Thursday, November 17, 2016

INSPIRING WOMAN {Kendra Leavitt}

Meet Kendra, 

she is this months inspiring woman. Her story is near and dear to my heart. Watching my sister go through infertility and the adoption process changed me. It brought sadness but then incredible amounts of happiness. Now going through infertility myself I truly understand the heartache it brings to your world. Kendra's story is one of hope, and it is truly beautiful.

In life, there are fewer things more disappointing than plans not working out.  Failure for a plan to develop leads to annoyance, which can lead to despair.  How many phrases are dedicated to help allay the feelings of disappointment?  “You have to roll with the punches,” “it’s always darkest before dawn,” “when God closes a door, he opens a window.”  You know how sometimes when you repeat a word in your head over and over again, the word begins to lose its meaning?  I feel like it’s the same way with some of these phrases.  Over the past three years, my husband, Ian, and I have been on a journey filled with consistent optimism, but staggered by heartbreak.  Long days of hard work and faith followed often by tears and doubt.  We had amazing support from family and great friends; we were also lied to and cruelly manipulated.  Through these three years, Ian and I have walked through fire together.  We lost nearly all semblances of personal space and privacy; we worked through hundreds of pages of paperwork and legal pulp; we drove thousands of miles, spent thousands of dollars, all for the chance at turning the hope people kept telling us to keep into a reality.  It was in the middle of nowhere, on a hot June night, where we finally found our seven pound miracle.  I am writing this story not for pity or to commiserate, but to expound on and rejoice in the one thing that kept us going throughout all our setbacks: hope.  

It began in college, living in duplexes behind an Albertson’s grocery store.  I lived with three other girls, about a five minute drive from the campus of Southern Utah University.  I was only eighteen, and in my first year away from home.  Next door lived a group of four boys, and we all quickly became friends.  One of them was Ian Leavitt, who was a bit shy and reserved, but very sweet.  It was clear early on that he liked me, and I’m not ashamed to say that I took advantage of his crush.  He’d help me with homework, car trouble, or just bring me something I was craving.  Perhaps most nobly, he moved my harp to and from concerts, without complaint. I soon realized that I had developed feelings for him too, and we decided to spend as much time together as possible. On September 11, 2010 we were married for time and all eternity in the Manti Temple. It is my favorite temple. It’s like a castle, and all girls are princesses. 

After a whirlwind wedding, we moved into a small apartment in central Cedar City.  It was on the bottom floor, in the back of an old building. Natural light was scarce, and at times the place felt like a cave.  We didn’t want children right away since we were both still in school and only working part time.  Children weren’t allowed in our apartment anyway, so we had no choice but to wait.  When I graduated in May 2013, we started thinking about starting our family.  Our apartment started to seem too small, so we decided to begin searching for a home.  We were lucky enough to find a house in a great neighborhood where we could finally start our family.  

Ian and I had been living in our cute home in Cedar City for about six months. We were hoping to fill it with children.  It seemed like so many people I knew were able to get pregnant the instant they decided to have children.  Surprise pregnancies also seemed frequent.  So when a few months passed by, and I still wasn't pregnant, I started to worry.  I went to see a gynecologist who had me tested for endometriosis.  Results were inconclusive, but he still thought that was the problem.  I had really terrible cramps during my period, which seemed more severe than other women.  I was tested for everything under the sun, often enduring embarrassing and painful exams.  I figured it was worth it if I could be able to have children. 

Since I showed no signs of infertility, our doctor suggested that Ian be tested. His testing was consisted of one test, which made me jealous.  Ian didn’t have to be poked and prodded. From the test, we learned that there was no problems with Ian’s sperm count, and the sperm’s mobility was also fine. The problem was in the morphology of the sperm.  In other words, the sperm were shaped in such a way that it was difficult for them to move correctly, which made it difficult to reach my eggs.
It all seemed to make sense! It’s amazing how simply finding the reason behind a problem can give you hope.  Our doctor assured us that although conditions were not perfect for conception, there was still a good chance that we could still have a baby.  With the new information, our doctor recommended that we try a few rounds of IUI (intrauterine insemination). An IUI is a procedure where the doctor takes the sperm and puts it in a centrifuge in order to isolate the sperm cells.  He then takes the sperm cells and, using a giant syringe, inserts the sperm into the uterus.  This needs to be done at a very specific point in a woman’s menstrual cycle. This puts the sperm in a position to go where they need to go, which was especially helpful in our situation. 

