"...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

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.