I’ve been thinking about how I want to go about this. It’s not easy giving others a glimpse into the biggest challenge of my life. It’s hard to share—as if somehow it’s our fault or we’re doing something wrong. And I hate being judged. Being a married couple without children, that happens a lot. All. The. Time. By everyone—friends, family, co-workers, strangers (like the guy standing in line with me at the waterslide earlier this year. Everyone’s a critic.) Everyone’s got an opinion on one of the most personal aspect of your life. Thankfully, I have gotten better at brushing off the comments and choosing to only share details with loving, non-judgmentals. I didn’t used to be. It’s big that I want to put this out there. I decided God has a bigger plan than just the normal path most people take towards starting a family. So putting aside worries of judge-y expressions and comments, I’ve decided to write it down. In three parts. Here’s part one of our story.
On the subject of plans and wrenches:
Ten years ago, my husband, Sean, and I tried starting a family. We, like a lot of people, waited a year or so after we were married to go about the traditional way of building a family. You have babies. You make them yourselves. You make small people, hang out with them-protecting and guiding them along until they grown up. Wah-la! A family. We spent over a year trying to get pregnant. Enjoyable to be sure, but no luck. We finally saw a fertility specialist in Anchorage who ran a bunch of tests-found nothing wrong- but he put me on 6 months of Metformin to boost fertility. When that didn’t work we ramped up egg production with a 3 month cycle of Clomid. Still didn’t work.
Our doctor finally suggested Sean go get checked out. He did and turns out he can’t make babies. That was a huge shock. The doctor said they had no explanation for it and so sorry, there was nothing they could do. Worse shock. Let me pause right there to tell you I asked Sean’s permission to share this part. People always assume it’s the woman who can’t make babies (our fertility doctor included). Modern medicine is not geared towards helping male infertility like it is for women. There aren’t many options if you have no swimmers. There aren’t many male fertility specialists, in general, and zilch if a man is straight up infertile. At the time, there were none in Alaska. There were no counseling or support groups either. It was a private pain. A deep wound. These were very dark days for us. Sean actually told me to divorce him when we found this out. He said he would rather be maimed in battle or die than not be able to give me the thing I want most-a pregnancy. Valiant to be sure, but not the thing I want most. I, repeatedly, reassured him I wanted him more than some potential pregnancy. I will be with him even when children grow up and are gone. I am his helpmate. I am here for him. As he is for me. To throw him over for some pregnancy is not the way I do things. That would be incredibly selfish of me.
We considered different options at this point including getting a sperm donor. (Let me tell you what’s gross—8 of my co-workers have offered. One still does. Disgusting.) We decided against it because the primary desire is not to get pregnant. It’s to make a family together. For us, having Sean excluded from the initial process sets a weird tone for the future and could lead to potential conflicts. Every time we discuss this what comes to mind is Abraham and Sarah in Genesis. They couldn’t have children so a third person, Hagar, got invited to join Abraham’s and Sarah’s family-making process. To this day, the offspring of that love-triangle has caused conflict; not to mention the immediate consequences for Hagar and her son, Ishmael. They got kicked out of their home. I’m not comparing Sean and myself to the ancestors of the Israelites but I do view their situation as a cautionary tale. For us, having a third person involved in the process complicates things beyond what we want for our lives. For some, this is a beautiful way to go. It’s a great way to start a family. It’s just not for us.
Through a friend and a television show called Baby Lab, we found a clinic in St. Louis, Missouri that specializes in male infertility. Only one like it in the United States at the time. So in August of 2009, we packed up and moved to Little Rock, Arkansas to be close to the clinic. Their process takes a minimum of 3 months and again, a minimum of $11,000.00. A revolutionary procedure is first done on Sean and then any sperm they find and my harvested eggs are put together in their lab. Then after a set amount of time they implant the eggs and hope any or all will make it. It’s making babies-science style. There’s a chance with the process that you could end up with twins, triplets or more. We were excited and nervous at the possibility of having multiple children all at once but ready to take on the challenge. I watched a lot of Jon and Kate plus 8 to prepare myself. Dumb show with a good point. Having that many kids doesn’t breakup your marriage. Your disrespectful treatment of each other does.
