Moving Beyond Biological Children: A Mother's Day Tale

Sunday, May 14, 2017

A dear friend texted me today, "I want to tell you happy Mother's Day.  I know all too well how hard this day can be.  You WILL be an AMAZING mom!!!"

I have to agree, I will be an amazing mom.  Not because I've read tens of parenting books (I haven't, but I probably should).  Not because I have some special way with children (I don't).  Not because I have an incredible husband who empowers and encourages me (I do, and that definitely doesn't hurt).  Not because I've been yearning to be a mother for years now and I have so much love to give (although that's true).

It's because I have an AMAZING mom.

This photo, from my wedding day, is one of my favorite photos of us ever.  It reminds me of every ballet recital she prepared me for and every homecoming or prom she did my hair just the way I wanted.  As I stare at the photo, I can remember so many moments with her standing behind me, helping me along.

In settling into foster care preparations, I've nearly forgotten the heartbreak our infertility caused me.  So much so, that when my friend sent me that text this morning, I was almost caught off guard remembering how awful this day could have been.  Ian and I talked during our dating days about being foster parents, and as this situation continues to unravel, it feels so clearly like we were meant for this.  But I also realize we probably wouldn't have made it to foster care without infertility.  And I'm okay with that.  But I might not have been if not for a simple conversation with my mom...

A couple months ago, I told her Ian and I were moving forward with foster care.  She had come to visit and we were driving to see my little sister coach a volleyball game.  She started talking about how me, Shannon, and Jessi (my sisters) are so different.  Simply because she bore us didn't make us clones of her or give her some telepathic connection to us.  Sure, we shared some physical traits, but other than that we were our own people.  The character traits I have resembling my mom aren't because she gave birth to me.  I have them because she raised me.  And something about that conversation was so healing for me.

That conversation answered the nagging, devastating question of "What if Ian and I never get to see what our biological children look like?"  I don't think the root cause behind that question really had to do with aesthetics, I think it had to do with connection.  Can I innately, immediately understand what a child needs without being it's biological mother?  No, I can't. But that's ok, because as it turns out that's a learned skill for all moms alike.  There wasn't some telepathic connection that told my mom I was hungry when I was a newborn, she learned through trial and error of going through the checklist of things to pacify a crying baby.  There wasn't some telepathic connection that told my mom I skinned my knee by falling off my bike, she learned because I'd come crying and limping back home with blood trickling down my leg.  A telepathic connection didn't tell my mom I was struggling to get dressed for college graduation because I was sobbing, devastated by a recent breakup—I did, when I called her and told her, somewhat unintelligibly through sobs, that I couldn't get my sweater on.

And even without these superhuman powers, she still manages to be superhuman.  Over three decades after my birth, she still champions me and the desires of my heart.

Mom, thanks for being the best mom ever (not biased or anything).  I'm sorry I can't give you the gift of gleefully telling all your friends that you're going to be a grandma (again) in the traditional sense of the word, but somehow I feel like that doesn't bother you.  I know you're striving to understand your role as a foster grandma and how best to support Ian and I and our future children in this, but rest assured you continuing to stand behind us and cheerlead this journey is all the support we need.

Preparing our home for foster care, part 1

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

It's been five weeks since my last post.  Partly because I'm a terrible blogger and partly because really not much has happened.  We have one PATH class left, and then it's on to the home study process.

In the initial weeks of training, we poured over how to prepare our house.  In Tennessee, you have to select one of three age ranges (0-12, 0-18, or 6-18).  We selected 0-12, and let me tell you—trying to plan for a range of 12 years and two genders is hard.  We talked about what we were comfortable with, what ages we truly feel like we'd be most successful with, and the selfish reality of what we want knowing we're hopeful this is a means to grow our own family.

Let me pause here and be completely clear.  Yes, we want to adopt children from foster care.  But we don't want to do it at the expense of parents who are wholeheartedly striving to get their children back.  We want to encourage those parents, walk alongside them and set them up for success for when they are reunited with their children. 

