By Lizzie Hope
Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives.
I remember the bedroom where I was sitting twenty-four years ago when I said a prayer as I looked out over the lake. A sunny day in the state of Washington at that time of year was unusual and yet, the sun was so bright that my eyes hurt.
I stared at the water from my loft apartment that I shared with three other twenty-somethings. To be pregnant in my early twenties was not a situation that had previously crossed my mind.
He was a nice enough guy. He was a young doctor in training and had said to me on the beach the day before, “Whatever you decide is OK with me.” It was something like that, but I was too numb to really remember the words of even the day previous. I was oddly calm. My faith in G-d told me to pray.
In my deep sadness, I pleaded, “May the soul of this child live in the spirit of my child that I WILL have when I am married and ready for a family.” I know that prayer because I must have repeated it a thousand times over the past two and a half decades. At first it was always a prayer of hope, and later it became an uttering of horrible regret.
The day after I made my decision, I had the procedure at the local Planned Parenthood. Unbelievably, I somehow solely remember my experience in the recovery room. I awoke to a nurse telling me that G-d would punish me for what I had done. This part of the story is not altered. It may not have been those words exactly, but something similar. I think now that I wish I had the strength to report her. However, my guess is that she knew how to deny it all and it was the perfect job for someone with her disposition and belief system.
And still I went on with my very wonderful life. In the 1990’s, most of the women with whom I had attended college were clearly putting their careers first and family sometime later.
I was certain that I could have career and family. I had not thought it through on how I would be a part-time professor, but I did not want to work at a highly stressful university, because I planned to slow down a bit as soon as I was ready to start a family.
What I only realize now is that the male professors-to-be in my class had always known that they could have both – career and family. They knew they probably would be paid enough to take care of a wife who stayed home or who worked part time to take care of the children.
I can almost guarantee that no young male professor was thinking that he would need to slow down and stay home part-time when he wanted a family.
I now know now that the male professors were getting paid significantly more money to do the same job I was doing. Maybe our employers knew that they would stay and we might leave?
I only mention this because if I had known then that I was going to need to be the sole provider for my family, if I wanted one, I would have probably pushed harder to be paid the same as the men. I may have even stayed longer at jobs where I saw a good career path ahead.
Suddenly I was no longer a twenty-something, but a thirty-something. I moved to New York City.
After only being in New York City about a year, I stood near the World Trade Center towers and watched people die. What do I say about the next several years except that I was by no means totally focused on finding a husband and having a family. I had relationships, but either they ended up not wanting a family or “it wasn’t the right fit.”
The toughest part of my early thirties was there was a six-year window where my relationships ended and then the guy I was dating got married and had children with the very next woman he met. Bummer. If you’re wondering ladies, your biological clock is very real.
I bought a house. I took what I thought would be a job with a good career path. At the age of thirty-eight, I said to myself, “I am by no means rich, but I am going to figure out how to have a child using a sperm donor.” It took me another year and a half to save the money for my first procedure at the best clinic in town.
The donor I chose was so perfect on paper that I absolutely would have married the guy had I ever met him. Also, he was an “open” donor so my child could meet him after my child was eighteen years old. However, this is not a story about donor children or even the process of In Vitro Fertilization.
Yet, I think it would be helpful to list the top nine yuckiest things about my eleven-year journey in the crazy world of fertility. These items are in no particular order except the last one is the yuckiest:
1). I lost a lot of friends.
2). I reluctantly showed up at probably HUNDREDS of doctor appointments.
3). I endured a chemical pregnancy which no one really cared about because after all one is not really that pregnant at four weeks. But, newsflash, it is a devastating loss. It’s like getting ten yards from the finish line and no one really cares.
4). I suffered an ectopic pregnancy because I tried to get pregnant without IVF. Gosh forbid I tried to get pregnant the regular way and could have died from the embryo growing in my tube.
5). My eggs were retrieved with a couple of the cycles, but due to my “advanced” age, the eggs did not fertilize.
6). I moved overseas to attempt to save some money on the cost of the procedures.
7). I experienced cancelled transfers because my body was not responding to the medicines.
8). I paid extraordinary amounts of money even for a smart woman who was making very little money because she (IVF talk sometimes causes me to write in the third person…lol) had taken a job where there was time to put into the insanity of fertility clinics. Of course, over the course of the years, there were hundreds of follow-up phone calls to try and understand what had gone wrong.
Yes, I am only at #8 because that was only the first four years of the journey. At forty-three, most clinics will convince you not to use your own eggs anymore. They are correct to persuade you otherwise due to the odds of success, but there are always the anecdotal miracle stories of a good friend who got pregnant at forty-four. It did not go that way for me.
#9 is that I took a four-year break from fertility and became so horribly depressed that I had to move back to my hometown and receive electric shock treatment. I lost my memory of a three-year period due to the electric shock treatments.
I was misdiagnosed (in my opinion) after the doctors prescribed to me twenty-three different medicines over a three-year period to try and help me out of the deepest of depressive states. I do not blame the medical community or even my family for thinking that it was the fertility treatments that caused my depression. It was not.
Each time I was lucky enough to make it to embryo transfer day, at least I had hope. By my forty-fourth birthday, most of my hope was gone. The main reason for my depression was because I did not have children.
I can’t be clear enough about this point. Even losing a pregnancy at four weeks using donor eggs and donor sperm at the age forty-eight was not nearly as difficult as having to accept that I would never have biological children.
