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Embryo Mama

LastConception-CoverAn excerpt from The Last Conception by Gabriel Constans.

Savarna was the first to arrive at five that morning. She placed her bicycle in the storage room, washed and put on her scrubs. She checked all of the incubators, work surfaces and electronic readouts, to make sure everything was operating as close to body temperature as possible. The machines were on twenty-four seven and alarmed. After all, she and her colleagues literally held the possibility of new life in their hands day after day. If anything goes out of whack, emergency calls are automatically made until someone responds. They have backup systems for backup systems. So far, in her eight years of working at Conception Sciences, the alarm had gone off only once, and that turned out to be a faulty reading.

“Hey, Embryo Mama, how are our babies doing?”

Savarna had just started looking at the results from the previous day when her work partner Johnny Cranston walked in. She’d known Johnny for five years and trusted him completely. If she were ever in the position of their patients, she’d want Johnny to be her embryologist. He was very tech savvy and gave a damn. Personally, he’d been through the ringer, was divorced and had his adored teenage daughter living with him part-time. He’d recently moved to a nice neighborhood just twenty minutes from work. Johnny was handsome, and he knew it, but he never let his guard down, especially in front of beautiful women. He considered Savarna to fall in the category of beautiful, but she was an exception to his well-practiced defenses.

“Good morning Sperm Daddy,” she replied.

“Where we at, darling? Everything cooking at the right temp?”

“I was just checking yesterday’s records and laying out our schedule. Will you take a look and sign off?”

“It would be my pleasure.”

Savarna always noticed the contrasts between them when they stood side by side. He had big hands with long fingers, and his skin was darker than hers. She was brown, like a lightly baked brownie, and he was as black as dark chocolate. He stood a foot taller, had broad shoulders, a muscular chest and shaved head. She had long jet-black hair braided and tied up in a knot for work, a distinguished nose, and hips that seemed to trump everything else from the waist down.

“Looks like we’ve got a lot of D1 and D3s to switch out today,” Johnny said, as he signed the checklist.

“Yes, and two D5s. I really hope Mrs. Shcneider’s takes this time and her Inner Cell Mass doesn’t get screwed up like her last two attempts. She was so devastated.”

“You got that right. Nothing we could do though. Hear what I’m saying?”

“Yeah, yeah. I know the mantra. Don’t beat ourselves up for what’s out of our control.”

“Well, well. You actually remember your own advice.”

They both chuckled underneath their masks.

Everything in the laboratory had to be done perfectly and on schedule. Mistakes were not allowed, though inevitable.

Day zero, which they referred to as DO, was egg retrieval day. That was when they retrieved eggs from the woman and sperm from the man and put them together in a dish. On Day Two, which they called D1, they checked to see how many of the eggs were fertilized. They looked through the microscope to see if there were two pronuclei inside. If they couldn’t see any or what they saw consisted of only one or three pronuclei, that meant it was a wash and they couldn’t be used.

Day Two is when the embryos start to divide. A healthy embryo consists of two to four cells. That is when Savarna and Johnny would start to grade or evaluate the embryos on a scale of one to five, with one being perfect and five being poor. It takes about one minute to look at fifteen embryos. They had to do it quickly, so they were not outside of the incubator for long.

Day Three should be showing six to eight cells per embryo. If some of these are healthy, they can transfer them on the same day or put them into an extended culture for a Day Five transfer. If they go into extended cultures, they need to move them into a new growth medium that is made for the next stage of development.

On Day Five embryos have grown much bigger and gone from six to eight cells to fifty to one hundred cells. The coating around the egg is very thin at this stage and each embryo has two cell types – the inner cell mass, which becomes the baby and the trophectoderm, which becomes the placenta. This is the day when transfer usually takes place. One to two embryos are transferred to the patient’s uterus. Any extras are frozen or cultured to Day Six. On Day Six, anything that is left is either frozen or discarded.

“You can have the honor of icing any leftovers today,” Savarna told Johnny.

“Thank you, great ice queen. It will be an honor to preserve someone who may one day be our next Albert Einstein or Maya Angelou.”

