Cancer Ever After

Musings on Infertility, Adoption, Parenthood and Cancer

The Lottery

“If I win the lottery, I will…” My husband and I occasionally dream about winning the lottery. In fact, we had this conversation just last night. What struck me during that conversation is how much I’ve changed over the last six or seven years. When we first met, our lottery wish list consisted of vacation homes, traveling the world, and enjoying ourselves. I always had a list of exotic places I wanted to go and a laundry list of locations where we would buy luxurious vacation homes if we were to win.

Last night, my lottery wish list was very different. If I win the lottery, I want to help others who can’t have children. Yes, I want to put money aside for my children’s college first, and enough to be able to retire (there are selfish items that still top the list- I’m not that nice!). But if I win, I want to be able to help others have their dearest wish–a child. If I could cure infertility I would. Infertility is a mean-ass bitch. And having gone through infertility, I would like to make both infertility treatments and adoption affordable for others.  Resolve (www.resolve.org), the national infertility association,  has several articles on the impact that finances play in treatment costs, a phase that almost all infertile couples hit. For the majority of infertiles, their family-building options far outstrip their ability to afford those options.

This is one of the hardest parts of our infertility. We had a very positive prognosis for treatment. Once we found the correct specialist and diagnosis, we were given an 80% chance of success. The only roadblock was affording what insurance wouldn’t cover, and we were lucky that my insurance covered a good portion of the costs. We also looked closely at adoption and surrogacy at that time, because we had two miscarriages under our belts and knew that my body didn’t handle pregnancy well. We even had a couple of family members offer to be a surrogate, but the costs for adoption were between 35k-45k and surrogacy was over 50k (even with a known surrogate). In the end, our treatment for a medical problem was not determined by the doctors’ recommended course of treatment, it was dictated by what we could afford.

This is the true rub of infertility. Even though it is a medical condition and has a medical cause, it’s not seen as a medical condition in a lot of peoples’ eyes. This is what I would change if I could. A lot of great groups advocate for favorable legislation and insurance coverage. Even more advocate for adoption assistance programs and tax credits. It’s a great start, but I think if infertility doesn’t touch you personally–through a very close friend or family member–it’s easy to brush it off as a nonissue. I know we are one of the lucky ones. We have our girls, which is an amazing miracle.

And now we have this opportunity to adopt. In a lot of ways, I feel like we’ve already won the lottery–twice.

We’ve won at the lottery of life.

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The Name Game

For those who know the drama that occurred with naming our twins, you’ll be surprised to hear that naming our son came easily. Tim and I started a name jar with our first pregnancy. As soon as we found out, we began putting names into a jar on folded slips of paper. And while that pregnancy didn’t end well, the hope was still there and we continued to sporadically add names to the jar. As months of trying turned into a year, we tucked the jar away until we got pregnant again. Then we immediately dug it back out and began filling it with names again. All the names we added were folded so we couldn’t see them and we didn’t share the names with each other.

After we lost the second pregnancy, the name jar was banished to a closet and began to collect dust. We waited a while before bringing out the jar with our successful pregnancy, but bring it out we did. This time, we actually looked at the names and made comparisons. Tim and I did not have a single girl’s name in common in the jar. In fact, we were worlds apart in our name suggestions. Tim leaned towards more common names (a.k.a., boring) and I kept my family’s tradition going by having some off-the-wall suggestions (like Paisley)!

Needless to say, finding common ground on not one, but TWO names proved to be a challenge. We debated and disagreed and ultimately came up with THE LIST. A list of names that we thought we wanted. One day we were going to visit my family and had about nine hours of uninterrupted driving time, so we brought the list and my phone so we could consult with www.nameberry.com, a baby naming website. It was the longest negotiation of my life.

I was anticipating a similar level of drama when we tried to choose a name for this baby. We had thrown away those slips when we had our girls because we figured we’d never be able to afford treatments again and/or let me get pregnant again. But we had looked at both girls’ and boys’ names and we both put the same boys’ name in twice. A name made it in the jar FOUR times, so you’d think this would be the name we’d pick, right?

Wrong. This name hadn’t undergone the verbal test, nickname test, or bully test. Once we began testing the name, it was crossed off the list. This meant that it was nameberry to the rescue–I searched for similar names to the one we liked, and, low and behold, after rattling off about five names, I said, “I really like this one.” Tim said, “Me, too.”

It really was that easy. We went from nine hours of heated negotiation to finding a name in five minutes. Damn, we’re good!

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Welcome to the Other Side

When people hear me talk about my childhood, I’m often asked “Did you grow up in a commune?” I find that funny, because my parents weren’t hippies. We just didn’t have a lot, so we made do with what we had. We butchered our own animals, grew berries and vegetables, and were self-sufficient before self-sufficient was cool.

But these aren’t the things I remember about my childhood. I remember the fun, the games, playing outside, having a million cousins, and–most of all–having fun. We didn’t have a lot, but I also remember always loving Christmas. I don’t know how my parents did it. There was always a special gift just for us. We made homemade cocoa, sang christmas carols, hung out in p.j.s and tried to stay up all night for santa. We also attended midnight mass each year, and my brother puked EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR.

This Christmas, I really want to start creating those memories for my girls (minus the puking). Last night, Tim and I joined the roster of Santa’s elves and spent an enormous amount of time putting together two presents for the girls. One of which is way more dangerous-looking than I expected and could have only come from Santa (no parent in their right mind would get a toddler a gift that dangerous).thunderdome

We’ve been tired and cranky this week because we had a couple of last-minute orders of jars and cupcakes (a good problem to have) and P got really sick. An hour-long appointment and three prescriptions later, we have a schedule for all of the medicines they put that poor girl on. This has been wearing our patience for each other thin, because we are worried about her and tired. We don’t deal well with tired.

