I think it’s about time I fill you in on the latest. Partly because I think I can sufficiently blame a bunch of my blog neglect on it, but mostly because it’s changing my whole world and for the sake of posterity, can’t be ignored.
So here it is. The long version.
I’ve touched on this a teensy bit in the past, but it all started when I was 17 weeks pregnant with Rooster. Save for the all-day nausea, the fatigue, the bloating, insert other typical pregnancy-related symptoms here, I was doing just fine. Baby was measuring healthy. I had been feeling her tiny kicks for a few weeks, the gender reveal was coming up, and I was just starting to noticeably show (unlike many pregnant woman who try to hide it, I was positively deflated when I found out I was pregnant and THEN found out the FUN! part of showing my belly off was still months away).
So I was thrown for a loop to say the least when I got a voicemail from my OB during my work day. I listened to it outside because there was no reception in the staff room. I can remember her tone of voice and her vague words and her concerned tone. At first, I was curious, but didn’t think much of it. Little did I know that that phone call would change the entire course of our lives.
Several calls with a few different doctors revealed that the genetic tests my husband and I had flippantly done early on in my pregnancy…the ones where we’d each spit into a cup to find out our statistical chances of passing on certain disorders to our child…those dumb tests we’d forgotten all about…they’d revealed a match. Turns out, Pat and I both carry a gene for a genetic recessive disorder with a crazy name no one has ever heard of. It’s so rare that not much has been done as far as research, except that it causes a wide range of physical and cognitive challenges. If the child got a copy of the gene from each of us, they would likely be wheelchair bound for life, wouldn’t be able to speak, would never be able to care for themselves, and would have a 20 percent chance of death within the first year.
“Okay”, I ask, “So, what are the chances our baby has it?”
“One in four,” she told me.
“And this is the same for all of our future children too?”
The rest of the conversation was just plain panic. I don’t even remember if I said anything else or if Pat, who had dialed in for the call, took it from there. I just remember huddling in my teacher chair, knees to my chest, sobbing to Pat without a care for who else could walk in. I remember being hysterical with tears as I called my other safety net, my parents, frantically hoping they could somehow fix it, sure that all the dreams I had ever had for my life and the child I loved unfathomably had just evaporated.
I got an amnio the following week, feeling somehow violated in a way I can’t quite describe. We found out that we were having a girl and wondered whether we were allowed to be excited. I spent the next five weeks in a state of half-living. The fear was constantly on my mind, and when the thoughts wandered out for a moment, I felt guilty upon their return, like it was now my lot in life to worry about this. I was angry with God in a way that, not only had I never been before, but also that I had judged others for being. We stressed over it, hoped it would be okay, fought about it, rationalized about whether we should even put any stock into it, got angry with the lab for taking so long, imagined our life without our child, imagined what we would even do with the results, prayed constantly, researched anything we could find, and then pretended it wasn’t there. All the while we told only a few people about it, and of those, no one but us really knew the hell we were living through.
Until one day, after much follow-up and the longest wait for test results our genetic counselor had ever seen, we got the call. Our baby girl did not have the disorder. She didn’t even inherit the gene at all, so she wouldn’t have a chance of passing it on to her future children. We breathed a sigh of relief and thanked God and finally allowed ourselves unbridled excitement. She was born willful and colicky, but beautiful and healthy and perfect.
We gave ourselves a break. We didn’t have to think about what to do for Baby #2 for a long time. We put it on the top shelf and moved on.
Eventually, the question started to peek out here and there. “So, what do you think we should do about that?” “I dunno. What do you think?” Silence. “I don’t know.”
That’s how it was for a while.
Gradually we started to talk about it in more detail. We talked about how badly I wanted to be pregnant again, to feel those kicks again, to experience the moment my child came into the world. We talked about the fears we had and the impact a sick child would have on Rooster and how if you just said there was a “75 percent chance of not getting it” that sounded a lot better than “1 in 4.” We weighed the options. We did a ton of research. We made lists of all the ways to go about it. IVF with PGD. Sperm donation. Just risking it. I researched adoption, got overwhelmed by the wealth of information, and decided it wasn’t for me. We met with a genetic counselor to get a sense of whether the chances might actually be less than 1 in 4 because of the high chance of miscarriage and came back with nothing. We requested information from an IVF clinic. We considered whether we would be able to terminate a pregnancy if we found out a baby had it and decided we couldn’t. We talked about it every day for a week and then not at all for weeks on end.
Sometimes it was hard for me to know how seriously we should even take it. Were we just blowing it out of proportion? My parents were telling me to move on as if nothing had happened and my husband was envisioning losing a child. Once, in desperation I just googled “what should I do?” as if hoping God would step out of the computer screen and tell me the answer clearly to my face.
