Infertility and Adoption – How I made peace with both

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My college girlfriends, at the start of their baby boom.  Me, in the back, with my career.

Many years ago I body-doubled as a full time student at Liberty University as well as an almost full-time lounge waitress at The Ground Round, serving beer and Long Island Ice Teas to mostly semi-drunk rednecks, err…people. I often joked to friends that I was a good Christian college student by day, and a wild cocktail waitress by night.  But that story is for another post.

When it was slow at the restaurant, I would often dream about my future. This is how my future would play out:

First, I was going to find my wonderful husband at Liberty because that’s what all the other girls were doing. Secondly, we would marry and proceed to have four healthy, biological children (two boys and two girls) two years apart, and stop having children when I turned 30 because after the age of 30 you ran the risk of having a child with medical issues.  Thirdly, I would start my career after my kids were in school and finally, we would all live happily ever after.

And that’s exactly how it all played out.

Not.

I can tell you with a smirk on my face that the opposite occurred in almost every way!

After college (in which I graduated very much a single young lady) I began an awesome, yet intense professional career (you can read about it here.) When I turned 25, I met a wonderful guy named Erik and we began dating.  He was an amazing guy and after a few months, I had a sneaking suspicion that he just might be ‘the one.’  But then one day he dropped a bomb on me: he told me that many years ago he had undergone chemotherapy treatment for cancer which had left him unable to have biological children.  He delivered this news right before Christmas because I had planned to bring him home to meet the family.

“I need you to know this now, in case you change your mind about bringing me home to meet your family and dating me. I really like you, but I would understand if you feel we need to break things off,” he said to me with sadness in his eyes.

I was devastated and moped around for a few days, wrestling with the decision to stay in a relationship with Erik. However, I had a strong feeling that if I broke things off with him, I would deeply, deeply regret it all the days of my life.  Again, that sneaking suspicion that he was the one kept coming back to me.  Erik was an incredible guy who was very deep, Godly, and intelligent.  That was my version of the Trifecta.  Plus, I knew that if we ever wanted kids, we could always adopt.  So with much prayer and tears, I said YES to Erik and thereby gave up the dream of ever getting pregnant, ever feeling the kick of a baby in my growing belly, and ever seeing our genetic traits come alive in a new human being that we both created.  In summary, I was choosing infertility.

After I prayed, I had a peace that I had done the right thing. Erik and I continued dating, he met my family, we got married, and the rest is history.  And I have never regretted my decision to marry Erik, not even for a second.

So you would think dealing with infertility would be “easier” because I knew about it beforehand rather than being surprised by it after marriage, right?

I think the answer (for me) is yes and no. Yes, in that I knew it all going in and therefore, wasn’t surprised.  And no, because I learned that even if you know about something beforehand, it doesn’t make it that much easier to deal with.  It just takes the edge off, really.

What also made it hard is that I did some research and discovered that in a few cases, men were able to gain their fertility after several years following their chemotherapy treatments. Somewhere deep inside a tiny seed of hope was planted.

So how did the sting of infertility manifest itself? I found myself jealous and comparison-prone when all of my college friends went through their “baby boom.”  I can’t remember the number of baby showers I attended to support my friends with forced (and sometimes real) smiles, gazing at their huge bellies while I looked down at my (mostly) flat one.  I also wrestled with the occasional “trigger.”  For me, a trigger is a “reminder” of what should have been or what could have been if only (fill in the blank).  Three common triggers for me came on Christmas (yet another Christmas and still no baby), my birthday (wow, I’m another year older and still no baby), and of course the mother of all triggers – Mother’s Day!!

Other triggers included finding out that a previously infertile couple was now expecting. Of course I was overjoyed for them but also painfully aware that they had indeed left The Club, while we were still active members of it.  As I mentioned, I also wrestled with comparison.  Many of my best friends started their families very young. While I was blazing through my career, they popped out multiple babies.  It was weird watching their children celebrating their fifth birthday while I had nothing cooking in my own personal oven.

People also accidentally say insensitive things to infertile couples. I heard things like:

“Slow down and just relax. It will happen!” … “All in God’s perfect timing!” and … “Oh, I understand what you are going through.  We tried for two whole months before we finally got pregnant.”

I could go on but you get the gist. In a nutshell, infertility is hard, it makes you feel “lesser than,” you tend to compare yourself with women that easily conceive, you might grow jealous and insecure quite frequently, people say insensitive things, it’s expensive to deal with, it causes lots of stress in the relationship, and you sit around wondering how you are ever going to build your family.

One last note about infertility: infertility is a very hidden, easily masked, very painful and private experience for one in eight married couples. Please be careful before you make comments to young (or not so young) married couples like: “when are you going to start a family?”  You have no idea what they may be going through!  Ok, on with the story.

Obviously, Erik and I were aware that adoption was the only option available for us to build our family. But here’s the problem. My heart wasn’t really “into” adoption for several reasons, mostly reasons that I am embarrassed to admit to you, so I am asking for your permission2speakfreely here, without judgment.  And so I will.  Below were my concerns about adoption (before we adopted):

  1. I won’t love the baby because it won’t be “my own.”
  2. What if the baby is ugly? I probably will not love an ugly baby.
  3. Adoption is second choice; a Plan B. It’s “not as good as” having a beautiful bio baby.
  4. Most people want to have their “own, biological” baby. People only adopt because “they have to” in order to have kids (similar to number three, but broadening it out to the general population).
  5. Adoption is scary because the babies might have to deal with potential drug and alcohol abuse while they are in utero, and the occasional brownie.
  6. Adoption is so much paperwork and it’s unfair because they make you go through so many hoops that other parents don’t have to go through.

