Follow me on the crazy, hopeful, discouraging, funny, and ultimately successful (one way or another) path to parenthood while facing infertility.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Time It Takes To "Go Live"

When you are looking into adoption, one of the things that stands out in the process is time intervals. First, the time interval from the time you start with an agency to the time that you are home study approved and "go live," with your profile book out there and hopefully ready to attract some opportunities (or really, that one very special opportunity that will pan out), and second, the time interval from the time you "go live" to the time that you bring your baby home (and there is very little chance that that could be rescinded). 

Because we are finally at the stage where we are considered Waiting Parents, assuming that our Mi.xbook package has arrived in its neat little bundle of hope at our agency's doorstep today, I can share with you our timeline. Everyone's timeline is different. The agency told us that the average it takes people to go from application to waiting is about 3-6 months, but that it can take longer due to unforeseen circumstances or scheduling things beyond your control. Our timeline put us at about 5.5 months, from start to finish. Someone recently asked why it takes so long, when preparing for going live is basically just filling out paperwork. How long can it possibly take to fill out paperwork (I thought the same thing when looking into the process)? The reality is that the process has many, many moving parts and it's very easy for things to take longer than you expected. 

First things first... I always thought that "home study" meant just the visits (as if there can be a "just" in front of a social worker who is basically a stranger coming to evaluate your life and your home...but who is ultimately on your side and there to help you be successful, even if you are skeptical that this is the case). It is so much more than the visits. The home study process is actually everything that happens from the time your application is approved to the time that your social worker submits that favorable report. The books aren't included, but are necessary in order to have potential birth mothers know who you are and what you are all about and why you would make excellent parents to their unborn child. 

NOTE: This is based on my experience with domestic infant adoption, with my particular agency in NY, in the US. Experiences will vary. 

So, for us, we submitted our application (which turned out to be about 22 pages, good practice for the scads of paperwork needed to complete the process) on February 2nd 2015. It was approved on February 3rd, and we were scheduled for our home study consultation meeting on Thursday, February 12th. So, right out of the gate, there was a little bit of waiting to get in with our assigned Family Advocate and go over all the paperwork and requirements. 

At the Consult meeting, we were given our ginormous manual for Adoptive Parent Education, and a stack of paperwork. Some of which we could go over and sign then and there, submitted, easy peasy. Some of which required going to outside agencies (such as the fingerprinting and the collection of birth certificates, marriage certificates, and divorce decrees). And some of which required other people doing a job in a timely manner -- the four recommendation letters (one family, three non-family), the doctor's appointments, the letter from your therapist if you see such a person stating that you are good to go. It was at this meeting that we received our first setback... before they will assign you a social worker, all your paperwork needs to be in, AND you need to have the 12 hours of home study classes completed. I was sure we could get all our paperwork submitted in a jiffy, but we ran into a snag with the classes. 

The March classes were full. Which meant that the next classes available were in mid-April, in Albany (not Buffalo). This was problematic because it meant a longer drive and more time off from work for Friday, the possibility of getting stuck driving in a snowstorm, and doing this at the height of my busy season for school (April generally means IEP meetings out the wazoo). So we signed up for the May classes, in Buffalo. That meant that it would take us a minimum of 3 months to be eligible for our home study visits from the social worker. Otherwise, we probably would have been done sooner, because I cranked through a lot of our paperwork over February break.

Helpful Tip #1: Know that your paperwork will have different expiration dates, something we didn't learn until May when we took our classes. In actuality, anything that can expire (medical form, background checks) will have a date of when it was submitted. Your home study expires in a year and needs to be re-authorized, but even if your home study is still active, if your medical form was submitted, as in my case, in February, it will expire in February and need to be reupped. Because even if your home study is good, if your medical form is outdated it will cause problems for your placement. For background checks, those can take a while to process -- so you don't want to wait too long to start it (plus you have to get all those 28 years of addresses together). However, that also needs to be updated from the date it was submitted, so be wary of those dates. I might not have sped through all of my stuff so much earlier than the classes had I realized that beforehand. 

For us, we weren't actually too upset. Well, I was at first, but the three month lag meant a few things that were positive: 
- We didn't have to rush through the paperwork and stress ourselves out unduly
- We could take a little break to go from one stressful process to another -- until you are waiting, you are kind of sort of on a bit of a break
- We could make our own schedule of incremental progress and not feel resentful of the process or like it was overwhelming, but still get our stuff submitted in a timely manner. 

So, we got everything in by May 14th, when our classes took place. We may have felt a little smug going in with all our paperwork completed, something that was quickly wiped off our faces when we realized that they would give us homework paperwork. Things that we couldn't just fill out in the hotel Friday night and submit Saturday, things that needed to be taken home and ruminated over and then mailed in. 

Which we did, about a week later, long enough to show that we had thought seriously about very difficult decisions and self-awareness worksheets, but short enough not to slow us down too much. 

Because the next step, after our paperwork was in, (which was mailed on May 23), was to wait for it all to be reviewed and then to be assigned a social worker for the final piece other than the profile book. 

From others' experiences and the agency themselves, we knew that it could take up to a month to be assigned a social worker, and then it could take anywhere from 4-6 weeks to more to have the whole process completed and the report in the hands of our agency. So we waited to start our profile book until the home study visits were underway. 

Helpful Tip #2: Maybe start your profile book earlier... because your home study could go faster than you think, and once that home study report is submitted and approved, YOU ARE CONSIDERED HOME STUDY APPROVED AND YOUR CLOCK STARTS TICKING FOR THAT ONE YEAR. We assumed that the home study wouldn't be done until August, giving us the summer to work on the book. We assumed incorrectly. 

The home study visits went WICKED quickly for us. Here is how quickly it went down, remembering that the past paperwork packet was mailed May 23rd: 

June 4th: Receive call that we are assigned our social worker and to expect a call by the end of the following week. 
June 9th (5 measly days later, on a Tuesday): Receive call from our social worker to schedule, which she promptly does for THAT Saturday, Sunday, and the following weekend (you need three visits, which can be combined... one for you alone, one for your spouse/partner alone, and one for you together that incorporates a home tour. Although it all seems very social worker dependent, because some people didn't have to take the social worker on a tour of the home and the visits were slightly different).
June 11th: receive second call from social worker, stating that she can get all the visits done that weekend between Saturday and Sunday, promptly FREAK OUT because we are so not ready and now don't have a weekend to spend cleaning, plus, you know, THE PROFILE BOOK ISN'T EVEN STARTED YET
June 13th: First set of visits, me alone first then Bryce alone
June 14th: Second set of visits, us together and then the home tour

The following weekend we spent working feverishly on the profile book, and you know how that all went... We were super stressed, because we didn't want a lag between the home study report and the profiles being submitted. Which proved inevitable, because after our social worker called with a few questions that she forgot to ask (like day care plans and our guardian plans)...

June 25th: HOME STUDY REPORT APPROVED AND SUBMITTED. She was a powerhouse who completed it in just over 10 days, and then APOLOGIZED for not submitting it sooner. WHOA. 

Helpful Tip #3: You may not get a copy of your report to review before you are considered approved. We haven't seen ours yet, but our clock started ticking on 6/25. I only know this because another friend in the process warned me to be proactive and call, because they don't always let you know that it's in before it's sent out. Which initially was concerning, but in our case the report doesn't get seen by anyone but the agency, ourselves, the social worker, and the state if they get audited (or they have to submit it, I'm actually not totally clear on that one). So if there are small inconsistencies, I am not going to stress about it, because it won't slow our process down. BUT, it was nice to know that our home study approval date had come and gone...

