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

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Why We Need Paid Parental Leave: The Travesty of the Discrepancy Between Maternity Leave and Adoption Leave

Once upon a time, when I believed it was possible to get pregnant, carry a child to term, and give birth to an infant, I was looking forward to Maternity Leave.

Maternity Leave, for my employer, is 6 paid weeks (8 if you have a C-section) following the birth of your child. Some of it, I'm sure, is for physical recovery from a vaginal birth (the extra two weeks for the C-section confirms that). But much of it is for the exhausting but joyous first weeks with your newborn. It is a time of transition. It is a time of sleep deprivation. It is a time when your precious angel has no clue when day or night actually shift, and so you live in a zombielike state. Or so I am told. It is a vital time for secure attachment bonding. Your infant needs to establish who his/hercaregivers are, that someone will attend to him/her when he/she cries, that all is right with the world, and that there are these wonderful people called Parents who will love and take care of him/her. It's a precious time. So precious that licensed day care centers will not accept infants under 6 weeks.

When I thought I was going to be enjoying blissful, zombied Maternity Leave, I knew that I had to hang on to as many sick days as possible -- a challenge when going through a zillion IVF cycles and emergency surgery due to the ectopic and bed rest during an ill-fated pregnancy (although that happened in the summer, so I didn't have to use up any valuable sick time). But I did it, and I had enough sick days to cover the six weeks. Because before you can access the Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) offered by NY, you must exhaust your sick time. Which is actually a benefit, considering that TDI is a portion of your salary, while accrued sick time gives you full pay.

I was ready.

And then my infertility stole pregnancy and childbirth away from me, and very nearly stole my sense of self-worth and overall wellness as well. At the time that we decided to pull the plug, we were beating our heads against a bloodied wall and continuing to pursue pregnancy even though doing so would likely cost us parenthood, and I was in a very, very dark place. With good reason. I had put my body through hell for something that is supposed to be pleasurable and free, and I was left with nothing. And then I was REALLY left with nothing in that regard. But, we had already been making peace with finding a new path to parenthood. And by the time I was left holding nothing, my estrogen dropped through the floor and my ability to make it to embryo transfer completely destroyed, I WELCOMED that shift. I embraced adoption, fully and completely and with a whole lot of joy. The grief still surfaced and will continue to surface in the future, but my joy in pursuing adoption is all-encompassing.

I knew that my maternity leave had been compromised by the march of time -- when we first started trying to get pregnant I would have been able to take a whole year off, unpaid after the 6-8 weeks and without insurance benefits after 12, but Bryce had the same insurance and it seemed doable. Now Bryce works for a small company after leaving the old one (a company that gutted its previously excellent benefits package), and I hold the insurance. Which means that after 12 weeks we have to pay COBRA to keep insurance coverage, which for me is over $1200/month. And I wouldn't be paid at that point. But I thought I still had the six weeks covered by sick time.

I thought wrong.

My school district has an Adoption Leave policy -- a policy I was informed was quite generous as most other districts offer fewer paid days if any at all. Yes, DAYS, not weeks -- my generous Adoption Leave policy gives me a maternity leave of FIVE paid DAYS. ONE WEEK. Not six. Not even close.

I was shocked. Couldn't I use my sick days? NO. Because that's for MATERNITY leave, which is under TDI, and pregnancy/childbirth is considered a disability. No childbirth, no disability, no pay. Except for that very generous five days. Eight, actually, if I can manage to hold on to my three personal days throughout the complicated adoption process, as I can tack those on to constitute over a week of paid leave.

I don't mean to be so sarcastic. Compared to other districts, who don't offer any days or offer three, five to eight is actually legitimately generous. Especially since NY State law does not mandate that there be any paid days for adoptive parents. NY, for as liberal as it is in many regards, is hideous for paid parental leave. Ask Representative Kirsten Gillibrand (D), who has cosponsored legislation for a Federal FAMILY Act that would provide paid leave, at a portion of a salary of 66% of monthly wages up to a capped amount adjusted for inflation, per her website. The leave would be for caring for a new child, not birthing a child. There is no distinction, as there shouldn't be. However, this legislation hasn't gotten traction yet...even though it is self-funded through a payroll tax that would cost employees the equivalent of a cup of coffee per week and cost employers NOTHING. Alas, this may not be likely to go into effect by the time we get our call. Although a girl can dream.

I want more. I want to have the same paid leave as any other parent. But, because I am not bringing a child into my family through the medical disability of pregnancy and birth, I am not entitled to that paid leave. Even though it is my physical disability of infertility that rendered me unable to become and stay pregnant that left me in this position. Even though adoption is the only way I can become a parent. It just seems wrong.

