White Christmas

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We rarely get a white Christmas in Portland, Oregon.

This year was no exception .

So, the following day, we took our tribe up to meet our extended tribe at a cabin in the mountains. Although no snow greeted us upon arrival, we awoke the following morning to a blanket of shimmery white.

It made the whole trip worthwhile.

Brae, Sienna, and Graem enjoyed a fun-filled weekend with their cousin siblings, and it warmed my heart to see them play (and yes, even fight) together. They are making memories that will last the lifetime, and for that, I’m truly grateful.

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Reflections 2014

Sarah

In September of this year, we transferred our last two embryos. In preparation for the transfer, we traveled to Tennessee for our trial transfer in May. We were able to meet up with another couple who were also embryo recipients. This was an awesome opportunity and experience. At the same time, we were going through a lot of emotions with being back at NEDC for the first time since 2012.

I was very excited and nervous to get medically cleared and talk about our embryos and what our options were if the transfer was not successful. I tried not to have too many expectations; out of experience, there are always circumstances that may arise to alter what plans we have made. I was worried about what may come up in our returning interview that would change our desired course of having a sibling for our daughter.

During our visit with Dr. Keenan, there was a discovery that I had two strange-looking growths on both of my ovaries. The look on this man’s face told me something could be terribly wrong. We left that day with cancer being a possibility and the fate of our leftover embryos in God’s hands. I went from being hopeful to terrified! I just couldn’t believe what was happening. Like I said, you just never know what can change the outcome of our plans. At that point I knew trusting God was what I had to do and that maybe this day saved my life.

After getting the tests back with a wonderful negative to the cancer possibility, I still remained at an emotional distance. I had no control over the outcome of things. Our transfer was successful as both embryos survived the thaw and found a home in me. But even Dr. Keenan said, “Its in God’s hands now.” I truly believe that God orchestrated this decision. Only one baby survived out of the two and, by embryo standards, they were top-grade. It is so hard to embrace that outcome, at times.

Even now with every ultrasound and test done, I can’t bring myself to think ahead because I know I have to take one day at a time. I am now 17 weeks and get nervous that everything is ok. Will this baby make it to its birthday? When I go over every milestone of its life so far I have to bring myself to surrender. Even then it is a hard and emotionally challenging some days to trust God for safekeeping. In looking back on 2014, I am thankful this path has led to a sibling-pregnancy and cancer-free outcome. Thank you Jesus! Hoping and praying for a healthy baby and all the new babies that will come from embryo adoption in 2015!

New Traditions

Christmas 2014 is in the books. We did things a little differently this year. Last year when the kids finished opening presents they were quickly rushed away from their new toys for our traditional Christmas brunch with my family. We’d been doing brunch for many years. But last year, I didn’t like the feeling of rushing out. It was time to make a change. On Christmas Day this year we stayed home.

Christmas Eve included a trip to Jeremy’s grandparent’s house and church and I think we hit the sweet spot in getting the kids to bed before a total meltdown. Grant was asleep by 8:00 and we didn’t hear a peep until 7:40 Christmas morning. That was a Christmas miracle!

On Christmas morning, Grant and Maria opened their three packages and were both very excited to see that Santa knew exactly what they wanted. I can think of few things more enjoyable than watching their enjoyment of the magic of Christmas. Jeremy cooked a big breakfast and we spent the rest of the day being lazy and enjoying their new toys.

Jeremy’s parents came over for dinner and, again, the kids were beyond excited for their new toys. We finished Christmas celebrations with my family on Friday evening. I think we managed to make it through all the festivities with no major meltdowns.

We will definitely be staying home on Christmas Day next year. We all enjoyed the time together and Grant and Maria were happy to have unrestricted time to enjoy their gifts. Sometimes it’s important to change things up and start new traditions. “Tradition is a guide and not a jailer.” – W. Somerset Maugham.

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Safekeeping

Sarah

Lately, I have been dealing with decisions for my prenatal care and birth outcome. I really wanted to blog about issues regarding patient rights and medical care decisions. While being passionate about this, I keep in mind the vow I took to protect the embryo that is adopted inside me.

