Cancer Ever After

Musings on Infertility, Adoption, Parenthood and Cancer

Tips and Tricks

There are little things we’ve stumbled on as we navigated the waters of infertility treatments and adoption–small changes we’ve been able to do that have helped us better afford trying to have children. If you are currently trying to finance treatment or adoption, maybe some of these will be new ways that will help you as you navigate.

Get a credit card with rewards. We used Southwest Airlines since our doctor was in another state. We used the Southwest credit card for every single payment for copays, groceries, etc. Then each month we would try to pay it off in full. This allowed us to charge as much as possible to get reward points, which we then used for airline tickets and gift cards. The Southwest card also lets you turn points into gift cards, which helped us when we had to cover daycare costs for twins. We charged daycare to the card each month and used our points for rewards at Walmart and Amazon to cover groceries and baby wipes. We’ve even continued to use those rewards to help us provide gift cards to our birth mom.

Know your insurance. This applies for both infertility treatments and adoption. Call, call and call some more. Ask for everything in writing and read all of the fine print. We had bills that were denied that we had to fight to get covered. We had to challenge to get out-of-network procedures covered as in-network. Do not accept the first answer. Read, research, and reach out for assistance. My first employer had a nurse advocate program that helped us navigate many of these issues. Knowing how you are covered and fighting the good fight can save you thousands. This also applies to adoption. Know exactly how the baby will be covered when it is born. How soon will coverage kick in? What happens if the adoption is disrupted? How much will you be expected to pay? This is a major expense in an infant adoption. Know how much you need to plan for. Also, talk to the hospital about using a payment plan.

Ask for coverage. My current employer does not offer coverage for infertility treatment. They announced they were doing an insurance review and I provided this letter from Resolve to our CEO and asked for them to consider coverage. They strongly considered it. Due to our size, the insurance plans would not allow it, but my answer was not an outright “no.” Infertility treatments can take years, so it’s worth it to ask for coverage starting the next year. When I asked them to consider adoption assistance instead with this package from the Dave Thomas Foundation, they added benefits. As one of my wise coworkers has said, “’No’ is the answer you already have. ‘Yes’ is the answer you can get.” Go get it.

Consider changing jobs. Ask your fertility clinic which employers offer infertility coverage. Review the Resolve website for a list of states that mandate infertility coverage and look for employers in your industry based out of that state. Before you accept any job, ask for detailed information on exactly what is covered in the medical plan to evaluate if the benefits are comparable to what you have. Ask friends to check their benefits at their companies. If you can get $30,000 in treatment coverage or $10,000 in adoption benefits, it might be worth a job change.

Track every last penny spent. If your medical expenses and travel-related expenses for medical treatments exceed 10% of your income, you can deduct some of those expenses. (Trust me, we’ve done this three years running.) Keep track of everything. If you aren’t sure, visit your insurance website and dowload all of your expenses for the year. Call each of your doctors and ask for a statement for the entire calendar year. Track down every receipt that you can. Then add them up and see if you can deduct. This holds true for adoption expenses, as well. State laws may vary slightly on what allowable expenses are, but keep track of every penny spent, both for your court finalization, and also for a possible adoption tax credit.

Loan, withdrawal, then distribution. Ideally, you won’t have to raid your retirement. But if you do, try to do a loan first, so that you are paying that money back and will still have retirement down the line. If you’ve already used that option, look into whether or not a hardship withdrawal is an option. Ideally, you would take this in a year when you know your medical expenses will exceed 10% of your income so that the early withdrawal penalty can possibly be waived. (Read the full IRS rules around this–I’m no tax expert.) The impact of taking a distribution is much bigger and this is only an option if you quit or change jobs. Use this as a complete last resort as it will deplete your retirement.

Negotiate your bills. The only one I’ve been able to do this successfully with is our cell phone/internet. Every six months, I have a chat with my provider and see if there is a new package that will save us money. We’re pretty bare bones, so there isn’t always savings, but the initial conversation saved me $40 a month, minimum. Also, consider ditching cable if you haven’t already. Amazon, Netflix or Hulu are viable alternatives that are much cheaper.

Libraries are your friend. Prior to infertility, I spent a lot of money on books. As soon as we were diagnosed, we began getting all of our books and movies through the library to save money for treatments. Find out how to preorder items online to get new releases. Work the system to get the books and movies you want. This can save you a lot on entertainment expenses.

Compare loan options. Tim and I contacted several places that offered adoption loans, and then on a whim, we also contacted our credit union. They offered both collateralized loans (if we had anything we could use) or home equity lines of credit at cheaper interest rates than the adoption loans we had looked into. What you can qualify for on loans can vary greatly, but don’t be afraid to shop around. The same is true for medical loans. If you have a hard time getting approved, the places that advertise for adoption loans or medical loans may be your best bet, but look at at least three of them. Compare rates, compare fees and compare how long they will let you repay on the loan.

Get your home study done right away! Our biggest roadblock has been our lack of a home study in the adoption process. We could only apply for one grant because we did not have a completed home study, which is the gold standard and a requirement for almost all grants. And even though we have our home study now, we don’t qualify for most of those, because the grant must be awarded before your adoption is finalized. Our adoption is simply moving too quickly for that. Do everything you can to get the work for the home study done as quickly as possible, so that you have more time to apply for grants.

