True Grace

Amanda Gruendell with Grace

This is a very different kind of infertility and donation story but I love the happy ending. I hope you will too. The story comes courtesy of The Guardian and Kate Graham, as told to her by Amanda Gruendell.

Amanda was diagnosed with Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser (MRKH) syndrome meaning that she had been born without a uterus. She did have functioning ovaries. “Couldn’t I have a uterus transplant?” she asked her doctor, only to be told that she’d be lucky to see the procedure developed in her lifetime.

She was also going through a rough patch. In 2006, I met a loving man who knew about my condition from the outset; we married three years later. I desperately wanted to be a mother, but our attempts at surrogacy and adoption failed. The relentless stress of infertility contributed to the end of our marriage. Her mom was also going through cancer treatments.

In 2014, she read about the world’s first successful uterus transplant in Sweden. The following year, a friend called her to tell her that a clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, was running the first American trial into the procedure. It would involve putting an embryo in the new uterus with the hope of creating a pregnancy.

Amanda brushed the idea off at first: there were only going to be 10 participants, and she knew many deserving women would be trying to join. Cleveland was also miles away from where she was living in Arizona. Then, a week later, she woke up thinking, “What do I have to lose?”

When the clinic called to give her more information, she started shaking. She knew the process would be long and unpredictable. First, an embryo would have to be created through in vitro fertilization using her eggs. Since she was single, she would have to use donor sperm. The embryos would then be frozen, while she waited for a uterus match from a deceased donor. If a suitable one was found and the operation successful, she would then have the embryo implanted.

That was when John showed up in her life. Actually he was one of her oldest friends and became her rock. By June 2017, they were engaged to be married. The delayed IVF (an infection caused a failed transplant in another trial participant) became a blessing. John and Amanda created their embryos a year later, just before their wedding.

Though her mother’s cancer had been improving, in 2019, it returned. She was slipping in and out of consciousness. Once when she woke, she told Amanda that she’d met her daughter in a dream. She said she was called Grace and looked just like Amanda.

A week later the call came: There was a match. Of course, she is grateful to the donor and her family, even as she knows what it is like to lose a loved one – her mother had died eight days later.

A month after the operation, at age 36, Amanda had her first period ever. Five months later, her embryo was implanted. When she took a pregnancy test and saw the second line, indicating a positive result, she admits that it just didn’t feel real.

In March 2021, Grace was born. When the doctor held her up, Amanda grabbed her; she couldn’t wait another second. Finally holding her daughter was more magical than she’d ever dreamed it would be.

Amanda says, “As I watch her today, all gummy smiles and blowing raspberries, I think back to that 17-year-old girl at the doctor’s office, and the devastation she felt. Now, there is joy. And that’s what the Cleveland clinic, my organ donor and her family did for me. I’ll be grateful to them all for ever.”

Why It Can’t Satisfy

For my family’s movie last night, I chose the only one in our dvd library that has a story centered on the mother. AI and robotics are already a part of our modern time and the the movie – AI Artificial Intelligence released in 2001 – envisions where that world may be headed. The movie credits the short story – Supertoys Last All Summer Long – by author Brian Aldiss. SPOILER ALERT (if there is anyone who would want to see the movie and actually still has not).

When one considers possible alternatives to adoption for couples experiencing the emotional pain of infertility and longing for a child’s love, which is what motivates them to take another woman’s child to raise as their own, a sentient child robot might appear to offer that solace. However, at least in the imaginings of this movie, there is made the point about all of the ways a robotic child, no matter how life like and responsive, will never be the same as a child a woman gives birth to.

A robotic (mecha in the movie) child will never grow old, cannot share in the family meal. The parents will age and eventually die, what becomes of such a frozen in time child ? That is an early question that the sentient robot child asks early on which reveals a fear many children have and not without reason that their parents may die and leave them orphaned.

When the mother’s comatose biological child awakens from a long coma and starts down the long road of recovery, there is a clear sibling jealousy between the two forms of children. Eventually, the issues become so serious, the mother abandons the child in the forest (this blog’s image is from that scene). Like Pinocchio in the story his adoptive mother reads to him, David wants to become “real” so that he can regain his mother’s love. This abandonment, rejection and the desire for reunion is at the heart of many adoptee stories.

The movie does a good job of conveying the complexities of creating such a child substitute. In the movie, climate change has first drown the coastal cities of Earth, wrecking such destruction that after a long period of suffering that ends humanity, the Earth enters another ice age. After 2,000 years, an alien race that is a sophisticated blend of sentient, powerful beings arrives and discovers the frozen robotic child in a thawing world.

For only one day, these powerful beings are able to observe human mother/child interactions drawn from the memory banks of the robotic child and are also able to recreate his long-deceased mother from a lock of hair once taken from her and saved by the supertoy Teddy bear that accompanies the robotic child on his quest to become real so his mother can love him or at the least, so he can feel loved by her again. As his mother falls asleep at the end of the one day granted the android child, she tells David that she has always loved him and this is the moment he had been seeking throughout his quest. David is able to go to sleep next to his recreated mother at the end of the movie, having satisfied his quest, and allow his own robotic self to enter a kind of permanent sleep state lying beside her in her bed, holding her hand.

And this is why this can’t actually be the love that drives couples to adopt someone else’s child . . .

Accepting Reality

. . . really ought to be accepted.  An adoptive mother writes, “My hearts desire was to be a Mom. If I could have carried and delivered a biological child, my health insurance would have picked up most of the cost. I certainly couldn’t afford to pay the entire hospital bill out of my pocket.”

“I think there are more reasons than just financial ones that an expectant mother considers when deciding to place their child for adoption. I can understand your feelings.”

