Holiday musings: Getting by with a little help from friends

Holidays can be an especially poignant time, depending upon where you are in your journey to parenthood. The season is geared towards babies, kids, and families. It seems everywhere you turn are boisterous reminders of the babies we long to arrive, ache to cuddle, or who remain a distant dream. If you are blessed with a baby on the way or your baby has arrived, this can be a season of great anticipation and joy.  If on the other hand, you are still waiting for baby, it can be a season of sadness and loneliness.

If you have made the “crossover” from “getting to baby” to “having your baby,” you can offer sensitive and timely support for friends and family still working through infertility options, waiting for an adoption referral, or struggling with the decision to remain childfree.

The best gift is to simply be there for your friend, to share their sorrow and struggle. Take them out for an evening or a day to do something fun, not centered on children and families.  If you live near a big city, check out Goldstar for discount theater and event tickets. Groupon or one of the other crowd-sourcing sites, in addition to restaurants, have lots of pampering options like massage and manicures. A Groupon Gift Card will let your giftee select something close to home or something she has always wanted to do but hasn’t had the time or money to make the leap.

If you’re looking for something tangible to say, “I know how you feel,” take a look at Cafe Press and Zazzle, where someone has created a gift or a store for just about every “conceivable” idea. Search donor, surrogate, infertility, gay dads, and TTC (trying to concieve). Jennifer and I still consider ourselves Infertility Warriors.  And hoping this time is the charm makes a great stocking stuff for the boxer wearer in your life.

Finally, Etsy is where you will find all things handmade and heartfelt.  Unique illustrated calendars, a chunky knit wrap, vintage ornaments, paper goods, jewelry, housewares, and so much more. For friends who are already on the path to parenthood through surrogacy or adoption, I like this tile or this one for a single parent.

The holidays can be bittersweet. A funny gift or exhilarating experience can help make this season a little sweeter if completion of your or your friends’ family is not quite “wrapped up.”

Thanks and Giving

“Thanksgiving, after all, is a word of action.” – W.J. Cameron

I love November.  As a wife, a mother, a veteran, and a lawyer, it’s a season where my passions collide.The air is crisp and fall colors are beautiful – an interlude before the full force of winter and the hectic December holidays.  I use it as a touchstone to remember to give thanks for what we have and give thankfully going forward.

Two holidays bookend the month; Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving. This is the first Veteran’s day we’ve celebrate since the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”  in September.  As the nation paid tribute to the generations of veterans – nearly 25 million in all – whose commitment to service and sacrifice keeps our nation strong, I stood proudly alongside my partner, Jennifer and our twins Katherine and Christopher.  It’s an amazing feeling to know active duty troops must no longer serve in silence and the contributions of the community are finally recognized and celebrated.  And to also know that every soldier can stand proudly with their own families at parades and on a tarmac.

A uniquely American holiday ends the month, Thanksgiving.  A day where family, friends, and food (and don’t forget football!) come together for a massive, festive, feast.  While we tend to focus on the feast and football, my favorite part of Thanksgiving is gathering over a meal, not over a mountain a gifts. It’s an opportunity to catch up on the year past, to share a laugh, and have a conversation with parents or other aging friends or relatives about their future.
Most importantly, it’s a day to reflect on the the bounty in our lives – our friends and families and our freedoms.

This is the second Thanksgiving Jennifer and I are celebrating as parents.  I am sitting with my deep sense of gratitude – for the healthy children born to us through our surrogate, Brittany.

As we wrap up the month and look forward to Santa season, I encourage you to consider giving a gift that will make an impact on lives. We love and appreciate Brittany’s gift of surrogacy – which obviously made a lifelong impact on our lives – but that’s not for everyone!

Why not make an impact this holiday in the lives of people you don’t even know? There are so many reputable charities focused on helping veterans and their families – as well as organizations that focus on family and fertility.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Operation Homefront – a national organization helping active duty, deployed, and wounded warriors and their families with emergency assistance – financial, food, home and auto repair, and much more.
  • Resolve – the national infertility organization provides support, education, access to research, and political advocacy for all family building options.
  • Colage – a national movement of children, youth, and adults with one or more LGBTQ parent/s, building community and working towards social justice through youth empowerment, leadership development, education, and advocacy.
  • Feeding America – largest national hunger-relief organization with a national network of member food banks providing fresh foods to Americans struggling with hunger, meals for children, and emergency assistance in disasters.
  • Toys for Tots –  US Marine Corps national campaign to collect  new, unwrapped toys  during October, November and December and distribute them as Christmas gifts to needy children in the local community.

