What the IVF?

Artificial Reproductive Technologies (ART) encompass a sensitive subject area, but are (strangely) one of my favorite things to talk about. It’s a multifaceted topic with many aspects that are often left unconsidered by the average infertile couple – and especially by the average person recommending it. As someone who feels incredibly fulfilled despite living infertility for over seven years, I like to try and bridge that gap by giving some other perspectives. Most people don’t plan on being infertile, so when it hits, it is usually devastating. And the devastation only intensifies as months continue to pass without a positive pregnancy test.

A common reaction to this jarring life circumstance is to eventually turn towards IUI and/or IVF because most are unaware of any worthwhile alternatives, or simply because they desire to have children that share their DNA. It’s not that going the ART route is easy, but many consider it to be their last hope in conceiving a child. Catholics are one surprising branch of many in this boat. The fact that the Catholic Church advises against it as seriously sinful is either ignored, unknown, or believed to be untrue. Many can’t fathom why any Church would reject such “amazing scientific advancements.”

Yet, CCC (Catechism of the Catholic Church) 2377 insists: 

“…Techniques involving only the married couple (homologous artificial insemination and fertilization) are perhaps less reprehensible, yet remain morally unacceptable. They dissociate the sexual act from the procreative act. The act which brings the child into existence is no longer an act by which two persons give themselves to one another, but one that ‘entrusts the life and identity of the embryo into the power of doctors and biologists and establishes the domination of technology over the origin and destiny of the human person. Such a relationship of domination is in itself contrary to the dignity and equality that must be common to parents and children.’ 

‘Under the moral aspect procreation is deprived of its proper perfection when it is not willed as the fruit of the conjugal act, that is to say, of the specific act of the spouses’ union . . . . Only respect for the link between the meanings of the conjugal act and respect for the unity of the human being make possible procreation in conformity with the dignity of the person.

According to this statement, IUI and IVF do contradict the principles of human dignity. But here’s the thing that we, Catholics, have to do a better job at communicating to people in this difficult situation:

The feelings of frustration that infertile men and women experience in regards to ART are understandable.

The desire to have a child is very good. It is innate. It is part of God’s plan for marriage. It is part of how God designed woman. It is a desire to respond to God’s very own call to “…be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28) in one of very many ways, and it is beautiful! When that doesn’t happen naturally, it is extremely confusing to a couple. But science offers a solution, begging the question: what the flip could possibly provoke God to not ordain this?

Clearly there is some misunderstanding?

It is understandable why this Church teaching is initially upsetting, challenging, and/or flat out confusing for so many people who are already experiencing so much pain. On the surface, it appears to be a charitable response to a couples’ inability to bear children. But the fact that a response or solution exists, alone, does not automatically mean that it is just or that it even serves us well.

The end doesn’t justify the means

In general, having an unbiased third party to assess the situation from the perspective of all parties involved is extremely effective. It’s even better when that third party truly desires, and knows, what is best for our lives and hearts. The Church doesn’t exist to simply point fingers and ruin our plans just for fun. She was established by Christ Himself to illuminate the most loving choices that are most fulfilling and lead us closer to Himself, even when it feels impossibly hard.

Remember, He didn’t make His own self immune to human suffering. There was a grueling crucifixion and death on the cross that preceded His Resurrection. 

He Came to Serve

Understanding this aspect of “Church teaching” is incredibly useful because even when we don’t yet understand why She teaches certain things, we can be sure that Her purpose is to serve, not to hinder, us. Christ has put Himself in service of us, not as dictator over us! 

…just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28) 

Nothing is imposed on us. The Church only proposes the most life-giving options. We have the free will to ignore anything we choose to. When we open our hearts to understand why certain “propositions” exist the way they do, these teachings stop feeling so restrictive. Chris and I have never felt “bound” by the Catholic Church’s warning against ART because we not only understand it, but are in complete agreement with it. If it were free and a healthy pregnancy could be guaranteed, we would still decline IUI and IVF for several reasons. This does not minimize the pain of infertility, but acknowledges that It would not serve us as advertised.

*I understand and respect that not everyone feels the way we do. I am simply stating our reasons for not choosing either of these options.

IUI & IVF:

1) Both circumvent God’s perfect design for the co-creation of new life, separating procreation from the sexual act

2) Both circumvent the underlying health issue(s) preventing conception

3) Both can be extremely emotionally invasive (on top of what is already emotionally exhausting)

4) Both can easily make a baby the priority over God and spouse

5) Both can put undue stress on a marriage

6) Both can be physically uncomfortable/painful

7) Neither have guarantees or high success rates

8) Neither improve health, even when a baby is not the result

9) Neither continue to support the women throughout pregnancy

IVF

1) Most often creates multiple embryos with a low survival rate. Many of these new lives are frozen or destroyed. Those would be our sons and daughters – no matter how small.

2) It’s very expensive; multiple rounds are often required with no guarantee 

Some of these are also reasons why the Catholic Church opposes this practice. She is not opposed to ART in an effort to exert authority, but out of profound respect for each human person and the dignity of the marriage vocation. Still, many beautiful new humans are created this way and each have equal worth and value as humans conceived naturally. However, that doesn’t mean conception occurred under the best of circumstances for the couple.

