Cancer Ever After

Musings on Infertility, Adoption, Cancer and Widowhood.

3 a.m. Wake Up Call

The alarm went off at 3:30 in the morning, and all I could do was groan. Two or three hours of sleep wasn’t nearly enough. Yet, I forced myself to get out of bed and stumble to the shower in the hopes of waking up fully. I groggily suggested Tim go sleep on the couch so that one of us could get a little extra rest. This early morning wake-up call didn’t need to kill us both, but it was a necessary evil.

The original plan had been for me to drive to visit our birth mother on Thursday night and then take her to her doctor visit, go grocery shopping and then have a nice, relaxing lunch with her. It would be a short visit compared to the 8 hours of driving to go there and back, but it would help us continue to build on our relationship. For Baby H, we need to solidify that relationship so that we are truly comfortable and prepared when he is born.

That’s when all hell broke loose. When I picked up the girls they were acting a little clingy and fussy, but no alarms were raised. Tim and I juggled spending quality time with them and packing for my visit with our birth mother and for our upcoming rare weekend alone. We frantically packed, we juggled fussy girls, and we got them ready for bed. Tim was going to handle bedtime solo, so I headed out the door.

#&$*! I couldn’t find the gift card I had bought for our birth mother. I turned the car around and called Tim. That’s when the other shoe dropped: “Both girls started puking as soon as you left. They are crying and haven’t eaten a bite of dinner.”

I was so glad that I had already turned around. I drove home immediately and helped Tim manage the girls, rocking and comforting them. Poor Phoebe couldn’t understand why she kept throwing up and was scared of the bowl I placed in front of her. Finally, she was too exhausted to fight it any longer and fell asleep. Tim and I strategized in hushed whispers outside their door. I could go find the card and then try to drive down and arrive after midnight, or I could wake up and leave at 3:30 a.m. to make it there on time. The weekend alone was definitely canceled.

Neither one of us knew how serious this illness could be for the girls, so we opted for the early morning wake-up. The girls woke up four more times before I left, and we juggled toddlers and changed sheets, jammies, and diapers. I rocked and I comforted, trying to make sure my babies got a little sleep. As for Tim and me, I’m not sure we got much of any.

3:30 a.m. The alarm went off. It was time to get ready and head out the door.

As you can probably tell, the adoption and fundraising process are beginning to take their toll. And I have a responsibility to all of my children. If I’ve learned nothing else from infertility, I have learned that parenting is a privilege, not a right. I am privileged to have two beautiful girls and I will be honored if someday soon I have a son to join them.

Lately, I have been focused on one child’s needs over the needs of the others. I have no doubt that this will continue to be a challenge over the years as we have three children with different needs clamoring for our attention. It’s a battle that we are signing up to fight every day. I have to ask myself the hard questions as I weigh the needs of each. When I arranged to go back to visit our birth mom, I had no idea what life would throw at us that day. I’m glad I stayed, and it was worth the grueling 14-hour trip to make sure that I was there as they woke up sick in the middle of the night. It was worth the brutal trip back as I cracked the windows and talked with friends to stay awake and be a safe driver on the road, so that I could be back before dinner and bedtime.

We’ve reached a crossroads. That 3 a.m. wake-up call was a wake-up in more ways than one. We have to decide what our limit is. We only have one more big fundraiser in us. We need to be fully committed to building the relationship with our birth mom and with her family so that Baby H has the best upbringing possible. That takes time and travel. We need to be able to continue to focus on our girls and weigh their needs as we go through this process.

It’s time to ask for more help. We can’t make this last fundraiser the success it needs to be on our own. We need to see if we can get friends and family to help us sell just one or two, or perhaps five, tickets to friends of theirs. And we need to admit that we just might not reach our goal. Reaching our fundraising goal will mean nothing if we haven’t given this adoption the time and attention it needs.

We are a large part of the success of this adoption. We need time to get the nursery ready and get ourselves ready to have a third child. We need to start preparing our girls. They don’t fully understand yet, but there are things we can do to make the addition of another child easier on them. Which in turn will make bringing Baby H into the fold much easier on him and us.

We need to continue to focus on strengthening the relationship with our birth mother. It’s getting tougher for her as the time draws nearer. It’s becoming real and she needs more support. We’re beginning to have some tough conversations about how the adoption will continue to work throughout the years and how the hand-off will go.

In other words, we’re awake.

 

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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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It’s a Small World After All

How do you take the world and shrink it?

I’m from a small town and I’m used to word getting around in about five minutes when someone gets hurt or needs help.  It’s always a matter of six degrees of separation.  “Mary’s niece is trying to adopt a baby, and she’s having a pancake feed on Saturday. You should go.”   Talk to a few of the right people and word can get around a town of 5,000 in days. And this was before social media.  Now it probably gets around in a matter of minutes!  Don’t believe me? Ask anyone from a small town.

It’s different in the big city.  I don’t think human nature is any different, people are just as nice and caring, but you don’t have that feeling of connection with someone you don’t know, or only know through those six degrees of separation.  It takes more to compel you to act– you have to feel a connection.  Otherwise it’s just a sad story you heard about.

