On bonding

I spent several hours yesterday sanding and priming Baby Girl’s crib, a stellar craigslist find, as is pretty much every piece of nursery furniture I’ve ever purchased. Well, more accurately, I started priming the crib and then let my dear husband take over. I also have a changing table to paint, so we’re going to be at this for a while. I will at some point post pictures, provided I don’t totally screw these projects up and find them to be a hideous embarrassment. I’m starting early, because Corin arrived at 37 1/2 weeks to an unfinished nursery. His nursery mural – an awesome functioning Narnia lamp post courtesy my talented husband – was complete when he was about 8 months old.

I’m excited about decorating a girl’s nursery. I’m excited about dressing a baby girl. I’m just excited. Years ago, when I pictured the family I hoped for, I wanted a boy first and then a girl. With all the baby plans that went awry, somehow this one was meant to be. I think I would have been thrilled with another boy, but given the uncertainty of any future family plans, I love that we are getting to experience both a son and a daughter. I love the way Corin says “baby sister.”

I am 22 weeks pregnant and already starting to get uncomfortable. Physically, this pregnancy has been harder than my first. I was more nauseous and threw up for longer, although I still had it a LOT easier than many. (God bless those of you who have had to hang over the toilet for the entire first trimester or beyond.) I have had heartburn on and off for a couple months now. (Great midwife tip: eat almonds to settle the acid!) I get very tired, which I assume is related to caring for one child while gestating another. (Jon read this and questioned whether gestating is a verb in that sense. I assured him if it isn’t, it should be.) At 5’2″, I don’t have much baby room. I grow immediately and increasingly OUT. My sweet girlfriends have been sending me pictures of celebrities who gained a lot of pregnancy weight. My skin is a mess. I have what I guess is a muscle strain from rapid belly growth.

It’s funny, though. Even with all the weirdness and discomforts of pregnancy, I am enjoying it so much this time. I didn’t hate pregnancy the first time, but I think I worried more and felt less at home in my own skin during those nine months. I did feel a connection with Corin before he was born, but I remember thinking the prenatal bonding wasn’t quite what I expected. This time, I am so aware of the bond I feel for our baby. Maybe it’s because this time I know what it really means to have a child to love. Or maybe I’m more aware of that bonding because of my early adoption-related fears on the subject.

In any case, I am soaking up as much as I can of this experience and am so looking forward to meeting this little one. I worry a little about HOW excited I am, because I’m 90 percent sure I’ve forgotten exactly how hard those newborn days are and am unprepared for the two-child balancing act. Hopefully our previous newborn experience will kick in. And please let this baby be a better nurser than Corin was… Also, thank goodness for family. I hope our parents are resting now. We’re going to need them.

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.