Cancer Ever After

Musings on Infertility, Adoption, Parenthood and Cancer

Unraveling

We are nearing the due date, and Tim and I have had to narrow our focus to the essentials in these last few weeks: working on the baby’s nursery (it’s a de-wallpapered disaster), building our relationship with the birth mom and really working to define how our open adoption will work, and spending quality time with our girls.

Those are the essentials. The nice-to-haves are a clean house, healthy meals for the girls, and some sleep. Everything else has been stripped as non-essential. There is only so much of us to go around and we need to focus on what matters most.

I thought we were doing much better at this. After some additional conversations with our birth mom, we decided a trip with all of us was in order. It was last-minute, so Tim and I spent a frantic Thursday night and Friday morning packing. The difference is we now have several trips under our belt. We have begun to feel that we are getting good at it. Diaper bag: check. Pack-n-play: check. Clothes, food, medicine, coats, shoes…The list is endless, but we finally felt as if we had it down, right to the big blow-up ducky tub (since my girls are terrified of my mom’s whirlpool tub).

We should have known better than to get cocky. Three hours into the drive, we realized we forgot the diaper bag. So there was an emergency stop for wipes and no diaper cream to be found at 10:30 at night in the middle of nowhere. It wasn’t until we got to my mom’s house that we realized that we had forgotten the most critical item–the pack-n-plays. Since most people have babies one at a time, my mom only has one pack-n-play from the years of my nieces and nephews staying. We always bring one from home.

Always Make that usually. We forgot the pack-n-play. It made for a miserable night. Luckily, my mom had a toddler mattress we could use, but poor Hazel fell out in the middle of the night. Our forgetfulness was even more apparent in the harsh light of day. One of Phoebe’s inhalers was missing and the nearest pharmacy that could fill it was 30 miles away. And then there were the coats. Somehow, we managed to forget one of the most critical things for a Kansas winter.

I felt like a terrible mom. If I ever needed a sign that Tim and I had spread ourselves too thin and weren’t functioning at our best, this was it. Luckily, after a very short night (Hazel didn’t sleep much at all), we were able to solve most of them. The DG was having a clearance sale on clothes and our girls now have two very Valentiney tracksuits to help keep them warm. Blankets solved the rest. Vaseline is a great emergency diaper cream. We were getting our mojo back.

And, after a little sleep, I think we also started to regain parts of our minds.

Despite the chaos and forgetfulness, the visit was worth it. We had some great conversations and talked through the birth plan for when we are at the hospital. It was a really great chance to make sure we are all on the same page. It was exactly what we needed.

 Want to help support our adoption? 
Visit our youcaring page and make a donation. Until March 1, each $20 donation will get you entered to win a 3 night stay at the Lake of the Ozarks in Osage Beach Missouri. View here for more information.

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Trust Me

“I want the baby to be baptized before we do the hand-off.”

I’ll admit this request surprised me a little bit, mainly because our birth mother has never asked about our religious beliefs. But the timing was rather serendipitous. We had just spoken to a acquaintance who had given us the entire story of how both of her domestic infant adoptions worked, from the open adoption and what they agreed on with the birth family, to how it was working for her and her children 10 years later. Her open adoptions involved not just birth mothers, but also grandparents.

One of the items she had emphasized was how helpful the “handing-off, or entrustment” ceremony was for her and her husband, and how the birth parents had later said it was helpful for them as they embarked on the journey of healing from the adoption. Tim and I both really liked the sound of that. Both of her adoptions were done through the same agency, and the agency had put together the ceremony and then had each of them write a statement expressing their commitment to the baby and to the open adoption.

This request was the perfect chance to bring this up as an idea. We really want our birth mother to determine what she wants for the hand-off and the counselor has been working on this with her, but she’s been having a tough time deciding. The hand-off is going to be unbelievably tough for her, and it would be nice if it gives her the ability to embark upon the healing she will need to do after this adoption.