And then, work work work on the book, which retrospectively I wish we had started earlier, but I also know that working on it when we did meant that I was home for the summer and not stressed from school while working on it, which helped IMMENSELY. 

The last few things in our timeline: 

July 13th: Submitted the profile book draft to our Family Advocate for review (they recommend doing this so that any issues are resolved before printing, like visible license plate numbers, including your last name, or the presence of red solo cups or other visuals that may not be appropriate). 
July 14th: Profile book approved to print! Small tweaks suggested for readability of a particular feature. 
July 17th: Tweaks done, checked and triple checked, ORDER BOOKS, five to the agency and one for our own personal enjoyment. 
July 23rd: BOOKS DUE TO ARRIVE, LIVE LIVE LIVE! 

And that, THAT is how it took five and a half months to go from application submitted to Waiting Parent. I know people who did it in less than 3 months, but the timing of everything has to be pretty amazing for that to take place. I am still reeling from the amazingness of our home study visits and report being done in such a short time period. 

Now, the next time period average was given at 6-9 months from home study approved status to placement. PLACEMENT, not matching. Matches fall through with much more frequency than placements do. And, keeping in mind that it's an average, so there are stories of 3 months or less before placement, and stories of over a year. Who knows where we will fall... But wherever it does fall, it will be right for the situation that will lead us to FutureBaby, our FutureBaby, and all of this paperwork and waiting will be so, so, SO worth it. 


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Picture Holds a Thousand Emotions

You know that saying, "A picture says a thousand words?" That came in really handy with the profile book. I wanted our book to hold true to this philosophy, to be something where if someone was skimming, they could get the gist from just looking at our pictures and the captions. Not that the text was extraneous, just that the choice of photos was so important to us. That they should capture who we were, independent of the text.

So we uploaded many, many more pictures than we ever were going to use, and we debated the merits of different ones. I am proud to say that there are at least four pictures in our book where I am wearing absolutely no makeup. Which, if you know me, is amazing (I love to paint my face). The reason why they made it in was that they showed something wonderful, like us looking super in love out for a hike in the woods (bonus, it was November, so I have a nice natural flush going to light up my pastiness). Or a real moment, like our Easter morning Easter basket hunts, done in pajamas with messy hair and big, genuine smiles. I think I'm wearing a bra in that one. It doesn't matter, because that ear-to-ear smile and childlike joy of opening up a little bag of prizes selected and hidden by each other is what comes through.

There was one picture that Bryce wanted to use, that I just couldn't say yes to.

"We look so happy," he said, as he went to upload it into the book:


"Not that photo, please." I replied, with a lump growing in my throat and my heart.

"But it's a really happy photo! We exude love and joy!" Bryce really liked it, and for good reason.

We do look happy. Super happy. And we had good reason to, but I didn't want to use it.

Does it look familiar? It might, because I've used it in two different posts before, In The Time Of the Butterflies, and 40 Weeks Ago.

I was surprised by the completely visceral reaction I had when I saw this photo being chosen. I immediately got hot in the face and tears welled up and spilled over.

Why? We were pregnant in that picture. It is the only picture I have that is not a ill-fated pee-stick, that shows just how amazing it felt to finally, finally be pregnant and have good news. I think this was on our second Beta day, when our numbers rose like a champ and we were no longer super cautiously happy (although we should have been), but thrilled and able to put into words our hopes for the pregnancy as we walked around that county park filled with swallowtail butterflies.

It was a picture that told a story all right, and it brought up emotions that I hadn't realized were just waiting to bubble up. I didn't want to share my super happy "we're pregnant" photo with someone who could remain a stranger because they didn't pick us. That's my moment. It belongs to us (and, ironically, you, who may also be strangers, but strangers seeking an infertility/IVF/donor gamete/adoption blog, so you're not REALLY strangers. You get it.). Even if no one would ever know that that's what this picture represents, I do, and I didn't want it in our visual representation of our lives dedicated to a different baby, one who will presumably stay and not break our hearts after six weeks of joy.

Seeing this picture in the context of our new quest was a little unnerving. We've left that behind, the physicality of trying to get pregnant, and failing. And failing and failing and failing. We had a few beautiful moments where we thought we'd made it, but they were too quickly ripped away from us. And now, now this process of having a baby is so cerebral, so un-physical in such a beautiful way. I can choose. I can decide not to put that picture out there. I can put other pictures out there to represent our life and the happiness that exists independent of our quest for family.

We did decide to put this picture in, though, cropped to just mostly our incredibly happy faces:



Our in-book crop of this photo cut out what is pretty obviously (to me anyway) a gurney in the back. Even though this is a post-transfer picture, for a cycle that didn't work, I was okay with including it. Because we look so happy, and that happiness is because of HOPE. And hope is something we still hold, although in a different way. I am not filled with hope that an embryo inside me might stick and make me a mama. I am filled with hope that pictures like these will connect us with the woman who will become our child's birth mother, a hope that is far more realistic (retrospectively speaking). I still hold this hope inside me, the same as it was in this picture where we look so happy and full of anticipation of nothing but good things to come. It's just coming in a different way.

Hopefully, the person who will make parenthood possible for us through her own grief and loss and planning will see the pictures we did choose, and they will stand out to her. She will say, "This family of two is so full of love and so full of hope that they can share their life (as quiet/goofy/insulated as it may be) with my baby, and it will be beautiful and just right and comforting." That's the hope inside that picture, that's why we chose it for one of our last pages. In hopes that it conveys the emotion that will help connect with someone else's emotion... and connect us with FutureBaby, who is meant to come into our lives, and who may exist even now, out there somewhere, completely unaware that he or she will be joining our happy family of two.

Monday, July 20, 2015

#Microblog Mondays: So Happy

I had my mother over for lunch today, and made us some very tasty smoked salmon omelettes (cheating and using the T.rader Joe's Feta Cheese Spread instead of a cheesy concoction of my own... and it was DELICIOUS), a salad with blueberries I picked Saturday with a friend, and a blueberry cake from a Maine cookbook (again with the blueberries I picked, because there's 5 juicy pounds in the fridge so they have to go SOMEWHERE yummy).

She asked if she could see our profile book, and since it was approved and it shipped today, I decided I would share, in part because I'm ridiculously proud of the damn thing. Also, it was kind of like not sharing a baby name until it's on the birth certificate, -- that baby is born and named, and  it's too late to change anything so there's no point sharing any negative thoughts because the deed is done...it's out there.

But she loved it.

And later in the day, she sent me a text, and in addition to thanking me for tasty vittles and good conversation, she said, "It's great to see you so happy."

And I AM HAPPY -- not that I've been utterly miserable up until now, but we've just had such a rough go of things for what seems like forever. I think most of the last four years of our fertility treatment journey was steeped in such misery, such failure, such physical and emotional pain, such a dearth of good news, ever...and it's not that way anymore.

Because adoption, that makes me happy, and there is such a marked difference in how this process has treated us versus infertility treatment, in how smoothly and swiftly things have gone up until this point, at least (time to go knock on some serious wood).