I do get FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act), which provides me with 12 weeks of unpaid leave that guarantees me my job and continues my health insurance at the rate that I pay now. I am again lucky to work in my district, as you can be out up to two years for unpaid parenthood leave (one year where it's likely you can return to your same job, two years where you can return to a job within your tenure area in the district but your own job is not guaranteed to you, and your own job is actually only guaranteed at all if there aren't budget cuts or anything like that that would endanger it). That's offered to any parent who is the primary caregiver. And FMLA is very helpful, since my district pays 90% of the premium and I pay only 10%, so I will only have to pay a couple hundred dollars per month for those 12 weeks. Which is helpful. And, when I met with Human Resources to talk about this whole Adoption Leave thing and why I can't use my sick days, if indeed they are an accrued benefit that is paid out at retirement and so then should be usable for such a purpose, that part didn't go so well (although she was a terrific listener) but she did let me know that the best case scenario for me is to be placed right after school lets out in June. In that case, my health insurance is covered for July and August since I pay into it throughout the school year, and my FMLA clock wouldn't start until September, so I wouldn't have to pay COBRA expenses for healthcare until the end of November/early December. Giving me more months bang for my parental leave buck. Possibly making it so I can be out longer than the six months we hope for. Of course I have ZERO control over when placement occurs, so this is kind of pie-in-the-sky thinking. It also doesn't take into account the fact that if we don't get placed until the end of June, it's possible we'd have to pay more to update our homestudy, which has a date of June 25th. So that's an extra expense that offsets some of the gain. It's a nice thought, though.

I have options, and the unpaid options are very generous, more so than most employers.

BUT.

I am so angry that we do not value the power of parenthood leave in this country.

I am angry  that private companies can afford to choose to offer parenthood leave to both women and men, but smaller companies or organizations dependent on federal, state, and tax-based aid aren't so much in the position. As much as I made a really great case to my Superintendent, HR, and the Board's president, I know realistically that until the law changes, I won't see a change in this area. They are already providing more than is required, and that is indeed generous even if it feels paltry to me.

I am angry that if I had gotten pregnant in the first year we did IVF and had stayed that way, that I would have been able to take at least a year maternity leave and we wouldn't have had the insurance beast to deal with. (However, I wasn't as established in my position then, and I was newly tenured, so I wouldn't have had the seniority cushion I enjoy now, so many years later, which makes me feel more secure in taking some of that unpaid leave.)

I am angry that I would have had paid maternity leave if I had been able to manage pregnancy, and now that I physically cannot and have dealt with that loss, that I am dealt another blow in the form of "adoption isn't worthy of as much paid leave." (Not a direct quote.) Which is ridiculous, considering that adoption requires arguably MORE bonding time to establish a bond and secure attachment and you may be dealing with medical conditions due to exposures that you yourself probably wouldn't be contending with had you been the one to be pregnant and give birth. But the law doesn't say that adoption is the same as biological parenting. Current policies can offer less to adoptive parents simply because they didn't create their families through the physical process, even though they are caring for the very same new child with the very same needs, and possibly greater needs due to concerns I listed above.

I have advocated for myself in this arena and probably have made myself a bit of a nuisance, making sure that everyone knows that adoption leave is paltry and that there is legislation out there, that hopefully will pass, that will make this a requirement ANYWAY.  But I think it's important to not just stand by and let this policy roll over me, to be silently angry, stewing in my heart, and let it go. I don't want to let it go. I want to be vocal. Politely vocal, but squeaky nonetheless. I want to let everyone know how incredibly discriminatory it is that you don't have to legally offer the same paid leave to adoptive parents because of the medical piece. This is especially discriminatory for same-sex couples who adopt, who physically cannot be pregnant and birth. And for people like me, who physically cannot due to medical diagnoses and mystery happenstance of bodies that don't cooperate reproductively. People need to know that this discrepancy exists.

I saw an article today about how Joe Biden just joined Governor Cuomo of NY in championing 12 weeks of paid parental leave. And I was thrilled that it covers birth AND adoption. I can only hope that this will get more traction as more and more people become aware of it and support what is already working at a grander scale in other nations and is working for corporations such as Facebook, Netflix, and Google.  Some of these companies, featured in an article on amazing parental leaves, offer less for adoption leave than for birth (still a discrepancy I don't understand but better than days versus weeks), but many just call it the far more appropriate PARENTAL LEAVE and include all possible ways of becoming a parent. The Dave Thomas Foundation also has a list of companies that are the most Adoption-Friendly Workplaces (although to get on the list you must actively apply for it and send your information in to the Foundation). They have a great website that details why offering adoption benefits and leave is simply good practice. I shared this website with my school leadership, because the more you know, the better off you are. All I can do is share the information.

I know that for me, this policy probably won't change much until the law changes that requires employers to provide equal paid parental leave, regardless of how you became a parent. A school district has so many layers of red tape. But I will know that I tried by best to advocate for adoptive parents and to share as much information as humanly possible to inform any future decisions. I respect the fact that my district offers more than what's required and more than any other school district in our area. I also am very appreciative that all of my efforts to advocate have been met with congratulations on my status as a waiting adoptive parent, support in what is currently offered, and an open ear to consider how the policy could be changed once there is a new contract negotiation (because leaves are covered in the collective bargaining agreement, my efforts were ill-timed since we just negotiated a new three-year contract. Sigh). I am happy to be met with conversation and not a closed door.

