Cancer Ever After

Musings on Infertility, Adoption, Parenthood and Cancer

Unprepared

There has been one aspect of this adoption that I haven’t delved deeply into during my posts, not because it’s unimportant, but because it is so very important. Race. This is a transracial adoption. We are adopting this baby knowing that someday he will face reactions and discrimination that we have never experienced personally. He will have a view of the world that we will never fully understand or share.

That’s the tough part. I’m not naive. I know discrimination is real. We live two miles from Missouri and Ferguson could easily be in our backyard. I’ve seen the youtube video of the father whose adopted daughter was bullied because of her race, and I bawled my eyes out on her behalf. I saw myself in his shoes some day, and I can only hope I handle it with the grace and aplomb that he did.

I have biracial nieces and nephews. I have friends who have been called “the token Asian,” or something else jokingly, yet in a not-so-funny way, most of their lives. We live in a world that notices race. Our son will not look like us and this will be a reality of his life, for his entire life. People will undoubtedly make rude comments in public before he can even understand them, and that won’t change. It will be obvious he is adopted.

To learn how to handle this, we’re taking classes and we’re talking through scenarios to think of how we will handle things when they happen. Because we know that something will. The middle school years will likely be the hardest. Or will it be high school? Growing up as a young, black male in a predominantly white neighborhood and school will have its own challenges. And there are nights that this keeps me up. How will the world treat him? How can we protect him? What do we need to teach him? How do we equip him for the world?

Just like being adopted, his race is part of who he is: an important part. But neither one of those factors are the sum total of who he is or will be. It will be our job to guide him as he assimilates these pieces into the whole of who he will become. I think both factors will shape him and his view of the world, but events do that, too. As parents, we will be a strong influence. How we raise him, how we love him, the example that we provide–that will shape him as well.

Tim and I have had to realize that we will have to learn as we go on this. We can study and talk to others to get general ideas of issues that we may run into, but we will never be fully prepared. I don’t know what I would do if my son were bullied the way that girl was in the video. But as I watched it, I, sadly, wasn’t surprised by the way the teenagers acted. I know that this type of treatment exists in the world. And I also know that I won’t be able to wrap my son or daughters in cotton. They may be bullied, they may be teased. It could be because they wear glasses, have out-of-fashion clothes, are too tall, are too short, are adopted, or because of their race. I can’t control what others do. What we can focus on is how we will support our children when these things happen.

We shape how they internalize what others say to them. This is what I need to focus on. I need to help him handle the negativity that may come his way. Tim and I need to be prepared to talk through these things if and when they happen. We need a plan of action to handle rude comments in public. We need to be able to maintain our cool like the guy in the video when faced with assholes who discriminate.

This is our son. Period. We will learn and grow as we need to in order to be the parents he needs. That is our vow. That is our promise.

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It’s Open, Baby

“What does the ideal open adoption look like to you?” – One of a million questions on our Home Study packet.

We knew when we first began researching domestic adoption that our adoption would most likely need to be open. I don’t know the exact percentage, but every agency we researched focused largely on open adoption. This seems to be the overwhelming majority of the types of adoptions in the United States. And if you want an infant, this seems to be the way you have to go.

Our research also led us to believe that an open adoption is better for the child. Open adoption isn’t just about telling the child they are adopted. That can occur in both a closed or open adoption. An open adoption means that the child and birth mother and/or father may have contact with each other through pictures, letter or meetings throughout the child’s life. It also means that the adoptive parents have the birth family’s information and the child will be able to know the birth parents full name and date of birth. This is so the child can reach out to their birth parents without going through a registry or exhaustive searches if the contact has faded during their lifetime.
For us, it’s the benefit to the child that really sold us on an open adoption. I know that I grew up hearing, “You look just like your daddy,” or “My, you are the spitting image of your Aunt SoAndSo.” As I grew up, I used to love/despair in equal measure the inherited traits I received. As an adult, I began to question what was truly inherited versus what was environmental. I do have my Daddy’s dimples–that’s true. But I also have his facial expressions- is that because I look like him or because I grew up using the same expressions as him?

