On Harry Potter… And me

Harry Potter book collection

A stack of Harry Potters. Pic by Alan Edwardes, flickr.com

A few days ago, I saw a tweet about a super-cool Harry Potter DVD boxset. Like, seriously, Warner Bros. pulled out all the stops for that. It was the full eight-film collection plus bucket loads of special features spread over 31 discs, a kick-ass box and concept art and stuff and more stuff… (Check it out here)

Anyway, the wonderful tallulahlucy and I started chatting about the books – how we’ve probably read them a thousand times between the two of us, and we got to chatting about our favourites and least favourites… And our firsts. Which I thought would be super-cool to put out in blog form.

But basically, it boils down to this – the Harry Potter series defined a very large part of my life. Pretty much from the time I was about 13 to… Well, now I guess. That’s a good 12 years, and I intend to pass Ms Rowling’s novels onto my future children. The Potter series was there through some of the darkest times in my life. And in fact, if I ever feel myself down in the dumps for an extended period of time, I open up at The Philosopher’s Stone and start at “Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much…”

My first 

My first ever Harry Potter novel was The Prisoner of Azkaban. My grandmother had bought Azkaban and the Chamber of Secrets for my younger brother (who, at 9, was more into cricket and comic books than novels). I grabbed Azkaban first, and fell in love. I, like positively millions of children (and adults!) across the globe, wanted to be a part of Harry’s world. I remember very clearly sitting in a patch of sunlight streaming in through the window into the TV room and reading as Harry tried to escape the Ministry on the Knight Bus… And being thrilled to discover there was a real Neville Longbottom.

My favourite

I think The Goblet of Fire has to be my favourite – and, in my mind, it’s also the most important Potter book, because of the sudden turning point. It’s not purely because Voldemort returns – though, obviously, that helps – but it is the abandonment of the relative innocence of the first three novels in stark contrast with the complexity of the emotions and the issues of Goblet of Fire. I still get goosebumps with this novel.

My least favourite

That’s not to say that I don’t like it, it’s just that of all of the novels it’s the one that I love the least. The Chamber of Secrets. I loathed Gilderoy Lockhart’s character and I found all of the “Harry is the Heir of Slytherin” thing quite tiresome. I still have some favourite moments of the novel, of course, and it introduced me to the delightful Dobby… And while at first Chamber of Secrets seems relatively disconnected from the narrative of the first six novels – we find out in Deathly Hallows that it isn’t quite so.

My strongest Potter reaction

I had two very strong reactions to two points in the novels, but one comes out hands down – Cedric Diggory’s death in Goblet of Fire and Voldemort’s return. I remember putting down Goblet of Fire and going outside to help my mother hang up the laundry, my head still positively reeling from what I had just read. “Cedric Diggory’s dead!” rang on a loop in my teenage brain – I was astounded. Secondly, of course, would be Sirius’ death in Order of the Phoenix. The idea that he just disappeared through the veil – no body, no goodbye, nothing – well, that just slayed me. And Harry yelling into the mirror, so sure that Sirius would respond… Well. There were tears.

My Harry Potter family

I often credit the Potter novels with getting my brother to fall in love with reading. We used to discuss the novels while I was home from school, and dissect the smallest details. (“What did she mean by a look of triumph in Dumbledore’s eyes?” etc etc) We saw all of the movies – I remember my parents taking us to see The Philosopher’s Stone in 2001… We had ice cream just before and I wore my favourite red dress. Potter was a connection to my grandmother… She bought us all the novels – she knew how much I loved them – and would, in fact, order them well in advance so we didn’t have to wait too long.

And then… My father. Well, he enjoyed the films, I knew that much. But when he was in his coma, after I had read him The Hobbit and abandoned the idea of reading him my setworks (I didn’t quite see him enjoying Mansfield Park, though I thought that at least some Dickens could have gone down well, if he tried) I started reading him the Harry Potter novels. In Jwaneng, when he was in the private room, I would arrive after lunch and read to him all afternoon until we had to leave at six, then came back and read for a little more from seven until we were kicked out again.

When he moved to the house in Ladysmith… Well, his nurses scared me. A lot. I always felt horribly judged, so I stayed away. In hindsight, they probably judged me more for seeming to never visit… But from four-thirty until six, when there were no nurses… Well, that was our time.

I was halfway through The Goblet of Fire, I think, before he died.

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On being five again

Easter eggs by Michael Mol, flickr.com

Last night we had an Easter egg hunt. Despite the fact that it’s over two weeks to Easter, it was 8pm, and we are all in our mid-twenties to early thirties.

C roped us around to her house, luring us with the promise of chocolate eggs and a braai to follow. After one or two glasses of wine, chili poppers in the oven and with three torches between us, six of us – two journalists, a philosophy student, one programmer, an engineer, one communications type and a get-fit-lose-weight-now specialist – clambered into the flowerbeds, rustled hedges and turned over pots like the seasoned egg-hunting professionals we are.

