Wednesday, June 26, 2013

same love

Dear SCOTUS,

Thank you. Thank you for doing the right thing. Thank you for validating existing marriages and families. Thank you for opening the door for future marriages and families. Thank you for standing for equality. Thank you for solidifying what so many of us already know: that love is love.

We still have so much work to do, but you helped pave the way for that with your ruling. You set the tone for us to continue our movement toward equality. You stood up for what's right today. I hope that leads even more of us to stand up for what is right tomorrow: same love.

Sincerely,
Me

Friday, June 21, 2013

the story of the call

One year ago today, we were matched.

I was at work when the paralegal from our attorney's office called. She'd finally gotten in touch with T after nearly two weeks of missed calls and playing phone tag, and T had time to talk. Did we have time to get on a call now? Well yes, I did, but Joey didn't. It was mid-morning and both of us were at work. I asked if it was okay that I call her alone, and she said it would be fine. So I did.

Stomach in knots, I went outside and dialed the number. I was sweating. Yes, it was hot out - being June in Florida - but this was all nerves. T answered. We said our awkward hellos, I apologized in advance for any background noise, and then we started into our conversation. Per our paralegal's recommendation, I decided to let T determine the direction.

I knew the basics: it was us and another couple. She was leaning toward the other couple because they had another child. She was an only child and didn't want this baby to grow up alone. She also wanted to know our views on religion - in what context, I wasn't sure. All I knew was that part would go one of two ways: either she'd love our thoughts (that we considered ourselves spiritual and not focused on organized religion), or she'd decide this meant we were crazy devil worshipers for not attending church and go with the other couple.

The topic of being an "only" came up first. I expressed my wish to have more than one child, but I also spoke about the reality: that we may not be able to have more than one child, due to circumstances beyond our control. Yet, I assured her that our child would never be lonely. She would never be without cousins or friends to play with. T seemed to appreciate that. We spoke more about our families and our relationships with friends before she broached the topic of religion. Here is was: what I felt was the moment of truth. Would she love or hate what I had to say? She paused for a moment after I spoke.

Then, she said, "It's like you took the words out of my head."

I breathed a sigh of relief as she continued to talk about her upbringing. She revealed to me that there were little things about our profile that made her feel a stronger connection with us than the other couple. Our wedding date was the date of her youngest daughter's birth. We had a page in our profile devoted to our dog; she also thought of her dog as family. My nerves were slowly fading with the realization that, despite our individual circumstances, we were very much alike in personality and philosophy. Before I knew it, she was inviting us to her next ultrasound.

Did this mean we were it? Did this mean she was choosing us? My head was spinning. I didn't know what to say except to tell her that I felt she should still speak to the other couple before making a final decision. I wanted her to give them a shot, because I knew what it felt like to not have the opportunity to speak to an expectant mother directly - to tell her about us and our views on parenting and family. She agreed, and we said our good-byes. I looked at the clock and realized that we'd been on the phone for nearly an hour. It flew by.

The minutes after that didn't. I called Joey at work and said, "I think we might be parents?" I paced. A lot. I sat at my computer and stared at my screen. I was in a state of shock while my friends and coworkers hugged me and cried with happiness. It felt like one of those movie scenes: everything around me was moving at lightning speed while I sat there, completely still. Finally, forty-five minutes later, my phone rang again. It was the attorney's office, calling to confirm the match.

We were going to be parents to a baby girl.

And our lives would never be the same.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

PADS

Shortly after bringing K home from the hospital, I was diagnosed with PADS: Post-Adoption Depression Syndrome.

I've written a little bit about my issues with mental health on this blog, but I haven't gone into too much depth. It's not that I'm ashamed or afraid of what people might think or say. It's just incredibly difficult for me to talk about. I'm going to attempt to write about it now, in part because I think it's an important (potential) aspect of both the adoption and infertility process, and because I know that other people are dealing with similar issues.

