Family

Part 4 of 4: Infertility/Adoption

It seems like a lot of our readers are grappling with the ‘when is the best time to have children’ question, especially since this season of life seems to be the perfect time to start a family. But – what if life doesn’t work out that way?

Over the next couple of months, we’ll follow 4 different graduate wives through their journeys of infertility, miscarriage, and adoption. If you are facing any of the above, or know a graduate wife who is, we hope you will find their stories encouraging and supportive.  ~Mandy and MC

-written by Katy, a current graduate wife

Part 1 found here

Part 2 found here

Part 3  The first part of Katy’s story found here

As we were moving overseas in less than three weeks, we knew that our situation would be unusual. In fact, at first we weren’t even sure it would be possible for us to adopt while living abroad. But after a little research we learned that as American citizens living in Europe we could pursue a path to adoption following a precedent set by military families living abroad. As we interviewed agencies, talked about what type of adoption we were interested in pursuing, and read everything about adoption we could get our hands on, two things happened. First, I felt empowered to make decisions in a way that I had not felt in years. For so long it seemed like whether or not we became parents was completely out of our control. We couldn’t get pregnant on our own, and once we began fertility treatments I began to defer all decisions to the doctors we worked with. Now, with adoption, I was back in control and able to make choices and decisions with my husband that had been taken away from us for so long. And second, my heart began to heal. One of the most important books that I read during this painful journey was Adopting: Sound Choices, Strong Families by Patricia Irwin Johnston. If you are going through infertility, whether or not you are looking at adoption, I strongly recommend this book, if only for her section on grief.

Johnston writes about how infertility is not just one loss, but really multiple losses including (but not limited to), the loss of control, the loss of genetic continuity, the loss of a jointly conceived child, lost physical and emotional expectations (pregnancy and birth), and the loss of the parenting experience. Reading that finally gave me the permission to name my grief and realize that grief is multifaceted, and therefore not dealt with all at once, or all in the same way. Choosing adoption allowed us to break free from some of the grief we had been carrying with us for years. We were able to regain a level of control over our ability to grow our family that had previously been beyond our reach. Once again we were free to anticipate becoming parents with joy and hopefulness. Our grief was transforming. And while some of the losses we experienced through infertility, particularly the loss of never experiencing pregnancy (which likely will always be an area of tenderness), remain poignant for me, we both felt as if new life had been breathed into us, and suddenly the fog that had been hanging over us for the past five years began to recede.

The week before we moved to the UK we settled on a wonderful faith-based agency that was happy to work with us, and we began the paper work to pursue a domestic infant adoption. Shortly after making the decision to move forward with our adoption, we went from feeling like we had no options with our infertility to suddenly having more options than we knew what to do with. It was strange being in a new geographic place, working to form a new community, while still carrying the wounds of loss the past few years had left us with. No one knew about our past, knew that we were mourning, or that we were actively pursuing adoption. It felt like we were a two-sided couple: the happy, carefree couple excited to begin a European adventure and two heartbroken souls desperate to become parents. Finally, we made the decision to share openly with our new community about where we were at, despite our fears that it was too early in these relationships to share such personal and difficult details. Our vulnerability yielded rich rewards as we found comfort, encouragement, and empathy among our new friends in the midst of this graduate-life journey we were sharing together.

Over the next few months we completed all the paperwork and found ourselves ‘actively waiting’ the placement of a child. When the call finally came that we had been chosen, our joy was made that much fuller by the wonderful surprise party our friends organized to celebrate. Our long wait was nearly over, and nine months after we had begun ‘actively waiting’ we found ourselves back in the States watching the birth of our beloved son. Those first moments he was placed in my arms still seem like a dream. He was beautiful and perfect, and I was at long last a mama. Even now, fifteen months later, I still have days that tears of joy overflow as I look back over our long road to parenthood and can honestly say I’m thankful for all of it. It shaped me and changed me in ways that were incredibly painful, but also incredibly beautiful. Infertility was like a refining fire that taught my husband and I how to truly love one another, taught us what it means to be vulnerable, and about our desperate need for grace. Adoption has taught us about the incredible capacity and depth with which we have been created to love. It has shown us that out of deep grief comes an even deeper joy. And throughout our entire journey, we have learned that openness and vulnerability with your community makes room to experience true life together. Going through infertility and completing an adoption while living as graduate students in foreign countries has not been easy. But the gift of having a close-knit group of friends through the graduate community walk this long journey with us has made our joy that much more complete, providing strength in our brokenness, encouragement when we were without hope, and steadfast love throughout it all.