I feel so hopeful, so full of anticipation, so excited for all that's to come, whenever that comes to fruition. And having the profile book done, that makes me happy, too, because now all of our efforts go from preparing paperwork to preparing for a baby (pediatrician interviews! daycare interviews! registering for baby stuff! buying a crib and making up a low-key nursery! reading about how to help newborns sleep better!).

And that, that brings a big fat smile to my face.

Want to read more #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

How to Communicate Effectively With Infertile People

This week, I took a training course called Youth Mental Health First Aid USA, a program that actually started in Australia and has spread like wildfire internationally and within the US. I now hold a certification through the National Council for Health to provide initial help to young people experiencing mental health problems. The training was 8 hours long and incredibly fascinating.

Part of the training was focused on "How to Communicate Effectively With Young People." Since everyone in the room was a school professional of one sort or another, I hope that we would all have the basics in this, but the focus was really on communicating with young people who are near or in crisis and need someone to really listen to them regarding a possibly sensitive mental health concern.

One of the suggestions a trainer gave was to think about how you would discuss a physical ailment or emergency with a teenager. That sent my own synapses careening into the parallels between having to communicate with someone about a sensitive topic that may make you feel uncomfortable but is very, very serious...and talking with people who are going through infertility.

Please know that in no way am I trivializing mental health crises in teenagers by making this comparison. Nor am I trivializing the trials and tribulations of infertility testing, IUIs, IVFs, or exploring and pursuing options such as adoption or living child free. The advice really stood out as being helpful for both sets of people, and good listening skills are good listening skills. And, infertility and the associated feelings of failure, a life interrupted, loss, depression, and hopelessness are really not all that dissimilar from some of the scenarios we were given. There is a stigma with mental illness that should not be there, and there is a stigma with infertility that should not be there. Both are diseases that require treatment and coping skills, and both can be treated as things that aren't as serious or life-impacting as they actually are.

That in mind, here are some wonderful ways to communicate with people struggling with infertility:

Be genuine. 
For teens, the advice was that they are great BS detectors (not quite described that way in the manual), and so don't pretend like you are cool with a conversation if it makes you uncomfortable. Admit that it makes you uncomfortable, but also how important it is to have the conversation and make the person in crisis feel heard.

For me, this struck a chord because so often questions weren't asked of us when we were in the thick of IVF and miscarriage and disappointment after disappointment. It was an uncomfortable topic, and rather than admit that "I don't know what to say" or "This makes me feel awkward" and then ask a question, some people would just ignore the issue altogether, leaving me feeling isolated and like my experience was taboo. Or that the person at the time just didn't care. Likewise with a quick, "How's all that going?" followed with an immediate change in subject. An attempt is made, which is great, but as soon as talk of sharps or Lovenox bruises or fluid in the uterus comes up, it's obvious that the person is dying to switch topics to an upcoming movie or some other innocuous topic.

So be genuine--if you are going to ask questions or listen, please do it like you mean it, and if it's awkward or you feel ill-equipped, just say so. That means so much more than ignoring the issue and making me feel like you just don't care.

Try not to give advice. 
This is super hard. This is the whole not telling someone what they SHOULD do, but instead listening to them where they are, acknowledging that it's hard, and maybe giving information for where the person can get further resources.

In my experience, everyone wanted to ask me if I'd tried acupuncture (yup) or a modified diet (yup) or this or that protocol. I was thankfully not the recipient of too much "just relax," probably because I was very, very open about the myriad medical goings-on and did not shy away from explaining exactly HOW this was all going down (or supposed to go down). I think I would have had a hard time not jumping down the throat of any "just-relaxers." I was told to eat more brazil nuts, to light red candles, to try meditation tapes to help my desired situation to manifest. All interesting thoughts on how you can make a baby when facing a variety of diagnoses and what seemed to be the longest string of bad luck, but none of it helped. ESPECIALLY not suggesting that I could somehow "invite my baby to come to me." Oh holy jeezum, once I was in a fertility yoga class and the instructor was a sub and she had us position ourselves on the floor with a bolster in a welcoming posture and put our hands, palms up, on our bellies and visualize our babies floating in the air above us. "Then just invite your baby to come to you, with the purest of intention," she droned in a soothing voice. If this works for you, then great, but WHAT IF YOUR BABY HAS BEEN DENYING YOUR INVITATION FOR YEARS? What if the thought that there is a pool of babies in the ether above your head ACTIVELY CHOOSING not to come to your uterus party is not so much zen but instead highly upsetting? What if, as I had, you've just had a miscarriage where you thought you'd finally gotten that prized RSVP but it turned out that nope, you just weren't chosen, AGAIN? That kind of advice most people can do without.

Under this category are also wonderful pieces of advice like, "Just get over it," or "chin up," or "think positively." As if you could get over the gaping wound that is being unable to conceive with your loved one, or the horrible loss of a pregnancy that leaves you feeling empty and maybe even illogically responsible. Pretending to be happy (chin up!) only serves to make others feel comfortable, because they don't have to see the visible proof of your loss and grief. And thinking positively can be a lovely thing, but as advice following a loss or repeated failure? Sometimes you just want to live in negative nellyland for a while. And thinking negatively will not actually change any kind of outcome. You can't think yourself not pregnant any more than you can think yourself pregnant, and that kind of magical thinking can be really harmful to your mental health in the long run. Because we just don't have that kind of power.

Also, the pain of infertility isn't something that just goes away, even if you find resolution to your family building efforts through pregnancy, gestational carrier, adoption, or living child free. You should still be able to talk about it as it comes up for you, as it evolves for you, without anyone insinuating that really you should be over this by now. It leaves scars that can be ripped open years later.

As far as giving more information, there is SO much out there. RESOLVE (www.resolve.org) has a wonderful array of articles and links to support avenues. Melissa at www.stirrup-queens.com has informational posts and articles, as well as a blogroll of many people who are going through different aspects of infertility, loss, and adoption, all organized by topic. For people who found resolution through living child-free, there is a wonderful blog, http://nokiddinginnz.blogspot.co.nz that posts about Mali's own experiences with living childfree after a difficult infertility journey, and wonderful posts that are applicable to anyone in any aspect of this journey, as well.

Reassure the person that this is not their fault. (Do not judge.)
Mental illness has a stigma, as does substance abuse. As the instructor of my class stated, it's just not about the drugs, or the alcohol, or the food (or lack thereof), or the cutting. It's about the pain that's being somehow soothed by those behaviors or at least blocked out. No matter what mental illness a person is struggling with, it is NEVER their fault, but often the person feels that way.

Ditto, ditto to infertility. People may say such idiotic things as "if only you hadn't waited so long," or "well, it's harder to have babies in your late thirties," or "didn't you used to smoke?" or "well, you do enjoy your wine...shouldn't you give that up if you really want this to work?"  All of those imply that it's somehow YOUR FAULT. Even choosing NOT to go dairy free, as I did (since as a celiac I felt I had restriction enough in my diet and the evidence in the research went both ways on dairy and fertility), left me feeling judged, like somehow I just didn't do enough. If I exercised. If I didn't exercise. If I had a glass of wine (or three) in my month off. All I have to say is, I did Egg Boot Camp, and it STILL didn't work. Which was strangely freeing, because I couldn't really blame myself anymore. We blame ourselves plenty, we don't need people insinuating that there is blame to be had somewhere along the line. I can't control any of the things that may have contributed to my infertility -- I can't go back in time and stop myself from microwaving those Chinese takeout plastic containers, or smoking those social cigarettes of my twenties, or magically have met Bryce in my twenties instead of my early thirties. And it's frustrating, because while we analyze everything ever done in a lifetime for signs that THAT's what caused the infertility or doomed the cycle, there are tons of people who do drugs and get pregnant, get pregnant without assistance in their 40s, eat like crap and still CARRY HEALTHY BABIES. Even, gasp, former smokers manage to conceive and give birth, and their children don't have three eyes or anything.

