Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Our Infertility and Adoption Story

I thought I'd consolidate "our story" into one post, as a means of introduction to new readers and to seekers of information on Embryo Adoption. This could get a little long.

My husband and I met in college in California in the fall of 1999. At the end of 1998, the first Snowflake Baby was born, through the efforts of Nightlight, an organization whose headquarters were only miles from our university. Because of the geographical proximity of the two organizations to each other, the same media outlets covered both areas. I heard about Nightlight and Embryo Adoption through some local news story. I remember filing it away in my head saying "huh, that's interesting!" I didn't think anything of it again for almost 10 years.

In the fall of 2000, we started dating. We were engaged in 2002. During our premarital counseling, we both discussed wanting to adopt. I recently found a mandatory "bucket list" type of journaling assignment from one of my classes and right near the top of the list was "adopt."  My husband and I were vir.gins until we got married. My PCOS had not yet developed. His issue was one you'd only detect if you knew what to look for. So, since we'd never had relations, and since neither of us knew about our biological issues, we had no idea that we'd ever deal with infertility.  But, adoption was always on both of our hearts, anyway. For us, adoption was never "Plan B." We always envisioned building our family through a combination of both methods. We just didn't know that adoption was God's only plan for our family growth.

We were married in June 2003.

I had been on a birth control pill for years before getting married because they were the only thing that could help the horrible migraines I had had since 1997. And since I wasn't sexually active, I didn't ever really investigate the life-implications of the pill.  I remained on it after we got married, but a few months after our wedding, I did some reading up on it and decided that I didn't feel like it was consistent with my pro-life views, and I was wary of messing with my hormones long-term. So, a few months after we got married, we were officially "open to life" as it's called in the trying to conceive world. We weren't trying to get pregnant, but we weren't trying to avoid it, either. We were tracking my cycles with calendars and thermometers. We decided to leave it up to God. We were nervous that it might be too early in our marriage, but we decided that if we were going to trust God to bring us a baby in the right time, we also would trust Him to NOT bring us a baby before the right time. We had no idea what kind of surrender we were actually making at that time.

By January 2004, the "fence-sitting" had worn off and we were in full-blown baby-fever mode, actively trying to conceive.

Sometime in the spring, as we were preparing to leave on a trip with DH's parents, I found myself in bed, literally crying out in pain, clutching my abdomen. Todd's best friend, a med-student at the time, was in town and staying with us. Jon heard me and came to figure out what was wrong. He asked me some questions and strongly encouraged me that what I was feeling was not normal and that I should call a doctor right away. I called my Primary Care doctor and had an appointment fairly quickly. This primary care doctor was very elderly, and very conservative, doing a nominal amount of tests and prescribing a minimum number of medications. Though a pregnancy test came back negative, he told me that I was in an early pregnancy(too early to register on a test) and was likely miscarrying and that was the source of my pain. He put me on strict bedrest and sent me home. We canceled our trip (and I'm still bitter about it to this day--it was a trip to the Hotel del Coronado--a place I've always wanted to go and which we will never go on our own accord!--silly doctor! He owes me a trip to the Del!)  Being naive as I was, I had no idea that what he was telling me was a load of hooey.

As you can guess, I wasn't pregnant and I never miscarried, but the pain went away, so I stopped thinking about it. In October, the pain happened again. I went back to him (still didn't really realize that what he'd told me the first time was so radically off). He said that maybe I had a cyst that had either ruptured or was stretching in growth. He suggested I see an OB. I had never seen one-I'd never even had an annual exam until right before my wedding. I was super nervous.

I had just a few months prior started working for Arizona Right to Life and I met a pro-life OB/GYN at a conference I helped coordinate. He was an intelligent, kind, ethical man who shared my same pro-life convictions. Having met him professionally first and having a positive impression of him, I felt a little more comfortable calling him about what was then such a deeply private matter to me, than I would have just showing up at the office of someone from the phone book and disrobing.  I also appreciated that he was as pro-life as I am, so I knew that anything that would come our way in terms of advice or treatment from him of anything would be entirely consistent with our beliefs. He'd also just started his own practice, so since he was small, I knew I'd always get to see him. So, we went to see Dr. L. We were in his office about 10 minutes when he said, "It sounds like you have PCOS and like you have some cysts that are causing your pain." He did some bloodwork and investigating of the cycles I'd had. At a followup meeting, he did diagnose me with PCOS and he or someone he referred me to (I can't recall), also did an ultrasound and found a rather large cyst on the ovary near where I'd had so much pain. Right after the first of the year, I had surgery to remove the cyst. Despite fears that he might have to take my ovary, he did not have to. He also put me on met.formin. So far as we all knew at that point, PCOS was the source of our inability to conceive, and we thought we were in the clear. We thought we'd get pregnant right away.