How has your graduate community helped you heal, or deal with difficult, life changing decisions without family nearby?

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Children

Part 3 of 4: Infertility/Adoption

It seems like a lot of our readers are grappling with the ‘when is the best time to have children’ question, especially since this season of life seems to be the perfect time to start a family. But – what if life doesn’t work out that way?

Over the next couple of months, we’ll follow 4 different graduate wives through their journeys of infertility, miscarriage, and adoption. If you are facing any of the above, or know a graduate wife who is, we hope you will find their stories encouraging and supportive.  ~Mandy and MC

-written by Katy, a current graduate wife

Part 1 found here

Part 2 found here

When my husband and I married over nine years ago, we knew our path was going to be a road less traveled. As we watched most of our friends settle down into long term careers, purchase homes, and start families, we found ourselves packing up a Penske truck and heading across the country to a place entirely new to us and away from all our family and friends in order for me to complete a masters degree in Social Work. We were young and newly married and the whole thing seemed like a grand adventure. As I was finishing my masters we decided that my husband would begin his masters in Theology the following Fall. Once again we packed up all our belongings in a big Penske truck and drove back across the country and up to Vancouver, Canada. Three years in we felt like old pros at the graduate life routine and were excited for another adventure. We were also excited as we decided this would be the perfect time to start our family and take advantage of the free health care available to us in Canada. I assumed the first month we wanted to get pregnant we would and then nine months later we would have a perfect, healthy baby to share our lives with. I can still vividly remember the excitement and hopefulness during those first few months of trying to get pregnant. But, when month after month started to pass us by I began to have a sinking suspicion that something was wrong.

Things weren’t working like you see in the movies. There were no joyful tears over sharing a positive pregnancy test. I didn’t get to make the excited calls to our parents to share that we were expecting. And we never got to have a fun dinner party or surprise email to all our friends to share ‘the big news’. Instead, I got to watch from the sidelines as most of our friends and family lived out all those experiences I so longed for. A deep and profound grief began to settle over me and after 18 months of trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant, we decided to seek medical help. Following a series of painful and invasive tests, and one surgery later, we were given the news that it would be impossible for us to get pregnant without significant medical intervention. Looking back now that diagnosis came almost as a relief. For so long we had lived in the land of ‘what if’ and now, finally, we had concrete answers and a clear action plan from the fertility specialists. I felt a renewed sense of hope and we dove headfirst into the crazy world of fertility treatments. I quit my job to eliminate as much stress as possible, we cut out all manner of foods, began taking various herbal supplements, and I started seeing an acupuncturist and massage therapist. Surely, with so much help and commitment I would be pregnant in no time and our long-deferred dream of becoming parents would finally be a reality.

