Posts Tagged ‘adoption’

“Adoption Update 1” by Cindy

This may not be the most positive post.  I am tired and grumpy, but maybe this makes it a good time to be real.

This is hard.

Let’s get this out of the way – they are amazing kids. Truly. We cannot believe how lucky we are. Our now 7-year-old daughter is a super charmer – positive, affectionate, creative, funny, and clever. Our son is an adorable 2-year-old busy exploring the world and learning every day.  We have a lot of fun with these kids, and we are happy to be their parents.

But sometimes, it just feels harder than it should.

Aside from the regular challenges of parenting – trying to get enough sleep, living in a messier house, trying to figure out ‘natural’ consequences for undesirable behaviours, losing all sense of privacy and alone time, trying to manage cooking and cleaning while also giving the kids enough attention (and it is never enough), adjusting to completely new life roles, etc. etc. etc… there are the additional challenges that come from adopting.

One thing I didn’t quite anticipate was the feeling of loss I have related to how I thought I would parent my children. Although we may eventually get to parent our kids the way that we thought we would, for now, we have to parent differently. We have to strike a balance between parenting in the way they are accustomed to (from previous parental figures) and the way they need for building attachment, and sometimes that means we completely ignore what might be developmentally appropriate. We actually need to strip them of some independence so they can learn to depend on us as parents, and that is hard for us to do and hard for other people to see and understand.

There is also a kind of subconscious added pressure to be a good parent when you have decided to adopt. Not only did we choose to become parents very consciously, but we also had to convince a whole bunch of people that we would be good at it. And like every parent (or so I’ve been told), I have those moments when I think someone else would do a better job than I am doing. Only in our case, someone else doing our job was a real possibility. It feels like it would be extra tragic if we screwed up this parenting thing now.

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Here is another loss I didn’t anticipate – I feel sad that I cannot let other people become close to our kids right away. I cannot let grandparents and aunts and uncles and close friends become supportive caregivers because we need our kids to bond with us first. If that sounds harsh, it is because it is. It sucks. However, in the long run, we know that anything that sets back our attachment process hurts our kids, so we are trying to be strict. In fact, we recognize that in our initial excitement, we were not strict enough on this in the beginning, so we have had to tighten things up a bit. Ask me how much fun that is.

I look like a crazy over-protective mom who won’t let her son crawl into the facilitator’s lap at play group because I need him to sit in mine. I need him to want to be on my lap more than he wants to be on anyone else’s. And right now, he doesn’t. So, strangely, until he only wants to sit on my lap, I have to stop him from sitting on other people’s laps. When we start to see some separation anxiety, we will celebrate, and paradoxically, that will be when he is allowed to sit on other people’s laps. I think.

I realized today that this is part of what makes this so hard. I deal with all the regular messy Mom stuff, but I don’t get the unconditional love that comes from attached kids. I don’t get that recharge because to my kids, I am just another adult caregiver who may or may not be there in the future. I know I will be there, but they have no way of understanding or believing that because that is not the reality that they have lived. I cannot blame them for that, but I can’t help feeling a little resentful from time to time. I get the same superficial affection from my kids that they would give to a funny stranger on a bus. That is not as much of an exaggeration as you might think. I see those other parents at play group letting other parents step in and help out, and I look forward to the day that I can step back a bit, but for now, I have to maintain a level of vigilance that can be quite tiring. Good thing they are so cute.

A few months ago, I was more concerned about the reality of adopting a school-aged child than a toddler. I believed that the toddler would have an easier time attaching to new parents, and that doing the activities that promote attachment would be easier. I am not finding that to be the case. Somehow, it is easier to understand what a 7-year-old might be thinking than what a 2-year-old might be thinking, and our daughter seems to desire many of the attachment-building activities like rocking and cuddling. The 2-year-old is literally harder to pin down. The toddler carrier our friends got us is amazing, and I wish I could carry him in it more, but I hurt my back a few weeks ago, and that has made things a bit more difficult. Sometimes, he asks to be rocked and then immediately wants down. The other night, we were struggling to help him get to sleep, and in desperation, I swaddled him in a big blanket. He cried and struggled to escape, and when I put him down, he asked to be swaddled again. He needs what he doesn’t want, and he can be so stubborn about refusing what he doesn’t want. At the same time that he is craving independence like all toddlers of his age, he needs to learn to be dependent on us. I can’t imagine how confusing that is for him.

