Our Story

      I have hesitated writing this. We are very private people-- I can count on one hand the number of people we told when we were trying to get pregnant, I don't share personal information on social media, only our families and closest friends know of the difficulties surrounding our son's birth, and it is these same few people who know that we are adopting. It isn't that we are ashamed or that we are going to pretend that our second child wasn't adopted or that it is a secret. Even though this child won't care about the details until many many years from now, this will be their story. Not everyone in our world needs to know the events surrounding the adoption, the reasons, the motivations, or the tragedies that may have been in play. As I mentioned in one of my research summaries, not all kids want their social circle to know that they are adopted. Some prefer it to be a private story rather than a defining label that forms the core of their identity. We are trying to protect that, even now, because we already love this baby who we have yet to meet and who may not even exist yet.
     But, I also know that when I have visited blogs written by other adoptive (or potential adoptive) parents, the first part that I try to find is their story. We want to connect to an actual person behind the coldness of a computer screen. It seems more real-- it seems more like a bonded community of people sharing in this journey of hope and fear and loss. So, I have decided to share parts of our story. This isn't everything, my tendencies towards privateness won't allow that. But, I want you to see that I am a real person who has shed real tears and said real prayers.          

Infertility.... Kind Of
     When I was in college, I was diagnosed with a hormonal disorder. Nothing life threatening, nothing that threatens my overall health or longevity, but it caused a great deal of disruption month to month. I would get debilitating migraines, my energy would ebb and flow, and I would get random bouts of nausea akin to morning sickness. I had to be on artificial hormones, because my endocrine system couldn't keep itself balanced without them. But then there was the bigger problem that comes
with my condition: it becomes very difficult to get pregnant and to stay pregnant. It is not uncommon for women with this condition to have medical histories that includes 9 pregnancies with only 1 birth. The hormonal imbalance interferes with ovulation, and should a pregnancy occur, the body is often not able to make the hormonal adjustments necessary to support the pregnancy. 
     My husband and I were already dating at this time, and I knew that he was planning to propose. Tearfully, I told him my diagnosis, and asked if he would still want to marry me if I wouldn't be able to give him children. He did. We got married in college and then went on to grad school-- he for his M.D. and I for my Master's and then Ph.D.. 
We took a trip to Africa to celebrate
being done with grad school
     After we were done with school and were in a good place in our careers,
we decided that we wanted to start a family. I had to go off of my hormone medication for this to even be an option, and ended up being sick for about 2 months as a result. My body never quite adjusted to being off of artificial hormones, so my doctor ran a few tests. They didn't come back well: based on my hormonal levels, I wouldn't be able to get pregnant without fertility treatment. And, even if the fertility treatment worked to get me pregnant, I would likely have a very hard time staying pregnant. 
    So, we talked. And talked. And talked. The specific fertility methods that I would need greatly increases the likelihood of multiples (triplets, even, are not uncommon). We were not in a place in life to realistically be able to handle that. My husband was (and still is) a medical resident averaging 80-100 hours at the hospital each week (and, if you know anything about residency, not being compensated very much for it). I had chosen to only teach part-time, with the idea that I would only do online classes once we had a child so that I could work from home (and full-time professorships were hard to come by in that economy-- there weren't any in my field in our city until 2 years after our move). And, residency had moved us 1,300 miles from our families. We decided to postpone fertility treatment until after residency-- he would have an actual doctor's income to pay for the fertility treatments and the possible 3-babies-at-one-time issue, and we would have the freedom to move closer to our families for support and assistance. 
One of the few moments I felt okay
during our vacation in San Diego
     If you would have asked us at this point, we wouldn't have said that we were trying to have a baby, it was just that we didn't really see any reason to try not to. So, we went on with life. That summer we took a trip to San Diego. It was during that vacation that I became horribly sick, and as a result found out that I was pregnant.

