Wrapped in Butterfly Wings

SHARED BY JESSICA MARLIN

Change of Plans

My husband Derek and I have been married almost six years. This is the second marriage for both of us (another story for another day), and we are absolutely thrilled to have found the person with whom we were meant to share our lives. Derek is my rock. He calms my anxiety and makes life much simpler with his laid-back personality. He makes me laugh, and he pushes me to continue to improve myself and to reach my goals. He loves me no matter what. A quote from the movie Wedding Crashers best exemplifies the way I feel about Derek: “Love is the soul’s recognition of its counterpart in another.”

Anyway, we decided that we wanted children. We decided to wait a year after being married—to just enjoy each other. We decided, after a vacation in March 2012, that we would stop any means of contraception and see what happened.

The Monday we got back from our trip, Derek began throwing up at work. He had been having some intermittent stomach cramping for a couple of months, but this was written off as either acid reflux or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). As it turned out, his intestine was being blocked. A colonoscopy the following day verified the ugly truth: Derek had colon cancer.

By the end of the week, we had the surgery to remove the cancer and had formulated a chemotherapy plan (again, another trench story). We actually tried to bank sperm prior to his chemotherapy, just in case, but none were found. After Derek was declared healthy—now four years and six months cancer-free, yay!—we decided to table our thoughts of children and have a year of fun because, let’s face it, we deserved it.

Still, we tossed around ideas for the next few years and discussed different options. We decided against a sperm donor, as both of us had been cheated on in our previous marriages. That left adoption, which is what this story is about.

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A New Possibility

We never thought in our life we would be the people with infertility issues. The array of emotions I felt ranged from numbness, to jealousy of other families who had it "easy," to questioning "do we really need to have children to be happy?" to just plain anger. There were many times when it hurt too much to be around children. My own sister-in-law felt so bad about our situation that she didn’t want to send pictures of our three nieces and nephews. I got so tired of people asking us if we were planning on having children and poking fun, saying we were just not "getting busy" enough (never a problem!). I felt like it got to a point where people were waiting so long for us to get pregnant that they just looked at us and felt sorry for us—which made me feel like an absolute failure. I hate to compare myself to others, but I wondered why I couldn’t have the family with children, too.

With both Derek and I being in our mid-30s, we determined it was now or never. As such, in June 2016, we attended an informational meeting about adoption. We were both very turned off by the process, and I wasn’t sure if my heart could take it. (I was going through a lot of job changes and stress at the time.) The place we looked into had very strict rules about adoptions and required all adoptions to be "open adoptions" (no restrictions placed on the birth mother—she could have visiting rights, etc.). I also felt like they were not very direct with their information. We decided to table the idea for the time being and perhaps explore another agency. 

In the meantime, my job situation improved, and we were able to enjoy the summer. We do a lot of camping during the warmer months, and we often travel with a large group. One of the women in our group found out that she was pregnant during the winter of 2015, but we didn’t really hear about it until the following summer. A mutual friend mentioned to us in August that this woman was giving the baby up for adoption. Furthermore, she already had a couple picked out from Georgia. She is 43 years old, has survived cancer twice, and did not want to tackle a baby at this time in her life.

It got us thinking—what if we could persuade her to change her mind and give the baby to us? It seemed like the perfect situation:

  • We knew the birth mother.
  • The baby was a healthy boy.
  • It would be easy to work out the relationship we both wanted her to have with the baby (she wasn’t just going to drop out of the baby’s life completely).

Over Labor Day weekend, we talked with her on a camping trip and mentioned that, if the couple from Georgia did not work out, we would love to be second in line to adopt her baby boy. To our delight, she agreed!

Derek and I were so excited. I’ve never felt so excited about anything in my life! The emotions truly surprised me, as I was about to write off having children for good. Soon after that, we found out that she had told the Georgia family she was going with us instead. We were over the moon!

We had 27 days until the baby was due. Everything went into absolute hyper mode as we prepared our home, completed the home study and background checks, looked into babysitting, and arranged our work schedules. We were super busy, but we were truly excited to be working toward this—toward the possibility of us having a son! I felt like God was giving us this situation; this was the way it was going to finally work out for us. He put this into my life before I even knew I wanted it. Now I knew, with more than 100% certainty if that’s possible, that I was ready for children.

The Waiting Game

By the end of September, we were all set, and the waiting game began. The mother was due to be induced on October 8. Derek and I decided to go on one last camping adventure the first weekend of October. When we returned the following Monday, the mother texted me and said she was in labor. We were going crazy with excitement!

Leading up to the birth, the mother had given us all of the baby stuff her friends had dropped by (she hadn’t told them she was giving her baby up for adoption), ultrasound pictures, etc. She kept referring to him as "our baby"!

We went to the hospital Monday night to keep them company, and we played cards. Her labor was not moving very quickly, so we left. An hour later, we found out that the baby was born via emergency cesarean section, as both the cord and placenta had ruptured. It was dire enough that both the birth mother and baby almost died.

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The next day, we went to see the little guy. He was perfect! I’ve never seen such a cutie! Holding him for the first time felt amazing. His birth mother was pretty doped up from the trauma of the whole thing, so we kept our visit short. The next day was the day before we would be able to bring him home. We fed him, and Derek changed his diaper. We were definitely making a connection!

