I was nestled down into the plush leather sofa with my legs curled up beneath me. My gaze was focused on the tendrils of steam rising from the hot cup of coffee clutched between my hands. I blinked, and despite my best efforts, a few large tears emerged from my eyes, rolled down my cheeks and landed on my lap. My girlfriend was sitting across from me patiently waiting for me to continue speaking. I dabbed my eyes with a tissue, then looked down at her young son, who was wiggling around on the carpet below. I felt numb. I sucked in a deep breath, trying to keep the tears at bay. “I’m losing hope that an adoption will come through.” I said. “What is the point of my life if I am never going to be a mom?” I was angry and lost. I had a hard time picturing my life without children because that was the only future I had ever imagined for myself.
Unfortunately this wasn’t the first time I had been forced to re-examine my life. Five years earlier I was diagnosed as gene positive for Huntington’s Disease (HD), a degenerative neurological condition that causes cognitive impairment, uncontrolled movements and emotional issues. As a carrier of the gene I know I will develop the disease but don’t know when the symptoms will appear. After learning that I would suffer from a life-limiting disease, I became terrified of my future and I fell into a deep and long lasting depression. I was constantly overwhelmed by all the implications my diagnosis had on my life. I’d often find myself crying as my husband and I were driving in the car. “Are you sure you still love me even with HD?” I’d say. I didn’t understand why he was sticking around if I was just going to get sick and die. I was worried he wanted a divorce.
“Of course I still love you” he’d say as he reached his arm across the console to squeeze my leg in support. Even in the fog of those early months filled with depression, pain and fear, I knew I didn’t want my diagnosis to ruin my life. So I started asking myself, What is going to make me happy?
My husband and I answered that question together. We decided that we wanted to have a family and live a quiet life…but there was a hitch. Along with my diagnosis came the knowledge that any child I conceived had a 50% chance of inheriting HD from me. Month after month, as we tried to conceive, I pushed any concerns about the health of our future baby from my mind. My life has value even with HD, I told myself. And so will the life of our child if they inherit the disease from me. That was the beginning of our long and drawn out journey towards parenthood.
When we were unable to get pregnant on our own we sought the help of a fertility doctor. When we started doing cycle monitoring I had to face the uncomfortable fact that someone was telling us when to have sex. Since I was a very private person this was a challenge for me. When cycle monitoring didn’t work, we moved on to inter uterine inseminations(IUI), and I had to come to terms with how we were interfering with mother nature. When even those attempts were unsuccessful, we tried treatments paired with fertility drugs, and I had to accept the possible side effects the medications would have on my body.
As if going through fertility treatments wasn’t stressful enough, every month I was forced to confront my HD diagnosis, asking myself if I was still ok with the risk of passing on the gene to our baby. And I was, until none of the treatments had worked and we were faced with trying in-vitro fertilization (IVF). I changed my mind because we knew of a procedure that could be paired with an IVF called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) which could identify if an embryo had the HD gene. During the IVF process, those embryos would not be used. We tried the procedure two times without success. I felt like my defective body was betraying me. I was physically and emotionally exhausted and knew I could no longer continue fertility treatments. We spent some time researching options such as surrogacy and donor egg before we decided to try adoption.
Just a few weeks after that emotionally charged coffee date with my girlfriend where I was trying to ponder a life without children, my husband and I received incredible news. Just as we were losing all hope we were picked to be the parents of a newborn baby girl through private domestic adoption. Our dreams had finally come true.
It took us five and a half years to become parents and that never would have happened if I hadn’t learned to confront my fears and keep pivoting in new directions each time I hit a roadblock. My journey towards becoming a mom has taught me that we don’t always know which path will help us reach our goals. The important thing is to just keep trying until you get there.