Let Thanks and Giving be an everyday part of your life – not just in November, but every month of the year.

Make it fun

If you’re a heterosexual couple and you haven’t grappled with fertility problems, you’re likely to try to become pregnant the, ahem, old-fashioned way. Unless you’re an extremely fertile couple, this process can turn clinical in a hurry after a few months with no positive pregnancy tests. Thermometers, ovulation tracking and harried midday calls to announce the ideal timing can make lovemaking feel more like a chore than, well, making love.

That’s no way to go about things. Making love is supposed to be about communing with the person you love the most. If it starts to lose its appeal, a wedge can be driven into your relationship that lasts for years. At the very least, it can mean short-term annoyance for one or both of you, and worse yet, can put undue stress on both parties. Stress, while uncomfortable, can have even worse results — hampering your fertility and actually hurting your chances of becoming pregnant.

Even if the stress of it all doesn’t impact you physically, you won’t have a very enjoyable conception story to think back on. Doing things in the same way every day, mechanically, does not make for the fondest of memories.

Find ways to keep things fun, whatever that means for you. For some couples, behaving like newlyweds keeps the activity exciting. Do it in every room of the house, in any position you can think of. Pick odd times and locations for a quickie, as long as you’re not breaking the law or putting yourself at risk. Remember, before there was an objective to it, this was something you did for fun! Why can’t it be fun now that there is a goal in sight? After all, you’re working together to make something happen that will bring you unimaginable joy and fulfillment.

Having trouble getting in the right mindset to relax and have fun? Try getting out of the house. Vacations can spice things up, no matter how lavish or relatively mundane they might be. You don’t have to take time off from work or spend tons of money to get away from the routine and familiar surroundings of home. Even within your own city, you can head to a hotel for a change of scenery.

Anything that helps you approach your journey to parenthood from the right standpoint is worth a little bit of time and money, within reason. Relax. Have fun! Keep things in perspective.

Open Adoption

Closed adoptions are the kind most people have read about in books or seen in television and movies — adoptions, through an agency, in which the birth parents’ identity remains protected. Many adopted children have set out to find their birth parents once they reached adulthood, often gaining media attention if their attempts at reunion are successful.

Things don’t have to be that way. Open adoptions are about as far from that familiar scenario as you can get. In an open adoption, a birth mother seeks out a couple that she feels would be a good fit to raise her child. The adoptive couple gets approval through the state in which they live to bring the baby home. Open adoption has been gaining ground as an option for the past 20 years.

In the age of the internet, couples hoping to find children and birth mothers hoping to find adoptive parents have plenty of options for connecting. Agencies can help, delivering letters from prospective parents to potential birth mothers. The birth mothers often have a hard time choosing from tens or hundreds of hopeful couples, while prospective parents usually enter a stressful waiting game, wondering when the call will come from a birth mother ready to entrust them with her child.

Open adoption, while empowering and reassuring to the birth mother, has plenty of potential for complications. There’s always the risk that the birth mother will change her mind at the last minute, which happens more than you might think. That process can be extremely painful for hopeful parents, especially after a relationship with the birth mother has been established over the weeks or months leading up to birth. Not only do couples who find themselves in this situation have to deal with feelings of loss, they often begin second-guessing themselves, wondering if they could’ve said or done anything to lead to a different outcome. Sometimes, partners can begin blaming each other for the failure.

However, open adoptions do have their advantages. Unlike in closed, anonymous adoptions, you can have continued contact with your child’s biological parent or parents, and even biological grandparents, which gives you access to information that can become important, like family medical histories. Depending on how deeply involved with the birth mother you become before the baby is born, you can even attend doctor’s visits with her, see sonogram pictures and start laying the groundwork for a lifelong relationship.

You can read more about our experience with attempts at open adoption by reading “Getting to Baby.”

We understand

We understand how important having a family is. My partner and I tried long years, with much confusion, plenty of doctor’s visits, lots of close calls and our share of heartbreak along the way until we finally had the opportunity to look into our twin babies’ beautiful eyes. We struggled against many odds, but we finally became parents. Believe it or not, no matter how frustrated you are or how difficult your journey has been to this point, you can get through this. There are many options available to you, some of which you might never have considered.

