The third baby

There is something I’ve been thinking about on and off for a long time now. Jon and I have talked about it a lot, and honestly, I’m not sure how to feel like I have closure on the issue.

It’s this idea of a third kid. See, when we got married, we discussed how many kids we wanted. We landed pretty readily on three. (Jon threw around the idea of four, but I nixed that rather decisively.) I couldn’t tell you exactly why three was the number. I suppose I liked the idea of a large family without getting into territory that felt unmanageable.

But then, years of infertility did a number on our family planning. I was 31 when Corin was born and 33 when Lina was born. I will turn 37 in a few weeks. Fertility treatments that were so physically, emotionally and financially difficult then would be exponentially harder now, with my increased age and all the responsibilities that come with the kids we already have. We’ve briefly discussed returning to the idea of adoption, but that process is also terribly difficult and expensive.

Most of the time, I am content with the idea that our family is complete. We have a boy and a girl, two beautiful kids who are perfect for us. Please don’t misunderstand: I am so, so grateful. And honestly, I’m not sure I have all that newborn stuff in me any more. I remember the borderline-hallucinogenic sleeplessness, the endless feedings and pumpings, the spit-up soaked burp rags, the mushy, barely-recognizable postpartum body. That very pragmatic voice also tells me it’s probably best that Corin and Lina have as much of my attention as I can give them. These kids need more from me than I could probably manage with another little one in the house. Also, I really don’t need more gray hairs.

But then, this photo popped up on that cursed Facebook timeline. It was posted four years ago today.

BFP 1.27.12

Suddenly, all that excellent logic evaporates in a wave of longing for just one more time. Just once more, I wish I could feel the unparalleled thrill of those pink lines. Just one more time, I wish I could feel the first movements of a baby I already loved in that uniquely intense and abstract way. Just once more, I wish I could experience childbirth. (Yes, I know how crazy that sounds.) Just one more time, I wish I could rest a tiny, fragile body on my naked chest and feel the total trust and contentment of a newborn who knows his mother. Just once more, I wish I could watch a baby grow, almost hour by hour, and see the infinite changes that every day make her more herself.

I know there are moms who are SO DONE with babies and can’t wait to send their kids out the door to school. I get it; I am that mom sometimes, too. But a lot of the time, I am also mourning the end of babies and toddlers. My kids are growing up, and even as I beam and cheer, I mourn the steps they take away from me.

Is there a way to find real peace with this? I actually told Jon the other night that it might be time to think about the snip. Not that we really need it, but I have a dark fear of a shock pregnancy at 45. And it just seems like maybe that step might give us final closure. I’ve already given away most of the kids’ baby clothes and toys. It’s actually pretty nice to clear out the storage and use it for things more relevant to our lives now. I spend a lot more time these days thinking about my future outside of parenting. But I can never seem to permanently dispel that niggling sense of longing.

I am tempted to sometimes feel as if we were robbed of an opportunity to have a third child, as if the ideal family we planned has somehow been diminished to something less. I suppose it’s normal to feel a loss. But when I really look at the family right here in front of me, I know it’s not less than we hoped. It is so much more.

I don’t know if I’ll ever reach a point when I don’t wish sometimes for that one last baby. I hope so. Maybe a lot of women struggle with closing the door on more kids, even when it’s a step of their own choosing. I’m not going to give in to regret over what should have been. I choose to focus on how full my life is and how grateful I am for what I’ve been given. But if you catch a strange look on my face when I hold your newborn, you’ll know why.

When you’re miles from normal

I remember just a few years ago being in the throes of fertility treatment hell and grieving the loss of the stereotypical family planning experience: have a lot of sex, wait a couple weeks, pee on a home test and watch the bright lines pop up. Hooray, we’re pregnant!

Instead, we waded through countless injections, complicated medical procedures, the agonizing wait for the blood tests and the phone calls from the nurse with the results. So many others have been there and know exactly what I mean, and many go through much worse. It was stressful, expensive, emotionally draining and – for me – physically taxing. Much of the emotional difficulty was coming to terms with how hard we had to work to get something that came so easily for many. I had a very bad relationship with home pregnancy tests.