Making the end the priority makes it easy to lose sight of the effects of the means. God desires more for us! If Chris and I had gone this ART route, we would’ve never met the beloved girl that calls me mommy and Chris daddy – the one God had planned for us all along. I would’ve never been motivated to search for the meaning of my infertility. I would’ve never lived the freedom of all the life-giving gifts I now experience daily. God doesn’t call every infertile couple to adopt, but he does invite all infertile couples to be life-giving! This call can be answered in a plethora of ways.

If life gives you this curveball, there is more than one way to knock it out of the park. Sometimes infertility does end with a baby, and sometimes it just gives us new-life. 

Abortion: The Great “Choice” Facade

I had a conversation about the emotional issue of abortion with several women recently that revealed something very interesting to me. One woman chimed in on the discussion to share that she had an abortion in her early 20s because raising a child meant she would have to move back into her parents’ abusive household where she would be exposed to more stress and trauma (a horrible situation that no one deserves).

Her argument intending to defend the lives of mothers faced with crisis pregnancies hinged on her claim that if she had not had access to the “safe” abortion she was given, she would have most likely killed herself (and the baby).

Because there is another (really, multiple) glaring issue, I’m presently not going to comment on the fact that adoption is an incredibly beautiful and worthwhile alternative to not personally raising a child, regardless of the circumstances. But I want us to take an honest moment to consider where she could have gotten such a notion?  …that it was because of her pregnancy that she would feel a need to end her life??

I assure you that this hopelessness felt by many women in similar and worse situations is not because of the newly conceived baby.

Let’s take a moment to consider the anger, cursing, vulgarity, and talking points being hurled on legislators and others in opposition to abortion, as well as the marketing pictures on TV and social media of emotional women sobbing at the thought that abortion may not be readily available:

1.) “My body, my choice” encourages women to think only of themselves; a concept which is in direct opposition to the definition of love which seeks to put others’ needs before our own. A life lived out of love is NOT easy, but is one of peace and contentment- even within suffering!

2.) “If the procedure isn’t legal, women will die anyway in back alley abortions” influences women to believe that there is no hope for them and dying would be imminent. It says “you are confronted with this difficult reality of pregnancy and you can’t do it. It’s going to be too hard. You don’t have control over yourself. Escape this “problem” at all costs. Even risking your own death.”

3.) “Your child will suffer if given up for adoption or end up in foster care due to lack of funding and too many children in foster care.” Nearly 100% of children in these situations will disagree and are actually very grateful to be alive. Those that disagree have a voice to do so.

Also, we must not forget the lives of the adults/entire families that a birthmother changes by giving them the ability to have a child and by giving the child a loving home. A birthmother is truly heroic, and that alone is a reason to live.

Surely there are people on both sides that communicate in undesirable ways. But I have personally witnessed far more offensive language and anger from those who support abortion. I think the anger is being fostered by fear of the things I just mentioned. But it is no surprise there is so much fear when there is so little encouragement and support for a woman in this particular difficult situation.

This person I had a conversation with expressed to me that she was suicidal and not one of the multiple women claiming to be pro-woman advocates for women’s health publicly stepped up in support of her mental health to suggest that she or anyone having suicidal thoughts may benefit from counseling, etc. No one said that there is never a good reason to end your own life. Was the actual point to make me feel bad or consider changing my mind because a pro-life stance is somehow to blame for a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy and considering suicide? Is it worth affirming this kind of thought process by silence?

Women with crisis pregnancies truly deserve our help and support, but the legality of abortion will not provide such. I believe many pro-abortion women truly intend to help women, but I also think the pro-abortion movement shows its true colors here. It appears as though women in very difficult situations are being used to validate extremes -like taking the life of an unborn child (or even as some believe is a future child)- to attempt to support their objective.

 

Being Authentically Pro-woman

If the good of the woman is truly the focus, why not encourage her and validate her ability to thrive in this difficult situation? If you are an organization that provides abortion, why not provide FREE counseling and ultra sounds? The cost of abortions can surely support it.

Why not tell her she CAN do this thing that is going to be hard? Why not educate her fully about all of her options? Why not educate her on alternatives to birth control that are life affirming? Why not talk to her about the benefits and freedom of sexual self-control?

Why not empower her with knowledge about FABMs (Fertility Awareness Based Methods) so she can begin to appreciate sexual self-control, understand how her body works, and receive the added health benefits? Why not give accurate statistics on effectiveness of FABMs?

Why not explain to her that although many women express feelings of relief immediately after having an abortion, that this often turns into regret and depression as years pass? Why not discuss the increased rate of breast cancer?

Why not spend more time and effort on adoption referrals and education?

It really doesn’t seem to be very much about a woman having a choice now, does it? I’m receiving a message that says: If your pregnancy is unwanted and makes your life hard, no matter the reason why, end it. Take what appears to be an easy way out.

Planned Parenthood, why is there not an “adoption” tab on your website? Also, why is there absolutely nothing about adoption or free counseling anywhere on your website? There is literally an “A-Z Glossary” on your website and “Adoption” is nowhere to be found. What services do you profit from?