I also want to make sure that you, if you are a prospective adoptive parent in NY or other not-so-adoption-leave-friendly-states or a supporter of such a parent, know all of this information, so that you can also advocate for a better circumstance. So that you can be vocal. So that people in power know that adoptive parents should not be given fewer paid parental leave days simply because they did not give birth. That there should be equality in the way that parental leave is determined, regardless of how you became a parent. I have sent a letter to Senator Gillibrand in support of the FAMILY Act, and you can too, electronically. Governor Cuomo's website on Paid Family Leave has a space to share your story, and if you are a New York resident, I encourage you to check it out and share if you are comfortable.

The more you know, the more you can advocate...and the more you can advocate, the more change can take place--whether it is gradual or immediate. Change in a positive direction that helps all families, regardless of how they are formed, is a beautiful thing.

Monday, January 25, 2016

#Microblog Monday: The Phone Did Ring

A couple days ago I wrote a post about how Bryce and I were going to handle profile opportunities. And I freely admitted that we would lie when we had one until it was all over, for better or for sad. 

Well, the phone rang on January 5th, and we received our very first profile opportunity. 

I was woefully underprepared...I hadn't printed the form, I didn't even have pants on when I rushed downstairs to get a notebook (I had come home from school right after dismissal due to a migraine and gone to bed, who wears pants to bed?), and I was freezing. But I was SO EXCITED to get a call (migraine? what migraine?). 

We agreed that it was a profile opportunity we'd go for, so after talking to Bryce we called back and said, "Yes! Put us in the mix!" 

The expectant mother picked up the books the next day, and we waited. 

And waited and waited, and every little time period that passed was a teensy tiny victory -- 

     - we made it past picking up the books (what if she left books behind that she just didn't like the look of and we were out right from the start?)
     - we made it past a weekend
     - we made it past TWO weekends

And then...we got the followup call on this past Friday, just over two weeks since our books had been in her possession...my heart in my throat, unsure what to expect. 

We weren't chosen. 

I was really surprised at how I felt -- disappointed, for sure, but not devastated. This wasn't our baby. 

I did ask if they could tell me anything about why we weren't picked, or why the family who was picked "won out," and they said that all they could tell me was that she felt the family she picked reminded her of her own family. 

Well, not much we can do about that. 

I have no idea how many other books were in the mix--strangely, I didn't feel that would make a difference in knowing. If only one book is to be chosen in the end, what does it matter if it was out of three or out of nine? I just wanted to know that someone had our book in their hands and was looking it over, deciding whether or not we were THE parents for her unborn child.

There it was -- our first profile opportunity, come and gone, complete with a two week waiting period where we managed NOT to go crazy (although I definitely turned it over in my head a hell of a lot more than Bryce). We went into it knowing it could mean everything, or it could mean nothing. 

But it didn't quite mean nothing. We are profile-able. We CAN get calls. We WILL get another call. And maybe it will be THE call. I can at least hope that I will have printed the form (which I still haven't done) I will have pants on, and I will know a little better what to expect. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

How We Decided to Handle Profile Opportunities

The adoption process is a funny thing--a time of massive uncertainties, a time of constantly waiting, a time to decide what you're going to do about all the many decisions that could come your way. And there are so many decisions. And so much waiting. And an inordinate amount of uncertainty.

We can try to wrangle it, to organize ourselves into a good place. We can have our super organized binder and all our resources in one convenient, page-protected place, and have a special section of a bookshelf just for adoption stuff. We can create a form for ourselves to help organize information that would be shot at us rapidfire during any profile opportunity calls (but then forget to print it for the longest time and live on the edge). We can do all these things, and none of it will matter when everything hits the fan. You can't actually wrangle uncertainty. Life, in general, is pretty much un-wrangle-able.

Something that we have decided on for our own sanity is that if we receive a profile opportunity call, we will not tell people until either it turns out we were not chosen or we are matched. We're good with sharing when we're matched, as long as people understand that there is a whole lot of information that we will not share, information that belongs to our son or daughter, that is not really our business to share. Of course we're good with sharing when we're placed, and that baby is in our arms, and everything has come to fruition.

But profile opportunities? Too tenuous. It could mean everything, or it could mean absolutely nothing. It's too roller-coaster-y to bring too many other people along for the ride.

To clarify the differences between these three phases of the adoption process, here's a mini glossary of sorts for how this works within our agency experience:

profile opportunity: A call that is received to let you know that there is an expectant parent (or if it's last minute, a birth parent) whose situation matches your Child Interest Grid (a horrifying document that's pages of varying risk factors and biographical information that you may or may not be prepared to consider, but that requires painfully honest discussions in order to fill out). Regardless of the timing, you receive either a lot or a little information about the expectant/birth mother, prenatal care, health history, family history, demographics, reason for placing, and openness preferences/requirements. The form really does a great job showing just how much info could be included. After listening to and writing down all the information, you are given time to consider the information and relay it to your spouse if applicable and then get back to the agency, sometimes later that day and sometimes the next day. If you say yes, then if it is last-minute situation you may find that you've been blind profiled, which means the birthmother/expectant mother chose you ahead of time and you are now matched. If it is a longer-term situation, you now have to wait. Your book is given to the expectant mother along with 3-9 other couples' whose grids match the situation and found it amenable. And now you wait for a different kind of call, that could come in days or weeks depending on the situation -- was I chosen, or was I passed over? If you are not chosen, you are back to waiting for another profile opportunity. But if you ARE chosen...you are now matched.