We were going to use the money from the sale of our house in Alaska to fund the process but the Great Recession finally caught up with Anchorage. It took FOR…EV…ER….to sell the house. The longer we waited the more frustrated I got. We had a plan for our lives and I was fairly certain God was approving of it. I looked at things like how we ended up Little Rock and thought God was giving us exactly what we were praying for. I took verses like “Take delight in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart“ Psalm 37:4 then left out the first part and just focused on the second. I repeatedly told God what I wanted and then expected He had to give it to me based on this verse. I think I whined more than prayed for a long time. I got mad at God. We weren’t going to church either. Lack of delighting myself in the Lord led to alternating between very angry and super depressed every time there was a kink in the plan. That first year after we left Alaska was not pretty. Not only were we not able to sell our house right away, we moved 8 times and I had to change jobs four times. (Crazy circumstances kept pulling us away but I was desperate to get to St. Louis.) Sean also couldn’t find work either. He must have applied for more than a hundred jobs and was considering going to Saudi Arabia for work by the time he got hired in Corpus Christi, TX. We kept getting turned down on buying a house too. Three times we put an offer on a home and we got outbid at the last moment every time.
We were finally able to sell the house six months after we put it on the market. We only made $50.00 when all was said and done. Fifty bucks. Way less than we needed for lab made-babies. Way less than even a fancy dinner. We know because that’s how we ultimately spent the money. We took ourselves out to dinner. We needed to reevaluate. It looked like making babies really wasn’t possible for us. God was shutting that door. Heck, He didn’t just shut that door, He nailed it shut. Build a family was still on the table but we would just do it differently than we always thought we would. We could still have children-- hang out with them-protecting and guiding them along until they grown up. We would just do it by loving kids already alive. Kids who wanted and needed a home. We would adopt.
PART TWO: Can Anybody Find Me Somebody to Love?
Our efforts to build a family between the end of 2009 and 2014 took us into the world of private adoptions, CPS (Child Protective Services) and foster care agencies. To adopt takes courage and tenacity along with the necessary heavy dollop of unconditional love. It is not for the faint of heart. These are industries fraught with corruption, greed, and disillusion. We met case workers so burnt out and calloused they had no regard for the significant role they played in the construction of our family. To everyone’s detriment. There are painful memories associated with this time in our lives that even today are difficult to remember without getting emotional. And I don’t just mean sad. I mean angry too. In fact, the first two versions of this part of our story had to be round filed (thrown away) because I wrote them like I lived them. I couldn’t stop the bitterness and despair from spilling out of my heart across the pages. Not fun to write or read. However, because I’m plucky, I refuse to let past events continue to grow thorny shrubs of negativity in my heart. I humbly asked God to do some weeding and He did. He’s so awesome. Here’s the result.
This part of our story is brought to you by the famous Queen song, “Somebody to Love”:
“I work hard…”
Private adoptions are spendy. Be prepared to plunk down between $15000 and $50000 with the higher end figure coming from overseas adoptions. Most of the overseas costs include time you have to live in the other country (some places require 3-6 months residency) and bribes for officials in charge. There is no way Sean and I can afford to bribe anyone with the few bucks we keep in our wallets. You may also have to go live in another country indefinitely sometimes 3-6 months or longer. I think that’s how some of the bribing happens. You can pay officials to fudge on how long you’ve lived there.
Also for us, the idea of taking out a second mortgage or bank loan to buy a human being is…weird. I do have friends who have put forth the money and I know they have a different perspective. For them, the money paid is like paying a ransom-setting these sweet, tiny people free from extreme poverty, crippling injuries and even potential death to live a better life with a family who paid much to freely love. It’s a beautiful thing but just not for us especially when we consider all the children here in the United States who need love too.
