The hopeful waiting family: Infertility and adoption after a breast cancer diagnosis
Growing up in the 90s, I never really knew how I would get married or be a parent one day, if ever, and I didn’t give it much thought for a long time. My partner and high school sweetheart Jarrett is a transgender man and I am a cisgender queer woman, so life was very different when we were teenagers.
It’s too long of a story for this blog, but Jarrett and I had a complicated friendship/relationship; we broke up when I was a junior in high school, but we never lost sight of each other over the years. Stars somehow aligned, eventually, and we got back together in 2008. We got married when I was 35, and that was when I suddenly felt closer to being ready to have a baby. When we were looking for a new house in the fall of 2015, we had a plan: We were going to buy a house with a designated baby’s room and then I would start trying through intrauterine insemination or possibly in vitro fertilization.
Bad luck interfered, however, and in December 2015 I was diagnosed with stage II, hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. Although my doctors certainly informed me of my options to help preserve fertility, due to my age and the hormonal sensitivity of my disease, and because we were literally moving INTO our new house the week before I started treatment, I decided it was best to focus on my health and keep parenthood on the back burner. Long story short, my chemo and my hormonal therapy have left me menopausal.
As time passed after active treatment, we started talking about having (or “obtaining”) a baby, and it felt unreachable at times. I am not comfortable stopping my hormonal treatment (which I am supposed to be on for at least 10 years), and besides that, we would need lots of help from fertility clinics that may not end up helping at all, due to my “advanced” age. Because our route to biological children would be extremely narrow, we decided to explore adoption. Adoption is super unpredictable, but we felt it was the right path to take. We struggled at first with the idea that our child would not be related to either of us, but the prospect of providing a home to a child, and hopefully connecting with a loving expectant mom, is very motivating to us.
We didn’t know if we could adopt until we went to the orientation at a local adoption agency, which is both queer-friendly and open to folks with a cancer history. I was terribly worried that my breast cancer would be too much of a red flag in our profile, but the agency assured me that it was not. Soon after, I asked my oncologist if he would support me in my plans to adopt a baby, and without hesitation he said yes, and that he could write a letter for us immediately. That gave me a huge confidence boost, and we began the home study process. I quickly learned that there are many other couples who turn to adoption because one or both of them lost fertility due to cancer, which was reassuring. We have had a few opportunities that did not pan out, and so the waiting continues. It feels like a rollercoaster of high hopes and low disappointments, similar to the experiences of people who are trying to conceive biologically.
Although we have now been a hopeful waiting family for the last 2 years, we have not lost hope that our baby will find us when the time is right. I think that welcoming a child into our family through adoption is something for which we are well suited. We have a long and winding history, and we have been held together by an unwavering love that has truly endured since we were kids ourselves. I hope that when we match with an expectant mother she sees that we would provide a home that will support the baby no matter what, regardless of how different they look from us, or no matter who they become. We hope to have an open adoption wherein our child will always know where they came from, and we will honor that relationship. Most importantly, we know how precious each day is, and look forward to growing our family and living each day as fully as possible.
Liz, 41, is a scientific editor and higher education administrator living near Buffalo, New York, with her partner Jarrett. Liz was diagnosed with stage II, hormone receptor-positive breast cancer in December 2015. She loves photography, event planning, home improvement projects, singing in the car, finding new restaurants, and cooking.
*Some identifying information withheld by request