306: What if Adopting Doesn't Work Out?: Exploring The Uncharted Exit Ramp of Adoption Transcript

Episode 306 Podcast > Full Transcript

Lori Holden, Greeting:

This is Adoption: The Long View, a podcast brought to you by adopting.com. I'm your host, Lori Holden, author of The Open Hearted Way to Open Adoption. Join me as we take a closer look at what happens after you adopt your child and begin parenting them. Your adoption journey isn't over then; it's just beginning.

In this podcast, you'll hear from a variety of thought-provoking and influential guests as we help you make the most of your adoption journey. Like any trip worth taking, there will be ups and downs and challenges. Here's what you're going to wish you'd known from the start. Ready? Let's go.

Lori Holden, Intro:
Statistics are thrown around regarding the number of families waiting to adopt and the number of infants available to adopt. No one's actually keeping track, but you can find ratios ranging from 40 to 100 families waiting for every available infant placement. Up to 40 families for every available infant. Let that sink in. The odds are not in everyone's favor, and at least some of the people hoping to adopt a newborn will just not be able to. That's a hard truth. What happens if and when you stop waiting to adopt a baby or a child?

With me today are two people who did just that for their own unique reasons and in their own way. As they both found separately, there was not a lot of support or guidance available on how to get off the adoption roller coaster like there is on getting onto it. Both of my guests, Jess and Greg, are thriving today, a few years past their decisions to stop the madness that adoption waiting turned out to be and accept, even embrace, a child-free lifestyle.

In case you have wondered about this uncharted exit ramp, in case you wonder if people can be happy walking away from their hopes and dreams to adopt, in case you feel like you are swimming in our culture's prone fatalism and that non-child families are not valued, you'll want to hear what Jess and Greg have to say.

Lori Holden:
Thank you both for being here. Hi, Jess.

Jess Tennant:
Hi, Lori.

Thanks for being here, Greg. Good morning.

Good morning.

We're talking in the morning. You may be listening in the afternoon or evening, but here we are. Let me tell you a little bit about Jess and Greg. Jess Tennant is a 46-year-old special education teacher who's been blogging about her infertility and adoption experiences since 2010. First, under My Path to Mommyhood and then transitioning to her Childless Not By Choice experience at Finding A Different Path. And I can recommend both of those blogs.

She was featured in an article for MSNBC's Know Your Value, Health and Mindset and was a panelist for World Childless Week in 2021. She loves spreading the message that her losses are real, but her life is not sad. It's possible to survive and thrive when things don't work out as planned.

Greg is a married man from New Jersey. In the winter, early 2013, it was discovered he was born with a genetic condition, leaving him unable to produce sperm. Now, in his forties, he's learned, through trial and error, how to make the best of an unfortunate situation handed to his wife and himself.

So, it's so great to have the lesser heard male viewpoint and it's so great to be talking with both of you about this non-talked-about topic.

So, let's dig right in. Jess, why don't you take this this first question and then we'll go over to Greg. Tell us briefly, two parts; what brought you to adoption and more importantly, what eventually caused you to walk away from it?

Okay. So, how I came to adoption was basically exhausting all medical options that we could afford. We really wanted to get pregnant and that just, no matter what we did, did not work. And at the end, it was like I could not let go of the idea of being a parent. And I was like, “Adoption. Adoption is the next step.” And that was kind of the message that I received from the clinic, from places online. And so, I switched the mindset immediately. And within two weeks of my last failed transfer opportunity for IVF, I actually started the adoption process officially and filled out our application. And my husband was kind of on the train that I was driving real fast and kind of taking on everything.

So, by July of 2015, we were profile ready, which is an insanely fast track. So, we were in the adoption process until 2017. Basically, we had had six profile opportunities, but we're never chosen. So, there was one situation where we were chosen, but it was a blind profile, so we didn't know about it until after, which took a little bit of the sting, but each one kind of cut more. It was like a death of a thousand cuts a little bit where it was just very difficult. But I'm most insanely stubborn person, and so I would not; I was like, No, I embrace the never, never give up kind of culture of things and waiting is the hardest part and all of that. And it unfortunately, took a medical crisis to really make me realize, as I was in an emergency room and they were testing me for heart attack enzymes, that I needed to let go of this process in order to actually live my life with my husband. My husband was like, “I'm not willing to lose what we have for something that may or may not actually happen.”