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We know we are not alone in this, but unfortunately, there is no local support group for adoptive parents. So far, I have only met one person who adopted an older child, and I met them by chance. It was such a relief to talk to someone who truly got it. There is an online community through Adopt4Life that I am connected with, and I am hoping to meet some other adoptive parents soon, but it is not as easy to connect as I thought it would be. I do sometimes feel quite alone (you know, except for John, who is characteristically amazing).

If you read my post-script to my previous post, you know that I am aware that Post-Adoption Depression (sometimes referred to as PAD) is also a thing (I read the book), and I am glad I was aware of it before we started. We know very well that we need to work hard on self-care, but let’s be honest – it’s awfully hard to figure out when it is OK to not be around when we need our kids to believe that we will always be around. We definitely want to be there anytime there is an opportunity to give comfort, and that means bed-time and wake-up time is especially important. The curling season is about to start, and my goal is to find a responsible teenager to babysit one evening a week because I want someone I can trust but who will not come across as too much of a parental figure.

I now understand why so much of the literature talked about cocooning for a few months when your children first arrive. We sort of tried to do this, but we kind of failed. We were too excited for our kids to meet everyone and see how many wonderful people are in their lives. I now see that in addition to taking the time to build attachment, there are two other reasons for the cocooning – one is so your kids are not overwhelmed, and the other is so that you are not overwhelmed. We went to a couple of family events this summer, and I am pretty sure I looked like a deer in headlights. At one event, I couldn’t even manage an intelligible conversation with anyone. Even though I was surrounded by people I like and enjoy talking to, I wanted to run away. We are the super-vigilant parents we never thought we would be because we have to be. It’s an adjustment for us and an adjustment for the people who know us.

At the same time as wondering if we introduced our families too quickly, I am super appreciative of how supportive our people have been. Our families have welcomed our kids unconditionally in a most beautiful way, and I am so grateful for that. Close friends have also been amazing – their offspring horror stories have helped me put some of my kids’ behaviours in perspective, and that is more valuable than I could have expected (and we haven’t even started toilet-training, yet).

People often say that there is no manual for parenting, and there is no handbook for adopting, either (although we do think there could be something – more on that later, perhaps). Fortunately, there is a lot of excellent literature that is helpful. Whenever we take a step back to check in on how we are doing, we recognize that all things considered, we are doing great. Both our kids are learning and developing despite going through a major transition, we are getting good amounts of sleep and eating well, and we are having fun as a family and getting to know each other.

I know that I have so much more to be grateful for than I have to complain about, so even though I am quite tired, and some days I am a much grumpier mom than I would like to be, I am OK.

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Unless, you know, it’s a little weird that I find memes strangely comforting these days.

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PS – Here is a great handout I found that talks about adoption phases (looks quite similar to phases of group development): http://www.ocwtp.net/PDFs/Trainee%20Resources/Assessor%20Resources/Normal%20Phases%20of%20Pre-Finalization%20Adjustment.pdf

 

 

 

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“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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“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!

“Still Grieving; Still Living” by Cindy

I have kind of hit a bit of a dark place again.  I’m not sure why or how exactly, but perhaps spending a whole summer helping parents and grandparents choose cute shoes for the little ones in their lives, and then feeling left out of the back-to-school excitement are contributing factors.

Somehow, I have returned to that place of easy tears, where I just want to cry all the time.

