“Suddenly Mommy” by Cindy

So, this amazing thing happened this summer. When I turned 40 exactly a year ago, I was feeling a bit lost and stuck. I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I felt overwhelmed with choice and stuck in the overwhelm.

Today, I am overwhelmed by how much has changed and how much I have to learn about my new role in life – as Mommy.

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When our foster resource worker called to tell us about these two children who were ready to be adopted – a sibling pair – we weren’t even thinking of adopting. We were waiting for a foster placement call, so this call was quite a surprise. Even more surprising was how excited we got by the idea. Because of the older child’s age (6), we had to decide whether or not we would adopt these two before we could meet them, so our main question (as it should be for any prospective parents) was whether or not we actually still wanted to be parents for life. There were some pretty heavy discussions as we tried to figure out if we were on the same page or even in the same book, and in the end, we were able to move forward together, confident that we would be able to parent as partners (at least most of the time).

Meeting the kids was such a surreal experience. Here were these two fully formed people who were being introduced to their new parents while their foster mom and two workers looked on, and I had no idea of what to do. John was amazing – as he always is. For a few weeks, we had visits, and then an overnight, and then two overnights, and then 4 overnights, and then the move-in day arrived. We went from John and Cindy to Daddy John and Mommy Cindy to Daddy and Mommy in a matter of a month.

Imagine being introduced to a child with a history you know little about and making the decision to love this child, no matter who he or she turns out to be, for the rest of your life. It was nerve-wracking, and I can’t imagine what it felt like for these two little people. If I am being honest, even as I was worried that they might never love me as a mother, I was worried that I might not love them the way a mother should.

I was fortunate to be able to talk to a friend who has adopted, and she assured me that it was OK not to feel totally attached right away; she reminded me that love is an action and grows through the action of giving love. Caring for the children every day creates the love. Every time I rock my crying toddler son to sleep, every time I brush my little girl’s hair or help her through a ‘learning to bike ride’ meltdown, the love inside me grows. Even when I am, shall we say, a little tired. I have learned to apologize when I am overly grumpy, and we now have a saying in this house that goes something along the lines of, ‘it’s OK, even though you made that mistake, I still love you.” It always gets a smile and a hug.

People say that love is all you need, but I will be eternally grateful for the books I read to prepare myself. I am a naturally reserved person, so if I hadn’t read those books, I would have focused on waiting for the children to come to me, which would have been terrible. I learned that it is my job to initiate and direct the relationship (which sounds like ‘d’uh’, but wasn’t a natural conclusion for me). I have to teach these kids what it is like to have a Mommy at the same time as I learn what it is like to be a Mommy.

We didn’t get that chance to bond when they were infants and grow together, so there have been some awkward moments (bath time!), but we have come a long way already. Both kids now initiate hugs (sometimes, I actually find myself wanting space!), and we are learning how to negotiate whining and tantrums and shut downs (I know that trick all too well, Missy), and we are having lots of fun. We have a long way to go, and who knows how long this honeymoon stage will last, but for now, we are getting to know our kids as they get to know us, and we are learning more about what kinds of parents we want to be. We expect there to be some bumps along the way, but we are starting to feel more confident in our ability to handle those bumps, learn from them, and move forward as a family. Of course, we will not be shy about asking for support when we need it!

A year ago, I couldn’t have imagined that things could change so quickly and in such an incredible manner. Somehow, these kids seem perfect for our family, and we couldn’t have envisioned that it would be possible to find such an amazing match. In our case, it was a matter of workers getting to know us a bit through a foster placement and then thinking of us when these kids became available. The adoption list is not ‘first come, first serve’ – it is a matter of finding a good match, and we think we are a pretty good example of the system working. On our side, I’m not sure we would have been so open to adopting older kids if we hadn’t had the newborn experience with our foster baby. Sometimes, taking any path can lead you to the right path.

While we are in official adoption probation, the legal process won’t be started for at least six months, so we have lots of rules to still follow (although fewer than we had as foster parents). We won’t be able to post any identifying photos until the legal process is completed, for example, but we get to choose whether to give the children over the counter medication etc. We can expect that it will take at least 9 months for the whole thing to become legal – and it could take many years if we end up needing more support.