So, it was pretty much pure exhaustion and physical and mental crisis that was like, “Okay, we need to stop.” So, that's kind of in a nutshell.

Start to finish. Now, that was so well put. And I remember watching you on your blog go through all of that roller coaster of emotions and hanging on tight and then the eventual release; almost a forced release. I will also say that I got to see your adoption profile and it was beautiful. It was wonderful. And it's just so puzzling why some people wait and wait and don't get that call because it doesn't seem to make sense. And I just have to think it must be that numbers game that we were talking about earlier.


Greg, how about you? What was it that brought you to adoption and then eventually caused you to walk away?

It's interesting because some of the things that Jess described, just in terms of her experience and just what she was going through, sounds similar, but our path is a little bit different in that once I had my diagnosis, there was really nothing that can be done with infertility. I had gone to some specialists. And we didn't go through any treatments because there was really nothing that could be done. Even second opinions, the options that were on the table, it's like it really doesn't make sense for you to go through this because there's never been a reported case of finding anything. So, we never went through treatments.

And then from there it was trying to figure out what's next. We looked into sperm donor, in terms of just doing the research on it, what our options it would be, what parenting would be like. And then we kind of moved into adoption. Didn't fill out any profiles, we didn't sign up, but we just kind of looked into it on our own while we were trying to figure out what was next.

The hardest part for me was once we got to that point where we're like, “All right, we're not going to move forward with any of it. It's just going to be us.” That was the point where I was like, I completely lost it. And it literally took me over a year to get to the point where I could get through a day without completely melting down or just being so enraged that I just didn't want to be around anybody, including my wife.

So, it took me that full year of 2015 to kind of get through that where I was able to let go and not so much worry about what's next and not so much worry about how am I going to fill this? Because one of the biggest mistakes I made was trying to find that one thing that would replace the loss. And I mean, there's nothing that's ever replace that loss. If somebody dies, like a close family member, you can never replace them. So, the thing I learned, it's not one thing that's going to replace it, but just learning how to live life and just make the best of the situation. It took me that full year to be able to just get to the point where I could get through each day. And that was through a lot of therapy, a lot of just learning to communicate with my wife and lean on her more than I should have done earlier while we were going through it.

I think you bring up a really good point, Greg, that this is a really different kind of loss than like the death of a person. It's almost the death of a dream and that ambiguous loss is so squishy and it's harder to get your mind around. And people don't bring you casseroles when you lose a dream. And so, it's a lesser understood. People don't know how to respond to it. They don't really understand the magnitude of it. So, I think that's a really important point too.

And I want to talk about, we're going to get more into the grief and healing, but first, I want to ask, it seems like as part of this process, one of the early steps, besides you deciding privately with your partner or on your own if you're a single person, to make it this pivot, the next step in this process is to make it real by declaring it to your inner circle of people; your family, your friends. Can you talk to us about that step, that making it real by declaring it and putting it out into the world for the first time? Jess?

Yeah. So, that was tricky, especially because we had been so hopeful and so sure that this was going to work, that we had had baby showers at work and at school and at home with our family. Our families were very invested in our journey. They were like, “Yeah, of course this will work for you.” So, it felt very much like letting everyone down when it didn't work out. And it also felt there was like a level of embarrassment because we had a nursery and we had gone all in. We were like, “This is happening.” So, to tell people, even those closest to us, felt like some kind of admission of failure, of somehow, we weren't made of that strong cloth that can just keep going and going.

And so, we decided privately first. So, it first came up in the emergency room and then there was a walk in a park when it was flooded and the spring trees were blooming and everything. And I will always associate that park with the decision to say, “We're going to call and we're going to stop our home study.” And that was something my husband felt very strongly about, was our home study was going to run out in July. And he was like, “No, I think we need to take control and say we are done because there's too much uncertainty. And I knew that I wouldn't be able to handle another situation even if it did come.” So, he kind of took care of calling the adoption agency and telling them that we were not going to do it. And it was shocking because they were like, “Are you sure?” And it was like, “Yes.”

