Broken Hallelujah: A Story of Infertility, Failed Adoption, and Perfect Hope
You know that friend you have, who is fairly unassuming, undeniably sweet and has an incredible outlook on life…but doesn’t even know it. Yep, for me, that’s Shauna. When I emailed her about being one of the first subjects of the #heysunshinemovement she text me almost instantaneously and said, “I’m flattered but anxious, this is REALLY out of my comfort zone.” Of course it was. Because humble resides in this lovely region where someone so authentically lives their story they don’t even realize its breadth.
Yep, that’s Shauna.
This girl is all quiet conviction and calculated risks swathed in sassy style. She and her husband, Josh, own a successful hair salon just north of San Diego. And, perhaps most importantly, she’s someone who does a mean garage karaoke to Bon Jovi’s Wanted Dead or Alive. Yet you wouldn’t know most of these things when meeting her.
Or, at least, I didn’t.
What I did know though, almost immediately, is that hers is a story worth telling. Her soul is one crafted for exposing. When we sat down outside a coffee shop a couple of weeks ago to chat, she still wasn’t convinced she even had a narrative to tell. But I still was. So, I asked her a few leading questions, and then told her to keep right on talking…
Shauna and Josh met when she was just 18 years old. She says she knew immediately that he was the one, even though he didn’t. Men, right? Since they’ve now been married for just shy of 16 years, I’d say I’m pretty spot on with my quiet conviction analysis. Her giant smile radiates as she looks up beneath asymmetrical blonde with him on her mind. They have fun together. They grew up together. Thankfully, despite that, they’ve grown together.
A few years into marriage Shauna and Josh talked about starting a family but ultimately decided to put kids on hold so that Josh could go to helicopter school. One day, while practicing auto-rotations, Josh’s instructor lost control of their helicopter and they crashed. Shauna got the call while she was at work. The call telling her that the ground she was standing on and the husband that held her up had collided. She raced to the hospital while the accident played on the local news. After anguishing hours, it was clear that he needed some work, but, thankfully, Josh was going to be okay. His helicopter school, on the other hand, was not. The school unexpectedly filed for bankruptcy. A rebuilt elbow and a rebuilt career trajectory later, Shauna and Josh got to ask themselves the question that fills all couples with equal parts fear and excitement (ok, maybe a little heavier on the fear), “Now what?”
After a lot of conversation, they revisited their initial dream. Children. And while vacationing with friends, they privately celebrated the “launch” of their family. They were both beyond excited about the decision. It seemed they had already weathered their storm and, like most couples, audaciously assumed kids would come now that they deemed the timing appropriate. In addition, they decided to be intentional in their professional lives as well. They poured creativity, patience, and a whole lot of work ethic into opening a business. Shauna, an already successful stylist, and Josh, entrepreneurial in his own right, partnered to build Salon Sultry. Which, I promise, is exactly as decadent as it sounds. It was a great distraction. But, while things were happening as planned with the salon, their blueprint for family life wasn’t following suit.
We don’t go into the details too much as we talk about the next phase. About the trying. Because hurt like that never really goes away. Because she knows I can get it. Because I see it play out plainly on her face and my questions don’t require her vocabulary. The everlastingly long, liquid years. The books. The charts. The temperatures. The damn temperatures. The scheduled disappointments. The painfully perfected happy displayed for friends experiencing the miracle you desperately desire. The feeling that your body failed. The crushing of something magical, crafted into a chore.
We talk lingo enough to know that Shauna was prescribed a popular ovulation stimulant at some point during these years. Which she portrayed as “a bomb” dropping on her mind and body. She felt physically awful and, as an exciting bonus, crazy. So when doctors brought up further trials and options for becoming pregnant years in, the clear “no” was already decided.
So, again, “Now what?” Feeling physically defective, betrayed by her wants, and questioning God’s goodness, Shauna was confronted. By Josh. He came to her all fire and ferocity expressing, “What ARE we doing?!” Shauna was taken aback, and angry to say the least. She had interpreted his position wrong, like we women can do from time to time… Thinking Josh meant one thing but eventually realizing that he meant another. And it was what she needed to hear. Was ready to hear.
They decided to pursue adoption.