At my recent prenatal visit, I was told (and not asked) that I would be having a vaginal exam. I declined to have this done and stated that I would not put my baby at risk of being exposed to bacteria. I stated I that I would not have a procedure that was not necessary. The nurse that was helping had a shocked looked on her face and scolded my decision and said, “But this is protocol.” Like everyone else, I have had bad experiences with health care professionals and the system itself. I have tried to educate myself as an individual and a parent of regarding my rights. I was relieved that the lady taking care of me was a midwife friend and did not react in a way that the whole situation could have escalated. But really, unless I was having a pap smear done, was this really necessary?

In the same appointment, I was asked if I wanted a new test that is being offered to women over 35 (it is a blood tests that tests for several birth defects and will tell you the gender of your baby). It is supposed to be 99% accurate. My first thoughts were “no way” as the outcome would not push me to make a medical decision to terminate this pregnancy; but, I really wanted to know the gender and I thought that, by getting this test done, I would be less tempted to get ultrasounds done that were not necessary so I could know the “secret” of my baby’s gender. Ridiculous, I know, but I know where my weak points are.

I got the test done and, a few days later, a huge article was put in a main news source which revealed that the test results for this type of test from different companies were coming back with false positives as high as 50%! The article interviewed a mom that almost aborted her baby because the test showed it would was severally deformed and the test was wrong (more tests showed the baby was normal). Thank God!

I was very upset from this article and upset with myself that I wasted time and money to do this. I have been evaluating what is medically necessary and what decisions I need to make to protect my baby at birth from unnecessary procedures and forced decisions on me. I hope and pray that moms that have taken the vow to protect the gift they have adopted will educate themselves to make the best-informed decisions.

It Happened

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After more than 13 years since they allowed their precious remaining nine embryos to be placed in a vial and frozen for an unknown period of time, it happened.

After more than 7 years since they allowed these same precious embryos to be shipped off to a facility to be adopted by an unknown family, it happened.

After more than 4 years since they learned that, although each of their embryos had been adopted, only one had survived, implanted, and was growing, it happened.

After more than 3 years since they learned that one precious embryo had been birthed as a baby girl some 2,500 miles away, it happened.

On December 16, 2014, the unknown became known. For this family, and for this girl.

It happened.

Sienna met her genetic family.

It is so hard to describe this moment. It was surreal. It was beautiful. It was a moment placed in time by the hands of God himself.

Each of us had traveled hours to be there, and so much more. We were at one of Florida’s amusement parks. Tygh and the kids and I were coming out of a stage show. The genetic family was going to meet us outside.

I spotted them immediately.

I clutched Sienna on my hips, and walked briskly toward them.

I was so excited.

We hugged.

I showed off my daughter to them. Their blood.

I was proud.

I watched as they studied her face. Her delicate features. Her curly blond hair. Her aqua blue eyes. Her rosy, plump cheeks. Her rosebud lips.
They studied her. Searched her face and features for recognition. Similarity. Familiarity.

They smiled. It was as if they could see the resemblances, and yet knew that she was different. Knew that although the same blood raced through each of their veins, she was a unique person. Not their child. Didn’t belong to them. And yet, she was still family.

For the next many hours, we toured the parks together. I tried to maintain a comfortable distance from Sienna and them, allowing them to get to know her. To experience her.

Tygh and I have been through this before, in a sense, with Brae’s birth-family. We are comfortable enough in our relationship to each of our children to know that the parental bond between us and them will never be broken. So it is not at all threatening to allow other members of their extended family to really enjoy being with them without us hovering above.

I watched as Sienna bounced her way from exhibit to exhibit, blissfully unaware of the magnitude of what was happening around her. In one moment, I watched as her genetic mother followed her into a crowd. As we’ve grown accustomed to, people fawn over Sienna. One woman turned to Sienna’s genetic mother and asked, “She’s beautiful. Is she yours?”