But then telling our parents was difficult because we were worried they would be disappointed, but they also knew how difficult it was. And so, it became hard to deal with kind of like they're grieving a grandchild. They're grieving their own way. But you're kind of not in a place to comfort them on that. And so, we kind of tried to step back a little bit from that.

Telling our closest friends, I think, they knew about the crisis. But the outside, we waited until everything was done. We did not want anyone to be able to say anything that would make us second guess anything. So, basically, I waited to make a global announcement that we had ended it until after we had donated our nursery. We had made the decision. It was definitely knocked up. It was done. There was no going back. And I'll speak more to the reactions that we got later.

But it was difficult, but it got easier in some respects when it was like, “No, there is no what-if here anymore.” And that's the power of walking away is that there is no more like, “What if this had happened?” Like letting go of that made it easier when people were astonished or some people were angry with us.

Wait. Tell me about that.

Oh, yeah. I think it's a difficult thing because whenever you're doing something like a treatment for a medical condition or infertility treatment or adoption, there's always people who are going through it who love to tell you what worked for them and how what worked for them is going to work for you, of course. And they can't wrap it around their heads that every situation is different. And so, I had friends who had successfully adopted and were like, “How can you do this? How can you let go of your dream? No, you can't do this.” And I was like, “Well, I did do it.” But I had people walking up to me at school saying, “I heard you're not adopting anymore. How can you do this? You can't not be a mother. That's terrible.” And it was like I had killed their puppy or something like that. It was terrible. And I had to just keep saying over and over like a mantra of like, “I had to take our health, like my physical and mental well-being and prioritize my life with my husband over an imaginary life, that up until this point, it's like a mythical life that who knows if it would have ever worked out.” But there was no going forward and still having any kind of life worth living, if that makes sense. Not quite that dramatic, but like it took such a toll.

And I hear you, Greg, when you say like it took a toll on the marriage and everything, I feel like my husband was very supportive of our journey, but it was definitely there were times when he was like, “You are driving this ship into a rock.” So, he was really good at telling people, “No, we're done and that's it.”

But yeah, it was hard to get those messages because you want support and you want someone to just say, “That's really hard” and instead everyone wants to fix it.

That is another pervasive message that we have is, “Don't give up. Never give up. You can do this. You've got this.” And the other thing that came up for me when you were talking, Jess, is this idea of control. The infertility journey and the adoption journey are so much about having zero control that when you did decide, you really took the reins and you didn't wait until July when it would have run up by itself with your home study expiring. You made the calls. You took back the control, really. And I think that's more than symbolic. I think that was really meaningful. As you were going through this, you were writing about it and I was reading about it.

So, Greg, what was it like for you to make it real with the declaration; the public declaration.

It wasn't so much that we became a public declaration. It was just like there wasn't like a certain day or a certain moment where we're like, “All right, it's just going to be the two of us.” It was us learning to work together, communicate, learn how to just live our lives together. And then we got to the point where we're like, “All right, it just going to be the two of us. Let's make the best of it.” So, it wasn't really a public announcement.

I mean, I didn't realize until I opened up to friends about exactly how we were proceeding. My friends were very supportive. When I reached out to them, they didn't so much give the never give up, at least the people that knew us before infertility. The online community, as Jess would say, there's a lot of that don't give up. It's all going to work out in the end. If you try hard enough, you'll get there. That was more of the online community support.

And then with family, my parents, specifically my mother was more the wants to be a grandmother. And not that she wasn't supportive, but she was like, “Why don't you give it a shot?” You know, we adopted dogs. We have greyhounds. So, she's like, “You have Lila. You adopted your dog. You're going through a similar process.” And it's like, “No, this person's a little bit different. It's not being interviewed, going through a home study and then just waiting and there's just so much uncertainty. It's a little bit different.”

