"...suffering is one of the universal conditions of being alive. We all suffer. We have become terribly vulnerable, not because we suffer, but because we have separated ourselves from each other." -- Rachel Naoimi Remen

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Baby 8. Journal 3


Empahty is minutia.  

Sometimes having empathy sounds impossible.  The quest scares some people off.  It seems so hard, especially these days where it seems like you can't go a day without scrolling past an article that says "10 things to never say to someone with 'x'."  I don't know about you, but those articles leave me wondering, what can I say?  How will anyone ever know I care if I don't ask?  How can I ever be sure I don't say the wrong thing without simply saying nothing?  

Empathy is not saying nothing.  Empathy sounds hard when you're trying to be empathic.  When you don't know what to do or what to say, when you don't know how to support someone you care about, what do you do!? 

A simple lesson I learned recently is that empathy is in the small things.  Gestures don't have to be grand and statements don't have to be lavish.  You don't have to know exactly what someone is going through.  You don't have to quote the bible.  

The best experience of empathy I've had recently was from my OB.  

I wrote to him through a secure messaging system that my health care providers subscribe to.  I wrote telling him of the pregnancy and notifying him that I'd be setting up my appointments through his office.  

He responded, no more than one hour later, with a brief message that gave a date when he could probably see me and he suggested, "if you would prefer to bypass the nurse appointment until you are a bit further along then, given your history, that would be fine."

Sounds pretty simple right?  Well, let me tell you a little back story: 

Sometime between my second and fifth miscarriage, I was at my OB's office.  Their practice, like many, asks for the pregnant patient to see the Nurse first, about 1 week before seeing the doctor for the initial new pregnancy OB visit.  The Nurse reviews your family history to determine if any genetic testing is needed (like for sickle cell disease in families who carry the trait, for example) and to remind the new mother of the recommendations in pregnancy (like not eating too much tuna or drinking any alcohol).  They're useful visits, especially when you're pregnant for the first time.  A new mother can really learn a lot from the Nurse visit, plus my doctor's office gives us a free book and some other stuff.  

But for me, this wasn't my first time in the nurses chair. She was asking questions I'd been asked a few times before, not really all that long ago.  She asked what pregnancy this was - I think it was my fourth.  But then I had to explain that I only had one child and she fumbled with that very awkwardly -- I'll spare you the details, but let's just say that she tried, unsuccessfully, to recover from putting her foot in her mouth.  Little did I know that this would happen repeatedly in various future social situations, I was left trying to make her feel better about the situation, feeling guilty and apologetic that my misfortune had made her uncomfortable.  I hated every second of the remainder of our visit and I think that was my first experience with a mild form of a panic attack.  I just could not wait to get out of there.  

The next time I saw my OB, I asked him to never make me have to go through that again and he agreed.  That was more than two years ago. 

And he remembered.  

A tiny story.  Insignificant to him, I'd imagine, but huge to me.  And he remembered.  

What a great expression of empathy.  A tiny gesture really - giving me permission to delay something that might be uncomfortable for me.  I was relieved.  I appreciate this act of kindness so much. 

Empathy is minutia.   

First Trimester Journals

This blog is my family story.  Through much of it, it's been a sort of therapeutic journaling for me.  Mostly I've focused on my struggles through secondary infertility and recurrent miscarriage.  Since joining the adoption community, I've also shared our ups and downs with adoption.  It's been a pleasure getting to know people in this way and I'm thankful that I've also been able to encourage others through my writing. 

So, if reading about pregnancy of any sort is not why you're on this blog, please don't hesitate stop reading now.  For the next several months I'll be blogging about my current pregnancy.  I'm now in the middle of what appears to be a healthy pregnancy.  I'm joyful but anxious and would like to openly and honestly share this part of my family's story.  But, I know it will be hard for some people with ongoing infertility and empty nests to read, and you have no obligation to follow along.  It is okay. 

Before I even became pregnant, I began blogging again and just didn't publish the blogs.  There are 4.  Plus 1 sincere note that I actually published a couple of weeks ago (the day after my Christmas letters went out with the pregnancy announcement via snail mail) and I will share it again, first.  I will publish one per day, beginning tomorrow, on the blog with Facebook links, to get everyone caught up on my psyche over the past few months.  Being pregnant for the seventh time, after one healthy pregnancy, five consecutive miscarriages, and a successful adoption, is nothing like being pregnant for the first time.  That being said, it's still a beautiful privilege that I'm relishing.  So, if you're comfortable and curious, please join me on this journey and read along. 

With love and hugs ~  ME

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Woven together

Longevity runs in my family.  My children have the privilege of having five living octa- and nonagenarian great grandparents.  

A few of my close friends have lost their parents too early in their life.  I am sad for them and have tried to empathize with them when learning of their loss.  I imagine how hard that must be, but I don't really know the weight of that burden, how hurtful that sort of loss really feels. 

Similarly, a few of my close friends have suffered from miscarriage and recurrent miscarriage.  I know their pain, and they know mine.  We empathize in an intimate way that only others who've also experienced our kind of suffering and loss can fully understand.  I have other friends with multiple successful pregnancies or those who haven't had chosen to have children who empathize, love and support me.  Through no fault of their own, however, they don't really know.

