Monday, December 20, 2010

The Match

Writing this post is kind of like writing about my first kiss. What I'm about to share is so wonderful that I'd like everyone to be able to feel what I felt, but at the same time it's so personal and intimate that I just feel kind of exposed and hopeless trying to communicate what it was like. I wonder if I should even put something so intimate out there, or instead just Emily Dickinson it away in my personal chest of unpublished posts, away from the prying eyes of those whom I don't know will ever possibly understand.

We received a packet of information and pictures from the couple who was hoping to donate their embryos to us. It contained pictures of their children, a written medical history of their family, a worksheet about their personal lives and decisions they've made in regards to the freezer babies, and a packet of information from their clinic about the egg donor they had used. These words are already completely inadequate. It was a packet of distilled hope for their children from them to us, threadbare in its facts, but swollen with unspoken importance behind every fact and picture.

The first thing I saw was a picture of the most adorable little boy with wide eyes and rosy cheeks, that his mother must have been so proud to show off. I had to keep mentally reminding myself that I wasn't trying to adopt him, and that his siblings would be just as precious. After having spent so long aching for a child of my own though, holding that picture almost felt like he was mine in some cathartic sense. This feeling escalated as we showed family and friends who had been praying with us for this match, and they oohed and ahed over him and his brother. They all commented how they thought the baby in the picture could easily be mistaken for "ours" in the biological sense.

Sam and I had decided a long time before this that we weren't going to reject any embryos offered to us based on family history or physical characteristics. Our goal was never eugenics in any sense, and we knew there were no guarantees anyway, so the medical information included was really just that: information. There was cancer mentioned. There was deafness and diabetes and lung disease. I wonder what it was like, writing those things down, wondering if anything would cause a potential adoptive family to say that the babies weren't good enough, might not be healthy enough. I hope that this thought never crossed their minds, because all we saw was data that our children would use to complete forms- important to know, but not scary or worrisome. 

Then there was the personal information. We learned about a few of the interests, occupations, and physical characteristics of this family. It struck me that although they had used an egg donor, the donating mom still included her own information, that she wanted us to know her, not just put down "genetic" info, including her husband only, and I am profoundly grateful. I want to know her, because without her, our babies wouldn't exist. I suspect that without her, my family wouldn't have been picked. And without her, I wouldn't feel this connection to another mother who had also longed for a baby and knew exactly what I was feeling as I waited for a miracle that only another woman could give me. 

As I read, I found myself drawn in spirit to this woman who shared my faith, who stated that "Life is sacred, and if God gives us a gift, He calls us to nurture and value it." She went on to ask directly, knowing that I would be reading it, if their embryos might be ours to nurture? As I read, I wept. At that moment, I was committed, body and soul, to following through with doing everything I could do to accept the charge of motherhood for the babies that this family had waiting. It was less of a hope and more of a reality, now that I had the words of this precious mother ringing in my head as permission and commission to love her children and make them my own. 

 The unique nature of embryo adoption, among other things, is this: the donating couple and the adopting couple are almost always joined by the bond of infertility. This is a fear on everyone's part, I am sure. The adopting couple wonders if the embryos might not be viable since their parents couldn't conceive naturally, and the donating couple wonders if the embryos might not survive since the adoptive mother hasn't successfully carried her own children in her womb. Our donating family took this fact as an opportunity to minister to us, not knowing if this match would result in living children. They said, and I echo to everyone I know who is waiting:

"May God bless you with children! But, if He does not, I pray that His generous hand will more than fill your lives with joy, purpose, and peace." 

Amen, and Amen.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Call

It's funny what makes us remember certain things. I'll remember this date forever, but not because I'm good with dates. Rather, I remember that The Year of Waiting was bounded, largely, by my little sister's pregnancy. I got her phone call telling me she was pregnant as we were on our way to visit friends and ask them if they would write us a recommendation for our homestudy. While I love my sister, and I truly enjoyed our homestudy process, that particular weekend was marked with tears, self-pity, and lots of cake as it really hit home to me how simple becoming a parent is supposed to be, as opposed to having to get referrals and affidavits just to have the chance to try.

