One in eight people of child-bearing age in the United States is infertile. (Resolve) Adoption is far, far more complicated than the average citizen comprehends. There are many emotional issues around adoption. First: if you are going through infertility and choose adoption, there can be a grieving process for the loss of a genetic child. Second: there is the potential for fallout among the people involved in adoption. (birth mothers, adoptees and adoptive parents.) The adoption system has been reformed to favor adoptees more: the “open adoption model” is now the most common way to adopt. This method keeps adoptees in touch with their birth parents as much as possible.
Another public misconception is that adoption is easy and inexpensive, that there are many “unwanted children” out there, but that’s not the case. Adoption demands a tremendous amount of vetting of adoptive parents by officials: blood tests, home inspections, home studies, police background checks, pet inspections and vaccinations. Extensive physicals determine the well-being of a prospective parent: one must be healthy and disease-free. Friends and neighbors are talked to, finances are inspected. These processes, put into place with good intentions to ensure couples will make the best possible adoptive parents, are lengthy and expensive. The paperwork and the contracts and the lawyers involved can cost at least $20,000. The onus is on the adoptive parents to prove they are going to be the best possible caretakers to a child and help him or her develop to the best of his or her abilities, and give him or her what he or she needs emotionally and developmentally.
I hope by telling S’s story I can demonstrate the complicated emotions, the toll infertility takes on humans and how truly difficult it is to “just adopt.”
ACT 1: The Hell of Endometriosis
In May 2000, a lovely twenty year old member of the Army National Guard stepped off a bus in front of a barracks in Georgia. This would be her new home for a two-week training exercise.
I had no idea that my future husband saw me, thought I was beautiful, and decided to meet me. No clue at all.
Act One: Love and Marriage…and Endo
The two soldiers quickly fell in love and married in November of 2002. Two years later, they decided to Try To Conceive (TTC). By this time they were stationed abroad, and S’s husband traveled a lot. S’s cycles were also unpredictable, anywhere from 40-60 days apart. In early 2006, after two years of trying to conceive naturally, S was rushed to the ER in tremendous pain. The diagnosis was a ruptured ovarian cyst. Unfortunately her ER visits continued: in May she was diagnosed with Stage IV endometriosis and endometrioma on her right ovary. She was in tremendous pain almost all the time.
What is endometriosis? According to the US National Library of Medicine: “Endometriosis is a female health disorder that occurs when cells from the lining of the womb (uterus) grow in other areas of the body. This can lead to pain, irregular bleeding, and problems getting pregnant (infertility). Removal of the womb (uterus), fallopian tubes, and both ovaries (a hysterectomy) gives you the best chance for a cure.”
A pretty grim statement. But S is an extremely determined and proactive personality. She dealt with this blow by getting her hands on all the research she could about endometriosis and by engaging in as much natural treatment as possible. She began acupuncture and dramatically changed her diet to include mostly healthy, fresh organic food.
Unfortunately, these natural cures didn’t work and she was forced to remove her right ovary and tube. The endometriosis had caused scarring and twisting beyond what her body could take. Her doctor tried to assure her that now there was hope that she would not suffer anymore from the debilitating pain. Unfortunately, the pain returned, in full force:
“The pain is still here, and getting worse. Ovulation was day before yesterday, so the pain should have gone away by now. It’s hard to walk, hard to stand up, hard to sit down. I’m getting more and more upset as I type this. Forget trying to find a better doctor – I just need someone to do an ultrasound to put my mind at ease that my remaining ovary isn’t being destroyed by the endo.”
In 2009, after experiencing even more terrible pain in her abdomen and her remaining ovary, S tracked down the most renowned expert in preserving fertility in endo patients, a doctor who was at the CEC (Center for Endometriosis Care), in a far away city. She paid $3,000 out of pocket to fly to Atlanta and have a surgery to help rid her of the terrible agony she was in, without removing her final ovary. Instead of a vacation to a restful place, she took precious time off from her job for the prep, the surgery itself, and the recovery. The surgery went successfully and her doctor gave her a 75-80% chance of conceiving on her own. He warned that there would be a lot of pain as she recovered, but that should subside in time.
Act Two: Cleared for TTC!
The period after her surgery was a painful but hopeful time for S. She was hopeful that the issue that had caused extreme physical pain for the last three years had been resolved. Slowly, she became mostly pain-free. She was also hopeful that she would be able to conceive naturally, finally. She continued acupuncture, continued to eat mostly organic vegetables and fruits with healthy proteins. But as the months passed and she continued to get her period each month, she struggled with feelings of sadness. Making matters worse was that she was surrounded by pregnant co-workers and friends. Then, her sister got pregnant.
“I’m a nice person generally. I’m a good sister, really. And I love kids. But I can’t handle the constant yearning for something that goes unfulfilled year after year. I’m trying to protect my heart, but it gets torn to shreds anyway. Life happens despite my infertility and there’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t shelter myself from everything painful – there would be nothing left. Infertility touches every second of my life. There isn’t anything unaffected.”
S and her husband considered doing infertility treatments, but when someone has advanced endo like S, those treatments come at a very large risk.
