Cancer Ever After

Musings on Infertility, Adoption, Parenthood and Cancer

Canceled

I received an email from the counselor letting me know our birth mother had canceled her next visit with her. And then the counselor will be on vacation. Two weeks with no visits and the adoption is less than two months away. My heart sank and I texted Tim immediately. He quickly called me over his lunch hour so we could discuss it.

This could have been as simple as our birth mom not feeling up to it that day, but as possible parents, we weigh and measure every interaction with our birth mom to see if there is a sign she will change her mind. I promised that Tim and I would start talking about when, not if, we have Baby H home with us. This is harder to do than I thought.

We came into this adoption with scars from our previous losses. In our home, we have a closet that we can’t bear to open because it contains the mementos from our other babies. Babies that we didn’t name because that made the loss even more real. I regret that now. There are certain days that I will be in a funk because the memories just pile on–the dreams of what might have been: our due dates, meeting a child who is the age they would be now, seeing a set of identical toddler twin girls, the anniversaries of our miscarriages.

We both thought that we had healed from our losses, but little events like this bring those losses to the forefront. Should we be worried that she canceled? Have we done something wrong? At the end of the day, we want to make sure that we have done everything we can to reassure her that we want this child more than anything and will love him completely.

I can’t imagine the pressure to choose parents to raise your child. How do you know that you are picking the very best ones? I can’t promise that we will be the very best parents out there. I can only promise that we will try. We will work hard to raise him right. I know that we will love him completely.  We already do and he is not even here.

So I called. I spoke with her. I’m going to drive down after the girls’ bedtime this week so that I can go with her to her next doctor’s appointment. In an ideal world, Tim and I would both be there, but we can’t swing that. She and I are going to go out to lunch together and spend a little time getting to know one another better. We’ll have two visits instead of one this month. She needs to know that she is giving him to parents that will love him. She needs to feel comfortable with us. She deserves to learn more about us and what kind of parents we will be.

Baby H deserves this too. For our open adoption to work, we need to build a relationship that will last through the years. We need to make sure we have a common goal: doing what is right for Baby H. We need to be able to have comfortable and cozy visits throughout the years. We need to expand our hearts and our minds so that we can all become part of one big family for his sake. He deserves this.

For now, we’ll start one step at a time. Tim and I will both visit with her in two weeks to continue to build that bridge. We will take small steps that will help us lay the foundation for the rest of his life. I’m starting two baby books–one for us and one for him. I’m going to put pictures of his birth mom and family in one book for him. As he gets older, we can update and add pictures together throughout the years. I want him to have a place for pictures of us and his sisters, but also pictures of his birth family throughout the years. Hopefully, one baby book will turn into several.

And hopefully, canceled is just that. An inconvenient appointment, not a sign of something more.

 

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Snake Oil Salesman

What do you envision when I say the phrase “snake oil salesman?” Someone seedy? A quack? How about those who actually bought the snake oil or whatever was being sold? Until infertility, I always envisioned those who tried these “miracle” cures as fools. How could they be so naive as to believe that a certain tonic or elixir would fix them or their loved ones? I’ve come to learn that I was looking at this from the wrong perspective.

Two or three years ago, I could easily have been that eager audience member clamoring to buy the magical cure-all elixir. Imagine for a moment that you lived in the days before chemotherapy. In a time where there was no diagnosis or treatment for Crohn’s or Graves’ disease. All you know is that a loved one is wasting away before your eyes, or they are in unbearable pain. If there was even a sliver of a hope that what’s in the bottle could ease their symptoms or make them go away, would you take what that bottle offers? I bet you would.

That’s what infertility is like. What you want the most in the world is just out of your reach. You have no real explanation as to why things aren’t working; you just know they aren’t and you are willing to grasp at any straw. I used to live in online fertility forums. I’ve read stories of women who tried eating pineaple cores for a week or did head stands after sex in the hopes of getting pregnant.

I’ve tried many things myself: acupuncture, supplements, pills, shots, exercising, not exercising, yoga, meditation, eating clean, eating diary-free, and even electro-acupuncture. I was willing to try almost anything to get our miracles. I swear I even read of not one, but two, ladies who drank cow urine. The fertility industry, at times, reminded me of the stories of the snake oil salesman. People know they have a built-in audience that will do anything for the cure. Tim and I spend hundreds of dollars on all sorts of fertility cures in the hopes that it would bring us our dream baby. There’s not much that I wasn’t willing to try. (Although you’ll be proud to know I never did a handstand or drink cow urine.)

As you pursue the dream of family, it’s hard to focus on facts. It’s hard to weigh your options and it’s hard not to be swayed by a sexy speech that promises more. It’s surprisingly hard to trust your doctor.