matched: When you are matched, you have been chosen by an expectant mother. You are now in a whole other realm of uncertainty, where you have the joy of having a situation that is hopefully going to result in a successful adoption. HOWEVER. Matches do not involve any legal paperwork. Nothing is truly a done deal until surrenders are signed, and in most if not all cases, surrenders cannot be signed until the baby is born. Which is a good thing,  because that time surrounding birth, usually 72 hours, is a very emotional one, a difficult one, a time when decisions are truly made, because the baby isn't a somewhat hidden theoretical thing anymore but a physical being surviving outside the womb. A birth mother absolutely has the right to decide to parent her baby even after she has chosen a couple or a person to parent her child. A match, legally, means absolutely nothing. It's tough, because I know of people who had failed matches, and in both cases it happened immediately surrounding birth, and involved either family members coming out of the woodwork who wanted to help her parent her baby (who weren't supportive before), or a situation around a difficult birth where the mother decided that she did want to parent, after all. This is a birthmother's absolute right. Until legal paperwork is signed, any agreements are largely unenforceable. So, in my mind, when we are matched, I can be excited and hopeful and feel like this is actually happening, but I also have to balance that with...but maybe not. Until those surrenders are signed and the legal paperwork is signed and then you are...

placed: When you are placed with a baby, parental surrenders have been signed by the birth parents and you are now the adoptive parents. It's not finalized, which happens in court an average of 6 or so months later (sometimes more), but you are now adoptive parents. This is where there's a lot of misconceptions, because people think that you have to fear revocation most of all. In states like Ohio and Florida, surrenders are signed 72 hours after the birth, but then there is no revocation period and you are definitively the parents (you just need to finalize in court later, when they issue an amended birth certificate that lists you and your spouse if applicable as the child's parents, which I have complicated feelings about). No one can "change their mind" after that point. If you are in, say, New York, there is a 30-day revocation period (technically up to 45 days because the agency has 15 days to notify you about this situation) after surrenders are signed. This doesn't mean someone could say, "Whoops, changed my mind, I'm here for the baby," which is what most Lifet.ime movies and urban legends would have you believe. It means that the birthmother and you need to go to court and satisfy to the judge that something has changed significantly in her circumstances such that before, she signed a legal document stating that she was not able to parent, but now she is. There's no burden of proof on either side, but the judge must be satisfied as to what's in the child's best interest as far as ability to parent. It sounds incredibly ugly and complex, and like a horrific situation to be in, but it's really hard to prove that in most cases and it doesn't happen very often at all. At our agency, we were told less than 1%, and the adoption attorney who spoke at the trainings said, "Those rarely go well for birthparents." Which again left me with complicated feelings. However, failed matches are FAR more common than failed placements. Once you are placed, you can breathe much easier until finalization, when you can let out the last of that stale air you've been holding deep in your belly for months (or years) since all this complicated process began.

So, to put it into an analogy that makes sense with infertility:

Profiling = waiting to see if you are pregnant, like a two-week wait (it could actually literally be a two-week wait). The initial call is kind of like that fertilization report. What have we got in the dish? What are our possibilities? The "I choose you (or not)" call is like your "It worked! You're pregnant!" call. You can be excited, but there are hurdles to go through. And you probably don't tell a whole lot of people the moment that you know that a tiny thing is dividing tenuously in the dish or in your uterus.

Matched = Pregnancy. Which in adoption, can be several months or a day or two. It's an odd gestational period. But like any pregnancy, it ain't over 'till it's over. There are still risks all the way up through birth. You aren't guaranteed a baby at the end. You can feel really really certain, and it can all work out in the end, but there's a chance it might not and you could be left devastated, because you believed that was YOUR baby.

Placed = Post-birth parenting. Depending on the state there's a slight chance of risk, but in this case you have a newborn like anyone else who has a newborn. Except your body had nothing to do with it, you may or may not be attempting to breastfeed without the benefit of having given birth and being flooded with all those hormones, you may or may not be struggling with suddenly being a parent without much notice, you may be feeling hideously guilty that your amazing joy is at the expense of someone else's horrible loss, and that this loss will be felt by your child in some way throughout his or her life, and you will need to help him or her work through that. Joy and pain. Gain and loss. And you have a lot of other people in the mix -- the post-placement visit social worker (depending on the state, up to seven of those for an agency adoption), and figuring out birth parent visits/texts/emails/updates. So, not quite the same. But you have your baby home to snuggle, and there's fair certainty that this really is your baby.

With all this in mind, Bryce and I decided we'd tell people after profile opportunities went through their paces, for good or for sad. Bryce is much better at keeping our own secrets than I am, so we know I'll probably screw up and spill the beans at some point. I can keep other people's secrets super well, but I am TERRIBLE at holding my own close. I am an open book. (A running mouth.)