At the end of 2009, we were given the opportunity to privately adopt a baby where we were living in Joplin, Missouri. At the hospital where I worked there was a nurse who agreed to help us with adoption. She had recently adopted a baby girl and explained her process to us. Because it’s such a small town when a person came into the hospital to give birth and they decided they didn’t want the baby the hospital staff had the option to help. Because I was hospital staff (sort of: I worked for an outside company with doctors in the operating room) I could give my number to the anesthesiologists doing the epidurals and they would call if a baby is available. My friend assured us it could be as quick as 3 days or take a month or two at the most. Sean and I started making plans including contacting an adoption lawyer in town who would need to be available for drawing up and filing an adoption certificate. Two weeks before Christmas, we were ready. I gave my cell number to all the anesthesiologists and waited expectantly.
I kid you not, that same week, I got a call. But not from an anesthesiologist. It was the company I worked for calling to say they were looking at the yearend financials and could not afford to keep me there in Joplin. They offered me the “opportunity” to start traveling to other hospitals in different states but we would have to move. Sean and I looked into other jobs in Joplin but nothing panned out. And when I say looked I mean we scrambled desperately to keep us there to no avail. With heavy hearts we left Joplin and moved to Texas. I saw no reason for this turn of events and spent the majority of my free thoughts questioning God. Mercifully, God was polite enough to give me answer. One year after we left, Joplin experienced the seventh deadliest tornado in US history. 158 people were killed. Hundreds of homes and businesses were destroyed. Incredibly, the hospital where I worked took the worst hit. The side of the building where they did surgery was ripped away. Six people died in the hospital itself. The entire building had to be demolished and was only reopened last year. Who knows what would have happened if we had stayed. God saved us in spite of ourselves.
“I try and I try and I try…”
We continued our quest to adopt in Corpus Christi. There are 7 agencies that provide “forever families” for those children who have had parental rights terminated through the state. And no matter how simple Sandra Bullock from the Blind Side makes it look, dealing with CPS is time consuming and labor intensive. There are hours and hours of training classes you have to attend—classes on discipline styles, water safety and trauma support, etc. as well as CPR and First Aid. You’re given requirements on childproofing your home that include things such as locking up kitchen knives and double locking vitamins and medications. Once the training is complete, your home and life gets questioned and examined in an hours long (4+) test called a homestudy. You get asked a lot of really personal questions and have to let them inspect every room in the house. If you and your home pass, you get licensed by the state as foster-to-adopt parents and then get kids.
Our first agency and lone case worker took us through the licensing process in two long years. The second agency and lone case worker took us through the process in eight months. Here’s why we ended up at foster agency number #3: Our first case worker never filed our paperwork before she quit even though we were already at the point of meeting potential kids. Incredibly, no one in the agency had even heard of us. We assured them we were really foster parents and only because I kept all the training certificates of completion did they believe us. For the last two years, our case worker had been overwhelmed with her case load and dreamed of having her own agency. She’d been holding back the paperwork of all new perspective parents coming to them.
Case worker and agency #2 had a similar problem. The case worker couldn’t keep up with her case load and never filed any of our paperwork. The agency had heard of us this time but when she quit the agency the owners decided to merge its Corpus location with another agency in town. Back to square one. Agency #3 made us take all of their training and have another homestudy done but the process went faster (5 months). By this point, Sean and I had both became very good at getting through homestudies. We could talk about our favorite childhood memories or preferred discipline styles all while showing off our double-locked vitamins or what’s in our coat closet (broom and mop, actually). Job interviews got nothing on homestudies. We officially became licensed foster parents 3+ years after we started the process and boy were we ready to get us some kids.
“Somebody to love…”
In May 2014, a ten year old boy and his seventeen year old sister moved in. We finally got the family we always wanted and we all lived happily ever after…
Just kidding. That’s not what happened at all. (Someday…someday…that will happen but not this day.) Sean and I were way in over our heads. Picture us like this those old timey films you see of the Wright brothers testing airplanes. Lots of big smiles and thumbs up at first. Then you strap yourself onto a machine made of paper, wood and controlled fire. Up you go. Everyone including you thinks you’re gonna make it. You’ve achieved the impossible. Then poof. Right into the sand dune. Smoke and dust surround you as you stagger out thinking, “What the heck just happened?”
