Cancer Ever After

Musings on Infertility, Adoption, Parenthood and Cancer

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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Unraveling

We are nearing the due date, and Tim and I have had to narrow our focus to the essentials in these last few weeks: working on the baby’s nursery (it’s a de-wallpapered disaster), building our relationship with the birth mom and really working to define how our open adoption will work, and spending quality time with our girls.

Those are the essentials. The nice-to-haves are a clean house, healthy meals for the girls, and some sleep. Everything else has been stripped as non-essential. There is only so much of us to go around and we need to focus on what matters most.

I thought we were doing much better at this. After some additional conversations with our birth mom, we decided a trip with all of us was in order. It was last-minute, so Tim and I spent a frantic Thursday night and Friday morning packing. The difference is we now have several trips under our belt. We have begun to feel that we are getting good at it. Diaper bag: check. Pack-n-play: check. Clothes, food, medicine, coats, shoes…The list is endless, but we finally felt as if we had it down, right to the big blow-up ducky tub (since my girls are terrified of my mom’s whirlpool tub).

We should have known better than to get cocky. Three hours into the drive, we realized we forgot the diaper bag. So there was an emergency stop for wipes and no diaper cream to be found at 10:30 at night in the middle of nowhere. It wasn’t until we got to my mom’s house that we realized that we had forgotten the most critical item–the pack-n-plays. Since most people have babies one at a time, my mom only has one pack-n-play from the years of my nieces and nephews staying. We always bring one from home.

Always Make that usually. We forgot the pack-n-play. It made for a miserable night. Luckily, my mom had a toddler mattress we could use, but poor Hazel fell out in the middle of the night. Our forgetfulness was even more apparent in the harsh light of day. One of Phoebe’s inhalers was missing and the nearest pharmacy that could fill it was 30 miles away. And then there were the coats. Somehow, we managed to forget one of the most critical things for a Kansas winter.

I felt like a terrible mom. If I ever needed a sign that Tim and I had spread ourselves too thin and weren’t functioning at our best, this was it. Luckily, after a very short night (Hazel didn’t sleep much at all), we were able to solve most of them. The DG was having a clearance sale on clothes and our girls now have two very Valentiney tracksuits to help keep them warm. Blankets solved the rest. Vaseline is a great emergency diaper cream. We were getting our mojo back.

And, after a little sleep, I think we also started to regain parts of our minds.

Despite the chaos and forgetfulness, the visit was worth it. We had some great conversations and talked through the birth plan for when we are at the hospital. It was a really great chance to make sure we are all on the same page. It was exactly what we needed.

 Want to help support our adoption? 
Visit our youcaring page and make a donation. Until March 1, each $20 donation will get you entered to win a 3 night stay at the Lake of the Ozarks in Osage Beach Missouri. View here for more information.

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Trust Me

“I want the baby to be baptized before we do the hand-off.”

I’ll admit this request surprised me a little bit, mainly because our birth mother has never asked about our religious beliefs. But the timing was rather serendipitous. We had just spoken to a acquaintance who had given us the entire story of how both of her domestic infant adoptions worked, from the open adoption and what they agreed on with the birth family, to how it was working for her and her children 10 years later. Her open adoptions involved not just birth mothers, but also grandparents.

One of the items she had emphasized was how helpful the “handing-off, or entrustment” ceremony was for her and her husband, and how the birth parents had later said it was helpful for them as they embarked on the journey of healing from the adoption. Tim and I both really liked the sound of that. Both of her adoptions were done through the same agency, and the agency had put together the ceremony and then had each of them write a statement expressing their commitment to the baby and to the open adoption.

This request was the perfect chance to bring this up as an idea. We really want our birth mother to determine what she wants for the hand-off and the counselor has been working on this with her, but she’s been having a tough time deciding. The hand-off is going to be unbelievably tough for her, and it would be nice if it gives her the ability to embark upon the healing she will need to do after this adoption.

Infant adoption is not universally liked, and I can see why. If a child is removed from their parents for abuse or neglect we feel justified–they are “going to a better place.” Emotions are much cloudier when a parent knows that they are not prepared, they are too young, or that one more child is more than they can support or handle. In infant adoption, the birth parent is motivated not by apathy or hate, but by love. And, in the case of infant adoption, that love causes pain. We don’t like to think about the pain involved.

