A NEW ADDITION

Grant and Maria got to meet their newest family member yesterday! My brother and sister-in-law welcomed baby Leah into the world after an extraordinarily fast labor. After the two and a half-day odyssey that was the birth experience of their first child, Leah’s entrance seemed to be the opposite extreme. Thankfully, everyone is happy and healthy. The gender was a surprise to everyone and Nick wouldn’t tell me what it was until we actually saw her last night … that was a long three and a half-hour wait!

I’m excited that Maria has a girl cousin in the mix and thankful that my brother has a daughter. Jeremy had been working him over on the aspects of having a daughter – such as the measures that you sometimes have to undertake to clean a baby girl (“sometimes it’s necessary to go elbow deep”). Unlike a boy, there is nothing to hold back the poo and you can get what Jeremy refers to as the “poo-splosion” that takes over the entire front and back of the diaper region. Jeremy also said that when you have a boy, you are raising him to be a man … but a daughter is different … she’s daddy’s little girl.

It was odd holding a newborn. Not that it’s been that long, as several friends have had babies in the last few months, but to have a new niece is special and brought back lots of memories. At seven pounds and three ounces, she is double the weight that Maria dropped to in the days after she was born. My babies were almost 3 months old when they hit Leah’s weight and that is hard to imagine. Now, next to Leah, they seem like such big kids.

The holidays will definitely be very lively this year and I look forward to the days when they can all play together. I pray that they will have lifelong adventures and friendship as cousins.

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MEET EMBRYO DONOR JENNIFER WINTER

Meet Jennifer Winter. She and her husband donated embryos that were adopted by the Colton family, and recently resulted in sweet Sienna. Thanks to Jennifer for sharing her story.

My name is Jen and I am a mother of nine year-old boy/girl twins conceived through IVF in October 2001. Throughout our infertility struggle, we never really thought about the possibility of having “extra” embryos nor did we even consider what we would do with any remaining embryos. I was completely consumed with my goal of achieving a pregnancy so I don’t think I could look beyond the present at the time. Who would have ever thought I would be sitting here writing about our choice to have our embryos adopted nine years later?

We achieved pregnancy and our twins were born in May 2002. Approximately 2 years later we were wrestling with whether or not we wanted to add to our family. We were concerned about another twin pregnancy if we pursued embryo transfer (it was a difficult pregnancy for me) so we decided to go the au-natural route and see if God wanted us to have another. If not, we decided we were very happy with two. Shortly after this conversation we started talking about our stored embryos. What do we do with them? We were paying an annual fee to have them stored in some frozen tank some distance from our home but somehow that didn’t seem fair to them. If we never used these embryos, what was to become of them? We would never consider donating them to science…our faith and beliefs about these embryo babies would forever prevent that. So, what were our other options? As far as I knew, there were no other options but to keep them frozen indefinitely. It seemed like life deserved a chance.

Until I found the NEDC on the web on a random search in 2006, I had never heard of embryo adoption. I met my husband for lunch that day and brought some printed literature from the website. I was met with enthusiasm from him. This really surprised me. So many thoughts about why we shouldn’t do this raced through my head. What if one of our kids meets one of his or her siblings without knowing it and gets married? How would we ever explain this very unusual situation to other people without being looked at as freaks? My husband was adopted so we were comfortable with the idea of adoption, however this was very, very different.

The worst obstacle that I had to overcome with embryo adoption was this nagging concern that I would want to take back my genetic child once he or she was born. I know logically I would never want to destroy another family in that way, but it was a real concern for me and I had to overcome it before we could proceed. It literally took me two years to overcome this fear. As weird as it sounds, I think I was imagining that these embryos were my two children. My husband finally said to me “Jennifer, these embryos are each a different child…not either of our kids. Different souls, personalities, and looks…and can be as different as siblings can be from one another.” I had to digest this for some time but I finally realized that he was right. These embryos (and we had nine!) may resemble (or not) our children but they will be each very different from our kids.

It does almost sound like a science fiction movie…embryos conceived on the same day as our children (who were also conceived via embryo transfer during IVF) are born 9 years later to someone else. How far has the “test tube baby” gone? How is it possible that sperm and embryos can be frozen and eggs can’t (or at least they couldn’t be frozen when we were in IVF)? It is really hard to wrap your mental arms around it all.

In late 2009 we decided to get started. I turned the ominous 4-0 the following year and we had never conceived on our own. It seemed like God was directing us to move on. I didn’t want a baby at this point. Our twins were 8 years old and things felt right. We met our first adoptive family through the NEDC and were eagerly anticipating the transfer. It looked like the stars were aligning with this couple, really. We had a lot in common with them and we thought it was the perfect match. It was not meant to be. Our embryos (part of them) never made it out of the “defrosting” (I don’t know the technical term). We were deflated. We had three embryos left and I wondered who would want to adopt just three? What if no one wanted them? Were we stuck? We reluctantly agreed to the idea of “pooling” our embryos if someone didn’t want just three or less, but that would require patience, for at least a year, to determine genetic links (if a child was born). We also wanted an open adoption and wondered if we would ever find another family interested in such an arrangement.

