Cancer Ever After

Musings on Infertility, Adoption, Parenthood and Cancer

Why Don’t You Just Adopt?

Five little words that hit you like a bullet. They hurt you on so many different levels when you are infertile.

“Why don’t you just adopt?”

Condescending, well-meaning, full of ignorance, so incredibly naive…These words are loaded, and, while I truly believe that everyone who ever uttered them to me was well-meaning, these words hurt when you are infertile. I also believe that they ignore the most central part of any adoption: the child.

“Why don’t you just adopt?”

I hope you’ve learned as we’ve gone through this process that there is no such thing as “just” adopting. Adoption is not easy, it is not simple, and it’s certainly not cheap. We have one of the most streamlined adoptions that I’ve ever heard of, and ours is still complicated, exhausting and difficult. There is no such thing as “just adopting.”

And, as an infertile, you have to be screened more in order to prove that you have healed from the grievous wounds that infertility has inevitably made on your psyche. It still gets me that when we looked into adoption before we had any children, roadblock after roadblock were thrown in front of us: “A one-year wait is required after ending fertility treatments.” “We would require that you undergo physiological evaluation and counseling prior to adopting because you are infertile.”

The real wound behind these five little words is they imply that you haven’t even considered adoption as an option. It’s an option that I think every infertile considers at different points along their path. We considered and reviewed it several times, and our views on adoption changed throughout our journey.

The one view that never changed was that we had to KNOW beyond a shadow of a doubt that being adoptive parents would be in the best interest of the child. Infertility gave us oodles of time to contemplate and quantify exactly why we wanted to be parents. We knew exactly how far we were willing to go in pursuit of a child, something that most people never consider. Adoption is not the magical solution to a problem and adoptive children are not a consolation prize. They are THE PRIZE.

For us, we had to reach a point when we knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that adoption was THE answer. And it had to be the right answer. When we received that text offering us a child to adopt, we each only had one word in reply: “YES!”  That’s what made us know that this was our answer – the only one we needed.

We never doubted at any point that we could love a child who wasn’t born of our bodies. We doubted that we could withstand the journey to get him or her. Adoption is a long and arduous path. It’s emotional and it can be draining. And if you are infertile, you may be starting this trek when you are already low on reserves. You’ve been dealt emotional blows; physically you may have gone through exhaustive treatments. An oft-quoted study in the infertility world shows that infertility patients undergo the same level of emotional stress as HIV or cancer patients. Imagine the gravity of the stress you would be in, and then apply that to making a decision that will forever alter the life of a child. It’s not to be taken lightly.

Adoption is also expensive. That was another one of our hesitations.  With adoption, the majority of the money is paid before you ever know for sure that you are going to have the child. Relinquishment is one of the final steps, well after all legal and adoption fees are incurred. It’s a bet. It’s a gamble. It requires a leap of faith. Once again, you have to know that you are willing to pour all of your money and resources into something that may not pan out. You can spend every last dime you have and still not have a baby. One of my friends described the difference between international and domestic adoption very well:

“In international adoption, you pretty much never get an infant. If you’re lucky, you bring home a 6-month-old. But in an international adoption, you pick a number and stand in line. You know that you will have a baby in the end, you just have to be patient and wait your turn. It could take one year or it could take three.

“Domestic adoption is different. You can get a newborn, but you also take the risk that you will make it to the end and go home empty-handed–or that you won’t be selected for a baby in the first place.”

I’ll be honest. I don’t know that we could have stayed the course in this adoption–that we would have remained as calm–if we didn’t already have other children. I know the little pregnancy scares we’ve encountered these last few weeks would have given me a heart attack if I hadn’t had a very complicated, but successful, pregnancy of my own. Hearing that our birth mother’s mucus plug fell out at 30 weeks or that she is in the hospital and they are monitoring the contractions at 34 weeks is not for the uninitiated–trust me.

And then there is the most central part of any adoption: the child. We have taken every step and evaluated every option with the child in mind. Often, when we’ve mentioned the complicated and expensive process of adoption, people say, “But you can adopt from foster care.”