“I’m not saying that going straight to IVF is wrong for other people. But for us it is. I only have one ovary. As much as I want to get pregnant, I don’t want to destroy my ovary in the process. (And a process that by the way that doesn’t even guarantee a pregnancy anyway.)”
Slowly, the idea of adoption took root. By opening their hearts to adoption, S and her husband must start to say goodbye to the dream of having a genetic child. It was particularly hard for S when she thought of her husband, whose parents had both passed away. This was a loss, and one they both need to grieve.
“Yet, there are those moments of overwhelming grief knowing that this could be the end of his genetic legacy. Obviously we are more than our genetic material, but some things are hard to let go.”
Finally in December of 2009, S and her husband attended a meeting about Domestic Open Adoption. They learned that 47% of children available for adoption are African American. They agreed to move forward, knowing that a trans-racial adoption was very likely.
In the end, S decided she wanted to parent a child, not just give birth to a baby.
“I want the responsibility, the pain, the joy, the frustrations, all of it.”
Act III: Hail Mary Pass
Once a couple decides they want to adopt, there are many, many hurdles to jump. There is no such thing as “just adopt.” In fact, as S goes through the process of adopting, she’s infuriated to see a friend on Facebook comparing buying a house to adopting a child.
“(When you buy a house) Does anyone do background checks, inspect your current house, ask you about your childhood, ask you about the stability of your marriage, make you write an autobiography about yourself, question your discipline techniques, get references from friends? No? Didn’t think so. And I’m pretty sure it doesn’t take a couple of years either. Does the average person really think you just fill out an application, they assign you a kid and then you live happily ever after?”
As the year progresses, S and her husband tried to sell their house to raise some of the estimated $25,000 in fees they’ll need to complete the adoption. Unfortunately, the poor real estate market put a damper on those plans. They slowly save money and complete their paperwork and inspections. A year passes.
Then suddenly, a game changing event occurs: on December 2, 2010, in a post called “Maybe I Could Sell a Kidney,” S announces that an expectant mother who is due in April would like them to adopt her child.
S throws her considerable powers of organization and determination into play. She feels this child is “the one” and decides to move heaven and earth to complete its adoption. (The sex of the baby is unknown.) S’s many friends and readers around the world ask how they can help, and two online auctions are promised. Friends donate many items for auction, including jewelry, six months of dessert, a lobster seafood package, an interior design consultation, handmade blankets, aprons, burp cloths, paintings and prints. S and her husband research and desperately try to track down information on their tax refund, which should be significant.
The first auction, held on February 2011, raises about $3,000. There are continued questions about when the tax refund will be coming through and how much it will be. S’s mother holds a dinner, charging $50 a person, to contribute to S’s adoption fund. The April due date is fast approaching.
The second auction, held in March 2011, garners almost $2,000. The onus is now upon the tax refund. Slowly April is upon them and the outstanding question of the tax rebate is answered when they receive $17,000.
With that uncertainty lifted, S puts her energy into breastfeeding. Adoptive mothers CAN breastfeed, if they respond to a pumping machine. S spends a lot of time and some uncomfortable moments pumping in preparation. She also goes on medication to help increase her prolactin levels.
Now the only uncertainty is the arrival of the child.
On April 23, 2011, a nine pound one ounce boy is born. S and her husband rush to the hospital to meet him. On April 28th, S’s 31st birthday, she finally met her son, after he was released from the hospital into interim care.
“I was in heaven the moment I laid eyes on him. The nanny had him swaddled and hungry, ready for me to feed when I walked in the door. I sat right down, popped the boob in his mouth, and he latched on like a champ!
It was kinda funny – he looked at me at first like, what the heck is this? Then he realized milk came out and he was a champion sucker all of a sudden . It was the most amazing feeling, I can’t even describe, finally feeding my son. He kept grasping the strap of my nursing cami with his fat little hand and pulling. It was the cutest thing ever!
After he nursed (he took about 1 1/2 oz from the supplemental bottle of breastmilk through a tube, so not sure how much milk he got from me – maybe an ounce? no way to know for sure without a baby scale), he grasped onto my finger hard and fell right asleep.”
On May 2, 2011, S’s son’s birth mother signed the official document surrendering him.
“Tuesday, the birth mother signed the surrender. There was no giant feeling of relief when we got the phone call…but I did feel an immense sense of sadness for what she must be going through.”
Now, eight months later, S is still nursing her son. At the latest doctor’s appointment he was declared ahead in every developmental category. S was immensely glad. She now says at the beginning of 2012:
“It’s quite a privilege to be entrusted with this tiny human, watching him and guiding him as he grows and learns. For the first time in seven years, I can look back on a year with something more than pain and regret.”
Postscript: S notes, “The total cost of the adoption ended up being just over $30k with all the home study, legal fees, etc. And that doesn’t even count the travel costs! We were able to scrape together that much money between the tax refund, the money we saved on our monthly mortgage payment from our house refinancing, savings, etc. (We’re) lucky too that the lawyer didn’t require any money up front – other wise it would have been a no-go.”