Time has brought a new perspective. It was hard, and there have been a lot of hard times since then. And to be clear, feelings of loss are, well, normal. It’s just that now, with the luxury of time, I can look back and value what makes our story unique. I can recognize the incredible gifts that have come to us as a result of an off-the-beaten-path experience.

My dad is blind due to a biking accident in 1980. He wrote an article once called “Unusual Gifts.” In it, he explained why he believes his blindness is really a gift in disguise, allowing him experiences and purpose he would not have found otherwise. I realized recently that I feel very much the same about the unusual pieces of our experience. I wouldn’t have chosen them for myself, but that’s why I’m glad I’m not in control.

My daughter is the sunshine of my life. Truly, I can’t even explain how much joy she brings me. I sit and watch her, in awe of the beautiful little person she is. But someone prominent – I refuse to name him and provide further undeserved publicity – recently suggested that it would be immoral to knowingly bring someone like her into the world. She isn’t “normal,” and to a lot of people, that makes her unwanted. To me, she is priceless, perfect, a major part of the meaning in my every day. And thanks to the unusual path we took to her, we have a whole new branch of this crazy family tree to enjoy. Our lives would be poorer without those incredible people to love.

My son is four and growing up SO fast. He cracks me up with his wild flights of fancy, his funny observations of the world, his caution and bossiness, his need for his idea of order. (He recently organized the hangers in his closet by color.) He dazzles me with his adult vocabulary, his sweet affection, his curiosity and growing intellect. If it wasn’t for the hordes of doctors and nurses, the labs and procedures, he wouldn’t be here. Our firstborn would be someone else – equally loved, no doubt, but not this strawberry-blond boy walking around with my heart in his hands.

We have met so many amazing people through our experiences, and been able to share so many highs and lows with an incredible support system. We’ve had to learn faith of a truer kind, with nothing left to do but lean on the only One who knows the future. We’ve had to build a marriage that can withstand a pounding and another pounding, shuddering and rattling but holding firm. We are, without question, better people, because we’ve had to be; because that’s what God can do in the midst of the far-from-normal.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: I do not mean to suggest God sends hardship. He is not the author of pain and heartache. We live in a messed-up world where things do not go according to God’s plan. There are some griefs that are far, far beyond explanation or reason, the senseless result of a broken, hurting planet. But God does have the ability to pick up the pieces and build them into something beautiful and good, something better than we could have chosen for ourselves, a monument to who He is and what He wants for His people.

I suppose none of this is really new; it’s more along the theme of this blog’s title. I guess I just want to say this: normal is overrated. In all the ways it has manifested in our family, the abnormal has become beautiful. If you find yourself miles from normal and wishing for something simpler, let me offer you hope that the path less traveled really can be breathtaking in all the right ways. Acknowledge pain, grieve loss, but then, look up. There really is joy ahead.

A decade of together

Tomorrow is our tenth wedding anniversary. Someone asked me yesterday if the years felt long or short. I told her I didn’t really know. Sometimes, I can hardly believe it’s been ten years since our wedding. How is it possible that I’m here, in my 30s, married for a decade, with a second baby on the way? But it also feels as if there never was a time before us. I suppose that last part is understandable, given it’s been 15 years since we first started dating.

This was us in 1999:
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Opening our first wedding gift in 2002:Image

June 23, 2002:Image

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June 23, 2005:
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May 2007:
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By that last picture, our family-building adventures had begun. I remember passing under a particular bridge during a boat ride on the Seine River. The guide said it was rumored that wishes made under the bridge would be granted. In the quiet of our hotel room later that night, Jon asked, “What did you wish for?” I said, “You know.” He said, “Me, too.” We didn’t know what lay ahead. But the thing about the last ten years is we’ve learned exactly how strong we are together.