As part of our transition to parenthood, John and I have chosen a new last name for our whole family. It was important to us that our children share our last name, and we just couldn’t choose between our two last names, so we created a brand new one. We were certainly inspired by friends who had done the same, and we feel fortunate that our families understand and support us in this.

So, while my amazing husband takes our kids to the store to get supplies for Mommy’s birthday, I am at home writing my birthday blog post because this year, everything is different.

And I am so happy.

 

PS – the books I read to prepare included: Instant Mom by Nia Vardalos (really enjoyed this – a good story and good preparation); Building the Bonds of Attachment by Daniel A. Hughes (cried a lot at this one – both terrifying and inspiring); The Connected Child by David Cross, Karen Purvis, and Wendy Sunshine (borrowed from the library and like it so much I ordered it from Amazon); Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew by Sherrie Eldridge; The Post Adoption Blues by David Marshall and Karen J. Foli (good to be aware that this is a thing to watch for); In On It: What Adoptive Parents Would Like You to Know About Adoption by Elisabeth O’Toole (this is what we recommend to friends and family); Attaching in Adoption: Practical Tools for Today’s Parents by Deborah D. Gray (haven’t quite finished this one, yet, because I needed to take a break to focus on toddlerhood…); Secrets of the Baby Whisperer for Toddlers by Melinda Blau and Tracy Hogg (Some good ideas here, although I read it knowing that it wouldn’t all be applicable in our situation – our kids have been through the trauma of placement, so we need to consider that, and so The Connected Child is more applicable). I also read The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman (anything to help strengthen our couple relationship as we enter a whole new phase, and it is applicable to children as well – the idea being not to only express love in one language, but to recognize that we may not have the same dominant love language as the people we love, and so we may need to show them love in their language rather than ours).

 

PPS – the title of this post should be sung to the tune of “Suddenly Seymour” from Little Shop of Horrors (of course)

“An Update on Fostering” by Cindy

As many of you know, at the end of August last year, we got a super exciting phone call from the Children’s Aid Society – there was a newborn who needed to be placed with a family. Just a few weeks earlier, I had told our worker that having a newborn placed with us would be a dream come true, and there it was. The timing wasn’t perfect (when is it ever?), but we had some amazing support from John’s parents, so we said yes.

There wasn’t much they could tell us about him, so we didn’t know if he was likely to become available for adoption or not. We were classified as a Foster with a View family, meaning that our ultimate goal was to adopt. The idea of this classification is to place children who are more likely to become wards of the state, and thus available for adoption, with families who are interested in adopting; the hope is that this will provide more stability for the child in the long run.

We met him in the hospital, and he was so perfectly adorable. A tiny precious being – we could not believe that we were going to be entrusted with his care. Whatever people say about how invasive they found the home study, it seems so minor in comparison to the responsibility of caring for a live vulnerable child.

The little one came home on the same day I had a little surgery on my nose (deviated septum and some rhinoplasty to enlarge my nostrils a bit… cause you would have wondered if I didn’t tell you), and our fostering adventure began.

The learning curve, as it is for all new parents, was steep. Neither of us had ever experienced sleep deprivation to that degree before, and we had many laughs (and, yes, some tears). We took turns pretending to be more asleep than the other person, but we never let that baby cry for long. One night, I was holding him in bed and he made one of those adorable baby gurgles, and before I could do a thing, a sleeping John was leaping out of bed. He seemed to simultaneously register the empty crib, the baby in my arms, and the fact that he was still moving, and he said, as his legs took him around the end of the bed, “I don’t know why I am getting out of bed.” He was back asleep long before I stopped laughing.

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A sign of a rough day… many unfinished bottles and the nose sucker thing.

Over the months, we had a lot of support from a lot of people. This happy little guy met and giggled with our families at Thanksgiving and Christmas, he slept through rehearsals as I directed one play and John starred in another, and he enchanted the members of the curling club over the winter. We joked that his family would one day wonder why he seemed to have an interest in curling and musical theatre.