Our friends took pictures for us to put into our profile to send to donating families. I had been so excited about it, but I remember forcing the smiles for the camera as it flashed through my head over and over again that we shouldn't "have" to be doing this. I completely understand the need for adoptive parents to go through a screening process, and I agree with it, but there are times when a couple who is adopting after infertility especially feels awkward about selling themselves as good potential parents. Of course, I didn't include these captions on our real profile, but I was thinking something along these lines.

Look! We're happy, healthy, and we love each other! Pick us!
Plus, we may or may not actually live on this beautiful beach!

We have a clean kitchen, and Mr. Myth even washes dishes!  What a great guy!
Why no, this picture wasn't staged at all!!

Aaaaaand, we have books! Lots of books! Books in every subject and category!
 More books than a potential child could ever read in a lifetime! We will educate said theoretical children very well!

That was April. By late autumn, as our "should have been matched by now" date had come and gone, I was trying my very best to hold it together emotionally, but I was on thin ice. I missed my sister's baby shower because I didn't trust myself to be any kind of good company for her. I started running to lose the pity-cake-eating induced weight I'd gained that year, and to get myself out of the house after work. I hate running.... I did it anyway. I figured if I couldn't have kids yet, I could at least be healthy and thin- I don't know if that's a good reason to run, but I do know that the running did help my mood!

Finally, December 12th 2010, my sister delivered. Sam and I had gone to the drive-in with friends, and ended up texting back and forth with my dad the whole evening about her progress (we live 6 hours away). She and my new niece did beautifully, and I don't think I cried, but I definitely felt numb. Infertility does that- it takes away your normal emotions and filters everything through a meat grinder, before spitting it out mangled and ruined into your consciousness. I don't honestly even remember if I called my sister directly to congratulate her. I really hope I did.

The next day was Monday. At 9:45 a.m., right after first period let out and my students had left the classroom, I drew in a sharp breath, and burst into gasping tears. Sam, who taught in the next class over and could hear everything, came running faster than I have ever seen him, convinced that something terrible had happened to me. I couldn't even speak. All I could do was turn my computer screen towards him and show him where I had opened my e-mail, and was reading the subject line that said:

We have a family that is excited about you! Congratulations!!

On December 13, 2010, we were introduced to a family who wanted us to consider giving their embryos a chance to continue their lives. Our wait to be matched was over, and our dreams were beginning to take shape in reality. 

Friday, October 1, 2010


I used to have day-dreams that a baby would be abandoned on our doorstep and I would get to keep it.

Adoption apparently doesn't work like that in real life. It involves waiting in almost every circumstance. Couples sit on a waiting list for a domestic infant adoption for months and years, easily. EA waits vary based on the agency and the clinic, but typically are shorter for a couple hoping to adopt embryos than for most other types of adoption. Our agency gave us an estimate of 2-4 months. We turned in our stuff by June, but had heard approximately nothing by October. I was starting to get worried, but determined that it wouldn't be that much longer. I mean, after 2 years of infertility, what was a couple of months?

Then, a computer friend of mine who was adopting through the same agency got matched, and they had turned in their profile only a couple of months before. I had been doing really well up until that point, thinking "the list" was just longer than normal, because after all, we had been very clear that we weren't "picky" regarding donating families. (I had actually secretly hoped we might get matched with a family of a different racial background, because, well, wouldn't that just be the neatest thing ever? A living testimony that we are all part of the human family no matter our heritage?)

Naturally or not, at this point I started to wonder what was wrong with us. Why weren't we good enough for the families that wanted to see their embryos given a chance to live? I imagined all sorts of "us vs. them" scenarios, like:

-We're too young, and couples who do IVF are normally older than their 20s. They must think we're too immature, or will regret not trying for a bio kid first.
-We don't own a house. They must think we're poor money managers.
-We work for a ministry. They must think we're flighty and can't find real jobs. Or maybe they think we're too religious and will make bad parents because we must be extremists.
-We sent pictures of the ranch where we both live and work. They probably think we're living in a commune and just want kids to give kool-aid to!

