Cancer Ever After

Musings on Infertility, Adoption, Parenthood and Cancer

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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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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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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On Miscarriage: Part Three

I was 15 weeks and one day pregnant when I thought my water broke.

I knew something was wrong immediately. Fluid was rushing down my legs. I was hysterical, but the more I cried, the more fluid I felt, so I forced myself to stop crying, sure that if I didn’t move–if I barely breathed–that would give the babies a better chance of making it.

I laid on the floor waiting for the EMTs as my coworkers stood around me and tried to help. I had to give my miscarriage and medical history in front of my entire department, a new department I had joined about four months prior. Someone called my husband and my mom. I was barely coherent enough to tell my mom I wanted her to drive down immediately.

We were losing the babies. I still remember the doctor telling me I was being admitted “to observe the miscarriage.” They were going to do some testing, but I should prepare myself that the babies would probably not make it, given the volume of blood and fluid I had lost. It was just too early and at their gestational age, there was no chance that they would be viable.

I was admitted to the labor and delivery floor–an event that is usually greeted with joy. A sonogram was dutifully ordered, and to everyone’s surprise, the babies appeared to be fine. There was still enough fluid around them and their hearts were beating strong.

Nurses woke me throughout the night to check if my body had begun the miscarriage. I continued to bleed and lose fluid, but no cramping. Another sonogram was ordered first thing in the morning and the babies were still fine.

It was a miracle. It was early enough in the pregnancy that there really wasn’t any medical intervention they could do to help me keep the babies, so the doctors sent me home with a laundry list of signs and symptoms of miscarriage to watch for. I was to contact them immediately–I would have to be in the hospital if I miscarried because I was so far along and it was twins.

We were told, “At this point, the only thing you can do is pray.”

At that time, they determined I had a large subchorionic hemorrhage and one of the placentas was partially torn. I was put on strict bed rest and told that we would revisit that once I stopped bleeding.

That was the beginning of 141 days of bed rest. My girls were fighters. They held on through more hemorrhaging, a placenta previa, gestational diabetes, preterm labor, and preeclampsia. My body struggled daily to maintain the pregnancy and eventually my liver stopped working properly.

My husband took over all of the day-to-day tasks, cooking, cleaning, shopping, and yardwork in addition to working full time and preparing the nursery for our girls. He brought me freshly cooked dinners and spent the evenings with me anxiously awaiting the results of the daily blood draws. They would determine if my liver was still functioning properly.

It’s funny–during this time my only worry was the babies. Even as the doctors poured over the results of my daily blood draws and scratched their heads that I could appear to be as healthy as I was when my liver function was in the the tank, I only worried about my girls being able to stay in me long enough to be healthy.

Tim, on the other hand, prayed that he would not be asked if he wanted the doctors to save me or save the babies. Every doctor I saw (I believe it was 12 doctors in total) told me the goal would be to get to me 32 weeks.

My girls and I defied every expectation and held on until 35 weeks.

They were both born healthy. They are the miscarriage that wasn’t. And I’m so thankful for them each and every day.

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On Miscarriage – Part One.

PRIMAL SCREAM. That is the sound that reverberates in your head, in your heart, in your soul, when you are told you are losing a child. It’s hard to explain how real that child is to you, even when it’s not yet real to anyone else.

Our first is what I would call the miscarriage from hell. I had started my period (or thought I had) that morning and Tim and I were getting ready. I can’t remember what we were talking about, but when I suddenly yelled at him and then proceeded to start crying, he said, “Are you sure you aren’t pregnant?” We had been trying for a little over six months. I remember saying to him, “I just started, it’s not possible.” But, I went ahead and dutifully peed on a stick. Positive!

We were both giddy with excitement. I calculated my due date (the baby would be due the day before our one year anniversary), called the doctor’s office right away for an appointment, and just basked in it. I was only mildly concerned that I was still having a period. I asked about it when I scheduled my appointment and they brushed off my concern with “You’re fine–if the test said you’re pregnant, you’re pregnant and everything will be fine.”

I continued to bleed. After three days, I called the doctor’s office again because I was becoming concerned. This time I was berated for not coming in immediately–it wasn’t normal to bleed. I had to go in that afternoon for a blood draw. Tim and I discussed possible baby names. I began looking at baby bedding online.

They got the results. I was pregnant, but they wanted to do more tests. At this point, I knew nothing about betas, HCG levels, or ectopic pregnancies. I just knew that the doctors and nurses kept reassuring me that I was pregnant.

We were worried about the bleeding, but continued to be excited. We started working on taking down wallpaper in one of the spare rooms because we wanted to get the nursery ready.

I went back for blood work every other day for the next two weeks, and I continued to bleed. The nurses weren’t quite as peppy as I continued to come back, but I couldn’t get any definite answers. My levels were a concern, but they were within the normal range for pregnancy. We just needed to give it more time.

When I was five and a half weeks pregnant, they gave me the first ultrasound and we didn’t see anything.

“Does that mean I lost the baby?” I asked. They reassured me. “No, it’s still early. Your dates are probably off.”

I was becoming more alarmed with each visit. Our joy had turned into a constant concern, but still we dreamed. Was it a boy or a girl? And I continued to bleed every single day.

At six and a half weeks pregnant, I received another ultrasound, and another at eight weeks. Still no definite answer. At this point, I was afraid to dream of little booties and blankets. I had consulted Dr. Google and friends, and I knew that something was definitely wrong. I still bled every single day. They wanted me to schedule one more follow-up. I lost it in the doctor’s office right then and there.

“Why are you doing all these tests?Why won’t someone just tell me what is going on?” I burst into hysterical tears and a nurse took me into a separate room.

This was the first time an ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage was ever mentioned to me. Eight weeks into this beta hell. They had been drawing my blood every other day for weeks. My levels continued to climb, but at a slow rate, and that, combined with lack of a fetal pole or heartbeat on the ultrasound, meant the pregnancy was ectopic.

I could wait and do one more ultrasound (which is what they were scheduling), or I could go ahead and take a cancer drug that would end the pregnancy. There was no chance that the pregnancy was viable. If I waited, there was a chance I could lose an ovary, but they honestly weren’t exactly sure where the pregnancy was developing. They just knew it wasn’t in my uterus.

I’m sure they said more. All I heard was that my baby wasn’t going to make it. The little boy or girl that we had been hoping or dreaming of had no chance to make it because it was an ectopic pregnancy.

I cried for what seemed like an hour. Then I pulled myself together enough to find out more from the nurse. It was too much to process. I needed time and I needed my husband.

The time after that was a blur: talking through options, arranging for the methotrexate shot, going to the hospital. And then more bleeding. Ten weeks of bleeding in total. That is all I had to show for my baby. And more blood draws.

My levels still weren’t dropping like they wanted and if they didn’t drop by a certain amount, I would need a second shot. If we got a second shot, it would not be safe for us to try to conceive for at least six months. It felt like one blow after another. I just found out that I lost my baby, and then you tell me that you want to pump me full of drugs so that my body becomes toxic to a baby?

Luckily, my levels dropped. I took a week off work, and I cried myself sick every damn day. My husband was at a loss. Something that was so very real and so incredibly wanted was ripped from us.

My soul reverberated with that primal scream–a scream of complete anguish. I couldn’t see friends. I couldn’t have conversations. Life as I knew it was forever changed. This loss was profound and deep for me.

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