To make a long story short, we ended up adopting three awesome kids (you can read their stories below), and now I can honestly say that numbers one through four are just plain WRONG and ignorant. There is some truth to numbers 5 and 6, however.  Especially number six.  Adoption is a LOT of work, you have to get “clearance” to adopt from a wide variety of sources, and each box you check off for your paperwork can have several hours of effort (and waiting) behind it.  You have to “prove” you are worthy to adopt (whereas folks who become pregnant the old fashioned way can just become parents, even if they are lousy parents).  It feels very unfair and intrusive at times.

(On a side note/rant, I also wrestled with how hard the process is to adopt children world-wide who need homes. For example, I have a friend whose parents live and work in Venezuela.  Her mother-in-law volunteers at a hospital and routinely sees babies as young as three months old abandoned at the hospital due to the on-going crisis in that country. There are thousands of good families all over the world who would be willing to take in these babies in (and others like them world-wide) but because so many governments stand in the way, it’s not possible.  And the children suffer.  Some countries even close their adoption programs because of the stigma of having other cultures care for their own children. Again, the children suffer.)

So on to the conclusion of my story. So…having dealt with infertility and adoption, you would think everything would wrap up with a neat little bow at this point, correct?

It would have except for something weird that has happened to us/me that very few people know about.

For almost two decades, I believe God has spoken to Erik and me about believing Him for a miracle pregnancy. What??  You ask.  I know!!  I’m in my 40s.  Nobody my age is even having babies anymore, many of my friends have kids in college and some of my friends are actually (gulp) grandparents!  I know it’s crazy.   But I could tell you story after story of God speaking to me and overall confirming to me to keep believing for this miracle.   We even felt directed to attempt two IVF cycles (which subsequently failed).  The Lord gave us many big and small signs along the way to encourage us to embark out on this faith limb, only to see the limb fall to the ground not once, but twice.  It was a very painful time for us, but Erik and I to this day both believe we were supposed to do both rounds of IVF for some mysterious reason.

The question I have been wrestling with for years is this: why would God keep asking us to believe Him for a miracle that He never delivers? It’s been eighteen long years that this has been going on and I’m still not pregnant.  Could it be that we need to adopt all the kids we are supposed to adopt first?  I think that is one plausible explanation.  There are others.  But it’s still a mystery with no closure (and I love closure).  I’ve prayed numerous times that God would please let me know if I have misunderstood Him or if it’s time to move on.  But as of right now I believe I am supposed to remain in a state of suspended animation and faith that it still could actually happen.

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My three beautiful kiddos.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In conclusion, I am thankful for the hard yet wonderful gift of infertility, which gave me three of my most valuable treasures. I wouldn’t have it any other way.  As for the mystery?  God is in that too.  And even if that never resolves in a way that makes sense, the Lord knows what He is doing and has a plan. I need only to look at the faces of my three beautiful children to know that the biggest mystery is solved: we couldn’t have our “own” kids because God had our “own” kids coming to us in a different way.

And that, my friends, is good enough for me.

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Thanks for reading!  For those who missed my kiddos’ adoption stories….

You can read Khloe’s Adoption story here

You can find Claire’s here

And Logan’s here

PS: A quick note to infertile women (who would love a family): I am now about 80% of the way across the “infertility bridge” and can look back with some hindsight.  I can honestly say to you that things will get better and everything will eventually will work itself out, I promise. Everything happens for a reason, to quote a man-made proverb, and for us, we were meant to adopt.  I don’t know what it will look like for you.  And as for all my friends who had kids ahead of me (for example my awesome college buddies pictured above) I love them because they give me such great intel on what to expect in just a few short years (plus some great hand-me-downs).  Many other friends and family ended having kids around the same time I did, and I found out that most older kids play with younger kids anyway, or babysit them later, which is also very cool.  I’m now in my 40s and guess what?  It’s really not that big of a deal to have kids when you’re older.  A lot of women are getting pregnant or adopting much later in life.  Having younger kids is keeping me young. I actually might adopt/host/foster more kids in the future.  I guess my point is – everything will eventually work itself out the way it’s supposed to.  I know it’s tough.  Hang in there.   God is with you.  He loves you and will help you. Infertility is unfair and hard and crushing and disappointing and a real pain, I know.  But it will get better!  I promise!

Thanks for reading!

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4 thoughts on “Infertility and Adoption – How I made peace with both

  1. Pingback: The world needs another blog – Permission 2 Speak Freely

  2. Janice Young

    Heather, I still remember having the I can’t have kids conversation with Ben when we were dating (I had found out at 18). Here I had found the man of my dreams and I was afraid he would decide not to continue in our relationship. Obviously that did not happen, but like you I wanted them so much, but didn’t know if it would ever happen. Also like you, it seemed that everyone else was having kids, except me. At that time, many adoption agencies had an age cut off of 40, and there was at least a 5 year wait. Ben was 35 when we got married, so we weren’t sure kids would ever happen for us. Almost two years into our marriage, I learned of a study they were doing at NIH for people with my problem. I was accepted into the study, without going into a lot of detail, was able to have Sarah and Jen through that program over the next 4 years. God is so faithful. Anna Catherine is whole different story for another time.

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