Becoming a mother is one of the most special roles we can achieve, but most of us take the process for granted. For Kankakee native and Herscher High School graduate Kalee Dionne, it wasn’t such an easy process or task.
As the petite NBC-5 TV meteorologist pushed her pram, cradling her adorable and sound asleep 3-month-old baby girl, Mila, into a bustling Chicago coffee shop, Kalee, an “open book” as she described herself, talked with me about her long journey to achieve the title of Mom.
Infertility isn’t a new topic, but it is one that isn’t openly talked about. Dionne, who now has a vlog and a blog about she and husband Jonathan’s adoption experience, hopes to provide a community where others can share their experiences and learn from one another. It’s her hope this will help others understand how to not only navigate the adoption process but also to feel less isolated.
As little Mila slept quietly in her stroller, the energetic and engaging young mother openly shared her entire life story, filled with humor, love and a few tears. After talking about her family who still live in the Kankakee area, Kalee took me through her educational background beginning at Lincoln College then on to Southern Illinois University in Carbondale and Mississippi State University, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in broadcast meteorology.
To say she was passionate about weather would be an understatement, and now, working as the weekend mornings and 11 a.m. weekday meteorologist, she said, “Chicago is my end all and be all.”
Dionne, 32, has been on maternity leave and returns to NBC-5 on March 18. And now, there’s a forecast of clear skies ahead for her as she balances motherhood and meteorology.
Pamela Powell (PP): When did you first realize you had issues with infertility?
Kalee Dionne (KD): I just had this weird gut feeling. I told my husband [not] long after we got married, I want to start trying to have a baby because it doesn’t come easy to everybody, and I don’t know why I said that. I went to the doctor, got all these tests done ... no problems ... but she was like, “If you don’t want to waste any more time, then go to a fertility specialist.”
So, we just went, and they said it was a good thing you got here because you’re in early menopause. This was when I just turned 28. I did find out later [my mother] had early menopause as well. [My husband said,] “Wait. All this money, and you want to do all these tests, and we’ve only been trying for 6 months?”
And I said, “Well, here are the details. I don’t have much to work with here, and the stuff I do have to work with is old and hard and not good,” and he said, “OK.”
PP: So, you went on to try IVF (in vitro fertilization) a couple of times?
KD: IUI (intrauterine insemination). It’s a step before you do IVF. People with what we call diminished ovarian reserve, which is technically what I have, they don’t really think IVF is necessarily the thing to do. So, they said, “Let’s try IUI first,” which is [inserting] the sperm into the uterus right off the bat.
We did that twice. It didn’t take either time. So, they said we could try IVF, but I’m not a strong candidate for it. And I said, “Well, let’s just try it.” When you do IVF, they want to pump you with a ton of drugs and to produce as many eggs at one time as possible. Most people can get about 18 to 20; I got 5. No drug is miraculously going to give me things I don’t have.
PP: That must have been difficult on your relationship.
KD: You feel it’s unfair. You feel like you fail. You feel like you’re not giving your husband what you need, and it puts a strain because they never can understand. He was really the best person to go through it with me because he let me grieve, but he never really could understand, so we would fight constantly.
It was a very trying time because all you ever want is to have your own baby and go through a pregnancy and at that time, my age group, my whole entire friends group, was having babies. It was like, why? Why is this happening to me?
You never really know the answer until this. I mean I look at her (Mila), and it’s like, “You were supposed to be my baby.” I look down at her, and God had this plan all along. I always have a plan. Even my husband was a part of the plan. And when you have a plan, and it doesn’t go the way you want it, it was definitely very hard.
After two attempts with IUI and another with IVF that failed, Kalee and Jonathan took a break and as she said, “It was the year of Kalee where I got to do whatever I wanted all the time.”
She traveled around the world and treated herself, giving her body a little time to recuperate, but then her doctor informed her she would not attempt IVF with Kalee’s eggs; she needed a donor. For her, this was not the right decision. And then, two years later, Kalee tried another round of IVF that failed.
PP: Is that when you decided on adoption?
KD: I told my husband, “If this doesn’t take, I want to adopt. I don’t want to do this again.” He said, “OK.” The next day, I was on the phone with the adoption agency. It wasn’t the best time. I was calling, crying the whole time because I wasn’t emotionally ready for that yet.
PP: When you first considered the adoption route, did you consider older children?
KD: In Kansas City when I worked there, there was a guy I worked with, and he and his wife are saints. They were doing the foster program. I hate to say I’m a weak person to the point where I wouldn’t be able to do that, but I wouldn’t be able to do that.
The end goal is to get them back with their family, [and] that takes a very strong human being and very great people. I know what I can handle emotionally, and I can’t handle that. So, I knew fostering wasn’t something I would do. We just wanted to start from the beginning and have an infant.