Doctors first diagnosed me with depression when I was 18, so this is something that I've dealt with for about 10 years now - at least dealt with in the sense of knowing what I was going through. I think that before my diagnosis, I attributed most of my feelings toward hormones and simply being a teenager. Mental health issues also were not discussed as openly as they are today. In fact, after my diagnosis, my family and friends ignored it. They acted like it never happened. I don't blame them for this. It's what most people do, or did. It's hard to know what to say - to know what's right or what's wrong.

College was probably the best time for me as far as treatment was concerned. As a student, I had access to free counseling. I was on medication, too, of course, but the counseling is what helped me truly understand what I was going through. I went often, sometimes, once a week. I tried different types of therapy. Collectively, therapy made me realize what I'd been dealing with on my own. It was during this time when I learned that depression wasn't something I could cure. It was only something I could manage, and my therapists taught me how to manage it. It would involve medication, but it would also involve being proactive in my own thought process. I would have to be aware of when things were slipping from me and adjust my life, or my thinking, accordingly.

I went through bouts of depression that were sometimes more difficult than others. When we lived in Nashville, I started seeing a counselor again to talk about some of my underlying issues - what caused my depression and those feelings of anxiety to resurface. I saw several therapists while going through infertility, as well, though none of them lasted long-term. I found that they couldn't quite understand or relate to what I felt at that time as well as other women going through the motions could.

Then, we became parents. I certainly didn't think that becoming a parent would be easy. Not by any means. But I did (naively) believe that I would be happy 100 percent of the time. After all, I was finally getting to experience what we had worked so hard for. I was finally a mother. What could possibly trigger my depression at this point?

What I failed to realize was that every aspect of this circumstance was a recipe for disaster when it came to my mental health. Do you know what doesn't help a person who suffers from depression? Do you know what doesn't help anyone? Sleep depravation. Schedule changes. Sudden altering of life's routines. Stress. The pressure and anxieties that come with having a baby in the NICU for FIVE weeks, and living there while she has tubes coming out of her from every angle. Arguing with doctors and nurses about her continuity of care.

It's a little surprising that I didn't reach a breaking point while still living at the hospital, but it wasn't until after I got home when I completely melted down. I lost it.

While I was somewhat embarrassed to admit that I needed help, I'd been through episodes of depression enough to realize that I had to see someone. I went to my GP and she put me back on my medication, which helped tremendously. I reached out to friends who'd been through post-partum depression for advice and comfort. It wasn't easy. I was basically admitting that I was unhappy despite finally bringing home our baby. But what people might fail to understand is that it had nothing to do with adoption. It had nothing to do with bonding with my child or feeling like a parent. It had everything to do with my previous mental health issues. It also had everything to do with the overwhelming stress that comes with bringing home a newborn - whether you birth that newborn or someone else does. It doesn't matter. It can - and does - happen to anyone.

The feeling passed quickly. However, this time, I chose to stay on medication. While I've had the typical "funks" that one with depression gets since K's birth, I certainly haven't slipped into a depression like the one I experienced when we brought her home.

Yet, I still think about it when people bring up what it's like to finally meet your child through adoption. I think about it because, inevitably, people ask me if I feel like a real mother. People ask me if I still wish I'd been pregnant. People who are considering adoption want to know: how will they feel after they experience this life-altering event.

The answer is the same as any new mom: you will feel scared shitless. Overwhelmed. Yes, you may experience bouts of depression. Yet, I can tell you with certainty that I would have experienced that same depression if I'd given birth. Why? Well, because becoming a parent is scary, stressful shit - regardless of the way it happens. It's like someone flips a light switch in a dark room and your entire perspective, your entire viewpoint on life changes. And in those initial moments, when your eyes are still trying to adjust, it can be hard to find your way.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

"real men are dads"

That was the subject line to an email I received this morning from a national spa chain that I've patronized over the years.

We often view Mother's Day as the hardest day because people equate womanhood with motherhood. And I think it's even more specific than that. The images and advertisements you see around Mother's Day are clear in their indication that you're not a real woman unless you can reproduce and carry a child.

But what about men? What about Father's Day?