I don’t know her exact pain, but it will be a profound loss that she will have to grieve and heal from. Just like I had to grieve and heal from my losses. My healing is still not complete, and I imagine that it will be years before hers is, either. What I do know from my own experiences is that having a ceremony for the babies I lost helped me heal more completely. Having something concrete to hold onto, proof of their existence, helped me.

She’s open to creating a ceremony where we baptize him and say words as the hand-off occurs–an “Entrustment Ceremony.” Now I need to do a little research. Neither one of us has an agency to guide us in this. This ceremony needs to be shaped by what she wants or thinks she needs, and we need to be flexible. Emotions will run high that day and our plans may just fly out the window. But the process of preparing for the ceremony can be healing in and of itself. We’ve asked her to write letters to him and we’ve started a baby book. We’re collecting pictures of her and her family. We want him to have the same type of album that anyone else would have–a book where they can compare where they got their eyes, nose or height from.

There is a second book in the works, a book for her. We bought her a book to start her collection of pictures and letters throughout the years. She wants the photographer to take a picture of her with Baby H so that she has a picture of her with him. I think that is a wonderful idea.

By and large, we’re flying blind and making things up as we go. We’re googling and researching, and she is, as well. Her counselor will hopefully help us define the process. In the end, an entrustment ceremony makes sense to me, because she is doing exactly that. She is entrusting the greatest treasure in the world into our care. She is placing her trust in us.

Want to help support our adoption? 
Visit our youcaring page and make a donation. Until March 1, each $20 donation will get you entered to win a 3 night stay at the Lake of the Ozarks in Osage Beach Missouri. View here for more information.

 

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Unprepared

There has been one aspect of this adoption that I haven’t delved deeply into during my posts, not because it’s unimportant, but because it is so very important. Race. This is a transracial adoption. We are adopting this baby knowing that someday he will face reactions and discrimination that we have never experienced personally. He will have a view of the world that we will never fully understand or share.

That’s the tough part. I’m not naive. I know discrimination is real. We live two miles from Missouri and Ferguson could easily be in our backyard. I’ve seen the youtube video of the father whose adopted daughter was bullied because of her race, and I bawled my eyes out on her behalf. I saw myself in his shoes some day, and I can only hope I handle it with the grace and aplomb that he did.

I have biracial nieces and nephews. I have friends who have been called “the token Asian,” or something else jokingly, yet in a not-so-funny way, most of their lives. We live in a world that notices race. Our son will not look like us and this will be a reality of his life, for his entire life. People will undoubtedly make rude comments in public before he can even understand them, and that won’t change. It will be obvious he is adopted.

To learn how to handle this, we’re taking classes and we’re talking through scenarios to think of how we will handle things when they happen. Because we know that something will. The middle school years will likely be the hardest. Or will it be high school? Growing up as a young, black male in a predominantly white neighborhood and school will have its own challenges. And there are nights that this keeps me up. How will the world treat him? How can we protect him? What do we need to teach him? How do we equip him for the world?

Just like being adopted, his race is part of who he is: an important part. But neither one of those factors are the sum total of who he is or will be. It will be our job to guide him as he assimilates these pieces into the whole of who he will become. I think both factors will shape him and his view of the world, but events do that, too. As parents, we will be a strong influence. How we raise him, how we love him, the example that we provide–that will shape him as well.

Tim and I have had to realize that we will have to learn as we go on this. We can study and talk to others to get general ideas of issues that we may run into, but we will never be fully prepared. I don’t know what I would do if my son were bullied the way that girl was in the video. But as I watched it, I, sadly, wasn’t surprised by the way the teenagers acted. I know that this type of treatment exists in the world. And I also know that I won’t be able to wrap my son or daughters in cotton. They may be bullied, they may be teased. It could be because they wear glasses, have out-of-fashion clothes, are too tall, are too short, are adopted, or because of their race. I can’t control what others do. What we can focus on is how we will support our children when these things happen.

We shape how they internalize what others say to them. This is what I need to focus on. I need to help him handle the negativity that may come his way. Tim and I need to be prepared to talk through these things if and when they happen. We need a plan of action to handle rude comments in public. We need to be able to maintain our cool like the guy in the video when faced with assholes who discriminate.

This is our son. Period. We will learn and grow as we need to in order to be the parents he needs. That is our vow. That is our promise.

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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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