Forty-two years ago, the Bast family in eastern Pennsylvania got exactly what they wanted: a beautiful baby girl they named Stephanie, adopted from South Korea, where she had been abandoned on a train in Seoul.
Today, Stephanie Bast has her own family that she has always wanted. After trying to conceive for four challenging years, she gave birth to twins Orlando and Sophia. Warm, candid, authentic and hysterical, Stephanie reveals her secret to well-behaved kids — and it sure isn’t luck. We talk about being Tiger Moms, vaginal steam baths, and yes, the shape of sperm. Enjoy!
Studio City, CA
Occupation: Full-time Mama
You’ve had ensemble roles on Broadway, featured parts in television and films, and your paintings are shown in international galleries. Do you plan to go back to work?
I am loving parenting. For the past three years I’ve just wanted to do baby stuff. I still have not a single itch to do anything else with my life. Before my kids, I was never satisfied. I was always trying to do the next great thing. I did have bigger dreams of a starring role on Broadway, or getting a TV show, but the chances of getting these things as an Asian actress in my position are pretty slim. I’d have a better chance of winning the lottery! I wanted to relax into my life and be happy with where I was.
I still go on an occasional audition. I have a national commercial running right now. We ran out of our insurance so I have to make money now [to qualify for the actors’ union insurance]. As far as the painting … it’s there. I have a few shows waiting for me. But I’m not ready to do it. I don’t have the passion for it. I would have to get full time child-care, and I just don’t want to miss out on Orlando and Sophia right now. My husband David and I started trying for kids pretty late — I was 35 when we started. I am trying to enjoy motherhood as much as I can before my kids decide they don’t like me. Everything I say is hysterical, they love me, I’m the best thing in their lives, and I know that’s not gonna last long!
Your kids just turned three. What kind of personalities are they developing?
We loved the twos, although they are a**holes sometimes. Orlando is getting belligerent. He absolutely defies us all the time. I often feel thankful for Sophia — she is a rock. She’s so great with change, if we stay out an extra two hours and they go to bed at 9 instead of their usual 7, she’s fine the next day. He’s a total a**hole, however. He’s grumpy. He also shows us the most love and fun. We laugh the most with him, but we know what to count on with her.
What do you and your husband David do for quality alone time?
Our kids go down by 7:30 every night, and we have from 7:30-10:30 pm to talk and veg in front of the TV like the people we said we would never be. We giggle about how fat we are, or about how we can’t stop eating chips. We talk about the things we want to be for ourselves and our kids. Most of the time we strategize about how we can live long enough to see our grandkids! And how fit and better we’ll get in life.
Occasionally, we’ll extend our part-time nanny a few hours and head to sushi happy hour from 5:30-7pm in the neighborhood. We will go to a matinee once every three months. We are big nerds. We rush back so we can see our kids.
How have you changed since becoming a mama?
I’ve gotten confident. I have been with David for 18 years, and a lot of my confidence came from knowing that he was there, and he had my back. When the babies came, I put them so number one, and worked so hard through the past three years, I now know that I could do it with or without help from family or anyone. It’s a confidence that I can do anything, but also a confidence about not knowing anything — because I’m the kind of person who can figure it out if I don’t know it.
Your road to having children wasn’t easy. You say it was “four years and lot of heartache.”
We did one year of trying on our own, then we did all the testing an OB can do, like bloodwork and levels. Nothing was wrong. In year two, we did two IUIs [intrauterine insemination] and this OB put me on Clomid [an oral drug that induces ovulation by changing hormone levels] . You’re supposed to only be on it for 3-5 months. I was on it for 8 months because my OB forgot I was on it! I was in a writing class at the time, and I was writing suicidally. I was going crazy. After the 8th month, she actually said to me, “Why don’t we try Clomid?” and I almost shot lasers through my eyes. The two IUIs didn’t take.
That’s when we went to a fertility doctor whose office was actually out of his home. David got his sperm checked. Though it wasn’t conclusive, the test said he had a lot, a score so high you could hang them on the refrigerator. This doctor did three IUIs with me. Those did not take.
After our third year, we went to a highly recommended fertility doctor with a real office, and they became family. This doctor finally asked, “David, has your sperm every gotten tested for morphology?” They did a test for sperm shape and it turned out his sperm died in 24 hours and it was borderline funny-shaped.
To me, that said a lot. All these years, I thought it was me. I did acupuncture, Maya abdomnial massage that killed me, vaginal steambaths, reiki, bodywork. I had people telling me I was walking wrong, people telling me I should take up hula hooping because my hips weren’t open. I changed our teflon cookware to glass and stainless steel. I did everything because it felt like everyone was pointing their finger at me.
When I have friends telling me they’re having a hard time getting pregnant, I constantly say, “It’s not you.” Even if it is you, they’ll find it out and fix you. If they can’t fix you, there’s 20 other ways to have a child. But to feel like there was something wrong with you for 3-4 years, it’s a horrible thing to put yourself through. To not accomplish something for 4 years was hard for someone who always got what she wanted through hard work. What I would tell every woman out there is, don’t think in those terms. Don’t think there’s something wrong with you and you’re letting your family down. These problems are more prevalent than you know.
It helped to talk about it with others, as soon as I started telling people I had issues, so many people came out in my life and said they had the same issues. That’s how I found the right doctors, the right help, the right comfort to get me through what I did.
You then did IVF which ended with an ectopic pregnancy, where the embryo attached outside the uterus. What was the fallout from that?
They took away a fallopian tube. I have one ovary left. I had a fibroid removed. A lot of hormonal injections. This miscarriage gave me plenty of abdominal scars. I have a new belly button that is all scarred up. You know what? I would wear a bikini again, because I am actually proud of those scars.
That was rough on me, but didn’t destroy me because soon after, we did IVF again with two frozen embryos, and those were Orlando and Sophia. It was a really amazing happy ending soon after the ectopic.
What advice do you have for new mamas?
Do the hard work for 3 months so you get a lifetime of ease. For example, that’s how we felt about our sleep training. It was a really hard few months, but to get them to sleep 12 hours a night has saved our marriage. Food too — my kids eat everything, but it’s because I try 50 times. I’m relentless. I don’t give up. If they say they don’t like it, I get food thrown in my face, I still give it to them again.
It actually drives me crazy when people say, “You’re so lucky they sleep through the night. You’re so lucky they eat everything.” It’s not luck, it’s work! Recently I was at a birthday party where the other kids were either not eating or running around with like three bites in their mouths. My two kids were sitting by themselves on the couch, eating their food, because I taught them to sit while they’re eating. But I’m sitting next to them, and every time they try to stand up, I remind them to sit down. “We sit when we eat.” So yeah, I’m not having a drink, relaxing. [laughs]
You are Korean by genetics but not by upbringing. Do you ever feel any innate Asian-ness as a parent?
I’m kind of shocked — I have a little more Asian in me than I let on. I read the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother recently, and I thought, “Wow, I get it.” I wasn’t offended really. I wouldn’t necessarily do what [author Amy Chua] does, but I understand where she’s coming from. I’m not a controlling person, but when it comes to making my kids safe, healthy and happier in life — eating and sleeping, and sitting so you don’t choke on your food — then I will do what it takes. I will give up social time with other moms so I can sit there and train them until they don’t need to be trained anymore.
What’s been your best mama moment?
When my kids want to kiss me through every bar of their cribs and when they say, “I love you, Mommy!” unsolicited.
Photo credit: Courtney Lindberg Photography