A few months after they married in 1989, then 29-year-old Nancy Ferrari and her husband Greg Gallagher, then 27, tried to start a family. Seven years of grueling treatments for unexplained infertility followed: Clomid, two IUIs, four IVF cycles, two GIFT (gamete intrafallopian transfer) cycles, four miscarriages.
Exhausted, the couple took a seven-year break from treatment. Then in 2005, when she was 45, Nancy discovered she was pregnant again. But at seven weeks she miscarried for the fifth time.
“There was something about being pregnant that was so critically important to me. And for me personally to adopt meant saying, ‘I’m not going to be pregnant,’” recalls Nancy, now 49, managing editor of Harvard Health Publications at Harvard Medical School. “That’s one of the reasons it took me so long to kind of be okay with it. Adopting requires that you embrace loss.”
In 2006, Nancy and Greg flew to Ohio for the birth of their son-to-be. But at the last moment the birth parents changed their mind while Nancy and Greg waited outside the delivery room. Distraught and empty-handed, the couple returned to their home in Newton, Massachusetts.
Three weeks later the agency called to tell them the birth parents had changed their minds again, so the next morning the couple flew back to Ohio. The sleeping baby (Christopher, now 2 years old) nestled in her arms, Nancy finally felt at peace, 16 years after first trying to start a family.
A year later, in 2007, baby Carys, now 18 months, joined the family, followed by baby Caitlyn, now six months old, in 2008. “I never want my kids to feel like they were consolation prizes. They are the best thing that ever happened to us,” Nancy says.
Even though all three were domestic adoptions, they were pricey, ranging from $19,000 to $25,000, excluding travel. That’s where Harvard University comes in. Part of the Ivy League university’s family-friendly benefits is a $5,000 grant toward each adoption, and paid leave that ranges from one week to one semester, depending on length of service and employment status.
The university added adoption benefits in 1997, but it wasn’t until 2006 that faculty members who adopted received the same benefits as faculty members who had biological children (different benefits apply to non-faculty staff). One of the people who helped effect the change was Nancy Costikyan, director of Harvard’s Office of Work/Life. It’s her job to ensure that staff and faculty can thrive professionally while juggling family and home life.
“Bonding is not a magic thing that happens the minute the baby pops out. Bonding is a complicated process that can take a long time,” explains Costikyan. The 53-year-old mother of 13-year-old IVF twins knows what she’s talking about.