Sooo, that reassurance that none of this is your infertile person's fault... it goes a long away.

Do not compare your experiences to the person's in crisis. 
For youth in mental health crisis or challenge, this means not demeaning their experience by saying things like, "When I was your age, I had it much harder," or "You'll be fine, I made it through, see?" or "You have so much more than I did at your age, what could you have to be depressed about?"

This is a hard one for applying to infertile people, because often, it's other infertile people who want to tell you all about their own experience.

I think it's out of a desire to be helpful, to pay it forward, to take your own successful experience and try to help someone else by showing them that this could be the way that you, too, get pregnant. Except...except everyone's body is different, and everyone's threshold is different, and something that worked great for one person may not work at all for another. I know that for me personally, by the end of my fertility treatment leg of the journey to parenthood, I was tired of people becoming successful and then preaching all the things that made them successful. "You were just LUCKY" I would say under my breath through the tightest of gritted teeth. I felt ungrateful, because it's meant to be helpful. But for someone who's already tried so much and just not found success (and may never find success in this avenue), it doesn't really help. Better to listen. Better to ask open-ended questions, like, "what have you tried?" or "what do you think your next steps are?" I try really hard when I share information with people who are at a different point in this journey from me to always give the caveat that "This was MY experience, and what worked (or didn't) for me may not apply to you." I try, at least. Sometimes this advice is welcome, and sometimes it isn't. You have to pay attention to the person you are communicating with, supporting, listening to.

As an infertile person who tried a gazillion different ways to make this work and none of it ultimately did, I have to be super careful not to give the impression to people who want to talk that my way was the best way to go. I heard so many people tell me that they got pregnant on their LAST cycle, or that the 9th one was the charm, and that you just have to KEEP GOING and NEVER GIVE UP. But for me, 5.5 years, 13 cycles, and 27 embryos later, I still had nothing and my ability to hang on to sanity and functionality was as diaphanous as a single spiderweb thread. Strong enough to support me crawling along on it, but just as easily broken. Those statements made me feel like I had to keep going, like it was a failure to "give up." In actuality, by continuing down a road that was incredibly difficult and fruitless, I was traveling FURTHER from parenthood. When I talk to someone who is going through infertility and has asked to hear my story, or has heard my story and thought I might be a good person to talk to, and they say, "Well, I haven't tried as much as you have..." I just have to jump in and say, "My way is NOT necessarily the best way. In fact, I would argue that going my way and exhausting just about every avenue was NOT the best way at all. I kind of wish that we had pursued adoption two years earlier." Now, I wouldn't be as at peace with the decision to go forward with adoption if I hadn't pursued everything we were comfortable with...but that was what was right for us. In no way do I ever want anyone to look at my story and think, "That's the way to go! Exhaust yourself in every way possible and THEN move toward a more ultimately hopeful option (although not by any means an easier option)."

Also, sometimes well-meaning fertile people will tell you how they tried for six months or a whole year to conceive and it was incredibly difficult and they know just how you feel. This may have truly been difficult, but the experience of trying through sexytimes, no matter how timed and scheduled and charted, is very different from trying with a host of medical professionals in the room, no sexytimes necessary, but a closet full of different sized needles as a requirement. It feels like your difficult situation is not being honored, like maybe it's being trivialized just a smidge. It's like telling a clinically depressed person that you've been depressed loads of times, and you just went and bought shoes and felt just fine after a good cry. Kinda different from having a crippling mental illness that puts you in a pit of despair and/or apathy that seems neverending and binds you to bed or the couch or even the floor. So not the same thing. Even if you've had a very similar situation, sometimes a person just wants to get her own story out, her own feelings at the time exposed, without comparison to someone else's.

The upshot for this one is that no one truly knows JUST HOW YOU FEEL. All of our experiences are a culmination of all our previous experiences, and everyone has different layers of complexity even if your diagnosis is exactly the same. While it can be so incredibly helpful to know that you are not alone, and that others have suffered similarly to you, there are times where you just want to feel validated for your own, unique, awful experience. Just saying "This sounds so hard," or "What do you think you will do next?" or opening up questions to your experience by saying, "Do you have any questions right now for me?" will allow your infertile friend/family member/acquaintance to make the call if she/he wants to hear about your experiences at this point, or just needs to be listened to.

Do not make promises you can't keep. 
For youth going through a mental health crisis, this may mean telling them they'll be home tomorrow when they're being taken to the hospital for a suicide attempt or plan. You don't know that. It may be saying you'll be available anytime, but really you can't answer your phone at any time and be present for the person. Or it may mean saying that everything will be okay, when really you can't promise that. You can promise that things will get better and you can help come up with a plan for that to happen, but you can't promise an endgame. There are no crystal balls.

Same is true for people struggling through infertility. It takes a great deal of self-control for me not to seek out every person who told me, "You'll get pregnant, I know you will! It will happen! This is THE cycle, I just know it!" and remind them that these prophecies failed to come true. I hated hearing "It'll be your turn soon," which I heard MULTIPLE times, even as people were getting pregnant with their second and THIRD children around me. That one is just patronizing. And implies that there's a queue, that I just haven't gotten in the right checkout line. It's placating but has no truth behind it. It makes the person saying it more comfortable though, and kind of shuts down the conversation. Which is not helpful.

Sometimes, as I mentioned before, you just want to live in negative nellyland and wallow in the sadness of your latest loss/negative/bad test/poor prognosis/failed match/call that you weren't chosen. When you say, "This is awful and I don't know if I'll ever get pregnant/have a baby," and someone responds with, "Don't worry, it will work out! You'll get pregnant!" it feels like you're not being listened to. It feels trite. There's no evidence of that. A better response, and one that I received a lot towards the painful end of our journey, is, "You must feel so sad and frustrated." Or just "hmmmm" and letting me continue to moan and let all my dark feelings out. Because when you have A LOT of dark feelings, and you really want to get them out of that pit in your chest, the last thing that is helpful is being told that essentially you're being dramatic and it will all be just fine. Because for some people, you will get pregnant and it will have been an awful journey, no matter how short, to get there, but you will get your happy ending. And for some people, you won't get your happy ending no matter how many years you try or how many therapies you put yourself through or how many embryos you transfer. You have to find a new happy ending.

I love the saying, "Everything will be all right in the end. If it's not all right, then it's not the end." This gives hope, but also acknowledges that YES, it's okay if everything is not all right NOW. It's not trite. It's a good one.

And I hate, hate, HATE the saying, "Everything happens for a reason." It's another trite, mean-nothing phrase that shuts down communication. Although for me, I responded poorly to this and would snap, "What POSSIBLE reason is there for this pain? What POSSIBLE reason could there be for a meth addict to be able to have six kids and I can't have ONE!" Or substitute any other situation that is hideously unfair. Such as, in my mind, getting pregnant at the same time as someone else who was ultimately successful and has a toddler and I ended up with nothing (yet) and am filling out gads of paperwork and putting my life on display so that we can have our precious FutureBaby. How were our lives different? What was the reason that one of us had joy and the other had to suffer? It lends too easily to the whole examining yourself for fault and feeling responsible somehow for your body's failings. So, uh, stay away from this one. Even if it makes sense within your faith, this statement really, REALLY doesn't have a place in a moment of crisis.