Eventually, we came to a stalemate. Pat wanted to adopt. “I keep feeling like there has to be some reason this happened,” he said one night. “What if it’s because God wants us to do something we never would have done before all this?” But only one of us was unwavering. It was me. I was adamant. I wanted to be pregnant again. I wanted the baby to be a physical part of me. I wanted the baby to have my traits. I just wanted to risk it and trust that it would all work out like it did with Rooster. Even if the baby got it, I thought, we would figure it out. We would move on like we always do.
Looking back, I still think there’s a lot of truth in the point of view I held. We would figure it out. We would move on. We would learn from it and grow from it and become stronger because of it. But that truth wasn’t really what drove me to my perspective on everything. More than anything else, my plan got in the way of seeing the adventure that was about to lay itself out in front of me. That plan I had in my mind of what I always wanted for my life. The plan that had already been bent by moving to the city instead of buying a house in the suburbs. But God was not done bending my plans.
So for a while, it felt hopeless. Pat never pushed adoption and we talked about the other options in detail. But in the end, nothing seemed right. Our seemingly best option was IVF so the embryos could be checked before implantation, but it felt like a cop out. Both of us felt strongly that this was an opportunity to trust God, and for some reason I can’t quite describe, IVF wasn’t right.
I began doing a little more research into adoption. Just to make sure I’d explored all the options fully. One afternoon, I read blog after blog, many coming from the perspective of a birth mother (like this one). I read about their decision and the ridiculous love they had for their child to be able to carry them in their very body only to then let them be raised by another family. I read stories about the day they walked away from the hospital without their baby. I read stories like this one and thought about the separation the child has from a biological mother they know by heartbeat by the time they enter the world. By the end I was a wreck, both hands gripped on the bathroom counter, wracking with heaving sobs over the weight of the pain involved on all sides of adoption. The same pain I felt for orphans, which I hadn’t quite known what to do with.
That night, I told Pat I didn’t think I could adopt, because not only did I have countless fears and insecurities of my own, but I couldn’t handle the burden of the pain. I couldn’t be that close to it on a daily basis. He said okay.
A week or two later, I sat in my normal seat in the front row at our church. As part of his message, the pastor read a story about a German who lived during the Nazi holocaust. He said that he considered himself a Christian, but that he and the rest of the people at his church tried to distance themselves from the reality of the holocaust while it was taking place.
“A railroad track ran behind our small church, and each Sunday morning we would hear the whistle from a distance and then the clacking of the wheels moving over the track. We became disturbed when one Sunday we noticed cries coming from the train as it passed by. We grimly realized that the train was carrying Jews. They were like cattle in those cars!
Week after week that train whistle would blow. We would dread to hear the sound of those old wheels because we knew that the Jews would begin to cry out to us as they passed our church. It was so terribly disturbing! We could do nothing to help these poor miserable people, yet their screams tormented us. We knew exactly at what time that whistle would blow, and we decided the only way to keep from being so disturbed by the cries was to start singing our hymns. By the time that train came rumbling past the church yard, we were singing at the top of our voices. If some of the screams reached our ears, we’d just sing a little louder until we could hear them no more. Years have passed and no one talks about it much anymore, but I still hear that train whistle in my sleep. I can still hear them crying out for help. God forgive all of us who called ourselves Christians, yet did nothing to intervene.”
This is what I’m doing, I thought. Calling myself a follower of Christ, feeling so incredibly affected by adoption, and yet doing nothing about it. Maybe the reason I feel this so deeply is not a reason to stay away. Maybe this is the very reason we should do this.
I think in a way I had already decided in that moment. I have never been one to hear from God easily, and nothing had ever been so clear to me. Ignoring it would have been against every fiber of my being. In reality, it was a week before I told Pat about that day. I talked to a friend who had adopted to ask them about their experience. I processed my thoughts and slowly began to identify myself with adoption. I realized that I had already experienced giving birth and that even if I did it a second time I would always long to feel those baby kicks again. I stopped seeing the path to adopt as a loss of biology and everything that comes with it and began to feel the unfamiliar anticipation of a giant leap into the unknown, a great adventure of following God on a rocky path and expecting amazing things I knew I couldn’t yet imagine.
A week later, Pat, Rooster, and I went to breakfast at our favorite spot before church. I finally told Pat the story of everything I’d been processing. I don’t remember what was said during service that day, but I remember leaning over to Pat in a moment of ridiculous clarity and whispering, “Let’s do it.”
When the decision was made, the weight that had been placed on my shoulders since the results of that saliva test first reached my ears was immediately lifted. Not because I had an answer to the problem, but because I knew that that problem was only the compass directing me to this place. We jumped in head first the next day. And while I’ve had a few moments of grief and fear, I’ve never looked back. I’m confident because while understanding the pain in adoption is much of what brought me to this place, I know that this is our purpose. So I’m also expecting great things.