So, January of 2005 started the real roller coaster. We knew we had a problem. We thought we'd fixed it. And we were aggressively trying. This was when we went through the all-too-familiar-to-infertile-people scenarios of scheduled sex, anxious two-week-waits, wasted pregnancy tests, countless pregnancy announcements from friends, and buckets of tears. But, I was cycling regularly (I always had--a-typical of PCOS), so we still thought it was just a matter of time. This was a particularly hard time because there was nothing to "do" to hasten along our chances--we just had to wait. I hate waiting ;) We waited through all of 2005, all of 2006, and most of 2007. It really didn't occur to me that there might be some other kind of problem. We just thought we were dealing with tricky PCOS odds exclusively.

In 2007, my best friend (who also has PCOS) got pregnant. She had undergone and HSG and her doctor at the time suggested that the HSG was what helped jumpstart their ability to conceive. I went to my doctor and asked about one, and he agreed it was a good place to start.  Honestly, I didn't really think it would find anything, but I hoped that maybe it would be my magic cure-all, and it would "clear things out." I dreamed of us being pregnant together.  So in November, I scheduled mine and also requested that we test DH, "just in case." Note to the wise--my HSG was horrifically painful. Always, always, start with testing on the man. It's so much easier and less invasive! Had we done DH's test first, we could have avoided the whole nasty HSG experience! But, I digress.

We went to our follow up appointment with Dr. L. He went through my HSG results and then he quietly said that he also needed to talk to us about DH's tests. He told us that DH's tests showed that he had no little swimmers. None at all. I couldn't process what he'd just said. It didn't make any sense to me. I'd never heard of a person having none. I asked him if there was some mistake or if maybe we'd done it wrong and he said that it was unlikely. In the event of user or lab error, there would still likely be dead ones in the sample. But this was just totally void.  I asked if there was any kind of hormone he could take that would make them. Nope. He encouraged us to take the test again and to schedule an appointment with a urologist. We did, but something in me already knew that everything he'd told me was correct. We went back and forth the rest of the day between shock, disbelief, and devastation. We came home and sent an email to our families, asking them to pray.

We had an appointment with the top urologist in the state. As such, the wait to see him was very long and our appointment wasn't until January.

I'd been a member of an online scrapbooking message board for many years. When we first got married and moved here, I didn't know anyone and I was lonely for some friends, so I spent a lot of time on this message board. One of my friends there had struggled with infertility, and she had mentioned Hannah's Prayer to me sometime during that 2005-2007 time. That dreadful November night, I decided to look up HP, which is an online Christian infertility support group. I remember posting an introduction, telling people that my name was "Jane." I told them it was a pseudonym, and I was using one because I said I just couldn't own permanent IF yet. I wasn't ready to be "Jen" and have this news. I started reading and developing some friendships. I also started devouring every Christian IF book I could. One book, The Infertility Handbook, was particularly helpful in helping me understand all of our options, the medical procedures and medications on the horizon, and the bioethical concerns of each option.  

During that time between November and January, we spent a lot of time praying, researching, and talking. One day, that little tidbit about Embryo Adoption that I'd tucked into my brain so many years before was brought to the forefront of my mind and heart. I told DH about Embryo Adoption and he was intrigued so we did some research. We wanted to wait and see what the specialist said before making any decisions, but we were pretty confident that we would be pursuing it. Here we were, already with hearts for adoption, built in such a way that the only reproductive part that worked between the two of us was my "oven," and faced with the awareness of 400,000 frozen children who were all in need of "ovens" and people willing to love them when they were done baking. It was a no-brainer for us. At that point, it felt as if we were made to do this. Honestly, I never looked back on biological children once those things "clicked" for me.

We saw the Urologist in January and he verified Dr. L's results. He did some blood work and genetic testing and diagnosed DH with Klinefelter's Syndrome, which means DH has an extra chromosome. For some reason they don't understand, that extra chromosome often renders men sterile.  Looking back over DH's life, we were able to identify some key indicators of his condition, but neither we nor his parents had ever heard of KS, nor were any of his characteristics THAT exaggerated, so no one really knew there was a problem or what to look for until we had a rear-view mirror. We were glad to have a diagnosis and a treatment plan for DH (KS needs to be treated for health reasons, regardless of reproductive plans), but thankfully, we weren't really surprised by the verification of the sterility. We saw it more as a "full speed ahead" for Embryo Adoption, which we were growing increasingly excited about.

On February 1, we made our plans official and sent in an application to Nightlight.  DH and his dad worked on some business endeavors to earn the money for our adoption. God opened the floodgates of blessing and provided for us in some mighty, mighty ways. Within months, we had all of the thousands of dollars needed to proceed. We enrolled in adoption education classes at a local agency (Nightlight is not licensed in AZ) and began our homestudy. At the time, I couldn't find anyone else blogging about Embryo Adoption and I couldn't find a lot of first-person information, so I started blogging ours. With Nightlight's help, we met some other Arizona Snowflake families and started asking them about their experiences.

