Sunday, January 16, 2022

I Want Twins!

I’ve heard this sentiment from a few people - that they want multiples. Maybe they just want a big family as quickly as possible. Maybe they specifically want the experience of raising siblings who are both going through the same developmental stages at the same time, who can swap clothes or wear cute matching clothes, who can be in the same grade in school. There’s a bunch of reasons why people might want to have multiples.

Now, you could raise questions about whether this is really a good goal to have, and I’ll probably get into that. But first, if you want to deliberately have twins or more, what are your options?

Hyperovulation with Medications

Many fertility medications come with a potential side effect of multiple birth. If I hadn’t gotten pregnant when I did, the next cycle I tried to conceive, I would’ve probably started taking one such medication - letrozole. The intended goal would have been just to make sure I ovulate within a specific, predictable time period and don’t miss ovulation for that cycle, but a side effect was a potential for me to ovulate more than one egg. If that occurred, and then more than one egg successfully bonded with sperm and went on to implant, I could have had fraternal twins or more. Of course, that’s a lot of ifs, and you could still easily end up with a singleton or no pregnancy at all.

Now, if you don’t already need fertility assistance (either due to fertility problems or simply not having a sperm producer in your life), the first obstacle would be getting the medication prescribed. I don’t really know what that would entail, and it’s probably very dependent on what country you’re in and how much money you’re willing to spend. And, I suppose, whether you’re willing to break the law. But, assuming you’re doing this legally, your first step would be to get a fertility doctor to prescribe you a medication with a side effect of multiples.

My fertility doctor made it very clear that she personally, as well as the regulatory body she answers to, do not want me to conceive multiples. She told me that if my vaginal ultrasound for that cycle showed four or more eggs preparing to ovulate, she would not proceed with the insemination. We could proceed if I wanted to with two or three (which increases the likelihood of twinning only slightly), but not with four or more. She told me a whole bunch about how multiple pregnancies are at increased risk of preterm birth, miscarriage or fetal death, pre-eclampsia, anemia, etc. Both mother and babies are at significantly increased risk if there’s more than one baby in the same womb.

For me, as someone who didn’t have a sperm provider in my life independently of the clinic, that rule would be a show-stopper. Even if I wanted to try to conceive while ovulating four eggs, I wouldn’t be given that opportunity. If you did have a sperm provider, though, you could potentially try at-home insemination against medical advice. But if the fertility doctor got wind that you’re intending that, they’d probably stop prescribing the fertility medication.

In-Vitro Fertilization

If you go for IVF, they’ll probably try to produce multiple embryos in a single cycle, and then freeze the extras and only implant one or two very healthy-looking ones. You might be able to convince them to try to implant more embryos at once, but that runs into the same potential problems with medical ethics that I got into with the discussion of hyperovulation meds, and with less ability to try independently against medical advice. Still, maybe you’ll find a fertility doctor willing to implant four or more embryos and give you a pretty strong chance of multiples.

There’s also the potential that you could conceive an embryo naturally in the same cycle as an embryo transfer, and both could implant and grow successfully. There’s at least one documented case of a couple who implanted a single IVF embryo and gave birth to fraternal twins, which means they must have conceived naturally in the same cycle. So, if you really want twins and you’re getting IVF, if you have a sperm provider in your life, you should try to conceive naturally during embryo transfer cycles.

Surrogacy or Both Parents Pregnant

If you don’t want to deal with the risks of carrying multiple babies in the same womb, or the barriers doctors are likely to put in your way because they don’t want you risking your and your babies’ lives to have multiples, another option is to recruit another womb for this goal. If you’re lucky enough to have a partner who also has a womb, this is a lot easier - simply have both of you try to conceive simultaneously. Otherwise, you’ll probably need to find someone, or get a fertility clinic willing to help you find someone, who is willing to carry one of your children on your behalf.

Fertility doctors might try to talk you out of this because twins are a lot of work to raise, but they’re much less likely to flat-out refuse to help you, since you’re not incurring too much medical risk, and if you want to have no sleep for a couple years, that’s your business. In some cases, fertility doctors might even encourage you to try this, especially if you’re a two-womb couple, since it increases your chances of having a baby period.

One thing to keep in mind is that technically speaking, these kids won’t be biologically twins, since they didn’t share a womb. They may also have a greater age difference than biological twins, because you might not have both gestational carriers get pregnant in the same cycle. (In rare cases, biological twins can be conceived in two separate cycles if the pregnancy doesn’t fully suppress ovulation, but it’s a lot less likely.) Still, a difference of a few months will only matter in the first year or two. If your dreams for multiples are mostly focused on their lives as preschoolers or beyond, it won’t really matter if they’re a few months apart.

If you’re a two-womb couple, another thing to consider is the logistical challenges of having two people in the same household pregnant at the same time. Who’s going to change the cat box, or use the drain cleaner to unclog the drain? Are you both going to be wanting to puke in the same toilet at the same time? What if you go into labour at the same time, or in close enough succession that the first one is still in recovery?

There’s also the emotional implications if the pregnancy outcomes differ. If one parent miscarries, for example, will the fact that your partner is successfully carrying a child make you feel better, or worse? If you have a preterm baby clinging to life while the other baby is still in their womb, how will you balance the logistical and emotional challenges of simultaneous third trimester pregnancy and a NICU journey?

Adoption While Pregnant

Another option, if you don’t care about biological relatedness, is to simultaneously try to conceive and try to adopt. Some adoption agencies and fertility doctors might frown on doing both, others have no problem with it, and even if they would rather you didn’t, it’s really hard for them to know what you’re doing with a separate agency if you don’t mention it yourself. It’s even harder for them to stop you if you don’t need fertility assistance to conceive.