Through my struggle with secondary infertility and recurrent pregnancy loss, blogging, and becoming part of the adoption community, I've come to know many people outside my immediate circle who've also suffered from the pain that infertility, secondary infertility, miscarriage, pregnancy and infant loss bring.  Aside from the gift of my second son which I have through adoption, this - this family-like community of hugely empathic friends - is the greatest gift that miscarriage has given me.  I've been honored to know countless beautiful people whose faith and fortitude have inspired me along the way. 

I've cried hard for you a few times this week.  (... and here I go again...) 

When we share our life stories with one another, infertility binds us in a unique and intimate way.  We've been woven together over tragedy, and it is beautiful.  And let me say it again, it has been an honor being bound with you in that way.  I cherish this bond, and I love you for making me strong when I was weak; for giving me hope when I was full of doubt.  

I hope and I pray and I'm begging my lucky stars, that what I share this week doesn't break our bond.  I know it will change it, and that makes me really sad.  As happy as I am for myself and my family, I am so sorry if this separates us.  I do not mean to hurt you.   

A little more than three months ago, I became pregnant for the seventh time.  The baby in my womb seems to be thriving.  It's been scary, and it's been fun.  Certainly, one of the greatest privileges of my life. 

Among the people I've already told, a common sentiment has been that, "if anyone deserves this, you do."  I truly appreciate those kind, thoughtful, generous words.  But, what I know in my heart is, there are many many people in my circle of infertility who deserve this.   And deserving though they may be, they might not get this sort of happy ending.  Deserving doesn't have anything to do with it. 

My heart is with you - it always will be. 

Rachel Naomi Remen says, "...suffering is one of the universal conditions of being alive.  We all suffer.  We have become terrible vulnerable, not because we suffer, but because we have separated ourselves from each other."  I pray you and I are not separated by this... because I think we still need each other. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Top 5 things Toddlers of today have never known life without

As members of Generation X, raising children from Generation Z, also known as the iGen, post-Millenials, or Plurals, is an always interesting endeavor.  Perhaps this has been an issue throughout the course of history, where moms and dads and parental figures of all kinds struggle to adapt their parenting, guidance and discipline to a changing landscape that their own personal history cannot account for.  Nevertheless, this being our first experience with parenting and the technology boom having occurred within the 3 decades of our lifespans, we feel it's particularly challenging.  (They call us the "Oregon Trail" generation for a reason!)  Although we aren't terribly proud of most of this, we couldn't help but share...   

The top 5 things today's toddlers have never known life without :
# 5:  The internet in their (parents') pocket: Toddlers these days know your smartphone passcode and can enter it quicker than you notice the phone is missing!  They quickly learn, from us, that this is our go-to source for weather, directions and all kinds of information!  Most importantly in the child's eyes, they quickly learn the advantages of text conversation, as our son is always directing, "Can you text Evan's Mommy and schedule a playdate!?"

# 4:  Video chat:  Although we're huge proponents of the traditional letter - with an actual paper and envelope - kids today learn to communicate through screens at a very young age.  Video chats like Skype are a great way to keep in touch with family who live many states away.  It also comes in handy when one or both parent travels, even internationally, to communicate across the miles.  These modalities are especially useful when the toddlers aren't great with actual conversation yet, but if they can still see mommy or daddy, it really helps.  Of course, our son's favorite question remains, "Can I hang up on Daddy now!?"

# 3:  Online Shopping:  Even though we love to "shop small," our son knows that we're also creatures of convenience, so half of what we own is ordered online.  Our mailmen moonlight delivering Prime packages even on Sundays.  Our toddler often suggests that we order his latest favorite action figure for his birthday.  When we can't find what he's looking for, he reminds us, "Why don't you check Amazon?" 

# 2:  Instant Entertainment:  With the advent of DVRs and Netflix, children of today have nearly constant, immediate access to television and movies.  Dare we use the phrase, "when I was a kid," cartoons were only on for one or two hours per day and children had to watch whatever happened to be on one of the five or six channels that were broadcast.  In our family we strictly follow the American Academy of Pediatrics's guidelines for screen time but, whether we like it or not, TV with a DVR, Blu-ray and Netflix, smartphones, an iPad, Google, Amazon and texting are all part of our son's vocabulary and interactions.  With all these modalities in not just our home but also available on the road, and even in restaurants or shopping, toddlers can watch exactly what they want when they want it - if allowed.  Gone are the days where kids had only a few choices, today they can look at and choose exactly which season and episode they want to watch, from countless programs.

The Millenials have been called by many the "entitlement generation" and with these iGen'ers we worry that instant gratification isn't just instant, it's expected.  We wonder how that's going to affect them in high school, college and beyond. 

In our house, "fast forward!" is the only thing yelled louder than "wipe my butt!"  

(Caveat here: we don't usually allow our son to use screens outside the house, but the point is - it's possible... and he knows it!) 

 # 1:  Selfies: A brand new word to the English language just a few years ago, indicating a picture of oneself taken by oneself, was made easier recently with the addition of a
camera on each side of many smartphones.  "These days" the number of pictures taken during one's childhood are often in the thousands.  In particular, parents take countless selfies with their babies as they grow (ourselves included / for better or for worse).  And one thing we know for sure, after a few years of raising kids, is that children are paying attention - to everything we do.  They emulate our fondness of the camera (and phone) and quickly learn how to turn the camera around so they can admire their own beauty, and document it as such.  At age 4, our son has already mastered the art of taking a selfie and Mommy has 162 examples in her phone's memory from just yesterday to prove it!