Men have it rough, too. I would venture to say that they may even have it more difficult than women. They also experience what it's like to feel like "less" of their gender, but on top of this, men often cannot voice what they are experiencing - a topic that was eloquently outlined recently by the Washington Post. They suffer in silence, rather than seeking out support. Men often don't have that luxury. Many don't have other males in their life that they can lean on. It's not considered "manly" to seek help. It's not considered "manly" to cry or to mourn the loss of the inability to have children. Men are supposed to be strong and viril. Men are supposed to fix the problems; yet, infertility is a problem they cannot fix.

Father's Day ads only play to this stereotype. The gifts, the settings - they all involve tools, equipment, sporting goods, the outdoors. The more masculine the gift, the better, because nothing says manliness like fatherhood (and vice versa).

Needless to say, I immediately unsubscribed from this company's emails. I will no longer be using this spa's services, and in the comment section of the unsubscribe box, I explained why: that I cannot give my money to a company that is willing to blatantly draw comparisons between manliness and fatherhood. Just as being a mother doesn't make me more of a woman, being a father doesn't make my husband more of a man.

Do you know who I consider to be a "real man?"

A real man is a man who holds his wife's hand while she's having yet another ultrasound. He's the man who cleans up his wife's vomit when the anesthesia from her medical procedure makes her sick. He's the man who runs to the store late at night to get wine or chocolate or feminine products when the latest cycle fails. He's the man who makes excuses not to attend events with friends or family because you just can't bear to leave the house. He's the man who kisses your cheek and tells you he'll always love you, with kids or without. He's the man who cries with you when you experience yet another miscarriage, another tragic loss. He's the one who stays up late at night to help you re-do your adoption profile for the tenth time.

Not changing diapers. Not putting a bottle in a kid's mouth. No - it's going through hell and back with your partner and never wavering in your support for her that makes you a "real man."

Take note, society.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

packed away

I've been packing away baby clothes for months now. I sort them into two piles: keep and give away. I keep anything that has some sort of sentimental value to me. I don't know why. They are just "things" and I have absolutely no intention of getting to use them again (having another baby), but I save them anyway. The rest is going to charity - an organization that, ironically, helps pregnant women in crisis.

I think it confuses people that I save some of K's clothes, despite being 99.9% certain we will not have another child. Part of me wishes that I could let go of them. After all, it's not like we're drowning in unused space in our townhouse. Yet, I can't help it. I can't bear to part with the outfit she came home in from the hospital. The preemie onsies she wore in the NICU. Her first Christmas dress. What she wore on Mother's Day. Getting rid of those items feels like giving away those memories.

So, I pack them away instead - in my closet and in my heart. Maybe those items will do nothing but collect dust. But maybe K will get to pass them down to her daughter someday.

Maybe they will create future memories for our family.

Friday, June 7, 2013

wonder(s) of pregnancy

"Do you still see pregnant women and wish you'd been pregnant?"

I get this question quite often, mostly from other infertility sufferers who want to know if part of me still feels that painful stab to the heart when I see a woman who is pregnant.

My answer is complicated.

Do I still want to be pregnant or do I regret not getting to experience pregnancy? The answer to that part of this is no. I think I was afraid at the beginning of our adoption path that I would regret not experiencing a pregnancy. I thought that, by not carrying our child, I would be missing out on a crucial part of motherhood. I thought that part of me would always have this missing space in my heart where activities like feeling my baby or nursing my child should go. Yet, that's not the case. I do wish that I could have felt K kick in the womb, as much as I wish that I could have breastfed her. However, it doesn't leave a void in me. I don't feel like less of a mother because of it, and I certainly don't feel like my connection with her is any less significant because of this. Caring for her every need since birth was enough to make me feel complete.

The second part of this is a little more complicated.

I still pause for a moment when I see a woman who is pregnant. I don't want to be her. I don't want to experience what she's going through. I don't desire to have what she has in the physical sense. Instead, my mind instantly wonders whether it was easy for her.