If you want to adopt a newborn, typically your best bet is to go for private adoption. This means you’ll write up a profile of your family, along with stuff that the adoption agency writes up based on a home study, and pregnant people who plan on giving the baby up will look through these profiles and decide which parents to reach out to as possible adoptive parents. Often, it’ll be an open adoption, meaning that the birth parent will know who you are and you’ll send updates on the child periodically, and possibly arrange meetups. This also means that even if you don’t mention that you’re trying to get pregnant, if you succeed, you’re unlikely to be able to keep it from the birth parent indefinitely. So, consider how they might feel about their child having a non-adopted social twin.

Another option is foster-to-adopt. Most children available through this route will not be newborns, but some newborns enter the foster care system. Usually, they enter the system with serious challenges, such as neonatal abstinence syndrome (ie, opiate withdrawal from prenatal exposure), fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, etc. Or they might enter the system a few weeks or months after birth, having suffered serious abuse or neglect. You’re a lot less guaranteed to have a finalized adoption, since if the birth parents clean up their act or another biological relative turns up with a suitable home, they’ll take precedence in custody arrangements. However, if you’re willing to take on the challenges of a special needs baby and the uncertainty around final custody outcomes, this is a much cheaper option than domestic adoption, and comes with the warm fuzzies of knowing that you’ve helped a child in desperate straits.

Another advantage of foster-to-adopt as opposed to domestic adoption, from the adopter’s side, is that supply and demand are in your favor. When it comes to domestic adoption, there are more potential adoptive parents than there are newborns available for them to adopt. In contrast, there’s a shortage of good foster homes for any age group of foster children. Which means that you’re likely to have less of a waiting list and more likely to actually end up with a child from that route.

Adopting Twins or Friends

There are also biological twin pairs in the adoption systems. They’re less common than singletons, of course, but they’re out there, and most of the time, adoption agencies and social workers would prefer that they be kept together - especially if they’re older than a year and grew up together so far. This is also probably the most unquestionably good way to choose to have twins, because instead of making kids who could’ve been singletons into twins artificially, you’re just maintaining an existing twin relationship.

Another variant on this, in some cases, might be to adopt unrelated children who have a preexisting bond, such as adopting best friends from the same orphanage. Once again, you’re maintaining an existing relationship, and that’s generally considered a good thing.

If they’re 1 year old or older, keep in mind that adopting older children comes with unique challenges. These children have a life before you that has shaped them psychologically - often in ways that leave them with psychological scars. They may have parental bonds to people other than you, and mourn the loss of those people, and you’ll need to make room for those emotions without resenting the place those other parents have in your children’s hearts. They may have trouble bonding to you or seeing you as their parent, and while for some children this resolves after an adjustment period, for others this can be a lifelong issue. They’re more likely than newborns to have established visitation rights with people who may or may not be good influences in their lives.

It can be hard enough raising one child with attachment and trauma issues. Are you sure you’re up for raising two?

Furthermore, this is assuming the preexisting bond between the two children is a positive influence on their lives. What if it’s not? What if they have a preexisting problem with sibling abuse, or you unintentionally adopted a bully and their favorite victim from the orphanage together? Keep in mind that you may be faced with the question of whether or not to give up one of the two to a different care arrangement, for the sake of the other child of the pair.

Adopting Two Separate Children

You could also adopt multiple children with no prior relationships. The easiest way to do this is probably to seek out more than one adoption agency simultaneously. If you choose not to tell them about the other agencies, they’re unlikely to even know.

If you’re adopting older children, you’ll run into the same problems I mentioned under adopting older twins/friends, but without a preexisting bond between the two children (which, as mentioned above, could be a good or bad thing).

You're also more likely to have people question your decision than if the children did have a preexisting bond, because after all, maybe these two could have gone to two different adoptive homes and had parents who weren't overwhelmed dealing with two newly-arrived kids the same age at once.

It can also be a problem for a child's identity, if they're old enough to have a sense of themselves as a singleton and now suddenly they're being treated like part of a pair with a total stranger.

Still, it does mean that two children who might not otherwise have had a home will have one, and it might be good for them to have a family member who gets what being adopted is like.

Adopting When You Already Have A Child

You could get a singleton, biological or adoptive, and spend some time raising them as a singleton, and then adopt another child the same age as them. This option is almost certainly going to be older adoption, with all the problems that can entail.

On the good side, you could potentially experience the “raising a baby” early years stuff with only one child, which is a lot easier than having two, and then get the post-infancy raising twins experience.

However, consider how adopting a same-age child would affect the dynamic with your existing child. As mentioned above, going from a singleton to one of a pair could be a major identity adjustment - possibly even more so since it’s the only thing that’s changing in their life, as opposed to just being one of many changes as it is for the newly-adopted child.

It’s also important to consider the question of favoritism vs damaging an existing bond. How do you treat two children fairly when one has been your child for a long time and the other is a stranger? There’s no easy answer to this.

And, if the newly-adopted child has problems, which they probably will if they're older than 1 year, what happens if those problems start adversely affecting the child you’ve had longer? What happens if your newly-adopted child, for example, has a problem with abusive behavior and targets your preexisting child? Or if witnessing behavioral or emotional symptoms upsets your preexisting child? Or if the stress you’re under trying to help the new kid spills over and affects how you treat the preexisting child? These can be concerns anytime you get a new child when you already have one, but it’s often easier to deal with if the new child is younger than the preexisting child.

Conclusion

If you want twins, there are ways you can make it more likely. But each of these ways comes with potential problems and challenges that you’re less likely to deal with if you have consecutive singletons instead. So, please, take a good, long look at the downsides of these options, and the upsides, and ask yourself if it’s really worth it for you. Know what you’re getting into, and be ready for the consequences of your choices. That’s all I can ask of any prospective parents, really.

Sunday, January 09, 2022

Perioriented, Variooriented, or Just Grey?