“Or Charlie Manson or Hitler,” she said, half-joking.

“Not possible. These children are too wanted and adored to turn out like that.”

Freezing embryos is no minor task, though it may appear to be a simple procedure. When a healthy and viable embryo is frozen, it is placed into a computer- driven freezer in liquid nitrogen and is slowly brought down to minus thirty-five degrees centigrade. When cells are frozen, they are made up mostly of water and have to be dehydrated before freezing or ice cycles can destroy them. They are passed through solutions that by osmosis move in and out of a fluid buffer. Freezing takes about an hour and a half. When they are thawed, it is important to get rid of the ice crystals right away, so they are pulled out, held in the air for thirty counts and put in a thirty-degree water bath for forty-five seconds until they are thawed. They are then placed in solutions that reverse the process and put water back in. Within forty minutes of being de-thawed, an embryo can be transferred. Some patients successfully use an embryo that has been frozen for over ten years.

Savarna and Johnny sent out the morning report to all the physicians and case managers by 7:30, so they would know which patients to call to come in for their procedures or which ones needed to change their medications. Then they started working on egg retrievals, sperm analysis and triple-verification with each, to make sure they had the correct specimen for each individual. Retrievals started around 8:00 a.m. and continued every forty-five minutes, while transfers generally began at 10:00 and took place every thirty minutes. By noon, they were inseminating the eggs. Somewhere in the controlled chaos, they tried to make their way to the bathroom and catch a bite to eat. At 1:00 they made a break for the small lunchroom squeezed into the back corner of the two-story medical building.

“What?” she asked, looking up from her salad bowl.

“Come on. I’m about to burst. Did you tell them?” Savarna smiled, took a drink from her homemade chocolate smoothie and sheepishly looked down at her Greek salad. “You’ve got to be kidding?”

She shook her head. “My Mom was–”

“This is crazy… after all these years. They’re adults. They’ll understand.”

“Let me explain.”

“What’s there to explain? You chickened out again.”

“No, I didn’t. We were interrupted. My mother was trying to get me married off for the umpteenth time and just as I was about to tell her why I would never marry a man, the rest of the family burst in. There wasn’t any good time after that. It was her birthday after all, and I didn’t want to ruin it.”

“Ruin it?”

“You don’t understand.”

“Try me.”

“In Indian culture marriage is the biggest and most important celebration there is.”

“And you don’t think that’s true for other cultures?”

“Well, yes, of course,” she replied, taking a deep breath and looking him straight in the eyes. “But in India it can actually be a matter of life and death. Women are still defined by whom, when and if they marry. I don’t care if this is California and my parents have lived here for decades. I don’t think they even realize how deep this tradition is ingrained in their psyches.”

“So, its fair to keep them in the dark and keep hoping?”

“Of course not, but I’m not always as strong or as confident with my family, as I am with you. I don’t want to hurt them.”

“I think you’re hurting them more, let alone yourself, by not standing up and letting yourself be counted. They just want you to be happy, and they see marriage as the means to attain that happiness. We both know it’s not always what it’s cracked up to be, but I don’t see anything wrong with them hoping it’s the answer for their spinster daughter whose childbearing clock is ticking.”

“Spinster, my ass.”

“Tell them I’ll take you off their hands, but only for a good dowry.”

Savarna raised her glass, as if to throw it in Johnny’s face. He backed up his chair in mock surprise. Savarna’s phone rang. She put down her cup, laughing, and took the call.

“Hi, Magdalena. What’s up?”

Johnny winked.

“Tonight? It’s only Monday.”

Savarna closed her eyes for a moment as she listened.

“Which club?”

She nodded, “OK. OK. Pick me up at nine.” She clicked her phone shut and put it on the table while Johnny went to the sink to put away his plate.

“She’s a wild woman,” he said upon returning to the table.

“It’s fun. Nothing serious.”

“Yeah, I know about fun, but is that all you want?”

Her phone rang again.

“Hey, Charley. How ya doing?” Johnny rolled his eyes. “This weekend? I don’t know, I’m usually pretty wiped out by then.”

