We found our snowflakes! (A fertility update!)

A very long time ago I left off a fertility related post with an anticipatory "more to come…"

Great apologies my friends for the very long wait following that cryptic ellipsis, but I am finally able to share an exciting update on our family building journey!

As I've mentioned before, John and I have been pursuing embryo adoption, which means we would be recipients of embryos created by another couple via IVF (in vitro fertilization). One amazing option for couples who have remaining embryos after IVF is to donate to a couple like us who has not been able to conceive through other methods. It is so exciting because it gives women like me the opportunity to be pregnant with an adopted child! These frozen embryos are often referred to as "snowflakes"- each one beautiful and unique!

With a kaleidoscope of butterflies in my belly and a leap in my heart I am thrilled to tell you that John and I have found our snowflakes!

Frozen embryos are often referred to as "snowflakes" in the embryo adoption world: each one beautiful and unique!

The donors were patients at our fertility clinic and it has been amazing to see how God moved at just the right time to bring our journeys together. John and I put together a "waiting family" profile for our fertility center so share with interested clients and this couple found us through that profile. We connected first via email late last spring. The donor mom gave me permission to share this part of an early exchange we had; I think when you read what she wrote and how beautifully she wrote it, you will see how I believe God is weaving us together so perfectly: 

"I want to help you experience what a contraction feels like, Jill. I want you to see how immediate the tears come to your eyes the moment you hear your newborn cry at birth. I want you to giggle at feeling your child hiccup in your belly. I can imagine you sitting in awe, just as I did, starting at your belly protruding and moving as your little one stretches and kicks. Those moments have become priceless memories for me." 

Are those experiences not exactly what I have been yearning for? When I read those words for the first time I could do nothing but stare breathlessly at my screen and believe the Spirit was at work. 

Since that exchange, we were able to meet the donor couple in person and then spent the summer working through all the paperwork and medical tests required for the embryo adoption. (Technically- legally- this is considered an embryo "donation," however I believe that life begins at conception so I will often use the term "adoption" as a sign of the value I place on the embryos' human life.) 

I start prepping my body with medication TODAY and, God willing, the transfer will occur in just over a month! There are four embryos currently frozen and we will likely be transferring two. We don't know how many embryos will survive the thawing process before the transfer nor how many will implant after; if you are the praying type, please be in prayer for us and for these four precious lives as the transfer approaches.  I value those prayers so deeply and I know they are heard before the throne!




A birth mother's story

Today I am truly honored to share my friend Jessica's adoption story with you. Last year she faced an unexpected pregnancy and made the decision to place her baby with an adoptive family. Though I came to my own adoption journey from the opposite side of the road, as an adoptive mom, I have cherished the lessons I have learned about motherhood by witnessing her journey as a birth mom. It really is an honor to share it with you today.

*names changed for anonymity of the adoptive family

Growing up I dreamed of having a big family: one that would be made up of both biological and adopted kids. From a very young age, I imagined staying home with a handful of children- dark hair, light hair, dark skinned, light skinned- running around and being my family. For some reason, I always had this feeling that adoption was going to be part of my story. This is my adoption story.

I grew up in a typical Christian midwestern home: I had a loving family, we went to church every Sunday, I was involved in school and had a supportive community around me. Despite this positive context, however, my middle school and high school years were not easy. I struggled with depression and by the time I graduated from high school I did not have a clear sense of what I wanted for my life. Trying to make a future for myself, I started college studies twice, but only completed a semester at each school. I soon realized I was trying to live up to my family's expectations of me, rather than choosing my own path. I took a break from school and started working full time at a hotel. My goal still to return to get a college degree, however my life was about to take an unexpected turn.

I was 22 and had just gotten out of a long and serious relationship when a friend of mine set me up with a guy she had just met: Nathan. We dated for just over a month, but it didn't take me long to realize this was not the kind of man I wanted to be with. He filled our short relationship with dishonesty. We broke up.

Soon after we broke up, I felt as though I was coming down with the flu. I was very tired, nauseated, and when I rode the elevator at the hotel where I was working I felt as though I might pass out. It was a  coworker who suggested I might be pregnant. I brushed off the suggestion but she insisted I at least take a test, so I did.

The test was positive.