Written in response to the January 2022 Carnival of Aces topic, "Divergence vs. Convergence".

Am I variooriented or perioriented? Tough question.

I identify as grey-ace and (non-grey) aromantic.


Is that perioriented? For a long time, I saw so little distinction between aro and ace that I didn’t identify as aroace, just asexual - similar to how many perioriented allos identify with a single label for both sexual and romantic orientation. When I first came across the concept of separate romantic and sexual orientations, I resented the idea of being asked to split up my own experience into separate bins when I didn’t experience it that way.


Even now, I often struggle to tease apart what aspects of my experience feel more asexual or aromantic to me. For example, is my current journey to single motherhood by choice more of an ace or aro thing? My unwillingness to even consider natural insemination, and the angst I’ve had around needing medical procedures that involve my vaginal area, are definitely more ace-related. But my unpartnered status? Is it because I don’t desire romance enough to seek it out? Or is it because virtually all my potential romantic prospects are sexually incompatible for me?


On the other hand, am I variooriented? When I consider what sex life I might enjoy, I imagine having fetishy queerplatonic bonds with friends with benefits, similar to the ideal sex lives of many allo aros. I have felt sexually objectifying, as I look at a person and don’t really want to consider them as someone beyond how they get me sexually interested, and have wrestled with how I feel about the ethics of that sort of mentality.* And I’ve felt the particular way that struggle intermixes with the way our society stereotypes sexual expression outside of romantic desire.


I have also felt sexually attracted to an actual, real-life person I’ve known, a close friend who doesn’t know about my greyness or my attraction to her. I’ve weighed the costs and benefits of honesty vs ruining our current friendship for something that I know she won’t reciprocate (she’s straight and vanilla afaik), and then concluded that I’m too much of a coward to say anything regardless of what I decide.


When I talk to aroaces, I find we have some things in common and some things not. When I talk to aroallos, I find we have some things in common and some things not. Even when I’ve talked to other aro grey-aces, I’ve found we have some things in common with them and some things not. Each category includes some experiences I strongly relate to, that are definitely not shared by people of other orientations.


The one group within the ace spectrum that I feel the least in common with are alloromantic aces. Even then, talking specifically about sex, we sometimes have things in common. But sexual activities and experiences are often vastly different between alloaces and aroaces, specifically because most alloaces I’ve encountered have or intend to date perioriented allos and therefore have a very different cost/benefit analysis to sexual activity than someone who is unlikely to attempt to date or be motivated to get very far in dating if they do try it.


As for how I discuss this with people who don’t know anything about asexuality? Mostly, I don’t. When I come out, I come out as asexual only, and the vast majority of people assume that means I’m aromantic without knowing that the two could even be separated. The only times I’ve clarified further have been with other queer people or extremely trustworthy straights, or in academic discussions of sexual orientation. Mostly, what uneducated but not actively bigoted people assume about me when I say I’m asexual is correct about me. And I worry that trying to raise awareness that it’s not correct about all aces will lead them to make incorrect assumptions about me.


Besides, I’m usually too concerned about whether they’ll think I’m sexually repressed or my trauma made me ace or I’m making it all up because I’m a stuck-up tease who thinks they’re ugly. There’s a lot more basic misunderstandings I tend to focus on correcting first, and the discussion of the diversity of aces is a side issue for me.


And unless they’re one of the topmost trusted people in my life, a fellow queer, or someone I’m actually considering doing fetish acts with, I don’t mention my greyness at all. I don’t want people thinking that my grey-ace identity outweighs my sexual repulsion, and most people assume ace means sex-repulsed anyway.


* My current stance is that if the person clearly consented to having their image on the public platform I found them on, and I’m not doing any actions that would adversely affect them to fuel my sexual gratification (eg leaving horny comments on a non-sexual youtube video), it’s fine to not actively consider the individual behind the image when I’m seeking sexual gratification.


Saturday, January 01, 2022

Children and Childhood: The Ace Carnival Round-up for December 2021

Here it is: the round-up for the December 2021 Carnival of Aces. This topic was double-barreled, inviting aces to talk both about their own childhood and the children they might want to raise, and I got several responses in each category.

Having Children

I was pleasantly surprised by how many aces wrote in about their own desires for parenthood. I've often felt that in asexual community circles, not wanting children is assumed to be part of the package for asexuality, and it's made me feel pretty alone. This helps. I was also surprised how often vaginismus or related conditions came up - I wonder if anyone has looked into how prevalent pain with penetration is for the asexual spectrum? I, too, have vaginismus, which has affected my experience of artificial insemination and related medical procedures.

Perfect Number talks about how it felt to be pregnant and asexual in Being Asexual in Pregnancy World. She talks about how pregnancy resources assumed that a pregnant mother's pre-pregnancy sex life was fine and easy without any communication required, an assumption which boggles her mind (and likely the minds of anyone who doesn't happen to have sexual preferences that perfectly line up with what our society has decided is the norm). She talks about her sex life getting better as a result of pregnancy, instead of worse, because she felt empowered to actually set boundaries to avoid experiencing pain during sex instead of putting up with it. She also comments that giving birth cured what was most likely undiagnosed vaginismus, and afterwards, sex was no longer painful.

I, too, have noticed how heteronormative pregnancy resources are. An ongoing annoyance for me is how the pregnancy tracking app I've been using, Ovia, keeps asking stats questions that have no relevant option for me as a single parent, often surprising ones, like the question "who usually buys the groceries in your household?" assuming the only two options are you or your significant other. (I live with my parents, they usually buy the groceries.) I've also previously had frustrations with period tracking apps that don't allow for tracking sexual activity and fertilization in a way that reflects how utterly separate those two are for me.

