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Our Family’s Fertility Struggles: Part Two

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Ten months ago, I opened up about the problems my husband I and were having trying to have children. I shared with you our decision to adopt after failing to conceive for a long time, on our own and then with fertility treatments. It is time for an update on our lives.

In the ten months that have passed since that original blog, we have still not gotten pregnant. If you are keeping track, that makes it thirty-one months since we began actively trying to conceive a child — over two and a half years. However, the pain of a possible future without children led us to seek other avenues for building our family, and we started our adoption process last August. It was a long, confusing, at times overwhelming, process, but I can thank God that I am now a Mama — that is, to a human baby, rather than just my cats.

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Let me begin just after the failure of our second attempt at IUI, at the next doctor’s appointment to see if I had viable follicles for a third round of treatment. Because of hormone therapy (and some resulting depression, I’d assume), I’d gained about thirty-five pounds in just over five months and was told that day that I’d gained too much weight for the IVF specialist to consider treating us. I was handling the disappointment of another failed fertility attempt poorly, a baby cried in the next room, and my doctor had just tried to console me by saying, “I’m really sad to see you back here — I just really thought it would take this time.”

In the car on the hour and fifteen minute drive home, I told Josh that I just couldn’t deal with it anymore — I couldn’t handle the pain and disappointment and cost and time of all the doctors appointments. He asked if I could be happy without kids. I told him that, while I loved our life together, I wanted a family — a child (or four) to love and snuggle, who would wake us up early on Christmas morning, and with whom we would have movie marathons in footy pajamas, carve pumpkins at Halloween after trips to the pumpkin patch, go to the zoo and circus, build snowmen, and eat dinner at six. I told him I didn’t think I could be happy without that. He said that, in that case, we wouldn’t waste any more time on “ifs” — if I have enough properly-sized follicles, if I get pregnant, if I don’t miscarry — and we’d start to focus on “whens” — when we get the paperwork done, when the social worker approves our home study, and when a child gets placed with us.

We initially decided to foster children in the hopes of being able to later adopt them. We signed up for classes two months in a row, which were cancelled due to lack of interest. Simultaneously, we started searching out information on other types of adoption programs. We were disheartened by the cost of infant adoption, but we decided not to rule it out.  Our friends, family members, and pastor all gave us advice, along with names and phone numbers to try. We attended a town meeting on fostering and adopting. We contacted several agencies — state-run and private — to seek more information. Then it was time to make a decision.

The agency we chose was All About U Adoptions, a small company based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. They made all the paperwork, applications, and classes as organized and straightforward as possible, with a clear-cut to-do list and a timeline for getting it done determined, really, by us. Being as ambitious and strong-willed as I am, I forced my husband to complete the essays and budget and coursework as quickly as possible, despite the snails’ pace at which it seemed the state offices ran in filing and approving our fingerprints and background checks. We finished the entire process, including the home study, in approximately four months; we truly had much for which to be grateful at Thanksgiving.

After our photo book was made and copies were submitted to the agency, we were told we would have to continue to be patient, and that they were hoping to be able to match us to a birth mother within a year. We talked to other couples who had completed adoptions, and they gave us hope that eventually we would be chosen. We decided we would wait about six weeks — just until the start of the new year — and then we would look into hiring an adoption marketing company to seek out potential matches for us (which would be another added cost, but would likely result in an adoption for us much sooner than a year of waiting).

Surprisingly, at the end of December, we got the phone call we had been hoping for: there were two birth mothers who might pick us, if we agreed to show them our portfolios. We immediately said yes (of course we said yes, with perhaps a bit too much enthusiasm), and we were supposed to hear back if one of them had chosen us by the next day. We didn’t hear back the next day, or the day after. We contacted our agent, who said that one of the mothers had picked a different couple and the other wanted to set up an interview on Skype.

I am not sure if I have ever been as nervous as I was the evening we were to connect with a potential birth mother. I knew that she probably had many other couples on the list, most of whom had likely been waiting much longer — months or years, even — for a match. I was afraid that we wouldn’t have THE quality — the one specific, subjective quality that differs but that all birth mothers look for in a potential family for their child — the quality that can’t be predicted by anyone else but which makes up her mind definitively one way or the other. We had heard that one birth mother chose a couple because of a tee-shirt the husband was wearing in a picture of the portfolio book. Another birth mom chose a family because they lived on a farm.

