Before I start my week of birth stories I want to share the story of Sue and Gary’s journey to adoption.
It’s amazing to think back on what my husband Gary and I have gone through over the past few years on our journey to start a family – and when I say “amazing” what I really mean is harrowing, LOL. But honestly, despite a lot of unexpected twists and turns, and a whole lot of tears, I think I’m a stronger and happier person for all we’ve gone through, and more ready than ever to be a mom.
Like many of our peers these days, we were in no big hurry to have a child when we first got married, 12 years ago. We were working hard, traveling, saving for a home, and enjoying our time with each other (and our two spoiled cats!). You see so many celebrities and hear stories of other women having babies well into their late 30s and 40s, so it seems like it should be no problem. Well, that can be true for many women, but it wasn’t to be for us.
At first we very passively tried to get pregnant: I was in my 30s, never had any reason to think it would be a problem, so we thought, “Let’s see what happens!” Well, nothing. So we moved on to the more active Taking Charge of Your Fertility—inspired stage: tracking ovulation, temperature-taking, testing, charting, taking herbals and teas and mucus medicines and I won’t even go on from there, LOL. And still no bambino.
So next, we launched ourselves into the mania-inducing world of infertility treatment. I say this with total acknowledgement that IVF and other fertility treatments are amazing and highly effective and life-changing for many, many families. But man, it’s a rough road! Especially if that road is ultimately to nowhere.
I won’t go through all the nitty-gritty, but anyone who’s been through it will know what I mean when I rattle off: IUI, Clomid hideousness, shots, shots, and more shots, insurance battles (if you’re lucky!), IVF, daily blood tests at the crack of dawn, trigger shots, tremendous hope, egg counts, embryos, more shots, waiting, hoping, tears of disappointment, trying again, more shots, more tests, more hope, more money more tears, repeat, repeat, repeat. Ugh. IVF is great when it works, but when it doesn’t, you’re pummeled. After a few failed attempts at a major NYC hospital clinic, we knew we couldn’t keep going at $15,000 a pop (even if insurance covers one round, it is nearly always strictly capped). And we were seeing decreasing numbers of “viable eggs” each time, as I entered my 40s and lost some hope. So like with any other project—like how to unclog your sink drain, or how to get pregnant in your 40s for less than $10,000!—I took to the Internet for help. Message boards for infertility are RAMPANT, with every single conceivable experience, tragedy, or triumph discussed and dissected in a million, gazillion emotional messages. Crazy-making! But also helpful, and somewhere along the way I learned about embryo donation, and then about a well-regarded clinic in the Czech Republic seeing a lot of success with that option, at a very reasonable cost.
After a few failed attempts at a major NYC hospital clinic, we knew we couldn’t keep going at $15,000 a pop (even if insurance covers one round, it is nearly always strictly capped). And we were seeing decreasing numbers of “viable eggs” each time, as I entered my 40s and lost some hope. So like with any other project—like how to unclog your sink drain, or how to get pregnant in your 40s for less than $10,000!—I took to the Internet for help. Message boards for infertility are RAMPANT, with every single conceivable experience, tragedy, or triumph discussed and dissected in a million, gazillion emotional messages. Crazy-making! But also helpful, and somewhere along the way I learned about embryo donation, and then about a well-regarded clinic in the Czech Republic seeing a lot of success with that option, at a very reasonable cost.
So off to Prague we went! No joke. We did all the pre-procedure drugs and tests (more shots!) here with the help of a U.S-based coordinator and an OB-GYN, and then scheduled our “embryo transfer” on the exact right day at the Czech clinic, with several days before and after for sight-seeing. It was an awesome trip, too! Not what this post is about, so I won’t go into it, but Prague is awesome and fun, I highly recommend visiting. And, most importantly, the clinic, doctor, and procedure were great. I think it took 45 minutes in total, and was totally painless, comfortable, and professional. So we headed back home with 2 embryos on board, hoping upon hope that they would make themselves at home. And they did! A couple of weeks later I went for a blood test, and lo and behold: a super-high HCG number, implying twins! It was almost more joy than I could handle – Gary, too, not to mention our families! Ecstatic. Ultrasounds every few weeks confirmed the two little creatures were growing right along, as was my belly. It was so much fun, dreaming of the little ones soon to come, loving them already. All the test results were looking good, no indications of any trouble. Until that big second-trimester measurement ultrasound at around 18 weeks: We had been so excited to find out the genders (2 boys), but that was immediately lost in a
And they did! A couple of weeks later I went for a blood test, and lo and behold: a super-high HCG number, implying twins! It was almost more joy than I could handle – Gary, too, not to mention our families! Ecstatic. Ultrasounds every few weeks confirmed the two little creatures were growing right along, as was my belly. It was so much fun, dreaming of the little ones soon to come, loving them already. All the test results were looking good, no indications of any trouble. Until that big second-trimester measurement ultrasound at around 18 weeks: We had been so excited to find out the genders (2 boys), but that was immediately lost in a blur, when the doctor noticed significant problems with “twin B.” And then, shortly thereafter, he didn’t make it – no heartbeat. Uggghh.