That isn’t a simple answer, either. Every child deserves a parent who loves them fully, who is prepared to learn and grow and be the parent he or she needs. Not everyone is prepared to parent someone who may have special emotional needs or medical needs. This is often the case with foster care. Tim and I considered this very carefully and we were never able to say that we knew we could be the right parents for a child or children from foster care. We don’t know that we are cut out to be foster parents and adopt through that system.

Maybe this will change someday, but until we know this, until that day, those children deserve better. Personally, I feel like a child with additional emotional needs would benefit from a parent who is staying at home with them. Me being a stay-at-home mom was our original plan when we started trying for a family years ago, but we have loans now that we took out to get our girls. Staying home is no longer an option.

And, finally, we get to my other pet peeve about adoption. Think about Angelina Jolie for a moment and her children. How often do you hear people refer to her “real” children and her “adoptive” children? Our son and every child of adoption deserves to be accepted fully. There is no line drawn between “real” and “adoptive.” This child is not a second-class citizen, and there will be no qualifier when we introduce him to others.

If you don’t know that you will simply see this child as your child, then you are not ready to adopt. If you don’t believe you can withstand the process of adoption–the emotional rollercoaster–and emerge as an emotionally healthy parent, then now is not the time to adopt.

That is why “just adopting” is not an answer to an infertile couple. It has to be about what is right for the child, not what’s cheap, perceived to be easy, or socially acceptable. It’s a big committment of time and emotional and financial resources. You have to be ready to commit fully to enter the process. And there will be times when you question if you are doing the right thing. You have to have the reserves to make it through the doubt.

Every infertile couple is different in their journey. I know couples that have gone immediately to adoption, and I know others who knew it would never be the right fit. Unfortunately, I also know others who have tried, and failed, to bring home a child and have no additional resources–emotional or financial–to try again.

I would compare considering adoption versus infertility treatments to determining the course of treatment for cancer. You know whatever decision you make will impact the rest of your life. You have to carefully weigh the options, risks, and benefits and determine what gives you the best chance of a successful outcome.

And it’s not a static answer.

Sometimes, one little thing happens that tips the scale. My crappy liver, even crappier immune system and overall health issues made a pregnancy in my body a path we weren’t willing to go down. The scale tipped. Risks from another pregnancy were greater than the chance of an adoption falling through. The cost of the adoption didn’t seem so bad when weighed against possibily losing five months of income again and paying for more treatments. In other words, our perspective changed. Adoption became THE answer.

And this child will be our son, but make no mistake: we are not “just adopting.” We are blessed to have this opportunity to adopt. We are so lucky to be able to have a son and third child. He will never be an afterthought or a consolation prize.

So please, don’t say we “just adopted.”

Want to support our adoption? Help share our story, or consider making a donation to our youcaring page.

 Baby H will be home soon!

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Ultrasound

The news of a last-minute ultrasound had us rushing west to visit our birth mother. I was so excited! Excitement about an ultrasound may seem normal to you, but in my world, the infertile world, ultrasounds were usually the source of despair and bad news, not good news.

I’ve had at least 100 ultrasounds, and I’m not exaggerating that number. You have ultrasounds with intrauterine insemination procedures to see how follicles are developing, you have ultrasounds to see if cysts are developing and if your cycle has to be canceled. You have ultrasounds three or four times per IVF cycle to see how you are responding to medicines. Those ultrasounds are tense as you wait with bated breath for “good” news. But it’s hard to quantify. Everyone responds so very differently and it’s hard to know if something is “good” news.

And then there are the ultrasounds that are branded in my mind. The ultrasounds when they tell you something is wrong, or you just know it is. When the doctor told us we were carrying mono/di twins and it would be a high-risk pregnancy, worry overcame the joy of finding out we were finally pregnant again. That ultrasound sent us scurrying to research TTTS (Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome). When they couldn’t find a heartbeat–any heartbeats–those two ultrasounds were branded in my mind. They do an ultrasound right before they do a D&C. It’s final confirmation that the pregnancy is over. That’s the ultrasound that quashes the unreasonable hope you’ve held dear.

When they thought we were losing our miracle babies, that was one of the worst ultrasounds of my life. The ultrasound tech was unskilled and it took over an hour to find out just a few key pieces of information. I thought Tim was going to whip the wand out of her hand and do it himself. He did end up telling her how to measure the fluid and find the key items to confirm if the pregnancy was possibly still viable. Him being there kept me sane as I endured a very uncomfortable ultrasound on one of the worst days.