I even went to a second opinion at a clinic once where they said, "We WILL get you pregnant, it's just a matter of how much you're willing to endure." HOLY CROW. Way to put it on the patient. And if you don't get pregnant, it's really because you just didn't try hard enough. That made a really, really negative impression on me, as a promise that just can't be kept. Because infertile people as a group are pretty vulnerable. You tell me to do a treatment that's experimental and costs thousands of dollars because it might work? I'll do it. You tell me to ingest hundreds of dollars of herbs each month to optimize my system? I'll do it. You tell me that I need to have this fertility charm in my home and dance naked at the full moon in my front yard while brandishing it and emitting a primal howl deep from my uterus? I WILL DO IT. So the promise of We WILL Get You Pregnant really rubbed me the wrong way. No one can promise you that. My first clinic was very clear that it might not be possible. I did not want to hear it at the time, but now I respect that so much. NO ONE CAN PROMISE YOU A HAPPY ENDING.

So, don't make those promises, even if it seems like it would make the person feel better in the short run (or make you feel more comfortable by covering that raw and oozing wound the person is showing you with a cheerful Hello Kitty bandaid). Just give them hope that someday, some way (and maybe not the way they imagined), it will be better. And in the meantime, acknowledge that it's just so, so hard.

Provide positive feedback and look for and acknowledge the person's strengths.
For youth in mental health crisis, it's important to latch onto something positive that they have said or done, because youth are told so frequently that everything they do is wrong, and now they are experiencing something painful and misunderstood and it can feel like NOTHING they are doing or can do is right. One example from the handbook was, "I'm glad you are willing to talk to me about this--it shows a great deal of maturity." If you are feeling weak and like your world is ending, hearing something positive about yourself (not a bland "think positively!" or "you are such a nice person") can go a long way to opening doors of communication and helping you to feel less hopeless.

Same for those challenged by infertility. As I've mentioned above, there are so many ways to interpret your own weaknesses into this. You feel like a failure. You feel like your body is a failure. You may feel like your ability to parent is questioned cosmically. Hearing someone say, meaningfully, "You are really giving this your all" or "This is so hard, and I am so glad that you are open to talking about this with me" or even something so simple as, "You will make the BEST mother/father because you are working so hard to make this happen. However it happens, you will be great." If the person may not ultimately become a mother or a father, if living childfree becomes the chosen or only option, then acknowledging that the person fought hard and there is hope after trying to build a family and then not having that become a reality. It can be hard to grasp in the moment, but through infertility so much pressure is put on you to be the best would-be mother, to be the best receptacle, to put your best potential parent forward in your profile book... and if after all that you ultimately won't be a parent, you need reminders that there is so much to you than your uterus or your ability to parent a child within your own nuclear family.

To be honest, I really needed reminders that there was so much more to me than my daily shots and my lining thickness and my estrogen values. That outside of all this, I had value was so important to hear. I didn't want to sound like or be treated like a victim. And, contradictorily, I didn't always wanted to be told a blanket statement that "You are so strong" or "I could never do what you're doing," like I was doing something amazing by trying to reach my goal. In my mind, I felt like I was only as strong as I needed to be in that moment, and that moment kept changing and getting harder, and so I had to adapt. Sometimes it was nice, and sometimes it felt somewhat insincere, like that bandaid. But that was my problem. I think you have just pay attention to the body language of the person you're talking with. Which leads to...

Watch your body language [and the other person's].
When talking to anyone in crisis, you need to have open body language. No crossed arms, eye contact (unless that's culturally a no-no), no standing over someone like you are the authority figure (so important with youth). You want to have a welcoming posture, make eye contact but not so much it's creepy, and be at the same level as the person to get rid of any thoughts of one person being more authoritative than the other. Palms out is always good (gives that "I welcome you" feeling) and a nice calm, low voice.

I would also argue that it's important to pay attention to the person you are talking to's body language in either situation. If the person you are talking with crosses their arms, maybe they feel disrespected at that moment or like they aren't being listened to. If their eyes start to wander or they look like they are fading out, maybe you've been talking too much and you need to bring it back to them. Or maybe you could say, "Do you want to talk about this some other time?" Because as much as I wanted to talk about my infertility and how awful it was, there was a limit to how long I could do that, and sometimes I was the one who wanted to switch topics to that movie. You can get saturated.  If the person looks irritated, feel free to ask  "Did I say something that offended you?" There are a lot of misconceptions about infertility and adoption, and it can be easy to put your foot in it. I always appreciated when people did that inadvertently, picked up on my response, and then wanted to understand why what they said wasn't the best. It showed a genuine interest in wanting to know more. And wanting to know more shows that you care. I find this with adoption, too -- I love, love, LOVE when people ask questions and even when they preface with, "Is it okay for me to ask this?" Asking questions means you care. Period. It's up to me to say, "We're not sharing that information right now," or "That's private," or "That's simply not true, and let me explain why..."

Be okay with silence.
This one is so important. Sometimes it's just too hard to get the words together, but you have them lurking under the surface, and if you're not given enough wait time, the opportunity to share something really painful or a deep seated fear that you want to get out of you can pass. Be okay with just sitting there with someone who is either the youth in mental crisis that this training was meant for, or a person struggling with infertility and related concerns, and just being there with the person. Sometimes I would cry and just want someone there to hold my hand or give me a hug or just witness my pain. Sometimes I would be so numb that I couldn't cry, but I still needed someone with me in that space of gathering up all the tiny shards in my head and my heart while I put my words together. Sometimes you just need someone to be there while you feel all those awful feels. It is so amazing when you can find someone willing to sit in the uncomfortable silence with you until you are ready to begin talking, or resume talking. It is hard, so hard, for the person who is not in crisis. You want to fill that empty space. Resist the urge. It's okay. Just being there is enough.


Can you see why the parallels were so striking to me? It's kind of amazing that I didn't cry during this section of the course, because it was just so fitting. I am in no way a mental health professional, even though my certificate says I can provide initial help to young people experiencing mental health problems, I am NOT an expert in this field, not by a long shot. But I am an expert in how I felt and continue to feel through this journey of becoming a parent, and all of these tips for communicating really resonated with me. Someone once told me, "It's not like there's a guidebook for how to talk to you!" after admitting that she hadn't asked me about infertility during her pregnancy because she just didn't know what to say and had a little guilt that her situation was so different. Well, here you go... for all the people who didn't or don't know what to say. Here is a guidebook of sorts.

Saying something, being there, and most of all just LISTENING...it has a value that is just not measurable. This is an experience that can make you feel so isolated, so alone, and so misunderstood. Hopefully having tools to help you communicate with your friend, family member, coworker, acquaintance, etc. will make a huge difference to that person in your life, and to you as a friend.

Original tips come from Youth Mental Health First Aid(r) USA, (c) Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Missouri Department of Mental Health, and National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare.