We made a conscious decision not to waste those years of working toward a family. We spent them traveling, backpacking, watching movies, going to concerts, eating at great restaurants and learning how to lean on each other like never before. Infertility could have taken over our lives. It could have driven a wedge and left us fragmented and isolated. Instead, we pulled together and determined to live life and enjoy each other. Don’t get me wrong: There were HARD times. We struggled. But we did it together, and we learned to trust each other’s judgement and rely on each other’s strengths. We refused to allow what we lacked to overshadow what we had. I doubt I could have kept that kind of perspective without my husband to anchor me.

This was at a baseball game during our stay in Washington, D.C. for our final IVF cycle:Image

And this is the father the man I love became:
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It’s been worth the wait to tackle this parenting stage of life together. We argue. We get on each other’s nerves. We get so. tired. There’s more of that ahead. But the lessons of the last ten years serve us well. We pull together. We don’t let the imperfections overshadow the joy in front of us. We remember how strong we are as a team.

—-

Unafraid
“Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds,” says Shakespeare. I stand beside you as we make this our mantra, and I am unafraid.

We have many dreams, you and I, of the moments we will spend together, and in our minds they fill the blank pages of our future. Those dreams, made of the joy we find in our common goals, have brought us here. We will hold them close and live them out one by one for the rest of our lives.

Yet we know that there are pages of our future that will not fit in the framework of our dreams. There will be moments for which we did not wish, days for which we could not plan. But I am unafraid.

For we have been guided, you and I, to this day, to this moment, by One who knows that together we are stronger than we could be alone. Joy doubled, sorrow halved.

Doubled joy we know today. We feel the warmth of support from family and friends, the brightness of new beginnings, the richness of love. But this day is so much more.

“Love is a choice,” they say, and they are right. Today I choose you and you choose me. Today we choose God as the immovable cement that binds us together, that gives us the strength to choose each other every day again, the strength to share each others’ joy and bear each others’ sorrow.

So as we say the words that forever unite our futures, know that I love you with a love that will not alter when it alteration finds. Take my hand and we will walk into the unknown, full of joy and unafraid.

—-

Those words read at our wedding are more true today than they were ten years ago. I love you, Jonathan Sharp. Here’s to all the future decades of together.

Attitude adjustments

I’ve been (very!) slowly reading through the Bible over the last couple years, and right now I’m in the book of Acts. This morning’s chapter was the story of Peter’s vision of unclean animals and God’s call for him to take the Gospel to someone he never would have associated with on his own. It got me thinking about God’s power to change our attitudes.

It happens often for me, in different ways. I might be sitting in church when words from a sermon suddenly strike home. Sometimes a casual comment or well-timed advice from a friend will provide a shift in perspective. Maybe it’s just that still voice in a quiet moment, helping me see myself and the world more clearly.

My process in our embryo adoption experience has been a big lesson in God’s ability to change my perspective. I started out flatly rejecting the idea, mostly because it didn’t fit the plans I was busy making. It’s pretty amazing to look back on how God moved me from rejection to embracing embryo adoption. He was clearly at work.

But it’s been a longer process than that. It would be misleading to say we made our decision and never looked back. Our counselor told us several times that you can be excited about new opportunities while at the same time grieving a loss, and she warned us that grief is not a linear process. Sometimes little things can trigger feelings you thought were over. She was right, as she always seems to be. The thing about infertility is that every option involves a loss of some kind. We did grieve even as we moved forward with embryo adoption. More than once, I felt a stab as I saw myself or Jon (mostly Jon!) or maybe even a grandparent or uncle in my son and mourned the loss of that experience with our next child. We wondered how well other people would relate to what we were doing and whether our child would face extra challenges finding her place in the world. We grieved the loss of “normal,” whatever that is. In fact, there was a time somewhere in the middle of the process – I think around the time we were reviewing donors – when we both were questioning enough to need to walk through the entire decision again. We started at the beginning and talked about all our doubts and questions. What if finances weren’t a factor? Would things be different if we waited another year or two? After going over the whole process again, we came out in exactly the same place. This was the right choice. It was where God was leading. After that, things were easier.