The first time I really noticed was last week when a family came into the store with an adorable 5-month-old baby. I have a slightly masochistic side that means I feel compelled to get a closer look and try to connect with every baby I see (this also happens with dogs). The proud grandfather was happily pushing the stroller around and was so pleased to tell me what a good baby she was as he made sounds and faces to make her laugh. I see proud grandmothers all the time, but there was something about it being the grandfather that was especially affecting. All of a sudden, I had to walk away because I could feel the tears in my eyes, and I wasn’t sure I could keep them in. I’m not sure which thoughts hit me first – that it was unfair that we would never get to coo at our own child, that it was unfair that we would never get to see our parents coo at our child, or that it was unfair that we would never get to be the grandparents cooing.

I feel so disappointed in myself because I was starting to believe that I was doing better. Maybe I was. I have lots of other things to focus on and be grateful for (there’s that gratitude problem again), and yet, here I am struggling to make it through a day without crying. It takes a lot of effort not to let my coworkers see my pain, and then I come home, and poor John is the person who has to deal with a broken Cindy. Then, I feel guilty about making his life harder, and I dive into a downward spiral of negative emotions.

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At first I tried, in the spirit of authenticity, to share my difficulties with my coworkers, but one day, after I shared that seeing families day after day was hard, my coworker, who is a proud grandma, said something along the lines of, “we need to figure out a way for you to be OK about this kids thing”, like it was a problem that needed a solution. I realized that she was feeling inconvenienced by my grief, and I decided it was better for work life for me to just try and keep it inside.

My younger coworker (much younger), went with the, “why don’t you just adopt” approach. I tried to explain it, I really did. I explained that adoption is much harder than most people think (see this post), and she countered with a story about a friend or relative who seemingly had a great time adopting. I explained that I didn’t think I could bear the ups and downs and uncertainty of the adoption process, and I could see that she didn’t understand.

John and I are experiencing a kind of culture-shock here. The stereotypical protestant work ethic is deeply ingrained in the psyche of the people who have lived here their whole lives. They value work and the ability to work hard very highly. When we ask them what they would do if they had time and financial freedom, they say, “well, I would have to keep working”, as if working determines a person’s value. It is the first thing they say. People take pride in forcing themselves to work when sick or injured, and they look down on people who do not want to work as hard as they do. This attitude is evident in all generations here – people much older than us and much younger than us give the same answer. This glorification of work-ethic is kind of problematic for us as we value other aspects of our lives more highly than work, and we are actively striving to build a lifestyle where work is optional.

This work-ethic spills over into other areas – if you want something badly enough, then surely you will do anything in your power to get it, and not give up until you have it. So we, in giving up on our dream to be parents, must seem weak to people who believe that hard work is the answer. To be honest, sometimes we think the same. Were we not willing to make enough sacrifices to become parents?  Should we have tried harder, invested more of ourselves, given up on any other dreams and put all our energy into trying again and again? We know people who experienced success by trying over and over again despite loss after loss. We also know people who didn’t experience success through trying over and over again despite loss after loss. There are no guarantees.

I found a blog post at www.traceycleantis.com that explains my position better than I have, and I think I will start using Lisa Manterfield’s words: “we have maxed out our heartbreak cards”.

My problem these days is that I have such a hard time suppressing my emotions (they have a tendency to leak out in unexpected ways), and conversely, I have a hard time expressing them. I give John a hard time about finding someone to talk to, but when I am feeling down, I don’t call anyone. I don’t want to talk about my feelings and tell anyone I care about that I am struggling. I want people to come to me when they want to talk about their feelings, but I don’t want them to see me cry. I have been thinking about this a lot lately, and I realize that this has always been true. As much as I have always loved delving into other people’s feelings, I have always kept mine quiet. I don’t know why. I logically know that I need to open up to people in order to make meaningful connections, but I simultaneously fear that these same people will judge me or use my feelings against me in some way.

