Family Fantasy

my parents and me
my parents and me

Fantasizing is a waste of time. If I catch myself fantasizing, I think about my missions and get back to work. But one fantasy has persisted about my future family. This vision formed when I was small, and I only recently realized not everyone’s vision of their dream family differs so much from their actual family. That’s probably how you know happiness, when you hope your kids get to have the same life.

I consider my childhood happy, but it was confusing. My dad came to the USA when I was 1 and my mom followed after, so the next few years I was in China, living with my parent’s friends and my aunt. I remember not knowing if it was safe to leave preschool with someone claiming to be my mother’s friend, instead of my mom. I remember my dad’s teacher hauling me by the hand across a concrete tundra to get endless shots in my butt because I was always sick in China.

I stopped getting sick when I came to America at 4. Alone on the airplane, the flight attendant told me not to eat a gold yellow packet. When she turned, I opened the shiny square and stuck it in my mouth. I immediately gagged at the taste. Seeing my face, she said, “You ate it, didn’t you?” Later, I realized I’d bitten a pat of butter, the first milk product I’d ever seen.

When we landed in America, 2 men took me to another man. One man hesitated, then said, “Do you know him?” I shook my head no. He drew my attention to another person. “Recognize?”
Yes. I knew my mother after all those years. The man turned out to be my father. We went to a restaurant and I asked, “Is that guy eating poop?” My dad explained, “It’s mustard on a hot dog.” Life was one discovery after the next.

In America, I was always at the library. My goal was to read every book in the children’s section and I made good progress. When I read the Boxcar children, I fantasized I’d have 5 children who all had different favorite colors. An only child, I never wanted a sibling, but I wanted my kids to have many siblings. Despite much begging, I wasn’t allowed a dog, so I wanted my children to always have a doggo. My vision incorporated scenes from Madeleine L’Engle books like A Wrinkle in Time where a tumble of children would help each other through scientific/ Biblical adventures, singing hymns, the dying grandfather reading poetry aloud, the upright dad trapped on Mars while everyone actively misses him, the scientist mom holding it all together and cooking dinner on her bunsen burner, the baby wandering in to eat the skin off the warmed milk, while upstairs a kitten nestles the awkward daughter in the chilly attic bedroom. I wanted a kooky house filled with love and science and animals.

In 5th grade my best friend gushed over cute babies, while I called babies “gross.”
Anjani said, “When I’m old, I’d love to have a nice yard with cookies for the neighborhood children, like how Jane Austen lowered baskets of treats for them.”
I said, “I’d have big black dogs that’d eat anyone who snuck onto my property uninvited.”
She scolded me for my remarks, while I suspected she was putting on an act perpetuated by Society. Alleged love of someone else’s children must be a myth, because have you seen other people’s children? As a 5th grader, I couldn’t stand many of the kids I knew, and younger kids were even worse than us because babies are sociopaths until the empathy parts start developing in their brains and you have to teach them to restrain their natural cruelty through songs on how to share without punching. This is science: babies are designed to be sociopaths so that you don’t let them die despite their useless annoyingness- I was being smart by not caving to their machinations.

Being a parent seems like the essence of responsibility without control. This fundamental experience that humanizes any villain and connects all life is so simple, just a roll in the hay away, and yet such a big deal. It’s simpler to have kids accidentally because deciding to have kids is choosing to become a new, unknown person through your values/ priorities and brain chemistry all changing. Hopefully a better person, but potentially a person that the current you would despise. Part of me has a horror of being “normal.” Another part doesn’t believe it’s possible to have it all because of how focused I am on my goals, how I guard my time- how could I bear the love and pain and boredom of being a mom?

Then another part of me thinks it’d be fun to have kids! I want to see what they’re like, to learn together and joke about how they’ll never live up to my legacy while warning of my disappointment if they don’t attend MIT and live in East Campus. I want to see if they’ll believe my stories and see how much savvy and imagination I can beat into them. I’ll watch them assert their own personhood and become DJ’s (what do DJ’s do??) while I bemoan their squandered opportunities and inability to speak Chinese. I’ll be secretly proud of them for teaming up against me to sneak out or cover up shenanigans.

This is fantasy, because I know nothing about children or siblings, children do not act this way, and adventures aren’t safe or fun. Part of me denied wanting this ridiculous fantasy because it seemed too mundane for someone like me to dream of domestic bliss. “I’m too special and ambitious, not the type to seek a normal life. If I ever had kids, it’d only be after reigning in Fillory for 9 times 9 years.” But the other part of me wants it without letting go. Like after a hike to the top of a mountain, hearing the wind stroke the forest below, a thought might surprise me, “My kids would love to see this, I know.”