I’m sure there are a million more tips and tricks out there if you are currently navigating these waters. Share yours! I would love to hear them.

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Speed Bump

The biggest surprise as we completed our home study was a requirement to document how we plan on being home with the baby for 12 weeks. Now we know why adoptions typically take two years and there is a very specific order for each step. In a typical adoption, this wouldn’t be a surprise because your home study would be completed months or possibly a year before you are matched with a birth mother. This would be part of your planning and you would be saving and negotiating with your employer to make this happen.

Honestly, we didn’t plan on being home with him for 12 weeks. My new company doesn’t offer paid parental leave, nor does my husband’s. Because I’m not giving birth to him we don’t qualified for short term disability, either. That means we will be down to one income the entire time we are home with him. My husband’s company is also too small to be subject to FMLA.  Luckily my new company has grown enough over my year with them and now offers FMLA. I also (just barely) meet the year of service requirement.

The surprise nature of this adoption means we get a little blind-sided as we go through the process. I knew my new company only offered short-term disability for maternity leave, but hadn’t really thought through how that applied to adoption when we said yes. I did realize later, but then assumed we’d simply have to take a much shorter leave than we’d like to be with Baby H. Unfortunately, a lot of mothers have to do this. I have so many friends that had to return to work after a mere six weeks.

The requirement to put in writing and sign an agreement on how we will be home with him for 12 weeks throws a wrench into everything. I understand the intention: to make sure we fully bond. And for an older child, I’m in complete agreement. Given that my girls didn’t sleep longer than three hours at a time until they were over 10 months old, I’m pretty sure that Baby H and I (and my husband) will have plenty of time to bond during the wee morning hours.

At the same time, I like the idea of a longer leave. I took 4.5 months of leave with my girls and would love to spend 12 weeks at home with Baby H. 

We’re just not sure we can swing it. I don’t know yet if this is a state requirement, agency requirement or an agency preference. That answer will guide how we handle this one. I’ve got a call in to the attorney to clarify, and then I’ll see what I’m able to negotiate with the home study agency.

The funny part of this is that the more time we take, the harder it will be for us to bond with Baby H in some respects. We were planning on leaving the girls in daycare for the first few weeks so that we have one-on-one time with Baby H. We need a little time to ramp up to being parents of three. And if my sleep deprived memories are correct, it’s hard those first few weeks, or months. To swing three months of parental leave,  the girls will have to quit daycare as soon as he is born and Tim & I will get a crash course on staying at home with three littles full-time.

For the sake of everyone, we hope to very gradually transition the girls from their current daycare to their new one, and give them some time to get used to the new baby. I’m actually dreading the daycare change. They are happy where they are and it’s going to big a big change to go to an in-home provider.  Too much change at once is tough on toddlers. We want them to react as positively to Baby H as possible.

They’re too young to understand most of what is going on, but they will definitely notice the difference once he’s here. We want to do everything we can to make the transition easy on them, so that they are loving and caring with him. We love him, and we want them to as well.

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Best Day Ever!

Okay, maybe not the best day ever, I’ve had some good ones.  But it was an amazing day.  If you recall, a few months ago, I girded my loins and approached the c-suite at my new employer to ask for adoption benefits. I had contacted the Dave Thomas Foundation and received a slew of helpful information and the beginning of a proposal for benefits that I could take to my employer. This was actually Tim’s and my first step before entering the world of fundraising for adoption.

I had worked the past 10 years at a company with phenomenal adoption benefits, and knew my new company didn’t have them when I took my current job. We thought this path was a route we wouldn’t take. This new employer offered more flexibility and time with our girls, and we thought that the girls would be our first and last children. We both misjudged how we would feel about wanting another child. We didn’t realize that adoption would be our path.

It was tough to go to each executive and ask for this benefit, especially as a new employee. I put together a proposal for an adoption benefit in November, and was told it would probably take them two weeks to consider. I followed up in two weeks, and they didn’t have an answer. I followed up again, and they still didn’t know. At that point, I assumed the silence was my answer. They weren’t going to be able to swing it. We’re a small company, so I could understand that.

So imagine my surprise when the CEO asked me to stop by his office after a meeting to touch base on a project. He told me, “We think what you are doing is a great thing, and we support you. I can’t say yet exactly what the benefit will look like, but we are going to add one in time for your adoption.” I started crying right then and there. Nothing like crying in front of the head of your company, right? What could be worse?

Later that week, we had our employee Christmas party (in January) and I was called to the front to receive a peer-nominated award. I was thrilled. To have my coworkers think I’m award-worthy in my first year is amazing. The CEO was presenting the award, so while I was up there, he announced that we were adding an adoption benefit. Everyone knows that Tim and I are trying to adopt and are fundraising. I couldn’t help it. I cried again, this time in front of the entire company.