A couple of months later we heard about another family who seemed to match us really well. The mother had already adopted a little boy and was interested in experiencing pregnancy. We seemed to be really drawn to one another and she was so extraordinarily open. We started exchanging emails and got to know one another even before anything was official. I worried a little about getting to know this adoptive mother before we were connected by anything other than an agreement. She was not yet pregnant but we were so hopeful. I didn’t want to be let down again, but I put my faith in God and felt that having another friend in this world was better than nothing. Plus, if I was her friend and the embryo transfer didn’t work, I could possibly provide moral support for her as she made another attempt.

We both agreed on the embryo adoption and the process started again. This time, however, it was successful. We had two of the three remaining embryos survive and they were transferred. It was amazing and surreal. The reality of the whole situation surfaced. We anxiously waited to hear if the embryo or embryos had implanted and if there would be a positive pregnancy. It was difficult waiting, but I know it was not nearly as difficult for us as it was the adoptive family. We were somewhat removed from the situation, except the contact we had from our frequent emails. It really felt good to be able to provide support to the adoptive mother during this time and I was surprised at how relieved I was when it was confirmed that she was pregnant. Maybe I was even more open to this reality than I had once thought I could be.

Our adoptive mother and I had constant contact with one another throughout her pregnancy. It was enjoyable seeing her pregnancy through her writing. She eventually started blogging on the NEDC website and that became another source of information toward during the latter half of her pregnancy. I made a conscious effort to always speak of the baby as “her/their baby” and “their family’s addition.” I never, ever wanted to put myself in the place of the “mother” of this child, both for my sanity and for her security.

The baby was born this month (June 2011) and she is a girl. She is a beautiful, healthy baby girl. I’ve seen pictures (and so has everyone else following her blog!) and feel a sense of relief and confidence that this was absolutely the right thing to do. God meant for this to happen and it is a very, very good thing. No longer will I have to fret over what God would want me to do with my remaining embryos because each one was given a chance at life. One baby girl is the result of all of that hard work, but that one life means more to one family than anyone could possibly know.

The future is uncertain about if, when, where, etc., we will meet this fabulous baby girl. I imagine someday we will meet and someday I will tell my children that they have a sibling living in a different State, nine years younger, yet conceived on the same day. We think that is a lot to handle, even for an adult, so that conversation will have to wait. Right now my children know that we have a friend in another State that just had this great baby girl. They’ve seen pictures of her and think she is “soooooo cute!” When the time is right, they will learn about their connection with her. When the time is right we will meet her. Unlike the traditional adoptions, we cannot be called the “birth parents” so I imagine we are considered more like the “genetic parents,” but that doesn’t bother us. We have all been blessed in so many ways and this experience, however unusual, has brought closure to my fertility journey and joy to our lives.

NEDC Public Service Announcement

Meet Chelsea Noble Cameron, NEDC’s National Spokesperson. Chelsea is an actress, married to fellow actor and filmmaker Kirk Cameron and together they have six children, four of whom are adopted. You’ll see Chelsea in our upcoming video and promotional print materials, including this short public service announcement.

NAME THOSE BABIES!

We have gotten lots of compliments on our babies’ names. Either our friends, family and nurses are lying to us or they really think we did a good job.

After working in Human Resources for ten years, I’ve seen countless resumes of individuals with unfortunate names. When calling a candidate with one of these unfortunate names, it’s always a bit awkward. You don’t want your first encounter with a person to be one where you butcher their name and then they have to correct you. And if you have a name we can pronounce, but that is ridiculous, the HR department has likely made fun of you prior to making contact. I know their parents wanted their kid to be an individual or special, but likely never thought about them applying for a job. This really should be a consideration when you name your children.

Since it took us about 2 ½ years to get pregnant we had a lot of time to discuss names. I believe I have the most popular girl’s name of the 1980’s, which was evident in my high school graduating class. I went to an all-girl school and sometimes it felt like there were 200 Jessica’s of about 230 girls in my class. I’m named after my Grandmother Jessie and my maiden name is not common in the Louisville area, so I never minded my name. The rest of my class was made up of girls named Katie, Jennifer, Jenny, Laura, or Lauren, with a Sarah sprinkled in here or there. After becoming a Wilson, I became very common, which has resulted in a numerous issues with collections calls and a minor banking issue with another Jessica Wilson.

