Valley Journal Advertiser - 2021-07-20


More than one way to create a family



Shelley Fleckenstein is goaldriven. When she sets her mind to something, whether through studying or hard work, she gets it done. It's probably one of the reasons she was recognized as a top 50 chief executive officers in Atlantic Canada by the Atlantic Business Magazine for four years in a row for her role with the Kings Physiotherapy Clinic. Despite these accomplishments, there was one goal Shelley could not achieve: having her own, natural-born child. “I was angry. I felt like my body failed me,” said the Wolfville woman. Shelley's fertility journey began in 1999 when she married her husband. Martin Fleckenstein had four biological children in his first marriage, and although Shelley had been married before, she had never tried to conceive. Nothing suggested there might be any fertility difficulties on her end, and Shelley had a series of tests that all showed she should have no difficulties conceiving, despite the fact she worried because she was 36 years old. Martin, who had had two vasectomies in the past — an unsuccessful one, followed by a successful one — had the procedure reversed. Despite being a viable surgery, a reversal proves less successful the longer you wait, and he had already passed the five-year mark, she says. Because of Martin's lower sperm counts, Shelley says they started on the fertility treatment journey, with her taking oral medication, followed by more assistive procedures, like having four intrauterine inseminations (IUIs). When that failed, they began working towards invitro fertilization (IVF), which consisted of what she describes as "intrusive and expensive treatments." After two attempts, this too failed. By this point, Shelley's hormones were out of whack, which led to further medical challenges, including rapidlygrowing uterine fibroids. “It was an isolating, frantic, and all-consuming time,” says Shelley, who was also running a business, had four stepchildren, and was planning countless baby showers for her staff members. Comments from people, especially those often dubbed “smugly fertile,” were not helpful. “People were insensitive without meaning to be so,” she says. “They just didn't get it. It was such a lonely time.” It was after a second failed IVF that Dr. Gillian Graves in Halifax suggested Shelley seriously consider a different road and contemplate actively pursuing adoption. “It was some of the best advice that I ever received. It helped me to lay down my all-consuming obsession with procreation in the conventional manner, and we embraced the idea of adoption,” says Shelley. This was when she says a lightbulb went on, and Shelley realized there was more than one way to create a family. “It was liberating,” she says. “I felt hope. No longer would it be if I were a mother, but when. This became an achievable goal." BRINGING HOME BABY Shelley was still met with negative comments. People told her it would never work out, or that the process would take 10 years. In the spring of 2001, the Fleckensteins began a letter campaign to local doctors, explaining their fertility journey and their quest to adopt a baby. A few months later, they received a phone call about a potential baby; however, they soon realized there was more to the process. For starters, they needed to complete a home study with a social worker, a process that at the time took three months. They hired a consultant to guide them through it. The home study was a rigorous and probing exercise, which left her feeling exhausted and further victimized, although she understood the necessity. While completing the home study, word came through that a local 16-year-old girl was looking to have her soonto-be-born baby adopted. The Fleckensteins met her, explained their story, asked a lot of questions, and formed a relationship. “I remember looking at her belly, thinking, 'my baby is in there,'” says Shelley. The result was what was then called a 'specified person adoption,' facilitated by the Department of Community Services, where the birth mother selects who she wants to have adopt her baby. The baby doesn't go into the 'adoption pool,' says Shelley. With the home study completed in the nick of time, baby Ben was born in November, and all arrangements were put in place. At this time, following the birth of the baby, there was a 17-day window where the baby resided with a pre-approved family of the adoptive parents' choosing. This allowed for the birth mother to change her mind. Shelley remembers being on pins and needles, worried sick, especially when she received a call that the birth mother and grandmother wanted to visit the baby. In the end, Shelley says it turned into a wonderful visit, where the birth mother wanted to see he was thriving, and to give her best wishes. Over the years, baby Ben's birth mother has been involved in his life, attended special events, and dropped off birthday and Christmas gifts. “She doesn't meddle or interfere in his life,” explains Shelley. “But, she's always interested. It's a beautiful, respectful relationship.” At the time, the home study expired after two years, so the Fleckensteins quickly made it known they were looking to adopt a brother or sister for Ben. Someone in the community put them in touch with a woman in her 30s who had decided she would not be able to care for her soon-to-be-born baby, and in March 2003, the Fleckensteins brought baby Clare home. CHANGING OPINIONS Before adopting their children, Fleckenstein says she felt like a failure. She worried that if she did adopt a child everyone would know and it would be obvious she wasn't able to have a child of her own. When she held her babies, however, all those feelings dissipated. She says she couldn't imagine loving them more than if she had birthed them herself. It made her realize that everyone's path to having a family is different and she was just as much a mother as anyone else. “We are living examples that there are other ways to become parents,” she says. “I promise that you will love your precious adopted child every bit as much as you could have loved a biologic one.” These days, she says, people are often surprised to hear her children were adopted. “You, too, will forget that everyone doesn't get their children this way, and you'll be thankful every day for the rest of your life, no matter what challenges you face,” she says. Her children have always known from the beginning OFFERING ADVICE Based on her experience, she offers some advice to others who are considering adoption. First, do your research at all stages of the process. Know what you need to do to become an adoptive parent, including how to get a home study completed. Then, when you meet the birth mother, if doing a specified person adoption, ask a lot of questions about their personal medical histories, including drug addictions and mental health, and find ways to corroborate that information. "Get all the facts and know the back story," she says. "You need to go in with your eyes opened with what could be the effects of drug or alcohol pregnancies." Don't let the timeline thwart you, she adds. She was told the process could take 10 years, but for her, 20 years ago, it only took three months. “These days, many say it can take seven to eight years, but it might be faster,” she says. Consider pursuing the adoption route while you are undergoing fertility treatments, says Shelley. You have more irons in the fire, giving you even greater chances for successfully having a family. Plus, she says, it would help to ease the stress of the fertility process, and you know you are doing all you can. Finally, Shelley says to encourage pregnant women who are not ready to be a parent to consider the adoption route. This is something she feels strongly about, and has travelled worldwide giving continuing medical education workshops, encouraging those in the medical field to consider advocating all options to those with unexpected pregnancies — not only abortion or keeping the baby. Adoption should be promoted as a viable option. As Ben Fleckenstein says, choose adoption, because that way someone else can enjoy that child. “I've gone through something difficult, and I want to share my story in hopes that it helps others learn,” says Shelley. “If I can help one baby be adopted, I've achieved a worthwhile goal.”


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