I didn't bond with my baby.

Our youngest turned two last week.

There are a million things about sweet Caroline that I adore.  I love her ringlet curls, long eyelashes, inquisitive nature, free spirit, gravelly voice, and willingness to try any food put in front of her.  I love the weird habit she has of chewing the noses off of her favorite stuffed animals.  I even love that she loves to make messes.  I could go on and on.  If you know Caroline, you could, too.

I fell in love with my daughter the moment that she was born.  Not a moment before.

I didn't bond with my baby while I carried her.

IMG_3526.JPG

I couldn't say that out loud for a long time.  

I so wanted to feel some sort of attachment to the little wonder inside of me like my friends did with their babies.  

But I didn't.

When I found out that I was pregnant with Caroline, the feeling was euphoric.  However, my elation settled after a few days and was replaced by an underlying worry that all was not well.  Because so many things had gone awry in the previous 4+ years of infertility, I was sure that disaster would strike this baby.  Subconsciously, I distanced myself from my growing fetus in an effort to shield my heart from disappointment.

As a former gymnast and recovering calorie counter, I struggled to accept my ever-changing pregnant body.  The desire to care for my unborn child constantly grated against my fear of gaining weight.  Often, I gazed into the mirror and cried, resenting the babe who was making me "fat" (a lie straight from the devil himself).  I continued running, if you could call it that, throughout my pregnancy, but I was frustratingly slow and angry that my body could not obey my mind.

Furthermore, I never was able to reconcile how such a tiny clump of cells could cause me to be so ill that I vomited over the kitchen sink multiple times a day for 20 weeks and hated coffee and prime rib.  I knew that I should be grateful for the opportunity to carry a child, and I was, but pregnancy itself was a generally unpleasant experience.

I thought that discovering Caroline's gender and giving her a name would help me to bond with her.  

It didn't.  

I continued to see her as a miracle and a blessing, but I could not see her as the person that I knew her to be in my head ... until I could.

On August 4, 2015, at 1:38 a.m., I fell in love with the daughter who I had carried for 40 weeks.  The idea of her became a reality, and as I took in her tiny toes and full cheeks, I thought I might explode with joy.

I am a visual and auditory learner.  Much to my husband's dismay, I connect very little through physical touch.  This explains how I could feel Caroline's kicks and hiccups in my belly and simultaneously feel nothing.  It also explains my lack of enthusiasm toward breastfeeding.  (Maybe more on that another day.)  But show me my kid's face or let me hear her tiny baby noises, and I'm undone.

I'm not less of a mom because I didn't bond with my unborn baby, and you're not alone if you don't, either.  No need to fake attachment or carry guilt over a feeling that isn't there ... yet.  Love will come.  

It may just need a face.

 

On the Other Side of Mother's Day

Holidays are hard.  

Mom of two (2).JPG

Hallmark has made holidays impossible to ignore, but for many people, weekends like the upcoming one are full of family drama, bad memories, and loneliness.

I feel so blessed to be celebrating Mother's Day as a mom again this year, but I vividly remember how I spent several Mother's Days in a row during our infertility journey.  I wished that I could curl up in a hole and disappear until they were over. Even after we had moved through much of the adoption process, I was gripped by fear that our adoption would be disrupted.  The desire to be a mom was more real than ever, yet the actuality of being one was still uncertain.

Social media only deepened my sadness. Every post about pregnancies or celebrating a first Mother's Day was like a knife being stabbed further into my heart. In some ways, I was killing my own joy.  I could have turned off the computer, but there's something weirdly addictive about pain, isn't there?  I guess that a part of me wanted to stay angry at the people who had what I didn't, because anger is easier than grace.  Looking back on all of it now, I wish that I would have been more satisfied and less resentful.  I didn't have control of my circumstances, but I was allowing my circumstances to have entirely too much control over me.

While it is true that bitterness eats away at the soul, it is also true that even people who have legitimately mastered the art of contentment feel lonely and discouraged at times. That's part of being human.  If you're reading this and dreading going to that Mother's Day gathering (or Christmas feast or whatever) because you know that it will reopen wounds, give yourself the grace not to go. That really is a choice that you have. People might not understand your decision, but I promise that they aren't nearly as worried about your presence as you are.

Although I'm immensely thankful to be "on the other side" of Mother's Day now, a part of this day will always be tough.  Having two precious daughters does not erase the dark years when we walked through infertility and our marriage was a mess.  I'm sad when I remember my friends who desperately want to be mommas, but God keeps saying, "Not yet."  My struggle is years removed, but all of the feelings of those years stay fresh.  

birth mom and adoptive mom

I can't stop thinking about Anna, Piper's birth mom.  She has another daughter now, Piper's half-sister, who she is raising alone.  Sometimes I wonder if she ever regrets her choice to make me a mom through adoption.  I hope that Anna feels celebrated and loved today, but the reality for her is that Mother's Days are probably all filled with thoughts of Piper.  Birth mothers are not "lesser mothers" than adoptive moms, but I'm the one who gets to spend my days with Piper.  I'm the one who hears her call me, "Mom", yet I see Anna in my baby's face every day.  Even in her absence, Anna is an ever-present part of my life, and my heart hurts for her.