Do the different options seem daunting? Not sure how to approach them? There’s a lot to think about as you consider what path you’ll take while Getting to Baby. Although our book isn’t intended as a substitute for advice from medical professionals and other experts, it will help you to understand you’re not alone in your struggles. We’ve been through it, too, and we hope our personal journey will help in some way to prepare you to make the right choices and ask the right questions. We also hope we can provide a little moral support and some perspective.

Visiting this website shows you are someone who wants to learn as much as you can about what it means to become a parent and how you can get there, no matter who you are or what kind of relationship you’re in. We hope our website and book will help inform you and provide suggestions that could have helped us as we pursued our own path to parenthood.

We are Victoria and Jennifer Collier. As we endeavored to become parents, we tried everything from In-Vitro Fertilization, which resulted in a miscarriage, to several close calls on adoption before finally finding surrogacy, which ended up being the right choice for us. What’s the right choice for you? We can’t say, but we can tell you about our experiences with each option, preparing you for hidden pitfalls and tricky choices you might be faced with along the way. After all, knowledge is power. Being armed with the right knowledge from the outset can save you from missteps, frustration and heartbreak.

If you enjoy what you find on www.GettingtoBaby.com, we recommend checking out our book for a more in-depth look at not only our journey, but what your journey could be.

Support system

Have you ever tried to explain something you just feel in your gut? For many people, it is not an easy process. That said, when you find yourself yearning for something completely life-changing, like a child, taking the bull by the horns and facing your own thoughts, feelings, fears and hopes is an absolutely essential process.

Once you and your partner, if you have one, understand what’s behind your desire to have a child, you can explore other aspects of the concept of parenthood. After all, even though society sets some protocols for who does what, when and how, that might not work for you. Will one of you be a stay-at-home mom? A stay-at-home dad? Perhaps neither of you will stay home, and in that case, childcare should be considered. What can you afford? How will you react to pressure or judgment from others?

Gay, straight or single parent, one child or several, the logistics that must be considered are staggering, even if fertility isn’t an issue. And if getting pregnant is an issue, or is impossible for you and your partner, there’s a whole new universe of questions to be answered and feelings to be explored. What are your thoughts, feelings and attitude toward infertility treatments? In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)? Adoption? Surrogacy?

Although the thought is not one that many prospective parents want to wrap their heads around, you also need to consider your views on children with special needs. Some babies arrive with physical disabilities, while others suffer from developmental problems. Plenty of babies with special needs are already here and in need of adoption into good homes. In other cases, pregnancies are not successful. That’s the last thought any potential family wants to face, but it’s important to remember. Whether you’re planning a pregnancy, an adoption or to conceive through a surrogate, facing these possibilities is just as important as planning a budget and making lifestyle choices.

A good support system, from your partner or spouse to family and friends, can help you think through the details at the outset. People to bounce ideas off of are key, whether it’s a close friend or spouse or someone you rarely see. No matter who it is, having someone you trust and feel completely comfortable sharing with can provide perspective and comfort. This person can join in your joy, but also keep you in check, as you’re dealing with the dizzying prospect of caring for another person.

Where is your head?

Are you really, truly in touch with your feelings? Soul-searching and analysis of the facts on the table are key when approaching the journey to parenthood. Once people find out you want to become parents, they will ask you questions, sometimes very personal questions. If you can’t answer them, that might be a red flag.

How long have you been trying to get pregnant, and how? What methods have you used? And for a more intangible question, what is motivating you to want to have a child? Even if you think you know the answers to those questions, including the last one, which might be the most difficult to answer, revisit them in your mind. Your mindset is a very important part of trying to become a parent, especially if you want to get pregnant rather than pursue another path. The way you cope with stress can directly affect your ability to carry a child.

Negativity won’t help. If you have other children, questions might creep into your mind about why you were able to become pregnant before but can’t now. If you don’t have children already, negativity can take the form of wondering why you can’t seem to have children while everyone else around you can. Either way, getting into a bad head space can have a very real impact on what your body is willing to do.

Calm self-reflection is important. You need to identify why you want to have children right now. If you’re following your urges for the first time, you may never have addressed these questions. If you’ve had other children or tried in the past, you may have — but your answers may have changed as the years marched on. Getting your priorities straight clears the clutter. It allows you get a sharp focus on what you want right now, shaping your decisions and helping you cope with natural stress that can arise in the process.