What other new stuff is your child totally savvy with?  
We'd like to hear your stories! 

by MaryEllen & Michael Pfeiffer

Wednesday, August 5, 2015


Forever a Family
August 5, 2015!

In an effort to commemorate a necessary and special day, I thought I'd answer some questions many people ask. 
1.  Time from baby's birth to adoption finalization: 8 months and three days :)  !
Is "Gotcha day" something you'll celebrate in your family like a birthday?  No, I don't think so.  Of course, as with all things concerning children, this is certainly subject to change if something comes along to make it more important.  For us, in a domestic newborn adoption where my husband cut the cord in the delivery room as I cheered him and our birthmother on, Gotcha day feels like it was eight months and three days ago.  Certainly, today holds the legal promise and is a reason to celebrate, but I'm not sure for us, in our family, it'll be meaningful to celebrate in an annual fashion moving forward.  For others with older children, international adoptions, children whose birthdates are unknown and various other circumstances, I'd imagine this "Gotcha day" is even more significant than the child's simple birth date, that just doesn't happen to be the situation in our individual case. 
2.  Time from beginning to end of adoption process: Almost exactly 2 years
3.  Time from first miscarriage to signing with adoption agency: Almost exactly 2 years
4.  Time from last miscarriage to signing with adoption agency: 3 months
5.  Time from signing with the adoption agency to match with our birthmother: 11 months
Why did this take so long?  Truly, God only knows.  In retrospect it was obviously because the baby who was meant for our family wasn't yet on earth.  Our agency (ANLC), like most, only works with women after they are through the first trimester.  Initially, they had quoted us an average of 9-12 months for a couple open to either gender to be matched with a birthmother.  However, the agency really has no control over this variable.  Birthmothers today have complete control over how quickly adoptive families are "picked."  Of course, our agency boasted some of the best marketing (of us as a potential adoptive family) out there and we hoped this would help a birthmother find us sooner than later.    
6.  Time we took between being presented with our adoption match and accepting that match?  1 day
Really, both my husband and I would have agreed on the phone with our liason if she would have allowed us, but she encouraged us to take the night to talk it over and be sure. 
7.  Time between match and birth? 5 months
8.  Time between baby's birth and termination of biological parental rights?  As soon as was legal.  His birthmother signed her relinquishment of parental rights as soon as she was allowed, about 28 hours after his birth.

Every state has different laws about how quickly this process can occur. 
9.  Time spent in birth state after baby was born?  7 days 
ICPC (Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children) dictates this.  Basically, the lawyers have to get all the initial paperwork done and then give you permission to go home. 
10.  Time it took to fall in love?  Honestly, I think we were in love with our son before he was even conceived.  When we first met him, in that delivery room, ours was an instant unconditional love, just like it had been with our first son.
In summary, so glad to finally say,

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Made to Thrive

If I think really hard about them, I still get tears in my eyes.  Especially if I think too long about number two, I got pretty attached to her, to the idea of her, in those sixteen short weeks.  And I still wish I knew her.  Although I was "spared" as they say, I still feel like I missed out on knowing that  sweet face and those loving arms. 

But, my eyes well up much more often these days in pride and gratitude.  In sheer awe of the gifts before me. 

You see, my husband and I are in a place we never imagined when we first dreamed about our family.  Our biological son almost five and our adopted son six months - secondary infertility now a defining feature of our lives. 

What's weird is, I wouldn't change a thing. 
[And let me take a brief break now and say right up front that I won't guarantee similar results for folks in similar circumstances, I know each of our journey's are incredibly unique.  But this is my story, and so I'll tell it.  I pray it gives you hope.] 

So back to the weird thing: I wouldn't take back my secondary infertility.  It's part of who I am now, just like I'm a farmers daughter, a childhood track athlete, a liberal arts college grad.  I was the abstract thinker in medical school, and yes I lost five babies. 

But adoption has healed me.  No, my adopted son hasn't replaced my children in heaven.  No, those hurts can't ever be undone.  But those hurts have made me so much braver.  They've strengthened my faith and they sowed the seeds of empathy in my often inconsiderate heart.  I am such a better person because of what I learned through infertility.

And what I've learned through adoption, now that's really tremendous.  Yes, it was hard, costly and sometimes exhausting.  The wait was so long and so lonely; it seemed like it would never end.  But through it, I met dozens of people with the most generous hearts I've ever known.  My husband and I did some serious soul searching, and our partnership is stronger than ever.   

Having my adopted son makes me look forward in a way I wasn't able to do for almost three years.  I am no longer haunted by my miscarriages, they are simply facts of my life.  Events that forever changed me.  But I don't think of them with regret, and truly I don't think of them often.  I'm not afraid of them in the future, either.  In some ways, I feel like the slate has been washed clean.  My son, the one who was always meant for me, is right where he belongs.