Heck, if someone were to mention the benefit tomorrow, I’d probably still burst into tears. It just means so much to me, to us, to our family. It brings us worlds closer to holding our son in our arms, and it’s truly amazing that my company is willing to add this benefit. I don’t know if the benefit will reimburse us for some of the expenses or if it will included a paid leave for adoption. I just know that anything is better than nothing. It’s amazing and wonderful. Now, excuse me, I need to go cry some more…

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Penny Wise, Pound Foolish

Our birth mother doesn’t like her counselor. This is a big problem.

“A good counselor can be the difference in an adoption going through or failing,” said my very staid and serious attorney. The birth mother not liking her counselor worries me. And it’s not just about the adoption going through (although I want it, too). The counselor is there for her after the adoption, as well.

This is the person who helps her on the path of healing. Even though the adoption was her idea and she requested it, this will be a loss, and she will need to mourn and heal. It’s important to us that she have a good counselor.

When we began looking at home study agencies and counselors, we went with our second choice for both because the second choice agency offered an economical package for both options. This was the only place that could coordinate both the home study and counseling. The price tag also swayed us. And at that time, I spoke to their counselor and loved her, so it seemed like the perfect solution.

Then our birth mother moved and received a new counselor–a counselor neither one of us is very impressed with. She missed an appointment, and then she was late for the next one. She seems scattered and, quite frankly, doesn’t focus on what our birth mother wants or needs. Now I feel like we made a poor choice because we were worried about the cost. And this was all BEFORE the appointment in which the counselor spent a total of 10 minutes with her in the presence of the driver I had arranged. And none of that time was spent talking about the adoption. NOT IMPRESSED.

After talking to our attorney and going over everything we learned in this process, we decided it was time to find a new counselor. I contacted my original first choice. She costs a lot more, but I LIKE her so much more, and I think our birth mother will as well. At least, I hope so. She needs have support as she continues down this path. Our birth
mother is going to meet with both counselors next week and let us know who she would prefer to work with. I just hope they click.

The counseling sessions will add up. It’s probably $2,000 to $3,000 we weren’t planning on spending. But the counselor also plays a pivotal role in the process.

I won’t lie–I want a counselor that helps our birth mother be sure that this is what she wants. If she’s going to back out, I’d like to know before we get to the birth and before we’ve spent too much on the legal fees and process. I think a more experienced counselor will help us determine that.

But I also want to make sure the birth mother has the support she needs. I’ve never given up a child for adoption, but I’ve lost children and I know that it hurts. I need to know that she has someone to turn to and will be able to start the process of healing. The hardest part of adoption is knowing that no matter what, one of us walks away with empty arms.

If it’s going to be her, I need to know, for my own peace of mind that she has support in place. For now, I’ll hold my breath and hope that she likes the new counselor. That they click. If they do, it will be money well spent.

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12,182,400 seconds

It may mean I’m absolutely neurotic, but I calculated the number of seconds from when we found out about the adoption to the due date for our son. I was driven to do this because it was exactly the same amount of time I spent on bedrest with my girls: five months. Twenty weeks. 141 days. 3,384 hours. 203,040 minutes. 12,182,400 seconds. When I was on bedrest, I drove myself crazy with worry and I would swear that every second felt like an hour. I’m not sure I took a deep breath until we made it to 28 weeks and I knew the girls had a fighting chance to survive. Every moment after that was a second I held dear as I knew it was a stronger chance that they would be healthy and it meant less time in the NICU.

I can’t help but compare that to the five months that is flying by with this adoption. The first two weeks were a blur. Days felt like seconds as I consulted attorneys, chose a home study agency, and found a counselor. There were a couple of days where time flowed normally, but as we realized we would need to fundraise to help meet all of the costs, time entered warp speed.

Sell baby gear and odds and ends around the house, fill out paperwork for the home study, line up counselors, meet with the birth mother, fundraise, apply for grants, and research loans. Find a place to have a pancake feed–check. Find a place for a community garage sale (still working on that), make flyers, send emails, write PSAs, get the word out, network, connect with friends to see if they can help, and line up every dollar we can. There is still at least $10k that we know we need to bring to the table, plus we need a plan in place to fill any gap if our fundraising falls short.

And today, I received the final paperwork that I have to complete to prove how we will fund this adoption in order to get approved as a prospective parent. Please don’t let this be a roadblock. Our medical hardship from our 401(k)s fell through. My new employer doesn’t allow it, nor does my husband’s, much to our surprise.  We were counting on that. No time to mourn or think. It’s time to explore other avenues. More phone calls, more emails. Luckily, I have friends in the right places to get answers. We think we have a plan in place to replace the money we were counting on from our 401(k)s. I will juggle, I will dance, I will sing–anything to bring my son home.

In some ways, this is no different than someone with a surprise baby. Can anyone really afford a first child, a second or a third? Maybe not, but we can love him. More importantly, we are willing to take on the challenge of affording him for the rest of our lives. Three kids in daycare doesn’t make me bat an eye. Three in college at the same time? I’m game.

I’ll stay up late and crunch the numbers. I’ll call banks and line up possible loans all week. We’ll have a plan in place to gather our 10k (or more) and be able to answer all of those questions to get approved as adoptive parents. I will squeeze the life out of every one of those seconds we have until our son arrives.

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