My work-around to this problem is this blog. I can write my feelings, and the people who care about me can read my words and know a bit more about what is going on with me. The downside is that I have substituted blog interaction for real life interaction, and it isn’t quite the same. I actually feel disappointed when someone I care about hasn’t read my blog, even though I don’t really expect everyone to read it. I know people have their reasons for not reading it (I have a friend who has written a bestseller, and I haven’t read any of her books because all of her writing is about grieving moms). I also feel disappointed when people reveal that they don’t know me as well as I think they should because part of me believes that I am an open book – after all, I blog about my feelings.

Still, I feel better after writing. It organizes the mess in my brain a bit, and sometimes, a little virtual connection is better than no connection at all.  Plus, it takes some of the pressure off of John.

Grief Changes UsI have written about feeling changed by grief before, and I still don’t know what that means for me. The image above seems true, even though I don’t want it to be. I don’t want to be more sensitive, more emotional, more vulnerable. I am certain I was enough of all these things before.

Who I want to be and who I am are very different people right now, and I’m not sure how to reconcile the two.

A friend posted this anecdote on facebook:

“I was preparing to speak at an I Can Do It conference and I decided to bring an orange on stage with me as a prop for my lecture. I opened a conversation with a bright young fellow of about twelve who was sitting in the front row.
“If I were to squeeze this orange as hard as I could, what would come out?” I asked him.
He looked at me like I was a little crazy and said, “Juice, of course.”
“Do you think apple juice could come out of it?”
“No!” he laughed.
“What about grapefruit juice?”
“No!”
“What would come out of it?”
“Orange juice, of course.”
“Why? Why when you squeeze an orange does orange juice come out?”
He may have been getting a little exasperated with me at this point.
“Well, it’s an orange and that’s what’s inside.”
I nodded. “Let’s assume that this orange isn’t an orange, but it’s you. And someone squeezes you, puts pressure on you, says something you don’t like, offends you. And out of you comes anger, hatred, bitterness, fear. Why? The answer, as our young friend has told us, is because that’s what’s inside.”
It’s one of the great lessons of life. What comes out when life squeezes you? When someone hurts or offends you? If anger, pain and fear come out of you, it’s because that’s what’s inside. It doesn’t matter who does the squeezing—your mother, your brother, your children, your boss, the government. If someone says something about you that you don’t like, what comes out of you is what’s inside. And what’s inside is up to you, it’s your choice.
When someone puts the pressure on you and out of you comes anything other than love, it’s because that’s what you’ve allowed to be inside. Once you take away all those negative things you don’t want in your life and replace them with love, you’ll find yourself living a highly functioning life.
Thanks, my young friend, and here’s an orange for you!” ~Wayne Dyer

It spoke to me a lot because lately, when life squeezes me, bitterness comes out, and I’m not happy about that. I want to give more; I want to love more.

I also want to run away and not have to strive for anything. I want an easy life where things fall into place and nothing feels hard and complicated. Of course, I don’t know anyone who has that, so I have no idea why I would think I deserve it, or that it is possible in any way. This kind of thinking leads me into a darker place – contemplating the meaning of life does not take me to good places in my psyche.

I know I will be OK. Logically, I just have no other choice. I do not choose to go through life feeling crappy, so I will keep focusing on the good things, and I will do what I can to minimize the moments of crapitude. I will keep taking small steps to align who I am with who I want to be, and I will live with hope that I will one day feel completely at peace with who I am and how I interact with the world.

In the meantime, I will try not to mentally beat myself up for needing to cry sometimes, even if it happens at inopportune times. I will remind myself that grief is a process and that I don’t need everyone to understand in order for me to get through it. I will keep moving forward because there really isn’t any other place for me to go.

“Thoughts on CIAW” by Cindy

It’s CIAW from May 24-31. If you are not part of any infertility support groups, then you may not know that this means “Canadian Infertility Awareness Week”, but there are quite a few of us that wish we didn’t.

I have to admit to having some ambivalent feelings about CIAW. On the one hand, I think it is absolutely important that people like me get a chance to talk about the life-changing grief that comes with wanting a child and being unable to have one.