I haven’t kept a plant alive since 2015, and I started thinking about freezing my eggs. I put it off for a few years because I’m young and it seemed potentially risky and annoying. It wasn’t until Diane and my VC froze their eggs in 2017 that I acted. didn’t want to worry about a biological clock even a little bit. I went to UCSF because it was really close to my office and Diane had warned that you couldn’t travel during the last weeks because you needed to go in to get your blood drawn daily.

I’m an impatient patient. Dealing with 2 parents who’ve had cancer and seeing the death and pain that comes from naively trusting the experts, I’ve lost faith in our medical system and am openly skeptical and suspicious of something so misaligned with our long term health. Egg freezing is a long term health thing, so I was prepared to discover they wouldn’t act in my best interest.

The doctor was a jolly Santa who didn’t acknowledge my impatience. Although he asked me what I knew about it and I replied I knew it all, he launched into his standard speech on the history of egg freezing science. “This paper from 2011 shows our procedure,” and he handed me a stapled packet of papers. Not knowing what else to do, I read the abstract as he continued monologuing.

I interrupted, “How many babies have come from the eggs you’ve extracted?” This triggered a rewind of afore-summarized statistics around how many eggs survive the thawing, etc.

I interrupted again, “Do you have specific numbers? How many eggs have you frozen, and then how many babies have come out of those?”

After a few back and forths, he said, “It’s impossible to know due to reporting difficulties. We have to call the mother months after she thaws the eggs to see if it took, because they don’t always do that here, and they’re often hard to reach, and even then they don’t always tell us. Statistics of any kind are also impossible to get because of the rules around data collection and all the bureaucracy and you can’t transfer stuff between hospitals.”

“Got it. You get why I’m asking, right? I want to get a sense of the probability that in 10 years when you ‘unfreeze my eggs’ and I or a surrogate eventually gives birth to some Asian-looking baby, that it was actually my egg. Or that, in 10 years when the staff’s all different and I ask for eggs, some new doctor shrugs, ‘What eggs?’ I won’t know until years from now, so I want to know what’s happened in the past.”

“They’ll be your eggs.”

“So you’ve seen babies come out of eggs you’ve frozen, you just don’t know how many.”

“Yes, lots of babies. You can have babies even when you’re 70.”

“You’ve produced hundreds of babies, or thousands…?”

“So many! We’re one of the biggest facilities in the world. The average facility does 20 procedures a year, we do 20 a day. We pioneered this in the 90’s. Our first paper-” More stuff from the papers, but I was done pushing. I was surprised and underwhelmed to hear him say it was literally impossible to know real stats, but I figured it was probably ok.

The next few weeks, I stuck myself with needles day and night and went in for endless blood draws and ultrasounds. I was surprised their appointment scheduling system worked because it seemed so disorganized, and a few times they scheduled appointments for things that could’ve 100% been done through email, but I endured despite how clearly the system didn’t value anyone’s time and was both over-engineered and un-designed. I told my CEO group, “I wonder what crazy things I’m going to do over the next few weeks because I’m on these hormones,” but interestingly no one observed anything unexpected re: my behavior, which gives me hope that I’d be a relatively sane pregnant lady.

The extraction itself was invisible to me. I had never had surgery except wisdom tooth before, and I was amazed by how one second they’re asking you boring questions waiting for you to pass out and the next instant you’re in another room and Gemma’s there. My first question upon waking was, “How did you move me?” This interval is what I imagine being cryogenically frozen and revived would be like, and decreases my fear of death because now I understand that when you’re dead, you really don’t feel anything, so who cares?

Anyway, Gemma had brought me Gatorade and I was thinking we’d go back to the office but then I acknowledged wooziness so she took me home. Then nesting hormones kicked in and I did some uncharacteristic things. For example, I took quizzes on my gardening style (vegetable and herb) and figured out what kind of architecture I favor (modern / log cabin). I found myself on Zillow looking up modern houses in Pittsburgh and marveling, “I could buy 10 of these!” while browsing some show called Reign on Netflix and considered coming to work in a ball gown. It’s amazing what happens when you’re souped up on hormones.

And that was that. They claim the eggs are safely frozen somewhere and I assume they’re right. It took 2 months from initiation to close and it wasn’t that painful- I didn’t gain weight or do anything too crazy and I picked up needle skills.

Freezing my eggs, I’m freezing the fantasy so I can have it one day when I’m allowed. When I was a kid, I vowed I’d do all the forbidden things when I became a grown-up, but the thing is you grow up and become responsible. In some ways, I allow myself less than my parents allowed me as a kid- no more diet of Cap’n Crunch, Fruit by the Foot, and m&m’s; no more jumping from tall objects; no more running across busy intersections on dares; no more picking at scabs. But sleeping in, unfinished food, constant reading- allowed, allowed, allowed!

I think the step for me before children might be an old dog. I’m not allowing myself a dog yet, but one day I’ll have one. This fantasy dog lurks in shadow, working up the courage to creep to the ring of my fire. One day when it lets itself take food from my fingers, I’ll have allowed the wildness in.