‘Her birth parents changed their minds.’ The call ripped us apart. ‘She’s coming to pick her up.’: Woman shares journey with infertility, adoption, foster care, urges ‘you will make it to the other side’

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Disclaimer: This story mentions infertility and may be triggering for some.

“Our young and brand new marriage wasn’t prepared for this. We were thrown into the dark and painful valley of infertility without warning only 11 months into our marriage. I was surgically diagnosed with endometriosis and a long list of other autoimmune health conditions. We were told we may never have biological children, so we better start trying sooner than later. This was the summer of 2015 and we were only 25. We weren’t ready to start having children yet. But hearing those words put so much fear and despair in my heart that suddenly, it was all I could think about. We were still figuring out how to simply be married, and already we had to figure how to support each other in deep grief and pain as well. Over the next three years I had nights where I sat on our front porch long after my husband had already been asleep in our bedroom upstairs. I would ugly cry and sob for hours. I wondered if our marriage was going to  make it through this. We processed pain and hurt very differently and we were a mess trying to walk alongside each other in the different ways we each needed.

bride and groom in a field
Katelyn James Photography

As we journeyed through the world of infertility I endured multiple surgeries for endometriosis- one being all the way in New Orleans, which was a which hour surgery and an overnight hospital stay. I also put my body through thousands of injections, pills, ultrasounds, and negative pregnancy tests. Chris and I regularly went to marriage counseling. To this day I am eternally grateful for that counselor helping us navigate that difficult time. Because of him, our marriage came out stronger on the other side. God was faithful in using this specific counselor to hold our marriage together. After countless failed infertility treatments and exhausting our options, we were just about ready to close the door to biological children. As a last resort we visited a Reproductive Immunologist in Chicago who looks at autoimmune factors that cause infertility and early miscarriages. I spent a whole day in testing and getting lab work done. At the end of the day she sat us down and told us our prognosis for successfully conceiving wasn’t good. It was heartbreaking, but it was also exactly what I needed to hear to allow myself to move on. It was as if it gave me permission to stop the infertility treatments and emotional trauma I was enduring month after month.

woman undergoing fertility treatments
Courtesy of Sarah Howell

As we were traveling home from seeing that doctor in Chicago I remember looking over to my husband and saying ‘I’m ready to adopt. I don’t want to do this anymore and I want to grow our family through adoption.’ We knew before we were married that adoption would always be a part of our story and our family. We talked about it while dating and during engagement. I have always been passionate about adoption and it was never a plan B. The difference is not having biological children wasn’t in my plan A.

couple holding "we're adopting" sign
Courtesy of Sarah Howell

A few months later we had completed our home study process and were officially considered a waiting family with our adoption agency. We were told typically it would take two to three years until we were matched for infant domestic adoption. So we began the waiting. But then, only three months later, the door to this painful chapter would unexpectedly and joyously close. One cold and quiet winter morning I woke up and decided I needed to take a pregnancy test. I couldn’t explain it and I kept trying to talk myself out of it because I am well acquainted with the hurt of only one line staring back at you on a negative test. However, when I opened our linen closet to grab a towel and take a shower, a box of pregnancy tests that were previously shoved to the back of the closet was sitting front and center. They were staring at me. I took that as a sign so I grabbed one and tested anyway. Almost immediately two lines showed up. I had never, not once, seen two lines on a pregnancy test!

I started shaking and sobbing. I thanked God incessantly for this miracle, and tried for the next hour to wrap my head around how this was possible when we were no longer pursing fertility help. Then, my phone started ringing. I looked down and saw our social worker from our adoption agency was calling. I froze because this amount of shock in one hour is far too much for anyone to take in. I answered, and was told we were matched and had a daughter due in three weeks just an hour north of where we live. I remember scrambling to write down all the details being given about her. I was overwhelmed in the best way. In one hour I became a mother to two babies – one in my belly and one through adoption.

A few weeks later I was then eight weeks pregnant with our miracle baby and we brought our new daughter home from the hospital. She was perfect and everything we had ever dreamed of. Our love for her was instant, strong, and powerful. For the next week we loved her and joyously celebrated finally being a family of three. We were tired from sleep deprivation, but we didn’t care because we were blissfully in love with our girl.

Then one morning, as I was feeding her, we got a call that ripped us apart all over again. Our social worker told us her birth parents changed their minds and that she was coming to pick baby girl up in a few hours. In the state of VA, birth parents legally have a right to change their minds 10 days from birth despite already signing a TPR (termination of parental rights). I crumbled to floor with our precious girl in my arms crying out to God with my whole being in desperation. I prayed and prayed that this was a nightmare and couldn’t possibly be true. Hadn’t our journey to parenthood already been hard enough? The pain was more than emotional. It was so physically painful as well.