Every day, parents get to talk about the joys and tribulations of raising children, and my Facebook feed is filled with pictures of children, links to articles about parenting, and even the occasional video of a mom justifying her inability to be both a good friend and a good mom. Because people who have children cannot possibly understand the sense of loss that we feel on a daily basis, our grief is often minimized with cliches and insensitive comments, so a week to spread awareness sounds good.

Our counsellor recently shared an article from a therapeutic journal that described the grief of infertility as being similar to the grief in losing an ability (“Narratives of Infertility: Reclaiming a Fertile Lifestyle” by Hewson, Colagiuri, Craig and Yee – I had difficulty finding a full reference, sorry) . There is the initial shock of the loss, then an adjustment period that never really ends. For the rest of my life, I will encounter situations in which I will suddenly be reminded that there are certain things I will never be able to do.

I will never know what it feels like to have a life growing inside me. I will never get to watch my child grow and learn and experience new things on a daily basis. I will never be that person that child is happiest to see. I will never get to see my husband fall asleep with our baby resting on his chest. I will never get a card or macaroni art on Mother’s Day. There will be no mother/daughter picnics or dances or music lessons. When I am older, I will never get to be a grandmother. And every now and then, someone will ask me why I don’t have children, and all I will be able to say is, “we tried, and we couldn’t”, and that person won’t know what to say.

If you have children, have decided not to have children, or haven’t started trying yet, I know what you are thinking. Please don’t say it out loud. There is nothing you can say to make me feel better. Here is your personal primer – if someone tells you about their struggle with infertility, whatever you do, do not try to say something that you think will make them feel better. You do not have that power.

Here is what I suggest you say: “That sucks. Would you like some wine/chocolate?” Listen, but do not give advice. I guarantee that you do not know more about their situation than they do.

For those of us on the other side, here are some tongue-in-cheek responses to typical insensitive comments that I’ve been working on (that I will probably never actually have the courage to use):

Comment: Have you considered adoption?
Response: Adoption? What’s that? (because of course we have! Adoption is not as simple as people seem to think – please see this post for more details)
or…
Of course.  How about you? (because why is this question only asked of people who can’t conceive?)

Comment: Want my kids?
Response: Yes.  (seriously)

Comment: You’ve just got to relax.  Stop trying.
Response: Good idea.  How should I do that exactly? (if I stop trying because it will increase my chances, then really I am still trying… I can go in circles for hours and get nowhere with this one)

Comment: My cousin tried for years, and then got pregnant after she adopted.
Response: That’s nice. Pass the wine? (really, what are we supposed to get out of these stories?)

Comment: If it’s meant to be, it will be.
Response: (I have no good suggestion for this one… the implied judgment is too brutal, so perhaps just walking away and never speaking to that person again is best)

Comment: Sometimes misfortune is a blessing in disguise.
Response: I don’t think so. Just out of curiosity, would you say that to me if I were grieving the loss of my husband? (and I guess some really insensitive people would)

Comment: Is it because you waited until you were older to start trying?
Response: Actually, it’s because the combination of my genes and my husband’s genes would be too fabulous for the mortal human realm to tolerate. Pass the wine? (and don’t take it personally. Remember that age is much less a factor than most people think)

Comment: Well, keep up the hope.  We tried for a year before we got pregnant.
Response: Congratulations.  Pass the wine? (there is no reasoning with this person. Leave them in their bliss.)

I know that people say all these things with good intentions, and I understand that it is difficult to know what to say to anyone going through intense grief. So, once again, repeat after me, “That sucks. Would you like some wine/chocolate?”

Spreading understanding of how much our society does not know what to do with people who can’t or choose not to have children seems like a great objective for CIAW, and I am happy to participate.

Many people, on the other hand, see this week as an opportunity to talk about the need for provincial health coverage of infertility treatments, and despite my own struggle with infertility, I have not yet signed a petition to have fertility treatments like IVF covered by Alberta healthcare.

