Sunday, June 28, 2015

Baptism


After Church our family usually congregates in the kitchen where we binge snack on whatever is easiest. We usually take advantage of this time to ask the kids what they learned in Primary—mostly to reinforce or correct what they were taught.

This is our interesting conversation with Preston about baptism.

Drew: “What did you talk about in Primary today?”

Preston: “Baptism.”

Drew: “That’s great. What else did you talk about?”

Preston: “Well, we’re all turning eight this year so we talk about baptism a lot. Did you want to get baptized when you were eight, Mom?”

Blaire: “Yes. I remember my baptism and I really liked it. I love the ritual of baptism and the symbolic gesture of taking on the name of Christ. However, when you are baptized it means you will be an official member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and I feel like eight years old is really young to be making commitments to a religious organization. And to be completely honest, it makes me feel kind of sad the Church says that I can’t baptize you, because I’m your mommy.”

Preston: “Well, that’s weird. You’re just as important as Dad. Actually, you’re probably more important than Dad, because he always has to leave and go to work in the morning. You stay here and take care of me.”

(Drew and I both smiled and didn’t feel the need to correct him in that moment, perhaps another day.)

Preston: “Why can’t moms do it?”

Blaire: “We don’t have the keys to the priesthood authority. We’re girls.”

(Preston thoughtfully paused.)

Preston: “I know what we can do. Dad can baptize me and then I’ll become the bishop and I’ll give you the priesthood.”

Blaire: “I appreciate the sentiment, but it doesn’t work that way. The bishop isn’t in charge of women getting the Priesthood.”

Preston: “Who is?”

Blaire: “The prophet.”

Preston: “But I thought the prophet couldn’t make mistakes.”

Drew: “Why do you think the prophet made a mistake?”

Preston: “Because if it makes mommies happy to have the priesthood, well, we should just make them happy. You know, because we’re supposed to be like Jesus. It’s like sharing. I try to share like, Mom. But I don’t like sharing with William at all.”

Blaire: “I’m glad I get to be your mom, Preston. It’s important to learn to share. It’s also important you understand the prophet is a man who can make mistakes. Even Joseph Smith made some big mistakes and ended up hurting a lot of people he loved. But you know what, all of this doesn’t matter nearly as much as what you want. It’s your life and you’re the one who’s going to have to live with your decisions. Dad and I love you no matter what you choose. Do you even want to be baptized?”

Preston: “Yes. I just don’t know when.”

Drew: “What do you mean?”

Preston: “Well, Jesus got baptized when he was 30, but I can be baptized when I’m eight…so I don’t know when I want to be baptized. How old were you when you got baptized, Dad?”

Drew: “Eight, but I don’t really remember much. I remember being wet, getting presents, and feeling happy and warm. If I could do it again, I’d probably do it later. Why do you want to get baptized?”

Preston: “Because I want to be like Jesus, and I want to be closer to my Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father.”

Drew: “Those are really good reasons.”

Blaire: “I’d be happy to support you in that decision.”

Saturday, June 6, 2015

How a Mother Became a Transhumanist


I am a stay-at-home mother with three beautiful children. I am also a Transhumanist. It may seem like an unlikely pairing, but as you read you’ll see it’s quite natural. My journey toward Transhumanism started before I even realized it began.

I’m also an artist, a creator or sorts. I compose beauty from the seemingly mundane or ordinary objects and experiences of our lives, and present them in ways that are aesthetically attractive. I use many mediums. As a mother and artist, I have gained some experience in telling stories to simplify what seems to be intimidating or complex subjects, even Transhumanism.

I’d like to tell you the story of a mother who became a Transhumanist.

. . .

Our story begins on the campus of Brigham Young University.

I was 18 when my 22 year-old future husband proposed. We were engaged for several months and married in the Portland Temple. I have not regretted marrying young, nor the man I married. If I were to ever become a mother and embark on the journey of parenthood, this man was going to be the father.

. . .

Five years later we were ready to have children. We began our journey toward parenthood using conventional means of procreation, sex.

After several months, we became increasingly discouraged by each negative pregnancy test, so we sought the help of an obstetrician. She informed me I had a mutated bicornate uterus that was tilted toward my spine. I also had an irregular ovulation cycle making it extremely difficult to predict the optimal time for intercourse, and that was assuming I was actually ovulating, which she could not confirm was occurring.

