Releasing a Painful Past

I have a story to share and it’s not because it’s National Coming Out Day or Mental Health Day, or anything of the sort.   It’s something that I have not only built walls around to protect myself, but an entire fortress.  That fortress came crumbling down yesterday and I feel like if I do not share this and find a way to let it go, it is going to eat me alive.  I’m also hoping this might help at least one other person who has gone through or is going through the same thing.  Or even better, a parent who is making the decision on what to do with their child.

I love my parents because they are my parents.  That does not mean they were good parents.  They have always been model pillars of the community.  They donate most of their time to others.  They value appearances. However, they have one son who is still not self-sufficient at 29 years old and another son with painful and persistent emotional scars from the mental and physical abuse suffered at their hand from age 15 until he finally chose himself over their financial support at 21 years old.  And even to this day, they find ways to reopen past wounds.

When they found out I was gay by breaking into my safe and reading my journal, searching the hard drive on my computer, going through my room and my car, and who knows what other insane invasions of privacy…they decided to turn to conversion therapy.  There was no unconditional love, there was no support, there were no shared tears.  There was a problem to fix, a soul to save, and I was the broken one in need of saving.

To date, 16 states and over 50 municipalities have laws forbidding conversion therapy.  LGBT youth are already among the highest suicide rates in the country and those forced into conversion therapy are 6 times more likely to fall into depression and 8 times more likely to attempt suicide.

At times I would pretend to go along with it.  Other times I was truly trying to be “straight” with all my heart and soul.  To “pray the gay away.” It overshadowed everything else in my life.  I could not be a normal teenager.  And no one could know the challenges I was facing because my parents insisted on keeping up appearances.

I started to lie, for the first time in my life.    I lied about everything that had to do with being gay.  I was scared about going to another therapy session, another weekend conference put on by Focus on the Family.  Most of all, I was scared of my Dad’s temper.  I have been hit more times than I can count.  I have been grabbed by my throat and thrown up against a wall.  I have been hurled into my closet, breaking down metal shelves.  I have had my face ground into the carpet of my parents’ bedroom.  In my mom’s defense, she actually tried to come to my aid that last time and my Dad picked up a belt and whipped her with it.  I have never been so utterly horrified in my entire life.

This continued all through high school.  I would tell myself that I just had to make it to college and get out from under their roof. I moved into my dorm two weeks early and finally felt some freedom and that I could be myself. However, I was still constantly questioned and monitored.  The could tell if I left campus because they checked my cell phone bill each month.  I would dread holidays and summer breaks where I had to go home and be under constant supervision once more.  I had to pretend to be someone I was not.  After my junior year, I decided to stay on campus for the summer and take summer school just so that I did not have to go back home.

At the end of that summer, I was given an ultimatum.  Miss my fall semester and attend an in-house , secure conversation therapy program until I was “healed” or he would pull the funding for my senior year of school.  It was the summer before my senior year at Indiana University.  He thought his money still provided him the power over my life.  He was wrong.  I went to my Uncle Jeff (his gay brother) for help, but when my Dad found out he threatened my Uncle’s life should he provide any type of assistance.  So I went to the financial aid office.  My father was devious…he had waited until just after the deadline for financial aid had passed to confront me.  Luckily, there was a special program for students in situations similar to mine where I qualified to separate legally from my parents so that the school could waive the deadline.  I was able to borrow enough to finish school.  I did not speak to my parents that entire year.  I allowed them to attend my graduation since they paid for 3 years of my education but I spent no time with them before or after.

I moved to Los Angeles at 25 and found my own life.  I have been back to Indiana a handful of times, mostly passing through just for one day on a work trip or to see my best friend who still lives there.  There is nothing left for my in Indiana but a reminder of the past and painful memories.