So, there was a lot of pressure from family, but once we got to the point where it was just going to be the two of us, it was just learning that it was going to be the two of us, learning to make the best of it and learning to stay in the moment. That's something that even now I struggle with, that I'm always looking to have, “What's the next step? What's the next step in life?”

Learning to just live in the moment, live in the present, and make the best of it and realize that you don't know what's going to happen down the road, and letting go of that controlling, “What's going to happen next?” And just learn to go through life and just not worry about what's going to happen next. Just live your life now because otherwise, you're going to have regrets down the road.

That's wonderful. And that kind of leads us into the next area I want to go into, which is to talk about the grief and the healing. I want to talk about those, kind of in concert, because neither one are isolated; they're related to each other. So, talk about the grief and what turned out to be healing, especially in those early days when it was so raw and fresh. Jess?

Yeah. So, grief is a funny thing because it's not linear and there is no such thing as ever being over something. But you can get through something. So, you can move forward, but it's kind of always going to be a part of you. It's just not as big a part of you. So, for me, the beginning was incredibly raw. I have anxiety and depression and I had been unmedicated during the home study process because I didn't want it to count against me. And that's horrific. And so, I had that mental health kind of crisis where I was in a fight or flight, and that actually, in a weird way, gave me a chance to have a couple of weeks where I had to take leave from work. And it gave me like kind of concentrated time to really kind of feel all the feels in that moment. And then I kept thinking like, “Well, it'll be like,” like I tend to make a decision and then like I'll be like, “I'm doing this. I'm doing this. I'm doing this.” And then once I see the next thing, I'll be like, “Nope, I'm doing this.” And I kind of waited for that to happen. And it really kind of, in a weird way, didn't the way that I wanted it to. Like, I wanted to be like, “I'm healed” and that's it.

So, it took time to process. I'm not going to lie, there was a lot of lying face down on the floor. There was a lot of pouring my heart out into my blog and just thinking about all the things that I had lost. And I think you have to do that; like you have to take the time to really kind of sit in that sadness so that you can see some of the things that are coming for you.

So, like some of the things that we did for healing, we did a whole journaling thing where it was like, “Okay, what are our goals for our life now? Like now we have a very different life than the one we had originally planned. What does that look like? Where do we go from here? What's important to us? Do we want to travel? Do we want to be more mobile? Like what are the things that that we want to do that we can do now that we won't have children?” And we did have some very, like we'd go out to dinner and we would toast with a really nice bottle of wine and be like, “To no diaper costs” and kind of tie things where it was like trying to see like, “Okay, well, there's places where it's going. We won't have some of the things that our peers who do have kids; we don't have college, we don't have daycare, we don't have all of those pieces.” And so, kind of focusing on the things that we did have would take some of the sting from what we didn't.

And there are still times when something will hit me just right. One thing that is really helpful is, and I know this isn't always feasible, we moved. So, the house that we lived in when we went through everything was a house full of the ghosts of the life we didn't have. It was a place where we'd done our home studies, where I'd mixed medications on the counter, where like all of the stuff had happened, where we had envisioned our life. And to move someplace, where it's for our new life, really kind of made that shift like from this like symbolic kind of thing into something real. And I think that any kind of like big change like that is super helpful. But they do say, “Don't do that too soon because you're still kind of grappling with everything. And it's not something that you can necessarily, like it's not like, “Oh, the secret sauce is moving to a new house” because that's a whole nother undertaking.

But I really think like processing everything. Making lists really helped me of like, what are the good things? What are the sad things? I remember here, like in our new house, it was four years out and we were watching a Christmas story and there was like this whole thing with the kids coming down and the magic of Christmas and all this horrible stuff that happened. And then they're just like, “Oh.” And I bawled for like 3 hours, and it was just like, all of a sudden that that scabbed over scar was ripped open, and it was horrible. But it didn't send me into a spiral. Like, there's things where now something may hurt, but it doesn't hurt to that extent anymore.

And I've learned that I don't have to, yeah, I give everyone the saga that like – I think that's important too, is knowing that like when people ask, you can be like, “Nope, that didn't work out.” And that helps. Because in the beginning I felt like I had to justify our choice to like every dentist. And it became part of the healing that I own my story and no one else is entitled to it. So, how I choose to show it is up to me. And I don't have to give anyone any kind of justification that our choice is our choice.

