Bravo TV, infertility, Moms, Parents, Reality TV, RHOC, Women

#RHOC: Between the Filler Scenes, Bringing Awareness to Fertility Challenges

The past few seasons of Real Housewives of Orange County have disappointed many who expect more than a montage of filler scenes, but we keep watching because storylines are there…Although it oftentimes may seem akin to separating the wheat from the chaff.

One theme this season consists of Emily Simpson, an attorney and party planner in her early 40s, desiring to have another child with her Mormon Persian husband Shane. On RHOC, Emily is clear and candid about her past emotional ordeal trying to conceive. When a viewer – who missed the explanation of why her sister became her surrogate – asked about the backstory, she responded: “I did in vitro. I was pregnant with twins and I lost them both at 4 months. I went into pre term labor and lost a lot of blood. I had to have an emergency D and C and then a blood transfusion. Because of this… my sister then was a surrogate and carried all three of my children.” When Emily lost all that blood, she was greatly at risk of losing her life. All viewers can agree that her sister must be an incredible person. Emily has said that her sister has a daughter of her own who calls Emily’s daughter her “sister cousin.”

Emily is not the first Housewife on RHOC to bring awareness to fertility challenges. Before she joined the group, there was Meghan King Edmonds who married the older, divorced Jim Edmonds, a former baseball center fielder turned sports broadcaster who had retired from babymaking – or so he thought, prior to marrying Meghan – and had gotten a vasectomy. The smart thing Jim did at the time was having sperm frozen, a “just in case” move.

Longtime RHOC viewers remember how Meghan spoke lovingly about her stepkids, arguing with the other ladies that despite not being their biological mother, she felt a strong bond as if she were.

Meghan wondered then if she would ever have kids of her own with Jim and she was anxious about the challenges. Frozen sperm doesn’t always take, but after IVF, Meghan conceived twins. Then we saw her grapple with the fact that one of the twin sacs had vanished and she cried for the early loss of that twin, but went on to have a healthy daughter.

Last year, when I interviewed Meghan, the idea of using more of the frozen sperm was not her major focus as she was pouring her daily energies into the new baby, but Meghan would go on to have twin boys –and a full term (for twins, that is 36 weeks) pregnancy, an impressive feat for multiples. (My own twin boys were born premature and spent five weeks in the NICU nine years ago.)

People have reached out to Meghan, and more recently, to Emily to thank them for their candor about fertility struggles. Hearing about the authentic hurdles that were eventually overcome instills viewers with encouragement, ideas and hope.

When I encounter folks that don’t watch reality television and feel a sense of despair, I try to share my own fertility saga. In my late teens, my hormones were entirely out of whack and my mom took me to see a pediatric endocrinologist. That visit armed me with the knowledge that I would most likely need “help” in order to conceive when the time – which seemed a long way off back then – was right and I wanted to start a family. Miraculously, I had no trouble conceiving my first child after coming off a birth control pill, but when I wanted to try for a second, the old hormonal issues reared their ugly heads.

I spent many months in a reproductive endocrinologist’s office as he scratched his head, trying to figure out why I wasn’t responding to any treatments. After my first attempt at IVF, I miscarried. Following the recovery from that devastating loss, I tried IVF again. However, this time the doctor recommended adding preimplantation genetic testing of the embryos. Out of the 18 embryos that were produced, only one, “Number 17”, was deemed healthy.

I remember saying to the doctor “Everyone always implants more than one embryo. What’s the chance of one even taking?” I expected this to result in more despair and as my doctor was mentioning the possibility of surrogacy and donor eggs, I reasoned that my son would be an only child and that was totally OK. I was ready for it and would have to figure out creative responses to “Mom, I want a brother or a sister.”

Surprisingly, “Number 17” became the boy that is my 12 year old today. We joke that he was a pain in the butt before he was even born because I was informed I was at risk of preterm labor and took progesterone shots (administered in the derrière) throughout the pregnancy as a preventative measure. He was born only 4 weeks early and was a solid 6 pounds and 11 ounces.

Because of the incredibly lengthy, time (and money) intensive, highly emotional ordeal to give my oldest son a sibling, I declared I was done after two. I gave away my baby clothes, my maternity wardrobe and other related accoutrements. So when my husband turned to me and said, “If we want to try for a third, we better get cracking now,” I gave him the side eye and looked at him as if he were a 90 Day Fiance cast member rather than the man I had married. “I thought I had retired,” I said to myself, while half entertaining the very remote possibility of trying for a third and last pregnancy.

