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Mom of the House: The struggle with infertility

This past week, our country celebrated and advocated for families who have experienced infertility. Canadian Infertility Awareness Week ran from May 12 – 20, 2016, and the popular hashtag #fertilitymatters circulated across social media.
Mom of the House with Brianna Bell

Statistically speaking, 1 in 6 women or couples attempting conception will experience infertility in Canada, or roughly 16%.

I have personally never had a miscarriage, or had fertility related issues with my two children. I do know many people who have. Some of my friends have quietly dealt with their miscarriages, and I’m sure there are many I’m not even aware of. I respect all types of grief, and think that everyone deals with loss, whether it is of a child or a dream, in their own unique way.

However, I do know one person who has been open about her struggle with infertility, and how it has shaped her family and her story. I am honoured to call her my good friend, and happy that she took time to share her story with me for Infertility Awareness Week.

I’m going to veer off course here, and allow you into the conversation I had with Heather Teeter, School Age Coordinator at Lakeside Church. Heather and her husband Adam have been married for nine years and have a son named Pierce.

Brianna: When you were first married did you make plans on how many children you would have? 

Heather: When we were first married we were content to delay having children so we could focus on travel and work in other countries...Once we were home we both chose to focus on our careers to become teachers..We never thought we would have any issues having children and just assumed it would just happen. We were almost 7 years into marriage before we even started to discuss having children.

Brianna: I know every single woman (and man’s) experience with infertility is unique. Can you give us a glimpse of what it has been like for you?

Heather: I have had a total of 4 miscarriages, all losses being close to, or beyond the second trimester. All of my pregnancy losses were missed miscarriages, which means I didn't know I had lost my babies until an ultrasound tech or doctor informed me when scanning. I also had to carry them knowing that they were not alive, and in two cases have assistance in delivering them. Although small and delicate, I got to hold three of my babies. It was very bittersweet to see their very small features, and think about what it would have been like to hold them alive. I got to see their heart beats, and growth on various scans, until they just didn't have a heartbeat anymore. 

Brianna: I can’t even imagine how hard that would be.

Heather: It was really hard. In testing, I found out that the losses happened not because there was anything wrong with the babies, but likely something with me that was causing my body to reject pregnancies. I have a lot of vivid memories about my losses, and so occasionally have nightmares, or am kept up at night thinking about them. My first two losses were particularly hard because I didn't know what was normal when miscarrying and what warranted going to a doctor. And then when I would go to a doctor they were so medical and seemed to lack empathy. They referred to my babies as "products of conception", and in one circumstance they carried my baby away without even asking me if I wanted to see them. I was shuffled out like any patient would be at a hospital, and there was never any follow up calls, or advice about what to expect when healing afterwards. 

Brianna: Did you find losing four pregnancies, four children, has changed you? What was your experience of grief like during that time in your life?

Heather: I felt very isolated. Grief can be so incredibly hard to handle on your own. If you ask any mother what they would do if their child died, they would tell you that they wouldn't know how to continue to live. What people need to understand is that it doesn't matter when you lose a child, that overwhelming feeling of "how do I go on?" is very real and all consuming. After each loss I had to take a hiatus of sorts from life. I would just sleep and eat a lot. It was really hard for me to go out into public because it seemed like everywhere I went there would be a pregnant woman, or someone pushing a baby in a stroller. Everything was a trigger. I’d feel this immense pain sweep in. I was barren and my children were gone. Looking back, I do think I became a very hard person for others to be around because I just couldn't be happy. I found out very quickly who my real friends were, because they didn't blame me for how I acted during my dark periods of grief. They gave me the benefit of the doubt and just let me vent, rather than make me feel worse by avoiding me, or telling me how "ugly" I had become.

Brianna: I am sure many people would find it difficult to understand or relate to your pain, which is why I’m so thankful you are sharing your story. And I’m glad you had people in your life that had empathy and compassion for you. Now, today you are a mother to a sweet boy named Pierce, who was adopted into your loving home. Can you tell us about Pierce and the process of adopting him?