Infant adoption is not universally liked, and I can see why. If a child is removed from their parents for abuse or neglect we feel justified–they are “going to a better place.” Emotions are much cloudier when a parent knows that they are not prepared, they are too young, or that one more child is more than they can support or handle. In infant adoption, the birth parent is motivated not by apathy or hate, but by love. And, in the case of infant adoption, that love causes pain. We don’t like to think about the pain involved.

I don’t know her exact pain, but it will be a profound loss that she will have to grieve and heal from. Just like I had to grieve and heal from my losses. My healing is still not complete, and I imagine that it will be years before hers is, either. What I do know from my own experiences is that having a ceremony for the babies I lost helped me heal more completely. Having something concrete to hold onto, proof of their existence, helped me.

She’s open to creating a ceremony where we baptize him and say words as the hand-off occurs–an “Entrustment Ceremony.” Now I need to do a little research. Neither one of us has an agency to guide us in this. This ceremony needs to be shaped by what she wants or thinks she needs, and we need to be flexible. Emotions will run high that day and our plans may just fly out the window. But the process of preparing for the ceremony can be healing in and of itself. We’ve asked her to write letters to him and we’ve started a baby book. We’re collecting pictures of her and her family. We want him to have the same type of album that anyone else would have–a book where they can compare where they got their eyes, nose or height from.

There is a second book in the works, a book for her. We bought her a book to start her collection of pictures and letters throughout the years. She wants the photographer to take a picture of her with Baby H so that she has a picture of her with him. I think that is a wonderful idea.

By and large, we’re flying blind and making things up as we go. We’re googling and researching, and she is, as well. Her counselor will hopefully help us define the process. In the end, an entrustment ceremony makes sense to me, because she is doing exactly that. She is entrusting the greatest treasure in the world into our care. She is placing her trust in us.

Want to help support our adoption? 
Visit our youcaring page and make a donation. Until March 1, each $20 donation will get you entered to win a 3 night stay at the Lake of the Ozarks in Osage Beach Missouri. View here for more information.

 

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What’s in a Name?

“I want to name the baby after my father.”

This text was a complete surprise. About a month and a half into the adoption, the birth mother had asked us what names we were considering for the baby and we had shared our chosen name with her. We’ve been referring to him by name in conversations between us. I thought we were in agreement on this.

“The counselor says that I can name the baby and then you can change the name.” This is true, and I was trying to figure out why this felt so strange to me. I think it’s because it makes me feel like getting a puppy at the pound. The dog has a pound name, like Lucky or Lassie, and then you name it as part of the process of taking it home and making it yours. Not everyone renames, and certainly not an older pet that you adopt, but it still feels strange to me.

And yet.

This is her child. If this is something that she needs to do to show how much she loved him, than I support it. We support it. Tim and I started to talk this through and I asked her what her father’s name is. I laughed when I received the text. Oddly enough, it’s a name that I jokingly use as my husband’s middle name when he’s in trouble. (It’s not his actual middle name.) It’s a standing joke between us.

I didn’t answer her right away. We need to consider how we wanted to handle this. We just weren’t sure what the right answer or response was. We tested the name as a middle name with the first name we selected. Then inspiration struck: how about giving Baby H two middle names? Part of me likes this. This gives him something tangible from his birth mother, proof that she wanted to give him something as she gave him to us. The other part of me wonders what it will be like having so darn many names.

We proposed using it as a second middle name: our first name, her middle name, then our middle name. I don’t know. We don’t know if this is the right answer. To be honest, we’re still not entirely sure how we feel, but we proposed this to her as an option to see what she thinks.

“That has a nice ring to it, actually.”

If I’ve learned nothing else throughout this adoption, it is how little we are in control of the way things are going to play out. I’ve learned how to relax and be flexible. There is so much that we don’t know about this process that we need adapt to. It will be no different as we raise him. This will be new to all of us and we will all have to learn our way as we go.

Want to help us bring home baby h? 

Visit our youcaring page and make a donation. All proceeds will help cover the legal and adoption expenses. From now until February 28, you will receive an entry into a drawing for a 3 night stay at the Lake of the Ozarks for every $20 you donate.

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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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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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