For now anyway, I no longer have to choose to be happy, it just comes naturally.  Interestingly, I don't sit around and think all day about the precious miracle of adoption either.  Yes, it's a miracle and I am so very thankful and blessed to have it as part of my life.  My son's birthmother holds one of the dearest places in my heart.  When I really think about it, I'm in agape.  My day to day with my two boys and their father, though, it's an everyday adventure too.  My mind isn't constantly replaying the miracle of it all, just like I don't daily replay the miracle of meeting my husband thousands of miles away from home in Costa Rica.  Of course I don't mean I want to take it for granted, but what I mean is that my family isn't partially adopted, partially biological, I don't sit and dissect it very often.  My family is my family not just because of adoption, but because of the utterly awesome people in it, and I love them all.  I simply relish our life.  We thrive together in the day to day.   

For those of you who wonder, because I was wondering, and now I think I know... despite all of this, adoption (for me) has not taken away the longing.  Again, I think this is very unique for each individual.  But for me, although I feel fully content, I'm still longing for more.  Whether it be for another baby in our earthly family, the most perfect work life balance, for my writing to turn into a book worth publishing, or for the cardiopulmonary strength to do another half marathon; yes, I'm still longing. 

Actually, what I've come to realize lately is that I don't think there's anything wrong with that.  I think longing is part of the human condition.  It's part of my drive, my personal motivation to keep becoming my best possible self.  Not in the never satisfied kind of way but in the always improving one. 

Ultimately, I don't know when my longing for more children will dissipate.  I don't know what we'll do between now and then to help it come to fruition or to help it pass.  But, I trust that this longing will pass when the time is right; and that when it does my heart will find another beautiful thing to focus upon. 

For now, I put my trust where it belongs... not in my hands, but in God's. 

I'll conclude with another excerpt from this past years theme song, Thrive, by Casting Crowns.  This is the song with the chorus "joy unspeakable, faith unsinkable, love unstoppable, anything is possible..." which I've sung and cried over so many times in the past year.  It goes on, "we know we were made for so much more than ordinary lives, it's time for us to more than just survive, we were made to thrive.... (joy unspeakable)..."

Me and my family, we are thriving. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Sibling Relationships

~ Brother let me be your fortress ~ 
~ When the night winds are driving on ~ 
~ Be the one to light the way ~
click to listen to Needtobreathe's "Brother" 

Among the handful of critical factors that led to my very happy healthy childhood, my sibling relationships are among the most treasured.  

(1) God's abundant grace, 
(2) two totally awesome parents, 
(3) a little brother and sister I cannot imagine life without, 
(4) running track, and 
(5) farm life.  

I don't live in the same state as either of my siblings now, but I still love them dearly and certainly think that for at least the first eighteen years of my life, they played one of the most important roles in developing who I am.  We don't even really have that much in common, they're introverts and I'm an extrovert.  I was the smallest but oldest, fastest but dumbest, and certainly the nicest ;) !  My brother is known by all as the "perfect" one, and my sister the "precious" one, or wait, do I have that backward?  All I know for sure is that I wasn't either...!  (Yes! My siblings and I were competitive!)  But seriously, our inside jokes from decades ago still make me laugh so hard I cry, and those two probably still know me better than most other people in my life.  

I mean no disrespect to only children, but siblings are the best!  (Cousins too!)  And dare I sound like a na├»ve newly adoptive parent, I don't see any reason why adopted siblings should be any different. 

As we discerned adoption for our family, we thought a lot about how we as parents, as well as our biological son (age 4 at the time of our adoption), would bond.  We worried about whether our bond would be as strong an instantaneous unconditional love as it had been the first time.  I'm extremely pleased to report that it absolutely was.  We have been completely adoring our adopted son just as wonderfully as we have our biological son. 

What's more, our sons have bonded easily as well.  The four year old has been anticipating his sibling's arrival for quite some time now.  He may not remember it but, "mommy, stop crying," and a face smack from him were frequent occurrences for me during his third year.  While we struggled through miscarriage after miscarriage, our son was in a phase where he never wanted to see mommy cry.  It was one of the things that made that phase so tough for me; because I felt like I couldn't even be real at home, until after 8pm.  But, I digress, the point is that he knew he had a brother or sister on the way, for more than two years now.  

Together, we prayed for our babies.  The sick ones in the womb and then the one that was to come through the precious miracle of adoption.  We prayed for a match, and (funny story!) we prayed that the woman who picked us would live close enough to drive.  Big brother didn't know what to think at first when God matched us more than 2000 miles away!  But, through his little brother, even before he was officially in our family, our older son has learned that some things in life don't come easy... and that they're completely worth waiting for.  

Sibling relationships are invaluable like that.  They teach you some of life's greatest lessons in all the most natural ways.  Our sons are learning how to be empathic at a young age.  Our older son has heard some tough conversations in his four short years and in all likelihood both our boys will learn to be comfortable with a unique dialogue that I wasn't mature enough to navigate until at least my 20's or 30's.  Overall, that is so good for them.  

I know from having been the older sibling, that my older son has great responsibility and great honor ahead of him being the eldest.  I look forward to watching him mature in that relationship.  

Already, there are small and adorable developments.  He shades his brother's eyes from the camera flash and he shows off by jumping fancy crazy jumps for him.  Meanwhile, my younger son's eyes fill with adoration and his mouth gapes with smiles as the older boy flails his body around!  Their mutual love is already evident; their companionship developing.  They've already built, and loved, their first fort.    