I’m not sure exactly when it was, but my father gave me a gift.  It was a large wooden box with a plaque that read “Letters from Dad.”  In it, was a 3 page typed letter explaining what the box was for and that I would be receiving letters from him that would regale me with stories I didn’t know, share with me his advice and wisdom, and through written word, perhaps be the father I always wanted.  To this day, I’ve not received a single letter to put in my box.  Instead, the box is filled with past letters that I saved from him…condemning my lifestyle, condemning my “choice,” condemning my soul.  

In 2014, my husband and I got married in Kauai.  My father was the only immediate family member than chose not to attend even though I invited him through a personal letter.  He felt that his attendance would mislead me into believing that he supported my right to marry.  I remember my mother mentioning that his bible study group asked her why she was going to Hawaii without him.  When she told them her son was getting married, they were shocked.  My father had never mentioned it or even that i was gay.  The pretense of perfection was always more important than anything else.

In 2016, I was once again at a crossroads.  We were pregnant with my son.  I did not feel like my father had the right to be in his life, but painfully deliberated what would be best for my unborn son and put my personal feelings aside.  I called my father and told him point-blank that I would allow his presence in my son’s life but if he ever tried to push his agenda on him or shared his feelings about my marriage, that would be the last day he ever spoke to my son.

Since then, we have kept the peace.  He gets to spend time with his grandchildren and the only conversation between us is about his work.  The only thing I ever hear him talk about is his work.  Nothing real.  And he and I have no relationship whatsoever.  He stays quiet because for him to speak, would only be to remind me his views have never changed.  I’m sure he believes he would anger me and then not be able to spend time with his grandchildren.  So he chooses silence.  And until today, that has been enough.  Until now…

My mother chose to inadvertently remind me that they both take no ownership of the mental abuse they put me through.  To this day, she wants to excuse my father’s physical abuse and blame it on my lying as a teenager.  Not only do they refuse ownership, they have yet to apologize.  And any time the topic of how they raised me comes up, she makes it about her and says, “So we were just never good parents?” No mom, when you leave lasting scars on someone…that kind of outweighs attending soccer games and providing financial support. 

So that’s my truth.  And today, I’m just happy to be blessed with my four beautiful, healthy children and a wonderful husband.  All of which I was told that could never and would never have because I’m gay.  Life is far from perfect, but I’m trying to be a better person, husband, and father every day of my life.  Our time on this earth is so short, and even shorter with our children at home.  I plan to make the most of my time here and letting this go was a necessary step.  The positive I take from all of this is that it has made me more aware of how I treat others and how I raise my children.  And I hope that when my children are older, we can have the relationship I never had with my father.  And maybe one, they will even tell me what a great job I did.  And THAT would be the best moment of my entire life.

Whose kid is it?

So last night, Marcus and I had dinner with two friends from Monaco who have two gorgeous boys of their own, also through surrogacy. The topic came up of the questions they are asked about the boys’ genetics and I learned that not only are they asked the same questions I loathe, but they have been asked IN FRONT OF the boys on multiple occasions. I shared my feelings with them and told them I had written a FB post before Kai was born about that very subject which received a tremendous amount of positive feedback. I promised them that I would try to find that post (not knowing how I was going to do that). Well, I woke up this morning and apparently it was exactly 3 years ago today that I wrote it and FB was kind enough to pop it back up on my feed as a memory. So that being said, I want to share that original post here:

To all my friends and family that continue to ask Marcus or me “whose sperm did you use” or “whose (kid) is it?” I have smiled and continued to give polite, witty banter back for months now hoping that you would digest the situation and realize the insinuations you are making. That somehow…due to genetics, our child is tied more closely to one of us than the other. That our child is not just simply “ours.” Growing up gay has not always been easy, but it’s made me stronger and allowed me to weather your curiosity and questions that seem outside of the love and compassion I expect from all of you. Growing up with an adopted brother; I can already share with all of you, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that blood does not constitute family. I am strong enough to shoulder the burden of your ignorance in asking these questions over and over again. However, our child should never have to endure such comments and curiosity. Like any child, he has this entire, crazy world to face…and that’s scary enough for a new parent. I’m asking all of you from the bottom of my heart to think before you speak around him or anyone that does not necessary fit into a social norm. Being different is never easy, but it’s part of what makes life interesting and beautiful. Our son is coming and he is going to be a LOT of things…and I cannot wait to discover what those things may be…but one thing that I already know in my heart that he is…is OURS.