I was technically “advanced maternal age” and my husband is six and a half years my senior. Knowing that doctors had told me it was nearly impossible for me to get pregnant any other way than IVF with PGD (preimplantation genetic diagnostics), I said “let me try one round of IUI (insemination preceded by fertility shots) which is covered by insurance. If the one round doesn’t work, WHICH IT WILL NOT, NO CHANCE OF THAT, then we are meant to only have two kids and that’s totally fine!”

Unlike my prior Manhattan fertility practice that had extra long waits and a packed waiting room area, I found a center near me in New Jersey. I thought it might be a worrisome sign to find myself as the solo patient in the waiting room and my antenna went up further when I was ushered in right away to the exam room. But, long story short: This no-frills fertility practice worked its magic. After only one completely insured round of IUI, I conceived and exceeded what the expectations were for my body. The twins are 9 years old today.

So from infertility to 4 children – actually being told at age 17 that I would have a hard time getting pregnant and hearing that so early on – my journey is one I’ve shared with others in need of encouragement. I’ve been able to relate to people who have miscarried because that, for me, was a far greater ordeal than I detailed above.

I’m not a public figure, nor will I ever be, but when I see someone who has a platform, like Emily Simpson on RHOC, use it to bring awareness to options like surrogacy and detail an emotionally fraught fertility story, I know it’s appreciated among fans going through similar experiences.

It is a natural instinct to seek people out who have already been through the journey you have only just begun. When my twins were in the Nicu as preemies, I had no frame of reference. I remember a man telling me that his daughter was born even more premature than my sons, had weighed a mere one pound at birth, and was now obtaining a degree at an Ivy League university. I cannot properly convey how reassuring that was to hear.

Conversely, when I miscarried years ago, many friends came forward to share their sad miscarriage stories, ones I had never been told despite knowing these people for years.

While we watch reality TV often to escape our lives, we also tend to admire the characters whose challenges we are facing or have faced, the ones we discover commonalities with. While many people make fun of reality TV lovers, the real components of it can provide solace to someone going through an ordeal or contemplating their options.

In many circles, people are incredibly tight-lipped and private about these matters. In the community I hailed from, I hardly ever heard anyone discuss fertility challenges when I was growing up. More people end up hearing about these things from their friends when they are the ones to initiate a discussion about their own struggles and frustrations with the challenges. So when Emily Simpson appears on our screens and discloses that her sister was her surrogate after she suffered numerous miscarriages, we’re going to look up, listen and take note.

Standard
Bravo TV, Moms, Parents, Psychology, Reality TV

#RHOD: Brandi Redmond’s Adoption Was “NOT as Easy as It Looked!”

Dr. James Mercer stands behind RHOD’s Brandi Redmond in this photo. He is the one who made her recent adoption of a baby boy possible.

Sometimes we’ll see something on television and wonder aloud “Why did that person get so worked up over something so silly?” And then we slowly learn the behind-the-scenes details: The conversation, which we saw a minute of, was actually two hours long. There was a topic brought up that a character pleaded with producers not to show. A third party was involved who would not sign release forms. These are all examples of things that interfere with us seeing more of what actually transpired when something is shown on reality television.

On Real Housewives of Dallas, Brandi Redmond’s adoption of a baby boy invariably did a disservice to the adoption process because it wasn’t as easy as producers made it look.

Although we saw the man who made things possible, Dr. James Mercer, for half a second last episode, he (and others he works with) spent a ton of time with the Redmonds ensuring that the family was 100 percent ready and on-board to adopt a child when one became available.

Mercer explains that there were actually months of scheduled home visits in addition to unannounced, surprise visits for the family. There was psychological vetting, drug testing, reference checking and many other evaluations.

Although you might deem Brandi to be socially messy on the show surrounded by the…er, dynamic personalities (cough cough, Leeanne Locken), that doesn’t change the fact that she “completely has her shit together as a parent.” This was how one Dallas acquaintance of hers so eloquently put it to me.

Dr. Mercer, who possesses his own background worthy of a reality show and went through foster care as a kid, confirms that Brandi “has an immense amount of love to give and is an excellent mother.”

“Through Stephanie Hollman, I was introduced to Brandi,” he explains, “As a social worker, Stephanie had become familiar with my work with Lonestar Social Services, a foster and adoption agency serving the state of Texas. Stephanie is the kind of person I could call up and say ‘This child really wants a Batman bed. What can we do?’ and before you know it, she has donated a bed, bedding and her husband is making himself available to play softball with another child. The Hollmans are the most giving people with huge hearts. When Brandi was having her fertility struggles, Stephanie said to me ‘what about Brandi?'”