It's hard to say if our family is going to be a conspicuous family, especially since our family may not yet be complete.  This is something we spent quite a bit of time thinking about before entering into adoption.  Being part of one domestic newborn adoption so far, we've been thoughtful with our openness.  We had an uncomfortable realization of our white privilege, something I'm ashamed to admit I didn't even appreciate until recently.  Any effects all this may have on our family remain to be seen, and I pray I'll respond with grace to any rude or inappropriate questions or actions my family might encounter down the road.  In the meantime, my husband and I will strive to raise culturally sensitive children.

Another interesting facet of our younger son's sibling relationships is that he has biological brothers as well.  Hopefully our adoption will continue to be open and he'll be able to know those energetic, adorable, fun-loving boys as well.  In my opinion, no one can have too many brothers.  People are made for community.  Men thrive in a brotherhood.  In the words of Bear and Bo from Needtobreathe, brothers can be a fortress, they can help light your way.  My adopted son's biological brothers are part of a few different families and untraditional though that might be, we have to chose to make the most of it.   

Furthermore, if my younger son wants to know who he looks like, I'm excited and thankful that he'll be able to know.  It's already apparent that he shares his biological brothers' extremely handsome facial features.  Through the grace of open adoption, we have numerous pictures and hopefully our relationship with them will also continue to thrive. 

Will my adopted son share affinities, skills and interests with his siblings?  Adoption absolutely causes one to ponder nature versus nurture quite a bit.  I'm excited to see how this unfolds in my family's life.

NoBohnsAboutItFinally, I have no doubt that navigating the waters of our family relationships won't always be easy.  But, I know they'll be worth it.  I hope the sibling relationships my children are blessed with can be as great a blessing in their lives as mine are in my life.  What a privilege!

This blog post is part of the Adoption Talk Link Up.  Click the picture for more adoption bloggers talking about "sibling relationships" ! 

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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Our Adoption Journey

Our adoption journey isn't over, it'll undoubtedly be part of our whole lives.  But when did it begin?  I remember walking the sidewalks of my neighborhood, late into the evening with my Labrador mutt on the leash, debating by phone with my boyfriend all of life's great questions.  We discussed everything from Mary as an intercessor to adoption.  These are both examples of things I brought up in hopes that my future husband would agree.  These late night conversations made our long distance-while both in residency-relationship interesting and manageable.  We continued talking about adoption occasionally after we got married as well. 

After two years of marriage we tried for two months before successfully conceiving our son.  My pregnancy with him was normal by all definitions.  Having dreamt of a family with a few children close in age, and anxious to get through the child bearing years before I turned 35, we were pregnant again when our son was about 7 months old. 

Almost immediately after our first miscarriage (fall 2011, trisomy 18 at 16 weeks), I began to really look into the details of adoption.  We didn't talk much about the 3 main paths to adoption, we already knew that for now domestic newborn was the route we were most comfortable with (at this stage of life).  A coworker and friend of mine had adopted her son who was born the day before my first son almost a year prior.  She had used Adoptions from the Heart and I remember looking into their informational classes.  Intimidated by the need to put in my personal information and register for a simple informational class, I don't think I got much farther.  That same friend did share an abundance of information and we began learning a little, nevertheless.  We learned about the birthmother letter, homestudy process and the tax credit.  Wow adoption is expensive, and it takes a long time.  I recall those take home messages pretty clearly.  I felt the two to three year wait for an adoption to be complete was more than ample time for me to be pregnant and carry one or two more babies to term.  I did not want to wait.   

Since we seemed to be "fertile," albeit unlucky, adoption went on the back burner.  About nine months later we had another miscarriage (summer 2012, 6 weeks never saw on ultrasound) and I think the above events were replayed almost exactly. 

Another year later, we began trying again.  We had taken time off for a friend's destination wedding in the Dominican Republic.  It had been a good time off, we continued with Natural Family Planning throughout that time to avoid pregnancy.  Through NFP we learned a lot about ourselves and each other, and again it seemed clear that I was ovulating almost every month. 

Winter into spring of  2013 brought three miscarriages in seven months (trisomy 13 at 9 weeks, unknown cause at 8 weeks [both had been seen multiple times on ultrasound] and then a blighted ovum at 7 weeks).  During this time it became clear that something was wrong with me - but, my husband and my Karyotype were normal, as was my antiphosoplipid antibody screen.  We knew my uterus was normal, and the unusual different series of miscarriages were not typical of any particular disease or problem.  Our case was discussed by our OB with a Geneticist without progress. 

We never pursued further fertility workup, because we knew what would be suggested - IVF.  Although we have several friends who've grown their families with this option, we doubted it would work for us (having had at least two trisomies already) and we weren't comfortable with the moral implications or questions we might have to face, should we go down that road. 

So this path led us again to adoption.  As I said, it's something that had been on my heart since I was a teenager and my husband and I had discussed it since we were dating.  Of course, back then it was always discussed under the guise of the greater good.  Now, it seemed the only viable option to grow the family we had always dreamed of.

Turning again to the local agencies, we began to fill out paperwork for Bethany Christian Services.  This time, we were pretty serious about getting information.  Simultaneously, I began counseling for the stress and anxiety that five miscarriages had brought upon my psyche.  Shortly thereafter, I also began blogging ~ something I'd dreamt about doing for the full two years where my family plans had been unmet. 