She turned away slightly in her chair, as if to keep the conversation private.

“In that case, let’s do it. I’ll call you later. Take care.”

“Wish I had that many women calling me up,” Johnny wisecracked, as they stood and both prepared to re-gown and get back to work. “Where to this weekend?”

“Charley got a great deal on a bed and breakfast place in the redwoods over in Santa Cruz. She says it’s just what I need for some rest and relaxation.”

“So, you really prefer men after all.”

“You know Charley is–”

“I know, I know. Just goofing. You know my offer is always good. If you ever want to get turned around, I’ll show you what a real man is like.”

“Yeah.” They both laughed. “You and a thousand other men.”

“Hey, did you hear what one egg said to another when they saw millions of sperm on the horizon?”

“Only a zillion times,” she said. They made their way down the hall and entered the pressurized lab. “But if it floats your boat, go ahead and give me the punch line. I’ll act like I’ve never heard it before.”

“Now you’ve ruined it,” he said.

The automatic door opened and she went ahead. A cartoon they had taped on the door had two eggs and millions of sperm surrounding them. The caption next to the first egg read, “This doesn’t look good, I think the odds are against us.” The other egg said, “Looks good to me. It’s just what the doctor ordered.”

The Last conception:

Passionate embryologist, Savarna Sikand, is in a complicated relationship, with two different women, when she is told that she MUST have a baby. Her conservative East Indian American parents are desperate for her to conceive, in spite of her “not being married”. They insist that she is the last in line of a great spiritual lineage. In the process of choosing her lover and having doubts about her ability, or desire to conceive, Savarna begins to question the necessity of biology and lineage within her parents’ beliefs and becomes forever fascinated with the process of conception and the definition of family. Threads of Dan Brown (DaVinci Code), Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (Sister of My Heart) and the film The Kids Are All Right, are tied together in this colorful tale of awakening, romance and mystery.

Available at: Melange Books and Amazon.

LGBT Writers In Schools

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LGBT WRITERS IN SCHOOLS connects authors with classrooms via free Skype or in-class visits to discuss the author’s work and LGBT issues. Designed for teachers of high school classes, universities and colleges, and student organizations, the LGBT Writers in Schools program is an opportunity for writers to discuss their work openly with students and to encourage diversity not only in the students’ reading and writing lives, but also in society at large. This initiative will broaden the foundation of experience for students of Literature, Creative Writing, English, and Secondary Education.

OUR GOALS

To bring LGBT writers into high schools, colleges and universities to share their knowledge and experience in order to promote diversity and encourage understanding of the LGBT community.

To enrich the high school, college and university English curriculum by incorporating and teaching LGBT texts in the classroom which will acknowledge LGBT writers’ contributions to literature.

To foster an open environment to discuss LGBT issues and their impact on society and the individual through LGBT texts in a vibrant and moderated classroom atmosphere.

Giving a voice to those who have long been silenced.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

The teacher will state which type of author she would like in one of four genres: Adult Fiction, YA Fiction, Poetry and Nonfiction/Memoir. Once the information is gathered from the teacher, we contact an author who would be a good fit. If they request a specific author, we try to contact that author.

WHAT HAPPENS ONCE AN AUTHOR IS CHOSEN FOR THE TEACHER’S CLASS?

Once the author has agreed to do the visit, then an introduction is made between the author and the teacher via LGBT Writers in Schools. After the introduction is made, it is the responsibility of the teacher to work out the specifics of the visit (ie: date of visit, length of visit, in person or via Skype, etc).

WHAT HAPPENS DURING THE VISIT?

Teachers would assign the work of the author and once the class has read it, the author would do a twenty minute (or longer) Skype session with the class. Depending upon what the teacher and author discussed, the session can be as general or as specific as each would like. It is supposed to be fun, lively and educational.

WHY SHOULD I PARTICIPATE?