We had three options. We could try clomifene, in vitro fertilization, or sex every 48-72 hours to ensure healthy sperm at the time of ovulation. The negatives to the costly reproductive technologies included the risk of multiple eggs implanting in my uterus, which considering my unique abnormalities posed life-threatening risks to me and our potential offspring. After thorough research of our options, my husband and I chose sex every 48-72 hours. It was the safest and least costly method for our situation.

Two months passed. Nothing.

Another month passed. Sex became a chore.

Another month passed. Finally, success!

I still remember the look on my husband’s face when I showed him the positive pregnancy. His expression of joy was evident through his tears. We held each other for what seemed to be a lifetime. Our intimacy was rooted in our ability to create life together, and neither of us wanted to have sex again for a very long time.

We were ready to be parents, but little did we know this was only the beginning of our struggles. Pregnancy and delivery would prove to be even more taxing, complicated, and dangerous.

The next nine months were filled with painful complications and erratic vomiting. We took multiple trips to the hospital to receive IV fluids because I suffered from dehydration. My digestive tract was unable to adapt to the hormones of pregnancy and it was difficult to digest food properly. I also suffered from a rare condition called polyhydromnios, characterized by excess amniotic fluids in the uterus. It occurs in roughly 1% of pregnancies. My abdomen was the size of a woman carrying twins or triplets which put additional pressure on my digestive system that already had trouble functioning.

I remember one particular trip to the hospital. I was weak and fragile. I was hooked to medical machines that supported and monitored my body. I hated feeling the limitations of my human body. The machines allowed the doctors to administer medications and supplements to compensate for my body’s inefficiencies. I didn’t care for the machines, but they brought me life and relief, so I tolerated them.

Despite the difficulties of pregnancy, I still needed to deliver. My son was in a rare transverse position due to my abnormal uterus, which created sharp pains that felt as if the sides of my body might split open. It’s painful, but the real risk is during delivery. A baby can’t exit a vagina horizontally without serious risk. An external cephalic version was attempted to move my son in a safe position, but it failed and a c-section was scheduled.

I’m not a proponent of fear, but on the night before my scheduled c-section I was afraid.

I was restless in bed that night, unable to sleep. I couldn’t help but feel like nature had failed me. Perhaps God just didn’t care. Perhaps my interpretations of God were simply wrong. One thing was evident, humanity cared. The combined efforts of people and technology brought me to this point—from the electricity that powered the machines that sustained my body’s functions, to the car that rushed me to the hospital, to the combined knowledge of skilled physicians working with me, to the creators of the internet that connected me with critical medical information. It was evident humanity cared. Pondering these thoughts, I was grateful.

The following morning two obstetricians, three nurses, one anesthesiologist, and one pediatric specialist were ready to safely deliver our son via c-section. I was hooked to multiple machines and prepped with a spinal block. The piercing of the large needle entering my spine was surprisingly sharp, but the pain quickly subsided with dispersed numbness. It was strange not being able to feel my own body. Lying awake on an operating table while I was cut open was an extremely odd sensation.  I could feel pressure and movement, but no pain. The c-section was shorter than I expected. The efforts of everyone involved resulted in a routinely successful c-section. I was relieved.

While I lied awake on the operating table expressing my profuse gratitude to everyone who was performing surgery on me, my husband left the operating room with our son. While the doctors repaired my body, I heard the obstetrician whispered to the other, “Have you ever seen anything like this?”

She answered back, “Never.”

She then spoke to me, “Do you mind if we invite some staff to come look at you?”

I replied, “Is there a problem?”

Though the big blue sheet blocked my view of my exposed organs, I still wanted to see the expression on my doctor’s face. I could hear a smile in her tone and was relieved when she said, “Not at all. We have just never seen a uterus like yours. We’re actually surprised you were even able to conceive, let alone have a baby. Would you mind if we look around and photographed you?”

I was apprehensive at the idea of people take photos of my nude body and internal organs, but managed to reply, “Absolutely, anything for science.”

They brought in a few more people, discussed the precarious nature of reproductive organs, and thanked me for my willingness to let them look in and around my body. I liked my obstetrician. She was kind. She walked over to the other side of the sheet where I could see her, removed her mask and said, “You did beautifully. Congratulations.”