But back to Bethany, I know they have a wonderful organization that builds families, but our experience with them was limited.  I remember coming to the bottom of their questionnaire.  I was already frustrated because we couldn't even attend an informational class without filling out this two page form.  And then the last question stumped me, "Describe the child that might fit into your family?"  How could I answer this question?!  My husband and I were on the same page that we needed to seriously discern adoption but the infinite number of other questions that this led us to were what was holding us back.  The question above seemed impossible to answer.  I wanted to say that I wanted a baby from an upper middle class Caucasian family with a petite wife and handsome husband with college degrees and no medical problems....  I wanted a biological baby!  

Biology gives us the illusion of control over the thousands and millions of variables that go into a healthy child being born into this world.  Although it's only partially true and probably unfair, my inner dialogue went something like this: My genes got me into medical school.  My personal choices during my first pregnancy, brought my first son in perfect health into this world.  In adoption you control neither the gene pool nor the choices of the woman who's uterus the baby grows in.  This is what makes adoption such a great leap of faith.  And it's what many couples stumble upon as they near adoption as a choice for their families.  It's tough. 

Of course, what we came to realize over time is that our gene pool is far from perfect, everything from asthma to alcoholism run in both our families.  And my most excellent personal care hadn't aided my second, third, fourth, fifth or sixth baby's health.  The veil over the illusion of control began to be pulled back. 

We began to put our trust completely in God.  Let me clarify, we had been trusting God.  But, we had also been trying desperately to be successful.  In so many aspects of our lives, that had never before been a challenge.  Family planning was humbling.  We realized we needed God like we'd never needed him before.

So again, back to Bethany, my husband and I remained stumped by that open ended question.  I'm sure some more confident potential parents have an easier time with that question, but for me I wasn't yet in a place where I could move forward.

Shortly thereafter, someone we know invited us for dinner and we talked.  He eventually asked whether or not we wanted more children, and our story we told.  He knew someone who had adopted and the next day emailed her and I.  We instantly had a connection and planned to meet.

Picture and word art I made the day I learned about ANLC
This teary conversation between strangers at the local Wegman's coffee shop would forever transform our lives.  She and her husband had an adopted son through Adoption Network Law Center.  On my way home that day, I stopped at the river and went for a run.  It was the best day I had had in months.  I felt hopeful for the first time in so long.  The weight of secondary infertility began to lift in that very moment.  That night when my husband was home from work and my son was tucked in bed, I cried as I retold everything I could remember from my conversation earlier that day. 

My husband and I's next few conversations were not easy.  It took us a couple weeks to get on the same page about how to move forward.  I felt breathless with anticipation.  He was anxious about really relinquishing control.  I was in the midst of at least a minor depression and he wanted to do everything he could to support me.  Nevertheless, he didn't want to jump into a solution if he wasn't sure it was right for our family.  From what I understand, most couples take some time to get into the same place where they can move forward with adoption.  Everyone, including my therapist, told me not to rush into things.  But it just felt so right.  It felt like we were being called by God.

I've shared with many people along the way that this situation reminded me of the story "I sent you a rowboat" or it's also known as, "God save me" - I've heard this before and just pulled an internet reference here, I don't know who wrote it originally.

I Sent You a Rowboat

A very religious man was once caught in rising floodwaters. He climbed onto the roof of his house and trusted God to rescue him. A neighbour came by in a canoe and said, “The waters will soon be above your house. Hop in and we’ll paddle to safety.” 
“No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure he will save me” 
A short time later the police came by in a boat. “The waters will soon be above your house. Hop in and we’ll take you to safety.” 
“No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure he will save me” 
A little time later a rescue services helicopter hovered overhead, let down a rope ladder and said. “The waters will soon be above your house. Climb the ladder and we’ll fly you to safety.” 
“No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure he will save me” 
All this time the floodwaters continued to rise, until soon they reached above the roof and the religious man drowned. When he arrived at heaven he demanded an audience with God. Ushered into God’s throne room he said, “Lord, why am I here in heaven? I prayed for you to save me, I trusted you to save me from that flood.” 
“Yes you did my child” replied the Lord. “And I sent you a canoe, a boat and a helicopter. But you never got in.”
Source: unknown.
When we were introduced to ANLC, although the pain of miscarriage was still very real and the other options like IVF were still completely possible, adoption felt like the rowboat that I didn't want to pass by.  It felt like our best next step.  Through grace my husband and I slowly came to a common ground and decided to at least find out more about this agency that seemed to hold so much promise. 

ANLC's online information page asked for minimal information and I could easily fill it out.  A representative called me the same day.  Although that might sound aggressive, it didn't feel like pressure, and they were pleasant.  Eventually, we set up a time for a conference call with a representative, myself and my husband.  That two hour phone call was transformative for us.  I think we both knew that adoption with ANLC was right for us. 

The cost was higher with the national agency than it would have been with the local agencies but (again, by grace) our finances came together quicker than we anticipated.  In September 2013, we began filling out the paperwork for both ANLC and to begin a home study through Adoption Advisors.  We got busy writing our dear birthmother letter, getting fingerprinted, asking friends for
One picture our BM cited as drawing
her into our profile
references and taking pictures for our profile.  Our profile was "live" in October and our homestudy completed in December.  Throughout our time on the adoption "list", I was on the birth control pill.  Although this transition certainly lifted the cloud of depression from me, there were different stressors with adoption that took their toll.

