Cancer Ever After

Musings on Infertility, Adoption, Parenthood and Cancer

What Cancer Stole From Me

You have to remember, I’m coming at this backwards from a lot of young men, women and children who are diagnosed with cancer. For far too many, cancer steals their dream of a family, their ability to have children. For someone who is young and diagnosed with cancer, they are often told there isn’t time to preserve their ability to have a family in the future.

Cancer couldn’t steal that from me.

I am already infertile. I’ve already fought that war, and I’m so blessed to have three amazing children to show for it.
Cancer also shows you that you are mortal. It steals the illusion that you will live forever. It adds a paranoia about your health, worries about cancer coming back, fear about developing a complication. It changes your expectation from living into your 80s or 90s into one (once you survive) of living into your 50s or 60s.

Cancer couldn’t steal that from me.

I have an autoimmune condition that contributions to my infertility, and is quite possibly to blame for me getting cancer. For now, I’m diagnosed as MCTD (mixed connective tissue disorder), but my rheumatologist really believes it’s lupus, even though I don’t meet the clinical criteria. I have no illusions about a life without health complications, because for the last six years, my health has been nothing BUT a series of complications. This is the reason they think my liver failed in pregnancy. It’s why no additional pregnancies are recommended for me.
I’ve poured over the scholarly articles. I’ve read the statistics. My mortality has been shoved in my face for several years now.
Tim’s and my reaction to the cancer diagnosis was shock, followed by “of course, it’s cancer.” That’s just the world we live in. I’m the 2%, medically speaking. I thought my one advantage coming into this battle is that there wasn’t much more that cancer could steal from me.

I was wrong.

Tim and I were in the process of donating our frozen embryos and the process takes a little over a year. We started the process the month Baby H was born because we knew our family was complete, and even if we decided down the road it wasn’t, my body could not sustain another pregnancy. We both wanted to donate our embryos to another couple.

We’ve gone down both paths in this infertility journey: IVF and adoption. We know the heartbreak of loss and we know how much you can love a child who comes to you as a gift from another. Those embryos represent hope for another couple, a chance for someone else to find their family. They are the dream of something more–that one of those embryos could become someone’s sought-after child.

 Cancer stole that from me, and it breaks my heart.

Cancer also took that hope from somebody else and they don’t even know it. One or maybe two couples could have had a chance to find their family.
Our fertility clinic notified us today that we are no longer eligible to donate our embryos. The logical part of me understands. My type of cancer has a genetic component, and, combined with my autoimmune disorder (which is sometimes genetically related), the clinic can’t broker an embryo adoption in which a couple may end up with a child with a possible known genetic condition. If I were looking to adopt an embryo, I wouldn’t take that chance.
My heart is an entirely different matter. I’m sad, angry and whole host of other emotions I can’t even describe. I mourn the loss of hope and want to rage at cancer for taking this from me, from us, from those possible parents-to-be.

 

 

 

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Resolute

“I just want you to know, I’m not going to change my mind about giving you this baby.”

For those of you who have been reading my blog for a while, I’m sure that it’s apparent what my biggest fear is. I’m so afraid of losing another child. We’re not unusual–hell, in the infertility world, we’re not even a particularly sad story. I know women who have had four, or five, or even six miscarriages.

I can only admire the strength it takes to try again when that much pain has gone before. Tim and I had discussed this at length and losing a fourth child was our limit. We would not have attempted another pregnancy in my body. Amazingly, my girls held in there, my body held out long enough and they are here with us today. And even though they both have ear infections, one is getting a set of molars in as we speak and my evenings and nights this week are filled with crying, fussiness and very little sleep, I wouldn’t miss a single solitary minute of it.

“I just want you to know, I’m not going to change my mind about giving you this baby.”

When our birth mother made this statement, I could hear the conviction. She was addressing my biggest fear head-on. And I believe her. We both believe her. I’ve focused so much on my journey, our journey, in the blog, because her story is simply not mine to tell. But that doesn’t mean she hasn’t been on a journey of her own; that she hasn’t thought this adoption through.

Sometimes, I think that maybe she is light years ahead of me in this process. She knew about this pregnancy long before we did and had those extra months as she contemplated her options and decided on adoption.