 

Where are my choices? Or did you really just want me to know about one of them?

I have a new message for women with unplanned pregnancies who are in very serious/difficult or even not so difficult situations, and I have no financial interest in your decision: First of all- you are loved and valued, even if we disagree very much. You have worth. You are enough. Even if you make the decision I very much hope you won’t. Even if that decision was already carried out.

You are smart and can make your own decisions. But in order to make an empowered decision, you need all of the information and you need it to be accurate. If you don’t want to keep your baby, I completely respect that. I can’t imagine how difficult and scary this process of pregnancy you are anticipating may feel to you. But I know you are strong and that when faced with adversity in the past, you have conquered it, or have at least learned from it and have become a better person.

I believe in you wholeheartedly and I know you can conquer this, too. I also know that you will be grateful you did- so will that brand new life you just brought into the world and will one day be able to make choices of their own. If you don’t want to keep your baby, adoption is also a choice.

If you have no family or friends (and if you do!), there is a free crisis pregnancy center or church near you that will help you. People WANT to help you deliver this baby. They are cheering for you! People are yearning to adopt your baby. You will become their new hero like our birthmother became ours.

You actually do have options, and I hope you choose one that is loving and life giving for yourself and for your new child. You have been blessed with one of the hardest but most incredibly rewarding gifts on the planet- to be a mother. So, be a mother. Even if one of your first decisions as a mother is to gift your child with an adoptive mother. You can do this.

You were actually quite literally created to do this very thing, whether it feels like it right now or not. God bless you.

Our local crisis pregnancy center in New Orleans, the Woman’s New Life Clinic, offers free pregnancy tests, ultra sounds, and professional counseling services including individual pregnancy counseling, post-abortion counseling, adoption awareness counseling, family or couple counseling, miscarriage counseling, and stillbirth counseling. https://womansnewlife.com/services/professional-counseling/

Find your local Crisis Pregnancy Center by going to https://optionline.org/center-locator or by calling 1-800-395-4357.

 

 

Eres Un Regalo: A Love Letter for Birthmothers

The fear in the room was palpable, and so was the pain of a thousand heartbreaks. After what felt like a lifetime after walking into the room but was probably more like 15 minutes, the nurse finally asked me if I wanted to hold her. She asked the birthmother’s permission right before I graciously accepted her into my arms and finally became a mother…

There were so many questions rumbling around my head in anticipation of becoming a new mother. I wondered how things would be different, most of all. Would I long for the days when Chris and I could go out spontaneously and for as long as we wanted? How much would I miss my personal time? How will I feel on very little sleep? How hard will it be to accommodate this new tiny human into every aspect of our lives? Will we feel a connection? The list could go on. As for any set of new parents, it ended up being an adjustment and, of course, some of it was hard, but she quite beautifully and naturally melted into our lives. I remember not even giving that stuff a second thought. Our family of three pleasantly began our newest adventure… But wait a minute, wasn’t there someone else involved? What happened to that other person?

Although it would have been a lot easier, we did not find Isabella on our doorstep, and the first mother she ever knew selflessly stayed behind having a very different experience than us. Generally birthmothers go unnoticed by the world, but this one has boldly become my unsung hero, awakening my heart to a world of sacrifice with a depth of love that I did not realize existed. Full disclosure: I anticipated adoptive motherhood and my relationship with a potential birthmother selfishly and was completely clueless. I, for some reason, thought that I had a right to some potential child and that I should worry about how a birthmother might view or claim her own attachment to said child- as if I was working against her in some way. Wow, I sound like a horrible person. But I had no idea what to expect and as I began to grasp and experience the facets of this new person in our lives, I also began to discover a hidden gem.

Our birthmother, let’s call her “Clare” (my middle name), Chris, and myself had an interesting time getting to know each other. We communicated very well, if you don’t consider spoken conversation. It was very simple- she spoke Spanish and we spoke English. We enlisted the help of a couple of friends (Gracias, Gross and Daisy!) who were fluent in Español and this was a big help. But you can only communicate so well through others and a translation app on your phone. “Buh-nah-nuh!” said the minions from “Despicable Me” and Clare’s other two munchkins. This we could understand! The movies they knew and this one was their favorite. But I always wondered how she was feeling and if her emotional and physical needs were really being met. I had Chris and many others to confide in, but who did she have? This mere 21-year-old had traveled from multiple states away from the little family she had in the United States, with her two other children, to an unknown place where people spoke an unknown language, where she was prepared to hand the child in her womb over to a couple who she could barely communicate with, and then return home post partum empty handed. As tiny as she was and as little as I expect she felt, Clare carried more strength in her pinky finger than most do in their enitre bodies.