There are a few exceptions to this.  Events or things that make the world shrink can bring a city together. Unfortunately, tradegy is one of those things that can shrink the world.  I’ve traveled to New York pre 9/11 as well as in the months shortly after.  What truly amazed me post 9/11 is how New York felt like a small town.  The sense of community was overwhelming. Neighbors were helping neighbors and everyone went out of their way to help each other out.  New York City became every small town in America.  They were the very heart of America.

This also happens in times of joy or celebration.  The Royals playing in the World Series in Kansas City, helped shrink our city.  Weather you were a die-hard fan or indifferent, for a short time you were from Kansas City and you had a common cause.

This brings me back to the question, “How do you shrink the world?”.  What can we do so  people will realize that we are their neighbors, their friends?  That our story is the story of everyone who has tried to have a baby and wasn’t able to.

This is the true challenge of fundraising in a Big City. Tim and I don’t have a large circle of friends and for me, at least, meeting new people is hard. I’m an introvert who has trained herself to appear to be an extrovert.   No matter how often I speak or how many people I meet, my first instinct is to draw back. There’s always a spurt of terror at meeting someone new. To be honest, I’m perfectly content to live in my own mind most of the time; which makes shrinking the world a lot harder.

Tim and I have focused on sharing our story online because we are more comfortable with that, at least I am.  It’s hard to strike up conversations with strangers and I don’t tend to speak of the adoption as much in person. Right now, we’re focusing on shrinking one corner of our world — our neighborhood. We’ve put flyers for our pancake feed on every community mail box in all of our surrounding neighborhoods. (don’t worry, my picture is on them, the post office already knows who to arrest contact)

We’ve also gone full-on public with our journey. I’ve created a facebook page, and I blog to share our story and our journey. When I started this blog, we wanted to share our story so that people would want to be part of the journey, to invite people to become part of our world, or as Mr. Rodgers would put ask them, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”. What I didn’t expect was the therapeutic nature of the blog.  I never expected to blog as often as I have or feel like I have so many thoughts clawing their way out of me. But we have years of infertility, miscarriages, and treatments under our belt.  Our entire view of the world has shifted, and it’s nice to be able to express how that’s changed my life.

I also blog, because bloggers saved my sanity.  When you are infertile, at first you don’t share. It’s a shameful diagnosis and you feel as if you are lacking as a person. Everyone else can have babies and raise a family– why can’t you?  And later, the hurt from infertility is a raw aching wound. It simply hurts to share.  There were times when I thought if I started speaking about it, I would just start screaming and crying and raging. I was afraid if the floodgates opened, I would never be able to close them again.

I desperately searched for stories like mine after our first miscarriage (I found ONE in all of the internet), and as I went went through medicated cycles, IUI’s, and IVF cycles I poured over dosages, levels, and response rates from every available source. Reading those blogs made me feel like I had a friend on our very lonely journey through infertility.  Some blogs were old, they’d already found their success and I would pour through every entry on what they had done.  All of those blogs made the world smaller. I felt like I knew someone in San Diego or Boston — we were kindred spirits. I had a partner or friend in my journey. Someone who was showing me the ropes.

I hope by sharing our story, that someone else will find it helpful.  That a neighbor will feel like they know us, that the world will become a little smaller. And most of all, I hope that a lonely googler who is considering adoption, or who has recently had a miscarriage feels less alone. Maybe someday, someone will find hope in our journey when they think all hope is lost. Maybe someone else will read this as they try to fundraise to make the astronomical costs of adoption manageable, and they will see that it’s possible.

I hope. And I blog.

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The Line

As I go through this process, I’ve noticed an adoption narrative that I am just not comfortable with. I’m not rescuing this child from a terrible and awful situation. Because I have a better job, am more established and have more resources at my disposal, does not automatically make me a better parent. The choices I make as a parent and my willingness to learn, improve and adapt are what give me the ability to become a great parent. But I have to constantly work and strive to be a better parent. Resources do not automatically equal greatness.

I’ve been told that I could raise more money for the adoption if I focused on how I am saving this child. But I won’t go there. I simply don’t believe it to be true. I feel so strongly about this because of my background. My mom got pregnant and married at 17 and then had four more kids in rapid order. She had five kids by the age of 25 with little education or job skills. And then my parents divorced. A home that had just enough to scrape by was torn into two homes that couldn’t quite make it.

I got my first job at 10 busing tables, and by 12 was helping to cover electric bills–but that was temporary as we got on our feet. My mom was determined to provide for us and to make our lives better. She entered into a management training program at work and got her bachelors degree while I played volleyball, hung out with friends and finished high school. Long before I managed to graduate college, she had her master’s degree and had opened her own business.

Through it all, she was there for all of us. Sometimes she was tough, and lord knows you don’t want to get on her bad side, but she was a great mother. Amazing children are produced by single-parent households, and amazing people grow up in families that don’t have a lot. It’s all about the characteristics you instill in your children and how you encourage them. My mom taught me the value of hard work and that it’s not really work if you love what you do. She always encouraged me to strive to be my best and told me that limits exist only in my mind; when I see a ceiling I should break on through.