We tried to remember that he wasn’t ours, and in fact, there are lots of ways that we were reminded of that: forms that have to be filled out, permissions that have to be granted, innocent comments from strangers about how he looks like us or how great I looked for having such a young baby, and of course, access visits with his family. We were always Cindy and John, never Mommy and Daddy.

Still, there were moments when we hoped, just a little, that we might get to keep him.

Then, suddenly, after 6 months in our care, we learned that the court was ordering him back to his biological family. Even though we knew that was the goal of CAS all along, and that this was the most likely scenario, we were still crushed. We didn’t have any idea how to say goodbye to this little guy who had become the centre of our world. We focused on doing what we could to make things easier for him, and over the next 6 weeks of transition, we kept as positive as we could.

We are happy for his family. We know this is the right choice in this situation, and we are very proud to have been part of a case where the system worked. But our hearts are broken.

I wish it wasn’t true, but our struggle with infertility has made us particularly vulnerable to feelings of loss, and this experience has made us question what we are capable of doing as foster parents.

The Foster with a View program is a good idea in theory, but in practice, it is very hard on the foster parents who hope to adopt. We knew that going in, and we tried to keep perspective, but the thing about grief is that knowing that it is coming doesn’t stop it from coming. You still have to feel the feels. Dammit.

Going forward, we have decided we want to keep fostering, but we wish to remove the ‘intent to adopt’ from our profile. We have love and space to give, but we do not have enough reserves to go through many cycles of hope and loss. I know a Foster with a View family who has cared for nine kids, each time hoping to adopt, and each time losing the child. This does not mean that we may never adopt – it is possible that a child in our care could become available for adoption, and we could choose to go down that path, but we need our goal in this process to be clear to us – we are caregivers until the children can go home.

Of course, we have no regrets in this. We love this little guy – he gave us so much joy during the time he was with us, and the memories are precious. We will always be grateful for that experience and for the support of our families and friends during this process – all parents, biological or otherwise, need support, and we are fortunate to be connected to amazing people.

A few weeks after the little guy joined us, I posted this video talking about the joy of fostering. People asked me if they could send the video to friends who were considering fostering, and of course, I said yes (I only post things that can be shared, so share away), but I did ask people to be careful. There are times during my journey when I would not have thanked anyone for encouraging me to consider fostering or adoption, and there are a lot of reasons for that.

Fostering and adoption are not a replacement for fertility, and somehow, until you have actually dealt with infertility on a personal level, that is very difficult to understand. You may agree intellectually, but actually feeling the difference is where the reality lies. That being said, some people dive in and it works, so I wouldn’t discourage anyone from moving forward in this.  Most people know intuitively what they need, and over time, those needs may change, so I encourage patience and listening above all else.

I share our experience for three reasons: to let the people who care about us know what is going on, to maybe help prepare others who might be in the same situation or heading down the same path, and finally, to give some information to people who plan to support people like us. At least, I hope this is helpful.

We look forward to seeing what comes next, and in the meantime, we are catching up on sleep and all those home projects we forgot about when there was a baby to play with in the house.

I hope we get another call soon.

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Infertility and Friendship

Here is another article I wrote for Fertility Matters: Infertility and Friendship

Being a Good Partner

Here is a another article I wrote for Fertility Matters: Being a Good Partner When Your Heart is Breaking

“When you don’t get your happy ending” by Cindy

Here is a link to a blog I wrote in 2016 for Fertility Matters Canada: http://fertilitymatters.ca/2016/08/08/dont-get-happy-ending/

I have so much more to share and write, so more soon, I hope!

“Your Infertile Friend and You” by Cindy

A few months ago, after I posted something about infertility on Facebook, a friend came to me because she wanted to know how to support family members who had just found out that they would not be able to conceive children. The fact that she reached out to me to ask this question shows how naturally strong her instincts were on this, but we talked for quite some time, and ever since then, I have been meaning to write a post about this.