It may be funny to say, but I can tell you with absolute honesty that when I saw that test turn positive the very first thought I had was this: I will not be parenting this child. The reality that I was not ready to parent was immediate and yet it was also the hardest reality I have ever had to come to terms with. That day I began the most amazing, painful, and gratifying experience of my life.

The first family member I told was my dad. When I gave him the news his first question was, "How far along are you?" 

"Between 5 and 7 weeks," I replied.

His response: "Okay." 

And that was it. He told my mom and for weeks they remained silent on the issue.

On my own initiative, I set up a meeting with a crisis pregnancy counselor at a local adoption agency. My counselor Jenny became perhaps the most important support person I had during my pregnancy. While I was pretty sure I wanted to make an adoption plan, she helped me walk through both my options: adoption or parenting. Some weeks I would come in and tell her I wanted to place my baby; we would sit down and talk through what that would look like. Other times I would come in and tell her I wanted to explore parenting; we would sit down and talk about what that would look like. She empowered me to make the best decision for both me and my baby. She never forced me to make a decision.

Halfway through my pregnancy I had an ultrasound to reveal the sex of my baby. It was a girl! Finding out the sex of my baby was a big surprise: was sure I was having a boy! In fact, when the ultrasound technician told me it was a girl I immediately replied, "No it's not." Ha! It was indeed a girl kicking inside my belly. Because she was due to be born around Christmas, I started calling her Noelle.

Shortly after that ultrasound, I took a trip to New Mexico with my dad who was traveling for work. I did a lot of soul searching on that trip. The atmosphere in New Mexico was beautiful, quiet, and for the first time in weeks I felt as though I could truly hear myself. I spilled many tears on that trip, surrendering to the truth that though I loved my baby girl deeply, I had to make the best decision for her even though it might hurt me. This decision was not about me; it was about her. I wanted so much for her: a stable family life, two parents, a mom who didn't have to go right back to work after she was born, to be spoiled by her family… things I new I would not be able to give her. I realized I was not yet able to be the mom I wanted to be.

After our trip to New Mexico, my dad and I were watching the TV show I'm Having Their Baby in the basement of our house. We sat quietly watching the scene where a birth mom placed her baby with the adoptive family. I looked over at my dad in the dark and saw tears glistening on his cheeks.


"I just realized for the first time how hard this is going to be for you."

In that moment I felt like I was finally getting the support from my family I had so desperately wanted. From that moment forward, something changed in our relationship and they showed me their love and support through the rest of my pregnancy.

My next task was to choose an adoptive family.

The adoption agency had profile books of adoptive families that I could look through. Two families stood out to me. Adoptive families often want to know what makes their profile stand out to an expectant mom; every case is different but I will share what stood out to me: in the first profile that stood out to me was written not from the perspective of the adoptive parents but from the perspective of their young son who was also adopted. They wrote- in their son's voice- "Hi my name is Wes. This is my family. I did not grow in my mom's belly, but I grew in her heart because that is where we keep our special things." That way of talking about adoption really touched me. The second profile that appealed to me was from a couple who had not tried to get pregnant yet, but who wanted to adopt because they believed they were called to adopt. I was drawn to this couple because of that.

Through the adoption agency I set up a meeting with the couple who believed they were called to adopt first, however after they had talked with friends and family, they decided that they were not comfortable with the amount of openness I wanted. Jenny called me and told me that they had cancelled out meeting. I immediately told Jenny to set up a meeting with Wes’ parents: James and Stacy.

Meeting James and Stacy was an incredible experience! We met on a September day when I was six months pregnant. I knew within five minutes of meeting them that they were the ones! I connected with James right away as his personality is a lot like mine. I was overwhelmed with a feeling of peace that this was my daughter's family; a family with whom I would share a special relationship for her whole life. I met James and Stacy at 9 in the morning and we ended up spending the whole day together, through the late afternoon.

From then on, Stacy came to every appointment with me. Once we had a winter storm and the roads were too bad for her to travel the almost hour long drive, so we put Stacy on speakerphone for the whole appointment and my doctor talked her through it! We enjoyed other experiences together like recording of the baby's heartbeat to go in a Build-a-Bear, going to a local art show together, and even doing maternity pictures together.  Though I had been calling the baby "Noelle," James, Stacy and I decided we should pick a new name together. We spend weeks texting suggestions back and forth until we decided on Hadley. Through these experiences, the baby inside me became not "my daughter" but "ours."