Our adoption agency’s CEO accompanied us one day on a visit and he was able to translate for us. This is how we got to know Clare the most, besides some paperwork she had filled out. We were able to get a small glimpse into the world of this lonely mother who was unaware of how brave and selfless she was. She was a woman of very few words, and what she wanted us to understand most was that she was not giving this child up because she didn’t love her. We weren’t able to see much into her world, but it was clear that she felt like she could care for two children, but not three, and she wanted this third child to have a better life than she had and that she could provide. As I began to understand her, a deep desire for her to be well taken care of began to take root within me. She explained further in her paperwork that she “really wants a family with no kids (check) so she can feel like she is blessing them with a gift they can’t have otherwise…” She added that she “didn’t abort the baby because she knew there were women that couldn’t have a kid.” (check check!)

I had a genuine desire to get to know the woman that was carrying our future child. Most importantly, I wanted her to know that we cared about her as a person and that she has value and worth because of who she is, not just because she was giving us this perfect gift. But how could I let her know this? I felt for this woman as she approached her due date, only being able to imagine how she felt, while simultaneously attempting to balance that with my own feelings of excitement and anticipation. I could not have prepared for the experience I was about to observe in her.

When the time came, we walked into the birthing room. In this room, there were two women with a deep desire for a child, making the choice to love- one lying down and one standing up, both having carried a cross. One was latched tightly onto her treasured offspring, and the other was latched tightly onto her husband’s hand. One was prepared to sacrifice her rights for the sake of the child, and the other was finally able to have one by accepting that sacrifice. The fear in the room was palpable, and so was the pain of a thousand heartbreaks. After what felt like a lifetime after walking into the room but was probably more like 15 minutes, the nurse finally asked me if I wanted to hold her. She asked our birthmother’s permission right before I graciously accepted her into my arms and finally became a mother. As the tension of Clare’s firm grip was finally released, so were a thousand tears- rushing from her face, as if trying to escape the source of the pain. My heart burst and broke at the same time as I witnessed this love in action. She truly loved Isabella, so she truly began to feel the depth of discomfort by letting her go. At this moment, she could not hold back her feelings and we got a much larger glimpse into her world. I felt the urge to immediately place this new and precious treasure into her daddy’s arms so I could comfort my hero.

What does one say? Better yet, what does one say when she can’t communicate in the same language? In this situation, I believe the best communication regardless of the words I chose was sincerity of heart displayed through body language. The only thing I could think to say with my words and gestures was what I wanted to make sure she knew at the height of her pain and our joy. I touched her arm carefully in an attempt to console her, looked into her eyes and said the only thing I could think of:

You are a gift.

“Eres un regalo.”  In those four words, I hoped to communicate that with or without Isabella, you are a selfless and holy and wonderful woman. Bella is a gift and you are a gift. In the eyes of the world you may not look like anything special, but we see your beauty, and it is resounding. You allowed God to make something good and beautiful out of a bad situation. Your sacrifice does not go unnoticed. You may know Christ or may not, but you were Christ in the sacrifices you made. You made a decision every day to put yourself second and another human being first. You might have felt desolation upon viewing that positive pregnancy test, but you have turned that situation into a gift, and that action is bearing fruit! You have loved. You did this despite the emotional and physical toll you experience(d) daily; despite the unknown; despite the loneliness; despite the poor decisions and dissappointments; despite the pain. You looked beyond yourself. How often do we feel unimportant or that we have nothing to offer others or the world? How often do we expect more from the world? We can always offer ourselves and it is from that offering that God produces fruit. Love is a verb. That verb can feel big or it can feel small. It can feel painful or joyful. It can even feel counter-cultural, but it is always the best choice to make.

The struggle for a birthmother rarely, if ever, magically ceases after the placement of her child. Clare continued to have physical and emotional complications well after Bella’s birth, and we must not lose sight of that. We continued to communicate via text, offering prayers and assuring her of Bella’s well-being, because we wanted to do everything we could to help her feel supported and remembered. I looked forward to these moments as being our best opportunity to make sure she felt loved and appreciated by us because we no longer had anything to receive from her. I hope that wherever she is now, she feels as much consolation and peace as the love she has lived out.

Two women exist with a deep desire for a child, making the choice to love a child- one lying down and one standing up, both fighting a battle. Both will surely reap the reward. Adoption is a beautiful alternative to terminating a pregnancy, and in our loving communication and encouragement to choose that option, it will be helpful to understand that just like it is not so simple for infertile couples to “just” adopt, it may also not be so simple for birthmothers to “just” put a baby up for adoption. The better awareness we have of others’ hardships, the better we can empathize and love each other into making the right decisions, regardless of how hard the right decisions are. Please pray for birthmothers.

 

Dedicated with love and respect to our birthmother,

The Brunos

 

 

The Year We Became Grateful For My Broken Uterus: A “Lairytale”

Our house is looking quite different these days. The sight of baby toys and thing-a-majigs use to make me sad, but now they are pleasantly scattered around the floor or wherever our long-awaited daughter decides they belong. I draped a towel across the base of the fireplace so she doesn’t pick at the white plaster covering the bricks. I have a special drawer at the bottom of our kitchen cabinets that is just for her. She thinks she has found hidden kitchen treasures and is unaware that they were carefully selected just for her to find…again and again. My quirky, yet new favorite finding are pieces of her short black hair lying around. My long brown hair is usually the only shedding I find in abundance. But there is a new chick in the house. And she just turned one.