“This is not an easy process. It can be a year of totally consuming you and testing your patience and commitment. Then there are times things come up unexpectedly and the process can take longer. Or, there are certain highly specialized requests so things don’t happen as fast as you’d like them to.”

“Brandi was incredible throughout this whole journey. She didn’t get special treatment or have it easy – No one gets ‘special treatment’ in something as serious as this. Brandi never wavered and only became more committed as time went on. She has spent so much time with us that…and hopefully you’ll see this ahead on the season..our cause is something she’s become quite passionate about.”

Mercer is bound by certain confidentiality rules, especially since this was a closed and private adoption. What he was able to divulge is that he works closely with hospitals and social workers and was alerted about the baby, born to notably “young parents”, eligible for adoption.

At that point, Brandi had already completed the scrutinizing and selective vetting process. It is important to note here that a “closed adoption” means nothing is revealed, so the birth mother would not know that the adoptive mother appears on a reality show. When I asked how long it took Brandi to adopt the baby from start to finish, he is able to respond: “Minimum of seven months.”

Brandi was able to become an adoptive mother on the merits of her parenting history, cohesive and warm family dynamic, stable home environment and by meeting other benchmarks built into the system.

Mercer, who himself was eventually taken into a loving home as a child following years in foster care, made a mental commitment long ago to place kids in the best possible homes. “This is more of a crisis than people realize or even talk about,” he emphasizes, “There is a high number of kids who still need families.”

After writing his memoir several years ago, Dolores Catania of Real Housewives of New Jersey reached out to Mercer to say she was in awe of his work. The two have become close friends and appear often in photos together — in the event that you were wondering why his face looks so familiar.

He is no stranger to “Real Housewives” in general because of their common interest in philanthropy (a necessary component of taking care of kids without families and trying to place them in homes).

Dr. James Mercer’s book

One of the benevolent people he’s met through the charity circuit is Lisa Vanderpump. That’s right: The queen bee of RHOBH is not just passionate about pets.

Mercer wants viewers to know that Brandi Redmond and her family were subjected to the same rigorous process as the other non-famous clients he works with, but adds that she did get lucky in the end when the baby became available. “There are other people with very specialized requests and it’s been harder to get things in place as quickly. I really think the timing and how everything worked out for Brandi was a miraculous thing and clearly evidence of God’s amazing work! But there was so much involved during the preceding months that I wish people had gotten to see so they would understand it wasn’t as simple as it looked on TV. That said, I’m THRILLED they are showing this on TV at all! More awareness needs to be brought to adoption and the needs of these children.”

“We didn’t in any way ‘make it easy’ for Brandi as some critics have suggested. Also, it doesn’t matter who you are. Oprah would have to go through this whole process and it would require the same amount of vetting for her, as well as the same intense level of commitment. The priority is to ensure we find our kids the ideal, suitable and loving homes.”

Standard
Parents, Psychology

My Interview with Dr. Phil: #Bullying & Anti-Bullying Awareness

He’s roused millions to “Get Real!” and has tackled the topic on his hit TV talk show — Dr. Phil took time to chat with me about bullying and answer some questions:

Jill Zarin once suggested that parents break into their kids’ Twitter and Facebook accounts regularly to monitor and be on the lookout for signs of bullying. In your expert opinion, how invasive should a parent be and what should they do to keep an eye out for bullying?

There are different ways for a parent to be actively involved. Parents have to educate themselves about the warning signs (check out Dr. Phil’s warning signs of bullying).

They need to know for both sides what the signs are that their child is being bullied or if their child is a bully.

Kids don’t often come home and tell their parents they’re being bullied because they’re ashamed. They may show signs of withdrawal. They may want to avoid going to school beyond the normal “I don’t want to go to school” and exhibit a chronic pattern.

If you see bruises, scratches or that some of their possessions have been damaged or missing, those are all warning signs. They may also start to show signs of depression, crying, aggression, mood changes and lifestyle changes if they’re being bullied.

In terms of whether your child is a bully, watch to see if there’s a really strong clique. Are they gossiping about someone or making fun of them? Are they excluding some child in some way? Telling jokes about or laughing at a particular child? Exploiting some other child in some way?

Before invading their privacy, determine whether or not the warning signs are there. Then you need to follow your instincts

— A child’s trust is earned.

As far as social networking sites (like Twitter and Facebook), those are fertile ground for bullying. Your kid is going to have more knowledge than you do about the Internet, but not the insight on how to deal with it.

When a child/teen first complains of being bullied in school, what are the key first steps a parent/adult should take?

