Cancer Ever After

Musings on Infertility, Adoption, Parenthood and Cancer

There’s Fire?

6 days prior to the scheduled induction

I woke up in a strange bed with the sound of familiar barking ringing in my ears. It took a moment to orient myself, but the events of the prior evening came rushing back to me. The labor that stopped. Was the baby coming today? Tomorrow? We were about two weeks from the official due date, so the false labor may or may not have been a sign of things to come.

First things first: Tim and I needed to decide our plan of action. Since today was a Friday, we decided to leave our girls with the in-laws and stay near the birth mom. My mother was still out of town and we didn’t want to chance heading home just to turn back around.

That decided, we texted our birth mother and arranged to visit. The poor girl was miserable. She was at that point of pregnancy when sleeping, walking, eating, breathing, everything was difficult and/or painful. She was ready for the baby to be out TODAY.

We were on board with that. Early isn’t ideal, but she was 38 weeks at that point, so it wouldn’t be the worst thing. Over the next three days we walked with her, bought her spicy food, and helped her swing at the park, all in the hopes that she would go into labor on her own. No dice.

5 days prior to induction

By Sunday, we’d determined that Baby H wasn’t going to come out until the induction. While we all wanted him to come on his own, it just didn’t look likely. Tim had used his meager vacation time with the girls’ illnesses and I needed to save mine for parental leave. We had to go back, even if it meant that we just turned right back around if and when labor began.

Mainly this was because we really missed our girls. We had never been away from them for this long. I physically ached being away from them and FaceTime just wasn’t cutting it. Phoebe looked miserable and confused when we FaceTimed with her and it was breaking my heart. I needed to hold my babies.

And yet, I couldn’t wait to hold all of my babies.

4 days prior to induction

The other reason I was grateful that we came back was that I had only hired my replacement at work the week before. The poor girl had mere days of somewhat distracted training on key items. I hadn’t met with the teammates that would be taking over my other responsibilities while I was on leave.

I went in to the office in the wee hours of the morning, prepped file after file, and then conducted a brutal day of client handoff meetings. I was frantic to make sure everyone know what needed to be done while I was out on leave. These extra few days would make this possible.

3 days prior to induction

I received a text: “Doctor has decided to induce a day early.” I laughed when I received the text. That was the day we had been lobbying for all along. A Wednesday induction worked a lot better with regard to getting the necessary court order to release Baby H into our custody.

I called Tim and we quickly modified our plans to get there early. We were so ready.

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Where There’s Smoke

7 days prior to our scheduled induction date

In retrospect, I wonder if I somehow knew that something was going to happen. We’d been talking to our birth mother all week and she had definitely reached that point of pregnancy where absolutely everything hurt, sleeping was impossible, and she was begging for the baby to come out. I’m known for letting the battery run dead on my cell phone and I rarely have the ringer turned on because, well, twin toddlers. But this evening, I made a point to plug in the phone and turn the ringer up as high as it would go so that I would be sure to wake up if needed. We were nearing the end, and I read once that most labors start at night because that’s when babies are most active.

The call came at 1:30 a.m.

Our birth mother was in tears and said, “The pains are bad and I need to go to the hospital NOW–I think the baby is coming.”

I shot out of bed immediately and woke Tim up (quite possibly with an elbow to the kidney–oops!). I tried to stay calm and talk her through our plan of action.

“Do you have a bag packed?”

“How far apart are the contractions?”

”How long are they lasting?”

“Do you think you could eat something before you go to the hospital, because they won’t allow you any food after that.”

I promised to make sure her ride was there shortly and we hung up.

Of course it would be now. My mother had been coordinating all of the travel for our birth mother since she lives closer, but Mom was on a humanitarian aid trip to Panama–the first she’d ever been on. And now this.

We had a plan A, B and C for a ride in case this happened. Luckily, Plan A answered her phone immediately and said she could be there in 10 minutes. I called our birth mother back to let her know.

HOLY COW! We’re going to have a baby! I started to get super-excited! You’ve probably realized by now that I’m an over-organizer. All week, Tim and I had been packing “go-bags.” We had our master packing list for the girls that we lived by after our disastrous “no pack-n-play” trip and had packed their suitcases the night before. We had packed Baby H’s bag earlier in the week. We just hadn’t got around to packing ours. That was on the agenda for tomorrow.

My adrenaline was pumping. We frantically packed our bag and began calling people to see who could come over to stay with the girls. Since we were planning on an induction, most of our conversations with my husband’s family had involved them coming over to get them. Apparently, we failed to stress that a late-night phone call was a possibility. We called six cell phones and two home phones with no luck.