I realize if I looked at my ultrasounds objectively, calculated and added them all up, I’ve actually had far more good or benign ultrasounds than bad. But infertility has made me an obsessive worrier. With all of the complications we had in our successful pregnancy, ultrasounds were a constant source of anxiety. I couldn’t breath until they checked everything off this list. They were worried about the fluid level around the babies, they were concerned about the constant bleeding and they continued to make sure a placenta had not torn further. And a lot of it was simply my anxiety. Each ultrasound felt like a judgement on whether or not my girls would make it. For so long, the doctors would say “We’re just going to take this day by day. It’s too early to say how this pregnancy will turn out.”

This ultrasound was different.

Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m simply less afraid. I know he’s in a body that is more equipped to carry him. And the pregnancy is going well. It’s so far along. Whatever it is, I could not have been more excited about this ultrasound.

Getting us all in the room? Well, that was a bit like watching the Three Stooges. No one was available to watch the girls, so we had twin toddlers, the two of us, the birth mother and the ultrasound tech crammed into a space really meant for three people. We were juggling blankies, sippies, squiggly toddlers and a very pregnant birth mom. It was a ridiculous amount of work just to get us all situated in the room.

1-Hand 1-Foot

And then we got to see him. Wiggling and moving. So gloriously wonderful! He was waving his hands and his lips were puckered up. It looked to us as if he was blowing us a kiss. I got to see him kick and move. He kicked so hard the birth mother’s stomach jumped! It was wonderful. There was a little sadness too, that I’m not the one who gets to feel him grow, but those feelings faded as I got to see him on the ultrasound. Perfect little fingers, perfect little toes, the spine, the face, the head. Everything was perfect. He will be perfect. He will be ours. I’m so glad that we were able to get this glimpse before he arrives. It helps make it even more real, it helps how close we are TO HAVING A BABY sink in.

We’re having a baby in mere weeks! There is so much we have to do!!!!! Cue the panic.

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Another Leap

We started this process of adopting by taking a leap of faith. Our hearts simply screamed “YES!” when we were offered the chance to adopt Baby H and we had to follow our hearts. As we leapt heart-first, we decided would worry about the practical details later.

We took another leap when we dove into the world of adoption fundraising and realized that money would be a barrier to completing this adoption. We decided that we would share our story and hope that others would want to help us complete our family; that there would be others that felt that us bringing Baby H into our hearts and homes was worth supporting.

To be honest, we thought we’d be lucky if we raised $1,000. Neither of us had ever tried to fundraise before and we lacked knowledge and skill as we blindly entered into the process. Today we are blown away to realize we’ve raised over $6,000.00. That’s enough for a car, a down payment on a house–that’s enough to cover most of the legal expenses for this adoption. An insurmountable hurdle to having a third child has melted away due to the generosity of friends, neighbors, and even strangers. We have been so blessed by those who have rallied to our cause.

There are so many people that we can’t even begin to thank them all. The unpaid editor of my blog, the friend who has done all of the graphics work and helped set up this website, the friend who helped us brainstorm fundraisers and get publicity, everyone who helped serve at the pancake feed, friends who sold our raffle tickets… the list goes on.

This process has made me more aware of the generosity that surrounds us. It’s the little things that make a big difference. During one particularly rough week, when bills were piling up, someone left a stack of coupons for Silk yogurt at Target. They were expiring soon. It was nothing for them to leave a coupon they wouldn’t use.

It made my week. It made it possible for me to treat my diary-free toddler to her favorite food on a week that we were cutting back on everything to afford this adoption. Another person donated $10 to our youcaring site and said “I know it’s not much.” But it is: that $10 means so much. The fact that you are giving me the only $10 you have to give to help support this adoption says worlds about your heart. Thank you.

I’m blown away by the parents and neighbors of coworkers that contributed to our cause after hearing our story. They don’t even know us. We know that the world is full of generous, wonderful people thanks to our fundraising. We’ve been the recipient of that generosity first-hand.

