very Hermione-like desire to do everything just. so., but I always seem to sound a little pompous, a little forced, or just plain NOT ME when I write.

So forgive me, and don't believe a word of the tone. Just look over there at my pink hair. That's who I am. Fun, funky, silly, Mandie.

I spent a good part of today checking out photography web sites. I realized that a good number of the photographers I get most inspiration from are wedding photographers. I don't know if it's because wedding photography is The Place To Be, and so their voices are the loudest, or if it's some hidden part of my "I don't do weddings" photographic psyche that secretly longs to tell love stories along with birth stories, but is afraid.

A few of the inspirational sites I added to my facebook "likes" today.

I've worked hard to stop being afraid lately. I spent years avoiding the attempt to become a professional photographer out of fear. When I finally decided to take the plunge, I asked myself, "Self? What's the worst that can happen?"

The worst that can happen is that I spend a lot of time and money chasing my dreams, and end up not quite catching them. The worst that can happen is that I flop. The worst that can happen is that my family and friends look at my efforts and see just another failed crazy idea.

"But Mandie, what's the best that could happen?"

I could succeed. I could bring a little more beauty into the world. I could tell stories of love and joy, and I could give the gift of permanent memory to my clients. I could do what I love and be happy. I could provide for my family while putting my heart into the activity that brings me the most joy - taking pictures, telling stories, and touching lives.

So here's my blog, and I hope to get a web site soon. I'm stepping off the edge of fear, diving into a pool of possibility. &hearts;

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Birth of Dylan Gray | Chicago birth photographer

On an early morning in May, I was fortunate enough to witness the birth of a beautiful baby girl. It's the first birth (other than my own) I've been present for, and it was awe-inspiring. I'm so grateful to Heather and Demian for asking me to be present for the birth of their daughter. If you're just here for the visual birth story, you can watch this slideshow and view more pictures here. Otherwise you can continue on first, and read the story of Dylan's birth as experienced by the photographer (with a few extra photos) before watching the video.

If you want to watch in fullscreen, click over to YouTube and select the HD format.

On Saturday night, Demian texted me around 6:00 to let me know Heather was having regular contractions and the doctor had asked them to come in to the hospital. Since she was planning to birth in the city, and since this was her fifth labor and delivery, I thought I should probably move quickly. I ran around gathering my things while waiting for Luke (my husband) to arrive home to stay with the kids. As soon as he walked through the door, I was off into the Chicago sunset (Well, sort of. The sun sets on the other side of the state, actually).
When I arrived at the hospital, Demian and Heather's best friend Rebeccah were waiting in obstetrical triage. Heather's water had started to leak, and she was dilated to 3 cm. They eventually sent us all up to the labor and delivery unit, where the fun began.
Heather labored 100% naturally for a long time, despite having always been epiduralized before. She went on and on about how easy it really was so far, and while she knew it would get harder, she was really happy to have decided to try sticking to her natural defenses against pain. I have to say, she was one beautiful, strong, composed mama!
After having been at the hospital and contracting for 7 hours with no cervical change, and with her labor having slowed significantly, the doctors decided she needed pitocin to augment her labor. Heather talked the team into letting her walk to try to get her labor back on track, but after another 45 minutes, Heather and her (awesome! amazing!) nurse agreed to start a slow pitocin drip.
The pitocin increased Heather's pain, but she held off against the epidural. After another couple of hours, she had only progressed by about 1 centimeter. The doctor came in and broke her water bag fully (it had only been leaking before), and that's when the party really started.
During the next two hours, Heather's pain increased steadily as her cervix dilated hard and fast. I stood (and stand!) in awe of Heather's strength. She worked phenominally hard and by the time she really couldn't take any more, she was ready to push her daughter into the world.
I cannot describe the joy of watching Heather work so hard for this moment, and then watching it happen. The looks of awe on the faces of Heather, Demian, and Rebeccah were heart-wrenching. She did it. SHE DID IT!
There were some complications after the birth, and after they explained the situation to her, Heather ended up being whisked to the operating room to get everything under control. Demian and Rebeccah waited anxiously with the baby, and an hour later, they got the news that everything had gone well and Heather was recovering.
A family that was four is now five, and at least seven lives have been permanently altered in an amazing way. Congratulations Heather and Demian!

All my big events are currently shot with rented gear from - 
I recommend them highly (and here's my affiliate link!)
 lens rental

Saturday, June 16, 2012

I *like* being unusual

I'm attending an intensive, week-long leadership conference next month, and as part of the training, we'll be studying up on the Meyers-Briggs personality typing system. The folks running the conference have sent out an official Meyers-Briggs test to all attendees, so that we can talk about our own types during the conference.

I'll admit it, I'm a little nervous.

I've never taken the official test before, but I have taken several adapted versions online, and though I've changed a lot over the past 10 years, my type according to these non-official tests has not. I'm INFJ, also known (in the Keirsey system) as a Counselor-Idealist.

INFJ is the rarest of the 16 possible personality types, and that's just the way I like it. On average, 1.5% of the population contains this unusual mix of introversion, intuition, feeling, and judgment. So when you tell me that no, I'm not special, I can say, "Screw you, I so totally am."

My concern here is that the official test will yield a different result. Other than the Introversion/Extraversion category, where I fall solidly into the camp of the former, I tend to hover somewhere around the middle. The results of one online test were thus:

Introverted (I) 60% Extroverted (E) 40%
Intuitive (N) 51.22% Sensing (S) 48.78%
Feeling (F) 58.82% Thinking (T) 41.18%
Judging (J) 53.85% Perceiving (P) 46.15%

Will I still be special if I come out as an ISTP? Probably, but it's just not as cool. I'll let you know how it goes. :)