We’re going to the zoo, zoo, zoo!

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So traveling with kids.  Let’s talk about it for minute.

I used to travel for work ALL the time.  I could pack in 10-15 minutes.  I could get from my house through the airport and to my gate in 90 minutes max.  I never checked luggage.  Oh, and I got to relax and read on the plane.

NOT ANYMORE! 🙂  Now I have to start packing weeks in advance to make sure I have everything I need for the upcoming trip and that it fits.  We have to schedule a car service if flying and if we do not have enough adults to hold all the babies, then we have to arrange for car seats.  When we went to Hawaii over Christmas, we needed an extra car for our 14 (yes 14) bags.  Four of those bags are just for the two strollers and extra seats.  Two were for my parents.  That leaves eight full of diapers, food, bottle, formula, toys, and extra everything.  We leave for the airport 2.5 hours before our flight and found a wonderful company that assists us through the airport to the lounge and then our gate.  It is a process.  Plus, we are their constant source of entertainment for the entire flight.  Forget enjoying a meal, reading, or taking a much needed nap.

Now I always said that my choice to have multiple kids would never take away from us being able to give them all the experiences I had growing up, especially traveling.  So we brave it.  And the kids are actually all really good travelers.  Except when it comes to sleeping.  At home, they sleep a solid 12 hours a night.  On vacation…not so much.  They were maybe 7 months old when we went to Hawaii and everyone ended up having to sleep with a baby the entire trip.  They refused to sleep in their portable cribs.  Fast forward to Easter in Santa Barbara.  Nope.  Almost 1 year old and Marcus and I have all 4 kids in the bed and did not get much sleep at all.  So, I decided that before heading to Cabo in August, we would take a little mini trip down to San Diego and see how they do now that they were almost 14 months.

We drove down to San Diego which is about a 3 hour drive and they all did fantastic in the car.   It was about 1pm when we arrived at the San Diego Zoo and they loved all the animals.  We got to our hotel, the U.S. Grant, around 6pm to give us time to rinse off, change and go downstairs for dinner.  Now they were wonderfully accommodating and set us all up in a private dining room and they kids all sat through an almost 2 hours dinner and ate very well.  So I thought, hey, super smooth so far and they have to be exhausted so we’re good!  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Now I don’t know whether it’s a new environment or that they are all constantly teething now, but Quinn refuses to sleep in a portable crib but he also will wake up if you have him in the bed (I think he gets too warm) and then he lets loose a blood curdling scream.  When we just had Kai, there were two of us and one of him.  He always slept between us and if he got up, one of us would rock him back to sleep and that was it.  Now when Quinn lets loose, there are 3 other kids in the room.  It is instant panic mode.  You do not want the other babies to wake and cause a chain reaction.  In San Diego, he woke up Rowan (who does NOT like to be woken up…not sure where she gets that…lol) who in turn, lets out a scream of her own.  Vivi and Kai were angels and slept through all of it, but Daddy and Papa once again did not get much sleep.

We did SeaWorld on the way home the next day and again, the kids were fantastic and loved all of the sea animals.  We did not see the Orcas out of principle, but we pretty much saw everything else.  And I will say, not having to deal with formulas or bottles anymore is a game changer.  It’s one less suitcase to pack and they can eat packs on the go in between meals.

So…wish us luck for Cabo next month.  They are now able to walk so they will want to be up and down the aisles of the plane and don’t understand why they have to stay in their seats for takeoff and landing.  Bless my mother for getting them all Fire tablets on Prime Day.  It should be enough to distract them temporarily.