This is a really exciting venture for Lambda Literary Foundation and for the Gay Straight Educators Alliance. LGBT literature should be represented as one voice among the many in any contemporary curriculum. The way to help counter prejudice and bullying is through educating others and it is vital to support any efforts that would help achieve this goal. Opening up channels of communication definitely begins with understanding and what better way to understand the LGBT community than through literature.

HOW DO I SIGN UP?

Contact Monica Carter (mcarter@lambdaliterary.org), Program Coordinator, LGBT Writers in Schools Program

Lambda Literary Foundation

All Women, Not Some

Dear Gabriel,

W1302EAWMN1_2Congress turned its back on women last year when it shamefully failed to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) for the first time since 1994.

The reason? A group of lawmakers in the House of Representatives wanted to deny protections for three communities that face disproportionate levels of violence — Native American and Alaska Native women, immigrant women and LGBT individuals.

But there is hope. Last week, the U.S. Senate passed a strong, inclusive and bipartisan VAWA that will help support all women facing violence and exploitation.

Amnesty is mobilizing an urgent effort to get an identical bill passed in the House. Please donate now and support our work to defend human rights.

The stakes couldn’t be higher.

1 in 3 Native American and Alaska Native women will be raped in her lifetime. When the perpetrator is a non-Native man – as in 86% of cases – a complex maze of jurisdictional issues can delay the judicial process or potentially even allow the perpetrator to escape justice.

Immigrant women often face higher rates of sexual harassment and domestic abuse – but when it comes to seeking justice, they have few legal rights and little protection from abusers who could exploit their immigration status.

LGBT violence survivors often face discrimination when attempting to access potentially life-saving social services – discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
An inclusive VAWA would put an end to these injustices . Stand with us and help pressure Congress to put partisan politics aside and protect the rights of all women. Donate now.

Your donation will help mobilize grassroots activists to pressure Congress through phone calls and office visits, educate the public about the current gaps in services that survivors face, and pressure key Representatives to muster the political will to support an inclusive bill.

If you believe in justice for all people – not justice for somedonate now.

Thank you for all that you do to protect human rights.

Cristina Finch
Managing Director, Women’s Human Rights Program
Amnesty International USA

Uganda Bill to “Kill the Gays”

Gabriel –

The speaker of the Ugandan parliament has promised she will pass the so-called “Kill the Gays” bill in the next two weeks — she called it a “Christmas gift” for the Ugandan people. The bill would legalize the death penalty for LGBT people and people with HIV or AIDS.

Uganda experts say that one way to stop this bill is to get pressure from banks that have significant resources invested in the country, such as Citibank and Barclays.

Citibank and Barclays together have hundreds of millions of dollars invested in Uganda and wield significant influence in the country, just as banking lobbyists wield influence with Congress in the US. Citibank and Barclays speaking out against the “Kill the Gays” bill might be the best — and only — chance to stop it.

Collin Burton is a Citibank customer who is also gay. Collin started a petition on Change.org asking Citibank and Barclays to speak out against the “Kill the Gays” bill. Click here to sign Collin’s petition right now.

Citibank and Barclays are both big supporters of LGBT rights for their own employees, yet they invest money with a government that is threatening to execute LGBT people. “I expect Citibank and Barclays to live up to the values of equality and fairness, not just list them on their websites,” Collin says.

If Citibank and Barclays speak out against the “Kill the Gays” bill, Ugandan legislators will see that they are risking the business relationships that keep their government afloat.

Click here to sign Collin’s petition asking Citibank and Barclays to issue strong statements condemning Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill. The bill could come up for a vote any day, so swift action is essential.

Thanks for being a change-maker,

– Mark Anthony and the Change.org team

Lesbian Torture Clinics

From Change.org

Dear Gabriel,

Paola Ziritti is unthinkably brave to speak publicly about the “clinic.” She endured physical assault, sexual abuse, and a constant battery of insults. Guards would even throw buckets of cold water and urine on her. For two years, this was Paola’s waking nightmare… because she’s a lesbian. The “doctors” and guards at the clinic were trying to “cure” her.