Monday, July 13, 2015

#Microblog Mondays: Handling Fear With(out) Freaking Out


Once you have children, or are frequently around children, you kind of lose your ability to be freak-out scared, outwardly at least...you have to show them what it looks like to be brave. My mom was terrified of spiders (still is), but she had to be the brave, nonchalant Spider Remover/Killer with me and my sisters (although if it dropped unexpectedly, we still got the screechy Spider Dance out of her). It's just what you're supposed to do to keep everyone from panicking; you have to show them that [insert phobia here] is no big deal.  And as an ALMOST waiting parent (the book is with the social worker for preprint review... getting closer...), the time to be brave and handle fear with grace is coming soon for me. This weekend at a family event in Ohio, I got to test this out, twice.

Yesterday morning, before we left the hotel, Bryce and I went for a post-breakfast hike on the grounds of the lakeside resort  where we were staying. We found a mowed grass trail in a meadow that had these funny white posts every so often, and decided to off-road it since it looked maintained, although it wasn't marked. About a half mile in, we noticed a black dog, maybe a large-breed puppy, bounding up the hill ahead of us and away from us. Then I thought it was a cat, or maybe even a chubby lamb. It turned around toward us, all playful-like, and resembled a baby llama. Then it bounded away and we figured we'd run into its owner later on the trail. A couple miles later, no dog/cat/lamb/llama, no owner, and we came to the realization that we were on an old abandoned golf course, where there were occasionally asphalt walkways for the carts and those white posts were the tee-off spots. I cautioned Bryce not to step in the dog poop that was on that weed-reclaimed asphalt. And he said... "Um, that's bear scat."

Both all of a sudden and in a moment that seemed to last ages, we both put two and two together.

Instead of reacting sanely, I started hysterically yelling "SAY IT'S DOG POOP! IT'S DOG POOP! SAY IT'S DOG POOP!!!" while whacking Bryce in the arm with open palms. Not my most graceful moment.

Because, what we'd seen was a bear cub. And where adorable bear cubs bound away all fuzzy and cuddly looking, fierce mama bears can be nearby thinking that the dumbass abandoned golf course hikers miles from any other humans are threatening her baby, and she could decide to, you know, EAT US.

We managed to get back to the trailhead without seeing the cub or his mama (or dad, gulp), but we did notice rather large amounts of bear scat. I can laugh about it now, because we DID NOT GET EATEN, but at the time my reaction was PANIC PANIC PANIC, which probably wouldn't have gone well with small children in tow. Although I think in that instance Bryce may have signaled me to the danger and  then told our child that it WAS dog poop, a courtesy I kind of wish I'd had.

I fared better in the car on the way home. Meadows have bears, but they also have ticks, and one had been crawling up Bryce's leg when we were only a couple miles on our way back home to New York. We pulled over, he threw it out the window, and we did a quick tick-check (wood ticks, not deer ticks... so ugly little buggers but not Lyme-carrying).

Later, on the NYS thruway near Buffalo, I noticed a tick on my visor above the passenger seat (which is also OVER MY HEAD). I didn't smack Bryce in a panic, and I didn't scream or freak out... I watched it, and then Bryce suggested I get it in a water bottle and close it up because there was nowhere to stop and ticks are kind of indestructible. And I did, I very methodically placed the mouth of the bottle under the disgusting parasite and when it dropped in with an audible CLICK noise, I screwed that cap on incredibly tightly and felt kind of squeegy, but not panicky.

There's hope for me yet... although a tick wouldn't have eaten my face off.

Want to read more #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy!

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Whole Inducing Lactation Thing

When I was first researching infertility treatments, the second book that I read (and in my opinion the best, most comprehensive, most layperson-friendly) was The Infertility Survival Handbook: Everything You Never Thought You'd Need to Know by Elizabeth Swire Falker. I read it once when I was getting my feet wet with all the different terms, before I knew that we would be going deep, deep, deep into IVF, and that none of it would work. Then I read it probably at least four more times, and used it like a targeted resource every time we did something new. My copy looks well-worn and well-loved.

One of the things I found interesting about the book was that ultimately, IVF didn't work for the author, either. She also went down the adoption pathway, and for her it was fairly twisty (not unlike her IVF journey). However, she said something interesting in the Telling My Story chapter:

"While I'm thrilled to be a mother and even had the unique experience of inducing lactation and breast-feeding our adopted child (I induced lactation and pumped [and froze] breast milk for months for David and then relactated for the little boy we named Theo, and then successfully breastfed him for three days), I will never entirely heal from my miscarriages." 

Did you catch that? She said that she was able to breastfeed babies that she did not give birth to. 

That blew my mind. I didn't think such a thing was possible. And then I filed it away, thinking it wouldn't ever apply to me.

As Bryce and I made our decision to end infertility treatments and pursue adoption, that possibility lingered in the back of my mind. As I added adoption-related pins to my Pinterest board "One Day Our Dream Will Come," I started to add pins on inducing lactation, articles from women who did it successfully, ways to do it without medication, adding SNS systems to supplement nursing at the breast with breastmilk or formula. I started researching the Newman-Goldfarb protocol to increase milk supply. Because apparently, a strange fact that I did not know, just pumping every 2-3 hours will actually cause you to start producing milk. It just may not (probably won't) be enough to breastfeed exclusively. The Newman-Goldfarb protocol involves taking a progesterone-only pill such as Provera (or an estrogen-progesterone combo birth control pill, if you are under 35, so no go on that one for me) in combination with a drug called domperidone, which is actually meant for GI stuff but has the side effect of creating lactation and increasing supply. There's also all these herbs that can help, like Fenugreek, and Blessed Thistle, and Goat's Rue, all things that are in these handy dandy Nursing Teas you can buy from Amazon.

Honestly, it was all a little overwhelming, but then there was also a short article in our Adoptive Parent Education Manual from our agency where a client successfully breastfed and thought it was an amazing experience. And I have friends who are lactation consultants, and they were thrilled to see these pins show up on my boards, and were all gung-ho about sharing their resources with me and encouraging me to do this amazing thing for my hazy-on-the-horizon FutureBaby. The LaLecheLeague also has a lot of resources, but sometimes I find them a little strong in their opinions and persuasive approach.

So initially I was really, really excited about this. Sure, I wouldn't get to be pregnant or give birth. But this experience didn't have to exclude me... I could nurse our baby and gain back a biological function of my body that my infertility had managed not to destroy.

Except.

I am kind of torn. Because this could be either a really great way for my body to redeem itself, to show its use in supporting tiny life, just in a different way than I'd envisioned... or it could be one more way that it fails me.

Because... get this... I also came across research that PCOS can make it really hard for women to breastfeed, in some cases pretty much impossible to have more than the frustratingly tiniest of supplies. It could be just fine, or it could be an awful no-go. And my PCOS has not been particularly friendly to me so far (because PCOS doesn't have to mean hideous infertility issues, but it can also be one nasty nail in your conception coffin). So I'm not all that optimistic that it would go the friendly way in this arena, either.

