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. 

Black & White

Three times endometriosis and adenomyosis sent me to the emergency room. The first time was the worst, within about 5 months prior to my last surgery in early 2018. It was a Saturday morning I’ll never forget. I woke up and walked to the bathroom, but couldn’t leave on my own accord. Chris helped me from the bathroom floor to the car and we barely exited the driveaway before I started to throw up because the pain was so bad.

The 15 minute drive felt like hours. Once we arrived, I hobbled into the closest wheelchair, writhing and folded over, motioning for a vomit bag. I was too focused on surviving to feel embarrassed. I used that infamous blue handheld bag as I was rolled passed the nurses station and into one of the rooms.

The rest is a blur until the second dose of morphine kicked in. I remember frantically kicking my flip flops off, Chris helping the nurses to get me into a robe and holding me down to draw blood and start an IV. It’s hard to find a vein with so much movement. Later my sister arrived to my empty room (when they took me for an ultra sound) to find what she described as a crime seen with my flip flops and a little blood scattered on the floor from attempts at sticking my vein. A catheter was needed to get a urine sample.

Then there was more waiting…

It takes time for the doctor to come. A nurse can’t prescribe morphine. And they had to make sure I wasn’t on drugs.

I remember rocking back and forth with eyes clenched, hands gripping the bed rails, and feet digging into those classic white sheets. My life wasn’t in danger, but I remember wondering if I was going to die. I remember feeling guilty for hoping someone would knock me out of consciousness to get a moment of relief. “Where is the will to get through this? Find it, Mary…”

Finally, the morphine arrived. The nurse said it would make my whole body feel weird for a moment and then that would go away. She was right. On a normal day, that anticipation would’ve caused me great anxiety. But all I could think of was the potential relief it would bring.

As that magical fluid trickled through my veins for the second time (one dose wasn’t quite enough), my limbs finally began to relax into the bed and a sigh of relief exited my mouth with the next few breaths. Now able to appreciate the back of my eyelids, I rested perfectly still, and completely soaked up every ounce of that very simple feeling that we often take for granted: normalcy.

My blood tests were fine. I had no cuts or bruises; no significant medical history except endometriosis. The ultra sound came back relatively normal. This is what an invisible illness can look like.

Once walking out that hospital door, mainstream medicine could only offer me three things:
1) Strong pain medicine
2) Some form of birth control and the side effects that come along with it
3) Hysterectomy

My Creighton chart, however, revealed a classic type of unusual bleeding seen with adenomysosis. My Naprotechnology surgeon ordered an MRI which displayed a thickening of/enlarged uterus with 3 large cysts, characteristic of adenomyosis. He gave me the option of cutting off the localized adenomyomas (cutting off part of the uterus) and sewing it back together with the possibility of pregnancy still intact. Chris and I thought it was worth a try.

I woke up from surgery feeling a dramatic difference immediately; a weight, literally, lifted. I went several cycles with minimal to no pain, controlled with anti-inflammatories.

My chart revealed that I was at high risk for endometriosis from the very beginning. Had I been charting when I was first having severe symptoms as a young teen, I would’ve likely been diagnosed and treated within one year instead of the 12 years it took mainstream medicine. This could’ve meant a drastic reduction in severity/time in pain, and fertility.

It was unreal to be freed from that pain I knew so well since before 13 years old, nearly 20 years prior. That pain had become a part of me, from pushing through work or school because period pain is “normal” to writhing in the bed sheets at our local E.R.

I don’t ever want to forget that feeling.

That feeling is what inspires me to fight for other young women like me, but also women with less serious women’s health issues. Women’s health diseases, risk factors for miscarriage, etc., and hormonal abnormalities can often be found much sooner. No one should have to “deal with” unnecessary symptoms.

That feeling reminds me of how far God has brought me and that He has never left my side- from the depths of despair to accepting and willingly entering into my sufferings, to embracing every joy and talent he has blossomed in my life because of it. It is unlikely that I will ever get pregnant. But I am living the joy of God’s plan for my life, which (spoiler alert) is much better than my own.