So after many conversations, we came to the conclusion we want children on the younger end of the spectrum and we hope that our home study worker, our case worker, and the placement folks will be understanding and receptive to that.  With that in mind, we decided to turn one room into a shared bedroom for two children.  Our other bedroom will remain an office, but also house a futon to conveniently be a guest room as needed for our moms.  

And now I'm in full nesting mode.  I've bought so many things off Craigslist and sweet friends are beginning to offer their hand-me-downs.  

The kids' room will have a crib/toddler bed, a twin bed, a cube storage organizer to hold books and toys, and a dresser to share.  If you have any suggestions for must have toys, books for game, let me know in the comments.  

That brings us up-to-date for the most part.  We are so excited to become parents to children for a season or forever, and already I'm incredibly thankful that our journey through infertility has brought us to this point.

We interrupt this regularly scheduled heartache for hope.

Monday, March 6, 2017

I realize that I still need to explain my third hard thought - What if Ian and I will never get to see what our biological children will look like?

But that has to wait, because this weekend something exciting happened.  We both timidly, cautiously, and hopefully decided(ish) that we'll proceed with foster care as a means to making our family.

To back up just a bit, we had our IVF class at Nashville Fertility Center on Wednesday and left feeling discouraged because they weren't prepared with a plan for us (partially our fault, because they wanted to double-check my AMH, but frustrating nonetheless).  We spent Wednesday evening talking about IVF and embryo adoption and decided we'd probably move forward with embryo adoption.  Then Thursday came, and we decided IVF, and somehow that turned into a fight.  Mean words were said without consideration, tears were shed, and it's the first time I think it really hit me that I can understand how infertility tears a couple apart.

After our fight, I went out to grab dinner with one of my dearest friends, Jessie, and, kindly, she listened, counseled, and encouraged.  In the embarrassment of some of the words I spoke, she made me feel better.  Everyone needs a friend like that.  Someone who can straighten you out when shit hits the fan with your significant other (or any valuable person in your life).

I went home renewed and with a fresh perspective.  I hugged Ian and apologized for being so awful, and we were good.   But still, neither of us were sold on embryo adoption or IVF.  I don't know if it's the money, the gamble, the physical toll, the continued heartache...but something about it never feels totally right with either of us.

Then a series of little things happened.  For starters, one of my best friends, Theresa, is beginning her foster mom journey as a single mom to two teenage girls and they should be moving in with her this week - and it has been such a joyful experience to contribute in small ways and watch her pursue this.  Then, I found the trailer for My Life as a Zucchini.

Inspired by this trailer, I looked up #fostertoadopt on Instagram and stumbled upon Foster the Family.  For anyone considering foster care, this blog is a must read.  I sent it to Ian.  And by Saturday morning, we were leaning toward foster care.  That's why I say decided(ish).  We bebop around from idea to idea and have a bit of decision paralysis.  But we both feel most hopeful about foster care.  Not hopeful that this is a route to adoption (although, we would love for that to be the outcome someday), but hopeful that this is our chance to make a family and love on children we can call our own, even if only for a few weeks or months.

This decision feels like it has a finality to it.  And I felt even better about it when at one point on Saturday as we were talking about foster care, Ian said to me, "Do you think we'll end up doing this (foster care) and our lives will be so rich and full that we'll look back on this (our infertility) and realize it was a blessing?"

My spirit rejoiced.  Those have been the most God-breathed words either of us have spoken through this whole journey.

And now, as we begin to move away from assisted reproductive technology and into foster care, would you please pray for us?  We start our foster care classes tomorrow night.  We are anxious, we are ill-equipped, but we are hopeful.

This is my fault.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Second hard thought, this is my fault.

I mentioned a couple of posts back that our doctor had some concern about my ovary size and follicles.  And then I did research, and wasn't very encouraged.

By the way, our fourth IUI didn't work, but my Clomid Challenge results were normal.

At our first consultation with our doctor, she mentioned my small ovaries and 10ish follicles and I feel like I was led to believe that was fine and normal.  Then in our second visit, she didn't seem to think my AMH aligned with those issues.  Which is frustrating, but I won't get into that yet.