The hardest part of adoption is the wait.  Much like with infertility, you begin to wonder what's wrong with you and why things aren't moving faster.  I often fretted over how I might make our profile more attractive to birthmothers.  I wondered whether certain words (like "nanny") were scaring the perfect match away.  Was it too preachy, not catchy enough, should I take out the reference to my miscarriages altogether? 

Again, I wanted my family now.  The wait from the pregnancy losses was cumulative with the  adoption wait.  I knew there was light at the end of the tunnel but there were times when it still seemed unfairly far off. 

When we least expected it, we were presented with a match in July 2014.  Mike and I agreed that it was perfect, right from the start. There were no major red flags in the birthparent history.  After a few days, the liaison from the agency called us all on a conference call and we spoke with the mother of our second son!  It was awesome. 

In September we flew out to meet our prospective birthmother and her children and family.  It was surreal.  We had fun and began to form a bond that will hopefully last our lifetimes.  Since her birthday had recently passed, we had celebratory pedicures (my husband included!) and took her and her kids out to eat.  We talked about a variety of topics as honestly as possible and began to trust one another. 

For the remainder of her pregnancy, we kept in touch by text and phone messages and continued to feel very close.  She seemed to be fervent in her adoption decision, which was of course good news to our ears.  The agency continued to caution us against getting "too hopeful."  It was too late for that.  Although I understand why they do this, I am not sure it's practical or useful.  Certainly an adoption disruption, which is not uncommon, would have been devastating, but in our hearts it felt like there was no room for anything but optimism and hope.  As with all six of our pregnancies, we were already in love with our child. 

Ultimately, I flew to the birth state a week before the due date.  I didn't have to work and was too anxious to stay home.  On Thanksgiving day, my husband flew out (work obligation free at that point) to join us. Our birthmother and her family were excited to see us and we spent at least a little time everyday together, getting to know each other more.  Her having children already certainly influenced our collective desire to be together.  They were full of fun ideas and we enjoyed the unique opportunity to get to know them.  Those days, waiting for our son to be born and getting to know his birthmother and brothers, were some of the most interesting, heartfelt days of my life. 

On her due date, we went with our birthmother to her 40 week appointment.  Although there were no signs of labor, the doctor sent us to Labor and Delivery for induction.  We were thrilled with anticipation!  The next morning, our son was born.  Our birthmother was so strong throughout her labor and delivery.  Immediately after my husband cut the cord and the baby was cleaned up, I had the great privilege of holding my second son skin to skin.  We spent about thirty minutes adoring each other and then he went to his daddy's arms.  Later, his birthmother held him for the first of many times and I was as honored at her connection with our son as she as she had been with mine. 

For the next 36 hours, we shared a hospital room.  Our collective visitors - including several of her friends and family as well as my older son, and sister in law who'd arrived earlier that morning by plane - crowded into the maternity waiting room.  Although I've described it as claustrophobic, it was also an intimate time of bonding for our various family units and I wouldn't trade a single second of it. 

The bravest woman I know signed the relinquishment of her parental rights the morning after our son was born.  We were discharged home later that morning.  We dropped her off at home and then headed back to our hotel.  As we drove we cried, trying to put into words the sheer awe we had just experienced. 

Five days later, the ICPC gave us permission to leave the birth state and return to our home state.  We were overjoyed! 

Six plane tickets and 8 hours in the air later, we were home with our family. 

Our adoption continues to be open and we've communicated with the birthmother through texts, pictures and letters since.  She seems to appreciate the connection and I'm certain that when's he's old enough to understand our son will too. 

Our adoption finalization won't be for several more months, but our two sons are settling into a great brotherhood.  We are so very happy.  Our story continues.... thankfully.... beautifully.

*Please note these are simply our experiences.  I don't mean to undermine anyone else's choices or suggest that ours are the best or only route. 
Adoption stories are as unique as fingerprints.  This is our story (so far).

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No Bohns About It

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A letter to someone hurting. You are not alone.

I have a friend out there who's suffering from a loss, really a series of losses and my heart goes out to her.  I have been there -- no, not exactly where you are.  Because the unjust list of reasons why some of us suffer and are not able to have the children we always dreamed of having in the way we always dreamed of having them, are varied.  Whether it be primary or secondary infertility, miscarriage, recurrent miscarriage, chromosomal abnormalities, neonatal death, the list goes on.  Each of these terrible outcomes on one's family planning is devastating in unique ways, and I don't pretend to understand them all.  But I do know a little about the pain you're going through.  And you are not alone.  There are countless women and men suffering like you, usually in silence. 

It is not fair that that which defines a great part of you is kept from you.  True, some women are not defined even in part by motherhood or the desire for motherhood.  There are true career women out there whom I admire and don't mean to undermine.  But a majority of us have a desire, however buried within us that longs for children.  There is nothing like being a mother.  It's a uniquely challenging and beautiful experience that through enough witness many of us know we want to share in. 

Some women know from a young age that they want a family and make it a high priority in their lives.  Some of those women suffer from infertility.  Many of us, however, are ridden with guilt for feeling like we just waited too long.  It's true that female fertility declines with age and since the average age of marriage and first childbirth is rising in America, it's no surprise that infertility is too.  "If only I had met mister right a few years sooner, then we wouldn't be here... if only I hadn't put my career first for all those years... if only we had tried sooner..."