I don’t know what is in store for our birth mother. I don’t know the choices that she will make. But I do know she is making a pivotal one now, one that will reverberate through the rest of her life. My hope is that by digging so deep and asking us to raise her son in a house with more opportunities and resources, she will be able to focus on her life. She wants to complete her GED and get her nursing certification. I hope that happens.

I also know there is a chance that she will change her mind.  That is why it is so  important for me to cling to the knowledge that if she decides to parent this child, he’ll be loved. Time will tell which one of us will kiss his boo boos and kiss him goodnight.

I hope it’s me, but I have to think that she will aspire to greatness if she keeps him.  I know she loves him too, to go through this and then hand him over to someone else to raise. In some ways, I think he is doubly blessed. He’s not even here yet and so many people love him.

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Why Fundraise?

“Why are you adopting if you can’t afford to?”
“Why do you want a third child if you can’t afford to adopt?”
“It’s pretty selfish to ask others to help pay for you to have a child. A child is a want, not a need.”

These statements, or some variation thereof, have been heard many times by my ears since starting this process. Adoption fundraising is this strange new land for us, and it’s a really uncomfortable place to be. It is so incredibly awkward to have to admit that you need help in order to have a child–trust me, we’ve been there before. What’s new is having to ask someone to help us afford the costs to acquire that child, and the strangeness that it entails. Asking for help is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done in my life, and I know my husband would say the same. We were raised to be self-reliant and asking for help is equal parts humbling and humiliating.

A part that has been surprising and challenging for me is getting people to understand the costs of adoption. I’ve lived in the infertility world so long. I know so many people that have traveled this path and we researched the hell out of it before we decided to have IVF. The costs have been obvious to me for a so long, I assumed others were already aware. A coworker said to me the other day, “You’ve raised $2,000, so the adoption is paid for now, right?” I wish! You would think that something like this, where both parties are in agreement of what they want would be straight-forward and less expensive, but it simply isn’t.  When I was explaining to a coworker that we are fortunate that the “reasonable and customary” living expenses are as low as they are, they were astonished that we were paying any. “WHY should you have to pay? You are doing her the favor.”

The world of adoption has changed a lot in the last 50 years. The Hauge Convention, knowledge about child predators, fears of forced adoptions, commercialization, changing legislation. All of these things have combined to create adoption as I know it today. There are a million parties involved in a modern-day adoption: attorneys (and there must be more than one to prevent coercion and provide fair representation), a home study agency, birth mother counselor, FBI, KBI, physicians, hospital social worker, you name it. It can be overwhelming with the sheer number of people and moving parts. And for each of those people there are fees. I don’t think that those people greatly inflate their fees, but most of them are involved as a business so their fees are high enough to make money. The costs just add up. Modern day adoptions can cost between $35k to $45k. We think we’ll luck out and squeak by with around $20K in expenses, $30k on the high end. The costs are high enough that I’m using a letter instead of zeros to write the numbers. It’s less scary that way.

So back to the question: why fundraise? Adoption wasn’t a path we were planning on taking, and it’s not something you typically undertake without a great deal of planning and saving. The chance to have this child fell into our laps and we knew how rare and wonderful that chance was. There were a million reasons we could have clung to as a barrier and said “no.” We had depleted our savings over the last four years, took out loans to get our girls, had twin toddlers in daycare. We hadn’t been saving for adoption or anything else and our medical bills have been high for the last several years. We didn’t have $10k let along $20k or $30k lying around. Most of the reasons to say “no” revolved around the finances. All of our reasons to say “yes” revolved around being able to love this baby. This child needed a home with parents who would love, support and raise him.  His mother was looking for a married couple who could provide a stable home and make sure he has opportunities as he grows. We were willing to do that. We’re fortunate to have two stable jobs and own our home. We have room in our home and hearts to spare.

When we looked at it that way, our only barrier to completing our family was financial. We could attempt to fundraise and see where that got us. It’s our time and effort and we are willing to expend the energy. Fundraising for adoption is pretty common these days. When adopting a child can easily cost $50k, most people have to fundraise for at least part of it. To understand more, I read blogs, I read adoption articles, I read books, I knew people who had fundraised. It seemed like a viable option.

I wasn’t prepared for how difficult it would actually be. The uncomfortable feeling, the judgement, the questions. In retrospect, it makes sense. People need to know that they are giving money to a good cause. And while I think that us having another child is the best cause in the world, it’s my cause, not theirs. Theirs may be raising money for cancer, ALS or the Boys and Girls Club. Everyone has their passion.

The other item I didn’t consider is that most people who do fundraise do so primarily through their church. Their church organizes the events and assists with promotions. It’s harder than I thought to get the word out when everyone has a policy against letting you post anything about a fundraiser. Some days are downright discouraging.

Once again, why fundraise? Because at the end of the day, the only barrier between me holding my son in my arms is money, and money is a temporary thing. Pride is temporary. I can get past humiliation. Love is forever. Every mother would tell you they would do anything for their kids. I’m no different.

Why fundraise? Because at the end of that path is Baby H, and he’s worth it.

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