One last little tip or piece of advice to all the parents out there who think traveling is just too much.  When you (and your children) look back on their life, you are not going to remember your child throwing a fit on the plane.  You won’t remember the stress of losing one in the airport for a split second.  Lost or delayed bags will be a distant memory.  Even the lack of sleep for the entire week of vacation will not matter.  The memories you make on those trips though will be remembered forever and they will shape the adults your little humans end up becoming.  I know schedules are easier, monotony prevents chaos, but what kind of a life is that?  Push yourselves.  Teach your kids that sometimes, the most difficult things are the most rewarding.  And get out there and travel.  Expose them to other cultures, different ways of life, people who grew up drastically different from them.  They will be better for it.

 

I walked into Kai’s school today and he was outside on the playground with two of his friends. Neither one looks like him. One was a boy. One was a girl. Not only does that not matter, it’s not even a thought to any of them.

The pure joy of them just holding hands and playing in a circle stopped me in my tracks. I would normally just stand there and take it in but it was too precious not to capture and share.

As a father, I never want that to end. (I just started to type the word unadulterated. I know the typical usage and definition but is it not interesting that I was about to talk about unadulterated joy and I literally mean joy that has not been tainted by adults). My goal is to keep that unadulterated joy from becoming, well, adulterated. We, as parents, and just adults in general need to be hyperaware of what we do, what we say, and how we act around children. We need to present the best parts of ourselves and let the negativity dissipate with our generation.

Now I cannot control other adults and I definitely cannot control all of the different media that my children will be exposed to during their youth (though I will do my damnedest…and I am pretty savvy when it comes to technology). I can however do my best to keep their original coding intact and try to undo any outside damage with positive reinforcement at home.

I believe everyone, even if they themself had a tough childhood, had those moments of our joy that they still remember to this day. If you’re reading this, try to find those memories. And I challenge you, if you have not made a new one in a long time, go make one. Let it remind you how small most of the things are that we let weigh us down. And, for me, let it make you consciously, fully present when you are around young impressionable minds.

Let the kids believe in magic. Let them think this world is and can be better than it is…and just maybe, they will manifest that reality.

Childhood Joy

1 year mark!

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So we made it!  One year.

Anyone else who has multiples will most likely tell you that the first year is the hardest.  We were blessed with pretty easy, healthy babies and it was still just a LOT of work.

They are all sleeping through the night now.  7pm-7am.  Quinn and Kai share a room and they always seem to get up earlier than the girls.  The girls, who also share a room, usually like to sleep in about half an hour later than the boys.

NO MORE BOTTLES!!!  This is huge…I feel like I have been washing bottles for the last 3 years of my life (in actuality, it’s only been about 2.5 years of my life).  It’s kind of strange to realize that you are completely done with something.  With Kai, I saved everything, knowing that I would hopefully have to get it all out again for our second child.  Now, I’m packing everything up to send to friends who are expecting and it feels great 🙂

A lot of moms ask me if I am going to miss the baby phase, mostly because they do.  I can honestly say that I loved every single minute of it.  But no, I am not going to miss it to the point where I want to go through it again.  God gave us 3 this time…and doing everything 3 times…well, you definitely get your fix.  I am looking forward to the next stages of life with them (as long as they do not come and go too fast).

So what is next on the docket?  Well, Quinn is fully walking and though the girls can walk if they want to, they choose to knee walk.  I have never seen another baby do it and I’m not sure whether it was Rowan or Vivi who started the hot, new trend but it does not seem to be going anywhere.  Teething.  When you are a new, expecting parent, soooo many other parents warn you about what lies ahead.  The only thing that has ever come close to being as bad as I was warned is teething.  It is absolutely miserable seeing your kids in terrible pain and not being able to do anything about it.  We go through boxes of Camilia and if it gets unbearable for them, I will resort to Tylenol.  We have every freezable and non-freezable teether on the market and free damp washcloths as well.  It took the triplets so long to start getting their teeth that they are now getting 2-4 all at once.  Poor Vivi hardly smiled last week which is tough to witness when she normally smiles about 100 times every 10 minutes.

