By Elizabeth Christiansen
“Maybe the reason you can’t have kids is because you subconsciously don’t want them,” a relative-in-law suggested after my husband Andrew and I had been trying, unsuccessfully, to get pregnant for a couple of years. All I ever wanted was to be a mother, which made this attempted friendly advice all the more painful.
It’s impossible to fully share how difficult our journey to becoming parents has been. The nights spent sobbing in confusion over why our prayers weren’t being answered. Why had we felt so strongly only two months into our marriage that we should start growing our family if we wouldn’t be able to? I lost count of negative pregnancy tests, and the longer we waited the more painful it became.
It was only after we graduated from college and had been struggling for four and a half years that we sought out answers at a fertility clinic. After meeting with a specialist and running some tests, Andrew’s semen analysis came back with a notable problem: there were absolutely no sperm to speak of. We tried medications for a few months, but nothing changed.
The next step, we were informed, would be surgery. We could pay $2K out of pocket for a cheaper surgery, but if it came back negative, we would have no conclusive answers and would have to try again. Alternatively, we were told that we could do a $10K surgery out of pocket and the results would be absolutely conclusive. We had only just graduated from college and bought a house. We definitely did not have ten thousand dollars sitting in savings.
That next step felt insurmountable, so we decided to put infertility treatments on the back burner and pursue a separate dream: becoming foster parents.
Becoming Licensed Foster Parents
From what we were told, it usually takes couples about a year to become licensed foster parents. It took us three months to get licensed and almost another two to have our first foster children placed with us: two little boys, ages 4 and 6. They had endless amounts of energy and an equally endless number of shenanigans to get into. Parenting them was hard and exhausting, but also very fulfilling and fun. We loved them and worked hard to create a positive environment of structure and growth for them. They were placed with us just before both of their birthdays, so it wasn’t long before we were celebrating their 5th and 7th birthdays with them.
The primary goal of foster care is reunification (returning the children to their family of origin). We loved their family and were absolutely on board with the boys going back to them. Early on in our placement, we both had a strong feeling that they would be leaving us, which made it easier to prepare for the eventual goodbye. Eight months into their placement with us, however, the caseworker was beginning to get concerned that the case would need to switch to an adoption plan. We talked and prayed and struggled over what to do, but kept returning to the feeling that they were supposed to be leaving us.
Worried that the case would hit a point where the boys would lose their family and us at the same time, we eventually chose to have them moved to another foster family that would be able to adopt them if the case came to that point. Although we couldn’t have known it at the time, months later the boys did eventually return home to their family, who lovingly allowed us to stay in contact with the boys.
Right after the boys left us, I went through a period of depression and self-doubt. I felt that I had failed at my chance of being a mother. Foster care had been wonderful, but HARD. I was extremely burnt out, which added to the feelings of being inadequate. When it was time to renew our foster care license, we did, but I emailed the licensor the next day asking to end our license. We felt like that chapter in our lives was complete, and were ready to pursue our infertility treatments again.
Infertility Treatments Begin
Thanks to an overwhelming amount of support from family, friends, and total strangers, we were able to do a couple very successful fundraising yard sales that helped expedite the process of saving up for the surgery, which took place in July of 2017. So many joined us in prayer and fasting leading up to the surgery, clinging to the hope that this would allow us to move forward to finally be able to have children of our own. Andrew was offered a priesthood blessing in which we were told, “the results of the surgery will be absolutely in accordance with your Father’s will.”
The night before the surgery, I in turn asked Andrew for a blessing. I was blessed with “strength that you will be able to perform through challenges and trials…to trust in the Lord and to not let despair overshadow your faith.” Through the blessing, I had a sinking suspicion that I knew what the results of the surgery were going to be. After, we knelt together in the most heartfelt, tearful prayer we have ever given as a couple. We asked that the surgeon and specialists in the room would be able to perform to the best of their abilities, and gave up what we wanted to accept whatever God had in store for us.
When we got the phone call informing us that there was still absolutely no sperm and that there wasn’t anything else medically that could be done, the very first feeling that hit me was peace. I knew without a doubt that this was what God had intended for us and I knew that He loved us, was aware of us, and had a plan for us. The despair hit soon after, but between every wave of heartbreak was a moment of peace and reassurance in which I was reminded that God was aware of us and that everything was going to be alright.