We decided this because it's like finding out if you're pregnant or not after an IVF cycle -- do you want so many people on that rollercoaster with you if there's a chance you could miscarry in those questionable first weeks of pregnancy? How many people do you want to have to tell happy news to, only to have to tell sad news to? And then there's the fact that a profile opportunity does not a match make. We have a lot of people who are very excited for us, and who may get overly excited that we have the opportunity to be chosen and then be crushed by the news that we weren't. We just don't want to add that on to our own conflicted feelings that we're sure to have during this time. We can share information later. (But not detailed history or risk factor information, that's still private.)

In our mind, if we aren't chosen, it's not our baby. Simple as that. There could be a zillion reasons why we were not chosen, or more accurately why someone else WAS. Most of those reasons are not things we have any control over. So while the idea of a profile opportunity is beyond exciting, because then you're in the game, if it doesn't work out, well then we just weren't the ones for that opportunity. It all has to be right. Which is not to say that it wouldn't be difficult to wait to see if you were chosen, and think of all the reasons why you might not be. But ultimately, if we're not right for the expectant mother, then that baby wasn't supposed to be our baby. We're okay with that.

We really are so much more well-adjusted for this process than we were for IVF. I mean, with IVF, we were all about putting our life on hold and trying to control the uncontrollable, and it just took over everything. It was just the way it was -- the cycles of hope and thinking that I could wrangle my body into doing something it, by the end, was incredibly obvious that it didn't want to (or could not) do. It was a physical as well as an emotional investment, and bad news was devastating because I thought that I could control things and I held my body personally responsible for any and all losses of whatever kind. With this process, it's highly emotional, and we are still on hold in some ways, but we can truly accept that it's totally out of our control. That we can do the best we can to accept situations where we feel we can parent the best we can, and we can put ourselves out there as accurately and honestly and appealingly within those parameters as possible...and after that? OUT OF OUR HANDS.

There was a Michael J. Fox quote that I found courtesy of the unexpected trip:

"You don't save a place in the rest of your life for it to take over. You just live your life the way you want to, and it assumes the space it naturally needs."

He was talking about his Parkinson's diagnosis, but it's so applicable to infertility and IVF or adoption. I couldn't apply that to IVF, not at all. It swallowed up all available space and left me husked and empty. But with adoption? Finagling all these various terms that mean varying degrees of certainty in a process that is difficult and joyous all at once? We have this. We might have to lie to people a little about whether or not we are being profiled, but it helps us to life our life, the way we want to, and let adoption take up what space it needs without swallowing us whole.

It only took us six and a half years to get this place...we can only hope there's not much more time left before we can delve into the more complicated pieces of the adoption process and take you along for the ride.

Monday, January 11, 2016

#Microblog Mondays: IEP Season of Uncertainty



And so it begins...today we had our department meeting that kicks off Annual Review season, when Special Education teachers bunker down and live in a sea of paperwork and due dates and meetings.

It's a very stressful time. Add to that the whole National Board thing and regular lesson planning/grading and APPR stuff, and I am hyperventilating already.

Then, THEN figure in that I don't know when I'm going to go out on maternity leave...will it be while I'm still writing IEPs? Will it be after they're written but I won't be able to do my own meetings? Should I schedule my meetings early so I can try to be psychic and beat whatever the Universe throws down, or schedule them late so if I do go out my sub will have a chance to learn my kids and have as much of my paperwork in as possible?

I realize in the grand scheme of things, that these meetings and all the associated paperwork are small potatoes and shouldn't be my top priority. But, I can't help but feel like if I am actually going to go out this year, that I want to go out in good shape, with this piece of things tied up neatly in a bow.

I think about this too when I'm thinking about the novels I teach in the spring, and wondering if I'll actually get to teach them to this group. Again, shouldn't be my top priority, but I can't help wondering and feeling just a little sad not to have a crystal ball to tell me what I'll get to be a part of and what I won't, all while knowing that if I miss things at school it's because I'm getting to experience the dream we've had for over six years and it's finally coming to pass.

All this uncertainty and not-knowing makes me extraordinarily uncomfortable, and so I am having to spend an extra amount of effort in trying to stay in the present, to just live in the now, to not extrapolate out too far. Wish me luck.

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

Friday, January 8, 2016

Needle Encounters of a Different Kind

I went to the orthopedic office today. My knees are terrible, but my left knee is REALLY awful.

When I was in high school, I injured it in the dorkiest of ways. I ran track, so that sounds really great and athletic...at first.

I didn't dislocate it at track. Or while running. Or while doing anything remotely sporty.

I was at a flower nursery with my best friend and her mom, and it was April so there were just flats and flats of pansies. They looked so beautiful and almost magical...so I did a little jump for joy.

My knee dislocated on the way up and jammed my patella into the wrong spot on the way down, and I crashed to the ground and just HOWLED while my knee swelled up impressively.

So to the emergency room I went.

And then to the orthopedic doctor. Who erroneously called it a sprain and did not do imaging, which meant that he missed just how messed up the situation was. So I walked on it for a few months, grinding everything away.