Sildarmillion actually submitted two entries, the first of which is titled On being asexual and wanting to have a child (specifically, give birth) someday. A lot of this feels like it could have been written by me six years ago, although since I was younger when I was going through the "I wanna have a child" epiphany, I didn't look into the same options. Although my own struggles with penetration are less than Sildarmillion's (and in fact tampons have long been my preferred period product), I can relate to finding transvaginal ultrasounds painful. I can also relate to the frustration of heteronormative resources on vaginismus, one of the possible diagnoses Sildarmillion is exploring for her difficulties. I found it really tricky to find good information on what course of action would be suitable for treating vaginismus with the goal of reducing pain with vaginal medical procedures, rather than the goal of enjoying PIV sex. I finally resorted to calling up my fertility doctor to ask her what diameter the IUI applicator she used was, and comparing that to the dilator set I'd gotten.

Pigeon, aka Em, submitted Some Thoughts on Possibilities for Ace Parents, discussing aer musings on aer own desires for the future and possible parenthood, and what options would exist if ae chooses to go that route. Pigeon lists adoption as an option which may or may not be more difficult for a single parent than for an m/f couple, and mentions some aces potentially having sex to attempt pregnancy. (I recall reading, I think it was on AVEN forums, about an m/f couple who were both ace and talking about their struggles with that route to conception. Neither of them much liked sex and it was hard to push themselves to have the amount of sex that's ideal for m/f couples trying to conceive.)

Ae also talks about IVF meaning that you don't have to have sex or convince a person with a penis to help in order to get pregnant. I would like to point out that IUI is a less famous option but likely a better first approach unless you have known fertility problems, since it's less invasive and usually much cheaper.*

Ae also mentions queerplatonic coparenting, of children who may or may not be biologically related to said queerplatonic partners. On which topic, I'd like to mention a news article that made me happy in 2017, about a single biological mother and her best friend winning a legal battle to have her best friend recognized as a second parent to their son. This wasn't a planned arrangement in their case - the son, Elaan, has disabilities and his biological father isn't in the picture, so his biological mother's friend stepped up to help raise him. However, it's an important legal precedent for queerplatonic parents. Pigeon also discusses possibilities for three-parent families, both romantic and queerplatonic. This describes my situation, since I'm a single pregnant mother intending to coparent with my own parents, who are an m/f couple. However, I think people are probably going to think it's weirder to have platonic coparents if they aren't biologically related to you.

Own Childhood

Four participants talked about childhood, taking three very different takes on the topic.

Coyote talks about eir reaction to Christmas and how this relates to both eir unhappy childhood and eir ace identity in Christmas is my Valentine's. I have heard from many abuse survivors who find the emphasis on family during Christmas difficult, but the fact that Coyote isn't inclined to build a "traditional" family of eir own means that e lacks the escape some allo abuse survivors use to make Christmas more pleasant. And unfortunately, Coyote's allo friends seem to have the common problem of valuing romance higher than friendship by default.

Cyril, from Aro By Design, also takes on the topic of how friendships are valued in comparison to romance in their piece, Growing Up Ace, where they discuss how friendships are seen as something for children. Cyril describes how children's books tend to focus on going on adventures with your friends, going through exciting and dangerous things and supporting each other through it all. And then, you come to YA, and suddenly all the books are focused around romantic relationships instead of friendship. Cyril ends the discussion by musing that adults have a lot to learn from children.

Keygoose, meanwhile, takes on the topic of childhood from a somewhat different angle in Too Young, Yet Old Enough. She talks about being a teenager and questioning asexual, and how Keygoose finds herself feeling like she's "too young" to really know if she's ace. The theme of friendship comes up in keygoose's post, too, in her musings on different-gender friendships and the taboos that heterosexuals place on such friendships. Keygoose says part of what's made her hesitate to identify as asexual is the wish to prove such taboos wrong by being a heterosexual who values opposite-gender friendships. Finally, Keygoose finishes off by settling on the label "grey-asexual", as a way to avoid having to give a yes-or-no answer to the question of asexual identity.

And lastly, Sildarmillion's second entry was a musing on the term "childfree" from the perspective of a child, titled An unpopular(?) take on the term ‘childfree’. Once again, she echoes many of my own thoughts, as she points out how -free tends to be used to refer to not having something perceived as negative, and how "childfree" implies a negative connotation to having children. While I fully support anyone deciding for themselves whether or not they want children regardless of which option they choose, I have to say that I've seen quite a bit of negativity about children from self-identified "childfree" people, including some extreme cases who basically don't want to ever even see children, especially children acting in developmentally appropriate ways. (Conversely, one of my best friends is a teacher who loves children, and describes her own stance on parenthood as "I don't want to be a parent, I just want to borrow other people's kids temporarily". So, clearly, not choosing to have children doesn't mean you have to dislike children.) I can also recall times as a child when I met adults who clearly hated children, including a few teachers like that, and I could feel the dislike coming off of them and it adversely affected me. So, please, whether you want to have children or not, learn not to hate people for simply being younger than you are and needing more assistance and guidance than most adults do.

* IVF stands for in-vitro fertilization, and involves extracting eggs from an ovulating person, introducing them to sperm in a laboratory, and then inserting an embryo 3-5 days after conception (not counting time spent frozen, since this pauses development) into the uterus and hoping they burrow into the endometrium and successfully grow. In contrast, IUI involves inserting sperm directly into the uterus right around the time of conception. Medications to regulate ovulation are optional for IUI but required for IVF, from what I understand, so if you're concerned about medication side effect, IUI can be a safer option. In addition, IUI involves one procedure per attempt, possibly preceded by one or more vaginal ultrasounds to determine the precise timing of ovulation, whereas IVF is at minimum two procedures per attempt, again not counting the vaginal ultrasounds. And the cost is vastly different. Not counting the cost of donor sperm, an IUI cycle costs a few hundred dollars, while an IVF cycle costs a few thousand. (Donor sperm also tends to cost a couple thousand, if you don't want to go through the process of finding your own donor - which, I agree with Pigeon is an utterly mortifying process!)