“No,” she replied.

It was a strange and yet, comforting, moment for me to witness.

It is an odd thing to claim any child as belonging to you. Children, as with any other blessing, is a gift from above. On loan to us. For a time.
As Sienna’s mom, I am her steward. She is mine to take care of. But, in our view, she belongs to God. Perhaps that is why we have always been comfortable with our role as adoptive parents. Not threatened by birth families, or genetic families.

Scientifically, there is no reason why Sienna was not transferred to her genetic family, and birthed into life through them. She could just have easily been chosen by the reproductive endocrinologist as one of the embryos transferred to her genetic family.

However, from a God-perspective, Sienna was always to be given to us. From the beginning of time, God knew she would be a child placed into our family, in just the manner that she was.

So, it was comforting for me to witness that her genetic family recognized that. I felt a twinge of sadness for her genetic mom that she could not claim Sienna as “her own,” and yet, comforted by that same acknowledgement.

We ended the evening by sitting down for a meal together. I reveled in the majesty of the moment. All of us, brought together through the unique beauty of adoption, lost in quiet conversation about each of our children.

Sienna’s genetic mother and I spent most of that meal talking about the similarities between Sienna and her genetic sister, who were each created in the same IVF cycle. They are so much alike. Not so much physically, but definitely in personality.

Sassy. Imaginative. Creative. Definitely march to the beat of their own drums.

I was comforted that Sienna would likely be able to relate to her genetic sister as she gets older.

The evening came to a close and it was time to part ways. We mentioned that we may be finding ourselves in their neck of the woods in the next few years, which brightened their faces.

We hugged again, and my heart was full.

We had made an important connection, not only for Sienna and her genetic siblings, but for the donors who lovingly parted with her so many years ago. And, for us, who chose open embryo adoption for exactly moments like this.

It happened.

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‘Tis the Season

Sarah

This will be my daughter’s second Christmas. Last year we barricaded the Christmas tree with play yards to keep her from crawling up the tree. It is so exciting to see her light up with all the fun decorations and Christmas goodies!

I have started sharing with her about the new baby coming. It is so sweet to see her lift up my shirt and point and say baby and see her mind try to wrap around that complex thought. As I look back to Vivienne’s birth, I remember being ready to explode just 2 Christmas’s ago. I was already having contractions and still tried to put up my Christmas tree. She was born on January 9th. She missed Christmas and I was fine with that as she would have been here too early for us to enjoy her anyway.

This was my first successful embryo adoption birth and my daughter was very big. She was 8 lbs at 37 weeks when she was born. In utero, I remember feeling like she was going to be a big baby. I wondered if this was an embryo adoption connection or just her. When she was born she looked like 40 weeks, hands down. I remember watching everyone’s faces in the delivery room that day; everyone was amazed at how beautifully big she came out. I was border-line gestational diabetic; however, I kept things under control with my diet. The thought of a 10-pound baby was quite scary! Diet control for sure!

I am looking forward to not delivering so close to Christmas with this second birth. It will be nice to be over the birth tiredness and back to a barricaded tree again next Christmas. It is strange at this time to think about how there will be two siblings together. It will be interesting to observe their similarities and differences. I truly hope they will be close siblings! Attached is a picture of Vivienne putting up the Christmas tree! This is the look she gives me looking at Christmas lights! So magical!

 

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Parenting Styles

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I took a quiz last week about parenting styles. There were four different types of “moms” described: 1) the “tiger” mom, one who strives for success and high achievement in her child, 2) the “attachment” mom, who encourages inter-dependence between the parent and child, 3) the “helicopter” mom, who regularly “hovers” over her child, and 4) the “free range” mom, who encourages self-confidence through independence.

First, let me start off by saying that none of these parenting styles, in my opinion, is “wrong” or “bad.” I believe most parents strive to do their best for their child, and that the most effective parenting style comes about organically. If you as a parent do not feel comfortable with a certain parenting style, it is never going to work for you.