I think my problem on taking a stand on this topic is that the rhetoric currently used to support the cause is faulty. For some reason, groups campaigning for coverage have chosen to focus on the financial side of funding fertility treatments, and as recent Globe and Mail articles pointed out (see “When the State Funds IVF, the Cost is Too High for Everyone”, May 11, 2014, and “Reality Check: Does it Make Sense for Taxpayers to Fund Invitro?”, May 20, 2014), the financial arguments just don’t quite make sense. Any savings made by funding IVF cycles would only offset costs created by the industry in the first place. Secondly, if IVF is funded, as it is in Quebec, the number of people requesting it will rise, so the numbers will not equate. If we are going to get really financial here, bringing more people into the world will mean lifelong healthcare costs. Pursuing a financial logic here just doesn’t make cents (I couldn’t help myself).

I am not, however, opposed to IVF being funded by provincial health care, and given the right rhetoric, I think I would become a vocal supporter.

It wasn’t until someone at an infertility support group I attended expressed her ire at the fact that her tax dollars pay for the costly medical bills of a lifelong smoker that I started to see another side to the financial argument.

We easily accept that fertility treatments are “elective”, but treatments for conditions brought on through personal lifestyle choices are not. Bob can choose not to wear a helmet while mountain-biking, and we will pay for all the surgeries to put his skull back together. We even pay to treat the people who attempt to end their own lives. We don’t question the cost of any life-saving treatments, but life-creating treatments are too expensive.

(side note: if you are reading this and thinking, “yeah, we shouldn’t pay for those things either”, you have completely missed the point)

Where is the compassionate side of this discussion? When is it OK for financial considerations to overrule the human side?

Some campaigners talk about their right to have children. I am not sure that this is or should be a right. And yet, does that matter? Lots of people get accidentally pregnant and are allowed to keep their children. People who don’t even want children are allowed to keep them. Racist people are allowed to keep their children and raise them to be racist. Those are rights.

In fact, in Canada, we women even have a right to abortion in case of unwanted pregnancy. We have the right to use medical intervention to prevent life but not to create it. Of course, abortion is way cheaper than fertility treatments, so that makes good financial sense, if not moral sense. Please do not get me wrong, I am pro-choice. For our sake and the sake of all the other wonderful people I know hoping to adopt, I wish that more women would choose adoption over abortion, but I would never take that choice away.

The social justice argument catches my attention as well. Whether we consider having a child as a right or a privilege, the current situation advantages people who can afford costly infertility treatments or adoption, and that is truly unfair. I was really fortunate in being able to try the treatments I tried, and I can afford to pursue adoption. There are many people out there who do not have these opportunities.

I also worry that keeping these options in the private sphere may lead to the commodification of children, and that is very concerning. In Canada, we are not allowed to pay surrogate mothers or egg/sperm donors for their contributions, but other countries do not have these rules, and desperate people will find ways to work around the law. How far will that go?

Of course, from a social justice perspective, there are many medical supports that are not funded that I believe should be, so it is hard for me to put IVF at the top of the list. Mental health is woefully underfunded, for example. While I was fortunate that I work for an organization with a great EAP that allowed me to get a counsellor to help me through this difficult time, many people do not have that “luxury”. Dental care and vision care are other “luxuries” that really seem more necessary than luxurious.

I can think of lots of reasons to fund IVF, but the financial side still confounds me. It is definitely a gamble (success stats very from clinic to clinic, and I find them somewhat suspicious to begin with, but most quote 15-30% depending on diagnosis), and any Catan players will know that repeated tries do not actually increase your chances. You can play a whole game without rolling a single damn 6. Yet, the prognosis of other treatments do not factor into public discussion over whether to fund them or not, so I am not sure that should be a factor here. Again, if we focus on the numbers, we lose the human side, and I am not comfortable with that.