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Why Are We Learning This?

This idea was prompted by a post I came across while looking through an anti-ABA linkspam given to me by someone on Reddit. Since then, however, I've been unable to find the post that inspired it again. In any case, this was a principle that was important to me before, but this post reminded me of it and convinced me to act on it.

When we are teaching children, we should try to make sure that what we are teaching them will actually be beneficial to them.

Now, this isn't to say that we must only teach stuff with a clear practical benefit. After all, you can also gain benefits from having a broader perspective on the world, learning to express yourself in a deep and meaningful way, learning that being persistent and trying hard can pay off, or even the joy of learning something simply because it's interesting.

Or, you can learn that adults will put you through pointless drudgery and make you miserable for something that ultimately has no real benefit to your life. Like doing long division by hand, because guess what, teachers, turns out I actually do always have a calculator with me! (And yet, teachers are still arguing that children need to do long division by hand, even in this time of smartphones, because of some vague, unproven and undefined benefits to their understanding of math.)

So, one of the areas I listed in my personal curriculum goal database for my child is the intended benefit of that particular goal to my child.

Some things have a clear, obvious and significant benefit that is only achievable by that goal. For example, being able to read fluently in English has a lot of benefits that are hard to replace with any alternatives - many books aren't available as audiobooks and text-to-speech has flaws.

Other things have less clear benefits that could be obtained in many ways. For example, being able to kick a ball is important for playing soccer, but playing soccer isn't really essential to life. Exercise has health benefits, but many exercises don't require any ball-handling skills. So, if my child really struggles with kicking a ball, that's not really a big deal.

If my child enjoys kicking a ball around, well, then, I'll gladly encourage them to build their ball-handling skills as long as they're having fun with it. But if I try to show my kid how to kick a ball and they get frustrated and upset and say that they're sick of playing with a ball, well, then, I'll drop it. Because basic ball-handling skills aren't worth them going through the stress of being forced to do something they don't enjoy. After all, if they don't like kicking a ball, they won't put themselves in situations where kicking a ball would be a useful skill anyway. And a skill you only use before you're old enough that people stop forcing you into recreational activities is pretty useless. Granted, ball-handling skills can build overall dexterity, but so can many other things, and hopefully at least one of those will be something my child enjoys.

And even with the most valuable skill, like reading, there comes a point where learning it might not be worth the cost. Torey Hayden, special education teacher and author, described one such child in one of her books - a seven year old girl who'd been put in her class after failing grade 1. She and her twin sister had suffered physical abuse in their original family and were currently living in a very loving foster home. Whereas her sister was thriving, she'd experienced a serious brain injury that seemed to have caused lasting visual processing impairment, resulting in pretty much total inability to tell letters apart.

Torey Hayden tried to teach her to read. But regular drilling with letters seemed to have only one effect - making this girl miserable. So, finally, Torey Hayden gave up and stopped working on literacy goals with this child, and her whole demeanor changed. It seemed pretty clear to both Torey Hayden and myself as I read the story that this child was better off without reading instruction, at least for now. (Unfortunately, Torey Hayden got in trouble with her superiors about this decision. Luckily, that's far less of a concern for homeschooling, but I will still have to worry about proving to the Saskatchewan government that I'm actually educating my child.)

And if there's one thing disability rights advocates have taught me, it's that it's possible to live a good life while lacking a lot of "essential" skills. So, if it comes down to struggling at the cost of mental health or learning to live without a skill that would be very useful, even the most essential skills are ultimately optional. I simply have a higher threshold for when I'll call off teaching them a really useful skill as opposed to a skill that's not so useful.

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Monday, December 20, 2021

How Do I Feel About Romance?

So, December Carnival of Aros is about attitudes towards romance. Just like how aces can identify as sex-repulsed, sex-neutral, sex-favourable, etc, the same is true for aros around romance.

However, whereas I see a fairly even mix of the different sex attitudes in most ace communities I’ve hung out in, the same is not true for aro communities, in my experience. The majority of aros I’ve encountered are solidly romance-repulsed.

What am I? Honestly, I don’t know. I know that I definitely don’t resonate with the standard romance-repulsed narrative of an aro who hates seeing anyone kiss, who gets overwhelmed and needs to hide away during Valentine’s Day, who is skeptical that romantic relationships (especially monogamous ones) could ever be experienced as healthy or positive even by allos, etc. Kind of a stereotype, sure, but I’ve met quite a few aros who resonate with at least some of that stereotype.

I do sometimes hate romance, though. When I read a fictional pairing as a QPR and really enjoy that, I hate seeing them get together romantically. I often get mad about accusations of “queerbaiting” because they seem to so often be thrown at great QPR pairs, like Holmes/Watson.

I also have mixed feelings about getting into a romance myself. I keep thinking I like the idea in theory, but when a potential opportunity actually presents itself, I always end up rejecting it. Then again, I’m sex-repulsed asexual, and all the romantic prospects I’ve had so far have been heterosexual cis men, so of course I haven’t wanted to date them - they’d want sex, and I don’t want to ever have sex. And the privilege of being cishet men is potentially fraught in and of itself. The only ones who haven’t been a total mismatch for me sexually (mainly fetishists who can enjoy fetish play without sex) have been geographically separated from me, and I can’t really do long-distance relationships that are actually emotionally significant and intimate, regardless of whether they’re romantic or platonic.

So, I have reasons why no IRL romantic prospect has seemed appealing to me. If a hypothetical romantic asexual who lives nearby and has a compatible personality and values to me showed interest in me romantically, I’d probably give it a go. So maybe I’m romance-favorable but just really picky? Or maybe I’d be shocked, if I actually entered such a relationship, by how unpleasant I find it. Who knows?

