Plans? What Plans?

This is part 2 of a 3-post series about motherhood.  Click here for part 1.  Our regular bloggers, Melissa Abbott, Ellie Hamilton, and Sarah Ellen Edwards, will be contributing to each post.

Today’s blog post contains content that may be difficult for people to read who have had infertility, suffered abuse, had a miscarriage, and have trauma related to these events.

Q: How did your plans for motherhood go or probably not go according to plan?

Sarah Ellen
To refresh your memory, we decided right after our first anniversary for me to go off birth control.  We tried for a year and nothing happened, and honestly, we weren’t really worried about it.  My older sister had had no problem getting pregnant, my mother had had no problem getting pregnant, Jeff’s mother had not had a problem getting pregnant. The people closest to me had gotten pregnant so I really never considered there being any issue for me.
  I started exercising and trying to eat better to try and take care of my body.  Then my doctor sent me to PREG (Piedmont Reproductive Endocrinology Group) in Greenville.  They performed a hysterosalpingogram to make sure there were no obstructions that were keeping me from getting pregnant.  Then they started me on a low dose of Clomid.  I did three rounds of this and I remember it was really awful for me emotionally. We knew right then and there we would not go any further with any more fertility treatments.  It was too much for me, and I needed a break.  It also took the fun and spontaneity out of what it takes to make a baby! We were still in the early years of our marriage, and we were losing ourselves trying to make a baby.   We closed the door on becoming biological parents.    
Another year passed and we were like okay, we are ready.  We wanted to be parents so badly.  We decided to adopt and pursued a private adoption with Bethany Christian Services. We didn’t tell anybody initially.  We were doing this: we got the paperwork and quietly completed it and waited to see what happened.  
Now, I have to say we did not go into adoption with the idea that we were going to rescue some child from a hard place and a tough situation and raise them in better circumstances and show them Jesus.  We were ready to grow our family.  People will credit us with these notions and will even say things to us and I truly just cringe.  Our desire was to have kids and be parents, but we knew we weren’t perfect and we knew that there was sadness and loss wrapped up in adoption.
I will never forget being at a baby shower for a family friend.  She was in her 40s and had never been pregnant.  They had decided to adopt and used Bethany Christian services.  My mother, with all of her love and tact, said, “You should do this, Sarah Ellen!”  I politely responded (while rolling my eyes) with, “I'll just have you know that I have the paperwork at my house right now!”  So much for not telling anyone.  
It was a shock, but in 9 months, we had Beck in our arms.  It was exactly 9 months from  the minute we started the paperwork to the minute he was with us.  I always love that detail because it felt like a gift to experience a 9-month wait, just like I would have if I was pregnant.  
Fast forward 7 months and Anna joins our family via foster care!  I definitely had my hands full with two under 7 months.  It still took until she was over 18 months old to get her adoption finalized.  We continued to foster kids and we moved from Anderson to Greenville.  I believe we fostered around 11 children including Anna and eventually Ellory.  We decided our hands were full, our kids had lots of needs that needed addressing in a big way, and so our season of fostering was done.  Our family was complete and we got down to the business of raising and meeting the needs of our 3 kids.  
But wait…when we thought our family was complete, God decided we weren’t complete and I got pregnant.  Not my plan at all.