Most adoption agencies now are open; it’s an open adoption. Immediately, I’m like (gasp)! It’s not the same as fostering, but you still have to have that relationship with the birth family. We were both like, “Uh-uh. We don’t want to do that.”
But we listened. We kept talking to them about it. We did our research. We took classes. You have to take classes to adopt. They’ve (agencies) learned so much during the years it’s better for the child. The birth mom is making a sacrifice.
I can’t imagine giving up my child. But she did it for the benefit of her, and I forever will be grateful. They (the children) need to know that. They don’t need to be made to feel like it’s a secret, a bad secret. They’re loved by a whole bunch of people, and they should know their story is different from the beginning.
And we were like, “Yes, what a special thing to be a part of.” And so we ended up being completely and more than OK with the open adoption part.
PP: How did you decide on one particular adoption agency?
KD: We were living in Chicago, and we had a lasagna dinner at a friend’s house. These people came in and cooked lasagna for us. The people making it also own this adoption agency. When the moment came, that’s the first person I thought of. They’re only in Illinois.
A lot of adoption agencies, you can go all over the country or the world. I chose them based off meeting Joanne and knowing I loved what they had.
They’re going to take care of you. When you go into a hospital, you want to have a supportive social worker. You want to have someone who’s going to be your advocate. You’re going to feel as though you have no say because you’re getting this gift from someone who you never could repay, so you better stop, you better step back and not be involved at all, [but you do have a say].
Then, you have the birth mother who gets their own social worker, not yours, their own who helps them through this entire process. They counsel them for many, many months before they even give books to them to pick adoptive families.
They’re in a mentally different place than someone who didn’t have that social worker, and not all adoption agencies have that. St. Mary’s did. I chose St. Mary’s because I felt as though the birth mother was taken care of as well as we were taken care of, and that’s a healthier start to a relationship than maybe another way.
PP: Were you at all apprehensive during this time?
KD: We didn’t have a lot of time. We were picked by this birth mom. Three weeks later, Mila was born, and we were called. We hadn’t even met [the birth mother] yet. She was nervous. We were nervous.
We got the phone call the day she was born and that the birth mom wanted to meet us, and she wanted us to come to the hospital. So, I felt like that’s good. We had a great time with the birth mom.
When they’re in the hospital, it’s an emotional time, but we did have a great conversation. We spent three or four hours with her. We didn’t get to meet Mila, [and] the next day we came back and spent more time with [the birth mom]. She came with us to meet Mila for the first time, which was a very emotional experience. Very, very emotional.
She held her and handed her off to us, and that was very special. She cried. We cried. It was a time I never will forget in a good way and a bad way. I’m glad I got that moment, but at the same time, that was a really hard moment because you’re not really sure what [the birth mom is] going to do. She still is holding her, still crying, still going through that this is the right move. You go home, and my stomach was in knots for days.
(By Illinois law, the birth mother cannot sign over the rights to the child for 72 hours.)
On the day she could, she did sign the papers. She did not want to see us that day, but I do know she did go and say goodbye to Mila. It was such a relief, and it was crazy at the same time to think [that] this little human is now ours.
PP: How will your relationship with the birth mom work?
KD: We didn’t have any contact with her until about two weeks ago, and she reached out and said she was ready to meet. (Chuckling) I had forgotten I hadn’t given birth to her because you’re up every two hours; she’s with you every day.
We set up the time. I was really nervous. She was very nervous. The moment she walked in, she had a smile because she saw Mila. Well, that’s what we’re here for, and I’m hoping we can build a relationship. It’s not co-parenting, and that’s the thing people need to know.
Open adoption is not co-parenting. She has no say in anything we do. She asked if Marie could be her middle name, and so we added it to be a part of her middle name. When she does meet her in the future, what are we going to call her? We’re going to have these conversations with her, and we’re going to come up with that together.
PP: Tell me more about your vlog-blog, License to Parent:
KD: People don’t talk about infertility. They don’t talk about adoption. They just don’t. I would like it to be a place where people can come and read that someone has gone through something [similar].
I want Jonathan to be involved because, as a guy’s perspective, I want him to talk honestly about where his head was at. I want to bring [adoption] down to where it’s easier to understand. I only am going off what I know, but that’s why I want to do it. I want it to be a community.
I’m going to have other people who have adopted [participate]. I’m going to have someone who’s been adopted, maybe a birth mom who’s comfortable with talking. I want it to be a place where people can go and get information that’s easy to understand.
I hope this blog blossoms into something where we can grow this to be better, to be a great community to also make people feel as though they aren’t isolated. There’s no reason to be isolated. This is amazing — it’s a gift.