You can take away my fertility, but you can’t take away my faith.

You can take away my plans and control, but you can’t take away my hope.

Hope is right there in black and white. The underlying causes of our symptoms are also often right there in our charts, in black and white (or red, green, and white, even yellow….) But we have to be open and looking for it. Circumstances cannot change the reality of the presence of hope, nor the reality of God’s presence.

We don’t have to forfeit our honest feelings of sadness or anger to accept hope! Feel your feelings and express them. It is important to be honest with yourself and with God. But also allow yourself to be transformed and see the goodness God has for you. Hope is always present. Find it.

NFP Reform: A Plea to Church Leaders

I am 33 years old and have known I’ve been infertile since I got married just over 6 years ago. There’s sort of a spectrum of infertility because you’re always waiting for that special month when pregnancy will happen. For some it does and for others it doesn’t. The realization that my situation is becoming permanent has re-ignited some emotions I had conquered years ago after the initial realization that it would not be easy to become pregnant.

I was finally diagnosed with severe stage 4 endometriosis at 25 years old after 12 years of physical pain. If you’re thinking that is too long to wait before getting a diagnosis and subsequent treatment, you are right. So for the first several years of this journey, I was almost daily confronted with the painful realization that multiple doctors had failed me- both internists and gynecologists. Their medical school failed me. Their cheap attempt at a solution -insert any type of birth control here- failed me.

 

NFP/Fertility Awareness is God’s design for women’s health

Women’s health problems are more widespread than most realize – even with many who consider themselves of normal health. Thankfully, God has gifted humanity with an actual scientific and medically sound solution, and He has given it to us through the Catholic Church. Let that resonate for a moment because it’s kind of a big deal- and it supports the frequently challenged idea that Christ cares for His suffering people. The only problem is that many priests, religious, and Catholic professionals are completely unaware that it exists or don’t fully understand the impact it can have on a woman (at any reproductive age) and/or a couple’s life.

I have wrestled with my faith in God and it has been strengthened. Christ has not failed me. I write this today because now I am entering into another painful realization. Despite my life-long (practicing) Catholicism and the Creighton Model and Naprotechnology’s deep roots in the Catholic faith since the late 1960s (although anyone will benefit, regardless of denomination or lack thereof), not one priest, religious, or Catholic professional gave me information about this credible solution in an effort to heal my physical and emotional pain and preserve my fertility throughout the 12 years that I desperately needed it.

Had I known about this charting method, I would’ve been diagnosed and treated within the same year of discovering my severe symptoms as a young teenager. And I may not be infertile today. But the only information I received wasn’t given to me until I was in my 20s and preparing for marriage- to avoid IVF and some ambiguity about whether or not it was morally permissible to use birth control for medical reasons after I was married.

 

It’s not your fault

You are not responsible for my infertility. You can only share what you know of and I am aware that this was not explained to you in detail in seminary. I could not and would not blame you. But I hope I will challenge and motivate you. There are 1 in 8 couples who are infertile and many don’t know it yet. Infertility is a symptom of an underlying problem that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. Another problem sometimes preventable with NaPro protocols could be miscarriage. Post-partum depression is also widespread and has an effective but rarely known treatment. Countless women experience other women’s health problems- some are aware and some aren’t.

NFP can be the answer for many of these women. And forgive this expression, but most of the Church’s NFP game is weak.

“NFP” is not just for engaged or married Catholics, but that is often the only way it is marketed and evangelized. NFP more often represents 3 extremely misunderstood letters than an effective way to space out children. In my opinion, the better terminology is “Fertility Awareness” or “Fertility Awareness Based Methods (FABM).” This describes an appreciation for fertility by both man and woman and is characterized by early education of how a young woman’s body works- knowledge that every woman has a right to, but is seldom given in school or at home (probably because parents and teachers at school have not been fully educated either). Our fertility is intimately connected with our overall health- some refer to it as “the fifth vital sign” -and God’s design was not meant to be secret.