Don’t just look at what you’re feeling and facing right now. A long-range plan, covering everything from efforts to become pregnant, adopt or use a surrogate; to who will care for your child once he or she arrives, will help eliminate stress along the way. The logistics, from people to finances, can be a little daunting. Better to take them on at the outset than reach a conundrum unexpectedly at an inopportune time.

We can help guide you through some of the questions you might need to ask yourself and some of the obstacles you might face in our book, “Getting To Baby.” If you like what you see at www.GettingToBaby.com, consider picking up the book, in which we share our own journey in hopes of preparing you for yours.

Letting go

Sometimes, the process of getting to baby requires letting go. Letting go of your attachment to one method of becoming a parent can be tough. If you’ve always dreamed of becoming pregnant with your partner, facing the reality that your body, your partner’s body or a combination of the two won’t allow that to happen can be heartbreaking and difficult to accept. The same goes for couples or individuals who have long hoped to become parents through adoption — for some people, the stars just don’t align for a child to enter their lives in that way.

Letting go can be tough, and it can be difficult to realize when it’s time to move on. It’s much like ending a relationship — a process we all know can be messy and painful, and doesn’t always happen as soon as it should. With relationships, all outside observers sometimes realize it’s over long before the parties involved in the relationship reach the same conclusion. In the meantime, it means plenty of pain and frustration for both of them.

The same goes for letting go of one method of becoming parents. When it’s over, it’s over. At a certain point, trying to head down a road that isn’t working only hurts and amps up stress. In the case of attempting to become pregnant or adopt, money also becomes part of the equation.

Approach your effort with eyes wide open. Set a time frame. Decide how long you’re going to work on getting pregnant before you seek professional advice or diagnosis from a fertility specialist. Set a time frame for when you’ll stop trying. Same goes for trying to adopt or using a surrogate. Decide when you’ll start trying, how much you’ll invest and when you’ll walk away.

It might be hard to think about, but there’s an option that many prospective parents don’t talk about at all — not becoming parents. Remember, there are ways to live a happy and fulfilling life without children. At a certain point, your efforts toward getting to baby might become more of a burden than a pursuit. It’s essential to be able to step back and consider what’s happening. Is this best for you, or is it okay to choose to live your life in a different way than you had expected?

At www.GettingtoBaby.com, in the membership section, you can find fertility specialists who discuss the options available and how they assist their patients with determining when it is time to let it go. Do your research, and don’t dismiss alternatives before you fully understand them.

International Adoptions

You’ve seen Angelina Jolie and other celebrities with children they’ve adopted from other countries. Like domestic options, international adoptions are certainly viable, as long as you approach them carefully and do your homework. Find experienced legal counsel early on to help you navigate the complicated and nuanced processes involved in international adoptions, which vary from country to country.

As heartless as it may sound, many fraudulent agencies have sprung up in recent years, especially on the international adoption scene, that will take your money, give you the runaround and leave you without a child at the end of the process. Work with your attorney to run background checks on any potential agencies you’re considering to make sure they’re not known for fraud. Get references. Figure out how the adoption agency you’re considering works, and whether you’re comfortable with their practices, pricing structures, reputation and success rates. How do they track down children? How many offices do they have?

While adoption processes are more standardized stateside, you might run into strange restrictions and regulations in other countries. Some countries won’t adopt to you if you’re over a certain age, while other countries will only allow adoptions to heterosexual couples or individuals. Others won’t allow single men to adopt a child, which means even if one member of a male couple presents himself as single, he won’t be successful.

If restrictions don’t create snags, be aware that although some countries can match you quickly with adoptive children, the adoption process can be exceptionally lengthy. That means that even if you’re matched from the outset with a newborn, that child could be eight months to more than a year old before you’re actually able to bring him or her home.

Children in other countries awaiting adoption are often living in orphanages, where they might not receive the best care or nurturing. That can result in emotional or physical issues you’ll need to address once the child arrives. Be sure to examine these possibilities up front, so you know what to expect.

Consider cultural issues as well. If your child comes to you as an infant, do you teach that child about his or her own culture as well as yours? If you get the child later in life, you may want to seek professional help as you approach bonding, which could be more difficult, depending on the situation the child has been in prior to being placed with you.