the dollars and $ense of family building

This new prompt from Write Mind Open Heart and Baby Smiling explores the Dollars and $ense of Family Building. A touchy subject, for some, but critical for those unable to build our families without assistance. Be sure to click the link above to see what others are saying too.

Money. It opens doors. It offers options. It’s never a problem until you don’t have it. Then it becomes a source of frustration and stress, the subject of arguments and competing priorities.

When it comes to family building — as opposed to family raising — money shouldn’t even be part of the equation. But unfortunately for many of us, it is. It sucks that so many of us need to spend a small fortune just for the chance to become parents. It’s just unfair. But that’s how it is.

Those who have followed my story know that my path to parenthood was long and paved with detours. Doors opened, doors closed. Money played a huge factor in our decision-making. Ultimately we were fortunate to be able to open a door we thought had long since shut. After more than five years of trying to build our family, we finally became parents to an amazing baby girl through domestic open adoption in May 2009.

I first started this blog in December 2007 after nearly six years of surgeries, including three years of trying to conceive, losing our first child, and trying again. By that point, we were already in debt from those expenses on top of graduate schools. We decided to use our savings to try to build our family rather than further paying down our debt or buying a home. Yet we had already spent more than a year researching IVF and adoption and determined that we couldn’t afford to do both. My insurance didn’t cover infertility treatment and my employer provided no assistance or reimbursement for adoption services. While neither of us were gamblers — and risking about 20k of our limited savings on IVF was just that, a big gamble — we decided we would regret it if we didn’t at least try.

When it failed, along with the FET we tried a few months later, I was devastated. Those were some of my darkest days. There was no possibility of another try. Yet it was far more than that. It was being forced to accept that I would never be a mother. There were simply no chances left, no hope. The lack of options was soul-crushing.

It always upset me that someone might assume that since we couldn’t try again (and again) that we wanted a child any less than someone able to afford — and willing to subject themselves to — repeated treatments. There is just no equating the number of dollars expended with the desire to become a parent. For some of us, money is simply not a renewable resource but a fixed finite thing. Once it’s gone, it’s gone, along with any other possibilities it may have brought.

I wanted to be a mother with every fiber of my being. But when our treatments failed, we simply had no means to pursue that path anymore. We had no house to borrow against. Going further into debt would have would have left us in an even a larger hole, and even if it was successful would have compromised our stability as parents. It was unfair. I was devastated. Yet I couldn’t accept that was the end of the road, the end of our dream.

Then I decided that there was one way to make it work. If I cashed in one of my retirement accounts — the relatively meager investment leftover from a small inheritance from my father that had been gaining interest for more than 20 years — we could consider getting back on the path to parenthood. Only then could we afford to pursue adoption and maybe, finally become parents, some day.

And now, the questions…

1. Consider your now or future children as adults, and consider the fact that you had to spend money to either conceive them or make them part of your family. What effect do you think the latter will have on the former one day? What, do you think, your grown children might feel about the funds it took to create your family?

I honestly never gave this question (or many of these) much thought before. This one and #2 are so disturbing, to wonder if my child might one day consider herself as a commodity. That is so not how she came into our lives. Still, I can’t have any idea what she may one day feel about the way she came to our family. I hope she will understand that the services we paid for were critical to ensuring the well being of her birth mom Kaye. I hope she will understand the funds we used to bring her into our family were expended in the most ethical way possible. I hope she will believe that we acted responsibly, choosing to focus on our family now rather than retirement later (who retires anymore, anyway?). I hope, pray and wish that she will never consider the fact that we spent any money as any reflection of herself, her self-worth.

2. How did/would you handle it if your child asks you, “Mom, how much did I cost?” How would you answer at age 7? At age 18?

First let me just say, yikes. And ugh. Yeah, that about sums it up.

Already I’ve had someone ask me, incredulously, “You had to pay for [Baby J?]” I felt my blood slowly start to boil with steam coming out of my ears. “No, of course not,” I said with a deep breath. “But we had to pay the social workers, and the agency that conducted our home study, and the lawyer who handled the paperwork.” And I explained that we covered some expenses to ensure that our daughter’s birth mom had good care.