Ian and I were very careful in following the steps leading up to the procedure.  On the 16th day of my cycle, we had to go and pick up a sterile specimen cup from the doctor.  We would then set an appointment for the procedure.  One of the stranger things about the IUI is that we needed to collect the sperm specimen before we came into the doctor’s office.  It was a little uncomfortable at first for Ian to have to do this, but we just had to remind ourselves of our final goal.  After we had the sample, we would carefully drive to the doctor, where the whole thing could come together.  We tried this procedure three times.  We followed the directions given to us extremely closely, making sure to get every small detail perfect.  It never worked.  

At this point, Ian and I learned valuable lessons in how to react to difficult news.  By all accounts, the IUIs should have worked, as there was nothing too misaligned to prevent us from having children biologically.  Yet here we still were, childless, and running out of options.  This was a very difficult time, especially for Ian.  We both struggled with feeling inadequate, but it was hard for Ian not to blame himself.  We learned to rely upon each other’s strengths, and we took turns with one feeling down, and the other being the motivator.  It was during this time that Ian and I realized we had decisions to make. We had heard options about In Vitro Fertilization, and were encouraged by some of the success stories.  We also knew that uncertainty still would be present with IVF.  Additionally, the procedures would be even more expensive and invasive than our previous IUIs.  Our other option would be to adopt a baby, which would be more a sure thing than IVF, but would open up a unique set of challenges.

At a funeral for Ian’s cousin’s miscarried baby, I had the prompting that adoption was what we were meant to do. I told Ian of my prompting, but assured him that if he wanted to try IVF first that I would support him. Ian took a few months to ponder. Ian has always been more analytical and less spontaneous than I am.  I guess that’s why we fit together so well.

Later that year, we attended a sealing for another cousin to his wife and son in the St. George Temple.  Again, I got a strong feeling that we should adopt. If I wasn’t meant to feel my child growing inside, me then I wanted to experience personally what this darling family was experiencing. Again, I told Ian of my prompting. He surprised me when he quickly said, “Let’s do it.”

I’m not exaggerating when I say we started researching how to adopt the next day.  I’m the kind of person that when something gets on my mind, I want to get it all taken care of as quickly as possible.  I read all the content I could from any website and testimonial I could, and I hassled Ian to do the same. At the end of November 2015 we announced that we were on our way to St. George to start our new adventure. 

The first step in any adoption is to complete a home study.  Most adoption agencies won’t even begin to work with you unless your homestudy is complete and valid.  In order to complete a home study, you have to work with a licensed social worker.  We were lucky enough to have an extremely nice and capable social worker named Jill Valentine very near to us.  Ian called to set up an appointment to get things started.  That first meeting with our social worker was emotional. I wasn’t prepared for it. She asked very personal questions to get to know and assess us. We must have said something right, because it was obvious that she made us a priority.  She helped us finish our home study by February of 2016 and by March we had an adoption profile with I also started working with a wonderful woman with Heart and Soul Adoption Agency. She would let me know when there were birth mothers looking for families to place their children. 

Over the next few months, I did everything I could to stay in the adoption network.  Whenever I found out a birth mother was searching for a couple, Ian and I would discuss about whether or not we should pursue.  We were active in sending our home study and information to multiple mothers, hoping that we would be the ones they trusted with their baby.  Unfortunately, we did not have much success.  Several times, we would hear that the mother chose another family, or that they were not interested in us.  This was difficult to understand at first, but sometimes you just have to accept a problem without an explanation.  This was a very big decision for the birth mothers, so everything had to be perfect for them.

May 19th, 2016 began as a day just like any other.  Ian was at work when I got a phone call from Rachel, our adoption rep.  She told me that one of the mothers we had given our information to wanted to speak with us that night.  This had never happened to us before.  We didn’t know what to expect.  That evening, Ian and I sat together and waited for the phone to ring.  After what seemed like hours, we finally got to speak with the mother, and after a few minutes of conversation, she informed us that she had chosen to place her baby with us!. That was such an emotional and exciting day. We had never gotten this far! The birth mother was due September 22nd with a baby boy. We already had a name chosen, Henry, and I quickly fixed up our guest room so that it would be his nursery.  With a lot of help from family and friends, we were able to transform our home to be baby ready.
Of course, that happiness was short lived. About a month later, we were having a hard time communicating with our birth mother.  I had become pretty good friends with her, and was texting her back and forth for a few weeks after we matched.  When she started to not respond to my texts, I became worried.  Ian told me not to worry, as she was probably busy, or lost her phone.  That did little to help me, and my worries continued.  My fears were heightened when the adoption agency asked me if I had heard from the mother at all.   It turns out nobody knew where she was, and she wasn’t responding to anyone’s attempts to locate her.  I worried myself sick, as Ian did his best to stay positive.  When we finally did restore contact with her, I would soon wish that she stayed silent.  Things started getting very strange.  She even informed us that the baby was a girl and that the baby would be born in October rather than September.  This was our first indication that things may not be as they seemed a few weeks before.