Shauna and Josh reached out to friends who had recently started their family through adoption and moved forward with the same agency. Eight anxious months after being successfully trained and certified, Shauna and Josh met and were matched with a very young couple who were expecting their first baby, a girl. Soon! Excitedly, and because the timeline demanded it, they prepared a nursery in their home. Bought all the sweet things. Due to the circumstances, Shauna felt convicted that “someone should be excited for this baby”, so they eagerly shared the news with family and friends. But when the time came to meet the parents at the hospital to make a birth plan, the couple didn’t show. The social worker tried calling. Their phones were off. Aggravating, silent days circulated. Until finally, the father called and alerted the agency that his girlfriend was in labor. Shauna and Josh, still uncertain about their actual place in this baby’s life, packed a diaper bag and went out of town to create space while things unfolded beyond their control. Again, finally, a call. The parents would not be placing the baby for adoption. Shauna and Josh were devastated. They had to tell family and friends. But how do you explain a brokenness to others that you can’t describe to yourself? When you know it’s not about you, it never really was, but it hurts like hell just the same.
It’s then that I ask her what she did with the doubt. Because I know it was there, and I need to know where she put it. Despite all they had encountered so far, Shauna says, “I trust that God brought us to this agency for a reason. I see His hand in so much. As hard as it has all been…too many things, too much timing, lined up to think otherwise.” And when she says this, I can tell that she spends a lot of time convincing her heart to believe the words that she speaks. Which, to me, only causes my admiration to grow. Because it’s the mark of a dedicated believer, isn’t it? Knowing that you have to fight to make your depth see, despite what’s in front of your eyes.
Shauna and Josh hoped and persisted.
After four more months of waiting, they were matched again. This time with a couple expecting twins! The baby girls were scheduled for delivery the day after Thanksgiving. The two couples met at the beginning of October and began the bizarre dance us adoptive parents know all too well, and it went smoothly. Everything seemed to be a fit. Until, the next visit was rescheduled by the birth family. And the next. Visits kept being pushed off. Four excruciating weeks later, Shauna and Josh learned that a family member on the father’s side, that the mother had never met, came forward wanting to parent. After that? Silence. Another failed adoption. Shauna and Josh were shattered yet again.
This time, there was no luxury of agonizingly discerning the “Now what?” because it was already there.
Shauna had another seemingly insoluble squall to navigate in the midst of this new layer of heaviness. Her mother was dying. Judee had been diagnosed with colon cancer in September of 2011, with a prognosis of just a year and a half to live. Here it was four and a half years later, and even though she had been graced with time, the finale on this side of heaven came all to quick. For two weeks Shauna was by her side watching as Judee rapidly declined. But they had the opportunity to talk, an indulgence not taken for granted. A topic of conversation much of that sweet time? Shauna’s family. All her mom wanted was to see Shauna and Josh become parents. To experience her daughter becoming a mother. Towards the end of life Judee even asserted, “I’m not going now, Shauna doesn’t have her baby yet.”
It soon became obvious that Shauna had to be the one to release her from that. She crawled in bed with her mom and bravely handed her a gift of the guaranteed, when almost nothing is, “Our child is always going to know you. I don’t understand why it’s happening this way, but we’re going to be okay.” Shauna can’t hold back tears as she tells me, “I will never understand why she wasn’t able to experience that.” But, again, here she was doing the convincing anyway.
We sit here a while and reflect. On it then. On it now.
Shauna’s mom passed in January and Shauna has learned even more about who she really was in a beautiful way, how bold she was in her faith. Shauna and Josh are on the agency list to be matched again, but appreciating their life in the process (they explored Europe on a last-minute-pinch-me adventure just this past week). Our conversation rolls back to the failed adoptions and Shauna shares, “I still haven’t learned how to guard my heart in this process.”
But, I think? That’s the point. This is what makes Shauna, her story, so real to me. Because she doesn’t guard her heart. She goes all in. She loves without abandon, believes with force, and trusts those around her to gently understand the journey.
Still I have to ask her the question that’s brought me there… What is it that gets you up in the morning? Your sunshine? Because I could surely be in the cradle of my purple micro-fiber Costco blanket in the fetal position right about now if I were you (And, I mean that in the best way.). It doesn’t take her but a second before she reflects certainty to me, “My hope is in Christ.” Of course it is. It radiates off of her. “I’m in that season of defining my hope and joy and realizing that it needs to be in Him. Not in my mom, not in my husband, not in a baby. Wanting that has helped me up. He has helped me up.”
I absorb it. That He gives us the strength, that He’s sufficient in our weaknesses. That He is faithful in our affliction. That she knows these truths, is living proof of these truths, and has a weathered heart to proclaim them to me.
So, “Now what?”
But then I laugh, I already have my answer. Because I remember something Shauna rolled into the dialogue when we first started talking. She giggled, “I always tell Josh, as crazy as it was, I’m so thankful you fell out of the sky.”
Now what, indeed.