Neither of the kids had lived with each other since they were last with their mother three years before. No one in our agency, CPS, or ourselves were prepared for the extent of the abuse these poor kids had experienced nor how it would play out when they lived together again. In addition, with the subsequent CPS investigations (we were found to be too naïve but not at fault) it was determined that when our agency gave us permission to let the teenager have access to a phone and computer this was not a good idea. Unsurprisingly, she was able to get around internet firewalls and do a number of really bad things. She also reached out to her birth family (which wasn’t bad but she wasn’t ready for what she found out). Her birth mother had gotten cleaned up, married and had another child. It gave our soon-to-be daughter false hope that maybe they could go back home eventually (sadly, once parental rights are terminated there’s no going back as a minor). Three weeks before our adoption she told us about what she’d learned. She then made the decision to not be adopted and as soon as that happened, she dropped all pretense of kindness and consideration. And same thing for the 10 year old. As soon as he didn’t want to be there, he did what he could to make us as miserable as he was. It was harrowing to say the least. One a positive note, we were able to help the kids work through some of the abuse and traumatic things they’d experienced when they were younger. Before they were moved to other foster homes separate from each other, both kids started much-needed Trauma-Based Counseling.
When they left, we were filled with a combo of heartache and relief. Sean and I thanked God we made it out alive. Literally. I do not mean figuratively. We also got the chance to empathize in small part with every parent’s good fight to raise up children into productive members of society. We learned what it’s like to deal with (in no particular order, drum roll please…): diapers, potty training, bed wetting, therapy sessions, start of school, flunking school, skipping school, summer break, jobs, stealing , drugs (LSD), boyfriends (3), pregnancy (negative), internet porn, driver’s ed, car accidents (2), suicide threat, hospital stays (2 days for 1 kid and 1 week for the other), football practice and games, police visits (2), and CPS investigations (3).
All this crammed into 6 months. It was like bootcamp for parenting.
Looking back, we can see where God protected us each step of the way. I’m not gonna say it was the best experience of our lives but we survived. And we’re better for it. We learned a lot and are closer than ever to each other and God. This did not happen overnight. The first couple of months after they left were rough. And for two years afterwards, I refused to consider adopting again. (Like I said before, God had to do some weeding.) This is no longer the case. We’ve started the process of adopting again. Crazily enough, we’re actually looking forward to it. Already this time it’s different. But that’s a story for another day.
PART THREE: The Adoption of Hope
There’s a little line in Genesis 21:2 that caught my attention the other day. It says, “Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him.” (italics mine, but should be everybody’s) I’d like to think that at the moment we get children I can say the exact same thing as Sarah and Abraham. I know years ago I would have written my verse to read, “God gave Sean and Susie children and it’s about time.” I also know if I were Sarah and Abraham I would have been tempted to add an asterisks that noted at the very time God promised him **20 years after he started the process**. Abraham does neither. He focuses on God’s perfect timing and fulfilled promise. Again, years ago, I could not have said this. God has done an amazing work in my heart. He has used the last two years to draw me closer to Him and to Sean. We started out building a family and instead God built a home. Driving down memory lane, I can see how His loving hand guided and protected; where God revealed His character just like I revealed mine. (His was better. Mine needed work.) Thankfully, God never gave up even when I did. He wasted nothing. He used it all—every experience, every hurt, every pain and made something good—hearts and a home of strength, peace and happiness that would otherwise be lacking if we hadn’t gone through all we’ve gone through.