And, this is a lot, I mean A LOT of time-consuming, strangely-fertility-treatment-esque work to get that supply to do its magic. Pumping 2-3 times a day is no joke. I am pretty sure that I can't do that and teach at the same time, considering that I usually have time to PEE maybe once in a 6-hour period and am often still eating my lunch when I start one of my classes. I can make an educated guess that it would be fairly traumatizing to pump under a hooter-hider while setting priorities for the day and checking agendas. I don't think that would go over well, with anyone involved. Plus all the drugs...while both the progesterone and the domperidone are pills, not injections, it's still putting things into my body that are foreign and have side effects. And all the herbs and teas and restrictions on my diet... I don't mean to sound selfish here, but I feel like I've put my body through a lot, a LOT, and been on restriction after restriction without much any success, and so my faith in my body pulling through on this one is pretty damn low.  I could do all of this, I could pump and pump and pump and take all the drugs and buy all the gadgets necessary to freeze my milk (a part of that story I'd forgotten) in preparation for a baby to come sometime, and it could not come to fruition. The subject of donor milk has come up and I am just not that dedicated. I have very close friends who formula-fed and their children are just as healthy and just as smart as any breast-fed baby I've seen. I know breast is supposed to be best and formula companies are supposed to be evil, but it's amazing how they can mimic breastmilk to an extent, and how my friends' babies aren't allergy-ridden, ADHD-dizzy, delayed-development specimens. Also somewhat selfishly, I have heard all about how formula-fed babies sleep longer and deeper and the poop is not quite so runny.

I know that the whole breastfeeding versus formula feeding issue is incredibly polarizing. I am not saying one is better than the other, but I also need to look at our personal situation carefully, weighing all the options and their associated benefits and detriments.

Such as, when would I start all this pumping nonsense? Randomly, before we are matched? Wait until we are matched and then pump away and hope that the situation gives me enough time to produce the milk necessary? What if the match falls through? Then I am left with no baby and leaky breasts, which would seem to magnify the loss. Do I wait until after things are final? What about this "nipple confusion" thing I hear about? Will it be for nothing if I start with formula first and THEN supplement with breastmilk? What about if I do start ahead of time? Do I take time off from teaching to make this work? When would I decide to do this? I need my FMLA for the actual maternity leave, since (other post in the works) I do not get paid maternity leave beyond 5 days plus any of my 3 personal days that I haven't used up on adoption-related trips or business... so how would we afford that?

And really, how am I going to feel if my body fails me ONE MORE TIME? Will I be able to concentrate on bonding with my baby if I'm sitting there, rocking on the glider, talking to my breast and willing it to lactate more, begging this beautiful new baby to latch on to a boob that doesn't emanate the hormones of a momma who just gave birth? Will the focus be on my baby and the bonding experience, or on the breastfeeding experience and everything I need to do to get there? Will it be like focusing on the wedding instead of the marriage, everything about the dress and the flowers and the music and getting everything perfect but not thinking about the actual relationship that's going to be solidified and celebrated? Kind of seems that way to me.

It would be wonderful, WONDERFUL if I could get this to work. If it could all come together smoothly without causing a nervous breakdown. I would love to breastfeed our baby. I would love to sit on that glider, like any other new mom, and nurse our precious new infant. But at what cost?

I think I will run all this by my OB/GYN, see what their experience has been with all this. Also look into maybe having some sort of imaging of my boobles, because apparently PCOS people with poor supply have very little glandular tissue in their breasts. They can be generous, as mine are, but mostly fatty tissue with very little milk production gland structure to be seen. Maybe that would help make things a little more clear-cut. Of course, I don't even know if they would do such a thing.

It's a tricky balance, to "give the precious gift of breastmilk" to my baby, as one website so persuasively put it, without also receiving the gift of frustration, anger at my already abused body, and desperation to make something happen that just may not be possible for me. Is it better to try, or to just make peace with bottle feeding formula and enjoying a bonding moment that both Bryce and I can have, equally? One person has brought up donor milk, which is interesting and also has that whole both-of-us-bottle-feeding aspect, but I just don't think that that is right for us. Which is hilarious, because donor gametes were just fine, but there's a lot of careful regulation with sperm and eggs, at least in our experience, whereas the donor milk thing can get sketchy if it's not coming from a known source close to you. THERE IS JUST SO MUCH TO THINK ABOUT.

If you considered or attempted induced lactation, how'd it go for you? What went into your decision-making? When did you decide to stop if it wasn't successful, and what did it take to have it be successful if you were? 

Also, as I already referred to this as a polarizing topic, I would appreciate comments that do not judge me for my choices (or inability to choose), but rather give information and are helpful or supportive, in either direction. Just don't be a doodyhead, pretty please and thank you. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Tiny Tuesday... Quick Update

"Tiny Tuesday" is not real thing...just hilarious to me that this post will likely be tinier than my actual #Microblog Mondays post about my gardens. 

Called the agency today at a friend's suggestion to check up on the progress with the homestudy report. 

OH HOLY JEEZUM...

We are homestudy approved as of June 25th. Yup, that's right, WE ARE APPROVED.

We won't get a report to review and sign for another couple of weeks, but once they receive a favorable report, your clock starts ticking. 

So, um, the profile book schedule just got ratcheted up a boatload of notches... we could be receiving profile opportunities NOW if that thing was in and printed. It truly is the LAST thing! 

So, not going to rush, because it's so important and all, but the plan is to have a draft to send our Family Advocate social worker no later than Monday. I will just work very carefully and very speedily all at the same time. 

Butterflies in my garden, butterflies in my stomach! FutureBaby, we're getting closer and closer to you!

Monday, July 6, 2015

#Microblog Mondays: Helping Things Grow

I love summer, for so many reasons, but mostly because summer means gardening. And I love, love, love to garden. 

So many resources suggest gardening as a therapeutic tool, especially for infertility and loss. I have to say that it is something that I did before experiencing infertility, but there is a different kind of satisfaction in growing beautiful living things in the garden when your womb is completely incapable of growing anything living, as if someone has planted a big old walnut tree in there, acidifying the soil until absolutely nothing can grow. 

Looking at my garden, I know that I can create life. Or, not so much create it, since I didn't make the seeds and pollinate them myself... but I can nurture life. I can take a plant that might not flourish elsewhere, and give it a good, healthy, happy life in the soil that I amend and feed and tend with loving care. 

Hmmmm. 

I put pictures up of my garden this year on Facebook, in an album, and I update it every time the growing season reveals new treasures. I post as obsessively as I might if we had actual children. This comment from a friend made me simultaneously smile and cry: 

You have a beautiful way of helping things grow. You will be an amazing Mom. What a lucky child!!!

And so I share with you photos, as of July, of my lovely flower children that I've helped to grow so far: 

The right side of what is now mostly echinacea garden.
I leave the seedheads for the goldfinches in the fall,
Which means that they pretty much take over in the spring.
Also in there: dwarf hollyhock, zinnias, balloonflower
that's not quite blooming yet, and an urn of
pretty purple annuals.
A close up of the echinacea so you can see the three different colors.
Funny, these weren't the original colors in this section (just orange),
but the goldfinches had other ideas and spread the love from
other areas of the garden.
The bed from the side opposite the echinacea explosion.
Astilbe, blue butterfly delphinium, evil weedy violets
Close up of the blue butterfly delphinium.
I love this little piece of sky in my garden.
Completely indulgent further side view of this bed,
this time with the fluffy pink astilbe in the foreground.
My beautiful butterfly garden, from the side.
More of that pretty purple annual,
Milkweed, Senorita Rosalita cleome,
two types of sedum that apparently feed
the deer, stella d'oro daylilies that just fed
something, balloon flowers, bee balm,
blueberries, black-eyed susans getting ready
to bloom, and more echinacea.
Butterfly garden from the front. My little slice of picket fence.
Giant Joe Pye weed, all the plants from above, and
you can see the heliotrope, my favorite annual. 
Our cute (if I do say so myself) home. Bryce made those
shutters and stained them last year, his grandfather made
the bench but we painted it orange, and Bryce
made those window boxes that I filled with floral happiness.
A little shade in the back by the woods. Lots of hosta,
heuchera, Japanese painted ferns, Rose of Sharon, and astilbe.
I'm going to paint that chair a bright lilac this week.
Shade garden from the side. Might be blurry because the voracious
mosquitoes were attacking me. They are awful this year.

