My story begins with my husband Donavan and I in 2015, when we decided we were ready to grow our family. We had always been a strong couple – working together, leaning on each other, improving ourselves together as an amazing team. But he and I have gone through something I wouldn’t wish on any person, and it is difficult to discuss. My mindset has always been I can do anything if I try hard enough, you have to fight for what you want, and anything less than is weakness. I never wanted to be seen as weak and I don’t mean physically. I don’t want anyone to tell me I can’t do something. This is the story of our miracle baby, first-born son Jude.
We tried getting pregnant for 14 months without success. It was physically and emotionally draining. Many of our friends had children already and it was the only types of conversation held when together, so we stopped going out. Anything baby related was too hard to hear and we began cutting ourselves off from it.
A small note regarding something I hold close to my heart. If you know someone struggling – please do your research! Things said well intended, may actually be hurtful. People don’t know how to handle this topic, it is not always talked about openly; one in eight women struggle with infertility and its common. Consider the opposite perspective. I found the most insulting phrases be: “Just relax”, “In God’s time”, “Are you eating well/sleeping well/not stressed?” and “You are trying too hard!” Don’t go around asking couples when they will have kids, you don’t now their background, or if they have already been trying. Be sensitive, kind and wise, its more respectful.
We visited a fertility clinic for testing. Here’s the kicker: all testing was “above average”, there was not one thing wrong. This is when the anger came. We worked with doctors to hyper stimulate cycles and tried procedures, but all failed and frankly, were painful and made me sick. Approaching the two-year mark, we realized we couldn’t do it anymore. The amount of money, emotions, the “second life” others couldn’t see. It was too much. It was crushing.
We started talking to family and close friends. We needed to talk about it and build some support. Here comes the weakness feeling I was talking about. I felt like I became a lesser person, admitting there was a problem. I didn’t fully know how to act, and was angry at the world and God. There was nothing wrong with either one of us and it was still happening. Only those who have struggled know the true agony.
We spoke with Donovan’s sister Tracee and her husband Justin about our struggles during a visit. They listened to us, they distracted us. They even brought us to a tattoo parlor and I got a tattoo to help me express what I’d been feeling. As we were packing to leave, Tracee gave me her fertility statue in hopes it would help. It has definitely worked for her! We returned home with a second wind and our loved ones’ support. We also discussed other options. Visiting six adoption agencies and informational classes, we started narrowing down our favorites. It was now 2017, and having a baby and starting our family was something we wanted more than anything.
Our last month of treatment, on the day we were going to find out whether I was pregnant or not, Tracee and Donavan text, awaiting news. He ran an errand and had brought home flowers for me – either to celebrate or in remorse. It didn’t happen, I was not pregnant. We spent the day on our sofa, holding each other, crying and broken. Donavan told her we would be taking a break and she responded shortly after with “Why don’t you adopt a baby from us?” Wow.
I was hesitant and scared. After learning about adoption, I knew it came with struggles on both sides involved. There was potential for changed minds, regret, and resentment. And then the added complication of adoption between family – a fully open adoption. But our families decided, YES let’s do this together, and soon our baby boy was starting to grow!
The beauty of adopting from family was being able to follow along the process. We were both ecstatic as the countdown began to meet our baby. It was finally happening! I downloaded an app which brought us week by week, saying what parts of our baby were developing and what vegetable size he was. We were able to Skype during ultrasound appointments and hear about ones we missed. We received photos and discussed the legal processes needing to happen. I started designing the nursery! The theme was easy to decide, boy or girl, it would have a camping, outdoorsy sense. We went down the to-do lists of finding a pediatrician, a daycare, and starting the registry.
Feelings during that time were full and confusing. We felt great loss as we put the vision of having a biological child on hold – who they would look like, who’s stubborn tendencies the child would inherit. It was difficult, but I knew in my heart the hold wasn’t forever. There was still plenty of opportunity for our babe to follow with that stubborn attitude!
There was the loss of control. Our baby was growing across the country and we weren’t there for it. As a group, we discussed questions and concerns to determine any baby related decisions. In the end though, it was Tracee’s body and everyone understood she had final say. We worked really well together as a team though. Donavan and I tried hard to think about all parties’ feelings and perspectives.
We felt the need to protect ourselves and future child from expected comments and stereotypes of others. We were adopting our baby, who is as much our child as any potential future adopted or biologically conceived child we may have. We were ‘pregnant’ along with Tracee and Justin who grew our baby. Nobody ‘gave up’ our baby for adoption. A plan was made for this baby, by us, and his birth parents, to give him a happy life.