At one point I even called my OBGYN and asked her if this emotional trauma could somehow trigger a miscarriage in my very early pregnancy. She assured me it wouldn’t, but it sure felt like that pain was capable of anything. The hurt of three years of infertility couldn’t compare to what we felt that day. Saying goodbye to her forever was the hardest thing we have ever done. We still think about and talk about her regularly. We still refer to her as our daughter, because for a week, she was. God knew that her birth parents would change their minds. He knew and he asked us to step up and be her loving parents until she was reunited with her biological ones. Looking back, we can see God’s goodness in that because growing up in your family of origin, especially one that is safe and loving, is priority. The benefits of knowing and being loved by her birth parents far outweigh anything we could have given her. We just wish now that we could still know her and see her thrive. We miss her deeply. I also learned that there is room to hold grief and loss in your heart while simultaneously celebrating the miracle of life growing in my belly.

maternity photo of woman and her husband
Courtesy of Sarah Howell

Fast forward to October of that year and our miracle babe was finally born. Right before I started pushing, my doula looked me in the eyes and asked ‘How do you feel right now?’ and my response was ‘This has been a long time coming. I can’t believe we are finally going to meet our miracle baby.’ It was surreal that our three long years of hoping and losing and fighting would finally come to an end. We didn’t find out the gender of our babe until birth. When I pulled my son to my chest and discovered he was boy we knew his name immediately would be Noah. Noah means ‘rest, new beginnings,’ and how fitting that name was. We beat infertility. We made it to the other side. A glorious relief washed over me and I couldn’t help but praise God for our answered prayer. We could finally rest.

photo of couple with their newborn son
Heart of VA Birth Services

When Noah was a little over 1, we got the call that we had been matched for adoption again. This time it was for a baby boy who had already been born the day prior. We were thrilled and scrambled for childcare for Noah so we could get up to the hospital and meet him! He spent a week in the NICU and I spent every day driving an hour each way to spend the day bonding with him. We named him Levi, which means ‘harmoniously joined together’ with our family. He is perfect, goofy and full of life. He wants to do everything his big brother does and his belly laughs are contagious. I could hardly believe we had two precious boys and we were a family of four. It still feels like a dream somedays when for so long we didn’t know if we would ever even have one.

family of 4 outside
Courtesy of Sarah Howell

As far as our most recent news… a few weeks ago we became a family of five! Chris and I have felt called to step into the world of foster care and provide love and stability for vulnerable children in our community. Our hearts have been wrecked over the number of precious children in our very own city that are desperate for foster parents. For us, once we knew the need it was impossible to turn the other way and ignore it. So beginning in 2021 we started our journey to become licensed foster parents.

On June 29, we got a call for a precious baby boy who was ready to leave the hospital but needed a home. We were ready and didn’t hesitate to say yes. So, now little man is home with us and I am officially a mom of three boys under three! The wild and crazy adventures of being a boy mom are equally exhausting as it is joyful. There is no lack of laughter, adventure, and wild imagination in our home. I have never been more tired, but I have also never been more thankful. I have seen the goodness of God and the redemptive story He wrote for us. I am grateful to be a mother to my three children who each found a home in my arms in their own way. Each of their stories are unique but special.

couple with their foster baby
Courtesy of Sarah Howell

However, I feel the need to address that foster care and adoption are not without difficulty. Both come from original brokenness that will forever impact the lives of Levi and our little man. I continue to educate myself on trauma informed parenting and meeting their unique needs through the lens of relational based parenting. Adoption and foster care can be holy and beautiful, but I would be amiss to not recognize the pain and grief their first families must feel. It is an honor to step in and be their parents. Little man may not be with us forever because the goal of foster care is always reunification when possible, but what a joy it is to be his mom for however long he needs it.

mom holding her two sons
Courtesy of Sarah Howell

As I write this story, little man in snuggled close sleeping on my chest and I smile. I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel before because I was blinded by the darkness of indescribable grief. But I wish I could go back and tell myself that I will make it to the other side and I will have three beautiful boys to love. I share our journey to parenthood openly and boldly because I want other women who are facing infertility to be reminded that there is hope. Your family and journey may not look like what you originally envisioned, but there is hope. However your babies come to you is full of beauty and magic wrapped up in a unique story that will one day be a gift for others to hear. I will leave you with this: Infertility is lonely, scary, painful and dark. It can make you question everything you ever thought you knew of the world. It even made me question my faith at times. But hold on, because this won’t last forever and one day you will make it through. I can’t promise you will definitely have children (as much as I wish I could), but I can promise you that there are many of us women ready to walk alongside you so you don’t have to face it alone. And one way or another, you will make it to the other side.”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Sarah Howell from Richmond, VA. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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