After our second visit, I Googled the crap out of "follicle count" and how it related to fertility and IVF.  And I found this:

At our first visit, our doctor thought she counted ten follicles, and at our second visit, she counted eight.  And on Clomid, I never produced more than one mature follicle.  I understand that the injectable medicine you take during IVF is much stronger than Clomid, but it's hard not to be worried about my response to it.

All this to say, it feels like this is my fault.  Should I have been taking birth control throughout my unmarried (and abstinent) 20s to preserve my eggs? (Thankfully, this has been debunked and that isn't how birth control works.)  Should Ian and I have started trying right after we got married when my ovaries and eggs were 2 years younger? Shrug.  Should I have ate less sugar throughout my entire life?  Regardless of fertility, that answer is almost definitely yes.  Should I have drank less and taken more supplements in adulthood?  Probably so.

I don't know why my ovaries are small or why my follicle count isn't great.  And that's discouraging.

But you know what is encouraging?  Researching ways to improve it.  An egg starts developing about 90 days prior to ovulation, so knowing that we may be doing IVF in the next couple of months, I've really started to buckle down on my health to ensure the best egg quality I can.

I've stopped drinking alcohol altogether.
I've tried my hardest to scale back my sugar intake.
I'm becoming more aware of the food I eat.  I've started to buy more organic foods.  I've planned out what to plant in our little gardens in the backyard and we bought two chickens for fresh eggs.  Yep, we bought chickens.  

Additionally, Ian and I have had some really great conversations about next steps for us over the past week or so.  And we decided that while we're still gathering information about IVF, we're also going to start gathering information about foster care.  But more on that later...

We're nearing the end of our rope

Thursday, January 19, 2017

I didn't want my last post to turn into a novel, so I decided to break up each of the three hard thoughts into their own posts.

1.  We're nearing the end of our rope - IVF is expensive and we'll likely only attempt it once (+ any frozen embryo transfers if available).

At our last consultation with our doctor, she asked if we had talked about IVF.  She mentioned that it would probably be the next step if this fourth IUI doesn't work.

IVF is expensive.  A fresh IVF cycle at the Nashville Fertility Center costs roughly $9050.00 (+ plus a few thousand on medications).  In the grand scheme of IVF treatments, that's pretty dang affordable.

Ian and I have talked a lot about IVF and other options.  And thank goodness I married a man who has stood firm in wanting to give IVF a go.  I go back and forth.

"What if we do it and it doesn't work and we've just wasted twelve grand?"  I asked Ian once.  He replied, "We'll take a vacation to somewhere fancy and pretend that it cost us what we spent on the IVF."

Accepting that our next step is IVF has been hard for me.  With the first two IUIs, I knew there was another IUI waiting and it could possibly work.  However, there's not a next step for us to have biological children if IVF doesn't work (apart from somehow naturally conceiving - which would be preferable).

Obviously there's a financial toll it takes.  Although Ian and I have done a pretty good job of living below our means, we're not made of money.  Then, let us not forget the physical toll it will take.  Literally shots upon shots of hormones and other ish to control as much as possible about your cycle.  And finally, the emotional toll, which is the worst.

My biggest fear about IVF is it not working because of my eggs.  Maybe enough eggs don't mature during the process.  Or maybe the quality of my eggs is low and makes insemination or implantation hard or impossible.  Or maybe this.  Or maybe that.  There's something about NOT doing IVF that would allow me to have an ignorant hope that my eggs are fine.  Maybe I don't have as many follicles as I should, but what follicles I do have produce good eggs.

But Ian wants to do it.  And I'm glad.  Because I don't know that I could fully invest in other ways to build our family without first exhausting the options we have to see what kind of cute kid our genes could create.

Regrouping is hard

Monday, January 16, 2017

Ian and I are sitting in Portland Brew.  And it felt like a good time to fill you in...

I didn't write about it because I was exhausted about talking about our infertility, but our third IUI failed.