I suppose, keeping in mind the counselor’s warning, there will probably still be some difficult moments ahead. But God has brought me to a place of peace and joy. Knowing He has led us here gives me such confidence in the future. In the way only He can, He changed my attitude to match His plan. Throughout this pregnancy, I have felt such a bond growing with Baby Girl, and the fears have faded away. I love the incredible way she came to us, and I love that someday, I will be able to tell her how she was chosen for us, before those tiny cells even began dividing.

The road (WAY) less traveled

It’s been a big week in the Sharp household. Yesterday marked the 20-week half-way point in my pregnancy, and on Monday, we learned we are having a baby GIRL. My heart is full; our bank account is a little emptier. I confess, the shopping has begun. This having a girl is going to require real self-restraint.

But I suppose I have a lot more history to tell.

I am the researcher in our family. Vacations, major purchases, new medical diagnoses: I’m on it. Jon seems to appreciate my ability to dig until we have answers, which has been particularly necessary through our infertility and family planning forays. I’ll admit, though, that sometimes I have an itchy trigger finger. I want to be done. I want to make a decision and have a plan. (I mentioned I am a planner, right?) I struggled the most in our infertility experiences when we came to a crossroads. I hate being in limbo. I always felt better once we knew what our next steps were.

It was no different as we explored our options for Baby the Second. I was a research machine. And honestly, I felt ready before too long to go the traditional adoption route. I found an agency I liked. I had the initial paperwork in hand. I wanted a plan. So when Jon first brought up embryo adoption, my initial rejection was at least partly about resistance to more research…and more limbo.

We knew Bethany Christian Services offered embryo donation. (I should pause to explain terminology. I have been casually using the term embryo adoption because it may be less confusing. However, this process is not technically an adoption. Adoption law does not apply to embryos. Embryo donation is really the more accurate term.) I did a little online research, wrote out some questions and put in a call to our local Bethany office. I connected with the young woman who handled embryo donations. She provided some basic information, and with every minute of that phone call, my interest grew.

I’ll admit: The initial motivation for my interest was financial. That probably sounds terrible. But anyone who’s been through it knows how much of the stress of infertility is financial. By the time we conceived Corin, we had spent the equivalent of a decent year’s salary. Thankfully, we had a lot of help from incredibly generous family and friends. Even so, by the time we were looking to have a second child, we had precious little in savings, and we were now living on one salary. The cost range the woman on the phone gave me for embryo donation was about one-third what it would cost for traditional adoption or the shared risk IVF program. So yeah, my ears perked up.

The local Bethany office directed me to the National Embryo Donation Center in Knoxville for more information. The NEDC manages embryo donations for donors and recipients from around the country. I spoke for a long time with the embryologist, and by the time I got off the phone, I was pretty certain this was going to be our new plan. Jon was predictably a little more cautious, but we both had a growing sense of excitement.

It’s hard to talk about our reasons for choosing embryo donation without seeming to criticize other options. We are probably also opening ourselves up to criticism of our own motives. All I can say is that infertility and the choices couples make as a result are incredibly personal. We prayed hard and made the decision we felt was best for us. I believe God led in that process, but clearly, these decisions are not easy. All I can tell you is how we made our choice.

We ultimately felt embryo donation had several advantages over our other options:

  1. The lower cost.
  2. The profile of the biological parents. We felt that embryo donors were likely to be relatively stable, to have taken care of themselves and to have done all they could to ensure the health of their embryos.
  3. The opportunity to experience pregnancy and childbirth again. This might be a downside for some people, but there were several reasons this was a positive for us. Perhaps the biggest was that it put us in control of the prenatal environment and offered us that time to bond with our child. It also allowed me the potential opportunity for the natural birth I still hoped to experience.
  4. The potential to provide life to a child who otherwise might not have that opportunity. The number of embryos available for donation currently outweighs the number of recipients by a significant margin. This is a different scenario from traditional adoption, where couples wait for months or years to be chosen by a birth mother and know their selection means another couple is still waiting. The ratio of embryos to recipients also meant we would be able to choose from available donors, again giving us more control of the process.