There is a fine line between advocating for yourself and trusting in your doctor. I don’t believe that you can trust anyone completely with your health or your future because no one has as much at stake as you. You have the strongest motivation. But it is critical that you trust the doctors who you work with and believe in their judgement.

As a patient, I had to advocate for testing. I knew, based on past medical factors, that I had one weird thing in my blood. I didn’t completely know what it meant, but I knew that for some people it could be related to infertility and miscarriage. But it’s rare to be asymptomic with it (outside of miscarriages). My first doctor brushed my questions aside. I didn’t push. After we lost our identical girls, I demanded answers. He had none.

We researched more, and we decided to trek to Colorado to find a specialist who might know more. He immediately asked for more testing. In the end, it was determined it was a factor in the infertility, but not definitively the cause. It was a suspected cause for the miscarriages, and it did change our course of treatment. As we made that journey, I struggled to make sure that our decisions were based on fact, not some pitch. I read medical journal after medical journal to see the research firsthand. After he reviewed how he would treat us, I asked for articles related to the course of treatment. I needed to be sure that we weren’t pinning our hopes on snake oil. I also had to trust in him and his team and know that they had a wealth of experience to give us our chance at take-home babies.

That’s our one and only successful pregnancy.

That’s what brought me to seeking out medical professionals before trying to get pregnant again. Honestly, we received mixed answers. Some of the doctors felt like the risk of repeat complications would be much less with a singleton pregnancy and others felt like it wasn’t worth the risk. All counseled us to weigh another pregnancy very carefully. In my husband’s mind, it was never worth the risk. That’s why this adoption is such a blessing. We don’t have to roll those dice or take that chance. I don’t have to risk not being there for the two miracles that I already have in order to have a chance at having a third.

I’m not sad about missing out on another round of bedrest, or being sick, or being worried each and every day that I will lose another baby. That my body will kill another baby. A constant, overwhelming fear that something could go wrong at any moment is the strongest memory I associate with my pregnancy. The stories of a biohazard team being called in to clean the blood from my office floor and the entire floor being shut down after I hemorrhaged is funny in a not-so-funny way now, but it’s not a path I want to go down again.

And I don’t have to worry about falling for some miracle cure being sold by a snake oil salesman.

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Fire Drill!

“We’ve finally got your background check back in. Does this Thursday work for you for the first home visit?”

$*#&@*. While I am utterly relieved and feel vindicated that my background check did not show me to be a spy during the extra month of unending waiting for it to come back, I wasn’t expecting the home study to be scheduled with so little notice.

Tim and I had asked lots of questions about what would be reviewed during the home study and I, in my usual fashion, had made lists of the things we needed to accomplish: install fire extinguishers, test all of the smoke alarms, get an extra smoke alarm/carbon monoxide detector for Baby H’s room, clean the house from top to bottom, finish baby-proofing doors and the tall cabinets now that the girls can climb, tackle the organization problem in the master bath…the list was exhaustive and seemingly endless.

And we’d accomplished exactly ZERO of them.

Between the fundraising, making cupcakes, the biggest alliance partnership in the history of my company being launched and completing essay after essay after essay for the home study, we have been tapped out the last few weeks. Both girls developed a bad diaper rash out of nowhere, our cloth diapers needed to be stripped ( a two-day process), I needed to get a million things done for the fundraiser on Saturday…

And Phoebe was sick. Again.

This time we had to take her to an allergist and immunologist. I broke down after that appointment. I hate taking her to a place that makes her cry, and she has been to so many doctors that she cries as soon as she recognizes the type of place that we are in. Sometimes Hazel chimes in out of sympathy. Luckily, this time there weren’t any blood draws or anything painful for her. We have a new regimen for her breathing treatments and inhalers and hopefully we’ll get through the rest of the winter without incident.

This was just one of those days where everything seemed to be piling on to break me. Tim and I want this baby so badly and we are so afraid of doing something wrong and screwing it up. When I got the news about the last-minute home study, I knew it was time to call in reinforcements.

One mass text and several responses later, we had help lined up for the next couple of days. A couple of late evenings and a little flexibility occurred in the form of working from home, so I could shuffle everything successfully and swap loads of laundry over during conference calls and between meetings.

I could breathe again. Sometimes you have to break down in order to get clearheaded. We began breaking everything into manageable pieces that we could tackle, and getting everything ready for the home study actually went much better than we expected. Apparently, we are much more efficient at cleaning and organizing since we’ve had kids. We expected to pull an all-nighter before the home study, but we managed to be in bed by 10:30, which in parent time is the equivalent of 2:00 a.m. Not too bad.

