The night I got the news, I got my first tattoo (rebellious, right?). It's not as cool as it sounds. I got a cancer ribbon tattooed on my foot. I was in so much pain inside that I guess I wanted to FEEL the pain on the outside too. It didn't work. It didn't change anything. Not only did I still have cancer, but now I had a constant reminder every time I looked down.
It didn't stop with cancer either. The doctor recommended a full hysterectomy STAT. I was devastated. I was only 25. I wanted more children. I wasn't done. I needed to be able to plan my own future. I wanted the choice! How could God put me in this position? What had I done that was so awful? This had to be a punishment, right? I was so wrong.
You see, I was so concerned with what I wanted in life that I was ignoring that still small voice. That voice that had called me time and time again to do something unimaginable. That voice that, despite my doubts, told me over and over again that I could love another woman's child as my own. Since I was a young adult, I had felt compelled to pray about adoption. But things had changed. I was older now. I had a family. Surely, God's plans for my life had changed.
Really, I just couldn't imagine it. I had two children. I knew what it was like to absolutely fall in love with this tiny little thing you had helped to create. How could I love someone else's child the same way I loved my own? How could I even compare my love for someone else's child to the love for my own flesh and blood? I was wrong.
I put off my surgery. Heck, I wouldn't even answer the phone when my doctor's office would call me. I was bound and determined to "fight" cancer without even trying. I was going to do nothing and cancer was just going to go away. I was wrong.
I started some recommended medications and I was SICK! I was happier with the thought of dying than the miserable life I was living, laying on the bathroom floor. I began to realize that the same thing the hysterectomy was going to do (take away my ability to have more babies), those drugs I was prescribed were going to do the same thing. They were going to make it impossible to get pregnant or even worse, impossible to carry a HEALTHY baby. I relented. Several months after my original diagnosis, I scheduled my surgery. I was scheduled to have my hysterectomy in late July 2009. There were several pre-op visits required and even still, more medication. I was sick constantly. I remember so vividly (if you know me, you know that remembering things is rare for me) that I was playing the role of maid of honor in my best friend's wedding (Hi Angela-I love you!) and I was so sick, I could hardly walk down the aisle. But when the big day came around, I rallied like a rock star because I wasn't letting my girl down!
Two weeks later, I had my very last pre-op appointment. I was nervous and sick, so very sick. By this time, I just wanted the surgery to be over so the meds could be over and I could put all of this behind me. I was tired of my children missing out on time with their momma. I was tired of missing work. I was just...tired.
The nurse came back into the room, as she always did. But this time, she looked concerned. She looked concerned enough to make me concerned. I thought something awful must have come back on my blood work. Maybe my white blood cell count was high or my red blood cell count was dangerously low. I had no idea. (Tell me nurse, just tell me!!) "You're pregnant. We will have to postpone your procedure." Wow. That is NOT what I was expecting at all! After a devastating conversation with my doctor about whether my life or my unborn child's life was more important, I knew what I had to do. I knew what I couldn't do, despite his medical opinion.
There were discussions about how dangerous my decision was. I was told I may be inoperable by the end of my pregnancy. I was told the baby could have disabilities because of the meds I was taking when he was conceived. I was terrified.
Thirty three weeks later, we named him Elijah David. He was (and still is) absolutely perfect. There was no sign of any harm from the medications and guess what? I was NOT inoperable. In fact, the pregnancy and hormones that come along with pregnancy had helped to keep the cancer at bay.
My hysterectomy was planned to happen when I was induced with Eli, but because of blood loss and low blood pressure, it was postponed. I was more scared during that waiting period than I was during my pregnancy. I had made it to the finish line. I had carried the baby 38 weeks and I was still unable to have the operation, so why? Why would circumstances make it impossible to have the operation I so desperately needed?
I couldn't have the surgery until I got the all clear at my six week check up, so I waited. I fell into a deep (postpartum) depression. I would stare at the wall and cry for hours. I was terrified that my children (now three) would have to grow up without their mommy all because I had selfishly waited to have the surgery in the first place. I was terrified that the love of my life would have to raise our children without me and even more terrified that none of them would even remember me. I started seeing a psychologist. I know at least one person probably read that line and thought, "I knew she was crazy!". ;) But I would highly recommend that EVERYONE (mentally ill or not) see a therapist of some kind because having that objective perspective from someone is honestly, priceless. He helped me so much. The medication probably didn't hurt either. ;) So, maybe I was/am a little crazy. lol
INTERMISSION (just in case anyone needs a potty break...)
At my six week appointment, all was not well. I had to have a DNC because, well this is probably TMI, so just know that I had to have a DNC and schedule my surgery for at least six more weeks out. August 5th was the day. I will never forget that date. That date means a lot of things to me. That date means my husband has his wife. That date means my children have their mother. That date means my parents have their daughter, my sisters have their (favorite) sister, my nieces and nephews...the list goes on. Two months ago, that date began being something I was grateful for, instead of something I mourned over. August 5th is a day of celebration. It is no longer a day to feel sorry for myself or cry, at least not tears of sadness. August 5th is the day I realized a lifelong calling on my life, but didn't even know it yet. August 5th is the day the Lord gave me to look back on and realize that "everything really does happen for a reason" and "He will never give you more than you can handle". Thank you August 5th.
