I love sharing the story of the creation of my modern-day family because I want to open up the conversation on the different ways families are made. For my husband and I, our unique path to parenthood spanned the course of 13 years and involved IVF, miscarriages, international adoption, and surrogacy, resulting in our wonderful family of five children. Every step of the way was challenging but also so rewarding. Along the way, we learned some invaluable life lessons along with the true meaning of parenthood.
Our journey to start our family began immediately with IVF/ICSI. We bypassed all of the steps that usually lead up to IVF due to male factor infertility caused by an illness my husband battled in his early twenties while we were dating. We endured many years of failed IVF treatments and miscarriages with our initial fertility clinic before deciding we needed a change. After switching to a smaller fertility clinic we finally became pregnant, only to lose our boy/girl twins at 17 weeks.
It was during this time of grief that I finally gave myself permission to pause so I could address the flurry of emotions that could no longer be kept buried in the back corners of my heart and mind. It was scary to face these overpowering emotions, but it was time to grieve—not just the loss of my twins, but also the loss of all of the failed cycles before the miscarriage. This moment in time gave me the chance to care for my mental and emotional well-being and give my body a break from years of back-to-back IVF cycles and my most recent pregnancy loss.
Months later, after I had fully allowed myself to feel all of the heartbreak, my husband and I reevaluated our next steps. I faced the fact that I could not bear to do another round of IVF again at that time. When I think back on that decision, it wasn’t that I felt overwhelmed by failure. Instead, what I recall was that I just felt so tired. I was tired of all of the shots, all of the appointments, and all of the cycles that didn’t work. I knew in my heart that I wanted to become a mother, but I realized that I could fulfill this desire through adoption.
So we pivoted the direction of our family-building plan and went on to adopt our first son from Kazakhstan. The international adoption process was entirely different from our IVF journey. Medical treatments were replaced with paperwork: applications, recommendations, and legal documents. Fertility appointments and procedures were replaced with interviews, parenting classes, home inspections, the in-country experience, flying home with our son, and immigration and legalization interviews. The entire experience was different; in this situation, I would be matched to my future son or daughter guaranteed. After years of uncertainty with IVF, it was a relief to let go of the weight of doubt and the unknown.
Joy finally reentered our lives the moment we met our baby boy in Kazakhstan. After years of waiting to become parents, we relished our time living out our dream. It was during this emotional reprieve that we developed newfound courage to undergo another round of IVF.
In full transparency, it was a scary experience to be pregnant again with twins after our second-trimester loss. The pregnancy was not how I had envisioned it to be; each day I walked on eggshells and feared losing my babies. To prevent another loss, my doctor inserted a cerclage to close my cervix and put me on modified bed rest. Despite a tough pregnancy experience, in the end, it led to the successful delivery of boy/girl twins. After what seemed like an eternity, we had three beautiful kids to love and raise.
During this last round of IVF, we froze our extra embryos. Every year, we received a letter from the fertility clinic to confirm our plan for our remaining frozen embryos. But despite wanting to grow our family, I could not carry another pregnancy. So while surrogacy was an option we considered, it wasn’t until many years of saving up that it could finally become a reality for us. We then found a surrogacy agency through our fertility center.
The process of surrogacy was like a mix of the adoption and IVF processes: paperwork and interviews galore mixed with all of the IVF steps for our surrogate. We partnered with an amazing soul who will forever be a part of our family as she carried another set of twins for us. The surrogacy process taught me the ultimate lessons of being vulnerable, letting go of control, trusting the process, valuing my worth, and understanding what my husband had gone through all of those years in the supportive role. It was an emotionally heavy process all while standing on the sidelines of the pregnancy. In the end, though, our amazing surrogate successfully gave birth to our twin boys and reminded us once again that families come together in a multitude of ways.
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Every person’s experiences with fertility are unique to them, and yet we are all bonded by our desire to become parents and shower a child with our love. What I learned on my journey through IVF, adoption, and surrogacy is the importance of pausing to reevaluate your path, asking yourself the tough questions, and taking care of your mental, emotional and physical well-being. This brief pause in your journey affords you a moment of clarity necessary to be true to yourself and the opportunity to pivot in a new direction if necessary.
One of the biggest takeaways from my story is that families are created in different ways; however you end up becoming a parent is special in its own right. Your value and worth as a person is not tainted by any previous failures or how you welcomed a child into your life. You are a warrior from the moment you started trying. So, no matter how you end up building your family, it will be magnificent because you will have created it out of love.
Josephine Atluri is an expert in meditation and helping others overcome adversity to find joy. Through her unique journey to becoming a mom of five, Josephine weathered many ups and downs including miscarriages, IVF, international adoption, and surrogacy. Channeling her experience to find calm and courage and to focus on perseverance, she now helps others navigate life’s curveballs, through online meditation training, fertility and parenting mindfulness workshops, and her “Responding to Life” podcast. Josephine’s expertise has been featured in the LA Times, Woman’s Day, Prevention magazine and she is a regular content contributor for Motherly and Red Tricycle. She offers free meditation videos on her site www.jatluri.com, and you can follow her on Instagram @josephineatluri for additional inspiration.