Sometimes you just need to just act like children again. For fifteen glorious minutes we giggled and shrieked and fell over roots and compared hauls – glad to be five years old again, where the biggest worry in the world was what cartoon was going to come on next.

After that, we retired to our normal – admittedly, more grown-up but still fun – selves. We drank wine, moaned over boyfriends and stalkers and work things, discussed current affairs and debated hot topics. All the while, nibbling the edges of marshmallow eggs and sucking on the smaller chocolate ones until the caramel center broke through.

 

Bringing it back to the center

DaisiesThe last few days – and today, in particular – have been crazy. In an entirely unhealthy, largely destructive kinda way. And then, with my heart rate at easily 300, I sat down to blog. I opened WordPress, and under their “Freshly Pressed” section was this:“Ten Things I Learned From My Father”. And it brought me back to my center.

It has been over five years since my dad had his stroke, and the missing him and longing to have him back comes in waves. Sometimes I’ll be perfectly fine, ticking along as normal – then suddenly BAM! It hits me. So clear, so pure, so sharp, that I’m sure if I pick up my phone and dial a number I’ll hear his voice at the other end of the line. Telling me “Even, sweetness” and “I’m so proud of you”.

But while I remember happenings, stories he told, flashes of memories… Somewhere along the line I forgot the kind of person that he taught me to be.

First, he taught me to be brave.

He taught me to have a “rhino skin”, to not let everything get to me. He knew me too well, knew that I feel everything so acutely, that sometimes it’s just a bit too much. Words that other people brush off, haunt me. When people are harsh with me, I can’t just laugh it off. I hurt. He knew that I was a delicate little petal. He told me to develop a “rhino skin”. I had forgotten.

He taught me to fight. Fight for what I believed in. Fight for my rights. To not just step back and let everybody take what they wanted. (I needed to hear you say that this week, dad. So badly.)

He taught me to be the best I can be. Then he taught me to be better than that.

And he taught me that I was worth more than I thought. That I was precious, special, something to be proud of.

Damnit, dad. I am.

I am an egg donor. This is my story.

Originally published on iafrica.com.

Pic by Offbeat Photography (flickr.com)

I have been asked so many times since I started all of this: “Why donate your eggs?”

I don’t have one specific answer – I have dozens of reasons, and you’ll probably get a different answer every day. Yes, they pay me. But mostly I’ll say it’s because I want to do something spectacular for somebody else. I want to give somebody else the chance at a family. I can think of dozens of reasons why I do donate – and not a single reason why I shouldn’t.

I’m 24 and single, although not a Bridget-Jones-cry-into-my-wine kind of single (well, not often at least). Do I see children in my future? I hope there will be. But my family is without a doubt the most important thing to me. I get family.

Egg donation, in a nutshell, involves harvesting a number of healthy, ripe eggs from a donor before fertilising them and transferring them to the mother – where, all fingers and toes crossed, they hang around for nine months.

My journey to Nurture – the organisation that has facilitated my first two donations – started almost a year before the first time I donated. I had a boyfriend who had donated sperm before we started dating, and I was inspired. I started investigating egg donation agencies but it was Nurture that “clicked” with me.

Founded in 2008 by Tertia Albertyn (a recovering infertile) and Melany Bartok (herself a past donor), Nurture has become one of the top agencies in South Africa. I was in good hands, though I didn’t really know it yet.

Getting started

When I finally got my act together, filled out my entire medical history and committed to Nurture, the process was almost entirely smooth-sailing for me. Firstly, I met with two of the Nurture women – Melany and my donor liaison Lee, who became my apparent stand-in sister – for a coffee date at Cavendish. We went through the process, they explained the risks and the procedure, and double-checked that I was keen to sign up. After meeting with them, I was extra keen.

From there, I scheduled a psychological evaluation at the Cape Fertility Clinic – which would be performing the egg retrieval. Every donor is required to have an hour-long meeting with a psychologist to ensure that they understand the process, but my meeting became a wonderful chat with the psychologist Leanne, who thankfully decided I wasn’t entirely crazy and signed me off.

I also had an initial appointment with Dr Le Roux, the doctor who performed my first retrieval. This appointment was, in my mind, quite daunting but I shouldn’t have worried. A quick internal check-up to make sure everything was okay inside and another chat about the procedure, and I was packed off to the pathologists to be tested and cleared for HIV, syphilis and hepatitis. Obviously, if you are HIV positive or have hepatitis, you cannot donate, and so these blood tests are compulsory. This physical examination is repeated every time you donate – so if you donate four times, you’ll be examined and tested four times.

Let’s get fertile

After you’ve got the all-clear, the next step is to synchronise your menstrual cycle with your recipient’s and then start the daily fertility injections. All donors are placed on a short, light course of a medication that stimulates follicle growth. In my case, this was Gonal-F, which stimulates the ovaries to produce more eggs.