On January 3, 2017, my life changed forever when Hannibal jumped into my lap on camera during the course of conversation. Our son’s birth mother said, “You have cats. You are so happy — always smiling. I want to move forward.” So we had THE quality — our genuine happiness and love for each other won her over. So did our cat.

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We called our families and friends, and we told them that, while we had been chosen and were cautiously optimistic, the birth mom could still change her mind any time up to five days after the court hearing to terminate parental rights; this occurs some time after the baby is born. So, while our son was due in April, and we frantically made registries and painted his room and set up his crib and joyfully washed all the tiny clothes we received at our baby shower, we were under the constant fear that she would change her mind and decide to keep him or, perhaps (and I’m still not sure it would have been legally possible), pick a different family instead. I was always very careful during that three and a half months to answer everyone’s questions with a warning: “We are so excited, but, remember, she can still change her mind.” I was terrified it would happen.

Our church and our students organized and held fundraisers for us. We also received private donations. All of this helped with the financial burden. Our friends were incredibly helpful, including writing recommendations, offering advice and babysitting services, and giving us gifts and hugs. The towns in which we live and teach were completely supportive and most people seemed genuinely excited for us.

Then, in the blink of an eye, it was mid-April and we got a call saying our birth mother was in labor. I’ll never forget the elation and uneasiness we felt over the course of driving those eighteen hours. We were somewhere in Missouri when we learned our baby had been flown to the Arkansas Children’s Hospital because he had to have surgery for a very serious birth defect. Once we arrived in Little Rock, at 9:15 p.m., we were turned away because we didn’t have parental rights; they wouldn’t even confirm our son was actually in the hospital. I can not explain the fury and despair we felt, knowing our son was in a crib somewhere in that hospital, he was sick, we didn’t know exactly how severely, and we weren’t even able to hold his hand. So, while our son was born on Monday evening, we didn’t actually meet him until Wednesday morning, when his birth parents arrived at the hospital and put us on the visitor list.

Our son spent a week and a half in the NICU. Over the course of that time, we were given legal guardianship. We spent each day with him; his birth mother was with him most nights. She was there out of love and worry for her baby, even though it was at great physical and financial cost to herself. She had given him up for adoption because of her circumstances, and it was clear that, while she understood the choice she had made in giving him to us, it still pained her deeply. In that short time, I grew to love her in a way that would be hard for people who don’t have adopted children to understand.

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About a month and a half after he was born, we had to fly back to Arkansas with him to finalize the adoption. The entire trip went smoothly, and we are happily home with our son who is, in the judge’s words, “Ours just as if he had been born to us.” He is calm and sweet. He is learning to smile. Life is literally better than I even imagined it would be.

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For all of you praying for a positive pregnancy test, I haven’t forgotten you. I haven’t forgotten what it feels like to cry quietly so your husband doesn’t hear you when that test comes up negative. I haven’t forgotten the jealous torment of reading someone else’s pregnancy announcement on Facebook or the energy-draining despair of smiling when others say, “You would make great parents — you should think about having kids!” or the anguish of hearing other women complaining about the stretch marks and baby weight and heartburn and late nights and check-ups and morning sickness.

And, I pray that all of you find your joy. It might occur when you get pregnant. It might not happen biologically — it certainly hasn’t happened for us in the ten years Josh and I have been married — so I encourage you to consider other options, too. It might come from rescuing a pet. It might be when your priorities shift and you decide to look into fostering a child — maybe a toddler or even a teenager. Because of the costs associated with infant adoption, we have decided that we will look more into fostering children when our son is a bit older.

As I have stated previously, there is more to being a family than having a child with your genes. My baby doesn’t have Josh’s hair or my eyes, but he has our hearts forever.

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Peace and love.