For years we pined, waited, and complained, thinking we knew what was best for us. Half of the time we imagined our perfectly planned family, including a child displaying the best combination of Chris and myself, and the other half I struggled with pain and donned the latest trends in hospital gowns, trying to get the right kind of “fixed.” Yet today, four words sum it all up perfectly: This. Is. So. Cool!

We do not have a fairytale story to tell…with the exception of Bella being pretty much, well, perfect. It is more like a “lairytale:” a lopsided fairytale- one with some bumps and bruises, yet still a very happy “ending,” although one we did not expect. Although Chris was always on board, I did not always know I could or wanted to adopt. I couldn’t even utter the word for years. I was glued to my childhood belief that “I will get pregnant” because that is just what happens, even if you have to force a fairy godmother to bippity boppity boo it. That didn’t happen. The way I finally warmed up to the idea and took the leap of faith onto the adoption pirate ship is a story for another day. But thankfully, that did happen. And the glorious news that her birthmother chose us was then delivered in the mouth of a white bird who landed on Chris’s shoulder while we glided across a bridge at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Just kidding. We were walking across a bridge in Animal Kingdom, but we got a text message from our agency. Yes, a text message.

The day of her birth was the best, though. I was truly grateful that Bella’s birthmother said I could be present in the room during her birth. What an honor! I was able to cut the cord and hold my precious baby girl right before I carefully walked her to meet her daddy for the first time. As our new little family embraced each other, Chris and I gazed into her perfect eyes, only open for long enough to capture our faces for a second before peacefully falling asleep. Not really. Her birthmother labored all day at home and didn’t tell anyone or go into the hospital until she was 10 cm dilated. Since we live three hours away, we didn’t come close to making it there on time. When we finally arrived, her birthmother was holding her tightly. For those of you who don’t understand what this means, it is pretty scary. In Louisiana, a birthmother can’t sign over her parental rights until three days after the baby is born and prior to this day, she hadn’t decided if she was going to hold her or not. As much as we wanted our birthmother to be as comfortable as possible, there was palpable fear of that immediate bonding which might cloud her judgement and influence her to change her mind. We had just rushed from hours away to get to the hospital and meet our baby girl. We walked in, saw this happening, didn’t know what to do, and sat down and waited, gazing from across the room at our bundled up Isabella, in the arms of another mother. 

After what felt like a lifetime later but was probably more like 15 minutes, the nurse finally asked me if I wanted to hold her. She asked the birthmother’s permission right before I graciously accepted her into my arms and finally became a mother. And then the most amazing year began. Just because it’s not a fairytale doesn’t mean it isn’t just right. We don’t look alike, with the exception of our long eyelashes, but it is the combination of Chris and I that brought us to this decision, with this agency, at this time, and with this child. She has a killer tan, a contagious laugh, and a smile that doesn’t quit. Ask anyone! And she has made me truly grateful to be infertile. Because otherwise we would not have her or many other really good things in our lives. God did not forget about me and is not punishing me. He values me. And it would be easier to see that He has a pretty awesome plan for my life if I would stop trying to get in the way by avoiding acceptance of my crosses. Infertility is still a cross, but one carried with increasing joy as we learn to trust in God. He has the power to make anything happen, so it actually gives me comfort to know that my infertility might be on purpose, or better yet, allowed for at least one specific reason. Isn’t that cool!? God has not made just one, but multiple beautiful things happen through my infertility! What other treasures in waiting and disguised as suffering will I experience?  

My uterus may still be broken and my house may be a little messy, but it is these exact things that have indirectly brought such joy into our lives. Thank God for “Lairytales.”

Happy Beginnings!

My husband wanted to share his thoughts and words of the adoption process through today, Isabella’s “Gotcha Day”!  Enjoy!

`Happy “Gotcha Day” to our beautiful gift, Isabella “Bella” Noel B-R-U-N-O!!! We are so very blessed to have you in our lives. You bring joy to EVERYONE that crosses your path with that constant, beautiful smile and contagious laugh.

Please excuse the remainder of this post as it is very, very long, but thank you for reading.

“Happy Beginnings”

1 Year, 5 Months, 19 days – the total amount of days since the formal adoption process began until today, the day our legal system views Isabella in the same way as if she shared our DNA. I would like to share with you our adoption journey for Bella.  As with all adoptions, our adoption journey wasn’t easy, it wasn’t “convenient”, it wasn’t affordable, it wasn’t our “right”, but it was her “right” and it was soooooo worth it!  There may be some adoptions that were easier, but there are plenty that are far, far tougher than ours.  I share these details with you only so that someone from the outside of this process gains some perspective and appreciation.