The Infertility Awareness Association of Canada (IAAC) states that, “The Canadian Infertility Awareness Week is dedicated to raising awareness and breaking the silence about infertility. It is also about advocating for access to fertility treatments for all Canadians.” I agree wholeheartedly with the goal of raising awareness so more people suffering quietly behind closed doors will reach out for support and so more people will know how to give that support. Whether or not I come to any personal conclusions about whether or not IVF should be publicly funded, I do appreciate that the discussion is happening, and I hope to hear some new perspectives soon.

Earlier, I referred to the “life-changing” grief of infertility. I do not use that phrase lightly. Being unable to have children has caused my husband and I to question our own identities and our plans and dreams for our future. We are working on figuring out how to deal with that, and we take comfort in knowing that others have continued through this journey to find joy. Talking about our grief and giving it the attention it deserves has helped us a great deal, and so I am thankful to IAAC for providing support in opening this discussion.

And yes, thank you, I will have some wine. And chocolate.

“Why we’re doing what we said we wouldn’t do” by Cindy

The IVF decision has been made and we are going to do it.  In some ways, it’s a bit of a relief to not be agonizing over the decision part anymore, and in other ways, it’s like we’re diving into the deep end.

From the beginning of our TTC adventure, we said that we wouldn’t go so far as to do IVF. It seemed unnatural to us, and like we would be forcing something that wasn’t meant to be.  We know that many other people think this way, too, and that some of you, as you read this, are judging us for making this decision.

That’s OK. Sure, it hurts to know that some people don’t understand, but logically, I now know how impossible it is for someone who hasn’t been in this situation to understand.  Unless you have taken this journey, and been in this place of loss with the possibility of success within reach, you cannot possibly understand. If that is your case, and you are philosophically opposed to IVF, that’s your prerogative.  Just please don’t tell me about it.  In case of doubt, read this: “How not to say the wrong thing”. Infertility is a medical problem, and talking to people with infertility about their medical problem is like talking to someone who is very ill.  I have seen quotes that the stress of dealing with infertility is as high as a diagnosis of cancer. That seems pretty dramatic to me, but the grieving is so real, and so profound, that I’m not sure I can argue with it. I won’t pretend that I can understand what is like to deal with a cancer diagnosis, and I hope I never have a chance to compare the two.

One of the subjects that often comes up in the infertility support group is the thoughtless things that people say about infertility or IVF.  A woman who has successfully had two children through IVF has heard co-workers who didn’t know say things like, “That’s so unnatural. If it’s meant to happen, it’ll happen.”  Another woman, heard her anaesthesiologist say, as she was having a miscarriage, “what were you thinking – trying to have a baby at your age?” (she was not much older than me).  I talked about my infertility in my career counselling course (online) because it was relevant to the case study we were discussing, and a woman sent me a link to an article about how misfortune can actually be a blessing. I did not thank her for the link.

So, back to our decision, given that the technology is available, I am having a really hard time thinking of not trying it.  John has decided to support me in this because he recognizes that living with the regret of not trying might be worse for me in the long run.  He, for his part, is not optimistic.  This is hard for me, and I have changed my mind on this matter so many times, but it keeps coming back to the fear of one day wondering, “what if”?  At my age, the stats say there is anywhere between a 40-50% chance of success, and that’s a lot higher than anything we’ve tried so far. An added bonus is that the process of IVF might actually help us reach a diagnosis, and that might allow me to have some closure in the process.

The doctor explained that in cases of unexplained infertility, there are several possible problems:

1- the eggs are not getting picked up by the tubes properly – IVF bypasses this problem

2- the muscles in the tubes are not moving the egg along properly – IVF bypasses this problem

3- the sperm, for whatever reason, are unable to get into the egg – IVF with ICSI can bypass this problem

4 – the eggs are crap – no solution for this

The doctor said that at my age, there is probably a 5-10% chance that my eggs are not good, so given that three of the four possible problems can be solved with IVF, it seems worth a try.