Jeremy is very good at ruining names. I would suggest a name and he would say “it’s a good name, but only if she’s hot.” What does that mean?? He also had the misfortune of looking like the book character “Waldo” when growing up, so middle school left some pretty good scars. He can easily ruin a name with an ugly schoolyard nickname. Some examples are “Cooper the pooper” and “Nolan the colon” (are you seeing a theme?). He also vetoed a favorite girl name over spelling and pronunciation concerns. “Mihaela” is the name of a little girl I worked with in a Romanian orphanage and I always liked her name. But Jeremy was right; I was going against my own advice. “Jacob” had long been a favorite of mine, but with its extreme popularity, I gave up rights to it and my nephew is probably the cutest Jake around. Plus, we didn’t want to do the “J” theme for our family.

With my requirements for a less common, but not weird name, and Jeremy’s uncanny ability to ruin them, it took us quite awhile to come up with names upon which we both agreed. I used the Social Security names database to make sure the names weren’t too popular and also Googled our name options to make sure we were not giving our kids the name of a porn star or of someone on a terror watch list.
Grant Louis and Maria Isabel fit the bill. Grant fits his laid back personality and Maria definitely fits her name…she’s a little spicy spitfire.

TEACHING BY EXAMPLE

What a difference seven months makes!

Our babies were born seven months to the day after their transfer. For months, I had a feeling about May 17. I had the 17th right, just the wrong month. It’s truly awesome that those tiny little embryos formed into perfect little babies.

Our stay in the NICU has given us an opportunity to share about embryo adoption with the staff. For most, our babies are the first adopted embryos of which they have ever heard. One nurse and I talked for a long time about it and she was amazed. She and her husband struggled with infertility for 16 years before adopting internationally 11 years ago. When they were going through their struggles embryo adoption wasn’t a readily available option, but she said it’s something she wishes they had known about. Hopefully Grant and Maria can be a testament to others on how precious life is from the very beginning.

I’m happy to report they are doing well. Grant is off his NG feeding tube and both are off their IVs. Maria is still a little sluggish eating, which is normal for her gestational age. I’m hoping we can get them graduated to open cribs sometime this week, which means they are maintaining their temperatures.

The nurses have realized that we aren’t cracked-out bums and let us come in and handle the babies without assistance. We’ve gotten used to all the buzzes and beeping around us and know what all the different noises mean. Maria still drops her heart rate on occasion and we know just to give her a good firm pat on the back to help her remember to breathe. She’s not allowed not to breathe!
As for Jeremy and me, we are adapting to our routine of hospital visits; my pumping schedule and naps where we can find them. I’m recovering well from my c-section and have lost all but 3.5 pounds of my pregnancy weight. I’ll attribute my rapid loss to nursing and staying active while pregnant. It’s great to have ankles again!

For the time being we will pray for new milestones and look forward to bringing them home as soon as possible.

TA-DA!!

The last time I wrote I was a crock-pot. Now I’m a mom. We were hoping the babies would continue to cook a little while longer despite my water breaking, but they had other ideas. Not only did their arrival surprise us, but the doctors and nurses as well. I probably went into labor late Friday/early Saturday. However, no one, including the doctors and nurses knew I was in labor. I was having periodic contractions on Friday, but nothing too intense. Early Saturday morning, I was having a lot of lower back pain and cramps, which the staff attributed to the antibiotics I was on to stopping me up and loaded me up on Mirilax and prune juice. My elimination issues only got worse as Saturday wore on and I was not a happy camper. Still, the monitors didn’t indicate labor, although I was relatively miserable. (Jeremy says they can no longer trust my subjective rating of a 6 on the pain scale – after the fact, I would rate it as a 12 – I figured if I wasn’t in labor that labor pain would actually be worse, so I didn’t want to top out early). I had multiple catheters to relieve my bladder and my doctor thought I was just tense, so he gave me something to relax me. It didn’t work. At 6:45 p.m. on Saturday, my nurse, Elizabeth, was going to give me another catheter when she asked the last time my cervix had been checked. Thursday morning was the answer. She thought something just didn’t seem right and decided to check me. I couldn’t see her face, but I heard the tone in her voice as she told the aid to get Mandy, another nurse. Mandy said something about that being a baby butt and said to call the doctor, who agreed that what they were feeling was a baby butt. “We’re going to have some babies!” is what I heard. So, I had a baby blocking all my exits, which explained everything! Soon I was being wheeled off to the OR. Jeremy was calling our parents to say the babies were coming and called my Aunt Lynne who works at the hospital and was going to be with us for the c-section. She was on the riverfront with 750,000 of her closest friends for Thunder Over Louisville fireworks show and began a sprint to the hospital.

