A bringer of light and a girl called hope
Luke and Asha’s story
This five minute clip, filmed by the TV programme: “Great Expectations” summarises our story. For the full interview, visit http://becomingamom.co.za/media/ Or see below for a detailed written version.
A bringer of light and a girl called Hope
I think I’ve always known that I wanted children–two of them to be precise. I was so certain that in my early twenties I even chose their names–Luke for the boy and Asha for the girl. At the time, I didn’t know what the names meant, I just liked them. Unfortunately things don’t always go according to plan and it was a shock when I discovered that I had fallen in love with a man who might be infertile. Neil had had a vasectomy while married to his first wife and by the time we married, it had been eight years since his op. Nonetheless, everyone (wanting things to turn out well) blithely told us that it would be fine, vasectomies could be reversed. But I was still concerned and it turned out that I was right to be worried. After we were married a friend who was a doctor sat us down and told us that given the time that had elapsed since his procedure, our sole option for having children was IVF. I was devastated. My only consolation was that my husband had always told me that if I wanted children, he would do whatever it took. And, he was as good as his word.
Still, IVF was not a welcome prospect so I waited five years before starting. By that time, despite having two beautiful step-daughters, what had started as “wanting to have a child” had become desperation. In hind sight, it was probably a good thing—you need a high degree of motivation to make it through IVF—the emotional upheaval, the uncertainty, the expense and stress of the procedure can be quite overwhelming. During the procedure I watched a programme about battery chickens and felt a weird empathy for the poor hens, pumped full of hormones to hyper-stimulate their egg production. Their feathers fell out and they looked wild eyed and frantic. I could relate.
But at first, things went quite well—we had found an amazing doctor who developed a really good balanced solution for us, the procedures were successful and because I was still relatively young, I managed to produce a fair number of eggs. But in the five days between the moment when our eggs were fertilised and the day set for our embryo transfer, the news got progressively worse, and worse. Every day we had fewer embryos until the day of the transfer when we were left with only one, and a not particularly strong one at that.
I cried the whole way through the embryo transfer but our doctor was at pains to remind me that it only took one. He was right and our one embryo miraculously gave us our beautiful son. He was perfect, and I loved him from the first moment I met him. When I was 16 weeks pregnant, I discovered that he was a boy. We agreed to call him Luke, which I subsequently discovered meant “bringer of light”. It is a name that he more than lives up to.
Trying for number two—things fall apart
Just after Luke’s first birthday we were ready to try again, this time for a daughter. At the back of mind I had a niggling concern—I knew that I would not be getting any younger so if our first attempt had only resulted in one viable embryo, the chances of later attempts working were slim. But, since we didn’t have any alternatives to IVF, we went back to the clinic in the hopes of conceiving again. It was supposed to be our last attempt—regardless of the outcome—and at first, everything seemed so much easier second time around. But on the day of the embryo transfer we received a phone call from the clinic. They told us that they were very sorry but that we didn’t need to come through for the transfer—all of our embryos had perished overnight. Words can’t express the loss that I felt in that moment. My lovely husband cancelled his appointments, held my hand, took me out for a picnic and promised that we would try again.
We did, a second laparoscopy and a good deal of counselling later. This time our eggs were extracted on Luke’s second birthday and we joked about telling our son years (much) later that his sister had been conceived on his birthday. Two of our embryos were viable and the transfer went ahead as planned. I had all of the symptoms of being pregnant and we were really hopeful. But three days before we were due to have our pregnancy test I started spotting, then bleeding, and by the time we had our test I knew for certain that I wasn’t pregnant. Once again the loss was crushing and this time, there was no hope. We had both agreed that we wouldn’t try again.
But, I struggled to move on. To cope, I created a memory box for my little girl and placed all of the things that I had collected for her inside. As part of this process, I visited a baby name site to print out what the name “Asha” means. I had always assumed that it was the same as the boy’s name, which means happy or blessed. It does. But, for the first time I realised that it also means: “Life” (in Swahili) and“Hope” (in Sanskrit).
How could I walk away from a girl called “Hope”?