Our adoption agency prepared an apartment for the mother to live in, rent free, so she could live close to medical care during her pregnancy.  The only stipulation was that she needed to travel from California to Utah, and the apartment would be hers.  For the birth mother, it seemed like everything that could have gone wrong went wrong in her attempts to get to Utah.  Her car would break down, she would need to stay in a hotel, she needed to go the doctor, etc.  One thing after another.  For each of these issues, she would always ask for money.  After a while, her stories would start to contradict each other, saying she was in California one minute, and Mesquite, Nevada the next.  She told us once that she was living in her broken down car in Mesquite, never mind the fact that it was 120 degrees in Mesquite, and no pregnant woman would ever resort to that.  After weeks of back and forth we came to the conclusion that she was lying to us, and she likely couldn’t be trusted.
Together, we and our agency decided that if our birth mother would move closer to the agency in order to give birth to the baby, then we would still adopt her baby. She made it more than half way. More bad communication. More lies. For the sake of moving on with the story, our birth mother did not make it to the desired destination. 

Ian and I were heartbroken. I prayed, searched the scriptures, and cried my soul dry.  Ian stayed strong, but I could tell he was empty.  We rarely talked, and mostly stayed home.  I couldn’t understand why this was happening. How this was happening. We were so close, and all our hard work looked like it was paying off, just to be shattered right in front of us.  It felt like we would never recover from this one.  It felt that way until Monday, June 20.

Ian, his sister, his sister’s husband, Ian’s mom, and I were sitting at Ian’s grandpa’s home talking about how we were planning to match with another mom. We had no idea about the timetable, we just decided that it would be easiest to move on, any way we could.  We had been ranting about our failed birth mother, which helped, but was probably not the nicest thing to do.  Maybe a few hours later, I received the text that would change our lives.  It was Rachel, our adoption rep, and she told me that a baby girl was born the day before in a small town in Western Kansas, and that if we could get there by tomorrow, she could be ours. My heart starting racing! This was it, I knew it immediately.  Soon after, we received a call from Rachel, giving us more info on the baby and her birth family. 
I knew right away that this was our future.  This was our baby, and we had to get home to pack.  Ian was more cautious.  He says it was the shock of things happening so fast, but I know he wasn’t exactly sure whether or not this baby was meant for us.  We decided to do what we had been taught to do whenever we faced a tough decision: pray. Ian led the prayer, asking if this was the baby meant for us.  I knew the answer as soon as Ian began crying.  Ian is a very emotional person, but he rarely cries, so I knew this was a special circumstance. When I asked him what he felt he said, “I guess we better go buy a ticket to Kansas, because this little girl needs us.” We quickly made travel arrangements, tried to sleep for a few hours, but failed miserably.  We woke up the next morning, showered, and were on our way. I could hardly focus. I was going to hold my baby. My baby. Our baby. 

We began at around 4:30 am, drove to catch a shuttle in St. George, took the shuttle to Las Vegas, and caught a flight to Wichita.  After getting to Kansas, we still had to make the four hour drive from Wichita to Liberal.  We rented a car and began the long drive.  Driving in Kansas is a lesson in patience itself, as there is absolutely nothing to see.  It’s flat and yellow.  When we finally pulled into Liberal, we were exhausted to say the least. Not only were we traveling, but we were also trying to take care of the legal side of the adoption and stay in contact with our family all the while. It was a long day. It was worth it.

After buying a car seat, we finally made it to Southwest Medical Center where our baby girl was waiting for us. It’s a small hospital, so we found the room easily. We asked a nurse if we could go in. The nurse checked with the birth parents and we were then allowed to see our baby girl.
I thought for sure I’d cry. It seemed like I had been waiting for this forever. It’s still hard for me not to tear up when I think about it, but at that moment all I could do was stare in wonderment. She was beautiful. So much black hair! Perfectly content in her birth daddy’s arms. Birth mom was sitting on the hospital bed enjoying the quiet scene.

I can’t remember too many specifics other than Ian quietly asking, “Is this her?” I mumbled something about her being beautiful, and then birth daddy was putting Isabel into her new daddy’s arms. I just kept staring. The mother had already named the baby, and asked if we would be keeping the name.  We said that we weren’t sure, which wasn’t completely true.  We had a name picked out from even before we were married.  In that hospital in Nowhere, Kansas, I was finally holding Isabel Marie.