The next hour was a blur, but life got a lot better as soon as my lower body went numb with the epidural…RELIEF!! Jeremy finally got to come in, all in surgery garb, and Lynne made it just in time. She was panting, but she made it. The two doctors cutting me open were discussing their golf game among other things, but soon I felt them lift Grant from my belly. He wasn’t crying too much, but Maria sure made up for it. She was wailing and I took a deep breath for the first time in about two months. Her screams were music to my ears. Grant needed a little help, but soon decided to get in on the action. I got to see my babies in little wrapped up burrito bundles before they were taken to the NICU for further evaluation. I was sewn up and was taken to recovery where I got to see digital pictures of the babies for the first time. What pretty babies!

Everything was a bit surreal and still is. My labor and delivery have been the talk of the unit, and now I can laugh about it (sort of). The hard part is that the babies are in the transitional care unit so we can’t be with them all the time like we want to be. Being born at 32 weeks and 5 days means they aren’t coordinated enough to suck, swallow and breath at the same time, which means they are eating through a tube until they are able to coordinate. They both pulled out their oxygen within a couple of hours of birth…I like how feisty they are. I keep telling them that the quicker they gain some weight and get coordinated they faster we can break them out of there. As for me, I can see my feet again when I stand up, which is cool and I will never take being able to pee for granted again.

So, we welcomed Grant Louis and Maria Isabel to the world on April 17, 2010 at 8:09 and 8:10 p.m. It’s a little ahead of our schedule, but we’ll trust God’s plan. Grant tipped the scales at 4 lbs 7 oz and 18 ½ inches long. Maria was 4 lbs 3 oz and 17 inches long. They are doing well. Jeremy is plying me with water and insisting on rest in order to get my milk supply in so the babies can get good “mama juice” and fatten up quicker. We’ve started Kangaroo Care with them and I love getting to feel their warm little bodies. We’re looking forward to the day when we can bring our babies home. We knew parenthood would be an adventure. We just didn’t think it would start out quite so crazy.

Hanging out with Maria

Grant aka Mr. Drama

Grant and Maria after their first bath.

Maria Isabel

Hormonal Reflections

When we started our embryo adoption process the biggest concern I had was over the hormones I was going to have to take. After going off birth control, my husband and I realized I was a much nicer person when I wasn’t chemically altered. Additionally, I had become somewhat of a hippie about what went in and on my body and tried to keep things as natural and organic as possible. These drugs were definitely going against my personal philosophies on wellness. I realized it was just temporary and wouldn’t be a lifestyle, but I was concerned about being totally nuts.

We had our mock cycle appointment scheduled for May. I was instructed to start taking Estrace approximately two weeks prior to the visit. This would thicken my uterine lining and allow Dr. Keenan to make sure my uterus would behave appropriately when it came time for the real thing. I called the nurse to ask if the drugs were going to make me crazy. She said some women are and some women aren’t, but she has had husband’s call and tell her they had to give their spouses something different. Great! I was going to be nuts! The time came around to actually start my medications and I warned people around me that I could be a nut job and to blame it on the hormones. I thought I was doing okay until one day at Whole Foods. The woman at the checkout had the audacity to suggest that I had too many items in my cart for her lane, which I didn’t because I had counted. Tears welled up in my eyes and I imagined myself ripping her face off…not exactly rational. Thankfully, a small piece of rational Jessica was still lurking inside and forced me to take a deep breath and quietly move my cart to a non-express lane. I knew if I said anything it would be all over.

Fast forward about three months. After my May Estrace experience, I enjoyed nearly three months of drug-free relaxed and rational Jessica. It was then I went on birth control to set my cycle for our transfer scheduled for September. Again, I was worried. And again, I was right to be.

My husband is a pack rat. It’s a well-known fact about him and I have learned how to make things just disappear. However, hormones invaded and I thought it would be wise to ask, then force him to throw out a box of old computer video games that had not been touched in the 5 years we had been married. This venture rapidly deteriorated into an all out fight where he committed a cardinal sin…he told me I was hormonal! I was not…I was perfectly rational. He was the one with the hoarding problems…my hormones were not involved in this fight at all. Yeah right! By the way, we still have the games.

August and September marched along and I learned to take some deep breaths and pause before I responded to anyone. However, that didn’t stop me from randomly crying for no apparent reason, but at least I wasn’t having visions of inflicting bodily harm on anyone. Our transfer was on September 17 and we would soon learn that it was successful. My body would eventually take over and it would be nature making me crazy, not prescription drugs. The first 12 weeks of pregnancy started with a daily battle with my toothbrush that induced dry heaving and all-day nausea, not to mention extreme fatigue. There was a major construction project taking place in my lower abdomen, so I tried not to complain. After all, I got what I asked for with a successful transfer and two babies on the way! Never fear, one day around Thanksgiving, I magically returned to the land of the living and pregnancy land was finally feeling pretty good. Praise the Lord!