Around the time we turned 30 years old, 4 or 5 years after Justin and I got married, I was ready.  I had been on birth control forever because I had PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome).  I had asked my doctor if there would ever be a problem when I was ready to try having a baby, and she just said she would take me off my birth control when I was ready to try and get pregnant.  Well, there were problems. Nothing was working.  We tried for a year. We decided to look into things further and we started charting and checking my temp and I thought this is awful!  I wanted nothing to do with this so we stopped that for a while.  
Then I distinctly remember the time that I came across Jessica Satterfield’s video of when Selah Grace was born.  Jessica lives in the upstate and has a popular blog where she writes about adoption.  She and her husband adopted Selah Grace and were able to be in the delivery room when she was born.  I had a conversation with someone that I just really wanted to be a mom and I didn’t care how the baby came into our family.  I approached Justin about adopting.  His initial answer was no.  “If they can’t be mine, I don’t want to.”  I was like okay.  I knew I couldn’t change his  mind, only God could change his mind, so I started praying about it. Literally within a week’s time, He was researching adoptions.  I was blown away because that was totally God.   I could never have done that on my own.  
In the meantime, I had a friend who had been going through some fertility stuff and she wanted to introduce me to someone.  That person happened to be Jessica Satterfield.  I was just thinking “this is wild and something only God could make happen”.
Eventually, Justin and I went to a meeting put on by Quiver Full Adoptions to learn more about private adoptions.  We left there feeling like there was no way we could afford a private adoption.  
I had a friend, Whitney, who worked for DSS and Justin said we should take her out to dinner so she could explain adoption and foster care through DSS to us: the good, the bad, the ugly, everything.  I remember having all of those feelings of uncertainty and knowing it would be difficult to both get attached and have a child leave our home. Then I reminded myself that if this is where God was leading Justin, I needed to hear Justin out.  I prayed for this so I need to go with him to hear about everything.  We met with Whitney and asked her ALL of the things.  Justin said he felt like we needed to go the route of foster care and I said okay.  I remembered again that I prayed for Justin’s heart to be open to adoption and God was leading him this way so I just needed to jump on board and be in it with him.  
Now when my husband wants something, he is very goal-driven.  When the paperwork started rolling in, he would get it completed, signed, and have it back to DSS in an hour or less if possible.  When we looked back on the timeline, from the time we started filling out paperwork to the time we got Lannie, our daughter, it took 9 months.  We were licensed within 3-4 months and got our first placement two days after we got licensed.  She was a 2-month-old baby.  DSS led us to believe that we would be able to adopt her.  We were so excited.  
We found out a few days before Easter weekend that she would go home for a visit and then transition permanently.  The whole experience was terrible with our case worker and poor communication–we were heart-broken and felt like we didn’t have good support.  After we got home, I just wanted to do nothing.  Easter Sunday was coming and I didn’t want to go to church.  I felt anything but hopeful.  We decided we wanted to try a different church that weekend and we decided on Capstone.  We went in thinking we were going to sit through the service and then go home.  We left there feeling better and we went and saw the family.  
Later that week, baby girl went back home with her bio parents and our case worker tried to comfort us by telling us she knew how it felt.  I was not in the mood.  All I could think was this felt like grieving a death, but this child is still alive and just not with us.  It was the way foster care was supposed to work and she was going home to her family under good circumstances. We knew all of that, but it still hurt.  I took every baby item we had, shoved it in the nursery and shut the door.
Two weekends later, we got a call that a baby was being born and could we take her.  We were all excited!  We picked her up from the hospital at 3 days old.  It is very surreal to walk into a hospital with an empty carseat and then walk out with a baby.  My mom had sent me there with the same outfit that my sister and I wore home from the hospital so we put this baby girl in that same outfit.  Our family met us at home and it was like, Boom!  You have a baby all of a sudden.  Justin and I still worked full-time so we had to go back to work, but baby girl was too young to go to daycare.  Thankfully, God once again worked it out: my sister was on a break between semesters in college and she was able to keep Lannie.
During the time we had Lannie, we decided to look more into fertility treatments.  Justin said we would do 3 rounds and we were done.  It was expensive.  I remember having some wild side effects from the different medicines we tried: heart racing, thinning hair, etc. We decided to stop and we put ourselves on hold at DSS.  When Lannie was 14 months old, she was walking and had had her first birthday, so we decided to go back on the open bed list.  
DSS called about 2 days later with a request for us to take a 2-week old baby boy.  We said yes even though we didn’t have the space ready for him. We had said we weren’t comfortable taking kids who were addicted to drugs or alcohol because with us both working full-time, we couldn’t dedicate the time and care a child like that would need.  I remember my sister putting the crib together as DSS was rolling up the driveway.  He was so tiny and all we were told was that he was labeled “failure to thrive”.  He was pitiful and he cried so much.  He cried and screamed all night and I remember thinking what have we done to ourselves?  We had just gotten Lannie sleeping through the night and now we have this little guy who screams for hours on end every night.  We got him in to see the pediatrician as soon as the week started and found out he was in fact born addicted to drugs.  There was a lag in information being passed along because he was born in one county and had been transferred to Memorial in Greenville County.  DSS initially told us we would only have him for a couple of weeks and then he would go to his family.  We thought we could hang on for a few weeks.  That is, of course, not what happened.  
We were hanging by a thread.  Not only did baby boy scream all day and night, but I had a hard time bonding with him.  His body would get so rigid and he didn’t want to be held and snuggled.  I remember just putting him in my tank top so his head could be right on my chest, hoping that the sound of my heartbeat would give him some comfort and calm him.  I was losing my mind.  Justin and I were both still working full-time: there was no maternity or paternity leave for a new foster placement.  I really don’t know how we survived that time because we were so sleep-deprived.  
During this time we got connected with other foster parents at Capstone and it was such a great support.  I remember texting the group when he was coming that I didn’t have a single blue item in my house.  Then all of a sudden people like Jennifer Oates are just dropping off clothes at my house.  Within a few hours, we had so much stuff and we knew God was in this and not leaving us to fend for ourselves.  We tried doing visits with his bio parents but one wouldn’t show up and then a lawyer wouldn’t show up for court so his case just kept being continued.  Finally, 2 weeks before the massive COVID shut-down, we finalized Nash’s adoption.  
After Nash’s adoption, I brought up a 3rd child to Justin.  I am pretty sure he thought I was crazy.  We had actually gotten pregnant in 2019 before Nash’s adoption.  I remember calling Justin to tell him and his response was “well how did that happen??”  My body hadn’t “worked” in years so I was just as surprised.  It was right around Holy Week which seems to be when every major thing happens to us.  Right after Easter, I started spotting at work.  I called my mom at work in tears.  I was supposed to have my initial appointment with my OB/GYN that week so I called them and they sent me to the ER.  It was one of the worst moments, sitting in the ER in pain.  Thankfully my mom was there.  I was miscarrying.  I continued to bleed for a week after.  We were coming up on Mother’s Day weekend and I finally had to book into the OR for the Monday after Mother’s Day for a D&C.  
2019 was a doozy.  We were raising Lannie and trying to get Nash’s adoption wrapped up.  I got pregnant and miscarried.  We had to put one of our dogs down and my grandfather died.  I thought that surely 2020 would have to get better.  Just kidding!  

