OKLAHOMA CITY & EDMOND OKLAHOMA DOCUMENTARY PHOTOGRAPHER / INFERTILITY
When the most sophisticated form of reproductive medicine fails, it hurts. When it fails twice?
Like I mentioned in my previous post, the options we were given after the 2nd failure didn’t feel right, so for a long time we remained at ground zero with no direction, doctor’s appointments or even an inkling of what to do next. We were at a fork in the road, so all we could do was rest and wait for any sort of sign to steer us somewhere.
Y’all, I don’t rest very well. In any capacity. Sounds pitiful, but that’s my personality. I felt entirely lost without anything to actively work towards other than trying to manage my wandering, worrisome thoughts. But it turns out, the wait was exactly what I needed because in those moments of rest (and constantly trying to suffocate my thoughts), I was reminded why we were here:
And as I sit here trying to formulate the last year into words fitting for all the feelings, our baby girl is kicking me, making it nearly impossible to imagine traveling any other way with anyone else to get where we are today.
So to jump right to the point: We adopted!
And… we’re expecting!
Confused? I bet.
It was in the midst of that waiting when I learned of a very specific form of adoption. I’ll never forget discussing it with Keith and coming to the same conclusion together: genetics don’t matter.
Modern medicine is amazing, and I will always be an advocate for it even though it failed twice for us. Without it I wouldn’t be writing any of these words today. In short, when couples pursue In Vitro Fertilization to grow their families, embryos are created in a petri dish, grown in a lab incubator, and monitored for 3-5 days. Pending the day 3 or 5 check on their growth, the embryos are either transferred to the mother’s uterus in hopes to form a pregnancy or frozen for later use. In both of our IVF attempts, we were under the care of the very best reproductive endocrinologist, Dr. Reshef, and with his careful guidance and goal of ‘quality over quantity’ I responded well, resulting in several embryos. Unfortunately as you all know by now, those embryos never turned into a pregnancy, nor were they viable to freeze. For some families, they do turn into pregnancies (CLAP CLAP for modern medicine!), with some couples even fortunate enough to have remaining embryos viable to freeze for possible future siblings. IVF is a major medical commitment and procedure tightly regulated by the FDA. This means there’s copious amounts of paperwork, consents, and signatures involved, all for good reason. One of the consents requires families to choose the future of any remaining embryos resulting from the procedure whether they plan to have more children or not. Every clinic is different, but for the most part, the options are a) pay an annual fee to keep them frozen at a storage facility for ever and ever and ever b) donate to science for research purposes or c) donate to a clinic or family for an adoption.
When Keith and I were faced with this decision during our own IVF treatments, remaining embryos weren’t really our focus. A successful IVF procedure and pregnancy was our focus. I think many families in our situation can agree, so to have to choose one of these beforehand is like writing your living will. Living in the what-if world is hardly comfortable, but for us, there wasn’t a question of what to choose: pay annually to keep our embryos frozen until we’re ready to grow our family again.
Of our options, it was the choice that made the most sense to us, even when forced to think long term. Besides, who could actually make the decision to donate their remaining embryos to a family and allow them to adopt their unborn children?
Can you imagine?
How on earth could someone else love our children as much as we could? How could we trust strangers to raise them right? How could we live apart from our genetic offspring? HOW HOW HOW? Unimaginable. Unquestionable. Absolutely, positively nothing we’d ever think twice about doing.
Head up the east coast to southern New Jersey, and you’ll find a family who was faced with the same decision we were. Lynnea and Ethan’s family was complete with 3 beautiful kids earthside and a few frozen embryos in storage. That is, until they looked at their daughter and saw the possibilities of who their remaining frozen embryos could potentially become. And that’s when they decided to move forward with the most irrational and courageous act of love we’ll ever know.
Yes, that’s precisely what I’m saying. A family has given us the greatest blessing of our lives by allowing us to adopt their remaining embryos so that we could become parents.
Let me reiterate that.
Out of limitless love for their children, they willingly opened up to this insane journey of meeting a family like Keith and I so we could fulfill our dream to be parents, and they could fulfill their dream of giving their embryos a chance at life.
Every day I’m amazed at this bold, brave decision. Could you just cry at the generosity of it?
