Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Does the Journey Seem Long?

Jonah was diagnosed with Treacher-Collins Syndrome the morning after he was born. Our new pediatrician, a man I had never met before, came and told us about his diagnosis. We spent the previous night worrying about our new little one, so any answers were a huge relief.  We were grateful to learn that he would have normal development of his body and brain and that his vision would probably be fine.  We braced ourselves as the doctor described the many surgeries Jonah would face, but again felt relief that his condition was not life-threatening.  We tried to process this deluge of new information and challenges while dealing with the usual learning curve of new parenthood.  My brain churned over diapers, cleft palates, nursing, pumping, craniofacial disorders, sleep schedules, bath time, hearing loss, etc...

Then everything stopped.

My focus became sharp as the doctor explained that I was the carrier of this syndrome. He could tell just by looking at me that my genes were responsible for our baby's fate.  He went on to explain that we would have a 50% chance of passing on this syndrome to any children we had in the future, and that their expression of the syndrome could be mild or severe. My heart broke. Even though I had been a parent for less than 24 hours, and it had been a difficult 24 hours, I wondered in that moment if I would ever have the opportunity again.

As Jonah grew and progressed and became the light of our home my fears about never having more children were buried by the busyness of being a mother.  I felt content to be his mother and decided I could deal with our challenges at some later stage of life, when it felt right.  Little did I know that those feelings would soon surface because of circumstances beyond my control.  Suddenly on a late September day our sweet boy was gone, in a matter of minutes, and we felt his absence deeply.

In the days and weeks that followed Jonah's death I remember wondering if and how we would ever have more children.  Jordan and I began to grapple with some very difficult ethical and moral questions in the midst of our overwhelming grief.  We loved Jonah so much, just as he was, but also knew that his condition (more specifically his small airway) contributed to his death.  We explored the ideas of embryonic genetic testing, egg donation, adoption, or simply taking our genetic chances. Jordan and I had different reactions and feelings about each of these options.  No choice felt easy or inconsequential.  Some choices felt selfish, while others felt too risky.  We met with a genetic counselor to discuss our options and began a winding indeterminate journey back to parenthood.

It was about this time I met Katie.*

I was assigned to get to know Katie through the Visiting Teaching program of our church.  In that moment Katie and I seemed to have very little in common other than our approximate age.  She was newly married and still in the honeymoon phase.  I was grieving deeply after losing Jonah and trying to navigate this uncharted territory in my marriage.  She was working full-time as a teacher, and I was trying to find ways of filling the quiet stillness of my days.

Looking back I'm sure no one would have judged me for choosing not to visit teach.  I could have excused myself from the responsibility by citing my overwhelming grief, or the differences in our circumstances.  But I felt compelled to go each month whether by guilt or responsibility or the spirit.  I will always be grateful that I did, because our seemingly divergent paths soon became parallel and we both became witnesses to incredible miracles in each others lives.

As we met each month we talked about simple things like work, marriage, travel, etc...  I shared some of the things I was experiencing as I continued to grieve, tried to find a job, sought solace in the mountains, and began visiting a fertility clinic in the area.  We became closer as we honestly talked about life and it's challenges.

Shortly after our first visit to the fertility clinic we stumbled upon Katie and her husband in the lobby.  We were just about to begin our first in vitro cycle and they were meeting with the doctor for a preliminary consultation.  We all felt optimistic and hopeful about the possibilities ahead.

Our optimism soon transformed into endurance as we both faced disappointments and setbacks. For three years we consoled each other as we each dealt with the heartache and frustration of miscarriages, chemical pregnancies, unhealthy eggs, blood tests, hormone injections, changing diets, endless waiting, physical and mental exhaustion, financial burdens, and difficult doctors.

With each new attempt we hoped, prayed and fasted for each other.  When we visited each month we talked about how hard it was to know if we were even on the right path. Should we continue or quit? Was adoption the answer? Would it all be worth it?  I felt very strongly that I could only pursue one option at a time. I would follow our fertility journey to the end of the road and if it failed we would begin looking into adoption.  Katie felt compelled to complete an application and home study and actively pursue adoption while going through in vitro.  We talked about our choices and faith and hope and the love of our Heavenly Father. Then we took turns believing that everything would work out in the end.

Eventually Katie and her husband swtiched doctors and we followed suit.  We ended up going to Dr. Andrew at East Bay Fertility.  He seemed to be solving some of their problems and we were looking for new solutions.  Jordan and I only had two remaining embryos, and one more chance to try.  We put our trust in Dr. Andrew and began treatment for immune issues and a blood clotting disorder.  In November we transferred the embryos, prayed for a miracle, and waited.  Jordan and I braced ourselves for bad news at every blood draw and every ultrasound, and were stunned when the news was good.  I was pregnant!  Not only was I pregnant, but we were expecting twins!  We held our breath through that first trimester and prayed that Katie and Josh would experience the same miracle.

They tried one more time with renewed hope and it just didn't work.

I took her flowers one afternoon, self-conscious of my growing belly in the face of such disappointment. Later I asked if they would try again, and she said she wasn't sure.  She felt grateful they had options, but needed some time and space to choose their next step.  We didn't see each other for a couple of months, but kept in touch through texting.

Then Katie's miracles began.  One morning in March I got a text saying that Katie and Josh were headed to Idaho to meet a potential birth mother.  The birth mom found out about Katie and Josh and felt sure that she wanted them to have her unborn baby, which was due any day. This young mother had previously fallen away from her faith, and then found it again as this new life grew inside of her.  In the face of great opposition she convinced the biological father and her own family that this baby did not belong to her, but to Josh and Katie.  In a matter of days and through a series of miracles the baby was born, and this brave young woman gave an incredible gift to our friends, a sweet and perfect little girl.  As I await the birth of our babies, I feel nothing but admiration and respect for her and her selfless choice.  I can't imagine being that brave.

Yesterday Katie, Josh, and baby Chloe stopped by to bring me a baby gift while they were in town.  I sat
with them admiring their precious daughter, and awkwardly moving my giant belly around to get more comfortable.  It felt so amazing to know that we had traveled this long road together. We both prayed for answers and miracles. We both tried to make good choices and kept moving towards the outcome we desired most.  And in the end we both were blessed with unique experiences on our path to parenthood. After years of struggle the stars seemed to align and God's plan for each of us became evident.

When Jonah died I still believed in God.  I believed in a God who loved me deeply even though he allowed me to suffer.  But it became difficult to believe in a God who would listen to the desires of my heart. Traveling this parallel path with Katie has renewed my faith that not only does God love us, but that he actively works with us to help us realize the desires of our hearts.  He requires us to be patient, to work, and to engage in the struggle, but in the end I believe he is placing people and solutions in our paths to help us find joy.  I am so grateful that Katie's path crossed mine just when I needed it most.  It has been such a blessing to watch our individual miracles unfold.

*A special thanks to Josh and Katie for allowing me to share their story!  You should definitely watch this sweet video it will make you smile and cry.

"I have absolute certain knowledge, perfect knowledge, that God loves us. He is good, He is our Father, and He expects us to pray, and trust, and be believing, and not give up, and not panic, and not retreat, and not jump ship, when something doesn't seem to be going just right. We stay in, we keep working, we keep believing, keep trusting, following that same path and we will live to fall in His arms and feel His embrace and hear Him say, ""I told you that it'd be okay, I told you it would be all right."" - Jeffrey R. Holland