Heather: We started the process of pursuing adoption after my second pregnancy loss. I was pregnant with my third while we did our home study. By that point I assumed that the pregnancy would not work out, and I was right. Pursuing adoption gave us a lot of hope because it was a way to become parents that didn't involve me having to birth a child. We also felt that adoption was special because not only were we able to become parents through it, but we were also giving a child the love and attention they deserved. Once we completed everything needed to adopt a child, which includes PRIDE training and a home study, we got the email to foster our soon-to-be son within months. Some families have to wait longer, but we made a point to be very aggressive by going to Adoption Resource Exchanges, where you get to view available children, and handing out a hard cover profile book about Adam and I to various social workers there. We built a relationship with one of the social workers there, and she was the one who matched us with our child. 

Brianna: I can totally see you two being there with your hardcover book, that’s amazing. Tell us a bit more about the process of adopting Pierce.

Heather: Our son came to us through the foster-to adopt program at 6 1/2 months old. This meant that although the chances were high that we would adopt him, there was also a chance that he would be returned to his birth family. In our case that did not happen, and we officially adopted him when he was 16 months old. We actually got the call that birth mom had signed her rights over to us on Christmas day. It was a very bittersweet experience. Adoption is not easy. Foster-to-adopt is particularly difficult because you fall in love with your child, and are constantly in fear of them being taken from you. I didn't know it would be so hard going into it and I think that social workers often don't want you to know that reality because if you did you might not want to do it in the first place, and there are just so many children who are in the system and need a good home. 

Brianna: And now you are currently in the process of adopting your second son through International Adoption. Let us know a bit about that experience.

Heather: International adoption came about from a calling that was placed on my heart to adopt a child from Ukraine. I watched a documentary online called "Ukraine's Forgotten Children" and it absolutely broke me apart to see how neglected orphans were, and here my husband and I were just wanting to be parents. We did not have the money to pursue an international adoption at that time, which is why we moved forward with public adoption, but we knew the time would come when God would open doors for us to make it a reality. We knew we wanted to adopt a child with special needs. I think this desire came about because we felt like we had the skills and abilities to do this, and also knew that children with special needs were treated so very poorly in Ukraine due to cultural misunderstandings. We started to looking through the profiles of children on Reece's Rainbow, a not-for-profit that puts adoptive families in touch with the files of orphans who have special needs. One day our sons profile just jumped out to us, and both Adam and I knew that he was meant to be ours. Out of all the children we viewed, he was the one. Our hearts fluttered, and we discussed all of the pros and cons of what it would look like to bring him home. We just knew he was the right fit for our family. Our next son will be coming home to us the summer of 2016. He is an older child, and he has several different special needs, one of which includes dwarfism. He is absolutely adorable and we are very excited to get him home as fast as possible. 

Brianna: Can you share with us how becoming a mother through the process of adoption has changed and shaped you?

Heather: Becoming a mother through adoption has many similarities to birthing a child biologically, but the difference it presents gives me a lot of pride. I know that I get to experience another side of being a mom that I would not have if I had birthed my sons. I feel privileged to be part of a group of mothers who have adopted, because I see this grittiness in them. Adoptive moms have a lot of fight in them, not only because many of them have struggled with infertility and pregnancy loss, but because they wholeheartedly pursued a very hard journey to find their child.

Brianna: I hope many women who have experienced infertility are encouraged by your story. What would you like to say to women dealing with infertility, or others who want to encourage someone that they know?

Heather: When I connect with women who are dealing with infertility I choose to be there for them by listening first. I send flowers or meals. Most importantly I let them grieve, however they need to. And for however long they need to. I never try to make them feel better by saying platitudes like, "don't worry, it will happen eventually" or "this was all just meant to be" or "this is leading you to something better". That is not honouring them where they are now. All I ever needed to know during these periods of time in my life was that I had support if I needed it, I had friends or family members to cry with or be a sounding board if I needed it, or I could be left completely alone and not had any expectations placed on me if I needed it. 

Brianna: Thank you so much Heather, for opening up your heart and sharing with us this part of your life. I appreciate you and know your story will have an impact.

Do you have a story to tell, or were you impacted by Heather’s story? Let us know in the comments below.