Paola lives in Ecuador, where these so-called clinics are terrifyingly common — although the government shut down 27 this year, 180 clinics remain open, and most of the prisoners there are women. (Some gay men and transgendered people are in the clinics as well, but far fewer.)

Paola’s parents knew they were sending her to a forced confinement clinic, but they had no idea how awful it would be. Once Paola’s mother realized what she’d done, she tried to get her daughter back, but the clinic said no. The process to free Paola took a year.

A few incredibly courageous Ecuadorian women are fighting back — they call themselves Fundacion Causana. The women of Fundacion Causana started a petition on Change.org demanding that Ecuadoran Minister of Public Health Dr. David Chiriboga Allnut investigate and shut down all 180 remaining clinics that torture women to “cure” them. Please sign the petition right now.

Fundacion Causana does direct-service work on the ground to save women from the clinics, but they say it’s not enough. They need the unbridled support of the Ecuadoran government to get all of the clinics shut down.

So far, the government has only shut down a small cluster of clinics in one region of the country. Ecuador’s government officials need to know that we are watching and will not stand idly by while women are imprisoned and tortured.

Please sign Fundacion Causana’s petition demanding that the Ecuadoran Minister of Public Health investigate and shut down every “clinic” that tortures members of Ecuador’s LGBT community:

http://www.change.org/petitions/fiscal-general-del-estado-close-fake-clinics-that-torture-lgbt-in-order-to-cure-them

Thanks for being a change-maker,

– Weldon and the Change.org team

Ugandan Lesbian Awarded

From the LGBT Rights Cause.

Major Human Rights Award Goes to Ugandan Lesbian by Paul Canning
October 17, 2011

Besides the Nobel Peace Prize, the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders is the main award of the global human rights movement.

It is a unique collaboration among ten of the world’s leading human rights organizations.

The 2011 prize was presented to Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera in Geneva October 13 by High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Deputy Kyung-wha Kang.

The ceremony included a very moving film about Nabagesera’s work made by True Hero films.

Nabagesera is a Ugandan LGBT activist and founder/Executive Director of Freedom and Roam Uganda.

She became engaged in LGBT rights in Uganda when she was just 21, and has since played a leading role.

She told Kathambi Kinoti of AWID in 2010:

Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG) is the only exclusively lesbian, bisexual and transgender organization in Uganda. It was started by three lesbian-identified women on July 4, 2003 in a bar which at the time the media frequently called a lesbian bar. Many lesbian women who heard the news started coming to the bar to hang out and make new friends.

Earlier, in April 2003 we had been approached by a group of men who claimed to have a lesbian organization by the name Makerere University Students Lesbians Association. When we asked them where the lesbians were and why it was led by men, they said that the women were “shy.” Later we did some research and learnt that these men were not university students nor did any such organization exist.

An accountant by profession, she has excelled in human rights advocacy and obtained a certificate in human rights law. For the past four years she has been speaking at international forums highlighting the plight of lesbian women in her country. But perhaps more importantly, Kasha has had the courage to appear on national television in Uganda, becoming one of the first lesbians to openly speak out.

She has consistently invoked international covenants that Uganda has ratified and the Government has failed to implement.

In 2007, she was brutally harassed at the World Social Forum in Nairobi after she spoke in front of 60,000 people about the respect and tolerance of homosexuals in the world. Later for appearing in the media she was again heckled, threatened and attacked. Since then she has been shifting from house to house, afraid to stay long in the same place. Police and security forces regularly stop and intimidate her.

In 2009, she and two other activists held a press conference with the message ‘we do not recruit!’ The organization the Family Life Network (FLN), which receives substantial American evangelical backing, had been claiming that LGBT groups were receiving vast sums to pay Ugandans to become gay.

On January 26, 2011, one of her colleagues, gay activist David Kato, was murdered following the publication of a “gay list” by the tabloid Rolling Stone calling for their hanging; in this black list, Kasha Jacqueline’s name also appears.

She challenged the homophobia frenzy in the media in the high court of Uganda where she and two others successfully sued Rolling Stone.

Read complete story, with videos and photos, at CARE2 Make A Difference.

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