I was beaming and asked her, “Can I do it again? I mean with my uterus, can I have another child?”

She laughed along with a couple other nurses who were listening, patted my shoulder and said, “Not now, but I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t have another child in your future. Right now you need to rest.”

Despite all the help I needed in order to successfully create life, I still felt a sense of pride and accomplishment. I admired what the love, intelligence, and technology of a multitude of people could help me create—a child.

They wheeled me into the recovery room to be reunited with my husband and son. The love our family shared was unlike any love I had previously experienced. I loved my son with such intensity that I didn’t know I was capable of such selflessness. The love I had for our son spilled over into even more love for my husband, my co-creator. The machines that led to our survival taught me a greater reverence for humanity and technology. Collectively, they increased my ability to not only live and create, but also my ability to love.

. . .

A year went by saturated with our love. Of course it wasn’t perfect, but it was still a beautiful life. Sex was no longer a chore.

. . .

A few months later, were ready for another child. We took the same approach to conceiving. It was easier knowing what to expect and conceiving only took three months. We were thrilled to know my doctors were right. I could, indeed, have another child.

The following nine months were similar to the first pregnancy—vomiting, complications, and fatigue. It was painful, but somehow it was more bearable knowing how to cope with a high-risk pregnancy. With the support of my husband, doctors, and more machines, we made it through.

The night before the scheduled c-section, I again found myself lying in bed awake. I was hopeful and excited, but still afraid. It was difficult getting used to the idea of physicians cutting into my body to safely extract another human being. It seemed like there could have been a much more sophisticated way to create life that didn’t involve so much risk. So many variables could easily go awry and in my experience, they usually did.

The next morning, everything was proceeding according to plan. My husband sat on the stool next to the operating table. We exchanged smiles. My husband never got used to watching the doctors cut into my flesh either so we simply stared into each other’s eyes, perhaps more for his sake than mine.

The c-section seemed longer than I remembered. I was worried. The tone of the room shifted. Muffled voices spoke with urgency. Our son rotated from a transverse position to a breech position with his head stuck inside my uterus. The umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. With each pull the cord was strangling him. The anesthesiologist noticed my heart rate rapidly increase on the machine next to me. He tried to calm me down, but it was useless. How could I calm down? Our child was suffocating!

I felt a sudden amount of pressure on my abdomen as the nurses pushed with their bodies. I felt a huge rush of relief as the weight of our baby left my spinal column. One of the doctors said, “He’s here! He’s out.”

I tried to compose myself waiting for our baby to cry, but there was no sound. No crying. No breathe. Nothing. The silence was terrifying.

In the chaos my husband stood up to see him, but the nurse abruptly interjected, “Dad, sit down.” There was too much force in her tone. Something was very wrong.

I managed to choke out, “Why can’t I hear him crying?” Everyone ignore me as I lied there exposed on the operating table. I looked over at my husband and there was panic in his eyes that I rarely see. He stepped back from the blue sheet and bowed his head to the floor. He seemed to be praying—it was always so natural for him.

The doctors rushed to help our little blue infant.

Everything was happening so quickly. I heard one nurse saying, “Pump him! Again! One more time.” I heard the clicking of more machines working to resurrect my son. I didn’t know what was going on and frankly, I didn’t care, all I wanted was to hear my son cry. I felt completely helpless.

Finally, I heard him.

It wasn’t a strong scream from a thriving baby, but it was enough to let us know he was alive. At that moment his muffled cry was the most wonderful sound in the world. I couldn’t help but cry with him. I looked over at my husband to see his eyes filled with tears too. It was less than five minutes until the doctors resuscitated our baby, but even five minutes to too long to believe your child is dead.

I only got see our baby for a brief moment before he was whisked off to the intensive care unit. The nurse told me they needed to stabilize his breathing while I stayed behind to be repaired and monitored in the recovery room.

I agreed and watched my husband leave with our son.

After a long two and a half hours of repair and recovery, I was finally able to join my family. I was wheeled into a small cove where I lied on a bed next to my child. My legs still had not regained their feeling from the spinal block when I reached out to touch our baby’s tiny hand. He was beautiful. He was hooked-up to machines that were teeming with life. The multiple wires around his body were accentuated by the bright electrical heating lamp above him stabilizing his body temperature. The sight must have been horrifying for other mothers, but not for me. The machines brought my son life. The machines brought me life. I had grown fond of them. They were the creations of humans doing what I could not and again, I was filled with gratitude. I welcomed the technologies and humanity. Embracing one without the other seemed dishonest.