I don’t know now, but I imagine that some day our son will wonder about what is inherited versus what about him is just like us. Will he have his daddy’s sense of humor, his mama’s laugh? We don’t know yet. I imagine that we will look at him and see a whole lot of us as he grows up. There will also be a lot that is uniquely him. Will there be times when he feels that he is different and is desperate to have a connection? Probably. This is why we’ve chosen an open adoption. It’s about allowing him to have the chance to find the answers that he needs when he needs them.

We’re not sure what the answers will be. His view of his birth parents will undoubtedly change throughout his life, as will his view of us. We can love and guide him to acceptance, but most of that journey will be his. We can just do what we feel is best for him as his parents and make sure that the opportunity for answers is there when the questions arise.

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Curveball

“I want you to be in the room with me during the birth.”

This may surprise you, but my first reaction was total panic. I have no idea what happens during labor! Hell, I barely understand what happens in a normal pregnancy. My pregnancy consisted almost entirely of morning-till-night puking and then months of left-side leaning.

Despite all of the complications, it was actually my water breaking that determined when my girls made their entrance into this world. And then, after being reassured that it was very unlikely I would go into labor and having my c-section scheduled for four hours later, my contractions started. I (who hadn’t had a single Braxton Hicks contraction during my entire pregnancy) went into full-blown labor immediately with contractions less than two minutes apart. My scheduled c-section quickly turned into an emergency one. From there, I only remember a few things: Hazel’s first cry, Phoebe’s first cry and seeing my girls for the first time before they were whisked to the NICU. I vaguely remember urging my husband to go with them to make sure they were okay. The last thing I remember is the two surgeons calling for a third because there were complications.

When I woke up, they wheeled me into the NICU to see my babies. And then nothing else mattered.

As you can see, this experience has in no way prepared me for a normal labor and delivery. I don’t know what someone goes through or what I should do as I’m by her side. At the same time, being there with her and seeing my son born will be one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

Once I let the idea sink it, I became overwhelmed at the possibility and realized I couldn’t be more honored. That is such a personal moment and it’s amazing that I will get to be there when our son takes his first breath. The only shadow is that my husband can’t be there, too. He would love to, and, since he works in the medical field, is probably the wiser choice. But, well, he IS a guy. I get it. If I had my choice, the 26 doctors and nurses in the room with me would have all have been women.

I once compared this pregnancy to my pregnancy and said that this felt more like a “real” pregnancy to me in a lot of ways. This is still true. I just never expected labor and delivery to be one of the things that made this a more “normal” pregnancy. When we began considering adoption (prior to having our girls), I wondered if I would be missing out on the experience of a pregnancy. I now see that there are so many versions of what a pregnancy is like. I think infertiles rarely get the storybook version. If I’m able to be there through the delivery, this pregnancy will be far more like the one I always thought I would have.

So if you are considering adoption or surrogacy and are afraid you will miss out on the pregnancy experience, take heart. A surrogate can include you in her pregnancy and you will have your very own pregnancy experience. A birth mom can do the same. And also keep in mind that the vision you’ve built up in your mind may not happen in any of the scenarios. No matter the path, there is always one thing that will surpass your expectations: your child.

The path we’ve traveled opened us to the possibility of adoption. That’s what made our hearts scream yes, when every practical fiber in our bodies cautioned no. It’s also taught us to listen to our hearts. In the end, this journey will bring us to our son. It may be unexpected, it may not happen exactly as we envision, but I have no doubt that he will surpass every one of our expectations.

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Crystal Ball

“What are your goals in life for the next five years? Ten years?”