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This Thanksgiving Season

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It is the time of year when people begin to express their gratitude for the good things in their lives. Of course, I could go on and on about being thankful for owning a home, my husband and I each having stable jobs, being in relatively good health, and all the expected sentiments: pets, good weather, and full bellies. In light of all that has happened in my family, good and bad, this year, I am going to take a moment and share from my heart.

Last fall, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She has been receiving chemo for just over a year, had a double-mastectomy in the spring, and went through six weeks of radiation this summer. It is a hard process to watch, but with determination and a caring medical team, my mom was recently told by her doctor she is officially a “survivor.” This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for my mom, as never before.

In May, my dad suffered a massive stroke in two parts of his brain. He has come through with much less damage and fewer long-term effects than anyone thought possible. Then, in the summer, he had heart surgery. His doctors are surprised and proud of his resilience. He has healed quickly and has not lost his sense of humor. I am so thankful I am able to call my dad and argue over politics and hear his laugh.

Three weeks ago, my parents were sleeping when their house caught fire. They barely escaped and spent four days in the hospital recuperating from smoke damage. In a year where our family has had its share of disappointments and crises, this tops the list of being a mental and emotional drain. However, I believe, truly, that God sent angels to protect my parents’ lives while all around them was destruction.

In the midst of all of this, my husband and I were receiving fertility treatments that did not work. How can we find a blessing in this for which to be thankful? We have been inundated by friendship and support that was both unexpected and greatly appreciated. Our community, our friends, even strangers have been so thoughtful, uplifting, generous, and positive that it has helped me face the task of filling out adoption paperwork (so much paperwork!) and readying for our home visit with optimism. It is so much easier to do a difficult task when you know that people want you to succeed; we have received cards, phone calls, letters, and social media messages that I will forever store in my heart. I did not know, when I wrote about our fertility struggles, how many people this problem affects. Nor did I know how supportive people would be by the announcement that we were beginning to look into adoption. People have been so kind, understanding, and excited for us that it reinforces — in the midst of all the negativity in the world today and, particularly, in our country this week — the idea that most people are genuinely good, caring, and loving. Please know that we genuinely appreciate all the support we have received, and cannot express our thankfulness adequately enough.

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Why Parents Should Attend Conferences

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The belief exists among many parents that conferences with their child’s teacher are unimportant. For one reason or another, parents can justify to themselves why skipping their scheduled time doesn’t make a difference in the long run: my child has a good grade; the teacher would call if there was a problem; I’m too busy to take the time off work. All of these reasons seem legitimate, and, despite their validity, I’d like to present a counterargument expressing why Parent-Teacher Conference Night should be highlighted on every parent’s calendar.

First, there are many reasons teachers need to speak with you, beyond communicating your child’s letter grade. We often need to express to you what your child’s strengths are, what areas they can improve, and how they can adjust to better succeed in school. We may need to address minor behavioral concerns that don’t warrant a phone call home. We might want to ask about your evening schedule or suggest ways you can help your child prepare at home. We also would like to get to know you, to better relate to you or feel more comfortable discussing problems as they come up. We would like to express, face to face, our joy at your child’s successes and our sadness in their struggles. In short, we want to know you, and we want you to know us.

Second, parents have a different perspective and deeper knowledge level of who their child, our student, is. That perception is often vital in helping us understand how best to teach each student individually. The more we know about your son or daughter, the more we can tailor our lessons to help him or her. You can provide insight into his or her life that we would otherwise be unable to see. You can explain to us about your child’s health, talk to us about signs or symptoms of conditions you are concerned about, and describe for us any social problems they might be having outside of school. Mental, physical, and emotional health has a huge impact on a student’s performance, and if you make us aware of those types of issues, we are able to better accommodate a child’s needs.

Third, it demonstrates to your child the importance of an open relationship with others in their lives who care for them. When we can converse at conferences, you can share with them how their teacher views their abilities and that lets them know they are individuals, unique and appreciated just for who they are. It helps to build a better support system between some of the most important people in your child’s life: you and their teachers.

Make talking with your child’s teacher a priority. We will be flexible about timing. We just want your input. Educating a student is a team effort, and you are half the team.

Peace and love.

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