I didn't feel good about it from the get go.  I had one mature follicle, but it seemed too mature (based on my extensive internet research).  We proceeded, nonetheless.  I had no hope, and alas, no baby was conceived.  Maybe my hopelessness contributed to that (like I should be willing a baby into existence), but I'm convinced there are many biological components that just aren't working like they should.

We took December off to allow for a stress-free holiday with my family (and because our doctor's office made a scheduling error and had to cancel our second consultation with our doctor).  But we were going to start 2017 with a new plan.

About a week and a half ago, we met with our doctor for the second time.  She was perplexed by our situation.  My normal AMH result didn't really match up with the number of follicles she saw on one of my ultrasounds.  I only had about 8-10 follicles total, which is apparently low (and can signify a low ovarian reserve - we'll come back to that in a bit).  We decided to do our fourth IUI this cycle.  But we're doing things a little different.  We're doing the Clomid Challenge this cycle, and due to some concerns I had about my luteal phase, she also prescribed a progesterone supplement.  She also mentioned IVF as our next step.

This is where the panic started to set in.  I went home and immediately started searching "follicle count", and came across a number of articles that talk about the relation between low antral follicle counts and IVF success rates (spoiler alert: it's not good).  And this is where three hard thoughts enter my mind:

1.  We're nearing the end of our rope - IVF is expensive and we'll likely only attempt it once (+ any frozen embryo transfers if available).
2.  This is my fault.  It's my biology that's not working.  It's not Ian's sperm.  It's not some weird fluke.  It's my dumb ovaries.
3.  What if Ian and I will never get to see what our biological children will look like?

Announcing to the world my period has arrived

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

First things first, I don't know how many people read my blog.  And more so, I don't know who reads my blog.  Fair warning regarding this entry, I mention Aunt Flow the crimson wave shark week my period quite a bit.  If it's awkward for you, you should stop reading after the next sentence. Then educate yourself on the total normalcy of menstruation and realize this really shouldn't be that taboo of a topic.

For our last IUI, my period came 11 days post-IUI.  This time, it came 13 days post-IUI.

Those two extra days in my luteal phase gave me so much hope.  I took a pregnancy test at 12 days post-IUI, and it was negative - but I held out hope.  I scoured the internet for stories of women who tested negative on day 12 and still wound up being pregnant.  Each forum I read and each bathroom break I took without my period making an appearance increased my hope exponentially.

So much so when my period started late last night, I couldn't even tell Ian we weren't pregnant before breaking down.  The remainder of the night and most of today has been me struggling to control the urge to sob.  Last night, I didn't do so well.  Today was better.

I don't know how to explain the disappointment in the time immediately following the realization our second IUI didn't work.  But I can tell you it's some sort of terrible mix that includes loss, inadequacy, and heartbreak.  I allowed today to be a sucky day and feel whatever residual emotions I needed to feel. 

The thing about infertility, when you are emotionally, physically, and financially capable of pushing forward, is that you can't dwell in these moments too long if you want to take advantage of your next cycle.  I need to refill my Clomid prescription so I can start taking it again in two days.  I need to call my fertility clinic to set up the next follicular scan.  I need to call the out-of-state pharmacy to refill my Ovidrel and ship it to me.  More importantly, I can't continue to exist in the mindset of "I'll never be able to carry a child."  I need to believe it will happen.

Thankfully, Ian is far better at being optimistic and believes it will happen.  He doesn't need to convince himself.  He moves through the emotions of infertility differently.  My period starting doesn't drag him as far into the depths of despair as it does me.  And having this opposite, more hopeful partner is such a blessing in this season (well, all seasons really).  When I asked him if he wants to do another IUI this cycle, he said, "Yes, definitely."  When I asked him to get me pity party pizza and a Cherry Coke, he did.  And when I asked him if he would ever want to live a child-free life if all of this doesn't work, he said, "Not unless it's because we move to Africa and start an orphanage."  When I'm too debilitated to do much of anything, he's the one who keeps us moving forward. 

In an effort to move myself forward, I'm ending this sucky day by writing this blog because it's cathartic.  It's nice to say "out loud" that my period started and it sucks.  Because, scientifically, somehow simply typing that makes it suck a little bit less and that's kind of neat.

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