The journey begins with the desire and conviction to adopt a child that is not your own. That is far harder than it sounds.  For some, this desire comes whether or not you are able to have a child on your own, but for others, it requires much self-reflection and the ultimate decision comes after you are faced with the realization that you may not be able to pass on your DNA.  I’d venture to say that almost everyone pictures themselves having a child of their own one day, one that resembles a combination of you and your spouse.  So, for some, the choice to adopt is very humbling as you must get past that hurdle.  For us, it has been a mixed bag of the two.  Anyways, once you have made this life-changing decision, you must start the formal process.  It goes a little something like this (but every adoption story is different)…

First, you must get a certified social worker that handles these types of cases. This is the next humbling step to adoption.  Unlike a natural pregnancy, you must prove that you are fit to be a parent, in whatever terms the “state” deems that to be defined.  They will require you to fill out a detailed application, get background checks, fingerprints taken, and get several friends and family references that will be contacted.   You then begin your home visits with the social worker.  He/she will come to your house, speak with you in detail, and observe your home and living situation.   Obviously, the stress of this can vary greatly.  For us, we were blessed with a great social worker that made us feel comfortable as we were being reviewed to see if we were fit to be parents.  Either way, this is a bit terrifying and intrusive.  You are required to have 3 of these visits prior to being allowed to be “in the mix” of prospective parents.  These visits cost about $500 each.  That is, once you pass the other items, background checks and your friends and family reference interviews.

At this time, you typically create a book about yourselves. For us, we created a Shutterfly book that contained pictures of us, our family, our friends, a bit about each of us (Mary wrote my section and I wrote hers), comments about how we planned to raise our child, and a sincere letter to the potential birthmother, fully realizing the extremely humbling, tough, and noble decision she was having to make. You buy several of these books so that they can be passed around to all the potential birthmothers that the adoption agency has access to.

In our case, next came the adoption agency. With this comes another application and survey which lets the agency know of any stipulations you may have in your potential birthmother.  This includes her drug usage during pregnancy, medical conditions, family health history, physical traits, gender, age, etc.  None of these parameters are guaranteed and the adopting family assumes all risks, but this is used as your “filter” in the search for a match.  With this also comes a big non-refundable payment.  Let’s say $15,000.  The individual payments are really a blur as, at this point, you have pretty much written a blank check.

Then, you wait, and wait, and wait, and wait, and wait…. And you wonder and wonder how many potential birthmothers have seen your book (if any) and why they didn’t choose you.   Sometimes you find out some minor details in this regard (not sure if this helps or makes it worse), but most often, you don’t hear anything.

Then you get the call (or text or smoke signal or whatever else your adoption agency or social worker decides to use). Our time was May 17, 2016 at 1:14PM.  Mary and I were walking through Animal Kingdom in DisneyWorld, our “babymoon” of sorts, when we got the text message finding out that our birthmother had chosen us.  We were notified and given the option to “put our names in the hat” for this potential birthmother a few days earlier.  What a surreal moment! It doesn’t truly hit you at this point in time as it is hard to really comprehend that it has finally happened – your dreams are coming true and your baby-to-be is living in this selfless woman’s womb!  You are already in love with her or him.

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In Disneyworld in Animal Kingdom after finding out we were chosen as adoptive parents!

What comes next… The next part is all business and really hard to swallow.  You receive a cost forecast of adoption and applicable fees.  These include agency costs, birthmother support during pregnancy, birthmother support post-partum, family support, etc., etc., etc. For us, this was approximately $48,000.  Ouch! At this point, the money is “at risk” (could be completely lost if the adoption falls through for ANY reason) and is simply an estimate, realizing that it could cost even more than this (or less).

Then, we got to drive out of town about 3.5hrs to meet our birthmother and her two children. They didn’t speak English so communication was interesting.  I imagine how humbling and sad that meeting was for her – confronting the reality face to face of her tough decision to allow someone else to raise her child.  Her two children were young enough to not understand what was going on.  They were from a different state far away and they were living in an apartment that the agency found and we paid for.  She was provided all the necessities and comforts for her family, though the situation was nowhere near ideal for her.  She was hiding the pregnancy from her family due to unknown reasons, but I imagine the act of “giving up your baby” when you are unable to care for him/her, though so amazingly admirable, is frowned upon by many people in the birthmother’s inner circles – family and close friends.  We brought her some necessities and showed her love and thankfulness through our time spent and love shared with her family.  We continued these visits, some just Mary for girl time, until the birth came around, including doctor checkups where we were able to witness an ultrasound, simply watching movies, grabbing a bite to eat, going to the park, getting her very first pedicure, and playing with the kids.

As the due date nears, you are asked to pay the remaining balance of the projected costs and any unforeseen costs that arose along the way. Everything is still at risk – your intimate connection with your baby-to-be (by this time, we’ve named her and have started to prepare her nursery even though they tell you not to do much in case it falls through), your life savings, and, with it, the financial feasibility to be able to adopt again if it does fall through, thus likely our ability to have a child anytime in the near future.