Adoption is not new, it has been happening for many generations. A second note regarding a deeply personal awareness to us: If you know someone adopting, or suspect a stranger has an adopted child, please do your research before speaking. Along with infertility comments, people say what they feel – often times well intended, but not thought out and hurtful. Statements such as: “Why don’t you just adopt?”, “Why don’t you have your own child?”, “What if they change their mind?”, “Now that you are adopting, you’ll get pregnant immediately!”, and “Why are they giving him up?” are the ones which stood out I heard many times. Your curiosity does not give you a right to their story, you do not know, nor do you need to know, their lives.
In the beginning of the pregnancy, Tracee had been telling us she was having girl-baby symptoms. Everything baby was doing to her body made her feel girl. During our gender reveal photo shoot, we we thinking “Why do we even have to do this?” We already KNEW girl balloons were going to fall on our heads! Tracee had passed the gender on to my sister and mom to pack the box I made. We stood below the box with a pull string in both our hands and… BLUE! What the hell?! Total surprise! Then total change of excitement!
We had name options picked out from the beginning. Boy options were Donavan Jr. or Jude. And I will tell you, it took me an EMBARRASSINGLY long time to talk Donavan down from Donavan Jr. My argument finally worked when I said we could name him after his favorite whiskey (yes, sadly, this worked). Jude Jameson Sullivan. I was really winning though because I loved the name!
As soon as I knew his gender, I started buying baby stuff. Donavan gave me crap, telling me to save it for our baby showers, to just wait! We had 3 amazing baby showers for Jude. One thing we stressed about our showers was the importance of both of us to be there. We were growing our family together, we would care for our baby together, and we would celebrate together.
The first was a small lunch gathering with his coworkers. Such a thoughtful group! We had cake, balloons, and presents for Baby Jude. My mom threw the second shower with our family and friends, with good food and fun games. I will say, we will never buy Jude turkey flavored baby food. I tried it … it’s bad, really bad. Tracee was able to video and both of us talked about our process and how Jude was doing. The video was shortened because we ran into technical difficulties with my parent’s place being far out in the country! We had to call each other back several times to make it happen! But it was a special moment which brought some to tears, including myself. My sister Andi threw our final shower at a brewery down the road. Friends, beer, games, and gifts – it was a great time! She had a game idea: if someone heard you say beer, boy, or baby, they could steal a clothespin from your shirt, trying to collect them all. Because of our keen ears (and some friends sacrificing themselves to give us pins), it came down to a battle between Donavan and myself on who would win. Let’s just say I had some victory beers after that!
We knew automatically who would be Jude’s godparents. He was already such a loved boy, with so much family in his life, we believed he deserved two sets: Justin and Tracee, and Drew and Andi. We sent them each a poem and I made mugs with “Fairy Godmother” and “The Godfather” along with a Cinderella book they could read to Jude. They both loved it and accepted!
Getting closer to Jude’s birth, anxiety hit its peak when it came to booking plane, train, and car reservations. Its one thing to be flexible with schedule for work and personal life, but we had a lot of things and money riding on Jude’s due date. We gave ourselves almost two weeks to be in Arizona, just in case he came a bit early or a little late. I kept saying “In my perfect world, Jude will be born at Noon on his due date.”
We got a text from Tracee, prodromal labor had started 8 days before our flight was scheduled. We waited one day, so she could meet her doula to discuss probability. She left it up to us, it was unpredictable. Jude could come in a matter of hours or another week. We didn’t want to risk it. I preferred to be early rather than miss his birth.
We went to the airport the next morning and switched our flight – six days before our original tickets and five days before Christmas. As prepared as we could be, we were able to sweet talk our way into free checked bags, seat upgrades which sat us together, and some free chocolates at the airport bar as we waited. We flew out of Minnesota in grey 20 degrees, and into sunny Arizona at 65 degrees. We were giddy as we went to the rental car company, telling everyone we were adopting a baby and he was coming! There was a 3-hour drive from Phoenix to Yuma which felt like it took forever! Our adrenaline was wearing off and we were ready to end the day of travel. Texting with Tracee and Justin the whole way, they decided to plan to surprise the kids. We didn’t knock when we arrived, but just walked through the front door and got two seconds of blank stares from all their kids. Uncle D and Aunt K came early! Then screaming and jumping and carrying more children at once than I could ever believe my arms would allow.
Jude had tricked us all though. He was not coming out early! We have no regrets, it was an amazing trip! We got to spend extra time with Tracee, Justin, and the kids. Christmas traditions, wrapping presents, building Santa toys, and seeing those kids so excited – we loved it! Over the next week, Jude had strong clusters of contractions and then stopped. He couldn’t make up his mind! We were able to feel him moving around in Tracee’s belly, feel her contracting – super surreal. She and I took many laps around the block hoping to get him ready. She was bouncing on her exercise ball, moving around the house, eating a crazy amount of pineapple, and we even broke out the hot sauce for her to eat. Jude was still content on waiting.
(Stay tuned tomorrow for the completion of the story from Mom Kelsey’s point of view and Jude’s final debut!)