Looking back on the last several years, I realize that what I've been through has truly been God's kindness to me. (I've only recently been able to say that.) The seemingly endless period of longing to be a mom has given me perspective that I wouldn't have gained any other way, and it has made me a much more contented person today. Though I wouldn't wish my struggles on anyone else, I wouldn't change them.  If Mother's Day is a hard day for you, trust me; I remember.  Hang on, even when it hurts and nothing makes sense; there really is a brighter day coming.

National Infertility Awareness Week: Our Story

1 in 8.

That's how many couples struggle to build a family.  I never thought that we would be one of them.  

This is our story of infertility.

When my husband and I got married in 2009, we had a grand plan to wait five years before trying to have children.  A year into marriage, we decided that we were ready.  My cycles had always been normal and painless, and Andrew didn't have any known issues.  So when we began actively trying to conceive in October 2010, I was already dreaming about how we would announce my pregnancy to our immediate families at Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving passed, and so did Christmas.  

"Normal couples are able to conceive within six months to a year," my doctor said.  "Not to worry.  Come back and see me in a few more months."

"Not to worry."  Of course I worried.  When it seemed like every woman around me simply had to look at her partner in order to get pregnant, I began to wonder what was wrong with me.  

I did go back to see that doctor in a few more months.  I went through a whole gamut of blood and hormonal tests and then started taking drugs for our "unexplained infertility".  These did nothing but make me an emotional mess.  At this point, my husband was referred to a specialist for further diagnostic testing.

There were major issues.

The surgery required to repair the problem only had a 50 percent success rate.  Desperate, we proceeded with the surgery and waited for the results.  

It didn't work.

I remember sitting on the edge of our bed, month after month, with a negative pregnancy test in my hand yet again, and sobbing.  I prayed, I yelled, and I questioned.  Mostly, though, I just cried.

One month, there was the faintest blue line on the test that would have indicated a positive result.  I didn't dare to hope that it was real, and sure enough, I started a new cycle within the week.  An early miscarriage, I think.  This never happened again, and I never spoke of it with anyone.

In 2012, my doctor wanted to do more invasive testing to determine our next steps.  My tubes were blocked.  More devastation.

Fortunately, surgery was able to repair my tubes.  Still, with our combined issues, the doctor's prognosis was that a successful pregnancy was "highly improbable."  More tears.  

We chose not to attempt IVF, the only other option presented.

My husband and I grieved separately throughout all of the months that turned into years.  Cracks began to form in our marriage, which all but disintegrated over the course of our infertility struggle.

In June 2013, a brave birth mom gifted us with our firstborn through adoption.  Piper is perfect, and we both bonded with her immediately.  I eventually made peace with the likelihood that we would never have biological children, but I knew that a part of me would always desire one and wonder why we couldn't.

After Piper's birth, Andrew and I began discussing adoption again.  We weren't ready right away, but since adoption can be a time-consuming and expensive process, we wanted to have a plan.  

As Piper grew, I couldn't have loved her any more than I did.  Yet I still grieved and became depressed.  The addition of this child to our family did not fix our marriage or remove my questions.  

We never stopped trying to build our family biologically, so each month continued to pass with a tinge of disappointment that we could not.

Then, when Piper was 17 months old and completely out of nowhere, I got a positive pregnancy test.

I was convinced that it wasn't real, and I wouldn't let myself look at it.  But the blue line was unmistakable this time, and a second test confirmed that I was expecting.

Caroline, whose name means "joyful song", was born on August 4, 2015, after over four years of infertility.

Our family is perfect, and looking back on our story now, I never would have written it a different way.  Adoption has forever changed our lives for the better, and I can't imagine having any other child instead of our Piper.  It pains me to think that she would not be my daughter if I had gotten exactly what I wanted, when I wanted it.

Caroline is a joyful little toddler.  Every day, she reminds me that I serve a God who is the Master of all types of "highly improbable" situations.  Our marriage has been made new, but that was not the result of having a biological child.  That was Him.

Even with two beautiful girls and an amazing husband/dad, I will never forget the years of sorrow that we endured as a result of infertility and loss.  In my journal in 2012, I wrote, "Every day when I wake up, the whole world feels dark."  I didn't write again for years.     

Our story ended with a pregnancy, but many stories of infertility do not.  I want to remember this.  

And I want to keep telling this story, because 1 in 8 couples deals with infertility, but far less than 1 in 8 actually talk about it.  I've never felt lonelier in my life than when we were walking through our story.

If you aren't dealing with infertility, someone around you is.  Be sensitive.  Be aware.  And heed some of my favorite advice: "Better to be silent and remain a fool than to speak and remove all doubt" (Abraham Lincoln).  Your friend needs your presence, not your platitudes.

If you're in the midst of infertility right now, I'm sorry.  I'm so sorry.  It's horrible.  Know that people will say all sorts of ridiculous things to you, and that well-intentioned friends can never fully understand until they've been where you have.  

You are not alone.  

1 in 8.