The first thing a parent needs to do is make sure they don’t fall victim to “Hey, kids are kids, let them be kids.” That’s not true.

When a child is bullied it’s one of the loneliest times in his or her life. The most important thing for parent to do is sit with the child and talk with them and find out what’s going on.

If the child says “Oh Mom, don’t say anything. That will just make it worse,” know it’s not true. The child should know that telling is not tattling — Let your child know that telling someone in a position to help the facts that they need to know to help is the right thing to do. In terms of how the child handles bullies on his or her own, it’s a case by case scenario.

The biggest mistake parents make is telling kids “You just need to confront the bully.” Bullies specifically choose kids that can’t do that. You can advise them to stay with a friend, not be alone, to not place themselves in situations where they’re sure to get bullied (like hanging out in a spot where the bully typically hangs out).

The next thing is to get the school involved. Teachers and administrators don’t get into education for the money. They get into it because they care what they’re doing. They don’t want your child to be victimized. They’re on your side. Ask for their help and alert the teachers involved. Ask for the adults in the school to watch and intervene and become your eyes and ears.

What can schools across the country do to prevent and tackle the bullying problem?

I am very passionate about this issue and I need to emphasize this: We need to amend the secondary and elementary education act to include funding and language that specifically refers to bullying and online bullying. Until we put our money where our mouth is, this problem isn’t going to get better. We have to do this across the board and it is absolutely doable. This is something that needs to be funded and we need to make sure all the schools are not only required, but actively engaged in anti-bullying efforts.

Lady Gaga has discussed being bullied as has Anne Hathaway, Eva Mendes, Tim Gunn and other celebrities. How important are famous voices with regard to anti-bullying awareness?

They are necessary but not sufficient. When folks that young people look up to take a strong position that it’s not cool to bully it has a positive affect. I think it’s terrific but it’s got to go further than that and that’s what I mean about having it as part of the curriculum in schools.

This interview of mine with Dr. Phil originally ran a few years ago on Huffington Post. The message, however, is a timeless one.

(Photo source: DrPhil.com)

Standard
Moms, Parents

#Parents: TV Is Not as Bad for Babies as We Once Thought

A study published in Child Development, conducted at Emory University and sponsored by The Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (a division of the National Institute of Health), revealed that infants under 2 can learn signs from television time.

While the American Pediatric Association (APA) issued earlier statements advising parents against it, putting your baby down for a few minutes’ worth of an educational video is not so bad after all.

During the course of the three-week long investigation which took place through the Video Learning Lab at Emory University, parents introduced their 15-month-olds to ASL signs at home, either through videos or a picture book.

The best piece of information gleaned from this study is that when it came to video viewing, babies who watched with parents for approximately 15 to 20 minutes recalled a significant number of the 18 signs presented.

They performed just as well as those who learned from books. In addition, those that watched videos alone (without a parent next to them), also retained a significant portion of the information.

The findings suggest that television time for tots is not as harmful as we’ve been led to believe for years.

Once a week, the Emory team quantified their subjects’ learning outcomes by having them pair pictures with their matching signs. Parents also reported each week whether they observed their babies using these signs.

When the three-week period ended, researchers retested the children one week later to determine what they were able to remember. Recall was assessed specifically by having the infants produce signs when they saw pictures of the objects, and by asking them to point to the picture that matched the signs.

A leading author of the study, developmental psychologist Shoshana Dayanim, Ph.D., explained that the study was unique for a variety of reasons: It was a controlled one wherein the only way for subjects to learn signs was through this study during its allotted time periods. While previous research has been conducted with infants and language, — a murky area where it is difficult to control what is learned — the Emory exploration consisted of approximately 15- to 20-minute intervals of exposure.

The study uniquely presented the babies with expressions to actually employ and simultaneously understand.

Dayanim further explained that infants use signs interchangeably with verbal words and can sign words earlier than they can vocalize them. This not only helps communication in the present tense, but research supports that signing positively impacts vocabulary in early childhood.

Knowing that the American Pediatric Association once advocated for keeping infants away from television altogether, it is interesting to see there are benefits to TV learning — in a controlled environment.

Dr. Dayanim made it clear that Emory was not declaring“Watch TV!”, but that under the right circumstances, instructional learning can actually take place through instructional videos with children under 2.

The one drawback of the study was that researchers were not able to determine exactly when to draw the line on video watching.

Parents may want to play it safe by keeping educational viewing to a minimum as the researchers did.

If a parent needs 15 to 20 minutes to unwind, explained Dayanim, their baby can actually learn something in the process.

Just don’t bother with sight words at such an early stage. The research only attests to success with signs.

Standard