I know that the daily injections put off a lot of women and honestly, they were probably the worst part. But you’d be surprised how quickly you get used to them! During this time, you have a further two or three scans with the doctor to make sure everything is A-okay. Near the end of your fertility injections, you’re also given a shot of Cetrotide – a medication to ensure you don’t spontaneously ovulate – before being given two “trigger” shots to ripen the eggs 36 and 24 hours before you donate.

The first time I donated, I was fortunate in that I responded beautifully to all the medication – Dr Le Roux was always so pleased with my scans and I realised I was quite proud of myself. Strange, seeing as women are “supposed” to ovulate, but hey, I like being good at things. The second time, I was a bit of a “slow starter” which goes to show: It’ll never be the same for every woman, every time.

The actual donation procedure takes place around 14 days after starting the fertility injections – depending on how you respond. I have also been asked so many times “Weren’t you terrified? Aren’t you scared something will go wrong? What if you can’t have your own babies later on?” Honestly, the thing I was most scared of the whole way through was not being able to give my recipient what she’d been dreaming of. I was never truly scared of any complications (although obviously it has to be in the back of your mind) but I had so much faith in Dr Le Roux and his team that I was more worried about not being able to bring my side to the party.

Donation day dawns

So what happens on donation day? You’re admitted sometime in the morning, and get dressed into possibly the least sexy hospital gowns of all time. You’re checked out by the anaesthetist, a nurse fusses over you, and you’re led through to the theatre. You’re then put under a “twilight anaesthetic” – enough to knock you out long enough for them to do the retrieval so you won’t feel a thing.

During the retrieval, the doctor performs an “ultrasound directed needle aspiration”. A needle is inserted through the upper portion of the vagina directly into the ovary – and the ultrasound allows the physician to guide the needle into each follicle – where the egg is sucked through and collected. This takes about 15 to 30 minutes.

Following the retrieval, you hang out in the clinic for an hour or two while you recover from the anaesthetic. The first time I donated, I was in a fair amount of pain – the second time, barely any pain. Different every time.

And yes, this is when you get paid. Nurture pays R6000 for each donation on the day of retrieval. Following that, a delicious day of bed rest is prescribed. In my case that meant time spent catching up on cheesy movies.

After the retrieval, the egg goes to the laboratory where it is fertilised and “grown” for a few days before transfer. So far I’ve been really lucky – both of the women I have donated to are pregnant! I’ve also signed up for a third donation – there’s nothing more amazing than that phone call or email saying “SHE’S PREGNANT!”

Do I ever think about meeting my recipient’s children? Of course I do. I’d like to see that they’re healthy (and don’t have three arms or something!) and obviously I’m curious about how much they resemble me. But that’s about it. A good friend of mine was shocked that I wouldn’t want to be involved in “my” children’s life – but they aren’t my children. They never were. As cheesy as it sounds, they always belonged to my recipient, who walked a terrifying, difficult road. I’m just glad that I could help, and hopefully make the rest of the way a little smoother.

Originally published on iafrica.com.

A brief catch-up – and the Tale of the Wandering Laptop

The last few weeks have been pretty insane, I’ll give you that. Awards Season is finally done – and hey, look! My 100% prediction rate still stands! – I started doing a part-time course entitled “Applying Social Media to Business Challenges” and my mom flew down for a weekend for my brother’s 21st. (Yes, he’s 21, and I have NO idea how that happened).

I’ve been reading a lot of “mommy bloggers” recently, partly because there are some amazing, amazing mommy bloggers (both locally and internationally) and partly because I like the way that they balance the public and the personal.

I’ve also started to tinker around with the idea of getting a new camera and a new laptop. My camera died about a year ago and I haven’t got round to replacing it (I could always just get a decent phone with a decent camera at some point. Two birds, one stone, etc) and my laptop – which I got in late 2005 – is on its way out.

It’s a bit sad, my poor laptop. My dad sold his bike (he bought it when we first moved to Botswana) to buy my brother and I each a laptop – I wanted one so I didn’t have to walk to and from the computer labs at night – and my brother and I were positively thrilled, as you can imagine. My laptop got stolen out from my house – and from the bed that my then-boyfriend was sleeping in – in 2007 while I was at a birthday party. Somebody opened the front door, walked in, unplugged the laptop (left the cable) and wandered off. I was heartbroken and reported it stolen, assuming that I’d seen the last  of it. It was during the year that my father was in his coma, and so it was even more heartbreaking at the time. All of my photographs of my dad were on there, the speech I’d been working on for his funeral (a bit macabre, I know, but I needed to be prepared) and all of my music and work assignments.

A few weeks later, I got a call from the police station. Somebody had bought a laptop on the side of the road in Grahamstown, and when they took it home (assuming it was second-hand) and booted it up, they saw that it was password-protected, realised it was stolen, and handed it in. My silly little Windows-startup password, setup more so that the girls in res couldn’t get in while I wasn’t in my room, saved the day.

I booted up – everything was still there and not a single thing had been deleted or wiped. Only one thing was different.

The thieves had cleaned the laptop before selling it.