Considering Our Options
It took us a long time to be emotionally ready to start talking about how and when we would move forward. Over several months, we discussed our options (foster care, adoption, receiving an embryo donation, or remaining childless), ruled things out, prayed, and finally received the answer that we were supposed to adopt. We got our home study completed in the beginning of April 2019 for a private domestic infant adoption, and waited for a match.
Around this time, I started repeatedly having the two boys that we provided foster care for before come to mind. One time I even asked Andrew, “If we were asked to provide foster care again for them, would we?” We had no reason to be wondering this, but I couldn’t shake the thought.
By the end of April, we were contacted by the boys’ family: they were concerned that the boys would need to go into foster care again and wanted them to come to us if that were the case. I knew the answer should be no unless we were in a position to adopt them this time. We discussed it and prayed about it, and this time we both felt that the answer had changed to yes. After letting the family know that we were willing but wanted to stay out of the situation unless it got to that point, we continued to focus on trying to match for an infant adoption. However, in August the boys went back into foster care and were placed with us as a kinship placement.
Adoption Moves Forward
In December, their case officially transitioned the plan from reunification to adoption, which took place in March of 2020. They were sealed to us that December. We were excited and happy because we love them and were thrilled to become their parents, but we recognized the loss and trauma that came with it being because they weren’t going to get to go back to their birth family, which was heartbreaking. We committed to keeping those relationships open between us, them, and the boys, recognizing that no matter what may have led to this, it wasn’t because they were unloved or unwanted by their family of origin. Nothing could be more untrue. They have been loved since the beginning – now they just have more people to love on them.
Even before the adoption was finalized, Jayce (our younger son) began telling me that he didn’t want to be the youngest, and that “I will be so sad if I’m the youngest kid in our family”. Obviously, nothing had changed in regard to our infertility, which the boys knew about, but I also felt that our family wasn’t complete yet. We began praying about our “next child”, and after lots of talking about it as a couple, praying about it, and talking to the boys about it, we felt led to grow our family further through embryo donation. I also felt that a little girl was waiting to join our family.
When you receive an embryo donation, it comes from another couple that did IVF who chose to donate their extra embryos when they decided their family was complete. This would allow me to be pregnant and carry our next child, even though neither Andrew or I would be genetically related to them. We went on a waiting list with our fertility clinic and were informed we were about a year out from being matched with embryos.
In January of 2021, I got a phone call informing me that we were at the top of the waiting list and they had three embryos they were offering us. After a very brief discussion together, we decided to accept them. The boys were thrilled: Jayce wanted the transfer to happen THAT WEEKEND, and Kylar tried his best to convince me, unsuccessfully, that we should try to have twins. We also decided to have the embryos genetically tested, mostly to make sure that their genetics and formations would be more likely to result in a successful pregnancy. This led to an even bigger surprise: at the thawing, they discovered that there were two embryos in each straw, meaning there were six embryos! All six were great quality, genetically healthy, and there were three boys and three girls.
First Positive Pregnancy Test Ever
On our transfer day, we, the boys, and many of our friends and family, all wore “lucky socks” together. Andrew and I wore phoenix shirts as a symbolic nod to rising from our ashes of infertility. The transfer was, according to our fertility doctor, textbook perfect. Andrew and I went out for scones after to celebrate. When I got home, Kylar started enthusiastically shouting “Whooo! My mom is pregnant!!” on repeat, which Jayce soon joined in on. Seven days after the transfer, I took my first positive pregnancy test ever. At nine weeks, the ultrasound showed a beautiful, growing little baby girl with a strong heartbeat. We are so incredibly grateful and excited. The boys have even been sharing their opinions on which baby clothes should go on our baby registry.
Every couple that has ever struggled with infertility hears about that one couple that got pregnant after they adopted. If they are like us, they may have still needed help in order for that to happen. If anyone ever used us as an example of how a couple should “just adopt” (don’t ever say that), or they know this couple that got pregnant after they adopted (please stop), they would be very much in the wrong. It’s impossible to fully share how difficult our journey to becoming parents has been, and obviously, adoption didn’t cure our infertility.