At this point it was 2 a.m. Our options were limited. Try to put the girls in their car seats and figure out childcare when we got there? Try to find someone else? Luckily, a friend had volunteered to be our late night call just one week before and I cockily stated, “My in-laws will take care of that.” But my friend had young children, so she was used to waking up in the middle of the night. I called her cell phone–no answer. I called her husband’s cell phone–pay dirt!

It’s the sign of a really good friend that she was there in fifteen minutes. We finished packing, grabbed the dog, and headed out the door. It’s a four hour drive to the hospital where she was going to give birth. Let’s just say we made it a little faster than that. Throughout the drive, we received text updates.

“Contractions are two minutes apart…”

“Now they are three minutes apart.”

We stopped at my mom’s house to drop off the dog and pick up the car seat for Baby H. In our rush, we forgot to call my stepdad and let him know we were stopping by. As it turned out, neither of us had his cell number (he and Mom don’t have a home number anymore). So we killed the headlights, crept slowly up the drive, and Tim quietly went into the house to retrieve the car seat after letting the dog out in the yard. After a few minutes, he was back with the car seat, and a little shaken up. We weren’t as stealthy as we thought, and Tim was met at the front door by my stepdad and his pistol. We now both have his number programmed into our phones!

Tim threw the car seat into the car and we were off to the hospital. Just as we pulled out of my mom’s driveway, we received a text saying: “Dilated to a four, but contractions are not progressing. They are sending her home.” Our driver for our birth mother was understandably freaked about driving 30 miles with her back to her house, but did it anyway.

We looked at each other, turned around, and crawled into bed at my mom’s house. We’d figure out things in the morning.

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Baby’s on his way – a Dad’s perspective

“Are you excited?”  My mom asked.  “Yes, but this time it feels different.” For us this pregnancy has only been five months.  We have been so busy working to make the adoption happen that the time has just flown by.  Between work, our girls, normal housework and upkeep, fund raising, trips to see our birth mother, getting our son’s room ready, and everyday life something feels lost, missing.  The awestruck wonder of becoming a parent, again?  Maybe it’s different because we know we can handle another baby?  Maybe its due to how rapidly this process of adoption has been moving along?  Maybe it’s that we have a game plan and are following it?  Could it be shear exhaustion? I paused and looked back at our journey to become parents and the year and a half since our girls were born.

Discovering that we were infertile and coming to terms with it was a painful and lonely process.  Most of our friends and family have children and did not have any issues doing so.  Understanding and true compassion seemed to be in short supply.   The ordeal seemed to alienate us from many of our friends and co-workers.  Until we opened up completely to our families and gave them day-by-day updates on our last pregnancy, they did not seem to be able to understand or relate.  Many of our friendships did not survive the process of getting our girls and the first year of their lives.  However, the fun we have as a family has replaced the nights of hanging out with friends and going to parties.  And we’re meeting new friends through the various mommy and parent groups that Nichole has joined.

When our girls were born numerous people commented to me that we could try again and have a son.  Several people seemed to pity me or be saddened that I have two girls and no boys.  This did not bother me as I love my girls more than I though possible.  It did, however, make me sad for the people making the comments. However, when I heard that baby H was going to be a boy, I was thrilled.  While I look forward to introducing my son to my interests and hobbies with the hope that at least some of them will resonate with him, I know he will be his own person.  Just as my girls are developing their own personalities, my son will be unique.  Someone that I will get to know and love as he grows.  I hope that he is able to introduce me to new interests and hobbies, that I will be able to discover a whole new world with him.  I do not want a “mini me”; rather a new piece of the puzzle to fit into our family creating a clearer and ever-developing picture of our future.

My friend John once told me, “Being a dad is the best thing in the world.  You come home and your kids stop what they’re doing, run over to you, and jump up and down singing, “Daddy’s home!, Daddy’s home!” at the top of their lungs while grinning ear to ear.  No one else has EVER reacted like that when I showed up at work, or anywhere else.”  I’ve seen his daughter Maddie and son Ryan do this on numerous occasions.  Until I became a dad, I thought John was just being funny. Now when I enter a room after being gone for a while, and my girls reach for me and shout “Da-da!” I know exactly what John meant.  It may be selfish, but I look forward to one more voice being added to the chorus.

They most common thing that I hear when people see my twins is, “Boy, you have your hands full!”  While this may be true, I have learned to adapt.  I have become quasi-ambidextrous,  plan several steps ahead for everything that I do, and encourage the girls to be independent and do as much on their own as possible.  It also helps that they are in the “it’s fun to help phase.”  Dealing with twins is not the exhausting ordeal that it used to be, it’s just the way it is, and we do quite well.  Adding another to the mix will be challenging, but not impossible.  While my hands may be full as I care for my girls my heart swells with love and pride every time they learn something new – a word, a task, figure out how to use something, or understand a question or request and respond in a positive way.  There is still more than enough room in my heart for another child.

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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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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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