Aaaaaaaahhhhh!!! I caved on my goal of not bugging the case worker, and called. I wasn't totally sure, but it sounded like our profile hadn't even been shown, because she didn't think we were a good match for any of her current placing parents. This made me feel both better and worse. I mean, obviously no placing family had rejected us, but at the same time, what if the case worker was the one thinking all of the bad things about us? What if she never found anybody who she thought would want to donate to juvenile loafer religious extremists?

She must have heard the desperation in my voice and the well-repressed tears, because she followed up by saying that she had a "maybe" prospect that she would send our profile to, and that they had several new couples who were in the process of getting their paperwork turned in to donate their embryos. She also reassured me that God had a plan for the right match. I mean, I knew this, but I wasn't sure if her telling me that was a hint to back off and let her do her job, or if it was a sign that she thought I would be matched soon.

Gah. Insecurities abounded.

This part of the journey was tough. I think my feelings of infertility were newly stirred with the realization that we were kind of on hold indefinitely. I briefly toyed with the idea of trying to conceive again (Sam didn't agree though... he's always the voice of reason!), but mostly just felt sub-par. I wish I could say that I had some grand revelation or spiritual breakthrough that gave me a joyful spirit about the wait, but I didn't. I just survived. Which, in the end, means that I can take absolutely no credit for the fact that our match did eventually happen, and exactly, I'm sure, when God meant for it to.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Myth

In August of 2010, I was infertile and childless, waiting for a call that didn't seem to be coming any time soon. Judge Royce C. Lamberth, whose parental status I don't know, was, at that time, issuing a ruling that President Obama couldn't single-handedly overturn congressional laws regarding federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. I was reading about it on the internet, in an article much like this one: I don't actually remember the article, or the news provider, and I honestly don't remember the articles "take" on the subject, if there was one.

Because I was moderately depressed anyway, and unable to tear myself away from the train wreck of opinions, I spent quite a bit of time reading the comments under the article. It contained the usual hate speech regarding presidents both past and present (but mostly past), protests regarding international conflicts, and a lot of wrath aimed at pro-life activists. There was, as always comes up when embryos are mentioned, a veritable stream of animosity aimed at people who can't have children, but pursue getting help in doing so anyway, since, of course, they should just accept their childless state as nature's way of phasing their obviously defective genes off of an overpopulated planet. 

And then, in the middle of all of that, there was this comment, edited because I don't remember the exact comment and had no wish to save it:

"The right-wing religious nuts want us to believe the myth that there are embryos available for adoption, but their lie is halting the progress of science"
And here's the kicker: nobody contested it. I was flabbergasted.  I almost, and I do mean I came thisclose, signed up for whatever news site it was, ready to brave the stream of spam it would bring to my inbox, just to address the issue. I wish I had, even though the comment was roughly 12 pages back on a small article that nobody would be reading even 3 days later.

You see, the call I had been waiting for was for one of those "mythical" embryo adoptions. We had put in our application, and were just waiting to be contacted. I was in contact with families who had children born from adopted embryos. I had gone through paperwork, bloodwork, house inspections, and fingerprinting to qualify to adopt an embryo. I was praying that even now a family was looking at our profile, asking themselves if we were the right couple to give their babies a chance to continue life. This was no myth.

That terminology has haunted me all the way through this process. I was reminded of it today as I spent half an hour dangling my hair in my baby's face and listening to her shriek with laughter, and I thought- "I'm not making this up!" There were hundreds of angry people on that website wanting to dissect her little life cell by cell and perform experiments with her remains, but we wanted her for her own sake. So this blog is, in part, for the unbelievers out there, those who think that there are only two options for embryos in animated suspension: death via discarding, or death via research, and that the possibility of life with loving, biologically unrelated parents is a myth:

We're here.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Paper Pregnancy

"Paper Pregnancy" is the term used to describe the mountain of paperwork and requirements to meet before being accepted as a waiting family with an adoption agency. It is possible to receive embryos from a clinic, and not go through an agency to do so. It is also possible to receive embryos directly from a family known to you without going through either a clinic or an agency. We chose to look for an agency to match us, mainly because we wanted it to be as close to a regular adoption as possible, out of respect for the babies involved.