July 9, 2016 – We are at a close friend’s (one of our adoption references) pool party and BBQ and we got the call! The birthmother believes she is in labor and has been so all day. We’re told these are often false alarms so don’t leave yet.  We decided to leave the party anyways and go home and get ready just in case.  We then got a call that it was legit and they thought the baby would be born any minute now.  Seemingly, our strong birthmother labored all day in her apartment with her two children.  We drove as fast as we could from our town to the birthtown 3.5hrs away.  Unfortunately, Isabella was born just about 30 minutes into our drive.  We received pictures from the agency, and wow, what a feeling!  Our baby was officially here! Isabella Noel ****** (she doesn’t get our last name yet).  She was absolutely beautiful and perfect in every way!  We arrive at the hospital and are directed into the hospital room.  The birthmother was laying down, Isabella in her arms, and she is looking deeply into Isabella’s eyes with light tears in her eyes.  We just stand there, having ZERO idea what to do.  It’s a pretty awkward situation.  Think about it.  Is this our baby? Should we be excited?  Should we ask to hold her? What is proper etiquette?  What seemed like an eternity later, the nurse asked if we wanted to hold her.  We said yes, and, with the birthmother’s permission, they handed Isabella to Mary.  The birthmother immediately started sobbing crying.  Imagine how hard that is!!!!  Mary handed Isabella to me while she comforted the birthmother.  This moment was the happiest moment of our life, but we really could not enjoy it yet, at least the way we’d pictured it.  Things settle down and the hospital gets us a room and we are able to get some alone time with Isabella and she is able to stay in our room while the birthmother gets some sleep.  It’s probably 1AM by now.  We were responsible to care for the birthmother’s two kids during this time – babysitting, feeding, etc.  It’s quite difficult to enjoy time with your wife and new baby while also juggling these extra responsibilities.  Thankfully, Mary’s sister came and helped care for the kids.  What a lifesaver!  On top of all of this going on, the A/C in our car died on the way there.  July in Lousisiana – you HAVE to have air conditioning!  Thus, I spent a lot of time in a local mechanic shop.  In fact, I spent much more time at the shop and taking care of the kids then I spent with Mary and Isabella.  The birthmother was released from the hospital about 14 hrs after giving birth.  She went back to her apartment. The hospital let us stay one more night while I tried to get the car fixed.  No luck there so I rented a car.  We moved into a hotel room the next night and they were so hospitable.  Shout out Holiday Inn.  During this time, I’m working to get the car fixed, keeping the children fed, fixing the birthmother’s tv (during this time, I was able to share my gratitude and love for her and her family via the iTranslate app), etc., Mary is back at the hotel enjoying our baby girl, but I’m sure she is wishing for some hopeful family time.   One scaryyyyyy, lingering question remained during this time.  Will the birthmother sign over her rights?!?!  In our state, she cannot sign over our rights until the 4th day after birth.  What is going to happen?  If she changes her mind, we have to give Isabella back and we lose everything.  It’s as simple as that. You can imagine the thoughts going through her mind during this time.  She is really, really sad.  After counseling sessions, etc, she is set to meet up with the attorney and adoption agency on the morning of the 4th day to decide to sign or not.  Then we got the text! She signed over her rights.  We can leave town and take Isabella home! What a joyous moment! We completely feel for the birthmother, but we try very hard to enjoy our own, special moment.  We drive straight home to a house full of family and decorations from dear friends.  Our new life is just beginning.

Isabella “Bella” Noel Bruno! Her name has a strong meaning for us. Noel – this is synonymous with Christmas in which we have the tradition to give gifts to one another thanks to Saint Nicholas.  ”Bella” stands for “beautiful” in both Isabella’s ancestor’s native language (Spanish) and Mary and I’s significant ancestor’s native language (Italian).  Thus, Isabella is our “Beautiful Gift.”  That, she surely is!

Because the father was not around, we had to pay a court curator to try to find the birth father. They had a name and an approximate location.  They search using social media, phone listings, a newspaper listing, etc.  They have to wait a certain amount of time to give the father a chance to come forward and contest the adoption with us before he or the court can terminate his rights.  About 60 days later, we found out that the father’s rights have been terminated.  Only one hurdle remains, the state adoption legal system.

After an adoptive child is placed in your home, though you have full responsibility and care for the child, you are sort of “co-parents” with the adoption agency. You began social worker visits again (1 within a week of getting home, every two months, and then the last one right before your court date / “Gotcha Day” – ~$200/ea).  The social worker is ensuring you are doing all the necessary things to care for the baby, some requirements that seem quite unnecessary, but you have to do it all.  You live in fear.  You live in fear that anyone in the process finds something that they deem inappropriate.  They have the power to ruin your world.  They have the power to have your baby taken away from you.  I’m sure this doesn’t happen to good willed people, but it still scares the hell out of you.  You delay projects, you go out of your way to meet all the requests they have and those you find online, etc.  You have to prove you are fit to be your child’s parent.  Those that give birth to their own babies don’t have to prove themselves.  Why do we? No, I get it, it is required to protect these beautiful children from horrible people, but it still TOTALLY sucks!  We didn’t do anything to deserve this.  Whatever, we will do anything for our baby girl!  We got this!  The Man upstairs has this!

We have our final social worker visit, we pay our thousands to our lawyer, and we have our court date scheduled.

February 3, 2017 – Today! Isabella’s “Gotcha Day”!! We were sworn in and asked questions to ensure we’d treat Bella as if she were of our blood! Don’t worry, Judge, she was born in our hearts a long time ago! What a gift!  Overall, it was a great experience.  The judge had actually adopted two of his own children!  She is now officially Isabella Noel BRUNO! Our baby girl now shares our last name!