(Probably a good clue that this doctor was not good was that he kept calling me "Jennifer" and telling me he'd "get me right back out on that soccer field." I didn't play soccer, wasn't Jennifer, but there was another girl whose name was very similar to mine a year ahead of me in school, and that's who he was mixing me up with. Note she was very athletic and blonde and tan all the time. So very similar to me.)

When I could no longer bend it, he did an MRI and then was like, "Hmmm. Surgery."

It was supposed to be arthroscopic, but instead of three neat little dots I have two dots and then a giant 5 inch scar where things got messy and they had to open me up and do gross things like remove my patella, tighten up my ligaments, theive some thigh muscle to rebuild what was lost, and other lovely details like that. Details I got largely from the angry physical therapist I saw post-surgery, who wanted to be sure I knew "just what had been done to me."

Needless to say I've had knee problems since.

Most recently, I've been in PT since August to try to bolster and stabilize BOTH my knees. My poor right one has been compensating for so long it also has become damaged, although not as severely as my left. I thought I should go into physical therapy to try and improve my ability to do things like go up stairs without sounding like a percussion section (or having horrible pain), get down on my hands and knees, hike up hills without feeling like dying, and generally be an active person without pain and crunchiness. Because I hear that's helpful when you have a baby and then a toddler and then a school-aged child.

It worked out great -- I got so much better with stability, my knees stopped giving out on me, I could do hills in hiking and stairs like a champ without struggling...and then in the past few weeks I started seeing a decline in my left knee.

It got painful during squats and lunges and these lean-back thingies that were pure grinding torture. They referred me to an orthopedic for the left knee.

Then, this week, I had the interesting experience of waking up and finding my knee swollen and unable to be bent all the way, without having done ANYTHING WHATSOEVER to it. No twist, no fall, no collapse...nothing but sleeping and walking. Which made me feel great.

I went to my regular doctor, because the ortho didn't have anything earlier than today's appointment, and I was scared to death that there was something more ominous going on because of the sudden swelling with no apparent cause. Luckily, there wasn't, and they gave me an ace bandage and said it was a good thing I was going to the orthopedist the next day.

Which brings me to the needle encounter...

I got there and had to put on the most attractive bloomer-like paper shorts imaginable, so that they could thoroughly examine my knee. (Note to self: plan ahead next time and wear a skirt or yoga pants.) Then they did a series of x-rays. Then I sat with the PA to discuss.

Arthritis. I have a fair amount of arthritis in both knees, yet not enough to warrant a scope-and-clean surgery, and I am too young for a bionic knee. The phrases, "Stairs must be very difficult for you," and "You got a bum rap with these kneecaps!" and "I think you may want to consider buying a ranch house next" were uttered. Which didn't sound promising at all.

What was suggested, upon examining my not-as-swollen-as-yesterday-of-course but still puffy left knee, was that he could do a fluid drain and a cortisone shot. The drain would relieve the pressure and the tightness and lack of mobility, and the cortisone shot would make things cushiony instead of grindy for a while.

"What does that entail, exactly?" I asked.

"I'm going to put a needle into your knee, extract the fluid, and then with the same needle push in the cortisone. It won't take long, you'll feel a little pinch from the needle, it's not too bad."

LIES.

As I laid back, I said, "I have a long and sordid history with needles, you know. Five years and change of infertility treatments." I think he was busy setting up the Needle of Torture, because all I heard was "hmmm."

Then I asked, "Is it an 18 gauge needle?"

WHY did I ask this? WHY? Logically it would make sense, but why would I want to visualize that nonsense?

"Yes," he said, surprised, "how did you know that?" Ummm, fertility treatments.

So a straw, the PIO draw-up needle, was going in my knee. Great.

He sprayed me with numbing solution and he was right -- the needle stick was just a little pinch.

BUT THERE WAS NO NUMBING THE INSIDE OF MY KNEECAP.

It hurt so, so, so bad. Like, almost horrific-vegetable-peel-integrin-endometrial-biopsy bad. I could feel things moving and sucking and depositing and all that horribleness the whole time. I can't say which was worse, but I could feel when the needle was moving about.

"I know it hurts, but not as much as childbirth," he said. (I didn't clarify that I would actually never know what that feels like, so thankyouverymuch for throwing some lemon juice in my papercut.)

"Aaaargh I hate needles Aaaargh at least it's not in my midsection or torturing my uterus" I said through gritted teeth.

"Wait, you did infertility treatments?" OH MY GOD, WHERE ARE THE LISTENING SKILLS?

I explained yes, and then he asked if I was successful, and I said NO louder than necessary because the needle moved, and then I said we were adopting and he asked a whole bunch of questions about that to distract me from the hell that my poor knee was being subjected to.

When all was said and done, he removed 30 ccs of arthritic fluid from my knee. Which, in the giant barrel of the sucking needle, seemed like an awful lot. But I should feel better once my knee stops being furious with me for the indignities of this invasion.

I can honestly say that no matter what they are jabbed into my body, I really, really, REALLY hate needles. Although I have to say, at least it was novel to have one in my knee, having nothing whatsoever to do with reproductive efforts.