Kai finished his first year of school.  It was almost surreal.  He started summer school last week and they swim every single day.  He starts his new school right after Labor Day and I’m applying for that school for the triplets next week.  In my head, they would always have a year in between them in school since they are almost 2 years apart.  Because of their birthdays and the school cutoff date though, they will actually be in back to back grades.  Fun for them but Dad is going to be an absolute wreck when they all leave for college almost at the same time.  Marcus tries to console me saying that at least one or two will decide to go into the arts and live at home while the other two are at college.  LOL.

That’s a wrap for their yearly update. 6841B424-D1F4-4FA2-ADF1-084932FD0BD2.jpeg

Xoxo,

Sanford Squad

Months 2 through 5…

So…our night nurse left shortly after my last post and I haven’t slept since let alone had time to blog.   (Kidding…kind of).  Anyway, we have some catching up to do.

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So we made it to two months.  It was my turn to take over night duty and I was feeding the babies every 2-3 hours.  It would take about 90 minutes to feed each one and then, if I was lucky, I would get about 90 minutes of consecutive sleep.  I moved our sleeping sofa into the nursery and just stayed in there overnight.

IMG_4235.pngWe decided to brave our first family outing for 4th of July.  We took all the kids up to Malibu and let’s just say it was WAY easier to take Kai places when he was that little.  For any of you reading this expecting triplets…just make the decision that you’re going to stay home/local for the first 6 months.  You will all be much happier for that decision.  IMG_4170.jpeg

Month 2 did not pass so quickly since I was not sleeping much but we made it and each day was getting a little easier.

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The question I keep getting asked is, “How do you do it?”  I usually give one of two answers depending on my mood.  “What’s my alternative?”  or the real answer…that it’s just like raising one baby, except you have to do everything 3 times.  To say it’s time consuming is an understatement.  3 bottles, 3 diaper changes, putting 3 down for a nap or bedtime, 3 baths.  I cannot possibly give each one the time and attention that I gave Kai when he was young, but I’m definitely trying my best.  And my solace is that they can entertain each other as well.  And that they have the BEST big brother in the entire world.

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What a lot of people who do not have kids do not realize is that each child is born with a unique personality almost from day one.  As parents, we are lucky enough to have the privilege of instilling values and shaping that personality.  We do not, however, create it. My son Kai was curious from the day he was born.  With the triplets, their personality are even more evidenced because I have something to compare them to…Quinn is kind and gentle.  He smiles all the time and when he cries (which is rare) it is as if you hurt his feelings.  Vivi is just a sweetheart…when she smiles at you, her entire face lights up.  She looks at the world with an intelligence that I have never seen a baby possess.  And then there is Rowan.  She is basically me.  She can be the sweetest baby in the world and then if she is upset or bothered…she lets out this unearthly wail.  None of my other kids even come close to the excruiciating sound that comes out of her mouth.  She does not sound like her feelings are hurt or even that she is in some time of pain.  She sounds (excuse my language) pissed.  LOL.  I have a feeling that she and I are going to have some fights in the years to come 🙂

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That catches us up to month five.  I am sleeping in my room again.  Most nights, I put them down by 7pm, sleep feed at 10pm (which only takes me 45 min to an hour now), and then they sleep until 7am.  It’s heaven.  Every once in awhile Rowan will decide that she wants to wake up at 3am just to be rocked back to sleep 😉  But that’s okay.  This is the last time I’m going to go through the infant stage and I am trying to cherish each and every minute of it.  As much as I look forward to taking them all swimming in the ocean or watching them run around and chase each other or having them all be able to get in the car and buckle themselves in…I do not wish for ANY of that to arrive too quickly.  I never felt this way with Kai because every day was a milestone and and I knew I was going to have more kids to experience it with again.  Now that we are done having children…I secretly mourn the passing of each milestone knowing that it is my last (until I have grandchildren).