I also often like fictional romances. There’s characters I find cute together and like reading fluffy fanfics of them together - some of my recent favorite pairings are Zim/Dib and Geralt/Jaskier, as well as polyamorous Trevor/Sypha/Alucard. There’s also some fictional romances I like for how fucked up they are - some Zim/Dib stuff is like that for me, as well as Lenore/Hector.

And many of the fictional romances I’ve hated the most have also been hated by alloromantic people - Edward/Bella and Anastasia/Christian being particularly prominent examples. But I also have a femdom kink, and when I came across a gender-swapped Fifty Shades of Grey, I liked it much better. (You can see why I like Lenore/Hector, huh?)

Speaking of D/s, that’s an added wrinkle. A lot of people like to pretend kinks are only appealing to people because they’re sexually arousing. And despite being asexual, I actually do get sexually aroused by my kinks, to the point where I technically consider myself grey-ace because I feel sexual attraction conditional on one of my fetishes being triggered by someone. But I don’t only enjoy kink in a sexual manner, and I actually have several kinks that rarely, if ever, get me aroused.

And in the case of D/s, it’s not about sex for most people. Sex is certainly a part of it for most D/s relationships, but a lot of people practice D/s as a default mode for their relationship, in both sexual and non-sexual contexts. The sub is not necessarily getting aroused every time they say the word “Master”.

Is a full-time D/s relationship a romantic relationship? It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. There are people who consider themselves monogamously partnered to one person while having a D/s relationship with another person, for example. Does it matter to me whether a D/s relationship is romantic when I’m looking at it and figuring out if it appeals to my kinks? Not at all.

In conclusion, I’m grey-asexual, sex-repulsed and kinky. I have a very specific and precise understanding of exactly where I am on the ace spectrum. With the aro spectrum, though, I identify as aromantic, and everything more specific is a bundle of unknowns. Only thing I can say is I'm probably not romance-repulsed, and it makes me stick out in most aro communities.

Newborn Educational Goals

 This article is about the educational goals I’m setting for the birth to 3 months period of my child’s life.


So, first question: why am I setting educational goals for a newborn?


Well, since long before I’ve even known I wanted to be a parent, I’ve known that if I have a child, I want to homeschool them. And if you’re homeschooling, the distinction between school-aged and before is pretty artificial. There’s no particular reason why I can’t frame my child’s early learning in similar terms to how I plan to approach homeschooling when they’re actually ready for K-12 goals. It provides good practice, too - an opportunity to learn how to do this whole “tracking curriculum goals” thing before I have to prove to the Saskatchewan government that I’m not educationally neglecting my child.


And let’s make it clear that setting these goals does not represent any intent to pressure my child, take away their fun and free time, or take away my enjoyment of just being a parent. I believe that children learn best through play and naturalistic, everyday experiences, and learn better when they’re happy, relaxed, and curious. And I have every intention of prioritizing and dropping lower-priority stuff if it’s too stressful.


I’ve even built-in guidelines for prioritizing by explicitly stating how learning these skills will benefit my child. If that benefit is minor, depends on circumstances that don’t apply to everyone, or can be achieved by other things, that’s going to be one of the first goals dropped if things get tough.


And after all, many parents track milestones. What I’m doing is basically a variation on that.


As for why I’m writing this up at 18 weeks gestation, chalk it up to impatience and overpreparing out of excitement for my child’s impending birth.


So, what goals am I setting?


Life Skills

Under Life Skills, I have several goals related to my plans to practice elimination communication.


Elimination communication is controversial, however, in doing my research, it seems like most of the nay-sayers seemed to be making inaccurate assumptions about what EC entails. A lot of them seemed to be reacting primarily to the label of “early toilet training”, on the assumption that it involves using similar strategies for younger infants as would be used for an older toddler.


I do intend on my child wearing diapers. I don’t intend to offer any rewards or punishments based on whether my child eliminates in their diaper or in a potty. What I intend to do is offer my child opportunities to use a potty if they feel like doing so.


People differ in how they feel about the sensations of urine and feces on their skin, but most people don’t enjoy it. In addition, urine and feces on skin is a potential risk factor for certain health issues such as diaper rash, and although the consequences for infants are rarely serious, they can be uncomfortable.


Plus, on a selfish level, I’d rather not have to change diapers if there’s a viable alternative. Even if EC results in changing fewer diapers, I’ll consider it a success.


And if it doesn’t, well, I can always try more conventional potty-training later on.


Here are my EC-related goals, adapted from this Standards Based Life Skills Curriculum:

  • Cooperates with being placed on toilet

  • Toilets on a scheduled time with prompt

  • Urinates in toilet

  • Voids bowels in toilet


All of these goals are useful to my child for essentially the same reason - not having urine and/or feces on skin more than necessary.


My plans for working on these goals essentially boil down to holding my child over a potty at various times - right after meals and naps, every couple hours, and whenever I feel like my child might be about to use their diaper - whenever it’s reasonably convenient to do so. I might also use a timer at some point, if I find it useful. And try not to react with any sort of emotion contingent on whether or not my child actually uses the potty, to avoid any potential negative side effects if my child isn't able to control their bowel and bladder or prefers to use their diaper.


Language

Obviously, actual words and even complex babbling is not likely to come for quite awhile, but early pre-linguistic skills are likely to develop soon after birth. The goals listed here are drawn from the Montessori Scope and Sequence: Infant curriculum.


