‘Evan was suddenly tired. I truly thought he’d caught something in Mexico on our honeymoon. The word was Leukemia.’: Infertile couple adopt son, say he ‘doesn’t carry our blood, but carries our whole heart’

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“At 26 years old I had finally met the man I knew I would spend the rest of my life with. In fact, Evan was my first and only boyfriend and would now be my husband. He surprised me with a proposal on Valentine’s Day 2013 at the exact spot he asked me to be his girlfriend only 5 months prior. We were ready to completely take on marriage and made many plans for our life together.

Man proposing to woman with body of water in background
Courtesy of Amanda McWhirter

We talked about the future and the family we would have, what our kids would look like and even talked about their names. We talked about adoption and how we knew that was something we would love to do if possible. Knowing I would be a high risk, we wanted to conceive while I was still young and healthy to carry. Being born with a congenital heart defect I was not a stranger to doctors and hospitals.  It had been a norm for me my entire life. I was the patient the doctors brought their medical students in to listen to my heart. Always being the patient, I had never known what it meant to be on the other side of it. To be watching your loved one suffer and feeling so completely helpless that your insides were miserably aching, but that was all about to change.

Couple smiles beside body of water after man proposes
Courtesy of Amanda McWhirter

My fairy tale had finally come true and Evan and I were beginning to settle into marriage when just 5 weeks after our wedding, we received news that would rock our whole world. Evan started getting sick in the mornings and became completely zapped all day. I made him an appointment and he went that Thursday to our primary doctor. We weren’t worried at all and I truly just thought he had caught something in Mexico on our honeymoon. The doctor ran some tests and called asking us both to come into her office. I still wasn’t worried to be honest, but did think it was strange she wanted me to be there too. That was the first day we heard the word Leukemia.

That Monday Evan went in for a bone marrow biopsy to determine if this really was Leukemia or if it was something else that was fighting his body. They ran every test under the sun. The next day I walked into our apartment building to find Evan on his knees sobbing. The doctor had called and it was, in fact, Leukemia. How did this happen? What about all our plans and the family we were going to have? From that moment on I prayed every day God would make me the patient again because watching Evan go through 4 rounds of painful chemotherapy, poked, prodded and basically taken to the point of death was unbearable to watch.

Wife smiles beside husband who lays in bed with leukemia
Courtesy of Amanda McWhirter

Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months of our new life together behind hospital walls. The days and nights began to run together and there were many times I thought I would be a widow before we even had a chance to experience marriage. For better or worse, in sickness and health, right? We were truly learning firsthand what it meant to live out what we had promised. Thankfully after spending our first holidays as husband in wife cooped up in a hospital room in Indianapolis, we received word that Evan was matched with a bone marrow donor.

Man with leukemia sits in hospital with mask on beside wife who also wears mask
Courtesy of Amanda McWhirter

On February 14, 2014, Evan received another chance at life. Valentine’s Day took on a whole new meaning for our family and within about a year, Evan was doing remarkable. He miraculously was completely thriving in a new job and in life. Now it was time to start our family!

Man with leukemia who had bone marrow transplant stands smiling with wife in home in front of Christmas tree
Courtesy of Amanda McWhirter

Prior to all of Evan’s treatments we were also given the news that the chemo could cause us to have infertility. We were advised to use a sperm bank so that when we were ready, we could still conceive. After meeting with doctors and planning, we started fertility treatments with every hope that we would have no issues. We knew God was calling us to be parents and that no matter what He would make a way. After months of invasive procedures that also involved a lot of pills and shots, I was completely exhausted emotionally and physically. All I ever wanted was to be was a mom. I had dreamed about it since I was a little girl. Why was this so hard?

Evan and I started to feel like adoption was the best option and really felt the pressing to move forward to begin the process. We joined with an agency and completed our home study to be officially ‘on the shelf’ as they called it. I was so excited and hopeful the wait would be short, and the perfect child was out there for us. A year passed as we continued to wait for the call. All the while I kept feeling like God was telling me to get ready for a Christmas baby. I had seen God work amazing miracles in my life, so I knew anything was possible.

As time passed and December rolled around my doubt began to set in. I felt completely defeated and hopeless. There was an ache I began to feel deep inside for the child I would never carry. I wanted to be normal, I spent most of my life feeling so different that this just felt like another thing that would set me apart. One night when my husband returned from work, I broke down and told him everything I was dealing with. I cried, we prayed, and he held me. He knew how much I wanted to be a mom and I hated knowing how much it hurt him to see me struggling.