The process of becoming an embryo donor and an embryo recipient is fairly simple, but navigating the entire matching process was hard. As Keith and I pursued these uncharted waters of adoption, our aim was an open relationship with the potential donor family. There are anonymous donation and adoption options at clinics around the country, but we wanted to connect with a family who felt like family. We wanted to be able to be open about our story because it’s also our child’s story. In the end, this baby would be brought into this world because of an immeasurable amount of love, and we wanted our children to know this from the beginning. We can’t wait to raise Baby A and slowly share just how much she is loved.
I wasn’t sure what to feel during the matching process when I was getting to know potential donors. I became fearful of sharing too much about our lifestyle, terrified to be judged by a potential family. What are they looking for? Are our jobs good enough? Does our home look safe enough? What do they think about the state of Oklahoma? Should I try to stop loving wine? Should Keith stop brewing beer? Do they hate cats? I knew what we were looking for, but after months of searching for a match, I wondered if what we wanted was an unrealistic fantasy. We had many donors reach out to us and relationships were formed, but whatever it was we were waiting for wasn’t quite there. I met some fabulous women who I’m still connected with today, but remember the feeling when you knew your spouse was ‘the one’? I didn’t feel that. After months of riding this roller coaster of worry, I once again let fear overcome my reasoning until I’d reached my limit. Through all our years of waging every war infertility brings, I never once wanted to give in… until this moment. I felt defeated. My determination and grit and strength and stubbornness wasn’t enough anymore. This search and this decision felt so far out of our hands, but I didn’t lose hope.
I just put my hope back where it belonged.
So on May 16, 2017, I prayed the most specific prayer I have ever prayed before. It was a Tuesday night that I laid awake all night praying away every worry and wonder and doubt I had. I was done, but I knew He was not.
And this is the testimony I’ll tell until I turn blue in the face. Exactly 24 hours later, my prayer was answered in the form of a photo of a family looking to find a family just like us.
And the rest history.
Actually, the rest is the best, but there’s no way there’s enough words to cover the entire journey Lynnea and I worked through together to complete the donation and adoption. It all started on that Wednesday evening with a simple message to Lynnea on NRFA, which turned into an email and then into tendonitis in both of my thumbs from texting each other nearly all day, every day for months.
We could not have hand picked a more perfect family to be connected with for eternity, and I could not have chosen a more organized, efficient, helpful, hilarious, hard-working momma to navigate the rough, frustrating, impossible-at-times roads with me to get where we are today.
One day, I hope to add a foreword from Lynnea and Ethan’s point of view because I want everyone to know how special they are and what this decision was like for them. From the moment I emailed Lynnea, it only took 5 days for them to choose us.
5 days to know us.
5 days to trust us.
5 days to love us.
5 days to make the biggest decision of.their.lives.
Navigating the adoption process was rough (it’s a really great idea to move and build a house at the same time, too!), and we’re pretty sure Lynnea and I each earned law degrees, certifications in FDA guidelines, and have been accepted into sainthood for overcoming all the adversity and road blocks and confusion this journey took us on. We lost count of how many times we thought Ashton Kutcher was going to pop out and punk us. We still reminisce of that long road of wariness often, knowing one day we’d actually laugh about it. (We finally find it funny, for what it’s worth!)
Nearly 365 days after meeting our perfect match and finally finalizing the adoption, Keith led me into the clinic where we transferred our perfect little embryo. Nine days later on April 23, 2018, words that we’ve been waiting 5 years to hear resounded over speaker phone and we finally, FINALLY experienced the kind of love that doesn't hurt.
“Are you together? Good. BECAUSE IT’S GOOD NEWS!”
We’re going to be parents.
There’s a reason this road was so long, and it’s most certainly the road less traveled, but to quote my favorite poem by Robert Frost, “that has made all the difference.” I often forget that she won’t have Keith’s eyes or my hair, but I never forget that she already has our whole hearts.
This summer Lynnea, Ethan and family traveled to Maine and we had the opportunity to meet them for the first time in person. After emailing, texting, and facetiming for over a year, we felt we already ‘knew’ each other, but it was something special to finally hug the ones who single handedly changed our world in the best.way.possible.
Images taken by: Jamie Mercurio Photography
If you’re considering becoming an embryo donor or recipient, Lynnea and I would love to use our own personal experience to help other families. As challenging as it was at times, it was obviously worth it. We met on National Registry for Adoption, but there’s other agencies and even private Facebook groups for donors and recipients to meet.