Let me give you some examples of a couple ways God built us a home. Sean and I were not a united front when the kids lived with us—less allies and often enemies. Because I was home more with the kids, I experienced most of the crazy events and bad behavior. The last month they were there together was like living in a war zone. Hearing about battle is not the same as being in one and I don’t think I conveyed the issues well to Sean when he’d get home at night. Sean would walk in the door and I’d immediately pull him into our bedroom to have these pow-wows where I’d basically tell him what to do. I’d tell him the things that happened that day and then tell him how I thought we (he, really) needed to fix the problem. I was not open to suggestions. Unsurprisingly, this did not go over well. Because he wasn’t home as much, Sean was able to pick up on more of subtle things going on. He saw the big picture. I guess the best way to put it was he could see the forest for the trees. I just saw the individual trees because I was in the thick of it every day. We both had important perspectives and could have worked together but we were missing respectful and loving communication. Thankfully, God used counseling with our pastor and a book called “Love and Respect” by Emerson Eggerichs to teach us. This was not an overnight change. In fact, at first, each of us thought the other could really use the advice in the book and didn’t see how it applied to ourselves. But our eyes were opened and we learned. We learned to communicate love, and give respect to each other. We learned how to see the forest and the trees and work together to conquer that sucker.
The other big thing that happened occurred in my attitude. It affected us both. Right after the opportunity at the fertility clinic fell through and our first chance at adoption did as well, I was a mental mess. Wise man that he is, Sean knew this and did the sweetest thing for me. He bought me a puppy. We already had a chocolate lab, Bo (whom we call the “Dogfather”), we brought down with us from Alaska. However, Sean felt I needed my own special friend. We named her Boomer and she was adorable. The cuddly factor of a puppy cannot be overstated. Boomer went a long way to helping restore my spirits. She was the runt of the litter of Doberman puppies ironically being sold out of St. Louis and was so small Sean could hold her in the palm of one hand. She was an equal opportunity cuddler and looked to both Sean and me for comfort and love. She was my girl, though. We nicknamed her Shadow for how she used to follow me around the house. I got Sean a puppy a year later. Ares was also a Doberman Pincher but not the runt. He was big and boisterous; the counterbalance to Boomer’s timid, gentle spirit. Together, they had their own litter of puppies and we kept the runt then too. We named her Juno and she was the perfect blend of sweet but boisterous.
Between our four dogs, two kids and one mom with cancer we had a full house for much of 2014. When the kids left, Sean and I looked at each other and said what now? We decided to focus on restoring our relationship, helping my mom and loving on our dogs. They were our kids now. Right before the end of 2014—a few days before Christmas, my sweet shadow, Boomer, got sick. Suddenly. Painfully. Terminally. She died five days after she woke up and couldn’t eat. The autopsy determined she was poisoned. It ruined her liver and she bled internally. We still don’t know who did this to my shadow but I have my suspicions. On Christmas Eve, two days before she died–we already knew she was not going to make it–I found myself awake in bed in the darkest part of night. Sleep eluded me and I started ugly crying–crocodile tears with lots of snot and deep, shaky breaths but silently so I didn’t wake up Sean. This was a pity-party for one.
Wave after wave of misery crashed over me as I struggled to understand why God was kicking us while we were down. We had already been through so much and now this. The majority of my thoughts focused on adding up all we had lost in the last few years. Instead of counting blessings I counted pain. With each memory I drew closer to taking up permanent residence in the pit of despair. It was all just too much for me to handle. To prevent my complete transformation into Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh, I turned to the You Version Bible app on my phone. I started reading Psalms 1 and continued until I could sleep. It’s sort of like when you’ve turned the heat on high in the car and you get too hot so you turn on the air condition instead. The cool air revives and refreshes. That’s what God does for me through His word in the middle of the night. My thoughts start turning to what I’d been reading instead of my current situation. Verses stick in my brain and I find myself meditating on these instead of all the bad we’d experienced.
Like a house built with the front door missing we were incomplete before these experiences. The desire to despair is conquered. My husband and I are a unified team. And we have adopted. Not kids. Not yet. We’ve adopted hope. We’ve learned that hope is possible in the worst of circumstance. Like choosing children to be a part of our lives, really-a part of ourselves- we adopt the belief and expectation that God will help us through whatever comes next–that He is with us and will help us stay strong and united. Adopting, or claiming for our own, the mindset of hope gives us the front door to the home we’ve built. Incredibly (and we did not plan this), our new adoption agency is called Beacon of Hope. We’re almost through the training process and should be welcoming kids into our home by the end of March. God knows who they are and we’re excited for the next part of our story. We look forward to saying “God gave Sean and Susie children at the very time God had promised.”