The very next evening, Evan got a call from a friend who was a pastor at a local church. He knew of a young woman who was 38 weeks pregnant and looking to choose adoption for her baby. She had heard of us through social media and wanted to meet us if we were at all interested. I wish I could say at that moment I jumped for joy, but I had my guard up and was very hesitant. Mostly because this was not even through our agency. We didn’t know anything about this woman or how to move forward with a private adoption. We agreed to meet her and set up a meeting for the following Monday.

I remember walking into that coffee shop so sick with nerves. The moment I saw her however, this blanket of peace just covered me. It became a lot easier to breathe and I didn’t feel like I was going to throw up anymore. She was young and had brought her two kids with her. I knew she had to be exhausted and scared. As we talked and got to know one another a little bit, I told her she could take some time and think about whether she wanted to choose us to adopt her baby. She smiled sweetly, handed me the sonogram pictures and said those words we had been waiting so long to hear. ‘I choose you!’ I can’t even begin to explain the joy that filled my heart in that instant. This young woman was about to give us such a precious gift and the connection I felt with her was amazing. We chatted for about 30 minutes laughing and crying. She explained she was not crying because she was sad, but because she was so happy she could give us this baby and that she knew this was God’s plan all along. She also told me that if I would like, I could sit in on the delivery during her C-section to be there when the baby was born. It took everything within me to not jump across the table and give her a big hug! What do you say to someone who is about to change your life and give you everything you have ever wanted?!

Over the next few days Evan and I worked to get everything in order. Since we were no longer going directly through an agency, we had to hire attorneys to represent us and the birth mother. The hospital’s social worker told me we would have our own room with the baby next to the nursery like all the other mom’s and that family and friends were welcome! Being able to call our parents and the rest of our family with this exciting news was a dream! The C-section was scheduled for Monday, December 19, which only gave us about a week to plan for our new bundle of joy. That day couldn’t come soon enough.

As we sat there waiting at the exact same hospital Evan had battled cancer only 3 years prior, we couldn’t help but sit in awe of the miracle that was about to unfold. We were going to be parents! I remember walking into that delivery room shaking with excitement but also having a heavy heart for the woman who was about to give me her child. The best day of my life would be her hardest. I held her hand and prayed with her before they began the C-section, and the moment I heard that cry, I lost it!

Adopted newborn baby crying wrapped in blanket
Courtesy of Amanda McWhirter
Mother cries as she holds adopted newborn baby tight to her chest
Courtesy of Amanda McWhirter

‘IT’S A BOY!,’ they said as they held him up over the sheet. She turned and looked at me and said, ‘That’s your baby!’ It was the most incredible moment of my life. Holding him for the first time made everything Evan and I had ever gone through completely and 100% worth it. The nurses let us accompany him into the nursery to get his work-up and his first bath and then we took him down the hall to visit with the woman who gave him life. Our visit was amazing!

Husband and wife smile as the push adopted newborn in cart down hospital hallway with people behind them
Emily Kay Burke
Mother stands smiling as she admires adopted newborn asleep on back
Emily Kay Burke
Mother sits in chair with eyes closed as she holds adopted newborn tight to her chest
Emily Kay Burke

From the beginning of our adoption journey we always felt like it was important for our child to know where he or she came from. We want him to know about her and be open about everything. She was overjoyed to see us all together and told me she knew I was his mom the moment our eyes met. As much as we had prayed for this child, we also prayed for the woman who would give birth to him. We had hoped our connection with her would be great and God far exceeded our expectations. Holding him close to us made it all feel so real now. We were now a family of three!

Wife smiles as husband as he holds adopted newborn boy
Emily Kay Burke
Close up of adopted newborn being held in woman's arms in hospital hallway
Emily Kay Burke

God had heard our prayers and the love we already had for this little boy was indescribable. Watching our friends and family love on him was the icing on the cake. It was the perfect ending to all our heartache and the perfect beginning of our journey as the mommy and daddy of Lincoln John McWhirter.

Mother smiles in selfie as she looks at adopted toddler son
Courtesy of Amanda McWhirter
Mother smiles as she holds adopted son who sits on her lap
Courtesy of Amanda McWhirter

I always thought I wanted to live a ‘normal’ life, but really what is normal? We all experience mountains and valleys. We win some and lose some. I am not called to normal and that’s ok. I am called to be a wife to a man who beat cancer and will soon celebrate 5 years cured! I am called to be a mom to a little boy who may not carry my blood, but he carries my whole heart. Love has saved us. Love has made us. Love is what matters.”

Husband and wife smiles as the hold adopted baby boy
Emily Kay Burke

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Amanda McWhirter of New Albany, Indiana. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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