Three months later on December 21, delivery day arrived. I actually had no idea I was in labor when I woke up early that morning, but I had been having terrible back pain and was just so tired of being sore and swollen and pregnant that I waddled into my parents' room and announced, "I'm done! If I'm not in labor already, I'm getting induced today."

As I began getting ready for the day and putting my makeup on, I started throwing up. It must have been a funny scene to see me putting on my makeup, throwing up, and going back to putting on my makeup! I texted James and Stacy, "This baby is coming today!" and left for the hospital with my mom. I also had one of my best friends come to the hospital with me; she had previously suffered a still birth and I knew she would be there for me in a way no one else could because she knew what it was like to leave the hospital without a baby.

At the hospital we discovered I was already having contractions; my back pain was actually back labor!  Just a few hours later at 2:30pm I felt the urge to push and called out, "This is it!" My mom, Stacy, and my friend were all in the room with me. Hadley was born at 3:16pm.

When I heard the time of her birth, I immediately thought of John 3:16 which says, "For God so loved the world he gave his one and only son." That passage gave me comfort in a way it never had before because I thought about how God gave us his only son and now here I was giving my only daughter. I knew God was walking with me through this whole experience.

Hadley was immediately placed in Stacy's arms. As much as I loved her, I wanted her mom to be able to have that experience of being the first one to hold her. Hadley weight 6 lbs 15 oz and was 21 inches long; she looked just like me in every way! Stacy cut her cord and brought her over to the warming table.

I chose to have Hadley stay in the hospital room with me for our 48 hour stay after the birth. James and Wes stayed in a hotel nearby and spent a lot of time at the hospital. Stacy and I took turns holding Hadley at night; I wanted to give her time to adjust to Stacy's voice after hearing mine for 9 months. During the last few weeks of my pregnancy, I slept with a baby blanket so that Hadley would have something to take home that smelled like me. In the hospital, I had a special blanket for Hadley to lay on so I would have something to take home that smelled like her. Though the whole hospital experience I felt as if everything was exactly how it should be. It may sound strange knowing I was placing her with another family, but I have never felt as whole as I did during that time when I saw her and knew she was my child.

I wished our time together with all of us- me, Hadley, James, Stacy, and Wes - could have lasted longer, but soon it was time to leave. Stacy bawled her eyes out when it was time to leave, but at that point I still felt happy. I knew Hadley was leaving with her family and I was in a kind of "high" after giving birth.

Two days later, I broke down. I spent the whole day crying, wishing I had more time with Hadley. I never regretted my decision but I longed to have her back inside me. I never asked, "Why did I do this?" but I did ask, "Why did it have to be like this?" I struggled with anger toward Hadley's birth father for not being there, not being a good man, and just the whole situation. I knew I made the best decision for Hadley, but I wished the situation would have been different.

To help me through that hard time, my family got a new puppy. I spent a lot of time "mothering" the new puppy and cuddling her, but I couldn't help wishing I had Hadley instead of the puppy.

James, Stacy, and I went through a rough patch as we sorted out our new roles. For the pregnancy, our relationship was so much on my terms since I was carrying Hadley. After I placed her with James and Stacy, our relationship was on their terms and I struggled with that. I had a hard time letting go and I was worried James and Stacy would cut me out because they didn't "need me" anymore. I was fearful that it would be easier for them to walk away from me than to work through the new roles and boundaries in our relationship. Jenny reminded me in the visits after Hadley’s birth that it is normal to have these fears as a birth mom, but that we were all committed to each other and what was best for Hadley.

Thankfully James and Stacy committed to working through that hard time as we sorted out our new roles. Right now I am able to see Hadley a couple times each month and we exchange pictures at each visit. Wes calls me "Mimi" as Hadley will when she starts talking. They have even embraced my parents and sister, giving them the titles Oma, Opa, and Aunt J. This summer we all enjoyed a BBQ at a park together. We have come to a good place together in our relationship. I know things will change as Hadley ages, especially once she starts school, but I am enjoying the time we spend together now. This is how I always pictured our relationship would be.

Someone asked what I want Hadley to know about me as she grows up. I want her to know that she will always be my little girl and that I loved her from the moment I knew she was there. It might sound obvious that I want her to know I love her, but as a birth mom that is a huge fear: that she won't know how much I love her. I can't show her my love on a daily basis like her parents can. I'm not there to feed her or give her a bath or read her a story. I just want her to know I chose adoption for her and I love her so much!