Want to read more #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Finally, A Good Profile Book Day

You are probably sick of my whining about this profile book project. However, today I have good news! We had a day, almost a full day, of working on the profile book yesterday and there were NO TEARS! There was no sniping! There was minimal defensiveness! And we made progress, a LOT of progress. Still no official draft, but we are closer and have a good handle on the project. So far, so good.

So, in my last post, I had relinquished control over to Bryce for designing the book using Publisher. He was in there, working away, and when he was done for the night I came over to see. (Note: This is NOT the positive day we had yesterday.)

And oh god, it was terrible. I was kind of shocked, because I had thought it would be like this Mona Lisa of profile book designs, and maybe I was putting a bit too much pressure on the guy.

The layouts were really, really busy. There were these setting-sun-over-the-ocean and sunrise-over-a-one-tree-meadow photo backdrops to things like our Dear Birth Mother letter, and a lot of mixed photos on the cover and three pages that he'd designed. It was super busy. It was hard to read. The font was tiny. I really fought the urge to burst into tears.

"It's pretty busy, isn't it?" I asked, the words flying out of my mouth before I could think of a positive thing to say first.

And then he freaked out.

"YOU HATE IT! Ohmygod, you HATE it, and I just wasted FOUR HOURS of my life!"

"Nononono, I don't hate it, not all of it, there are things I like, the pictures you chose are great... it's just really really busy and I thought we agreed that simple was best..."

"ARGH! I hate it too! I HATE it! Four hours and I HATE it!" And then he slammed his laptop shut.

So then we had pretty much the last argument over the profile book so far, but it was valuable, because Bryce was all, "you're right, this is really hard" and I was all "Yeah, it is really hard, but now you know what you DON'T like" and we agreed that it sucked but it was a good learning moment.

And then I managed to convince him that rather than starting from scratch with Publisher, we could use Mix.book, which was also very customizable but a much easier platform to use. And I read him my blog. And told him I wanted a dinosaur card and some cupcakes, because he was pretty bitchy about the book that day, too. (Which I have yet to receive, but we had a lovely dinner out last night which counts!)

So, we took a two-day break. Which was beautiful and needed, and cleared away the foggy fug of failure and desperation.

And then we set out yesterday, TOGETHER, to work in Mixb.ook. We each tried out some backgrounds and layouts and putting things in different places, and it worked GREAT.

We spent the better part of a gorgeous day inside, at the computer, uploading photos and tweaking layouts and backgrounds and captions and headers. BUT, we have a preliminary layout for the book, and we have the first 5 or so pages done to a point where we feel really good about it.

We decided to make the book without a photo shoot first, and see if we have holes that need filling after we do that. We do have several professional or professional-ish photos as is, so it was surprising that I didn't feel like we were missing too much. And then we did a little photo shoot of our own on things like me gardening and me reading (the camera battery died before we could get better shots of Bryce in the workshop), and we had professional photos of each of us playing our instruments.

We have this for our primary cover photo, which was on our Canon Elf and actually taken by a random pedestrian who happened to be a professional photographer, originally used on our Christmas cards a few years ago. We haven't changed much in the past few years other than me being a bit chubbier, so I don't feel bad using photos from the past five years. Here's that photo:

The actual photo is a little bigger, and I look a little boobzilla in it,
but that's kind of my reality. I just love how happy we look here.
And it was a really good hair day. 
It's fine, right? This is a copy of the original, but it's quite good quality.

Here are some things that we have discovered as we do this, that we wish we'd known before:

- If you think you might be pursuing adoption, for the love of all that is holy, TAKE PICTURES WITH YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY. Do it. We like to enjoy the moment, and forget to take pictures, but now we are left cobbling things together a bit. Take pictures every opportunity you can.

- Take pictures before there's booze on the table. If you're out to dinner, take a picture before food/booze comes out so you're not poster children for gluttony.

- Take pictures when you aren't boobed out, although if you are endowed as I am, that can be hard to do. But go for modesty more often than not. I'm guessing that potential birth mothers aren't looking for cleavage at the top of their list of wanted attributes for prospective adoptive parents.

- Take pictures of you doing what you do. We need to take pictures of Bryce in his workshop. I wish I had a picture of me in my classroom where I wasn't dressed like a leopard. Or decked out for St Patrick's Day. Seriously, those are the only pictures of me in my classroom that I have:
Oh, Zoo Halloween theme.
Yup, I stayed like this ALL DAY LONG. 
I don't take the holiday spirit lightly.
- You will find that you have too many pictures, actually, for what you're doing. It's so hard, but this isn't a novel. It shouldn't be too long. And a zillion pictures on a page is probably dizzying, and doesn't highlight what you want to say as much as a few carefully chosen pictures. We're finding this with our families, and our friends, and our "what we love to do" spreads. Even our home spread was like, "wow, we have a lot of photos of our outdoor spaces. But we don't camp out there, so maybe some interior shots with us in them?" This is the hard part. It's like that writing quote, "Kill your darlings." Editing is really hard.

- Break up text. Too much text just won't get read. We aren't sure if this will work out well, but we broke up our jobbies about each other into paragraphs, and then put pictures up of us doing those things that the other person loves so much. It makes it chunkier, and from what I've read and been told, chunking is good. Illustrating is good, too. The photos can tell the story as well as your text, just in case the text gets skimmed. Because I just can't imagine what it must be like to look at all these books, picking out a possible family for your unborn baby, but I imagine you probably don't feel like reading something Nathaniel-Hawthorne-esque in terms of text.

I am by no means an expert, but these are things we're finding as we trudge through this project.

Divide and conquer, but together, seems to be a good strategy for us. I want us both to own it. I don't want to be the captain of this ship entirely, and so we have broken it into sections. We both did the cover, and Bryce is in charge of colors and fonts. I wrote the letter and Bryce approved it. We each did each other's "About ___" pages, and chose the photos of the other person that we loved best. Which is working out great. I went and dumped a whole bunch of pictures into the rest of the pages, and will be editing it together.

This really worked out well. And oh wow, Mixb.ook is the BEST for setting this up. You can do "Blank Canvas," and design it totally from scratch with anything you want. You can use their photo/text layouts, or you can create your own. You can add little design elements. You don't feel like you are doing a cookie cutter project at all. And it's reasonably priced.

So, the next steps are to get a draft actually finished, edit and tweak, add some of those finishing touches, and then email it to a couple people for reviewing. Just to be sure that we didn't do something stupid, or a photo looks weird, or we accidentally included a license plate or something. And then... we print and send it! I think we probably have at least another week or so on this, but it would be great to have it done by the time we take our Maine vacation. So we can really relax.

Yesterday was a beautiful day, and we spent it at our computers, but it wasn't a waste of that day. It was a day spent working on this so that we can spend an infinite number of beautiful days outside with our FAMILY. These intense days are bringing us closer and closer to that day that we are a family of more than two and can look back on this fondly, as the hair-pulling project that helped us bring our baby home. Hopefully it's like labor and you forget the pain (har, har, HAR) once that baby's here. Because holy hell, this book sure feels like paper labor pains to me.