The thought of my child ever considering herself a commodity makes me sick to my stomach. And angry. If she ever asked this question, I’d explain that she didn’t “cost” anything at all, but that her adoption included expenses to ensure that everyone involved got the best care possible. As she gets older, I can explain more about that care and why its so important to have well trained social workers and independent counseling, etc.

3. When calculating the costs of your family building, what do you include? The direct costs are easy (such as RE fees for a cycle or homestudy fees), but what about fees that didn’t directly lead to your child’s existence in your life, such as cycles that didn’t work, adoption outreach avenues that didn’t work, failed adoptions, avenues that were explored (and that cost something) but not pursued, etc?

Oh, wow. I haven’t even added up the total cost expended in our effort to build our family. Would I include co-pays from years of surgeries to fix my womb? How about years of acupuncture, or the expensive Chinese herbs I took to try to regulate my cycle? What about years of OPKs and pregnancy tests? Honestly I only have a rough estimate of the total costs over the years. How much? Too much. Enough for a serious down payment on a house in the Bay Area, or a very healthy college fund, for sure. But we can’t regret it and we certainly don’t discuss it anymore.

4. If two children in a family “cost” different amounts, should that have any significance?

Not applicable. We will most likely be a one-child family (see below).

5. To what extent have finances determined the family-building decisions you have made? How have you able to balance financial considerations against other factors such as medical, ethical, emotional…?

As I wrote above, finances played a huge factor in our decision-making. Limited funds limited our options. We were already in debt and we felt it would have been irresponsible to go further into debt just for another chance, under the circumstances. Looking back, despite assurances to the contrary, I was probably delusional to think I actually could have conceived and carried a child with my wonky womb, even with the best treatment options. Throwing good money after bad for failed treatments just seemed like an endless downward spiral, a veritable “black hole” — not just financially but emotionally, physically, psychologically, spiritually. Facing the unknown, the unknowable. The letdowns. The risks. Watching your life pass you by. The shattered hopes just take such a toll on every level — heart, soul, mind, body.

But yes, in making our decisions we weighed different factors against our finances such as “buy a home” or “build our family,” try IVF or adoption, domestic or international (though other factors played a larger role in our decision to adopt domestically). With treatment, I always wondered if we had unlimited funds at our disposal, how many IVF attempts I might have tried. It’s always so easy to believe that next time will be The One. But again, I was losing (had already lost?) faith in my body. There would have been internal struggle, and with M too, about how much would be too much. In fact, we still have several frosties on ice waiting to be donated to research that in theory could have provided a chance for a sibling for our daughter. But trying an FET would just be throwing good money away — funds that could be put towards our existing family.

Even with adoption, we knew we’d be limited as to the types of situations we consider, or the amount of time before we’d run out of funds. We knew couples that waited for years and spent money on several situations that didn’t work out for them (travel, expenses, fees, etc.). Again, we were fortunate. And we were happy to cover the limited expenses we did with Kaye, making clear that she was still free to change her mind and owed us nothing.

Still, money continues to play a factor in our family building, even now, as we have the child of our dreams and our very own home too. I/we always envisioned having two children. We thought the first would be biological and the second we would adopt. Now the question is will we adopt again (we’re asked that all the time). Until very recently, I liked to think that was still a possibility. Though in all honesty I questioned whether we should mess with a good thing. Our life is good. We have a perfect trio right now. Yet I still wanted a sibling for our daughter; I didn’t want her to be an only child. Now, I accept (somewhat reluctantly but with ever growing grace) that we are in all likelihood a one-child family. Our daughter will have plenty of cousins and hopefully friends. And while it’s not the same as a brother or sister, there are some who would tell you that siblings are overrated. While much of this decision is based on emotional considerations — i.e., I’m not sure we would subject our family to the trials of adoption now — it is also partly based on financial and practical considerations too.

6. Has institutional and governmental support for certain family-building paths impacted your choices? For example, ART being covered by insurance, tax deductions for adoption expenses, etc.

We had no institutional or government support for most of our family-building expenses over the years. However, we were grateful to apply for the adoption tax credit after our adoption was finalized in 2010, which would come as welcome relief. While we won’t actually get money back, the tax credit will actually make up for the penalty of cashing in a retirement fund early (which helped cover the cost of our adoption), and another insurance fund (which went towards the down payment on our new home). Knowing that the credit was available absolutely helped ease the decision to cash in those accounts despite the penalties and tax consequences.