Almost immediately after my surgery, well...after the weeks of recovery were over, David and I started discussing babies. We knew we wanted more. I knew I wanted more. lol David is ten years older than I am, so new fatherhood was looking great on him, but he wasn't thrilled at the idea of starting over again with an infant. SO...we started looking into adopting an older child. We would look through countless heart galleries and attach ourselves to so many children, we couldn't even remember which heart galleries they were on. We would fall in love every day with the face of a new child, but it never really felt right.
I was confused. I was hurt. I knew that God was calling me to adopt, but it wasn't something I wanted to decide for David and it certainly wasn't something I wanted to do without being absolutely sure. Why had the Lord placed these children and adoption on my heart so heavily when he wasn't going to provide a child for us? Again, I wanted things done in my timing, instead of His. Aren't we all too often like that? Don't we just want things our way and in our time, no matter what? We are humans and humans are selfish. The Lord is not. I began to think I was hearing God all wrong. I began to think it was ME who wanted adoption and not the Lord who wanted me to adopt. I was wrong.
We discussed surrogacy. We even went and saw a doctor and had a close friend ready to see the doctor to discuss carrying for us. We never made it to that doctor's appointment.
The next four years came and went and I had stopped looking at heart galleries, even though my heart was aching every day. In 2013, we were told we would be moving to Atlanta, Ga. Again...devastation. Neither one of us had ever lived outside of the state of Arkansas as adults and had no plans to. Our friends and family were there. Our church was there. But the opportunity was a great one. God was providing for our family in a way we had never even imagined. David got a huge promotion and he could only fulfill that position if he was in Georgia. We moved in December of 2013. It was hard. It was probably the hardest thing I've ever done. I was heartbroken to leave my friends and family, our church, my Bible study (GO BLOOM!), our play group (Hello Small Fries!). I felt horrible for uprooting the children and the guilt would just eat me up some days. But you know what happened? Children are very resilient, much more than us adults are. The kids were happy. They loved our new kid friendly neighborhood and they loved their new school. They were making friends quickly and I felt less guilty every day and more proud of the life we had started to build here in Georgia.
I was still sad. Don't get me wrong. I'm still sad today to think of all we left behind. There are friends that I literally ache to hug some days, but we are where the Lord wants us to be, at least for now. :)
Earlier this year, David and I were praying one night and after we prayed, we had a discussion...again about adoption. But this time something had changed. The Lord was moving in my husband's life and looking back, that is such an incredible thing to have been a part of. After months of praying for confirmation, we had our answer! The next night we were on Facebook and happened to come across a video about a couple's struggle with infertility and adoption and it touched us both so much! It really lit a fire under us to begin our search!! To see the beautiful story of our new friends, Annie and Walt, please go here: https://vimeo.com/125737644
The next day, We were scanning heart galleries, as we had come accustomed to doing at night after the kids were in bed, when a little girl named Elizabeth stole my heart. I started crying the moment I saw her picture. I had never reacted this way to the heart gallery pictures. We had seen thousands by this time and this one was different. She was beautiful with big brown eyes and cute little braids and she was about Lexi's age (a little younger). It was ironic, but she looked a lot like Eli and I wanted to know everything I could about her as quickly as possible. David was watching TV beside me and I turned my screen to face him and tears started rolling down his face. We were in love. Something about her innocence, her sweet little crooked smile, THOSE. EYES. I immediately called my bff, Tracie Ward. I knew she would know just what to do. She knew everything there was to know about adoption so I needed her to teach me in 2.5 seconds so that first thing in the morning I could call and claim this little girl. It was an incredibly emotional conversation. Tracie could hardly understand me through my UGLY CRYING! I remember her giggling a lot! lol She wasn't giggling to make fun of me, but giggling because she always said..."you will know when you see him/her".
Now I know what you're thinking. Where is our 10 year old with the big brown eyes and cute little braids?
I called at 8am. No one answered. I left a voicemail...or two...or maybe four before actually reaching someone. "She has been matched already, but there are lots of other children still listed as available". They went on to tell me that if her current match fell through, they could call us, but only if we had a home study already completed. WHA?! Yea...we totally forgot that part.
*Ring Ring* I called Tracie and cried and cried and she was there 100%. She knew the pain, she knew the heartache and she knew just what I needed to hear. God used her to heal a wound. I know it sounds silly to some to think we could be that attached to a picture of a little girl we had never met, but the pain was no less real, silly or not. I told Tracie I had, had enough. I wanted to get our home study started and completed and be READY next time. She helped me find some paperwork online and sign up for some courses, etc... That day was August 27th.