I can't help it. I wonder if she and her husband had a night of passionate sex, she missed her period, she peed on a stick, and BAM - their lives were instantly overcome with joy. I wonder if she surprised him with a onesie or a cake. Then, I wonder in what creative way they decided to tell their families the good news, or if they held a gender reveal party.

It's ridiculous, right? I'm a mom to a gorgeous baby girl, I have zero urge to be pregnant, and yet I can't help but automatically wonder if every other pregnant woman on the planet somehow had an easier go of it than I did to become a mom. The truth is, my conclusions might be incorrect and maybe a little immature, but I know I'm not the only one who thinks and feels these things. It's sort of like when you are the last of your friends to get engaged. You notice women everywhere with gorgeous diamond rings and wonder how long they had to wait for their boyfriend to pop the question. I see pregnant women, and I wonder whether how they got pregnant: was it after a nice bottle of wine or was it with two doctors and five nurses in the room?

Again, this doesn't mean I desire to be pregnant. It certainly doesn't mean that I resent our path - how long it took us to become parents and the way we went about it - because I don't. I think that, in hindsight, all of this happened for a reason. It sucked when we were in it, but I'd go through it all over again for K. I'd endure every heartbreak, every tear, every tough choice we made if it meant that I had her sweet face waiting for me at the end.

Yet, all of this doesn't change the fact that I don't think I will ever stop pausing to wonder how it went for others. I will never look at family building the same way again. What about you? Do you find yourself looking at pregnant women (or other families) differently now that you've experienced infertility?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

the strongest sense

Everyone keeps saying it: "I can't believe that K is turning one!"

I can't believe it, either. Denial has been my best friend these last few months. I thought that, if I ignored her first birthday, it might not happen. Maybe she would stay a baby forever. But that's not the case. Regardless of how much I try to ignore it, it's still going to take place. We get reminders of it daily: friends and family talking about how they can't believe it's been a year, school telling us about the transition to the toddler room. It's here. It's as if I woke up and realized, "Holy shit. She'll be one in less than a month." And I don't know how this happened.

I still remember the first night that she was "ours" - officially in our custody. After our attorney left the hospital, we waited to drive home until the nurses moved K to a new NICU floor. It was late by the time she was settled into her new room, and we knew we needed to get back and get some rest before driving back to the hospital the next morning. But I didn't want to leave. I remember looking at her, so tiny and frustrated in her incubator, and I started to cry. I knew she wanted to be held, and I wanted to be the one who held her. After all, who would hold her and comfort her while I was gone? Who would dry her tears and rock her to sleep?

Today, when I sit K down in her crib, I get instant standing and TEARS, often coupled with outstretched arms. Her face begs, "Mom, pick me up! Where are you going?"

It's not too unlike that night in the NICU, save for appearance sake. She's bigger and stronger now. Healthier, too. The cry is different. It's not a cry of pain. Instead, it's simply a cry of separation anxiety.

But deep down, it's the same concept: she needs me to hold her.

And me? Well, I need to hold her, too.

I needed to hold her in my arms long before that first night she was ours, but she just wasn't ready for me yet. This is a hard concept to grasp when you're infertile and you'd gladly accept the first baby someone handed to you.

It's a much easier idea to handle once you've met your child - to see his or her face looking back at you and realize that this is who you were supposed to parent all along. You watch his or her personality grow, and you laugh about how much that tiny little person fits so well into your family. She fits into another family, too. Her first family. I don't ever forget that, but I also know that for whatever reason (fate, the stars aligning, etc.) she is our child and I would endure that same waiting period all over again if it meant her at the end of it.

This is bittersweet, for me, to watch her turn one year old. On one hand, I'm incredibly happy and grateful for the progress she's made. She was born with many odds stacked against her: 5 weeks early and a host of health issues. She's overcome all of them to this point, meeting and exceeding all of her development milestones. I've loved watching her personality blossom. She's such a fun little girl.