My Pregnancy
     I immediately called my doctor, who was shocked. When I got home, they did an ultrasound (as I had no idea how far along I was-- hormonal imbalances like mine make certain "I'm not pregnant" calendar markers disappear for months at a time) and determined that I would be due the week of Valentine's Day, probably around February 9th.  
     The fact that I found out that I was pregnant as a result of being I-can't-get-out-of-bed sick for several days (while on vacation!!!) was a perfect foreshadowing of how my pregnancy would go. Being pregnant was a miracle, and I am so grateful that I got to experience pregnancy. But it was horrible. During my first trimester, I had a condition known as hyperemesis gravidarum. Remember the stories of Princess Kate being hospitalized for being so sick while she was pregnant? Same thing. I will spare the gory details, but suffice to say I spent a large portion of my first trimester on my bathroom floor. Some days, it wasn't even worth the effort to go back to my bed.
     Due to not being able to eat anything, I lost weight and was pretty malnourished. So, I developed anemia during my second trimester. The iron supplements intensified the nausea (which was finally somewhat under control with medication), and the physical exhaustion was unlike anything I have ever experienced.
     The day before Thanksgiving, I had gotten to the point of being in constant pain. There were Braxton-Hicks contractions, but it didn't seem like just that. My doctor checked me and found that the baby had already dropped. In November. Just after the beginning of my third trimester. Not only that, he had dropped breech. She suspected that the pressure of the drop in the position he was in was causing the pains and pressure that I was feeling in addition to the contractions. I wasn't put on strict bedrest since I wasn't dilating or effacing yet, but was told to stay off my feet as much as possible. Grocery shopping or a quick errand was okay, but nothing more. She gave me a long, detailed list of "go to the hospital right away" ifs, and home I went. If you haven't noticed from this blog, I am a bit of a planner; so, naturally, I went ahead and packed a hospital bag the next day. Just in case.
The last picture taken
during my pregnancy
      A couple of weeks went by uneventfully.  I'm not good at sitting still, but I managed. The semester ended early that year, so I was able to settle in on my couch with my Amazon video watch-list and cheesy made-for-tv movies.  I stopped going on my walks (which, unfortunately, had been the only thing that offered any pain relief) and just sat. I still felt horrible. I was seeing my doctor every week, and the only explanation she could offer was that some women's bodies just don't handle being pregnant well. They were screening my urine for proteins and amniotic fluid, and she would do a thorough exam each time I came in. He was still wedged down there, but my body didn't appear to be going into pre-term labor. I didn't have any signs of pre-eclampsia or other complications. December 9th, exactly 2 months before my approximated due date, was the first time in a long time that I remember crying purely out of feeling sorry for myself. The fact that I had to feel this way for 2 more months seemed unbearable. I kept telling myself that I was so blessed to even get to experience pregnancy and that this whole situation was a miracle to begin with. But I felt like I was dying. Turns out, I kind of was. 

The Birth
    A few days after my "I can't believe I have to spend 2 more months in pain" meltdown, things intensified even more. I could hardly stand up without doubling over, and the Braxton-Hicks contractions were becoming more intense and frequent. One night I went to bed and couldn't fall asleep because I was in so much pain. I told myself that if I didn't fall asleep within an hour, I was going to the hospital. I did fall asleep, but woke back up at 5 a.m. feeling even worse. My husband was already at work (80-100 hours a week, remember), but my parents had just gotten in town for an extended stay over Christmas the day before. My mom, being an early riser, was already awake, and we headed to the hospital.
    At this point, I had an expectation about what would happen: they would monitor my contractions and say that I was going into early labor. They would give me a shot to stop it and send me home on strict bedrest. Or, leave me in the hospital on strict bedrest. I had a friend who had been in a similar situation and spent 5 weeks in a hospital bed laying on her left side, only allowed to get up to go to the bathroom. On the way to the hospital, I was thinking through the logistics of what nearly 2 months of bedrest would mean. I told my mom that she was just going to have to stay until the baby was born, because I would have no way to take care of myself and my husband couldn't take a leave from work.

    It was hard for me to get checked in at the hospital, because by that point I was in so much pain I could barely talk.While I was waiting in labor and delivery triage, I started throwing up from the intensity of the pain. I think this was a sign to the intake nurses that I wasn't just a first-time mom being dramatic and paranoid, but there was actually something wrong. I was taken back and put into a temporary room just moments later, ahead of a couple of women who had gotten there long enough before me that they had already had time to settle in at the waiting area. I was hooked up to several monitors, had blood drawn, and gave a urine sample. They gave me Zofran to stop the vomiting, Terbutaline to stop the contractions, a magnesium drip that I was told would also help with the contractions (ends up this was actually to prevent me from having seizures, because that is where all of this was heading) and Demerol for the pain. I'm kind of fuzzy on the details of the next few hours, because the Demerol made me high as a kite, but, basically, everyone got all in a tizzy when my bloodwork came back, and I was admitted. The original plan was to monitor me for a few days, but that didn't work out. I was hooked up to all kinds of different monitors-- I had things hooked to my fingers, around my arms, around my stomach, and around my legs, along with IVs. Everyone kept telling me that the baby was just fine, so I wasn't really that worried. It wasn't a selfless "As long as he's okay I don't care what happens to me" type of thing, but more that I assumed that if he was okay then I couldn't possibly be that sick. Turns out, that was very flawed logic. From here, I will be filling in details that I learned afterwards-- my doctors and my husband were very smart in not giving me much information at the time to keep me calm. I wasn't told my diagnosis, and I wasn't told how serious the situation was. 
    During the next three days, things kept getting worse. My bone marrow wasn't producing platelets correctly, and my platelet count was quickly dropping. My liver wasn't functioning properly. My kidneys were starting to retain fluids. When I would sleep, my oxygen saturation would drop, and a nurse would come in and wake me up so that I could take some deep breaths to get it back up. I was having headaches so intense that I was being given narcotic pain killers, which I later learned was because my blood pressure was skyrocketing. Basically, my body had decided that it would rather shut itself down than be pregnant any longer. Pregnancy was just too hard-- it couldn't do it any more. 
     My diagnosis was HELLP syndrome-- a very rare condition that many women don't survive. The odd thing is that HELLP is almost always seen as a follow-up to pre-eclampsia. I didn't have pre-eclampsia prior to developing HELLP syndrome, they came on at the same time. It was determined that my baby would have a better outlook being born early than staying inside me. I was also told that I would continue getting "much sicker very quickly" (I didn't know at the time that this translated to "you will die soon if you don't get un-pregnant right now"), so the decision was made to do an emergency c-section. 
    The c-section was very quick and easy due to how tiny my little guy was-- just a bit over 4 pounds. As you would guess, he needed to stay in the hospital for awhile, and our first Christmas as a family was spent in the NICU. Thankfully, he was okay. They had started me on steroids when they began suspecting that I might need to give birth early, and the magnesium had helped his nervous system develop. So, his lungs were strong and he was able to breathe on his own, with just a little help from a low setting vapotherm flow. In just over a week, he was also able to drink from a bottle rather than needing everything through a feeding tube. He was fine. I was going to be okay. There aren't words to convey how grateful I was for these two facts. Many women hate their c-section scars, but mine is a reminder that I am so very blessed.