But Wednesday was also the day when we started to notice a change—signs that we may not be able to take our son home with us. The birth mother asked us more questions about the relationship we were going to have with her, and she doubted what we had already agreed on over and over. She was also clearly bonding with the baby. She ceased responding to the lawyers, and she claimed she was misled on the open adoption.

Thursday arrived, and I still had a little bit of hope, but I was also feeling very guarded with my emotions. In the back of my mind, I realized that this adoption may not happen. The birth mother contacted us via group text (of all things) and told us that she was taking the baby home, that we should think about really adopting—as if we hadn’t already made up our minds. She said she did not want to hear from us until Monday.

I was completely devastated. I left work early, and I just barely made it home before the tears of angst started flowing. I’ve never cried like this before: a furious cry where I couldn’t even catch my breath. Every time I tried to stop crying, the emotions boiled up again, and I kept going.

This went on all afternoon before finally, somehow, it stopped. Derek came home from work, and I asked him to remove all of the baby stuff that was laying around and put it behind the closed doors of the would-be nursery. I couldn’t stand to look at it.

The birth mother was putting a lot of blame on me and on the lawyers. I felt like this was all my fault.

It was hard to understand at the time, but our lawyer explained that these were all excuses she was making to keep the baby. We tried to reach out to her, but she wouldn’t respond. That evening, the emotions boiled up again like a volcano, and I cried uncontrollably.

Finally, Derek and I agreed that we weren’t going to wait around all weekend and mope, so we went a road trip. We just took our two dogs and started driving—no particular destination in mind. We found hotels and stayed along the way. We traveled through St. Louis and drove a little bit of Route 66. Through all of this, we still attempted to find out, through our mutual friend and through Facebook, any idea as to what was going on. We were very angry that weekend, and anger is a truly exhausting emotion to have to deal with. We got to the point where we didn’t even want the baby anymore; the situation had become too condescending and negative. 

Eventually, our road trip took us to a park in Joplin, Missouri, where an F5 tornado hit five years ago. For some reason, I could relate to our situation here—at the memorial to this natural disaster. I felt like my life was a tornado at that moment. I was at my wit’s end. But I also knew that the whirling tornado in my life was temporary. There may be damage and much distress, but I would move on.

Grief and Healing

The park had a butterfly garden with a ton of gorgeous monarch butterflies in it. I read stories of three unrelated children who felt that butterflies wrapped their wings around them during the tornado, who felt that the butterflies saved their lives. I began to relax and become more accepting of our situation. I was still angry and wanted to know what was going on, but things became clearer.

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I read up on butterflies and their meaning, since we saw so many on our trip—both at home before we left and there in Joplin. Many believe that butterflies offer protection, that they represent someone from heaven watching us.

I read that everything will be okay no matter what happens.

We went to a spot where you could stand in Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma all at the same time. This felt like a metaphor for the many emotions we would be facing and the new choices we would have to consider, now that we were processing the loss of our adoption.

Monday finally arrived. Honestly, we were waiting for the inevitable. We tried contacting the birth mother about six times; we wanted to talk to her on the phone instead of by text messages. By this point, I wasn’t upset about her keeping the baby but rather that she was stringing us along for a week after his birth. We just wanted her to be straight with us.

She finally group texted again saying this wasn’t happening. I continued to be angry for days, which exhausted me. I understand that there are many stages to grief and some people process none, some, or all of them—and in any order. I prayed that the anger part would pass soon, as it isn’t a normal emotion for me. I am not an angry person by nature. I can do sad well, and I can deal with sad—having been through both my own divorce and Derek’s cancer—but I cannot do anger.

We spent the first part of that week beginning to take down the nursery, returning items we didn't need back to stores. Every time we parted with an item, it felt like a dagger in my heart. Who could really understand why we were returning baby stuff? It should have been a happy time. They had no idea. We also worked on telling people that it didn’t happen. I got so tired of hearing "It’s not meant to be." One friend kept leaving sad messages on my phone, of all things. I had to tell Derek to tell her to stop as that wasn’t helping.

I didn’t want to talk about it. I was talked out.

By Thursday, I began to feel more at peace and less angry. I moved on to deep sadness. Here was an emotion that I could deal with better. I read somewhere that it can help to sit in the nursery to process loss. I hadn’t been in the nursery since this happened. I went in there and sat in the rocking chair and cried. This wasn’t the heaving, can’t-catch-your-breath cry, but the slow-sad-tears-rolling-down-your-face cry. I began to feel better. I am only now starting to come out of it, but I am still in a definite depressed phase. I know with time this will get better.

I want this story to make people realize that infertility is tough. Not everyone can simply get pregnant and have a perfect baby and a perfect little life. Yes, there are options—fertility treatments, adoption, etc. But those aren’t guaranteed solutions either, as any one of them can fail. I understand God doesn’t give anyone anything they can’t handle. He must think I am one strong woman! But right now I feel broken, numb, and hopeless. Derek and I know that this isn’t the end for us. We will consider having a child some way once again, but now is the time we need to take to heal from this devastating loss. In this way, I pray that my story helps someone, and I would definitely be open to hearing your thoughts if you are going through something similar.

 
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