There were risks and drawbacks, too, of course. We would once again be spinning the medical roulette wheel, with no guarantee of a baby. We talked at length about the type of relationship – if any – we envisioned with the donor family and about potential challenges for the child. We grieved the loss of another biological child, of seeing ourselves in our offspring. But in the end, we both felt an undeniable pull. The advantages, for us, outweighed the risks.

Once we processed all of this, we decided one more step was necessary. We talked to both sets of parents to gauge their feelings about what would certainly be an unusual route to a new grandchild. We were pleased but not surprised to get their full support. Our families have been an invaluable source of strength for us through the ups and downs of our family building adventures, and they seemed to clearly understand why this option was so appealing.

And so just a few weeks after Jon first raised the subject of embryo adoption, I found myself sitting at the computer, filling out an online recipient application form for the NEDC. From there, the process moved fairly quickly. We had an initial medical consult at the clinic in Knoxville in September 2011 and were medically cleared to proceed. Although embryo donation is not legally an adoption, most organizations who offer it require recipients to complete an adoption home study. We found a wonderful local agency to handle ours and had the final home study report in hand by October 2011.

Once the NEDC received the home study report, we were ready to be matched with a donor family. But I think that part of the story deserves its own entry.

A beautiful surrender

I am a planner. I remember writing out a timeline, sometime around three years of marriage, of exactly when I wanted to have our first, second and third kids (at ages 28, 31 and 33, for the record). Yeah, I know. I realized even at the time that this was pretty silly. Somehow, though, it made me feel as if we were progressing toward the goal of parenthood.

You can imagine, then, that having parenthood delayed by years of infertility required an adjustment. I had some lessons to learn.

I want to be clear: I don’t believe difficulty originates with God. Heartache and loss come because we live in a world of sin, so far from God’s ideal. We live, for the moment, in the enemy’s territory. But I believe God DOES use the troubles that come to help us grow and to eventually weave the circumstances of our lives into something beautiful.

I kept a personal journal, in the form of letters to our unborn child, during those years. I remember writing an entry at one point that said something like, “I want a child more than I’ve ever wanted anything.” The next morning, I read in my Bible the story of Elijah fleeing for his life after Mt. Carmel. His dramatic self-pity at that low point in his life suddenly seemed uncomfortably familiar. I read how God lovingly cared for Elijah’s physical needs. And then He provided a reality check, for Elijah and for me. There were things more important than Elijah’s comfort or even his safety. God had bigger plans, and Elijah had an important role to play. It dawned on me that having a child was not the thing I wanted most. I most wanted my life to matter in the way it can only when God is in control. If God chose to give us the child we prayed for later than I’d hoped – or never, I forced myself to face – I still trusted Him. I knew, but needed to be reminded, that what He could do with my life was better than anything I could plan for myself.

That reality check came back to me over and over again in the many months still ahead before Corin became a part of our lives. And it came back to me yet again as we faced difficult decisions about our next child. What is faith if we stop trusting the moment we can no longer see the future clearly? God was teaching me to let go of my need for control and to trust completely in His love for me and His ability to make something of my life. I wish I could say that I know now exactly what His greater purpose was – or is – for me. That part still isn’t entirely clear. But I do know that in His time and in His way, He is giving me the desires of my heart. And along the rather winding trail, He is teaching me to see beauty I might have missed had I rushed by on the direct route.

How the story begins

A new blog. A blank page. Where to start?

My life is ordinary in so many ways. Grew up in a loving Christian family, went to Christian schools, stayed the path (for the most part – but we won’t go into THOSE stories). After finishing college with a journalism degree, I married Jonathan, the handsome red-headed boy I’d been dating since my senior year of high school.