Please don't "if only" yourself.  You did not.  You waited, or maybe you didn't.  Either way, you can't take that back now.  You did not drink too much caffeine.  You most certainly did not worry that baby to death.  One thing I know for sure is that YOU are not to blame that you do not have the baby you've been dreaming of.  I'll say it again, your nest is not empty through any fault of your own.  However hard, the first step is to stop blaming yourself.  Stop blaming your partner.

And then, stop blaming God.  Maybe that's not an issue for you, maybe your faith is as strong as ever.  God knows you're praying more than ever.  Who knows why those prayers remain unanswered...  [I think I know in part - it's because God's plan for your family is different than your own.  But yes, I know the bitter taste of that pill; and it isn't helping right now.] 

Right now, your unmet expectations are only worsened by others abundance of baby joy.  Often people speak about how unfair it is that women who do heroin can carry healthy babies to term, it feels like those women don't deserve their babies.  I don't know how to feel about that.  But I do know that you deserve your baby.  And that feels pretty damn unfair.  For me, and maybe also for you, this worldly injustice makes you feel a little jealous but your faith is strong enough to let you know that the world is just not fair, and you can reconcile that. 

But what can be even worse is when your best friend, maybe your sister or your colleague, is elated with her beautiful bump and you can't even look at her.  The thought of someone you love's baby shower makes you physically want to vomit (I've heard that from so many of my friends.)  Or these conversations that give you phantom kicks and then throw you into a panic attack (oh wait, maybe that's just me).  It's worse when it's someone you love.  They've been blessed with pregnancy or a brood full of babies, and that is good.  You know it's good, you know they deserve it.  You know you shouldn't be, but you are still jealous.  Your jealousy can be consuming, it is raw and always at the surface.  What's more, you don't need to be told that that jealousy is a sin.  You know it, and you hate yourself for it. 

You are not alone.  I've been there, felt that.  It's like a mild version of post traumatic stress disorder and I am so very sorry that you have to go through that.  As if losing a baby or being unable to conceive weren't bad enough, now you have to suffer again.

There are real reasons why you feel this way.  They need to be overcome, but they are real and you should know that.  I wish the people around you could validate that for you.  I am sorry that they cannot.  You grieved your baby, or the loss of the family you once imagined and maybe you even thought you were getting over it.  But then you have to also grieve the loss of the joys of pregnancy.  Nursery decorations, baby showers, ultrasound pictures, the glorious sensation of a baby kicking, maybe even those stretchy maternity clothes.  Yes, these are #firstworldproblems, but they are still very real in our minds and hearts.  We are surrounded by other women who are "successfully" growing their families.  You don't always get the space and time you need before you see a beautiful bump and feel jealous.  That's reality.  And no one, who hasn't been there, seems to understand. 

Nevertheless, you must give yourself the time to heal and give yourself a "pass" on the jealousy for a little while.  If it goes on beyond a few months, then I highly recommend you see a therapist (which I did when my panic began). 

Finally, when you just feel like you are healing, friendly commentary might be getting you down.  It comes from loved ones, some of the people closest to you, or often times from church people.  They mean well when they ask you to not give up hope, tell you that God is good, or insist that it will work out "next time."  They don't mean to hurt you but it hurts just the same.  Your perspective and your perception are all that really matter.  I recall the exhaustion of trying to be nice, when others were insensitive and completely lacking in empathy.  It's tiresome, and I wish you didn't have to deal with it.  I'm sorry they hurt you, even though they don't intend to.  Right now, their intentions don't matter.  You need and deserve someone who will truly listen.  Someone who will let you speak freely, honestly, about your hurts. 

Please don't be ashamed.  Even though all these forces are pushing you towards shame, you have nothing to be ashamed of.  You just need a safe space to be real.  Maybe it's your best friend who just won't listen without interrupting you and telling you how and why you need to get over it.  Just as unlikely, there will be someone who tries to understand.  They won't really understand because they haven't been where you are.  But the gesture of them trying will mean so much.  They might not even really be a friend, yet.  I know they're out there though.  Maybe it's me.  Maybe it's another blogger or maybe it's your spouse.  It could be a friend who just happens to not have any kids yet and you hadn't thought before to ask why.  Maybe she only has one child and is shooting herself up with hormones in the bathroom during her break at work.  You never know. 

Probably no one would be able to guess what's going on in your mind.  You're hiding but you don't need to.  Please find a safe space to truly heal. 

Your heart yearns for more.  You do not need to apologize for that. 

Please do not let the guilt for feeling jealous mount upon the jealousy and grief.  This burden is oh so heavy.  I am so sorry if you are suffering from this burden.  I know I did.  It took several months for me to start recovering and it has forever changed who I am. 

With support, online and in person, and the healing tincture of time, you will start to feel better. 

As I began my blogging journey, one beautiful person shared this video by Brene Brown with me, and I just cried and cried.  I began to feel understood.  I hope you find the refuge you need where you can remember what you're worth and whose capable hands you're in. 

This is a letter to someone hurting.  It could be a letter to myself two years ago.  Please share it if you know someone who is hurting.  Maybe you can't understand this blog, but I bet she will.