. . .

Another two years of love flourished within our family. I was completely immersed in motherhood. My body wasn’t built to bring children into the world, but I was certainly designed to be a mother. I was really good at it. I was strong, engaged, and capable.

. . .

A few more months rolled by and I couldn’t stop thinking about having another child. My body longed for a baby. My arms begged for an infant. My husband agreed and we made preparations for the next year.

The nine months after conception were excruciating. This pregnancy proved to be far worse than the previous two combined.

Every complication I had previously endured was heightened, causing a whole new set of complications. I developed malnutrition from vomiting that was far more persistent than before. I was losing weight, and retaining too much fluid due to the polyhydromnios. I developed anemia and suffered from chronic low blood pressure. I would randomly lose vision and blackout. I needed to have surgery during my second trimester due to digestive complications that were more painful that anything I had ever experienced in my life. After suffering from eight months of hyperemesis gravidarum, I decided to stop eating. I could no long bear to vomit. Starving seemed less painful than vomiting. I lived off of supplements and broth. I lost more weight. I could no longer walk up and down the stairs, at least not without my husband helping me. My skin turned to a lifeless shade of white as the anemia persisted. My body was falling apart. I did not doubt my will to give my daughter life, but my body wouldn’t comply.  I hated feeling the limitations of my body. I hated feeling weak.

My husband was working through the first year of his master’s degree, but still managed to take care of our family. He was the father, mother, housekeeper, student, provider, cook, tutor, and caretaker. My stubborn independence tried to push him away, but as time went on I accepted defeat. He was far more patient with me than I deserved. I repeatedly insisted I was capable of more, but I couldn’t remember what it felt like to be healthy. I craved freedom away from my body—anything that would take the pain away.

After meeting with multiple doctors, they strongly urged me to be sterilized during my third c-section. My new doctor explained to me in her office, “This isn’t a game anymore. If you keep playing roulette there is a very real chance that you or your child won’t make it the next time.”

My husband and I agreed. I would have a tubal ligation immediately following the c-section. Our daughter would be our last child.

One week before the c-section, my husband and two sons were at school. Once again, I was in bed unable to sleep. I was frail as I stared at the morning sunlight filtering in my room through the windows. I was lost in my thoughts. What if I didn’t survive? What if my baby didn’t make it? What had I gotten myself into? Had I put too much trust into the machines that had brought life to my family? I put my trust in my doctors. I put my trust in humanity. I put my trust in technology, but in that moment it wasn’t enough. For the first time in a long time, I wanted to trust God. I was apathetic toward the reconciliation of the cognitive dissonance associated with my religion, and God became a casualty I didn’t care to recover. Regardless of my perceptions of God, I wanted to pray. I pushed aside my relentless skepticism and I allowed myself a thoughtful prayer.

I expressed gratitude for every blessing and every memory I had ever experience with my family. I expressed gratitude for every person I knew and every doctor who had helped me. I expressed gratitude for my husband. I expressed gratitude for our children and motherhood. Lastly, I expressed gratitude for life. I ended my prayer with one request—that my daughter and I could live. Even if God didn’t exist or care to acknowledge me, I needed to say the words out loud, “I want to live.”

In the stillness of my room, I felt a wave of comfort and love envelope me—love that seemed reminiscent of a maternal figure.

I made no conclusions concerning my prayer, nor did I know what the future held, but my fear was gone.

The morning of the c-section came as usual. I was still sick, but also at peace. They prepared my body, and once again I was hooked to machines that had a new found presence in the room. I didn’t even mind the piercing of the metallic needle inserted into my spine. It seemed routine by now. I lied down flat on the operating table and listened to the sounds the machines made while the doctors cut into my abdomen one more time. My husband lovingly brushed his hand across my forehead and swept my dark hair from my eyes. We waited together to hear our daughter cry.

Right on schedule, she arrived perfectly as planned—healthy and strong. I smiled at my husband with relief. He held out our baby girl for me to see. I wanted nothing more than to reach out and hold her, but my arms had lost their feeling. Instinctively, my husband saw the wordless yearning in my eyes and brought her closer to me so that our cheeks could touch for a brief moment before taking her to the nursery. I watched them leave as I stayed behind for the remainder of the surgery.