On the other hand, I'm sad that she's no longer a tiny baby. I still get snuggles, though it's getting harder to trap her and sit her still long enough for them. She will still nap on my chest occasionally. But as she continues to grow, she'll need me less in a physical sense. As she learns to walk and talk, there will be less that I can do for her, less that she will rely on me for. Of course, she'll need me in many other ways. I know this. She will need my emotional support, my intellect, my wisdom and experiences. Yet, I hope she will still need my touch. I hope that when there's a thunderstorm late at night, she knows that she can crawl in bed with us and hide under the covers. I hope that she will let me sneak in a hug or a kiss when her friends aren't looking.

Because the simple power of touch has done so much for us. It's made me feel like a parent. Holding her, rocking her, comforting her - these are all things that made her being ours seem that much more real. Drying her tears, bathing her, brushing her hair, feeding her, swaddling her, dressing her, carrying her - they are things we take for granted on a daily basis, but they've helped me establish a connection with her that I didn't get to establish when she was in the womb. It's also touch that I think helped heal her, helped to bring her out of the NICU faster than other NAS babies. It helped show her that she wouldn't always be in pain. It made her feel warmth and comfort.

And it's her touch that helped heal me, too. It made me feel needed. It made me feel important. It made me a better person, to be able to hold her in my arms and give her the love that I'd held inside of me for so long.

It made me whole again.

Monday, June 3, 2013

11 months

This is a baby-related post. Please feel free to skip if you are not comfortable reading.

K turned 11 months old yesterday!

Weight & Length: She won't have another official weight and length check until her one year, but I'm guessing she weighs close to 17 lbs. now. Joey and I have a bet as to whether she'll hit 18 lbs. before her one year check-up. I don't think she will, but he does. We'll soon find out!

Sleeping: Sleep has been a little wonky since we got back from our trip. She's still asleep by 7 pm and wakes up anywhere from 6 to 7 am. But she's sometimes up 2 to 3 times a night. I'm not sure if it's developmental or separation anxiety - or a combination of the two.

Eating: She's still taking 5 ounces each bottle and and averaging between 23 and 26 ounces a day. She also takes 4 tablespoons of oatmeal, 3 oz of Greek yogurt, two pouches of fruits and veggies, and she's eating tons of finger foods. We are always experimenting with new foods, and she's getting better with the sippy cup. She'll take an ounce or two of water out of it at snack time.

Clothing: We are moving out of the 9-month clothing and getting more into the 12-month.

Personality: We are seeing a lot more interaction with K and Danica. Not that they didn't interact before, but there wasn't much they could do with each other (aside from K petting Danica and Danica constantly licking K). It's so much more fun now that they are able to play together. K "chases" Danica, and Danica goes into play mode right away - though she's much more gentle playing with K than she is when she plays with us. I don't know how dogs know these things, but I love it. She will even bring K her toys to throw.

We are also noticing more interaction between K and her classmates when we are at school with her. She's going up to her peers and greeting them in the mornings, always with a smile. She's very rarely in a bad mood. In fact, the other day at school, I jokingly asked K if she was the "crier" in the class, and one of her teachers replied, "She's definitely NOT the crier. More like the talker and she loves to hear herself scream!" It's nice to know that she's just as happy at school as she is when she's with us.

Milestones & Firsts: K has been crawling full-speed ahead, and now she is standing, as well. She can't quite stand on her own yet (only for a few seconds at a time), but I have no doubt she'll be doing this soon. She's starting to take steps while holding onto furniture, too. Sitting still is no longer an option. We are constantly on the go with her, chasing her everywhere around the house. In addition to the standing, we've welcomed tooth #7 in the last month, celebrated our first mother's day, and went on our first overnight trip without K.

This will likely be my next-to-last installment of the monthly updates. I'll do a special post for her 1st birthday, but discontinue the regular posts beyond that. I promise I'll still write about her, of course. It just won't be in this format. It's been fun to reflect on her growing over these posts in the last year, and I'm still somewhat shocked that we are quickly approaching 365 days of having her in our lives. It seems unreal to me - in the most amazing way.