In 2016, a break in this story:
I begrudgingly went to foster classes in my town. I figured I was still pursuing donor egg/donor sperm scenarios so, what did I have to lose by taking the classes? People said, “Isn’t it going to be hard for you to “give back” the child to his “real family?”
The process of preparing to be a foster parent and actually having an infant in my home was fairly straightforward. It took me thirty hours for classes and six months of interviews in my home, but within two weeks of being certified as a foster parent, I had a call about baby Thomas.
It would have been even a shorter prep time for certification, but I was told that because of certain things going on in my life at that time that I had a 50% chance of even being approved as a foster parent. Because my middle name is Up for A Challenge, I thought 50% odds were pretty good!
I was called to bring home baby Thomas from the NIC unit in the winter of 2017. I pulled away from a snowy hospital with a 5.5 lb baby in the car seat. I was fascinated that this is how this little baby would start his life in the “real” world.
He had a list of medical conditions, but he was cleared for release and even on day two at my house, he ended up back in the ER due to a fast heartbeat. I knew that the infant would go through withdrawals.
He was such a joy to have in my home and to help him get through his withdrawals was an amazing and life-changing experience. Being a foster mom is hard because the agency tells you over and over again that your main goal is to get the child back with their family.
It took five weeks of me reminding folks about the baby’s case to even get them to schedule visits with his birth family. The birth mother of my foster child had a difficult genetic psychological condition, but I learned later that she was a really neat lady with a challenging situation.
Some of my white family members of mine thought that it would be hard to raise a child with a “tricky genetic condition.”
But, if my foster son had been white instead of black, I do wonder if possibly my family would have felt differently. They would have grown to love him and accept him had he ended up with me permanently, but race may have played a greater role than I thought it would have.
At the same time, I remember feeling not accepted by the baby’s black family. I felt they thought I was a wealthy white woman who wanted to adopt their baby. There were so many misperceptions on both sides during the two months I had baby Thomas.
I cried when the baby was ordered back to his birth family for kinship permanent custody with them. I was happy that he would, hopefully, remain with them. However, it was hard when I was given just forty-eight hours to return the child I loved.
I also was sad that the birth family did not want to see me when I returned the child. I realize now it was because I did not give a lot of personal information to them and they may have felt upset about having their child placed in foster care.
Nonetheless, I was happy that he went home as a healthy twelve-pound baby. I know that if I ever see him on the street in twenty years, I can tell him the awesomeness of his first couple months and how he changed me for the better.
And then the tears came once again. Thankfully, this time, things weren’t that bad. I had helped a family; I still had a job; I could still pursue another donor cycle. I thought that I might even take a cool trip.
I called the county and asked not to be called for another foster child while I sorted things out. Still, they kept calling with very challenging infants. Although it made me feel good that I could fill a need, I wasn’t ready to be treated the way I had been treated during Thomas’ stay with me.
I needed a long break. I asked the office to please only call if there was a “safe surrender” baby. (“Safe surrender” means the parents come to the hospital knowing they would like their baby be adopted. It used to happen more often at fire stations and hospitals in the 1960’s and 1970’s, I think.) The woman on the phone stated that “safe surrender” babies are very rare. She hung up promptly.
Only four days after I asked for a “safe surrender” baby, G-d called with news that baby Theo was born.
Ok, maybe it wasn’t G-d, but I heard the surprise and dismay in the social worker’s voice when she called me. “Yes. Is this Ms. Hope? There is a baby who is….long pause like she was in disbelief herself…healthy. He was born four days ago just thirty miles from your home and we need to know if you will take him. What do you think?”
I asked for twenty minutes to think it over. My heart felt the pain of his birth parents who were making a difficult decision. Half-Peruvian and half-Caucasian baby born in our county? Huh.
In the twenty minutes that I had to decide, a lot went through my mind. Firstly, there was no guarantee that the baby would stay with me, because it was still a foster to adopt situation.
A dear friend, who was visiting from out of state, said to me, “You have to take this baby, this is a gift from G-d.” And so he is.
When I called back, the worker told me that if I was hesitant, she had a long list of people that would take the baby. NO! I do want him. She said they could drop him off at my house. No. I wanted to go to the hospital and get him. I drove the thirty miles the next day. I made a video in my car about how I was his foster mom and I could not wait to meet him.
Turns out the county had told me the wrong name of this child, so for the first six weeks of his life, I struggled with what to call him. After about six weeks, when I knew permanent custody was assured, I signed him into his daycare as Theo Hope.
It was the first time I had ever seen his name written on a printed sheet at the daycare. I was so excited because it was the same name as my father, who passed away many years ago.
I met baby Theo’s birthparents about a week after we left the hospital. They are sweet and loving and I know that someday, Theo will also come to know his first family.
Finally, a more than twenty-five year journey has come to a joyful place. Now there is a sweet little six-month-old that lives with me in my home and is soon to become my forever family, I pray. After all the paperwork and visits are done, I will be able to shout from the rooftops the name I chose for him.
Baby Theo, as I look at you napping next to me with your little monkey toy, I think that all this was meant to be. My prayer with the losses of pregnancies had come true because this child has a joy-filled spirit. I sometimes call him Buddha baby because he is so happy! I still very much feel the pain of not having biological children. Yet, I also feel in my heart that every day with you, baby Theo, is a gift from G-d.
Lizzie Hope is a forty-something professor teaching part-time at a university. She loves creating art, traveling, and spending time with her, hopefully, soon to be forever family. One of her goals is to raise worldwide awareness about the challenges women face as they navigate the world of fertility, infertility, foster care, and adoption.
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Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie's blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter
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