“There is no insurance to help pay for the process. I certainly couldn’t afford the adoption process out of pocket without fundraising. It does seem like we adoptive parents are ‘buying’ a child. The whole process needs to be revamped. There needs to be more programs to assist hopeful adoptive parents afford the process or lobby government for better adoption credits, funding, etc.”

“We were helped and supported by so many in our family and community. I do feel it is unfair for people to say, ‘don’t adopt if you can’t afford it’.  Some of us have no other choice but to seek outside funding to realize our dreams.”

Infertility – maybe it is God’s will ? Infertility isn’t fair, but it still doesn’t entitle you to someone else’s baby. Dreams of having a baby are a part of life for many people. But not all dreams are possible to realize.  Try getting a puppy. No one is entitled to children. It’s not a need. It’s a want. It’s a BIG want, but it’s still just a want.

If God doesn’t make mistakes, then the mother into who’s womb that baby you want to adopt was placed was the right one to begin with. It’s a shame that struggling mothers need to worry about basic necessities after having a baby. I sincerely wish society would band together to assist struggling expectant mothers rather than prey on their vulnerability when it is time for them to give birth. Adoption is not the natural order of life and should happen only in the rarest of circumstances. It should never, ever happen due to a lack of money or support. We are a failure as a society because this happens.

A difficult to hear but totally reasonable reply to the above could be – “Why is the dream always to get their own baby and not help someone with their baby ? Is it that hard to be a good human? Women that are dealing with a crisis pregnancy should not be shamed into giving that child away simply because they are not as well off as hopeful adoptive parents. Why does someone that has more money deserve to raise that child more than that child’s own mother ? Why don’t we as a society support women so they can parent their children. A struggling mom is deemed at fault because she got pregnant but can’t afford to raise her kid ? Maybe we need a better social system in this country so there isn’t such a class disparity. Fundraising to take someone else’s child away from them when they are struggling financially is disgusting. Hopeful adoptive parents are no more worthy of being a parent than anyone else.”

One woman replied to the above – “Fun fact: My brother and his wife have two biological daughters born almost exactly two years apart. When the second daughter was about 2 months old, they finally received their last hospital bill for the birth of the first daughter two years prior. This was a regular, uncomplicated vaginally delivery with no extended hospital stay and no special care for the baby. Both parents had health insurance through their employers. This idea that adoption is so much more expensive than giving birth to a biological child is a myth. Especially in the US.”

Personally, I really like this reply – “Why don’t men have to have a certain financial reserve in the bank before they have sex ? Why do they have sex with women if they are not able and willing to support a child ? Why have sex if you can’t take care of a baby ? It makes no sense. The responsibility for a child’s conception is NEVER about the man’s responsibility. Ever. And men are the ones who also overwhelmingly push for laws governing a woman’s body. ”

A 69 year old woman who was adopted and then gave up a child as a very young woman admits, “No one comes out of adoption without deep sorrow, the pain of never being good enough lasts a lifetime.”

There are many people who have been touched by adoption that are making an effort every day to make adoption a rare event.

Post Adoption Depression

Yes, it is a thing.  I believe it is partly caused by unrealistic expectations.  Fantasy and reality have collided.  The difference between those expectations and reality create a very real stress and may even lead to depression.

It is a crash in the “high” of adopting (basically the excitement is over), the dopamine is no longer being released.  The sad fact is that the adoptive parent finds they still have the same emptiness troubling them that drove them to adopt to begin with.

Life had been a flurry of emotions during the adoption journey: hope, relief, frustration, waiting, excitement, and not to mention adding another person to one’s family.  Not having the hormone fluctuations related to birth does not mean that the adoptive parent won’t have their own share of emotional fluctuation.

Of course, new parents of both genders have emotional reactions to 1) sleep deprivation 2) new roles and 3) reconfiguration of daily life, but having this is not the same as hormone induced postpartum depression that a delivering mother experiences.

So, with a newborn, sleep deprivation can certainly be a factor. If an older child was adopted, then the reality of a traumatized child may be very different than the idealistic vision hopeful adoptive parents  expected.

An adoptive parent may even grieve for the child who is now in their own home, who they may love desperately, only to find that child dreams of his original mother coming back to reclaim him.  An adoptive mother can never replace the original one.

So a couple does CHOOSE to adopt.  If those circumstances turn out to be hard to live, like any biological parent, they need to deal directly with it.  If it’s all NOT what the adoptive parents expected, they should seek help and learn to deal with the reality. That’s parenting and adoptive parents have signed up for it voluntarily.

Depression sucks regardless of what it’s caused by. Affected parents need to seek help, see a trauma informed therapist, seek out specific resources, get on anti depressants if necessary – but NEVER just throw away a child.

Words Of Encouragement

Life changes, never forget that it can.

It is perfectly acceptable to wish for better days to come.

There is nothing wrong with wishing for better income, more stability, and an ability to give MORE.

Years from now, you may realize something startling –

Your wish came true.

You will realize that those “better days” that you once could only dream of are now your reality.

It can be so easy to feel discouraged and just want to give up. Keep your hopes for better alive. Dreams can come true.  I know.  I’ve seen my own come true in amazing ways.

I remember one Christmas with my daughter when she was just a toddler. I bought the tiniest tree. I painted little wooden ornaments. I bought her a little bra and underwear set, patent leather shoes and lacy socks and one of those children’s microphones she could sing through. We didn’t have much but we did have a Christmas. Life is full of ups and downs. Change is constant and can be a source of hope when nothing seems hopeful at all.

HUGS of encouragement for you, who in a season that can feel so discouraging and depressing for a lot of people, must somehow carry on.  You are never truly alone in difficult moments.  Others are struggling and some are overcoming those same kinds of struggle.