I hope it works, I hope I get relief, I hope it's amazing enough that I can get back up on that table and do it again.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A Living Ghost

I received a panicked email yesterday from someone I knew when we were trying to get pregnant through IVF, when I was religiously going to Yoga for Fertility and the associated support group, before I felt that my story was so hideous and I was so far from the hopeful "just think positively!" hoo-ha that I had to stop going.

She needed something due to an issue in her cycle, and I happened to have that something sitting in my home, something that I had been wanting to throw out but could not in good conscience do it when someone might need it.

And that someone did.

So I went over and dropped it off, and she was so very appreciative. And peeking from around the corner of the doorways and the dining room table was the ghost.

Not a real ghost.

A little girl, about two years old, with curly dark hair.

I have no relation to this little girl. I don't know her. But still, she's like a living ghost to me.

This friend from another lifetime was my friend during our 6th IVF cycle, our last FET that was genetically both mine and Bryce's.

We were "cycle buddies."

And, we both got pregnant, within a day of each other.

Which was great, until...

She stayed that way.

I didn't.

Her updates and milestones became what could have been mine but weren't to be. The birth of her daughter in April reminded me that I was supposed to have had a baby in April. Everything became a physical, representation of the baby that wasn't for me. I had to distance myself for my sanity.

I felt (and feel) like somewhat of a horrible person -- this person did nothing to me but have a pregnancy survive in contrast to my own abrupt loss of everything we'd dreamed of at that point. Her daughter is adorable.

But I will never see her without wondering what my daughter or son would have looked like. Would he or she have been shy, too, peeking around the corners and only coming out of the shell to wave and say, "Bye bye?"  Or would he or she be a sociable thing? It's so hard to believe that our child would have been two and a half, talking, running around, pretending to be someone else as toddlers do. It seems like such a longer stretch of time since that seemed a possibility. I will never see my friend without wondering what could have happened to make things so different, to make our fortunes twist the way they did, why things worked for her and not me.

I left without being visibly sad, and sat in my car for a few moments just thinking about how different things would be if our babyling had made it through.

And then I stopped and drove home, knowing that What Ifs are futile and a waste of energy, even though you have to acknowledge them before they are summarily dismissed. Our baby is out there, somewhere, and while I can't even begin to picture what our baby may look like at two and a half because that is part of the grand mystery, I know he or she is coming, that he or she is real, and that he or she will be the baby we're meant to love and raise and see grow up in actuality, not as a ghost in our minds.

Monday, January 4, 2016

#Microblog Mondays: Marketing Ourselves, Twice

Over the holiday break, we plowed through our embryo adoption paperwork. It is not quite the same amount of paperwork that we had to fill out as prospective adoptive parents, but still a hefty pile.

One of the things that we had to do, other than swear that we don't do drugs or share needles or get paid for sex via drugs or money (I just want to send them a copy of our freaking homestudy through our adoption agency), is create a family profile.

What?

I thought one of the things about this process was that we were going to be able to look through OTHER people's profiles, the prospective adoptive parents of our partially genetic embryos...not that we would have to yet again put ourselves out there.

It appears that through Snowflakes, the profile matching is a mutual business, with adoptive families AND placing families providing a letter and pictures for the other half of the equation to review. It's a mutual choosing.

Which isn't so terribly different in a general way from our infant adoption process -- we put ourselves out there with our profile book and information...and then we receive whatever information is available or made available to us. Our expectant mother chooses us, and then we get the chance to choose her in return. If you think about it in those terms.

Except we don't get a profile book in that case, we don't (to my knowledge) get pictures or a letter of sorts to us as to why the choice to place was made. It is of course an incredibly different process, with a nearly-to-fully-formed infant in the mix, not the tiniest of potential lives frozen in a cryotank, so it makes sense that that burden would not be put on an expectant mother/birth mother.

We are a little surprised to be in the position of being chosen yet again, though, of having to provide pictures and a story of our life and our infertility journey and our current attempts to have a family. Of putting ourselves out there again so that someone may adopt what we had created out of love but were unable to turn from potential to actual. I would have loved to just sent a copy of our profile book, but unfortunately the audience is different and so while I could shamelessly copy text from the profile book about ourselves and our marriage, the rest was from scratch.

Instead of, "look at our life and imagine your baby in it," it was more "look at our genetics and our propensities and imagine your baby with these qualities and attributes."

The letter had to address why we were placing our embryos with Snowflakes, which was very interesting because typically families who place their embryos have had children and considered their family complete for whatever reason, and the embryos were excess and had a proven cohort. Ours are none of the above. I had to explain that we were unable to transfer our embryos and then decided that we were no longer going to even entertain this path, and we wanted to give them a chance while we simultaneously wait to adopt our baby. So sorry, no rosy family pictures of babies you can envision as yours. But also this is less mourning the children and more mourning the fact that I'll never be pregnant, that my uterus will never be anything more than an appendix-like organ, once maybe useful but now just vestigial. It's strange to think how for some this process is incredibly emotional and a bit sad, and for us it's giving these little potential lives that we created an opportunity to be, a gift that we couldn't give them. I hope it came across in the letter how grateful we are for that opportunity, both to be given it and to give it to someone else.