Here are my language-related goals:

  • Responds to loud sounds in environment. (L.H&U.1)

  • Calms or smiles in response to human voice. (L.H&U.2)

  • Recognizes voice of parent or primary care-giver. (L.H&U.3)

  • Communicates pleasure through cooing sounds. (L.S.2)

  • Indicates different needs through different cries. (L.S.3)

  • Smiles when seeing a familiar person. (L.S.4)


Responding to sounds is useful because the primary orienting response directs visual attention towards sources of sound, which are often things that are also moving and/or contain useful visual information. This helps my child gather information about the world and coordinate sight and hearing together.


In addition, tracking this has the side benefit that if my child happens to be deaf, I’m more likely to spot it early on. Early diagnosis of congenital deafness can make a big difference to language outcomes - in my case, while I intend to sign to my child either way, a diagnosis of hearing impairment will mean that improving my signing proficiency moves to top priority, as well as getting my child access to help from others.


However, this is one item that my child has already started showing progress with prenatally, so I doubt they’re deaf. I've been able to feel movement for a little over a month now, and in the past week (slightly less than 18 weeks gestation), I've noticed that a noise source (such as my phone playing Time Team) placed against my pregnant belly can be an impetus for a flurry of movement. Still, I won't mark this as mastered until I'm able to observe a clear, consistent response, which isn’t very feasible with the sounds and their movements muffled by my belly.


Calming or smiling in response to a human voice is a sign that my child is paying attention to speech, a necessary prerequisite to learning to understand speech. In addition, smiling at people is likely to get them positive attention, which presents an early opportunity for them to learn that their actions can affect other people’s behavior.


Recognizing a primary caregiver’s voice (in my child’s case, my voice or the voices of their grandma, grandpa and possibly their uncle, depending on how much he chooses to involve himself) and smiling at a familiar person means that my child is starting to know which people can be trusted to take care of them. Since they’re completely dependent on us at first, this knowledge can provide them a sense of safety in our presence, as well as encouraging them to seek us out preferentially when they need help with something.


Communicating pleasure through cooing and needs through cries means being able to tell us what they want and don’t want, what feels good or bad to them. It means that they can let us know to do things they enjoy and help them avoid or stop things that make them unhappy. Again, this is especially important given how dependent they are on us to look after them. Me identifying those distinct cues explicitly also means that I might be able to translate my child’s communication to other people, such as babysitters if we have reason to hire any.


My plans for encouraging the development of these skills include:

  • playing with a rattle or other noisy toy to elicit an orienting response

  • narrating activities my child is involved in so my child gets to listen to speech a lot

  • going for walks with them because I tend to talk to myself on walks and could readily transfer that to talking to my child

  • playing simple anticipation games where I announce that I’m about to do something fun and then do it or recite a predictable rhyme with associated fun actions

  • playing music or singing for them to see if they enjoy it

  • responding as contingently and sympathetically as I can to my child’s attempts at communication so they can tell communication works (eg feeding on demand, giving them attention when they ask and backing off if they give me overload cues, soothing when they are upset and mirroring happiness when they’re happy, etc)

  • playing peek-a-boo to give them repeated opportunities to experience mini-separation and reunion in a fun way


Physical Education

A newborn is pretty helpless, physically, but hopefully my child won’t stay that way. At this age, increasing physical strength and coordination is a major priority


These goals are also drawn from the Montessori Scope and Sequence, and split into Equilibrium and Hand Control categories.


Equilibrium:

  • Lifts head while being held. (MD.E.1)

  • Raises head while lying on stomach. (MD.E.2)

  • Masters control of the head. (MD.E.3)

  • Supports upper body with arms while lying on stomach. (MD.E.4)

  • Stretches out and kicks legs. (MD.E.5)

  • Pushes down with legs when held above a hard surface. (MD.E.6)


The goals related to head control and pushing up with arms will benefit my child immediately by enabling them to move their head out of uncomfortable positions and look around at their surroundings more easily. The leg movement goals are less immediately beneficial, but represent prerequisite skills without which my child would be unlikely to be able to walk. While walking (or indeed head control) isn’t strictly essential for a good life, it’s a pretty important skill that would make my child have a much easier time in everyday life.


My child has already started showing progress on MD.E.5, beginning around my 12 week pregnancy ultrasound. On that ultrasound, I saw them kicking their legs and waving their arms, clearly moving all four limbs. Around the same time I also started feeling movement, which has become more and more distinct over time. However, before birth, my child isn’t having to work against gravity as much to move, because they’re in a liquid medium. So I won’t consider this skill mastered until they can demonstrate this ability when surrounded by air. In addition, they didn’t have the room to fully extend their legs on ultrasound, which is my interpretation of “stretches out legs”.


The rattle can also motivate development of head control, by providing an incentive to try to look around. Tummy time is also beneficial to head control - luckily, I know that if my child gets upset about classic “facedown on a mat” tummy time, I can try various positions and distractions, like putting them facedown on my body, lying down in front of them to interact with them, putting toys in front of them, or putting something beneath them to make it easier. A mobile can also motivate deliberate head movements by being another interesting thing to try to look at.


As for the two leg goals, diaper changes or other situations where my baby is flat on their back can be a good time to observe kicking and stretching. I could also encourage a full extension of the leg by gently straightening it with my hands. The best way I can think of to practice pushing down on a hard surface is simply to hold them above such a surface and give them an opportunity to try it.


Hand Control:

  • Opens and closes hands. (MD.HC.1)

  • Brings hand to mouth, explores hand with mouth. (MD.HC.2)

  • Instinctive prehension evident in grasping adult finger or object offered. (MD.HC.3)

  • Begins to observe own hands. (MD.HC.4)

  • Swipes at objects dangling on mobile or frame. (MD.HC.5)


Most of these skills are prerequisites to more functional hand use. Opening and closing hands and instinctive grasping contribute to the development of more deliberate grasping. Observing hands is an early skill in hand-eye coordination, which will eventually allow them to use vision to guide skilled hand movements. Swiping is one of the first deliberate object interactions my child will likely manage, and is also an early expression of hand-eye coordination. And bringing hand to mouth will eventually be important for self-feeding and currently assists in gaining tactile information about objects since a newborn’s mouth is more tactilely sensitive than their hands.