So, it was kind of like a slow, letting go that a lot of people said was like fast. But I really think processing is huge and finding ways to really celebrate the life that you do have so that you can mourn the one that didn't, but then focus on what comes next.

I love that. And it makes me think back to what I've heard in therapy, which is if you can feel it, you can heal it. So, you didn't stop all of those really hard, big feelings. You let them have their way with you and then they kind of eventually move on.

Greg, what do you have to say about grieving and healing?

Yes, so much of what Jess described is completely true. And I can empathize with a lot of it because it was pretty similar, in terms of going through the process. I mean, for me, even though we didn't go through treatment, while we were looking at adoption and other options, there was always that hope. Once we got to the point where it wasn't going to happen, I was like, “Well, what's next? What's next?” There's just there's just no hope. And then trying to figure out what's next and trying to latch on to something, it was really, really hard for me. Similar to just I have anxiety. My depression came up again. And it just it took a lot of therapy, a lot of reaching out to my wife to figure out what's next, because there just –

When you get married and you and your partner, you have it in your mind that you're going to have kids, you plan your life or you do certain things. You buy a house so that you can grow into it with the child. And actually, it's kind of interesting that we're recording this this podcast from the room that we had envisioned was going to be the nursery in our house, and that just obviously didn't happen.

So, going through the process, and not so much putting a time on it, getting through that because you really can't rush through it, is really, really important. At least, it was for me. Because I always had it in my mind, even when our diagnosis first came up, “All right, well, before we hit 40, we have to make sure that we've either begun the process or we become parents before we hit 40. Because if we don't, then it's all said and done.” And then our journey to parenthood ended before we hit 40. And then from there it was, “All right, what's going to happen when I hit 40?”

Well, as it turns out, the year that I hit 40 was 2020 during Covid. So, with the world changing, I didn't really think about turning 40 as much as I thought I would. And now I don't think about going through infertility and not having a child and us not being parents every day. Like just there are certain things that will come up out of the blue where it will trigger me. And I will think back to what we went through in life that we don't have and we're not going to have those experiences, where I do kind of feel like a failure, that I'm not able to do certain things like everybody else is able to do, but I'm able to get through it easier. I wouldn't say easier, but I am able to get through it now without completely melting down, without it sending me into a spiral.

So, getting through that process and really grieving and reaching out to my wife, which I should have done more often when we first hit our diagnosis rather than going through it on my own, because it was our loss. It's not just my loss. It's more so our loss. My goal wasn't to just become a single parent on my own. It was to become a parent with my wife. That's the process that I went through. And if I could go back and do it all over again, the two things that I would do is, one, reach out to my wife more and then to just live life.

That's very helpful. I want to talk a little bit about in our quest to become adoptive parents or parents, I notice for myself that a lot of it was propelled internally by a desire, natural desire, to be parents. But alongside that was this external factor, like this current that we're swimming in that says, “In our culture, you're supposed to be parents. You have value when you're parents.” It's called Prenatalism (with a capital P). It’s different than how I mean it with a small P, which is just this current that you have more value if you are raising a family. And that maybe if you're not raising a family, that's kind of a weird thing. You're maybe even suspicious, you're selfish. Some of the things that – the labels they get tagged onto people who for whatever reason, don't have children.

And at the very least, Pronatalism can mean that we don't really know what choosing to walk away from family building looks like. Could you talk about your experience with Pronatalism, not your internal desire to have children, but. Kind of the external factors that are saying, “What? You need to have children.”

Yeah, I think that was probably one of the things that made walking away the hardest is that you're just bombarded with these messages of, “Be a parent. Be a valued member of society. You only care about children if you're a parent.” Being a teacher, I would sit in meetings with other teachers who had 3-year-olds and we'd be in a meeting about a 13-year-old, and they'd be like, “Well, as a parent,” blah, blah, blah. And in my head, I'm like, “Your kid is three. How does that make you more of a voice of authority?”