All we need to do is answer this and 20 other questions, complete nine more documents and get copies of government documents and court proceedings from obscure government agencies. In other words, the home study is going well. I spend at least 30 minutes of every day tracking documents down, and then I come home to questions like this. It’s so difficult to answer a question like this when you know your answer is being weighed and measured.

Do we answer this question with money and career in mind? Do we focus on family balance, or do we answer from the heart? We opted for a mixture, but here is what I would really love to say:

In five years I hope we are juggling three kids in activities and are complaining about carting them from one place to another. I hope we are scrambling to have dinner before 8 p.m. because our lives are so very full. I hope we spend weekends making lists of all the errands that we need to run and planning to do a deep clean and then scratching that plan because it’s gorgeous outside and we want to have a family soccer game in the back yard, or we just randomly decided to have a family fun-day at the zoo.

I hope in five years that we still remember what we went through to have our children and cherish them, even when they are having tantrums and developing personalities and strong opinions of their own. I hope that there are daily fights with constant claims that “Kid 1 and Kid 2 are picking on me!” In a house with an odd number of kids it’s bound to happen. We’re making a choice to forever be mediators in that unwinable war.

In ten years, I hope we are scratching our heads in confusion as the middle school years loom. I hope one of our toughest problems is a son with poor hygiene who doesn’t want to shower and has to be bribed with Axe, or some new in-fashion and boys and maybe a little drama. In ten years, I invasion drama and crying and rages being a part of our daily life because at that age YOU FEEL.

In five years or in ten years we may be in the same house or the same jobs; maybe not. But that won’t be the center of our universe. A job is what pays the bills, and it’s a nice bonus if you really like what you are doing. When I envision the future, I don’t imagine the time I’ll spend at a computer for work or entering information into a spreadsheet, and I know Tim doesn’t think about the thousands of ultrasounds he will undoubtedly perform. We have visions of the future and we have hopes and dreams about the things we want to do with our kids. We want to take them fishing, and canoeing, and camping. We hope in the next ten years those will be part of our springs, summers and falls. We want to have evenings by a fire in our backyard roasting marshmallows. We want to teach our children to ride their bikes and maybe ski. When I envision the future, I see two girls who have finally outgrown their pigtails and a small boy with dusky skin and short brown curls standing right next to them, quite possibly towering over them.

I hope these word prove prophetic. Time will tell.

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School’s in Session

In the normal scheme of things, you meet someone, fall in love and have babies with them. There is no qualification or license to be a parent. In a lot of ways, infertility makes you feel like you have to prove yourself worthy to be a parent. Somedays, you feel like you have to get an approval stamp to magically become a parent.  Adoption takes that approval process up about ten notches.

The 30+ pages of questions and essays Tim and I just filled out, are apparently not enough. We have to take classes. The fact that our adoption is transracial makes us subject to more scrutiny with the adoption agency. Somehow that hadn’t occurred to me when we started the process.  I guess it’s because adoptive children will always have to come to terms with being adopted and also because I will never have the same experience or perspective that my son will. These classes are intended to open to our eyes to some of the challenges we may face raising a child of a different race.

I have not been in his shoes. I don’t know what he will face or deal with.

But in some ways this is also true of my daughters. I was an odd child: a tomboy and proud of it. I was so rough and tumble, and any teasing that went on because of it pretty much rolled off my back. I didn’t grow up in today’s world of selfies, Snapchat, and a slew of fashionable children’s clothing stores. My girls’ hair is already longer than mine has been for most of my life. They cry when I take dresses off them.  I used to cry when I had to put one on.

I guess Tim and I will just learn as we go. Hopefully these classes give us food for thought and give us the ability to talk through how we would handle potential situations. Since we have to take 16 hours of classes, I sincerely hope we learn something from them!

So much of parenthood can’t be taught in a class. It’s trial and error, it’s a willingness to grow and change. There will be times when I do not know what to do, or I do the wrong thing. I just need to make sure that my children are secure in our love and know that whatever comes up, they can come to us, and we’ll figure something out together.

 

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