Changing Plans
   Then the serious conversations started-- we knew we wanted more children. I had originally wanted 3, my husband 4. But, I also knew that saying "Okay, lets have another baby!" a few months down the road wouldn't exactly work out. We decided that when we thought we might be ready to start trying again, I would go see some specialists to determine if it would even be healthy for me to have another pregnancy, or if we would need to look into surrogacy or adoption. We kind of pre-coped with the idea that I wouldn't be able to carry more children (keep in mind we weren't even sure I would ever have a successful pregnancy), and had determined that if we were told that I could not, we would look at other options. 
   When our son was 10 months old, I began my visits to various doctors. There is one thing you need to know about where we live: we are in one of the largest cities in the country, with some of the best hospitals and specialists. People travel from all over the U.S. (even internationally) and stay in our city to visit doctors here and receive treatment. So, we prayed that God would direct us to a doctor who would give us an answer. We wanted either a "yes, you can go ahead, there is only a tiny chance that anything like that would happen again" or a "no, another pregnancy would be dangerous for you." We didn't want the anxiety of a middle-of-the-road assessment that would make us feel like we were gambling with my life. We had made a commitment that if we were given a doctor who gave us a straight answer, we would trust that the answer provided came from God and we wouldn't scramble around for second/third opinions or question the doctor's judgement. 
   I first went to my general doctor, informing her that I wanted to be evaluated by a specialist after what happened. She looked at me in shock. "You can't seriously be thinking about trying to get pregnant again? Do you really think it is worth the risk?" She said that in her years practicing, she had only had one other patient with HELLP syndrome (remember, very rare), and that woman had permanent liver damage and would need treatments for the rest of her life. She referred me to a specialist in our city who had a great deal of experience with HELLP.
   The day I visited the specialist was when we got our final answer. I think I already knew what he was going to say, and I honestly had already coped with it. He reviewed my file, and I knew by the look on his face where things were going. Based on his experience with HELLP and my particular profile, he estimated I probably had a 90% chance of having the same thing happen if I got pregnant again. Not only that, he had women with my same profile who had died from HELLP. He said I was lucky that I came out of this totally healthy with no lasting effects, and even more so that my baby was okay. He looked at me and said "You would be risking your life having another baby. Do not get pregnant again." I asked him if he would tell his wife the same thing if that were her chart in front of him; he replied that if this was his wife's chart, he would already be on the phone with her doctor for a tubal ligation consultation to make sure that there was no chance of her getting pregnant. And the strange thing is, I was fine. I didn't cry-- I had already done that months ago. I had already grieved the loss of my other children that had existed in my mind. I actually cried over it the night before I was discharged from the hospital: I knew that this would likely be the only child I would give birth to, and I had to go home without him. I think that hearing it from the doctor was kind of like reading the obituary of someone you love. They were already gone, you had already mourned them, and now this is the formal final announcement of what you have already accepted as truth.
   We looked into surrogacy, but it wasn't a good option for us for several reasons. Mainly, although risks of health problems from egg harvesting are low, risks for women with my particular hormonal condition are rather high. My body could over-respond to the hormones they would give me to increase ovulation, and the side-effects of that could do permanent damage or even be life-threatening. There is also a high risk of producing eggs with defects when women with my condition are put through forced ovulation, which means that I would put myself at risk of major health complications with the likely result of not having any usable eggs, anyway. We also live in a state where surrogacy isn't technically legal, which creates big complications from the logistical side of things. There were other factors, as well, but these were the big ones.

So, we decided to pursue adoption. And here we are.

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