And these are like the messages that I think were given is that you can only understand the future and the impact of kids today and all of that if you are a parent. So, never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine a future where I wouldn't be a parent. Like it just seemed like it was a given. And, you know, even around Mother's Day and all of those holidays, like it's relentless, the onslaught. And I usually am kind of like, “Oh, well, it's advertising,” but it's quite painful to see like all the things where it's like, “Oh, you join the club” and oh, when someone announces a pregnancy and it's like, “Oh, this is the most important work you'll ever do.” And all those messages. And then you're like, “Wait, but I'm not going to have that. Does that mean that, well, just throw me over to the ship as it's sinking sooner? Why bother putting me in a lifeboat because I have no legacy to speak of or anything like that?

Because it is. It's like it's supposed to be your life's work or whatever. And especially if you've done so much to try to make it happen, whether it's preparing mentally or having that dream and then discovering any number of factors that can make that dream not happen. To have the voice out there of, “Well, you didn't try hard enough.” “Well, clearly you didn't want to be a parent enough because you didn't succeed at it.” I can't tell you how many people would offer up every single, like a menu of options that I hadn't tried to have a baby. because it was so incomprehensible that I would say, “No, my husband and I are a family of two and our cats. And that's fine. That's great. We can still contribute to all of the things.” And people would be like, “Well, but you didn't try foster care.” And I was like, “Well, I'm a special education teacher and I know an awful lot about that system.” And what you choose for how you're going to build your family is an intensely personal choice that no one is like, “Well, just spin the wheel of choices and pick something.”

So, it's said to me like, “Well, clearly you didn't try hard enough because you didn't exhaust every single option that was out there, which meant the only value you have is if you become a parent.” And that was very painful because I feel like there are many ways that you can contribute to society. And I think for my husband and, I like it kind of in a weird way, like there's always this like Oprah syndrome kind of a thing. Like, “Well, now what am I going to do now that I don't have kids? Well, I better be something spectacular?”

But we have done things in a different way, where like, my husband is getting his PhD and he started it when we started our home study. And for him he's like, “That's kind of like what I think of as what's my legacy going to be?” And I throw myself into the teaching and everything. And I used to hate it when people were like, “Oh, your students are your children,” because I was like, “No, I didn't want twenty 13-year-olds with varying disabilities as kids.” They're lovely. I love working with them all day and then sending them home. But it's hard to get around that societal message of your worth is in producing a baby. And then even if you do produce a baby in whatever way, nothing's ever good enough. It's like, well, you're a working mom, you're not a working mom. You're a stay at home mom or you're not contributing. But then you work and you're selfish and taking time away from your kids. And the formula shortage right now is like bringing up all kinds of things with breastfeeding, and it's just like it never stops.

So, to be able to say, “I reject this” and to be like this; there needs to be more of the stories that Greg and I are putting out there, that this is an acceptable option, that it may not be anyone's first choice but to like if you wanted it, and then it went away. But that this is an acceptable option and it is an option that can be thriving and beautiful and not necessarily like, “now I live in a hole in the ground” kind of a situation. So, anyway, I will wrap that up for now.

Greg, did you find that as well that the Pronatalism kind of made it incomprehensible to people that you would not have a family?

Not so much in terms of the people that I knew and the people that are around me; friends and family. But I internalized, and probably still do internalize a lot of that, “You only value if you become a parent.” “You don't know love until you become a parent.” “You're not contributing member to society if you don't have kids or you don't raise kids.” I internalized a lot of that and really struggled. And even now a little bit, maybe not as much as I did years ago, with just my overall self-value of if something were to happen to me and I would get hit by a bus, like It would be no big deal if I was gone. What's the point of my existence? So, I internalized a lot of that.

I mean, like I said, I didn't really get it from a lot of people other than – What I did get from people was the, “You could just adopt.” But as far as the whole pronatalism and just how society sees non-parents.