 

The whole person

This will empower a woman to make better and healthier choices for her whole person- body, mind, spirit, and soul. Yes, this includes making better decisions about sex, too. In a study by Klaus H and Kardatske D called “Teen STAR (Sexuality teaching in the context of adult responsibility): Experiential Learning of Fertility Delays Teens Sexual Debut,” they found a decrease between 30 and 62% of sexual activity of teenage girls with use of knowledge acquired from the Billings Ovulation Method. Ideally, a young woman will already have the knowledge and experience in charting her cycles (via multiple natural method options) before she becomes engaged to be married.

Fertility Awareness is the new “NFP” and it is about health, not just spacing out children. It is effectively avoiding pregnancy (many methods are equally effective as birth control), intentionally achieving pregnancy (even for many of the infertile), and there is another extremely important dimension that is often ignored: the ability to monitor and maintain a woman’s own procreative and gynecological health. The Creighton Model charting system offers an added health benefit that will be appealing to many.

 

Scientifically sound

Years of scientific research done by the Pope Paul VI Institute has determined how to gather valuable and clinically relevant data from a woman’s Creighton Chart. This data becomes specifically useful to a NaProTechnology (Naprotechnology.com) Medical Consultant and/or Surgeon who has been specially trained to interpret information gained from the chart to perform other targeted tests and/or surgeries if necessary.

This will often lead to early diagnosis and effective treatment of many issues-

  1. Hormonal abnormalities/PMS
  2. Endometriosis and PCOS
  3. Miscarriage and postpartum depression
  4. Early detection of some cancers (treatment for cancer is outside of NaPro) .
  5. Much more

This is a restorative healthcare approach which focuses its attention on restoring the woman’s health (vs. shutting it down via birth control) and it is not available from a mainstream OB/GYN. When a woman is healthy and understands how her body works, she is best prepared to achieve pregnancy, maintain a pregnancy, have an emotionally healthy postpartum, and live a better quality daily life whether pregnancy is an option or not. Even with all these advantages, this one method will not appeal to everyone. But we still need to be educated on the option.

 

A challenge for men

The approach for young men in regards to fertility would obviously be a little different, but still very important and is relatively absent in our culture. Young men don’t need as many specifics about what happens in a woman’s body, but general information is important especially as it is applied to reproduction. This is vital as they are confronted with maturing bodies, hormones, and are trying to grasp the gift of sexuality (hopefully in light of Theology of the Body) in order to nurture a healthy respect for themselves, women, and the conjugal act.

It doesn’t make much sense to talk about the man’s fertility separately from the woman’s. The only meaningful point of conversation is the combined fertility of the man and woman, which is understood by knowledge of the cyclic variations of fertility and infertility in the woman (taken from the Creighton Model’s Intro session). They, too, should have at least a basic understanding of the 3 pillars of Fertility Awareness (days of fertility, days of infertility, and women’s health) as they become engaged and prepare for marriage. Within marriage, the more specific knowledge he has of his wife’s reproductive system and their combined fertility, and the more they communicate about it, the more the couple will benefit and grow in unity.

Fertility Awareness is a beautiful gift within marriage. Regardless of which natural method is used, many recognize the shared responsibility of man and woman as a benefit, as opposed to the woman alone taking “responsibility” when using a form of birth control. However, as a new Practitioner Intern of the Creighton Model system who has now worked with many couples before and after marriage, I am beginning to see that simply choosing to use a natural method together as a couple does not necessarily make it a shared system.

It is still possible for the woman to take on the primary responsibility if the man does not take part. We can do a better job at preparing men for this important role in marriage. They must make a daily choice to share the responsibility with their spouses, learn the system, and learn how God speaks through the body of his beloved to communicate to them through charting.

