Cancer Ever After

Musings on Infertility, Adoption, Parenthood and Cancer

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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Curveball

“I want you to be in the room with me during the birth.”

This may surprise you, but my first reaction was total panic. I have no idea what happens during labor! Hell, I barely understand what happens in a normal pregnancy. My pregnancy consisted almost entirely of morning-till-night puking and then months of left-side leaning.

Despite all of the complications, it was actually my water breaking that determined when my girls made their entrance into this world. And then, after being reassured that it was very unlikely I would go into labor and having my c-section scheduled for four hours later, my contractions started. I (who hadn’t had a single Braxton Hicks contraction during my entire pregnancy) went into full-blown labor immediately with contractions less than two minutes apart. My scheduled c-section quickly turned into an emergency one. From there, I only remember a few things: Hazel’s first cry, Phoebe’s first cry and seeing my girls for the first time before they were whisked to the NICU. I vaguely remember urging my husband to go with them to make sure they were okay. The last thing I remember is the two surgeons calling for a third because there were complications.

When I woke up, they wheeled me into the NICU to see my babies. And then nothing else mattered.

As you can see, this experience has in no way prepared me for a normal labor and delivery. I don’t know what someone goes through or what I should do as I’m by her side. At the same time, being there with her and seeing my son born will be one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

Once I let the idea sink it, I became overwhelmed at the possibility and realized I couldn’t be more honored. That is such a personal moment and it’s amazing that I will get to be there when our son takes his first breath. The only shadow is that my husband can’t be there, too. He would love to, and, since he works in the medical field, is probably the wiser choice. But, well, he IS a guy. I get it. If I had my choice, the 26 doctors and nurses in the room with me would have all have been women.

I once compared this pregnancy to my pregnancy and said that this felt more like a “real” pregnancy to me in a lot of ways. This is still true. I just never expected labor and delivery to be one of the things that made this a more “normal” pregnancy. When we began considering adoption (prior to having our girls), I wondered if I would be missing out on the experience of a pregnancy. I now see that there are so many versions of what a pregnancy is like. I think infertiles rarely get the storybook version. If I’m able to be there through the delivery, this pregnancy will be far more like the one I always thought I would have.

So if you are considering adoption or surrogacy and are afraid you will miss out on the pregnancy experience, take heart. A surrogate can include you in her pregnancy and you will have your very own pregnancy experience. A birth mom can do the same. And also keep in mind that the vision you’ve built up in your mind may not happen in any of the scenarios. No matter the path, there is always one thing that will surpass your expectations: your child.

The path we’ve traveled opened us to the possibility of adoption. That’s what made our hearts scream yes, when every practical fiber in our bodies cautioned no. It’s also taught us to listen to our hearts. In the end, this journey will bring us to our son. It may be unexpected, it may not happen exactly as we envision, but I have no doubt that he will surpass every one of our expectations.

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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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Best Day Ever!

Okay, maybe not the best day ever, I’ve had some good ones.  But it was an amazing day.  If you recall, a few months ago, I girded my loins and approached the c-suite at my new employer to ask for adoption benefits. I had contacted the Dave Thomas Foundation and received a slew of helpful information and the beginning of a proposal for benefits that I could take to my employer. This was actually Tim’s and my first step before entering the world of fundraising for adoption.

I had worked the past 10 years at a company with phenomenal adoption benefits, and knew my new company didn’t have them when I took my current job. We thought this path was a route we wouldn’t take. This new employer offered more flexibility and time with our girls, and we thought that the girls would be our first and last children. We both misjudged how we would feel about wanting another child. We didn’t realize that adoption would be our path.

It was tough to go to each executive and ask for this benefit, especially as a new employee. I put together a proposal for an adoption benefit in November, and was told it would probably take them two weeks to consider. I followed up in two weeks, and they didn’t have an answer. I followed up again, and they still didn’t know. At that point, I assumed the silence was my answer. They weren’t going to be able to swing it. We’re a small company, so I could understand that.

So imagine my surprise when the CEO asked me to stop by his office after a meeting to touch base on a project. He told me, “We think what you are doing is a great thing, and we support you. I can’t say yet exactly what the benefit will look like, but we are going to add one in time for your adoption.” I started crying right then and there. Nothing like crying in front of the head of your company, right? What could be worse?

Later that week, we had our employee Christmas party (in January) and I was called to the front to receive a peer-nominated award. I was thrilled. To have my coworkers think I’m award-worthy in my first year is amazing. The CEO was presenting the award, so while I was up there, he announced that we were adding an adoption benefit. Everyone knows that Tim and I are trying to adopt and are fundraising. I couldn’t help it. I cried again, this time in front of the entire company.

Heck, if someone were to mention the benefit tomorrow, I’d probably still burst into tears. It just means so much to me, to us, to our family. It brings us worlds closer to holding our son in our arms, and it’s truly amazing that my company is willing to add this benefit. I don’t know if the benefit will reimburse us for some of the expenses or if it will included a paid leave for adoption. I just know that anything is better than nothing. It’s amazing and wonderful. Now, excuse me, I need to go cry some more…

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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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