I have friends who fall into each of these categories. And, I admire traits in each of their parenting styles. I am, however, most comfortable around my mom friends who have the same style as I do. That’s probably only natural.

I am a “free range” mom.

I’ve known this for a while, although others have referred to it as “natural consequences” parenting, or even “laissez-faire” parenting. One dear friend even told me I was the most “lax” parent she knew.

I’m still not quite sure how to take that one.

This is not a style that set out to wear, it just kind of developed over the last six years of being a mom. It’s a little ironic, because in many areas of my life, I have a Type A personality. But, when it comes to being a mom, I let go of a lot of control. I allow my kids to have a long leash. From a pedagogical perspective, I recognize I’m not raising kids. I’m raising adults. For me, the goal of childhood is to raise well-mannered, God-fearing, respectful, responsible, and functioning contributors to society.

That means that I need to allow them to do things on their own. A lot of things. I need to trust them. I need to trust myself that I’ve equipped them with the tools to be successful. They need to try. They need to fail. Then, they need to gain the confidence to try again, or, to learn to not do something again, as the case may be.

Some examples of this are that I encourage my kids to do things for themselves. They want a sandwich? They make it. They want to play at a friend’s house? They go knock on their door. They wake up before us on a Saturday morning? They entertain themselves. They want to run around outside in bare feet and play in the mud puddles? Have at it. They break a toy because they were playing with it too rough? It goes in the garbage. They want to climb up the slide (despite numerous cautions that it is dangerous to do that), and they slip and get a bloody nose? I have a tissue.

Sure, this parenting style may have led to a few more scrapes, bruises, and trips to the ER than other kids, but I’m ok with that.

I’m ok with it because I’ve also regularly been told that my kids are very independent and self-confident. I am proud of that.

I think the natural criticism of this parenting style is that it is negligent or, worse, dangerous.

I see that, but I’m not a Pollyanna. I know we live in a world where kids get kidnapped, strangers carry knives, and cars drive too fast.

I have a dear friend who I would also classify as a “free range” mom, and her style, quite frankly, scares me. I would even go so far as to say that I am a little nervous whenever she watches my kids without me. But, I will also say that her kids are even more self-confident and independent than my own, and I admire her for that. She is raising good adults.

Because I am not naïve to the world in which we live, so I take on traits of a “helicopter” mom or an “attachment” mom when it is appropriate. For the first two weeks Brae started kindergarten, I secretly followed his school bus in my car, and tip-toed behind him to his classroom, to make sure he got there ok. Every night, I stay up after my kids have gone to sleep to make sure they put themselves to bed ok, and haven’t fallen asleep on the floor (which has happened). When they walk over to a neighbor’s house, I text the neighbor before they arrive to let me know they made it safely.

This is just responsible parenting.

And, regardless of your parenting style, if your child feels safe, loved, and is entrusted to a responsible adult, I’m pretty confident they will turn out just fine.

Britney

Frozen

Twelve years ago this week Grant and Maria were conceived and frozen. They were perfectly formed. Suspended in time. Just waiting.

At some point during their wait their genetic family, whom we will likely never meet, lovingly donated them; thus, giving them a chance for life out of the freezer.

Had they been born based upon their conception date we would be looking at middle school instead of kindergarten.

Twelve years ago Jeremy and I had been dating for 2 1/2 years and we were recent college graduates. I was working my first professional HR job and contemplating graduate school. Jeremy had just gotten a job with a local TV station where he would end up working until Grant and Maria were born.

Twelve years ago we were discussing marriage, but we weren’t ready yet. Both of us needed to live on our own first. I had recently moved into a small apartment and adopted my first cat and bought my first Christmas decorations. That first Christmas she knocked over the Christmas tree. She’s now a crusty old lady who eats the branches of that same small Charlie Brown tree.

Twelve years ago I wanted to adopt after we had “our own” children.

Twelve years ago I assumed having a baby would be something that would come easy on the timing that we determined.

Twelve years ago God had other plans.