And it probably goes back to how I was raised, where most of my family members, they had kids, like two aunts and uncles that did end up becoming parents, and I just didn't have as close and still with one of them. I have as close a relationship with them as I did other family relatives that have kids. So, maybe it was just how I was raised. And then just when I got older and I have friends and other family members that have kids, it wasn't so much them saying it, but probably a lot of like the online community or what you see in the media, what you see on TV about the value of becoming parents and that if you're not a parent, you don't care about the future. And it's like, “Yes, I do. I want to leave something behind. I want the future to be better for the next generation, one way or another. And I want to contribute in some way.”

And I'm still trying to figure out exactly what that legacy is going to be. I used to obsess over it, and now I'm at the point where I'm not going to so much try and figure it out and work towards it, but just understand that maybe it will happen and it'll happen down the road in some way that I wasn't thinking of, previously. So, like, just I really obsess over it every day; what's my legacy going to be? Because the societal pressures say that I'm not a parent, so I have to work that much harder to make a contribution to society and leave a legacy than I would if I was just the parent. So, that was my experience and still kind of my experience when I think about it.

That's really helpful for both of you. One, kind of the legitimacy you have when you can say, “As a parent,” “As a mother,” “As a father,” and then also the legacy issue is, “What do you leave behind if not a child; an adult child? And what does that look like if you decide to get off the family building roller coaster?”

You're out of this now, five years, Jess, seven years, Greg. What do things look on the other side of this journey now? How have you filled that once gaping hole? And in what ways do you continue to find meaning and joy? This is bringing it all back around. Greg, why don't you go first this time?

At first, it was trying to find that one thing to replace it. And then I got to the point where I'm not going to replace it with one thing. So, it's just a number of different things. When I was back in high school, I ran cross country, tried to run in college, ended up getting injured. I got back into running. It's kind of like my therapy where I could just go out for anywhere from an hour to 2 hours where I'm just with myself and I could think about things. Although, back when I was going through infertility and trying to figure out what was next, I used to use that hour, hour and a half, 2 hours to just stew over it and just think about it and just get angry. Now, it's just more therapy and just thinking about things and just being with myself.

I wouldn't say I've focused on my career, but I have a little bit more flexibility in my career where it's not so much trying to figure out, “All right, what do I need to do to make enough money to where I'll be able to support the child and being able to raise them?” Now, it's so much where it's, “All right, I need to be in a position, a job where I'm not miserable.”

And then the other thing, too, is I love dogs. I love animals. My wife and I, we adopted a greyhound, before we found out about my condition. And she was wonderful. We absolutely adored her. And she really helped us get through it. We ended up losing her three years ago unexpectedly, but we ended up adopting another Greyhound who's just wonderful and makes us laugh. So, being able to give that love that we would have given to a child, giving it to our dogs, spoiling them rotten. We've been able to travel a little bit more, do certain trips that we probably wouldn't have been able to do if we had kids and maybe relaxed a little bit more, and not so much have to plan weekends and having a set schedule during the week, having a little bit more flexibility, being a little bit more spontaneous with life. So, I mean that's kind of what we've been able to do with that time, resources that we would have put if we were parents.

Great. Thank you. How about you, Jess?

So, I'm going to echo a lot of the things that Greg said, because I liked what he said about kind of your parenting energy elsewhere. So, we started our marriage, my husband and I, like immediately on the path to have a child. Like we had started our testing the summer before we got married because it's the second marriage for both of us. And so, when we ended, we decided to have our honeymoon. So, we took a 2-week trip to California. I felt like it was insanely decadent, but we were like, “No, you know what? We can do this now. This is something that we need to have.” Kind of like, “Okay, this is the start of our new life together, kind of a thing.”

And so, unfortunately, the pandemic has really kind of put a wrench in things where like we were planning a trip to Scotland, because we haven't done a ton of traveling. There was always that feeling of being kind of stuck with adoption. I was always afraid to go anywhere where I couldn't take a phone call and everything like that. So, I was like, “Let's go to Scotland.” And then the pandemic hit. So, that kind of put a little wrench in things.

But I think really celebrating our life together is something that I'm really proud of in terms of like our relationship with each other I think is so strong, not just because we survived everything together, but because especially with the pandemic and everything, you're spending a lot of time with whoever is at home with you. And it was like, “Okay, this is this is awesome.”