EVERY baby needs a family. This is not in question. Our choice was a matter of making a statement about how we viewed a process the law calls a "transfer of property." We see it as an adoption- opening our family to a life that we did not have any genetic part in creating. To go through an agency was more expensive, which is why many couples do not choose the same as we did, but we saw it as completely worth the cost. 

Because we chose to work with an agency, we got to work through the "Paper Pregnancy" of a traditional adoption, which included:

-Homestudy visits and safety inspections of our house
-Interviews, both individually and as a couple, with a social worker
-A physical and bloodwork (STD checks, mainly)
-Child Abuse Registry checks for every state we'd ever lived in
-Exhaustive questionnaires about our backgrounds, relationship, parenting philosophies, etc.
-Letters of recommendation from 3 different non-related person, including a pastor
-An intro letter and picture page for potential donating parents
-A letter stating that I had no conditions that contraindicated pregnancy
-Financial budget worksheets

Some of the things were humorous- who has to baby-proof their house before they even are allowed to try to get pregnant? We did! Others were embarrassing, like the bloodwork and doctor's visits required, but most of this process was very helpful to us as a couple as we worked together and became more solid on what we wanted and who we were. Our homestudy was performed through Bethany Christian Services, and I can't speak highly enough of their professionalism and helpfulness. Our social worker was wonderful, and we felt more than comfortable meeting with her and discussing our plans.

We began the process in January 2010, and had everything turned in by June 2010. So, all in all, a 6 month "Paper Pregnancy." It was exciting to be working towards a goal, and also strange to see our entire lives written out in the homestudy report. I would say that the paperwork process was much less stressful than the waiting for us.

The draw of EA

When Sam and I first sat down and bold-faced our looming infertility, we did what we usually do when making decisions together: we made a list. This list included all possible paths we could think of that we could go down, and it looked something like this:

Non-medical interventions to try to conceive:

  • More vitamins, herbs, & diet changes.
  • More charting
  • Ummm..... cross our fingers, don't think about it, stand on my head, and/ or quit our jobs and start an illegal drug habit?

Medical things to try to conceive:

  • Clomid
  • IUI
  • IVF
  • I can't think of anything sarcastic to add to this list, but I'm sure there's something. Somebody give me some ideas!

Non-conception options:

  • Foster-to-adopt
  • Domestic infant adoption
  • International adoption
  • Embryo adoption
  • Forget about kids and I can go back to school to become a nurse practitioner, which may in fact result in pregnancy if I manage to get us heavily into debt to do so.

Given all of those options, after I got done reading the list, Sam said he wanted to try EA first. I asked him why. I mean, I secretly agreed with him, but I wanted to know his reasons before I told him that. He said that he wanted me to have the chance to breast-feed, because he knew that was important to me, but that he really wanted to adopt too. The funny thing? He was right

There are a myriad of other reasons we wanted to do it, not the least of which being the sheer moral weight of the knowledge that we could be part of a solution to a problem few people knew about. I felt pulled, obligated to the little frozen babies as soon as I learned there were some that needed homes, and that I had arms that longed to be filled. We also knew that while older and medically needy children were waiting for placement too, we had no experience parenting yet, and didn't feel equipped yet (maybe in the future!) to address the needs of children who had had different caregivers before they came home with us. 

But I am not kidding, we picked EA so that I could have every opportunity to nurse the baby. Everyone has a reason for what they choose that goes beyond the standard "I saw a need that I wanted to fill." Mine was both the most self-centered and the most giving thing I can think of, but it still blows my mind a little that my husband knew what it was before I even voiced it myself. The rest of the list was never even touched- we found what we wanted and didn't ever have a reason to look back, for which I have absolutely no regrets.