We’re playing catch-up. We entered with far more exuberance and hope than knowledge when we dived into the adoption. And we’ve stumbled our ways ever since. I finally feel like we have the right team surrounding us to help us navigate the waters of this adoption. The new counselor is stepping in to help with the entrustment ceremony. She’s also offered to help us finalize a plan for contact between our families going forward. I welcome an experienced person to this process. I’m not sure how it all should work.

This is where I believe a private adoption is definitely harder than an agency adoption. The middleman is lacking in a private adoption, and you either have to hire one or figure it out on your own. You have to ask the right questions in order to find the answers. And if you fail to ask, you may stumble into a quagmire.

To me, an agency adoption appears to have this central lynch pin. For us, this help comes from so many directions. Our home study agency suggested the classes, and has provided direction on key steps in the process. This is really going above and beyond what we’ve contracted with them. The new counselor has done the same.

“I just want you to know, I’m not going to change my mind about giving you this baby.”

In the end, whether we stumble inelegantly or move with the grace of a gazelle through this process, nothing else matters but the end result. Every minute of worry, every bit of effort we’ve put into this process will be worth it when we hold our son in our arms.

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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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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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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On Miscarriage: Conclusion

I shared the details of our miscarriages and our pregnancy so that you can understand what it was like to be in our shoes. I don’t pretend to know what it is like for others as they have miscarriages. I just know it hurts no matter how or why it occurs.
I also don’t know what brings other people to adopt. I just know that for us, given our history, when this chance to adopt was offered to us, both of us had the same answer. It was simply, “YES!”We were at a cocktail party and someone asked us how we determined we wanted to adopt. As we explained how we fell into this adoption, I realized it may seem like we jumped into it without thought. We had actually weighed and measured adoption ad nauseum prior to having the chance to adopt Baby H. We had looked into home studies and domestic and international adoption. We had spoken with several agencies. You see, if we miscarried again, this was our most likely path. We’d already had discussions about adopting transracially and talked through our thoughts and feelings on that.

Our only hesitations were the cost, potential wait to be selected and the failure rate. I imagine that a failed adoption feels a lot like a miscarriage — it rends your heart in two. This was our biggest fear with adoption. We weren’t sure at that time if we could handle another loss. The wounds were so fresh. We closed that door, and committed to medical treatment thinking we had a better chance of success.

That door remained closed until a text message sent it bursting back open. We both knew immediately this was our path to our third child. In fact, our only thought (other than “yes”), was “Why didn’t we think of this sooner?” It just felt right. This was our path, this was our son. This was our answer.

The second reason I shared details about our miscarriages is because I’ve been on the other side. The side on which you have a friend who is hurting from a miscarriage and you don’t know what to do. You can’t fix it or make it better, but you can make a difference. Because of this, I want to share the following suggestions:

If someone you know has a miscarriage:

1.) Acknowledge their loss. It matters. And it’s a loss for both parents, not just the one who bore the child.
2.) Simply be there. They may not be willing or able to talk, but your support does matter.
3.) Make a gesture that shows you realize this loss hurts. Send a card, send flowers. Drop food by. Anything that you would do for someone who lost a loved one, consider doing it for a miscarriage. One of my friends simply popped by with a casserole after our second miscarriage. I wasn’t answering my phone, I barely answered texts, I hadn’t showered in days. She rang the doorbell, burst in with the food, a hug and a card, and then quickly left. But it mattered. That was the only food we ate for a week. I couldn’t bring myself to cook. That gesture remains close to my heart to this day.
5.) Offer support, not platitudes. It’s hard not to say, “It was God’s plan,” because there are no words that can make it right, but the wound is too fresh. It takes time to gain perspective. Consider saying, “I’m here for you, I’m happy to do whatever you need.”
6.) Ask what they need, or simply hug them. Keep in mind, they may not be in a place to tell you what they need yet.
6.) Help them find a way to memorialize their child or children. In most miscarriages, you don’t have a body to bury. There is no funeral. This makes it difficult to get closure. For us, attending a ceremony after our second miscarriage made us feel like all of our babies were remembered, and we continue to remember them this way each year.
7.) Remember, it’s okay if you are not sure what to do or say. Your being there makes all the difference.

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