The doctor said, “Do you mind if we bring in some staff to look at your uterus?”

I mildly laughed with a humorously vivid case of déjà vu. After experiencing three c-sections, multiple surgeries, and invasive procedures, physical modesty was a laughable concept to me. I confidently and softly said one more time, “Absolutely, anything for science.”

She continued operating on me and said, “Thank you. I’ve never seen anything like your uterus before.”

I replied, “I get that a lot. I actually don’t need it anymore. I don’t mind donating it.”

Her voice became serious through her surgical mask, “You need this still. It’s full of red blood cells. You’ve lost a lot of blood and you’re not fully recovered from your pregnancy induced anemia. You need this so you can get better. You’ve given enough today.”

I didn’t have the strength to respond to her. I waited patiently through the procedure in silence.

I listened to the humming of my beloved machines that were intimately connected to my nude body. While the doctors sterilized me, I couldn’t fight an overwhelming sense to sleep. I was so tired and so weak. All I wanted to do was close my eyes and dissolve into the darkness. As I closed my eyes, I welcomed the warmth of the blackness. The gentle beeping of the machine monitoring my heart beat began to slow. It was peaceful and inviting. I indulged. It was so easy. Time didn’t seem relevant. I couldn’t even feel the pain anymore. In fact, I couldn’t feel anything at all.

. . .

A man’s voice interrupted my tranquility, “You need to open your eyes. Can you hear me?”

From the opposite side of the room, a woman’s voice said with criticality, “Her heart rate is still dropping.”

The man repeated, “Can you hear me!?”

I could hear him, but responding seemed impossible. The nothingness was heavy.

I felt the pain as I tried to regain consciousness. I didn’t care for it. My eyes slowly fluttered open to see the blurry face of my anesthesiologist. Unable to comprehend the severity of his demand, I was only mildly annoyed by the interruption. I closed my eyes to retreat and I muttered, “I just want to rest.”

His voice seemed more urgent, “No. You need to stay awake. I heard you have two boys. Can you tell me about them? What are their names?”

I paused, motionless in the blackness of my mind trying to recall. I could see their faces, but I couldn’t recall their names. How could I forget their names? I’m their mother. My mind wasn’t mine, and I felt ashamed. I finally had the strength to open my eyes which seemed abnormally heavy in their sockets. I slowly said, “Preston and William? Yes, I have two sons. I love them so much. I… I have a daughter too.”

He replied, “Yes. She’s perfect. Can you tell me her name?”

I strained, “Elizabeth.”

The woman in the background said, “Her heart rate is beginning to stabilize.”

I continued, “Can I…can I rest now? It will only be a moment.”

He persisted, “No, you can’t. You need to stay with us. Tell me about your children.”

The anesthesiologist persisted on continuing our foggy conversation for several minutes until the surgery was complete. I’m sure if we had met under other circumstances I would have found him far less annoying. Regardless, I’m grateful he kept me out of the numbness that beckoned me.

The tubal ligation was successful and I was sewn back together. My obstetrician walked over to me, took off her mask, placed her hand on my head and said, “You did it. You have a baby girl. Congratulations.”

My heart was so full of love and gratitude that a tear rolled down my cheek. All I could say was, “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. I’ll visit you first thing tomorrow morning.”

I closed my eyes and fell into a delirious sleep.

. . .

A couple months passed. My body healed. My blood levels increased. My skin regained its color. My dark, shiny hair grew long again. My muscles regained their tone. My heart was strong. My family was a testament of the combined power of compassion and technology. I had three beautiful, healthy children and a husband who understood motherhood with unparalleled authenticity.

. . .

About a year later, I stumbled upon this strange group called the Mormon Transhumanist Association, through a cousin I never took the time to know.

They spoke of machines that could improve the human experience. They discussed ideas concerning reproductive technologies, genetic engineering, and nanotechnology. They had a curiously unique perspective of God I had not considered. They discussed the possibilities of increasing our human intellect and physicality through emerging technologies. I couldn’t help but be intrigued. Perhaps, I could spare my children the suffering my husband and I had experienced.

Naturally, I joined. It was easy—like embracing an old friend.