AND OUR HOME STUDY WENT REALLY WELL! She had zero concerns, and walked around our house asking questions about the safety and how we did things. It went so well that a follow-up visit doesn’t look necessary at this point. (Makes me proud of my prep list.) We are at the finish line! We should have the final home study within two weeks and then we are ready for Baby H to come at any time.

 

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What if?

I took the plunge and ordered something off Etsy for the nursery. I wanted Baby H to have something that was handmade just for him. I realize that it’s not returnable, but we’ve turned a corner in this adoption. Tim and I have been letting our fears of another loss hold part of us back, but in the last few weeks, our hearts have become even more open.

I’ve realized that I needed to turn a corner in my mind so that my heart is truly and fully ready when Baby H is born. I have to change from saying “if,” to “when.”

When I get to hold him in my arms, when we get to take him home, when he gets to meet the girls. He deserves more than me waiting for the other shoe to drop. It’s my fear that’s holding me back, and I need to get past that for his sake.

So I did something small. I ordered a handmade blanket just for him. We looked at cribs and debated which one we are going to buy. We are finally tackling the nursery. This is no small project.

When we bought our house, we were able to get it for a song because, well, it was ugly. Southwest wallpaper, dead animal decor, eighties-splendor-ugly. The outside was zombie flesh with chocolate trim. We bought the house pre-infertility, and it has been cathartic to tackle renovations throughout the house as we started and stopped treatments. We had, in fact, tackled every room but Baby H’s. His room had a lovely wallpaper with fishing lures and a border of fish that our girls loved to touch and point at.

And the wallpaper was stuck directly to the drywall. They also used some strange paint that peels off in jagged sheets. Needless to say, his room would look much better if we just put new drywall in, but we’re going to tackle it the old fashioned way: with a whole lotta spackle. Hopefully over the next two weeks, we will patch our little hearts out and get the walls in a place to be primed and painted. Our baby mama (aka birth mother) asked for pictures of the nursery and I told her it was “a work in progress.” That’s the understatement of the year!

But it’s time. We have less than 60 days before Baby H makes his debut into the world, and we want him to be welcomed fully. I know a baby doesn’t care about his nursery, but preparing the nursery helps us prepare for him. We don’t have a growing belly or day-to-day aches and pains to remind us how far we are in this pregnancy. I think prepping this room will help us finish turning the corner so that we are ready for Baby H.

The question continues to hover: what if this adoption falls through? But I am banishing that thought from my mind.

When.

When we bring him home, his room will be ready. When we bring him home, he will sleep next to our beds at first. When we bring him home, our counter will overflow with bottles and sippy cups. When we bring him home, our hearts will be full to overflowing.

When.

Not if.

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Rumor Has It

The Negative Nelly side of myself has been researching failed adoptions. I just can’t help myself. My research has actually been making me feel better about the chances of our adoption going through. Based on what little I’ve been able to find, my greatest fear actually has the smallest chance of occurring. From what little I can glean from the interwebs, just 1% of adoptions fall through after the baby is born. Instead, most adoptions fall through in last two months of the pregnancy.

As I write this, we have 65 days left until Baby H is expected to make his screaming debut into the world. This is the window we are in.

I mentioned previously that I am from a small town. Our birth mother is currently in a small town, and well…small towns are like any other part of the world. Rumors get out. Rumor reached our ears of the birth mother possibly having a distant family member wanting to adopt the baby. Talk about your punch in the gut! We hope it’s not true, but as we’ve researched adoption, we’ve certainly run across adoptions where something like this has occurred. It’s not out of the realm of possibility.

Tim and I tried to put on a brave front for each other, but after we put the girls down for the night, we started talking it through. Our hearts were shredded at the possibility that there could be some truth to this rumor. But we still have hope that this will all go through. The one shining beacon we hold on to is that our birth mom has continued to reach out to us several times since this rumor reached our ears, and has talked through the adoption more with us. We’ve even talked a little bit more about the delivery and she reaffirmed she likes the counselor. She continues to call us, and we have to have faith that we are the parents she has chosen for this child.

We know it’s not as simple as someone just adopting the baby. They would have to jump through just as many hoops as we have even though it’s a relative adopting the baby. They could keep the baby, but without going through all this legal mumbo jumbo, it wouldn’t be an official adoption.

We’ve debated them, we’ve weighed them, and at the end of the day, we’ve decided to give little credence to the rumors. We can only focus on what we can control in this journey. The rest relies on the beauty, strength and resiliency of the human spirit. Again, we have to have faith that we are the parents she has chosen for this child. That she sees in us two loving parents with built in older sisters for this child. We have to pray that she has the strength to follow through on her conviction that this child needs a new home with us. We have to assume she is being open and honest with us.

Because sometimes, rumors are just rumors.

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