Our first round of IVF was cut short when ‘my numbers’ weren’t looking right. Round two we had a successful procedure and I counted down the days until we had the official word that we were expecting. That call never came. The call that did come informed us that the treatment had ‘failed’ and would we like to book the next round? All that I heard was that I had failed and once again my dreams of motherhood were lost. Only this time there was no language to talk about it. Loosing our embryos wasn’t technically a miscarriage, but for me the loss was incredibly painful. For however briefly I held that life inside me, they were ours, and in those weeks of waiting, our imagined life together was so beautiful and real. I didn’t know how to talk about our loss and our friends, and family didn’t know what to say, either. We were stuck in nowhere land with a grief that didn’t have a clear name. I felt more broken and empty in the months that followed that loss than I have ever felt in my life. And, as our journey would have it, the news of that ‘failed’ IVF came just as my husband finished his Masters degree and we learned that he had been accepted into a PhD program in the UK. We were meant to begin that fall, but after spending significant time in prayer we decided to defer until January of the following year and move back to my hometown to be near family and have time to grieve and mourn and figure out how to move forward. Throughout our heartbreak our desire to become parents never faltered. If anything the longing was only intensified by the brief moments of hope we had when the possibility of pregnancy was still within our reach. As such, we decided to give IVF another try and once again began in earnest to prepare ourselves for the physical, spiritual and emotional toll we knew was before us. One morning, just a few days before the treatment began, I awoke with a profound conviction that we were to look into adoption. My husband had been open to this path to parenthood for a long time, but my longing to experience pregnancy and to create a life together prevented me from being able to move in that direction. This new openness to adoption was a major shift in my heart, but as we had already begun another round of IVF we decided to see it through. Once again, we hoped and prayed that this would be our time: that we would finally get to share good news, not bad. And that we would get to be parents. But, the day after the embryo transfer I knew things were not right, and sure enough, another failed IVF. Heartbroken and exhausted we took solace in the love and support of our family and friends. We grieved and cried and talked about our loss, and cried some more. It would have been easy as I found myself more and more caught up in the world of infertility and loss to ‘check out’ in all other areas of my life, particularly given our experience in the mid-point of this graduate life. Instead, I learned the importance of vulnerability and transparency in the midst of grief. It was in reconciling ourselves to this experience of loss that we began our first tentative steps in exploring what adoption would look like.

Be sure to check out tomorrow’s post for part 2 of Katy’s story.

As a graduate wife going through infertility, how do you stay open and vulnerable when it’s easy to live ‘on the surface’ when coming to a new community that doesn’t know your full story?

Family

Part 1 of 4: Infertility

It seems like a lot of our readers are grappling with the ‘when is the best time to have children’ question, especially since this season of life seems to be the perfect time to start a family. But – what if life doesn’t work out that way?

Over the next couple of months, we’ll follow 4 different graduate wives through their journeys of infertility, miscarriage, and adoption. If you are facing any of the above, or know a graduate wife who is, we hope you will find their stories encouraging and supportive.  ~Mandy and MC

Written by Jane, a current graduate wife

Four years ago, my husband decided to leave his job and go back to graduate school.  This had been a dream of his for a long time and we were finally in a place for him to pursue it.  In my mind, this was perfect timing.  I was ready to start a family and what better way to arrive in a new community than about to have a child?  I could get to know other women who had young kids and our kids would become friends and play together every day in the married student housing in which we all lived.  We requested a 2-bedroom apartment and assured the housing department that we would be pregnant by the time we arrived in our new town.  After all, that was 6 months away- we would certainly be pregnant by then!  Although I was sad to leave the big city where my husband and I had met, married, and lived for years, I was happy that we were both getting to pursue our dreams- his of going to graduate school and mine of having a family.

As you can probably guess from my naive enthusiasm and perfectly laid plans, things did not go as I had hoped.  I did meet and become friends with many other women with young kids.  The thing that was missing was my own child.  One year passed and we were still not pregnant.  We sought medical help, but were put in the category of “unexplained infertility,” a tough diagnosis because how do you treat something that’s unexplained?  So we just kept trying.  Another year passed.  And then another. My husband’s dream was being fulfilled and he was much happier than he had been in his previous life in the business world.  He was getting to read and study all the time and have amazing, insightful discussions on things about which he is passionate.  He developed a clearer vision of where he wanted this new career to go and was so excited about all the years of learning ahead of him.  Meanwhile, my dream just laid there. Every month that passed it seemed less and less likely that it would ever be fulfilled.