Our final attempt
So a few months later, after much soul searching we decided to try again. It was our best attempt. We had three perfect embryos and the clinic transferred two and froze one. For the first time since Luke I knew that I was pregnant (not because of the pregnancy hormones that the clinic gives you following a transfer, but because I knew). It was short-lived though and by the time I had my pregnancy test, it was negative. Two months later we went back for the frozen embryo and that failed too.
This time even our wonderful fertility expert was fed up. They were the best embryos we had ever had (much better than the one that gave us Luke) so they should have worked. All he could tell us was what we already knew–even the best doctors practicing the best medicine simply can’t create life.
Oddly, this failure helped me to stop. If our best attempts at IVF had failed, I was fairly certain that nothing we did would succeed. I knew that I knew that I knew that I was done with IVF but I walked away with a very heavy heart. Sadly, my husband simply wasn’t open to adoption, so I spent eighteen months grieving the loss of the little girl that I had hoped to have.
A change of heart
It was just before my 40th birthday, and while I was out walking in my leafy suburb, I realised that I was secretly looking for babies under bushes. I can’t explain it. I guess that I was hoping that if I found one my husband, who is very soft-hearted, would fall in love and it would make the process of persuading him to adopt easier. I didn’t find one (mercifully) but it did show me my heart so I went home, did my homework on adopting, took my brave pills and began the adoption chat. My husband’s response took me by surprise. He said, ok, let’s go for it. I wish I could say that I fell on him with delight but I was actually quite cross. I couldn’t believe that he had put me through all of that pain and now he was fine with adoption. It was only later that I realised how massive his change of heart had been. By the next day he was more keen than I was.
Navigating the adoption process
As with IVF, we were very fortunate. We had the best social worker who worked very hard to understand our family and our needs. The screening process was intensive and cumbersome but psychological assessments, financial spreadsheets, police clearances and group sessions felt easy in comparison to injections and internal exams!
The worst part of the whole process was the waiting after we were approved to adopt. I told myself that it was because we were so specific about the baby that we wanted. We were very specific, something our social worker actively encouraged, and it did make the wait longer. But I knew that there was something else happening: my older step-daughter was very unhappy about our plans. It took us ages to work through it as a family but after much angst, she finally got to the place of accepting our decision. It was on a Friday, 11 months after we began the adoption process, and just two days later our social worker phoned us to say that she had a baby for us.
We met with our social worker the very next day and after an excruciating 24 hour wait, we were introduced to our Asha (on Tuesday). We visited for three days and took her home on the Friday. That week I woke up at 2am every morning thinking, and wondering, and trying to prepare for her arrival (before we met her we had no idea how old or what size she would be—5 months old and small—so we had nothing prepared). Ironically, it was the last time that I would lose sleep over her—she moved into Luke’s room on the day she came home and has slept like an angel ever since.
The adoption process goes on long after you take your child home but honestly, I didn’t care, because from the moment we met her, she was ours. Neil fell in love immediately—he picked her up and she snuggled into his neck (she still gives the best cuddles) and he knew that he would take a bullet for her. But for me it took a tiny bit longer because I was trying to guard my heart. But, not that much longer—I had reckoned without my Asha. The day after we met her I walked into the nursery at the Place of Safety where she was living. She was lying in a baby dinghy on the floor and she spotted me immediately. She looked up at me and lifted up her arms to me and I was lost. I’ve seen her melt many other hearts since then, including the heart of the sister who was uncertain about her joining the family. She too is besotted now and thinking about adopting herself one day.
Making sense of our story
As with all moms, there are moments when I feel all at sea but unlike many other moms, I also have scars that are hard to forget. I will never truly forget the phone call telling us that our embryos had perished or the moment when I started bleeding when I was supposed to be pregnant. I will never forget those terrible negative pregnancy tests or the sadness of knowing that I didn’t get to hold my baby on the day she was born.
But those memories, while painful, don’t consume me anymore. When my children tell me that they love me, ask their daddy for kisses, make us laugh or are affectionate to each other, it all seems worthwhile. Now I can see why I had to go through it all. Not a day goes by when I am not grateful for my children and beyond grateful that I didn’t give up on having my beautiful “bringer of light” and my beloved little girl called “Hope”.