Many hand movements can also serve communication functions, especially relevant since I plan on modeling ASL signs to my child. Specifically, I’ll probably do a mix of ASL, PSE and key word signing, especially if my child is hearing - hearing children often benefit from mixed sign-speech communication styles that are not nearly as useful for deaf children. Bringing hand to mouth in particular is frequently an instinctive sign of hunger in very young infants, but also vaguely resembles the ASL sign for food/eat, and I intend to respond to it by modeling that sign and offering my child nourishment, to encourage them to make that connection more readily.


In addition to modeling signs and overinterpreting hand gestures that resemble signs, I also plan to use rattles, teethers and similar toys to encourage early grasping, swiping and mouthing, and to see if I can encourage them to look at their own hands by playing with their hands using my own. Swiping can also be encouraged using some of the cat toys I already have, since those toys are already designed to elicit swiping responses from cats.


Sensory Development

There's some overlap between this category and previous ones, but I'm going to go with the Montessori definition of this category for now.


As with most of the above goals, of course, these goals come from the Montessori Scope and Sequence. At this age, the goals in this category all focus on basic visual and auditory processing skills.


Auditory:

  • Reacts to different sounds. (VA.A.1)


This one seems to overlap quite a bit with L.H&U.1, under language. However, I draw a distinction by deciding that L.H&U.1 refers specifically to reaction to loud sounds whereas VA.A.1 includes softer sounds, and that VA.A.1 also refers to having different responses to different sounds instead of generalized response to any sound of a certain volume.


The benefits include gaining basic information from auditory cues, such as being able to recognize familiar objects by sound.


I plan to encourage development of this skill by playing or singing music, narrating activities, reading to my child (yes, even a newborn can benefit from being read to) and trying to engage them in back and forth interaction in general.


Visual:

  • Displays interest in black and white mobiles. (VA.V.1)

  • Follows moving objects with eyes. (VA.V.2)

  • Recognizes familiar objects and people. (VA.V.3)


For the first one, what exactly my child is showing visual interest in doesn’t really matter that much, but black and white images tend to be easier for a newborn to make out clearly, and looking at things helps them build visual processing skills and learn about the world.


Moving objects tend to be important to monitor. Moving things are generally things that are capable of acting upon other things, and could be dangerous or something you can interact with. People are moving things, after all, so focusing on movement draws attention to social stimuli as well.


Recognizing familiar people, as discussed with L.H&U.3 and L.S.4, is a way of determining who could potentially be trusted to help them. Learning about individual people and their characteristics makes those individuals more predictable to my child. Meanwhile, learning about familiar objects can help my child recognize the differences between different objects of the same kind. And since certain objects tend to always be in the same places, it can also help my child learn about familiar locations, too.


Mobiles are an obvious tool, specifically mentioned for VA.V.1, though I’m not going to be exactly strict about the mobiles being black and white and the black and white things my child looks at being mobiles. Simple books could also be a good source of simple black and white patterns to look at. I could potentially combine this with tummy time, as well, to motivate my child to lift their head to look.


For movement, I can move things around in their visual field for simple tracking games, and once they start getting more hand control, swiping games as well. Visual tracking is pretty much a prerequisite to swiping accurately.


For learning about individual people, interaction of any sort is obviously relevant. Mirror play could also be fun, letting them see themselves as well as see me from multiple angles at once. Familiar routines with familiar objects can help them associate those objects with those routines.


Although none of the above skills can be displayed in-utero, my child has shown an important prerequisite to all of them - response to visual stimuli. Around late November (15 weeks gestation), my pregnancy app said that my child might be able to detect light through my belly, so I suggested to my Dad that we shine a flashlight on my belly to see if my child responded. They did, strenuously, and continued to be agitated for several hours afterwards. I don’t think it was a pleasant experience for my child, and I have no intention of repeating it, but it did give me some interesting information on my child’s visual abilities. Clearly, they can at least distinguish light from dark.


So, this brings me to the end of my newborn goals writeup - two of which are already showing progress in utero. I have a bunch more goals like this for older ages in a database on my phone. Around 3 months or so after birth, I’ll reassess which goals my kid’s already met and which ones we’re still working on (I’m assuming the EC goals will probably be “still working on” goals), and look for new goals for 3-6 months old.


If my child is struggling, any 3-6 month goals that have 0-3 month skills as prerequisites (such as moving eyes towards source of sound, which requires that they respond to sound at all) will need to be postponed. Note that if there’s any room for doubt about whether a skill is strictly required for another skill, I’ll err on the side of teaching my child earlier - for example, elimination communication requires ignoring a bunch of commonly listed “prerequisites” to toileting, which are also frequently skipped for physically disabled children.


I may also seek out assessments to determine if the lack of progress on highly significant 0-3 month goals is a sign of a disability. For example, if my child is not accomplishing any of their visual goals, this could indicate visual impairment, and I’d want to have them seen by an ophthalmologist to determine if they have an eye condition. Some congenital visual impairments can be treated, for example cataracts can be surgically removed, and regardless, I can focus on providing my child more tactile and auditory cues and plan for how to adjust my teaching plans for blindness. (Including learning Braille, eventually.)


Conversely, I may find, much as I did with newborn goals displayed prenatally, that my child is already showing some of the 3-6 month goals by the age of 3 months. In that case, I might look into related 6-9 month goals and see if any of them seem feasible. For example, there’s a decent chance that “turning head towards a source of a sound” might be a feasible goal for a 3-6 month old, even though the Montessori curriculum has it for 6-12 months (which is coded in my database as both 6-9 and 9-12 months, btw).


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