August 28th, I woke up READY! I wanted to call a home study company and get this ball rolling. No more waiting. I opened Safari and took a deep breathe and typed in "adoption agency Atlanta Georgia" into google. There were pages and pages of agencies listed, but I called the VERY FIRST ONE. I spoke to a woman named Michelle (changed her name for privacy reasons until the adoption is finalized next month). Michelle was kind and she took the time to really listen. I'm sure there were tears as I explained how badly we wanted this and how lost we felt trying to make it happen. She spent far too much time soothing me and told me to go on their website and fill out the pre-application and send it over to her so that we could get started on the home study asap. I went on the website and printed the paperwork and she explained exactly what to do and where to send it and then suddenly, she had to go. She was getting another call and she said these words to me, "I can't wait to talk to you again, but right now I have to go because I have to give this woman directions to the hospital. We are meeting her and her husband tomorrow at the hospital to meet a baby we have available for adoption". I immediately replied playfully, "If they fall through, call us! We will take the baby!" We laughed and hung up.
As I started to fill out the paperwork I had printed off, I started to cry. It was all so overwhelming to finally be starting the process and I couldn't even fill out the paperwork because I couldn't see through my tears. I had this feeling that WE should be meeting this baby the next morning. At first, I thought it may be jealousy. Someone else was meeting their baby and we weren't and maybe that was just hard to hear? I became inconsolable. I cried for over an hour before breaking down and calling my daddy. I asked him to pray with me. I told him about the baby and how attached I felt and how this had just happened with the little brown eyed girl and I was just heart sick. I asked him to pray with me that one of two things happen: A. If this was God's Will, we meet this baby instead of the other couple. or B. If this was not God's Will, that He take this WANT from me. I just wanted the overwhelming desire to meet this baby to be taken from me if it wasn't His Will. My dad prayed with me and my mom, of course, cried with me. ;) I remember I was standing in my office and I just fell to my knees and I used my chair to lay my head on and I cried for what seemed like forever. I prayed and I cried and when David got home, we prayed and I cried some more. I had cried myself to sleep and it was late, when my phone rang.
It was 11:30pm. Who would be calling me at that hour and why didn't I have their number saved in my phone? I almost didn't answer...
Michelle recognized the shakiness in my voice immediately and asked me if I was okay. I wasn't, but of course I said I was. I asked why in the world she was calling so late. Was there something wrong with the pre app? Had I filled it out incorrectly because I was so upset when I filled it out? I will never forget what she said next. "Cheryll, I know this is unorthodox, with your home study not being completed and all and this isn't our normal procedure, but my husband John and I were praying before getting in bed just now and we feel very strongly that you and your husband should meet the baby I spoke about before. Are you available tomorrow?" She went on to say they would have to call the other couple, but they couldn't ignore the voice of the Lord. I was in shock!
Wow. Was I available tomorrow? lol I was available right then if she had wanted me to be! lol I told her that I had been crying for five hours over this baby that I knew nothing about and we both cried. I think we both felt validated in that moment. After giving us directions to the hospital and a time to meet the next day, we hung up and I slept SO soundly that night.
August 29th was a very emotional day. It was the day we met our daughter. At 1:00pm, we walked into the NICU and there were tears before we even reached her isolate. She was precious and so tiny.
The day we met her, she was 29 days old, born on August 1st. She was born at only 25 weeks and 4 days gestation and weighed only 1 pound 10.6 ounces at birth. She was now 29 days old and a whopping 2 pounds 3.1 ounces. She was so small that David could slide his wedding band over her little hand and all the way down her arm!
We immediately named her. We had narrowed it down to three names and Emerson fit her best and Nana got right to work, making her a personalized diaper bag! Isn't it adorable!? (Let me know if YOU want to order a diaper bag-she can do pretty much any fabric and personalization).
Over the next several weeks, I visited the hospital almost every day! I just wanted to be near her. I didn't want to lose time with the other kiddos though, so I would leave when they left for school and come back in time to get them from the bus stop. It was exhausting and worth every minute. We used our date nights to visit her in the hospital and David even spent some evenings at the hospital since he had to be at work during the day.
When I was driving all those hours to see her in the NICU, it felt like time went by so slowly and some days, we felt like she would never come home. Then, all of a sudden, they were asking for our car seat so that they could do the car seat test that she had to pass before going home! We were so excited! She passed!
We were supposed to take her home Friday, the 9th, but the agency was out of town and had to be present at the discharge, so we planned for Monday, the 12th. Sunday, in the middle of the night, she had what's called a bradycardia. When preemies have a bradycardia in the NICU, they have to stay 48 hours from that time, sooooooo we planned and hoped for Tuesday, the 13th.
We called really early in the morning and they said she was good to go! We were so excited! We couldn't get there fast enough!
This is what you look like when you hear mommy shaking the bottle you've been "grunting" for:
If you made it all the way to here, you have almost finished reading this blog! Are you excited!? lol Sorry it turned into a bit of a novel, but I didn't want to leave any parts out, although I'm sure I did somewhere. ;)
Thank you all so much for your love and support during this exciting time in our lives. We have so many of you to thank for our endurance through this race and we love each and every one of you.
For those of you wondering, December 8th is our court date! :)