The pictures I chose to do in Powerpoint. You had the option of doing a mixbook or shutterfly, but I think one of those is enough. We used a lot of the pictures from our adoption shoot, but I also picked out pictures of Bryce's woodworking and my gardening and our hiking and nature escapades here and in New England. In doing so I had to look through old folders of cell phone pictures and witness the undoing of our infertility journey over and over and over again:

There's the picture of me on the transfer table, embryo pictures on my lap. There's the picture of us in the butterfly field, happy and pregnant and full of possibility. There's the picture of the pee stick that says "pregnant" even though I know I'm not, not really anymore. There's the picture of me drinking in the Secret Garden, my eyes filled with loss and pain. There's the pictures of the hot air balloon festival we attended shortly after, that was beautiful but also strangely symbolic and brought all my emotions to the surface until I just sat and sobbed in our little blanket space on the grass by a crowded parking lot. There's a strange gratuitous shot of my cleavage that I sent to my best friend, convinced that my boobs were still pregnancy-swollen a month later.

For some reason seeing those pictures in this context made me very very sad. It reminded me how cruel this process was for us. It made me not at all regret our decision to place our embryos with people who might actually have hospitable, working uteruses. But it made me so sad that that was my one shot at a possible healthy pregnancy, and it was so long ago.

It made me grateful for adoption, which has none of that physical pain, none of the pictures of my lovenox-purple belly or PIO-rashed thigh from when I did the shots 2x/day and ended up with nerve damage in my hips/thighs. Just hope that someone will pick us, pick our life and the love and nature and musicality and artistry with it.

And at the same time, that someone else will pick our genetics (and the genetic qualities we chose in our respective donors) and hopefully turn those homeless embryos into children that we had a part in creating, where we are the foreword of their origin story.

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

Friday, January 1, 2016

A Five-Year Record

We have received a fun book catalog for years, one that has interesting treasures and things that any literary mind would enjoy. Within the pages of this catalog lies a little journal that I have noticed and coveted as long as the catalog has come to the house. I always see it, but never buy it for myself (instead I irrationally hope that someone will magically read my mind and buy it for me). One year I did buy it, or something very similar to it, for my sister. She is also a chronicler and I thought she might like it. I have absolutely no idea if she uses it or if it was relegated to a dusty under-the-bed place of forgotten things.

It sort of haunted me until finally, this Christmas, I took the holiday gift check from my stepmother (technically ex-stepmother as she and my dad separated in 2000, but I refuse to ex her) and I bought it. Because if I really want something, why wait for someone else to give it to me when I can give it to myself?

Here it is:


It's a five-year journal, with a prompt per day.

Here is a page I have to look forward to this weekend:


As you can see, you fill in the answer for five years, and you see how your answer to each question changes over time.

I like this, because it is short, it is a daily reflection, and it will capture things I don't necessarily chronicle here. It's strange, but since writing this blog and doing it with some regularity, I became fairly lackadaisical about writing in my physical, paperbound journal. I was never an every-night kind of journal-writer, but I wrote in it fairly regularly. And then I had those journals that were solely about our IVF cycles, that DID actually have an entry every single night to chronicle side effects and how I felt and where we were in things. Those are great (and somewhat painful) to have, but there is day-to-day minutiae that I feel I am missing, and in this digital world I feel like it would be great to have some kind of record to look back on that would survive. Not that my life is all that interesting, but to our future child? It might be. To my future self? Absolutely. I do go back to my old journals from time to time, and it's very interesting to see a snapshot into my other selves, my past lives. To have all of that in five years in one compact and beautiful little spot seems like an opportunity not to be missed.

I figure now is a great time to start such a thing, because our life will likely change quite drastically over the next five years. As I start this book it is still the two of us and our cats, but hopefully at some point in 2016 we will have a beloved tiny stranger in our home and begin a new journey. I also feel that starting this sort of journal now is wonderful because we are starting the year in such a place of hope and peace and anticipated change. I know that adoption can bring unexpected losses and pain of its own, and while we prepare diligently for that profile opportunity call, we can only prepare in theory. We have no way of knowing what complexity will be thrown at us and whether or not we are done with being cosmic punching bags. I really hope that the time of serious battering is over, but there are no guarantees. However, I choose not to expect the bruising but to hope for all the best, and to live in a place of hope. I think this journal will reflect that and give me four lines to reflect on the events and thoughts of each day through the prompts.

Prompts that range from superficial to almost painfully deep:
- How do you describe home?
- Today you needed more _________________.
- What colors are you wearing?
- Who are you fooling?
- Write down a quote for today.
- What was your prevailing emotion for the day?
- Is there anything missing in your life?
- What was the last fruit you ate?

I am so excited to begin this effort today, on the first day of the year. The journal is small and compact and can easily be taken anywhere, so it should be possible to keep this up with fidelity. I so look forward to the adventure and the minutiae it will keep within its beautiful gilded pages.

Such a pretty little treasure.