A few months after my surgery, a close family member admitted to sexually abusing me once when I was very young.  It was a relatively minor violation, but as this person shared the details as they remembered it, it was identical to occasional “flashbacks” I had experienced (a common way of remembering or re-experiencing trauma for people with PTSD). The level of similarity and detail of my memory, as compared to the description by my family member, gave me the courage to question other memories and flashbacks that I was having.  I was very ill with anorexia nervosa at this point, using control of food to further suppress trauma and help me deal with the end of my parent’s 24 year marriage during my senior year of high school and through college.  
I was able to seek treatment for my eating disorder right after graduation from college, an agreement I made with our college counselor and my nurse practitioner, rather than being mandated to treatment before graduation.   My parents did not support this decision, and, as I was not yet financially independent, I was removed from my first program early and moved home with very little improvement.  My unstable home life and lack of tools landed me back into an inpatient treatment for my eating disorder as soon as I was under the care of a doctor back at home.  During this time, it was recommended that I find a living arrangement away from my volatile family.  Thankfully a family at my home church gave me a place to be and the opportunity to feel safe.  I spent the next 4 years in and out of either hospital-level treatment or long term programs.  I would toggle back and forth between wanting to heal and being afraid of facing what was underneath the eating disorder.  
After nearly 5 years of ineffective treatment, I had an encounter during one of those programs where I felt the Holy Spirit convict me. Either I was going to let the Holy Spirit do deep healing work in me and trust that I would be supported in the process, or I was going to starve myself to death. I was at the point where my care team had little hope that I would recover.  It was the mercy of God that I don’t have major long-term effects of my eating disorder.  I was engaging in incredibly self-destructive behaviors and it is only by His grace that I chose to pursue life and not death.
How does this relate to motherhood? Well, as I chose to pursue life and believe there was hope for my future, I also had to come to terms with the reality  that motherhood would have to involve adoption or surrogacy.  I also knew it was very important to me to become a mother.  I endured horrific abuse for most of my childhood and young adult years of my life and one result of that abuse was a pregnancy. When this pregnancy was discovered by my abuser, it was terminated in an incredibly violent way outside the realm of medical oversight in order to maintain absolute secrecy.  It is likely the nature of this event and the other abuses suffered at this individual’s hand caused such irreparable damage to my body.  I know I am a mother, but much of the circumstances around my motherhood are hidden and unacknowledged or traumatic and shameful to me or others.  What do you do when you are a mom in secret?  It can be very complicated to engage with other mothers, to honor Mother’s Day, attend baby showers, etc.  I often experience deeply conflicting emotions and much grief that can be misunderstood around these events.  I have learned to hold those emotions in tension with the genuine joy I feel for friends who are experiencing the joys and difficulties of mothering a child in “real time” and all the complexities of doing daily life with children.
Adoption is really important for me, but I am not sure that foster care is right for me at this time, given the reality that reunification is the primary goal. I am not sure that I can foster with integrity, supporting birth parents while also wanting to grow my family through adoption.  Fostering may be something I can revisit after adoption, or in another season, but for now, I am committed to supporting foster parents in other ways.  While I hope that adoption is an option for Ruud and I, I also know that it will come with challenges and grief of its own.  

Part 3 of this series will be published next week.