James and Stacy have a special way of honoring me as Hadley's birth mom: every night before she goes to bed, they share her adoption story. There will never be a time in her life when she won't know about her story! I made a shadow box for her which James and Stacy put in her room as well as a book of letters from my family that Hadley will be able to read when she is old enough. I am so thankful James and Stacy have embraced not just me but my family as part of Hadley's life. Hadley will always grow up knowing her story will grow up always knowing her story  and how deeply she is loved.

While placing Hadley was the most painful thing I have done, it was also the most amazing and gratifying experience of my life. Being a mom, in whatever form that comes, is simply the greatest journey one can have.


First Day of Preschool

I don't remember much about my first day of school. I don't remember what I wore or where I sat or the colour of my new backpack. But I do remember something: I remember being NERVOUS. I remember not wanting my mom and dad to leave me in that strange new place with all those other kids and that tall kindergarten teacher. Sure the sandbox was alluring and the crayons all sharp and new, but I was so unsure of myself; scared to do the wrong thing, sit in the wrong seat, or find the bathroom by myself. It was a scary new world and I felt entirely un-brave.

I was prepared with armfuls of empathy, ready to wrap around my little boy on his first day of preschool.

He needed none of it.

After visiting the school on an open house day last winter, Arie had been asking frequently when it would be time to go to "Ben's school?" (His big buddy Ben attended two years ago and Arie has decided to name the school after him. Never mind that Ben's sister currently attends… it's still "Ben's" school!) After an explanation of how long it would be until Ben's school started (first the snow will melt, then the spring flowers will come, then it will be summer time, and then you go to school!) came Arie's second question, "And I go all by myself right?!" Right.

I wish he would make his bed in the morning with equal all by myself enthusiasm!

Last year Arie attended an enrichment program one afternoon per week just for two months to introduce him to the concept of school. I was interested to see how he would do in his first large group setting that mirrored orphanage life. As I might have predicted, Arie stuck close to his teacher for the first few weeks, seeking her approval and looking to her for reassurance in the crowd. It was hard to watch him revert to that behavior but I knew he just needed time to feel safe. Sure enough as the weeks past he began to separate from her and interact more freely with the other children. It is truly incredible how resilient these little ones can be!

Anticipating a potential repeat of this behavior, I armed Arie's preschool teacher with some tactics (pushing reassurance over independence and passing on our family's "comfort phrase" Mama, Papa, and Arie are forever and ever and ever), but I'm not sure she'll need them. Arie walked into the preschool room on his first day, heart brimming with excitement. He picked out a space for his coat and backpack, found his name tag, and clipped it on with gusto. After clipping the tag onto this shirt by his little belly, he surveyed the activities and showed me just the slightest moment of apprehension, "Mama will you come with me to the sandbox?"

"Sure buddy."

I stood and watched with other nervous parents for a while, all of us contemplating our escape plan when finally I went for it.

"Hey Arie- I'm going to leave now but I'll come get you at the end."

Moment of truth. 

He flung his arms around my neck for a brief moment and chirped, "Okay Mom!"

And that was it. First ever preschool drop off complete. The sounds of a few other kids crying anxiously for their parents escorted me out the door and I wondered for a moment if their tears would become contagious for my sensitive little man, but he kept on playing happily in the sand.

It's a little strange to have a kid who is so different from you! I was still a nervous wreck on my first day of seminary for goodness sake. Whatever my little man has to make him so optimistically brave, I'd like a little of that!

On this first day of class, the preschool provided a light breakfast and coffee for parents, inviting us to stay in the building and meet one another until our children were done. Normally the class runs just over 2 hours but the first day was shortened to one, to ease the adjustment. I chatted and sipped my orange juice for the hour until finally it was time to go get the littles.

This was the best part of the morning for me! The children were seated on the floor in a circle, benches placed behind their backs where the adults could find a seat and listen to the day's closing storybook. Of about 20 parents, I came in halfway through scanning the circle of faces for the one that means the most to me. When my eyes met his, I saw his little neck straining up to catch my gaze. His face was absolutely glowing with anticipation, as if to say, "Mom! I'm right here! I know you're looking for me! I'm here!" A long white cord with a handful of beads and a hole punched paper frog hung around his neck. "I made this!" he whispered.

My heart beamed.