The holidays can be a very tough time of year for people grieving the loss of their fertility. A year ago, the front page of our local news magazine looked like this:

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It’s hard to go anywhere at this time of year and not be overwhelmed by images of happy families preparing for the holidays, and Facebook is loaded with posts about children. And then there are the family gatherings where if there isn’t a new baby to coo over, there are other children who take centre stage (as they should – I don’t want to take that away from any children, and I, too, love to coo over babies).

I tell people to skip Christmas their first year of grieving and go to Mexico, but most of us struggle to be that selfish at this time of year, so we suck it up and do the best we can (but if anyone wants to send us to Mexico…) This doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy the holidays, it just means that it is perfectly valid for us to lower our expectations of how much we will enjoy the holidays. It is very likely there will be some tough moments mixed in with all the fun and celebration. Christmas time is almost as hard as Mother’s Day for us infertiles.

So, all that being said, this seems like a good time to talk about how to support someone going through this. Of course, my experience is not universal, and everyone responds differently to this journey, but there are a few things that seem true for many of us.

A couple of years ago, I touched on things not to say in this post, and I’m pleased to say that I enjoyed lots of chocolate and wine in response (it was not my goal, but it was a nice benefit).

Let’s start with how to respond to the news. Because we’ve moved to a new town and have started making new friends here, I have found that there is this weird kind of uncertainty zone where the topic of us not being able to have kids hasn’t come up, but I know it will, and I’m not sure how they will respond. When it finally does come out, the best response is a simple: “I’m sorry.” Express sympathy as you would if the person has just told you a loved one has died.

In fact, this is a good rule to always follow – if you wouldn’t say it to someone who has lost a loved one or who has been diagnosed with a serious illness, then don’t say it to someone experiencing the grief of infertility. Someone recently responded to our situation with the phrase, “well, everything happens for a reason”, and although I know that person truly meant well and is a kind loving person, this is a comforting phrase for the person saying it, not the person hearing it. I do not believe that my infertility happened for a reason. I believe it is an absolutely shitty situation that I have to live with, and trying to make me feel better about it sounds like you are trying to minimize my grief.

If you are open to letting that person talk about their grief, that is wonderful. You can follow your sympathy with an open-ended question like, “how are you handling that?” Avoid giving advice or telling stories about other people you know who struggled and ultimately succeeded or who are super happy with their decision to adopt. This is the time to listen and get to know this person’s experience. It’s an amazing opportunity to get to know the person better and to show you care, just by listening.

The next step is to understand that people going through this journey may need to avoid certain trigger situations. Last year, I had to say no to a family gathering because I just didn’t have the energy to deal with more than two kids at a time. I have sent my regrets to children’s birthday parties and baby showers, not because I don’t want to be there showing love for my friends and their beautiful kids, but because I don’t want to be the one holding back tears in the corner. It is important to extend invitations so that the person doesn’t feel excluded, just be open to understanding if they need to decline.

Don’t be surprised if a couple coming to terms with infertility suddenly feels a need to make some major life changes. When the infertility journey becomes final, and the couple is no longer trying to conceive by any means, a kind of identity crisis settles in. Most of us spent much of our adult lives setting up so that we could welcome children. We bought a house that we could expand in, with a room that we pictured as a nursery.  We borrowed a friend’s car seat when we were test driving new cars so we could pick a good family vehicle. When it became clear that that room was never going to be a nursery, walking by it every day just reminded us of our loss. We still struggle with the car situation, and if someone wants to trade their fun car for a family vehicle… let’s talk.

Many couples choose to move. I have even heard of couples selling their houses and going traveling for months or years. When we find we are permanently excluded from the parents’ club, there is a desire to find a way to at least try and enjoy the “freedom” that comes from being childfree. This does not mean that the couple is OK with their inability to conceive. It means they are trying their best to move on. Believe me, the grief travels with them. Some people will want to share about this grief more than others, and that is OK, too.