7. Have you considered having ART treatments abroad, either due to lower cost or due to certain methods being unavailable or illegal in your own country? In your decision-making, how did you balance the financial savings against issues like the unknowns of the country, perhaps not speaking the language, and medical practices that may differ from those of your home country? If you did travel abroad for treatments, what was your experience? Would you do it again?

Never considered going abroad for treatment; it was never really an option due to time and cost.

Share your experience here in the comments or on your own blog by May 1. And be sure to visit Write Mind Open Heart for more perspectives on the Dollars and $ense of Family Building.
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~ by luna on April 19, 2011.

12 Responses to “the dollars and $ense of family building”

  1. Thank you so much for participating!

    Although some ignorant outsiders may consider Jaye to have been a commodity at one point, I really believe that given the way you are raising her and given the first family relationships you’re nurturing, Jaye will never think of herself that way.

  2. Hey, Luna! Long time, no see! Though I haven’t been an active commenter, I’ve still been lurking in and reading every one of your words. As always, my mind continues to expand wider with more understanding of open adoption as you share how *your* thoughts are evolving through the continued stages. I’m so glad that I got to be here from the start. Jaye is so lucky to have a mom with such warmth. She’ll never think of herself as a commodity.

  3. awesome, awesome, awesome post.
    (but we clearly need to all gather for a glass of wine now…yes??)

    (i am also logged in under some old wordpress.com account …but this is Calliope from creating motherhood in case it shows up as, er, something els

  4. I’m really fascinated by how everyone answers Questions #1 and #2. It’s not something I considered myself. To a certain extent I hope my daughter will just be happy that she’s here w/o giving too much thought to how she got here. On another hand, I don’t consider her conception to be a pejorative thing. I guess b/c I’m a writer, I consider her lucky to have such an interesting background story — you know for like parties and her inevitable turn on Teen Jeopardy. And yet another perspective, much like being biracial, she has WAY more company these days. I imagine that she’ll ask me how much she cost, I’ll tell her and she’ll say, “Oh, my classmate Hannah cost way more.”

  5. “There is just no equating the number of dollars expended with the desire to become a parent.” Nodding head vigorously!

    I agree with what BabySmiling said. It’s very unlikely that Jaye would ever think of herself that way.

    I’m so happy that, in some ways, you have it all — family and home — even when you thought it not possible. Maybe even more is possible. Who knows? But you are complete either way.

  6. Three cheers to this: “There is just no equating the number of dollars expended with the desire to become a parent. For some of us, money is simply not a renewable resource but a fixed finite thing.”

  7. Its crazy isn’t it, I just hate money, or I guess what it represents, its fantastic if you have enough not to stress, but adoption, Ivf all of it is soooo expensive. when Maya came home I had ALOT of people ask what she cost, not tryign to be rude but really people have no idea how expensive adoption is. When I think back to things as a child I simply wasn’t interested in alot of things, so the cost between one childs adoption to anothor I wouln’t think they would ever care about, we definetly have a huge gap from one to another so I hope that is never important to them.

    Its just all about money, unfortunetly.

  8. Thank you for stopping by my blog. The comment you shared in question #2 is mind boggling. Some people completely lack a filter!

    I think the federal tax credit for adoption is a step in the right direction. With more awareness of the needs of all involved in adoption and other methods of family building I hope that the government will become even more progressive in their support.

  9. Nothing to add, but just wanted to once again let you know that I always love what you have to say, luna.

  10. And the benefits of getting involved in a blog hop are paying off – I’ve found your blog!

    I am sorry you faced a period of time where you believed you would never become a mum due to finances – it would break many and no doubt has. I look forward to going back through the archives and reading up on how you finally created your forever family through open adoption.

  11. Hi there, I just wanted to stop by and say thank you very much for your comments all the way back in February on my blog. I am long over due but your congratulations were very appreciated!

  12. wow, what a gorgeous essay on getting there, to your family and written with so much honesty, I was holdiing my breath through most of it. I didn’t know this blog hop was going on and now I wish i had written for it.

    and yes questions 1 and 2, haunt me at times, but I also know that I was never quiet about my infertility, not ashamed of it and I won’t let the boys be ashamed of it either.

    thank you for sharing all this, my heart loves your heart.

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