Ian being the sweetheart he is, held Isabel for only a few seconds before he asked if I wanted to hold her. As I held her the five of us started to get to know each other. It was a reverent moment that I will never forget.  I felt right away the love for this little girl. She just slept.  I stood in the presence of this sweet little baby, and felt so much gratitude for so many people.  
Maybe twenty minutes passed when birth mom suggested that Ian and I have some alone time with baby girl. We had a wonderful half hour with our sweet girl. I started sending photos to and talking to my family through Skype. I couldn’t stop looking at her! 

Our plan was to pick her up from the hospital and take her to a nearby hotel to wait for more information from our agency and our lawyer.  Ian and I arrived to the hospital too late to take her with us, but the nurses asked us to spend the night with baby girl. I was so happy! I kept telling Ian that I wasn’t leaving her.

The following day was long. There were a lot of legal details to take care of. Isabel’s social worker, who was an incredibly sweet and helpful lady, stayed for a few hours to ensure that Isabel came home with us. There was a lot of paperwork needed for both us and the birth mother, and we ended up spending almost the entire day in the hospital. 

After the fiasco of the alarm going off (and the elevators not working) due to improper removal of Isabel’s foot tracker, we were headed home. It was around 10:00 at this point, and it had been as exhausting a day as the day before. One of the nurses helped us down to our rental car to make sure that everything was okay with our car seat. Before we said goodbye, the nurse told us that she and the other nurses had a strong attachment to our little baby, and were so happy that we were able to take her.  She started crying as she asked if she could say one more goodbye to the baby.  It was then I knew that Isabel would be a special sweet spirit.

It might seem that our story is finished, but there’s still a little more. We now were waiting in Liberal, Kansas for one of two things: there was one other potential birth father who needed to sign away his paternal rights so we could finalize the adoption in Kansas.  The other option was to wait for the Interstate Compact. The Interstate Compact is an agreement between two states (in this case, Utah and Kansas) allowing the family and adopted baby to travel home. 

Initially we wanted the Interstate Compact so that we could finalize with family in Utah. We’d have to wait six months before we could finalize, but it sounded like a happy moment that we wanted to share with everyone.  The longer we waited the more we realized that not only would it be quicker for the birth father to sign, it would also mean that Isabel would be legally ours sooner.  No more waiting. No more worrying. We changed our minds. We started working toward birth dad signing.  We wanted to get home.

We were in contact with our attorney and agency the entire week. Yes, we were in Kansas a whole week. It was the longest week of our lives. We tried to make the best of it, but there are only so many things you can do in Kansas with a newborn baby.  After, a couple days in Liberal we were told to go back to Wichita, where the finalization would take place. It’s also a bigger city so we felt less stuck.  We saw that sights of Wichita, including the first ever Pizza Hut, which was really exciting for Ian.  Turns out it’s only a small house on the campus of Wichita State University, and they don’t even serve pizza there anymore.  

Anyway, the weekend passed and still no signature, so we sent paperwork for the Interstate Compact. We were able to attend church that Sunday, and were overwhelmed with the kindness of the members in Kansas.  There truly are good people all around the world.  Monday morning came and with it a happy call from our attorney that he had received birth dad’s signature. Our attorney was so amazing. He had scheduled a court meeting with the judge on that same day, hoping that we could get everything taken care of. We met with Judge Rumsey for maybe ten minutes, waited around a few hours for the paperwork to go through and were finally given the all clear to return home.  
We didn't leave until about 2:00 in the afternoon. Because Isabel was so little, we were not able to fly with her, so we rented a minivan, and trucked it west toward Utah.  Ian fell in love with the minivan, saying that it was like driving a couch.  We made it to Colorado Monday night, slept at the Holiday Inn, and made it the rest of the way the next day.  Isabel is a born traveller! She mostly slept and only cried when she was hungry or when she forgot we were there. (It broke my heart to hear that cry). We pulled into our driveway in Cedar City at about 7:00 pm, and Ian’s mom was over about two minutes later. Our yard was in the process of being decorated and we soon had family and friends over to finally meet nine day old Isabel Marie. 

This journey has been so emotional, but I wouldn't have it any other way. We’ve been through such difficult trials, many of which I didn’t know we could overcome.  We have met some amazing people along the way who have helped in indescribable ways.  We continue to get so much support and love from friends, family, and neighbors.  These people have forever changed us.  Through this experience, Ian and I have grown closer not only to each other, but to Heavenly Father as well.  The adversity we faced seems like nothing now that we have our miracle. We are so happy.  Isabel Marie Leavitt is our greatest adventure.