Part of this move may be about searching for a community of people where we don’t feel like outsiders. Do you know how hard it is to find people to hang out with when all your friends and peers have children and you don’t? A couple of weeks ago, I was excited to go to a party with new people, and somehow, I hadn’t put together that since it was starting at 5 p.m., and the people were in our age bracket, that there would be as many children as adults there. I felt a bit blindsided, and it was no one’s fault. They had no way of knowing that this could be a difficult situation for me, and really, I was grateful for the invitation.

You may think you know what your loved ones need to do to move on in this situation. You may think that if they would just adopt, they would be able to give that love to a child in need, and it would be wonderful for everyone. You might even be right, but it is not your place to say. Adoption is not a substitute for fertility. Adoption is a wonderful option for every person who has the ability and space in their life to love a child in need, and it is not reserved for the infertile. So, before you ask the question, “Why don’t you adopt?” make sure you can answer that question yourself (and even then, really, just don’t ask it).

Your friend or family member may choose to pursue adoption, and that is wonderful. The pain of their infertility will not suddenly disappear. We will always feel the loss of the experience of conceiving a child and giving birth to that unique combination of our genes. We will never get to bond with a child in utero and experience every aspect of the miracle of pregnancy. We will never get to see whether our kids get John’s blue eyes or my curly hair.

Many couples will choose to live childfree rather than pursue adoption because they have considered deeply what adoption would mean for them and they recognize that it is not what they want to do. This is a perfectly valid choice and a difficult one to make and share. There is the fear of judgment from people who do not understand that adoption is not like going to the kennel and rescuing an animal instead of going directly to a breeder. Pursuing adoption means putting your life through a scrutiny that no other parents have to endure. Anyone can get fertility treatments without having to explain their parenting philosophy, take training, or have their house examined, and the decisions you have to make when applying to adopt can be absolutely heartbreaking.

One of the trickier situations to deal with is over how to tell your infertile loved one your own wonderful news of pregnancy. How we like to receive this news varies widely from person to person, with some preferring a more personal phone call, and some preferring an email so they have time to prepare a response. Intent is the key – if you tell us with compassion in mind, we will feel it. We will be happy for you, so please do not try to diminish your own happiness because then we will feel guilty on top of sad.

The feeling of being an outsider is a huge aspect of this journey, so making an extra effort to spend time with your grieving loved one is perhaps the most important thing you can do. Plan activities both with and without your children and be willing to do something different in order to support your friend or family member. We are so often expected to be the flexible ones because we don’t have children’s schedules to fit our activities around, that if you can make an effort to join us, it will be a great gift.

Finally, recognize that this experience may change your loved one in ways you can’t predict or understand. Be willing to get to know this new person without judgment. Grief is extremely powerful, and studies show that depression rates in women dealing with infertility are similar to depression rates in women after a cancer diagnosis – here is an article that discusses this. Since I have never had cancer, I cannot comment on how that would affect me, and I certainly don’t want to compare my situation to someone who is dealing with cancer. All I can tell you is that the grief of infertility hit me much harder than I ever would have expected. When we first started trying to conceive, we genuinely thought we would be OK if it didn’t happen, that we could just adopt. I had no idea how much coming to terms with the loss of my ability to reproduce would have me questioning my identity and what I should do with my life. I have long considered myself to be an optimistic positive person, able to find the humour in any situation, but the grief brought on by infertility took me to a darker place than I ever thought I could go.

One of the best things a support person can do is recognize the pain of this situation and encourage the person to get help. Support groups are an amazing place to meet people who truly understand the experience, and although it can be hard to find a counsellor who specializes in this type of grief, they are out there. Antidepressants can be extremely helpful, but many people are afraid to pursue this route out of fear of the stigma of mental illness. Sometimes, all a person in this situation needs is someone to say it’s OK to need some help and a gentle push in that direction.

We are extremely fortunate and grateful for the support we have received from family and friends, and I share this post in hopes of helping other people get this kind of care. With that support (and some medication), I ammuch better equipped to deal with the holidays this year. I know that it will not be easy, and I know I will meet people who do not understand, but having the support of people who do and people who try makes all the difference.

Thank-you for caring.