In the end, our adoption costs approximately $55,000, but our angel is priceless. She was worth every inconvenience and penny along the way. With that said, do you realize how this blessing is so far out of reach for most people?!? It is really sad.  We are completely blessed to have found a way to make it work financially.  There are so many people out there that wish they could adopt a child, but have little to no financial means to do so, even though they have the hearts and willingness to do so.  Whether or not you believe in the “Right to Life” of the unborn, I believe we can all agree that abortion is not the happy ending in any case.  If you spend time fighting for your belief that women have the right to choose life (or death) for the baby in their womb no matter the circumstances, I will not discuss that in this forum (I welcome actual conversations in person), but I do challenge you to think about it this way: do you spend more effort, time, and resources advocating for the convenient “sad endings” of said “choice” vs the inconvenient, yet “happy beginnings” that adoption brings?  That’s right, not happy “ending”, but “happy beginnings!” Does that order of priorities stand in line with your principles?

Prayers to birthmothers with unexpected pregnancies or pregnancy complications, prayers to those women that make the unfortunate decision of abortion, prayers to couples yearning for a child to call their own, prayers to those that carry their baby in their womb, prayers to those that carry a baby in their hearts, prayers for those seeking to rescue a child and provide them with a loving home, prayers to all past, present, and future adoptive birthmothers, prayers to all adopted children, prayers to all of those providing love, care, and support for a child that wouldn’t have had that right without their sacrifice.

Thank you to my wife who was able to welcome the thought of adoption, thank you to each one in our family who has supported us along the entire journey, thank you to each of our friends and parents who were our adoptive references for our character checks, thank you to my parents whom embedded the positive perspective of adoption throughout my life (I will never forget their adoption bumper stickers), thank you to each and every one of you! Please continue to keep Isabella and our family in your thoughts and prayers! We sure hope to grow our family again one day, God willing!

El Fruto De Mi Sufrimiento

With a full belly, her head floated down to my shoulder as she drifted into sweet slumber for the night.  Her peaceful face just happened to tilt towards mine, which allowed me to gaze at what I soon realized to be a peace of heaven of earth.  Perfection.  Innocence.  And although being a mommy is not always so easy…yes, it really is!  I did not earn her.  There wasn’t something I did right to be able to call her my own, or something I did wrong to have waited, longer than most, for her.  She is just God’s plan, plain and simple.  She is our Guatemalan gift, and one of the many fruits of my suffering.

I stared at this perfect face, frozen with awe at her Master’s handiwork, and wanted it to teach me.  Now I am graced with the perspective of a parent, which will help me better grasp God’s feelings towards me as His child.  “Mary, my mother, join me now in a mother’s prayer that…my little child may instruct me in the ways of God…” (” ‘The Original’ Mother’s Manual ” by A. Francis Coomes, S.J.) My gaze at Bella is a mere fraction of God’s gaze at me, and this is hard to comprehend.  I thought: “But I am not so innocent!  I am not so lovely.  How can you love me so much?”  And He says, “You are Mine.”  She sort of had me in a temporary trance, and as I continued to enjoy her simple presence, nothing could steal my attention at this particular moment.  I thought: she could literally empty the contents of her stomach all over me right now, and I would not move.  God had graced me with this moment of truth.

We are His.  We just are.   We can’t do anything to make Him stop loving us.  And just as I will learn in the years to come with my own child, sometimes “loving” requires the lover to allow the “lovee” to suffer.  Even in great ways–because there is good we may not be able to see.  Although difficult in practice, it is easy for us to understand the concept when raising a child.  It is hard for us to see that when we suffer, we are the child.  The lover always brings a greater good out of the suffering!  Call it “struggling,” “depression,” “tiredness,” “hunger,” “unanswered prayer,” or by another name- we all suffer.  And so many suffer without hope!

Answered prayers come in so many different shapes and sizes.  It may match your desired shape and size, but it probably won’t.  Please, still hope.  Still know that He who is your lover can NOT disappoint you.  I am trying to grasp this as I continue to experience infertility.  Although having our Bella is the greatest gift I did not even know how to imagine for, and she does make us feel complete, she is not a cure for being barren.  It has helped, but the same things still cause us pain.  And even if we are blessed with a pregnancy one day, I will never want to forget this feeling.  In suffering, I feel closest to Jesus.  Although I rarely, if ever, “feel” it, I have to know that this. is. still. good.  As impossible as it “feels” for you to see it in your sadness, grief, impossibility, exhaustion, suffering, can you find the good?  It is there.  Will you find it?

“Mary, my mother, join me now in a mother’s prayer that…my little child may instruct me in the ways of God: that its innocent eyes may speak to me of the spotless holiness of Jesus; that its open smile may continually remind me of the great love God has for His creatures; that its helplessness may teach me the unbounded power of God; and that its feeble efforts to speak may tell me of God’s wisdom.  Pray with me now that its complete trust in me may lead me to a like confidence in God, and that its simple affection for me may bring me to a greater love for Him…” (” ‘The Original’ Mother’s Manual ” by A. Francis Coomes, S.J.)

Mary G Bruno