At 14 Weeks

Sarah

I turned 14 weeks this weekend. Last week, I had my ultrasound to check on the subchorionic bleed and check on baby. It was a relief to receive good news that my bleed was smaller and baby was doing well. I have reached the end of the first trimester and am excited to move on to the second.

The last two weeks have been “break the news weeks” with family and close friends. I decided in the beginning that I would wait as long as I needed to share the “secret”. In the past it has seemed it has been more about everyone’s feelings than what I feel I needed to do for myself. I also wanted to prepare to deal with the long-range of reactions that are not always so sweet and caring. Overall people have not been surprised. Most of the reactions have been very commonplace (that’s nice, let’s talk about something else). I was prepared for that, too! I feel as I get older I am more comfortable to have boundaries and care less about what people think of me and my situation. I just find it very odd how excited people can be for a pregnancy that is considered your first and how unexciting when siblings come along. The mood and the perception of this can change greatly.

I would love to hear from Mom’s on how they welcomed a sibling and if their families were excited or just matter-of-fact about the new addition. It’s too bad that the first one can receive so much of the glory. Having twins seems like a win-win situation as both babies get the beauty of celebrating together and all the attention at once. I don’t have twins but that would be my opinion.

I wanted to share the sweet picture of my current ultrasound. I hope and pray things will continue to go well in my pregnancy. I am so thankful we were chosen for this wonderful little person to be a part of our family! Thanks to all those who pray for the souls of those frozen babies and advocate for their lives. I appreciate your thoughts and prayers, too! If any moms out there who want to write, my email is sarahandaspen@yahoo.com. I would love to hear from you.

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In One Week

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In just over a week, Sienna will come face to face with her genetic family. She will look into the eyes of the loving husband and wife who helped create her, and then selflessly donated her to bless another family. She will touch, for the first time, her genetic siblings, whom she was created with, more than a decade ago. They are 13; she is 3.

I am so excited.

I am not nervous. At all. I have nothing but pure joy and anticipation that this moment has finally arrived.

No, Sienna doesn’t know what is going on. But it is all about her.

We hope this will be the first of several meetings over her life. The beginning of a lifelong relationship.

Just as there is no playbook for embryo adoption in general, there is definitely no playbook for what to say, do, or think the first time you meet your daughter’s genetic family in person.

In so many ways, it is a lot like when we met Brae’s birthfamily for the first time. But, in so many more ways, it is completely different.

When we first met Brae’s birthmom, she was 7 months pregnant. She had seen our profile online, and whether she chose us to parent the child within her was completely up to her.

Little did we know at the time, but she was dealing with her own emotional roller coaster and questions about placing for adoption the child growing within her. I remember being so nervous, I couldn’t eat the plate of food in front of me.

When we first met Brae’s birthfather and his family a month later in the delivery room, there was solemn sadness. There were mixed emotions – for all involved. And, over the last six years, it has been an exercise in building a relationship between us and his birth family. It has been a blessing, no doubt, but we’ve had to build trust between us because of the nature of the circumstances in which Brae was born into.

We have never spoken to Sienna’s genetic family. We have exchanged videos, texts, and pictures. They have sent Christmas gifts and birthday gifts each year for Sienna.

I remember the first time we came across Sienna’s genetic family’s profile. We had reviewed 6 others, and not one captured our attention.

But, theirs was different. For one, they attached a picture of their family. For another, we had so many common interests from how we liked to spend our spare time to what kind of music we liked.

Tygh and I reviewed their profile separately and each decided they were our family.

We chose them, and then they chose us.

Sienna’s birth was not accompanied by any fear that she might not go home with us. There were no mixed emotions; there was just elation.

And, finally, in one week, she will get to experience what Brae has gotten to experience every year for the last 6 years.

We chose an open embryo adoption to give our next child what Brae had. We wanted our next child to have a connection to her roots like Brae had.

In one week, Sienna will get to come face to face with more family.

That is the beauty of embryo adoption.

That is the beauty of an open embryo adoption.

Britney