 

Fertility Awareness and Theology of the Body

Whoa. Read that sentence again. What a gift! There is room for Fertility Awareness to be incorporated more into lessons on Theology of the Body, whether focused on adults or teens. In TOB, we learn that the body speaks the language of GIFT. I don’t think it’s too far off to say that God speaks a language of gift through our bodies in its design to communicate so much valuable information to us. God has blessed us with the amazing knowledge to be able to confidently determine a woman’s fertile window and gather information about the health of her body. Do we truly understand the gift we have been given? Are we fully aware of the gift of our fertility, even when unmarried? Do we know how to appreciate this gift from God?

 

God’s intelligent design

NFP/Fertility Awareness is hard, straight up. Many do not fully understand the benefits, both physical and spiritual, or how to apply it well within marriage. Many are expecting something as mindless as birth control and fail or become disheartened when forming the new daily habits of a natural method. The mindless form of avoiding pregnancy (birth control) is specifically not NFP/Fertility Awareness and that is ok because God has not designed us that way. Our periods of abstinence within marriage can really be quite fulfilling if we use it to focus on other important areas of intimacy like emotional, spiritual, communicative, etc.

We need to prepare our youth with this knowledge and temper expectations so they are ready for spacing children within marriage. Birth control makes us stop working the way God intended us to, but Fertility Awareness brings a respect for and an appreciation of the way God has created us to work! Psalm 139 tells us we are “…fearfully and wonderfully made…!” Better education for the young church means better preparation for and application of NFP within marriage.

 

Call to action

I opened up this blog post with an introduction to Fertility Awareness via my personal experience and journey towards infertility. But what I hope you take away from this is the full spectrum of benefits of Fertility Awareness (NFP) as it applies to both fertile and infertile couples, as well as the single woman, spiritually and physically. When we fully understand its beauty and purpose and are able to teach others appropriately, the health and marriage benefits will naturally flow from that education for all who need it.

I have prepared a little cheat sheet packed with useful & concise info on birth control, IVF, Creighton/Napro, etc. that will help you to incorporate this new information into your ministry. Links to research are also provided. It is now available for purchase $5, but is included in my parish/organization training package. Email me at MaryBrunoCRMS@gmail.com to purchase or set up a training.

Fertility Awareness/NFP Cheat Sheet

Thank you for reading!

 

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.

img_1666
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

 

Resetting the fractured

For those who haven’t experience the feelings associated with infertility, the worst part of the month starts way before the dreaded beginning of another period.  It starts in the middle of the month.  No matter how incredibly hard you try to not think about it, you cannot help but think about it.  If not in the forefront, it is in the background.  It’s like the elephant in the room, but in your brain. As God continues to mold me through this journey, and as I continue to ask Him to show me how to find the peace that will erase the stress of this constant thought, this is where He has brought me.  I can hopefully begin to show the elephant to the door.

It’s very hard to find peace in waiting, no matter how hard you try.  The only way I have come a step closer to finding it is by realizing that the peace comes in resolving to be content regardless of our outcome- whether we get what we want or not, knowing that God knows best.  He does far better than we would by laying it out ourselves, as we cannot see the big picture…

Sometimes it is necessary for a doctor to reset a fracture- break (or re-break) a bone and reset it to fix the problem.  Sometimes a child needs to be forced to do his homework or go to school.  We are ok with these seemingly cruel plans because we see the big picture.  Who am I to say that it is not necessary for me to go through this in order for God to bring me towards the greater good of myself?  He sees the big picture. I can only see today.  Thankfully, I have a wonderful, magnificent, and loving Father who desires the absolute best for me, and cares enough to see to it that I get there despite myself.  

This is not me accepting infertility as a sentence.  This is me accepting God’s plan for me today, and whether it means fertility or infertility. This doesn’t mean I don’t get sad or that Mother’s Day was easy.  It doesn’t mean I don’t struggle or don’t still have a lot of growing to do.  It also doesn’t mean I won’t get pregnant one day.  But it does give me peace.

“The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” (Psalm 23: 1-2)