Yes, it is going to be a difficult process. Yes, I am worried about pumping my body full of hormones. Yes, I am worried about dealing with failure, should that be the case.  The bottom line is, I want to know.  I want to know if it would work.  I don’t want to spend my life wondering, and I know that if we don’t try it, I will still spend the next four years hoping for a miracle every month.  If we try IVF and it doesn’t work, then I think I can stop hoping and move on.  Of course,  a year from now, I am very likely to have a different perspective, but for now, that’s where my thinking is.

The other question that infertile couples are frequently asked is, “have you considered adoption?” I’m never sure of the intention behind this question.  Is it a way of expressing judgment against our desire to give birth to a child? For the record, the answer to this is always “yes”.  For some couples, adoption does not fit their story and is not an option, but I guarantee they will have talked about it and considered it. For others, like us, adoption is a wonderful idea.  The idea of providing a loving home to a child in need is wonderful.

The reality of adoption is a bit more complicated.  We’ve already talked a bit about private adoption and the competition between prospective parents, and how competing to buy a baby is somewhat distasteful.  Well, what about all the children in care?  What about a government adoption? Read this: “Alberta’s Waiting Children” and tell me how you would make this decision.  Here are a few highlights for you:

  • At any given time in Alberta, approximately 70 percent of children waiting for adoption are “older”, most of these being between seven and 12-years-of-age.
  • Below are the preliminary special needs criteria applicants must be willing to accept.
    Acceptance of a minimum of two of the following special needs:
    • Developmental delays
    • Behavioural/emotional issues
    • Learning disability/special education
    Plus one of the following special needs:
    • A child seven years of age or over
    • A sibling group of three or more children
    • A serious diagnosed medical condition
    • A permanent disability
    • A psychiatric diagnosis
    • Fetal drug effect
    • Hepatitis C
    • HIV risk or HIV positive
    • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder
    OR one of the following family background traits:
    • Abuse of alcohol during pregnancy
    • Abuse of drugs during pregnancy
    • A psychiatric diagnosis in birth parents
    • Global developmental delays in birth parents

So, to begin with, as you were probably already aware, there are not many babies available. As this site points out: www.canadaadopts.com, while the pool of adoptive parents has increased, the pool of available babies has shrunk. I love babies. I love seeing John with babies. I also believe that the bond formed between parents and children at the earliest stages is extremely formative. The thought of missing out on this stage of a child’s life breaks my heart.  Having said that, I am completely willing to adopt an older child.  I look at their pictures in the gallery (there is a gallery – you can window shop kids – I am somewhat disturbed by that, even as I understand the need), and I want to give them all a loving home.  All of them.  So how do I decide which?

Now, take a look at that second bullet point.  Which special needs would you choose? How on earth do you make that decision?  There is a difference between giving birth to and loving your own special needs child and choosing to adopt a child with known special needs.  Sure, on the one side, you go in with more information.  On the other side, you are making a choice. Which special needs are you OK with choosing?

If you think that you would be OK with these options, then I really encourage you to consider adopting now.  There are children that would benefit from being placed in families with other children, and there are many that would benefit from being significantly younger than their adoptive siblings.  Adoption is not only for infertile couples like us – anyone willing to open their hearts to children in need should consider bringing a waiting child into their family. That could be you.

If your reaction to that was, “Sure, I would, but…”, then maybe you are starting to understand. Part of me is saying that to get you to really think about how difficult a decision this really is, and part of me is really hoping that you will take me up on this challenge because there really are a lot of children who need loving homes.  Really think about it. Why is it that that question, “Have you considered adoption?” is only asked of infertile couples?

All of this to say that the decision to do IVF does not mean that we have decided not to adopt.  It just means that I am not ready to give up on that dream of giving birth to and raising a child. I need to know more, and the only way to find out more is to do IVF, so that’s what I’m doing.  So there. Cross your fingers for us – we’ll take all the positive energy we can get.