Meanwhile, I continued to get involved in Hannah's Prayer. I eventually was able to be known as myself there and to "own" our story. Through HP, I met a woman named Sheila. Hannah's Prayer is broken down into all sort of categories--by diagnosis, by which child you're trying to conceive (first, second, etc), by treatment plan, by age, by place in your journey, by type of adoption, etc. Sheila is 10 years older than we are, has 3 children, went through IVF, and was at the end of her TTC journey. I was a 20 something, praying for a first child, spending time mostly in the Embryo Adoption, the Primary Infertility, and the Male-Factor infertility forums while she spent her time in the forums for IVF, for Parents of Multiples, etc. The boards have thousands of members, so our paths didn't cross for a long time.

One day, she started reading the EA forums. On the HP EA forums, most participants are people looking to adopt, not people looking to place, so she mostly just lurked .Other ladies from other parts of the board knew her and her story and she had even been asked for her embryos. I didn't know this history at all. Meanwhile, DH and I were really struggling to make a decision about open adoption. Quite innocently and ignorant of all of the other emails she was getting, when she posted one day about wanting to find information for placing families, I emailed her and asked her if she could tell me a placing parent's side of the story and help me understand what they go through better, so that I could have a better understanding when making a decision on openness. That was really the only interaction we had for a long time.

I was blogging our IF journey. Our homestudy and adoption education completed without a hitch. I was still blogging our journey. One day in April 2008, Sheila contacted me. She said that months prior, she had followed the link on HP to my blog and began reading. She said that God had put us on their hearts and she and her husband would like us to consider adopting their 12 embryos. We prayed, talked, and emailed a lot. One of our non-negotiables was that we still go through Nightlight. They were fine with that. In July, we met each other face to face. We all agreed to pray on how things had gone. Later they contacted us and formally told us that they chose us. We accepted. We went through Nightlight as a "self-matched" arrangement. Nightlight coordinated the legal documents, the shipping of the embryos, etc.

In September, the embryos were here. None of us could believe how quickly everything had happened. In early November, I underwent my first Frozen Embryo Transfer. We learned soon thereafter that I was pregnant and we were overjoyed. However, just several short weeks later, I miscarried. To say that we were devastated was an understatement. But beyond that, we were confused. God had opened every door and given us green lights throughout our entire adoption process. To be halted like that just didn't make sense to us. We grieved for a long time. I wasn't ready to jump back into the fire and try again, only to have my heart broken. We were also displeased with a lot of things that happened at the clinic we had gone to for transfer #1. We spent 2009 with me trying to lose weight and with finding a new clinic, becoming patients there, and moving the embryos. In December 2009, we underwent a second transfer with two embryos. Our hearts broke a little more when we found out that transfer had failed and that we now had 4 babies in heaven, instead of just two.

We spent the spring of 2010 saving up money for another transfer. We underwent a transfer on May 17th, again with two embryos. We were delighted to learn on May 24th that we were pregnant again. I was sick almost immediately, which we took to be a good sign. On June 9th, we had our first ultrasound and learned that we were pregnant with one child. We grieved for the loss of Matthew's sibling, but our heart soared to see his little heartbeat. In September, we learned that Matthew was a boy and that he was perfectly healthy. My due date was January 30th. On January 21st, I went into labor. 30 hours later, my darling little boy was born, 7 years to the month after we first started trying to have him, and on the 27th anniversary of Sanctity of Human Life Day. Now here we are, about to celebrate his first birthday. He his healthy, vibrant, and growing and we love our life with him. The journey of 7 years makes sense when we realize he didn't even exist when we first started trying. We can't imagine our life without him and are so grateful God chose us for him. He was worth the wait.

We anticipate completing another transfer in the spring of 2013. We will ultimately transfer all of our remaining 6 embryos, until all of them have had a chance to be born.

And that's our story! We are humbled to look back and see how God prepared us for this, from the way he made our bodies, to where went to college, to how we met people, to the timing of everything.  His ways are marvelous indeed and though it took me a long time to see a purpose in our wait, I am grateful for it now. I pray that I will remember this trust and gratitude as we take the next steps in our journey.

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to ask me any questions you may have!


  1. Jen, I just came across your blog today, and this is such a beautiful story! It made me want to cry. It's amazing how God worked everything out for you and your family. Embryo adoption is fascinating to me, and I'm looking forward to reading more of your blog!

  2. I knew most of this from being with you guys the past five years, but it was fascinating to read it all put together. I'm glad you wrote it all out in one piece! This will be great to refer people to. So thrilled to see M's one-year birthday approaching so rapidly!!! :)

  3. I agree. It's nice to read your whole story is one place. I have enjoyed following your story. You have been such an encouragement to me.

  4. I think I may have left you comment before, but I don't remember on which entry. We were going to go through Nightlight but a local clinic program was referred and there was a match for us there. Due to limited finances we felt this was the way God was leading us. I did talk to a few Snowflakes moms who were really encouraging. We got pregnant after the first transfer and are now 17 weeks pregnant. One thing I will miss about not going through the agency is the support and resources. I hope I can find blog friends such as yours for support and resource. I enjoy your blog.