We moved to the Nashville area, found jobs, bought a house in the suburbs. I worked in PR for a healthcare company, he eventually founded a technology start-up with a business partner. The life plan was chugging along. But then… Then came that first dash of the unexpected.

Jon and I both very much wanted a family, and about four years into our marriage decided it was time. Biology said otherwise. Many, many long months and several doctors later, it was clear we would not have a family without availing ourselves of all reproductive science had to offer. Thankfully, we live in a time when science does offer options to people like us. For a small fee, of course.

The process was not an easy one. Our first in vitro cycle brought the dubious gift of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, which left me very sick, bloated, short of breath and unable to walk even to the end of the driveway. I required a tap to drain the fluid that had built up in my abdomen. OHSS also meant we would have to freeze the resulting embryos for a later cycle rather than transferring fresh embryos as planned. The follow-up frozen transfer cycle happened in January of 2009, and we found out the day before my 30th birthday that it had been unsuccessful.

To shorten a long story, we ultimately decided to travel to a well-respected out-of-state clinic with a shared risk program that would provide a full refund if we were unable to bring home a healthy baby. It meant three weeks living out of a hotel and a financial investment that still makes my head ache. But nine months later, we were holding our miracle: Corin William Sharp, born March 18, 2010. He was worth every moment and every dollar.

It’s been 26 months since the day we became parents. Corin is a talking, running, climbing toddler who fills our days with more joy (and greater challenges) than we could have imagined. Parenthood has been everything we hoped and imagined and so much more.


November 2010


April 2012

Thus we found ourselves not too long ago beginning the conversation we had known was coming. From the day of our successful IVF transfer, when the doctor told us it was unlikely any of our other embryos would survive to freezing, we knew there would be difficult decisions ahead. And so late last year, we started talking about The Next Child.

We had not taken the decision to proceed with IVF lightly the first time. This time, it required total reevaluation. We knew what that investment required, financially, emotionally and physically. I quit my job in January 2011 to take care of Corin full-time, which left little room for the financial investment IVF would require. And emotionally and physically, I wasn’t sure I was interested in restarting the arduous medical process. I knew Jon was disappointed with surrendering the pregnancy and childbirth experience, but we began researching adoption. The up-front cost was as much or greater than IVF, but the sizable adoption tax credit left us with hope we could finance the initial expense through short-term loans. But we continued to wrestle with our fears and doubts. Were we really ready to let go of the pregnancy and childbirth experiences and embrace the factors of adoption that would be outside our control? We were sending a lot of prayers heavenward, for guidance and for peace. It wasn’t long into my research when Jon raised the question, “What about embryo adoption?”  My knee-jerk reaction was, “No. Too weird.”

We’d come across embryo adoption several years earlier, during an informational class on adoption. We knew the basics: Couples who, like us, had gone through IVF and had completed their families might have embryos left in storage. They could choose to donate those embryos to an infertile couple. The medical process was exactly the same as a normal (is there any such thing in reproductive science?!) frozen embryo transfer, which we had experienced before and knew was much simpler than a full IVF cycle. But other than those basic outlines, we knew very little.

A conversation with a girlfriend got me thinking. She asked how the cost compared to traditional adoption. I didn’t know, and I realized this thing might be worth a little more research. A phone call to our local Bethany Christian Services office, and suddenly, the idea was growing legs.

I’ll talk more soon about the details of our experience and where we are now. Our story is really just beginning to unfold. I’ve thought often about starting a public blog, but I’ve never been sure exactly what I wanted to offer. The blogosphere is plenty crowded, and I don’t want this to descend into narcissism. Ultimately, this story is about so much more than me. It’s about learning to really trust a God of love who holds me in the palm of His hand. It’s about learning to live in the present, to see the beauty of the now. It’s about the humbling generosity of others. It’s about embracing the unexpected, about the joy of the imperfectly real versus the expected ideal. That’s what I intend to share here.