Having kids is something that, like most people, I just assumed would be in my future.  I realized how many times in every day conversations I used phrases like, “when I have kids…” and I painfully started adjusting the phrase to, “if I ever have kids…” Because it began to look like a big “if”.  It’s difficult to grieve a person that does not exist, but so much is lost.  I would never have a childbirth story, like almost every woman who has ever lived.  I would never be able to commiserate with pregnant women.  I would never have the opportunity to breastfeed.  I would never be able to look in my child’s eyes and see a little bit of my husband or my grandmother or my baby pictures.  And it seemed like a bit of our marriage was lost as well.  After all, part of being married is the desire to have a family from the union.  Although thankfully our relationship remained solid, it was hard to accept that our marriage would not result in a biological family: a child that was a little bit of me and a little bit of my husband.  Isn’t that one of the reasons I married him, because I wanted to have his babies?

We considered medical treatments.  But for most of our time, I was on student insurance which does not cover infertility testing or treatment, so this was a costly option.  We looked into adoption, another costly option.  But it is almost impossible to adopt when you do not know which state you will be living in the next year.  I was stuck.  It seemed that there was no way out and it seemed that, with each disappointing month that passed, came another pregnancy announcement from a friend.  I was surrounded by people who were living my dream, but it was unattainable for me. Who would have thought that such a basic desire would be so hard to achieve?  It was a very, very dark time.  I felt hopeless, angry, jealous, heartbroken, every synonym for “despair” that you can come up with.  Thankfully the school which my husband attended encouraged counseling for its students and their spouses, so I was able to find a wonderful, affordable counselor with whom to process all of this.  Along with the counseling, she recommended a doctor who could get me on some medication.  Without those two things, I honestly don’t know if I would be sitting here today.

When Mandy and M.C. asked me to write about infertility for The Graduate Wife, my first thought was that I have no lessons to pass along or wisdom to give.  I can just share what happened.  In the end, I got a job with insurance that covered some treatments and we bit the bullet and dipped into our savings for other treatment.  And on the day that we moved out of our married student housing apartment, after three and a half years of trying,  we found out that the treatment was successful and we were finally pregnant.

But what is the lesson from my story?  Clear out your savings account to try and realize your dream?  And maybe, after thousands of dollars, three different specialists, and almost ten different procedures, you may finally get what you’ve been hoping for?  I can’t say, “Just pray and it will all work out,” or “Just be patient and relax and it will happen.”  Infertility strips you of all those platitudes and optimistic thoughts.  We were one of the lucky ones who could afford treatment and for whom it actually worked.  Many, many women are not so lucky.  I almost hate to share the successful ending because I feel like it minimizes the struggle.  For us, it was worth it.  For many people, the ending is not a happy one.

So I try to think, was there anything beneficial that came out of those three and a half years of agony? Aside from a deep sense of empathy for people who are hurting, the only answer I can come up with is community. Those women I met who had young kids?  They are amazing.  And many more dear friends who are not at the kid stage yet.  They listened and cried with me, but more importantly, they gave me something to live for.  They were fun!  We hung out and laughed and watched shows and drank wine and coffee and ate a ton and explored new places together.  It was a distraction and a bright spot in an otherwise hopeless time.

We likely will never have a setup like that again with so many like-minded people living within one hundred feet of us, with picnic tables and grills outside each building, where people with children can socialize every night because the monitor reaches to ten different friends’ apartments.  But that experience gave me something to aspire to. It made me realize how important it is to have friends close by, to have a place you can just pop by unannounced.  I learned what it was like to live day-in, day-out in community with people outside my family.  And it meant that my family expanded.  I actually did leave that graduate school experience with a bigger family, it just was not the biological family that I had expected.

From now on, my husband and I will be intentional about living geographically close to friends, when we can help it.  We would rather live in a small, shabby apartment near people we know than in a mansion on the outskirts.  We realized that it is important to socialize more than just on the weekends, even if it is just a short dinner or a quick trip to the store together.  We want to really live life with people outside our immediate family.  Not just at the occasional party or scheduled dinner, but the day to day things as well.  That constant community helped me survive the hardest time in my life and, when the next challenge comes along, I want to be sure I have another community standing alongside of me.  That may be the only thing (besides professional help!) that gets me through.

In this graduate season of life, if you’re struggling with infertility, what has been the single most important thing that has kept you moving forward?