So back to Christmas. We both agree we want to make Christmas special for our girls, so we sucked it up and began cleaning and moving furniture and screwing a million little parts with an allen wrench so that our girls will have that Christmas wonder. We’ve truly become parents. And somewhere in between the millionth J-6 piece and part B, we just looked at each other and smiled, because we’re parents–we get to do this nowIt’s an amazing and awesome responsibility to put that wonder in a child’s eyes and to create magic and a lifetime of memories. It was worth every extra hour we stayed up. Waking up to that Christmas wonder, made Christmas the best holiday of my childhood, and I want the same for my girls, and someday this new baby.  

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The Secret Password

Now that I have children, I’m beginning to see how much infertility changed me. Conversation and small talk are becoming normal again instead of feeling like salt on a bitter wound. When you are infertile, your friends mean well, but they are usually part of a secret club called “Parenthood” already.

Because of this, you hear comments like, “When you have your own children someday….”, or “You’re lucky that _____________” (e.g., “you don’t have a kid keeping you up all night”). Now that I know the secret password and am a member of the club, I find myself falling into this same pattern of behavior, and I have A LOT of infertile friends. Because we were so open about our journey, a lot of people have approached me to ask questions about treatment or just to share their stories. We’ve fought in the same trenches and in many cases have become friends.

For so long, infertility and miscarriages made conversation difficult. Either something would come up innocently in conversation that would lead me to a dark place, or we would be mourning a loss or an unsuccessful cycle. I have a coworker who had a child the month our first set of twins were due and a friend who was married on the due date of our first child. I missed a Super Bowl party with a bunch of friends because I had a methotrexate shot two days earlier to end the ectopic pregnancy and I was in a very dark place. We haven’t been invited back to their house.   I’m also sure the crazy drugs they used to treat my infertility also didn’t help with the mood swings and personality changes.

The lifestyle changes infertility brings also made it difficult to have some of those normal conversations with friends. Infertility was a 20-30 hour per week part-time job. I had doctor appointments almost every day, was injecting myself with shots up to three times a day, wasn’t allowed to drink, and we cut out all activities that cost money (eating out, cable, etc.). All treatments and no play made me a very dull girl. And to be honest, the only people I found I could talk to about my treatments were my grandmother, a friend with a chronic condition who could relate, and other infertiles. These were people who understood the toll that constant doctor visits, shots, pills and potions can take.

All of these things made conversation difficult, even with friends and acquaintances. Perhaps had we found success quicker, worked harder at maintaining those relationships, or not had the miscarriages, some of these friendships would have held up better. I don’t know. All I know is that I attended a party the other night and, for the first time in a very long time, I felt like me again. Maybe it’s because I’ve found my success and the trauma of my difficult pregnancy has started to fade now that I’m blessed with two wonderful girls each and every day. Maybe it’s the adoption that is completing the healing.  Maybe it’s just time working its magic. I’m not sure, but I’m glad.

It’s really nice to be me again.

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My Heart Fell to the Floor

“I’ve been having regular back pains. I’m heading to the ER.”

My phone was dead and it had been a crazy morning. By the time I got my phone plugged in, this text was over an hour old. My heart stopped. My first thought was, “Back labor–she’s having the baby and it’s too soon!” When I was pregnant, I had gone into premature labor at 26 weeks and she was close to that. Up until that moment, it had not occurred to me that our birth mother would have any trouble in her pregnancy, or that there was any chance she could go into labor really early or lose the baby. This may seem odd, given the smorgasbord of complications I’ve experienced in my own pregnancies, but in my mind, getting pregnant easily seemed tied to an uneventful pregnancy.

Our birth mother doesn’t have a car. I contacted her–no response. So I called someone right away to see if she had contacted them for a ride to the hospital. Waiting on that answer seemed to take forever. There were frantic phone calls to Tim (he was out running errands with the girls). He talked me off the ledge. Then I got my first update–she had been to the small local hospital and they were sending her to a larger hospital with a labor and delivery department in the neighboring town (yes, in small towns there are hospitals that don’t deliver babies). The good news was that it didn’t appear to be labor. It was a 30 mile drive to the bigger hospital, so I had to wait another hour and a half for an update: the baby was putting pressure on her sciatic nerve, causing the pain.

I was immediately relieved, but at the same time was struck by the unfairness. I’ve had friends who had sciatic pain during pregnancy (thankfully I only had mine for a few days afterwards), and I know it is absolutely excruciating. The fact that she has to deal with this pain day in and out during the remainder of her pregnancy struck me as somehow adding insult to injury. She’s going through so much and then giving this baby to us. I know pregnancy and adoption aren’t easy, but I think this process has moved so quickly that I haven’t thought through all of the nuances. Will having to go through so much to carry this baby make her more reluctant to give him up? Perhaps. What manner of strength will it take to hand him over to us? How much faith does she have in our ability to love and care for him?

I am humbled by the responsibility and in awe of that strength. Someday our son needs to know that even though she allowed us to raise and love him, she loved him first. She carried him. She endured the pains of pregnancy and labor. It’s hard to say what their relationship will be like over the years. How will he feel about having other siblings that she kept (she’s young, it’s certainly possible)? Open adoptions can fade with time, or they can become awesomely close relationships–a true expansion of family.

It’s too soon to know what ours will be, or if it even will be for sure. But I’m ready for that story to unfold.

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