I’ve also learned that everyone has a story behind what you see every day. As we’ve opened up to others throughout this process, people have shared these struggles. I’ve heard stories of miscarriages that were never shared, secret desires to adopt or stories of adoptions that fell through. Others told of their struggles to pay for medical bills and asked how we went through this process and how much time it takes. What I’ve learned is that you never truly know what is on someone else’s plate at any given moment. We judge others by the cars they drive and the houses they live in, but give little thought to what life may have thrown at them after those purchases were made. Hopefully, I’ve learned something through this process about helping others and being more aware of their needs.

And now we leap again. We need to leap heart-first into welcoming our son into our home, hearts and arms. To do this, we will put a pause on any fundraising. Our youcaring page will stay active, but we need to focus on welcoming our son. The time draws near. We must take a leap of faith yet again. We will have faith that the costs will be less than we project, the adoption will go uncontested, that we will be able to line up a loan for any gap in what we have raised and saved. We will pray that everything goes smoothly from here on out.

We will also leap into the unknown world of having three children. That leap brings me to tears. For someone who couldn’t have any children to have a chance to end up with three, it’s a dream come true. I’d take that leap any day.

 

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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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A Real Man

One of the girls had a total meltdown because the bathroom door was closed the other day. “What’s the big deal? Typical toddler behavior.” And that’s true. This is nothing new, but what was new is that my husband was the one in the bathroom. The girls have decided to “pick their favorite parent” this month and they are not sharing. Hazel picked Tim.

The bathroom door being closed was the equivalent to declaring war on toddlers. Her rebel yell could be heard throughout the house. What made this incident so memorable is what I saw next. She quieted down immediately after Tim opened the door. And when I walked past the bathroom a few minutes later, I saw her sitting on his lap reading a book. I couldn’t stop myself. I whipped my phone out and snapped a picture (much to Tim’s dismay) and then solemnly promised not to share.

This is what a real man does. I’ve heard and been part of numerous discussions between women on what a Real Man is. I’ve heard and read countless complaints about how men don’t help out, or aren’t part of raising their children, and I honestly don’t get this at all.

Sometimes I think the limits placed on what men do and help out with is placed by the women in their lives. In our circle of friends, the guys are all very active and involved in their children’s lives. Maybe my circle is limited to the 10 or 20 men out there who are like this, but I don’t think I’m wrong. It’s time to redefine our collective definition of a Real Man in our society.

To me, a Real Man is a wonderful father. He shares in all the experiences of parenthood. He changes diapers (or in our case, washes every single one of the cloth diapers because I have the world’s most developed upchuck reflex). He cooks, he cleans and he gets up for middle-of-the-night feeds.

We live in an equal-opportunity household. When Tim talks to people about how we parent, he gets a lot of surprised reactions. He often hears, “But you’re the guy!” It infuriates me that men are somehow expected to do less or be less, and society chalks that up to being a Real Man.

While I agree that each couple has to find their own groove and figure out what works for them, I vehemently challenge the assumption that a Real Man is someone who does not participate in raising their own children or who would be emasculated by cooking or doing the dishes.

You can’t be a part-time parent during the formative years and then expect to be the confidante or buddy during the soccer-playing or Boy Scout-attending years. I challenge the idea that a Real Man doesn’t help with any of the care for infants or toddlers. I disagree that a Real Man doesn’t help with the cooking or cleaning.

Without my husband’s help, I would not have survived the first six months with twins, let alone breastfeeding them. He got up with me for every single feeding. EVERY. SINGLE. FEEDING. It was very difficult to juggle two babies when I was so sick from the delivery and subsequent complications. We both woke up around the clock for months. And he did it while working full-time. I didn’t go back to work until the girls were four and a half months old.

In my view, a Real Man does what’s needed to care and provide for his family. This may be repairs, this may be working two jobs, this may be changing diapers and cooking dinner. At the end of the day, a Real Man loves his children. Whether or not a guy is a Real Man is not measured by what he looks like or what his hobbies are. It’s about what he does with his heart and his time. A Real Man loves his family and, yes, a Real Man lets his daughter sit on his lap while he tries to go the bathroom.

Every morning, afternoon and evening, every minute of every day, I am so glad that I married a Real Man.

P.S. I caught the man who swore I would never hear him sing, singing to our girls last night in the nursery. I’m so in love.

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