To anyone reading this who is deciding if you want children.  You do.  Just trust me on that.  To everyone out there who already has children, let me give you a little advice I am learning daily from having 4 kids within 20 months of each other.  One of the most frustrating things, at least for me, is that I try to enforce my will on my children and control them all the time because I think I know what’s best.  Eat your breakfast, it’s nap time, we are ALL going to play over here.  Well…each one of my kids usually has their own ideas about every single one of my opinions.  My advice is to breathe…remember they are little people.  They have their own ideas, dreams, wants, desires…even as young as 5 months old.   Guide them as best possible, but let them be in charge of their own little worlds.  Let the control go a bit.  And enjoy every moment…even the ones where you are at your wits end because one day they will be adults, living in their own houses, leading their own lives, and all you will want is for them to be little again, screaming, needing nothing more than the comfort of your arms so that their world is right again.

Almost 2 months old!

Wow…sitting here with my oldest (and smallest) daughter in my Baby Bjorn staring up at me with the most beautiful brown eyes I’ve ever seen, I can’t believe it’s almost been 2 months.  And yes, I also can believe it.  I wish I had written more the last two months, but then again, there isn’t much to report just yet.  A friend once told me that for the first 4-6 months, babies are like little blobs that eat, sleep, and poop.  Well…for the most part, that’s true.  It’s been a LOT of eating, much more recently.  A LOT of sleeping, though only for 3 hours at a time so far.  And a LOT of pooping.  Actually, not that much pooping.  The triplets are lucky enough to be on mostly breast milk from our wonderful surrogate and my cousin’s wife was kind enough to send me a cooler full of her breastmilk all the way from Florida.  And little did I know, babies can go up to two weeks without pooping if they are on breastmilk because it’s such an efficient source of nutrition.  Just another reason why I am not a fan of formula and especially USA formula.  For anyone looking for a great formula, I use Holle (they have a new version called PRE which has DHA but I prefer to get the regular and add my own DHA from Nordic Naturals).  HiPP is also a good one, but that one isn’t always manufactured in Germany.  Holle is always produced in Germany.  When the triplets had to be on Enfacare, their poop was a dark green and smelled terrible.  There is just no way for us to replicate breastmilk.  Things like live cells cannot be replicated.  DHA even is not as effective in powder form.  And a lot of the components that can be replicated are actually harmful without their counterparts in breastmilk that cannot be replicated.  So…if you’re contemplating, pick breastmilk if you can.  Holle or HiPP if you cannot.  But I digress.

Two months in…it’s mostly routine.  And I’ve had to get used to letting one baby cry sometimes because I can only feed two at a time.  Luckily, there always seems to be someone here to lend a hand.  And Kai (their big brother) is always happy to run over and stick a pacifier in their mouth.  Sometimes gently, sometimes not as gently.  And his patience to hold it there until they start to suck just does not exist yet.

The thing though that makes everything so worth it is the littlest milestones.  The awareness that enters their eyes a little more each day.  The first smiles, even though it’s probably just gas 😉  Being able to lift their head, even if they look like a bobble-head (that thing that used to be a cool thing for car dashboards in the 90s).  I get excited when they start to eat an ounce more than they used to or when they go up a diaper size.  LOL.  Like I said, it’s the little things.  With four kids now, I won’t be going through this baby stage again so I’m trying to enjoy and memorize each and every minute of it.

The babies are calling, but I will definitely be back soon and as there is more and more to share each day.  I hope your days are wonderful and just a reminder with everything going on in the world today.  Be kind, choose to have a positive attitude, and appreciate your moments…don’t just let life fly by.

~Braden