We put into our box of things that we can spend more time doing this as going for long hikes and going on vacations that are not child friendly. I do a lot of gardening and stuff like that. And like my gardening is kind of like a nurturing kind of a thing. I like to say that like mothering is a verb. And so like, I'm not a mother, but I get to mother in different ways. And again, with teaching and everything, like that is something for me that is like I get to make a difference in kids’ lives all the time. I don't get to raise one, but I do have that impact that kind of I think helps.

It can be a double-edged sword. I feel like sometimes if you're in education and you have a difficult time getting to be a parent or you never get to be a parent, that can be very painful for people. But I feel like I've thrown myself into that. And that's really something that makes me feel good about where I put my nurturing energy.

I also feel like having a very strong online community and people that I've met along the way who kind of helped me to see that there was the possibility of being childless, not by choice or child-free. There's so much controversy over which one to use that I like to just say, “I live without parenting.” So, that's been helpful because I feel like it also gives me purpose to be kind of like that light for someone else, as other people were for me. So, to be able to share the story and talk with you and Greg and have the blog and have things where I can unapologetically put out there my experience and hope that somebody can be like, “Okay, I don't have to drive myself into the ground necessarily. There is an off ramp.” Because I wish that there had been more of that at the time that we were going through things. And it's very hopeful to me that there are more and more voices, I think, that are showing that this is this is another fork; it's another path. And then that you can have a glorious life.

I'm so grateful to you both for being on here with me to do exactly that, just to make this viewpoint more known, because it's been in the shadows for so long. And for you both sharing your perspectives, especially on grief and healing and meaning and legacy,

I have one last question that I always ask our Season 3 guests, and I'm going to modify it a little bit for the two of you. From your perspective, as someone who decided after much research and soul searching not to adopt, what would you most like people a few years behind you on the journey to know? Jess, would you go first?

Sure. I mean, it's so hard to put that in a neat little thing, but I feel like you'll always hear, “Waiting is the hardest part.” And I think that adoption can be very emotionally challenging. It was far more so for me than I had originally thought. But I think it's important to know that there are many – Like there's a Helen Keller quote that's basically like, “When one door of happiness closes, sometimes we spend so much time looking at that door that we can't see the new one that has been opened for us.” And I think for me, that became central as a replacement for, “Never give up.”

So, knowing that you're not giving up. You're moving forward, if this is something that does not work out. And I hope it does, if that's your dream, but that it's okay and find those other happiness doors.

Beautiful. Thank you so much. Greg.

Yeah. To echo Jess. And that Helen Keller was really, really powerful. I guess the advice, in a similar fashion, is live your life. Yes, you can still look at adoption, go through the process. But if there's a great opportunity that opens up while you're going through the process, take the opportunity. Don't pass it up because you don't want to have regret later in life that you missed out on that opportunity because you're waiting for something to happen. Not that you should rush into something, but live your life.

And also reach out to your partner, your husband, your wife, because chances are they're going through it with you. It's a journey you're going through together. Even when you become a parent, unless there are circumstances that you can't see, you're not going through as a single parent. It's a journey that you should be going through together with your partner. So, really reaching out to your partner, working with them to get through it, and also just living life and recognize that there are other opportunities out there that you can find happiness.

While I was going through it, I'm a stubborn person and I hate to admit when others are right. And there were a number of people in the childless/childfree community, due to circumstance, who would tell me, like, “You're going to get through this. Believe me, that you will get through this and you will find happiness.” And I didn't want to acknowledge that it was possible. I'm like, “All right, that's just your experience. That's not my experience. I don't want to admit that that can happen.” But it is true that you can find happiness. You can find joy in life. Yes, it's not going to be the same. But you can find joy and happiness in life that does not include having children.

What a beautiful note to end on. Thank you so much to both of you for sharing your journeys, your very atypical journeys, especially for this particular podcast, which is usually about adoptive parenting. I really appreciate your coming on. Thank you, Greg. Thank you, Jess.

Thank you.

Thank you, Lori.

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