As an adoptive parent I find these moments deeply moving. I thought immediately back to the day when we picked him up from the orphanage and his nanny handed me a stack of pictures (scribbles) he had drawn along with photos from his babyhood. It was such an overwhelming emotion to think that for 2 1/2 years there had been no one to marvel over his meager creations like only a parent can, no mom or dad to search for his eyes in a sea of faces, to catch them and to say in an instant, "There you are! You're mine. You belong with me."

I remember poignantly what it felt like to not have him home, too. To walk around with an empty space inside, where he belonged.

Now he's here. Now he's home. Now he's the one I look for in a crowd. The little hand I reach out to hold. The one whose scribbled pictures and cut out frogs adorn our counters and tables and walls.

I'm so proud of my little boy on his first day of preschool. I'm excited to drop him off to share his beautiful smile and contagious happiness with his teacher and class three mornings each week. Most of all, I'm excited to drive over to his school at the end of each morning, to search for his little face in the crowd, and to take him home. Because he's mine and we belong together.



Being happy

The most memorable advice I've ever received about happiness came from an anonymous poster on a online photography forum.  Four years ago- after saving stacks of birthday, Christmas, and extra grocery money- I was ready to purchase my first (and current) DSLR camera. I had dreamed of this day for months- years actually- and now that it had arrived, I felt paralyzed by my choices. I knew so little about how to choose the right camera for me; what if I chose the wrong one?

In an effort to avoid that regret, I spent hours reading articles, watching review videos, and perusing photography forums. I quickly learned I was not alone in my fear of making the wrong camera choice. One poster voiced my exact concern when she posted something like:

Hi- I'm new to photography and am about to purchase my first camera. I've done a lot of research and have two top choices, but how do I decide between the two? I'm worried I'll regret my decision! What camera did you start out with and are you happy with your purchase? 

The responses she got were filled make, model, and lens recommendations, but among these expected answers was one response that has stayed with me for years. Someone wrote:

The best advice I can give you is to just pick one and then stop looking. Once you buy your camera, focus all your energy into learning how to use it and becoming a better photographer. If you keep looking at "better" cameras, you will be discontent. If you focus on the one in your hands, you will fall in love with it and the amazing images you can capture. 

"Pick one and then stop looking." "Focus on the one in your hands."

Doesn't this apply to so many other areas of our lives? From couches to spouses and wealth to health: it is excruciating how hard it is for us to be happy with what we have rather than envious and discontent. 

I have struggled with unhappiness because of my infertility over the last year. I don't feel guilty or ashamed of being unhappy both because I know those feelings are valid and also because I know I am free from condemnation in Christ. I am, however, convicted that I can't wallow in my discontent. I need to work through it and choose to be content in the life I've been given.

This week I received a stirring lesson in "focusing on the [life] in my own hands" when I set about to print and albumitize (new word) pictures I had taken over the year. I printed over 550 photos starting in last October, which incidentally was when I had my first IUI, and ending with a dozen prints from a trip we look to our friends' cabin over labor day, 4 short days ago.

You know what I  saw when I looked at my life?


I saw the three of us- Mama, Papa, and son- celebrating our one year anniversary since a Russian judge made us a family.

I saw my little boy picking out the wartiest pumpkin in the patch for the first time in his life.

I saw my family in Ontario, finally all together for Thanksgiving.

I saw the cutest little elephant you ever did see all dressed up for Halloween.

I saw joy on Christmas,

love on Valentine's Day,

celebration on Easter,

and sparklers on the Fourth of July.

We had fun in the snow...

... and in the sun.

I saw my long-awaited-child celebrated as we said goodbye to three and hello to age four.

I saw an abundance of treasured expeirences and memories made on our summer road trip.

And I saw the warmth of friends sharing tranquility in the woods.

As I slid the last photograph into its place in our album, I felt a certain bliss to realize how happy I've been this year. All of these experiences I see as gifts from the Giver of all good things. Why he blesses me so lavishly with these happinesses but does not end my infertility grief, I do not know. I simply know I've been happy. Sad, overwhelmed, grief-stricken, and anxious too, yet: happy.

This is not a paradox. This is the human experience.

There is no secret to avoiding pain. But I believe there are ways to find happiness even in the pain of life. One step is this: stop looking for it and focus on the gifts we already hold in our hands.


"But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that." 
1 Timothy 6:6-8
"This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart."
Ecclesiastes 5:18-20
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