It was awful, of course. Can’t really describe it accurately. But “Twin A” was still thriving, and we needed to grieve as best we could for one while focusing on the joy still to come with the other little guy. It was really hard and confusing, but we did – in all the strange and meaningful ways you end up grieving such things, and reconciling them, we managed as best as we could – and we were still so excited and cautiously optimistic for our baby’s birth. We were planning for a shower, jotting down name ideas, looking at cribs, and strollers, and stuffed animals, reading parenting books, etc., etc. And then I went into labor at 22 weeks, and it was just too early, and he – Twin A – didn’t survive. Gus, that is what we named him, in a morphined, tear-addled blur in the hospital when they asked for a name for the death certificate.
Grief is like a tsunami, I think. It’s flattening, comprehensive, disorienting, huge. I was not the same person for a while, after the losses. Thank god for my mom, and all the family and co-workers and friends who figured out how to help me, us. It wasn’t exactly the same experience for Gary and me, of course, but we were both in it. And somehow, with lots of support, and reliance on each other, we managed to get through it, together. For a while I couldn’t think about a next step. It felt wrong to even think about adoption or other babies in any meaningful way while grieving ours. I knew I would never try to get pregnant again – that was over, too traumatic to consider. Plus, the blood-clot thing actually resulted in some genetic testing that determined I have a strong (double-gene) hyper-clotting factor – news to me. It’s nothing to really worry about, just requires avoidance or extra vigilance in clot-producing situations – such as pregnancy. The somewhat incredible knowledge from all of this is that being on the blood thinner (Lovenox, the one considered safe for pregnancy) is probably what enabled me to get pregnant at all, finally. In fact, it’s used to aid in IVF sometimes, as excessive clotting is thought to perhaps impede embryo implantation!But in any case, useful knowledge or not, no more pregnancies for me.
So eventually as I healed I started to think a lot more about adoption. It was always a consideration, and Gary and I had already decided that a “non-genetic” child was a perfectly wonderful option – our pregnancy had been through donated embryos anyway. And we truly loved the idea of providing a loving home for a child who needs one. But I knew it was very hard, and long, and expensive. Still, we started researching the options. I still wasn’t entirely emotionally ready to move on, but was getting there, and we knew that it would be months or years to get through the process anyway.
To our own surprise, we decided on domestic adoption after learning how limited, difficult, and chaotic international adoption has become for Americans in recent years. A large number of the countries that formerly allowed U.S. adoption are no longer participating, for various social and political reasons. Others have had their programs closed due to insufficient infrastructure, to guard against child trafficking and corruption, or are just allowing significantly fewer adoptions (sometimes for good reasons, sometimes not). And it’s yet unknown how negatively the Zika virus will impact the situation with some countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Domestic adoption is no cake-walk either, as there simply aren’t anywhere near as many babies being placed for adoption as there are families hoping to adopt – which is generally a good thing for our country, but a very difficult thing for prospective adoptive parents. And that pool of parents, of course, intersects with those who might have adopted internationally if it were more feasible, so the problem is compounding. Regardless, we are now firmly strapped in for this crazy ride – and crazy it’s been. After months of voluminous paperwork, training and education, criminal and financial clearances, and social worker visits, last June we were officially “home study approved” with the adoption agency we chose (and started paying thousands of dollars to). And we excitedly began to wait. And wait. And still wait. A few situations did come up that didn’t end up working out, so it’s not like nothing at all was happening – but nothing that ultimately resulted in us bringing home a baby.
After about 6 months we started to feel powerless and a little impatient, and we recognized that after all we’d been through, we were now feeling really strong and fully invested in making this happen as soon as possible, no matter how hard. We truly became those annoying people who think that terrible things happening can actually enrich your life, LOL. Somehow, we’re happier than ever, and feeling so capable and optimistic. So we got much more pro-active – joined adoption support groups, met with lawyers and other experts, got a ton of advice and insights from others in the process, and started a ton of networking on social media – which was never my favorite thing AT ALL, but is the absolute must-do in adoption networking, we learned. And it’s basically free, to boot. Couples and singles all over the country are reaching out via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc., to share a view into their lives and their adoption hopes with expectant mothers who now may be most comfortable looking for help that way.
At first, I was too shy to put much out there about ourselves, and mainly just posted lots of pictures of our cats (who now have a decent Instagram following! LOL). But then we realized that just wasn’t going to cut it in terms of attracting attention to our search. So we took the advice of our lawyer and many adoption alums we’ve met, and made a website, Facebook and Twitter accounts, and our labor of love: a video remake of Phillip Phillips’s “Home” music video, with us (and our cats!) re-creating some of his video shots and singing, too (despite my cringing reaction now when I hear it! LOL).
We posted it 2 weeks ago, and it’s getting a tremendously positive reaction – at first from friends and family, but now others have started to see it and pass it along. Just this Friday, the host of a Baltimore country radio station who saw the video on Twitter shared it via this incredibly kind post on the station’s website. And now many others are sharing it from there or from social media – in what is increasingly being seen as an effective and low-cost means of adoption matching. With any luck, that one special person who is considering placing her baby for adoption will see it, connect with us, and help us have the family we dream of, at long last.