 

“Heartbreak and Drugs” by Cindy

I haven’t blogged in a while. I’ve wanted to. I even wrote a long one, but it had too much in it, and I couldn’t get the message across that I wanted, so I ditched it. There are so many things I want to share that I don’t know where to begin.

It hasn’t been an easy year. It’s been an amazing one in many ways, but it’s also been really tough. My heartbreak seemed to consume me, and a few months ago, I could barely get out of bed. I wanted so desperately to grow and take control and find a purpose, but I just couldn’t care enough about anything.

When my niece was young, she cheerfully declined to do something with the phrase, “No, I just can’t want to”, and it was so cute that I never forgot it. Now, that phrase has a much more serious feeling because it defines depression for me. We had so many wonderful possible futures to consider, and I couldn’t get excited about any of them. I wasn’t sleeping well, but I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning. I just couldn’t want to do anything, even though I wanted to want to. I kept doing stuff, and even enjoying activities with people, but I honestly felt broken inside, and I started to wonder if I could just be put away somewhere where I wouldn’t have to make any decisions, and where I wouldn’t be a burden on anyone I love. I just wanted something to fix me.

Finally, I went to the doctor to talk about antidepressants. My doctor in Calgary had recommended I try them the previous year, but my mind couldn’t piece together how a drug to deal with chemicals in the brain could help with the pain in my heart. I was also really afraid to add drug side effects to my life because I couldn’t imagine having to deal with anything else.

That might sound like a funny thing to say, considering that we sold our house, moved across the country with no set destination, and bought a house in a new town, but I thrive on change. Change distracts me.

My doctor agreed right away to prescribe antidepressants. The adjustment was hard. I started on a half dose because of my fear of side effects, and there were two days where the only place I felt safe was on the couch with television to distract me from my own thoughts. This happened again when I went to a full dose, but other than some sleep trouble, those are the only side effects I have experienced.

I guess I am feeling better. It’s not a dramatic change – I don’t suddenly feel like the sun is shining, but slowly, it seems that I have become more able to talk about big decisions and to make plans more than a week in advance. I don’t cry all the time anymore, and I can face trigger situations without feeling the walls close in. I still feel very sad about our infertility, but I can feel the sadness without feeling like I’m dying inside.

I am also able to focus on how grateful I am for the wonderful parts of my life. I can’t even express how grateful I am to have the most amazing, supportive, loving husband in the world, and I wouldn’t give him up for anything – not even a baby. We have a beautiful house (sure, it needs a lot of work, but I am still amazed that this is our house), in a nice community, and we have lots of loving support from family and friends.

Perhaps the biggest change is in my confidence. Depression sucked the confidence right out of me. My comfort zone shrank and could only be pushed in certain directions. It didn’t make sense, but that’s depression for you. I could push myself by taking a part in a play, perhaps because that was something I have always wanted to do, but I couldn’t push myself to consider applying to the school board because the idea of teaching, as much as I love it, just seemed too intimidating. Now, I am able to picture myself as a teacher again, and I can remember that I am a good teacher and that I can learn what I need to learn in order to teach what I need to teach. Things that seemed really impossible seem possible again, and that is huge.

It was important for me to share this because I want other people to know that it is OK to need help when you are feeling bad. I think part of the reason I was reluctant to start medication, even though I knew many people who benefitted from it, was that part of me felt I needed to hold onto that pain or I wouldn’t be true to myself, and I didn’t want to minimize my grief. As it turns out, the pain is not gone. The grief is still very much present, and I don’t feel like I am a different person. I just feel less broken somehow, and that is a good thing.

I know that there are a lot of people out there who are suffering in silence, and on the other side, there are people who believe that we need to just ‘get over it’ and move on with our lives. The truth is, I don’t want to ‘get over’ my pain. I just want to be able to live with it and still enjoy life. That loss, that pain, is part of my life journey, and it is part of who I am. I can’t pretend that it never happened, that I never wanted children anyway, or that ‘everything happens for a reason’. I can find reasons to laugh every day and be grateful for how lucky I am to be who I am when I am with the people I am with, and I can take the next step in my journey with the love of my life.

I am OK. And I will be OK. It just might not be as easy as it used to be.