Adoptive mother: “You know how it is”

My husband and I were talking to a waitress the other day in an airport who noticed we had a young toddler with us. We were making small talk when she mentioned to my husband and I that she was pregnant and due with a boy in just a few weeks. She mentioned that she was so tired, due to her pregnancy, and made a comment directed at me, “Well, you know how it is.” I didn’t reply to her comment but rather nodded politely as if I completely understood. Two years ago, before adopting our son, that small, innocent comment would have sent me reeling and I likely would have ended up in the fetal position on my bed crying my eyes out because no, I really don’t “know how that is” being deemed infertile after trying unsuccessfully for years to get pregnant. But miraculously the comment this time didn’t even phase me. In fact, I remember thinking at the time how much things have changed and how funny it is that that things aren’t always as they appear in life.

When I first brought our son home after adopting him from birth, I would tell everyone around me that he was adopted. It just seemed dishonest of me to let people assume incorrectly that the baby came from my genes after they had made a comment about him such as how cute he was. I was way too honest of a person to let the innocent comments like that pass. However, as time goes on I find myself letting more and more of those innocent comments go. It’s not that I’m trying to hide the fact that he is adopted or that I don’t think about their comments every time I hear them – because I do – believe me I do. It’s just easier now to nod my head and agree with people’s comments and leave it at that.

A couple years ago, I remembering hearing that adopting a child does not take away the pain of not being able to have your own biological child but it does however lessen the pain. I was very glad I heard that statement before adopting my son because I found it to be very true. Adoption does however allow you to be a parent anyway despite being infertile.

Since adopting my son, I have had tinges of pain brought on by innocent comments from people, however, I find these days that the pain passes much faster and doesn’t hurt as deeply. It only takes looking at my healthy, beautiful, adopted son to help put things in perspective.  Having a biological child is not everything, and I truly believe that raising an adopted child can be every bit as rewarding as raising your own biological child.

Looking at the woman in the airport made me wonder about her situation. I had no idea what kind of home life her unborn child was about to be born into. Possibly it was a good situation but I suspected it may not have been an ideal situation or she may not have been working an early shift as a waitress in a Texas airport at that stage in her pregnancy. Either way, it proves the point that you don’t always know how it is for another person. What appears one way on the outside is not always what you think it is.

Birthmother: Chance

By Birthmother – It’s not often that you have a clear opportunity to do something GOOD.  By GOOD I mean life-affirming, joy-inducing, compassionate, and challenging. When I got pregnant for the first time, unexpectedly, I realized that I had been given such an opportunity.

I wasn’t ready to be a parent.  I had NEVER wanted to be anyone’s parent.  And certainly no one wants to become a parent when they aren’t financially ready to take care of another person.  My husband felt the same way.  So we could have been overwhelmed by the obligation that had just landed in front of us.  Instead, we recognized how many men and women were waiting out there, filled with hope that they could bring life into the world.  We recognized that our baby could be meant for one of these hopeful couples.  What seemed like a fluke occurrence could be a match made in heaven.

A friend of mine once told me his feelings about choosing to be a parent.  He said that becoming a parent is a bold statement of your true feelings about life.  When you have a child, he said, you are telling the world that you LOVE life, you love life enough to share it with another human being.  You have enough hope or optimism to willingly bring an innocent new person into this uncertain world.

I can’t say that I’ve ever felt so strongly positive about life.  Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I’ve never wanted to be a parent!  But once a life is growing inside you, you may find that your feelings about life are changed, or that they grow more strongly in one direction or the other.  I remember sitting in bed on the day the doctor confirmed I was pregnant, taking in the reality of it.  I was 25 years old and newly married.  I had JUST finished college with a Master’s degree.  I had not planned to be pregnant.  In fact, I had taken birth control pills every single morning since the age of 18.  Pregnancy was the furthest thing from my mind.  By the time I found out I was pregnant I was already MANY weeks along.  I hadn’t behaved like a pregnant woman in those weeks.  The winter Holidays had just finished, complete with drinking and smoking.  But the doctor had done an ultrasound right away –  he confirmed the baby was healthy, with a strong heartbeat.

So as I sat there in bed, the STRENGTH of the life inside me impressed me more than I can explain.  How could this tiny bunch of cells be so tenacious as to survive the first trimester of life without any help from me?  “Wait,” I thought, “This bunch of cells IS receiving help from me!  I may not be expending conscious effort, but my proteins and my fluids are sustaining this life. My body has been growing this baby!”

I suddenly felt how much effort my body was expending without my knowledge.  A great process of life had started into motion without me knowing.

And you know what they say: A body in motion tends to stay in motion.  If I had closed my eyes and pretended that I wasn’t pregnant, if I had gone on with life as though nothing had happened, the process would have remained in motion anyway.   Once those little cells come together and start multiplying, BAM!  The pattern had begun and hose cells were going to KEEP multiplying unless something stopped them.   My body was in the midst of a natural state of development, following it’s own basic design for sustaining an embryo.  Life is programmed, genetically, to persist.  Sometimes our life systems malfunction, sometimes fatally, but the overall pattern is to SURVIVE.  When the system is working properly it takes incredible force and difficulty to stop it.

And so I chose not to stand in the way of what my body was doing.  I chose to let those cells grow.  I chose to let my baby find the hopeful, compassionate couple who would could give it all the love it would ever need.  My situation wasn’t perfect, but I refused to believe that nothing good could come out of it.

I definitely had fears about what would happen next.  Would the biological father support me through the adoption process?  What would our parents say?  What would our friends and family say?  What if the pregnancy was hard, or if the delivery was painful?  What if the child hated me for giving it up?

All I can say is this: Life isn’t perfect.  And no matter what you do, your child’s life will not be perfect.  The reality is that you will be questioned and judged no matter what decision you make about a pregnancy.  Someone will always be there to doubt you or tell you you did the wrong thing.  And you will face difficulty and trials no matter which way you turn.

But does that mean you should give up?  Does that mean life isn’t worth sharing?  I’m not going to answer that question for you.  But I can assure you of this: There will be people there to support you no matter what you choose, there WILL be people who understand what you’ve gone through.  For each reason you find to doubt yourself, you can find an equally good reason to appreciate the choice you make.  Once the clouds clear the sun will shine in and you will see the beauty of life again.

Adoptive mother: Questions about open adoption

I often get questions from people about our open adoption. Questions are usually those based on fear. For example: “Aren’t you afraid that the birthmother will want him back?”, “Aren’t you afraid that your son will be confused about who his ‘real’ mother is if spends time with his birthmother?”, and “Aren’t you afraid she will step in someday and try to parent him?” These questions come from various sources, even people who have adopted themselves but have not gone through an open adoption. I’m used to these sorts of questions and I understand people’s concerns as I too asked similar questions when my husband and I pursued our own adoption. However, having recently gone through an open adoption and being in regular contact with my son’s birthmother I can honestly say “No, I’m not afraid of any of those things.” Letting fear get in the way of things is not what a successful open adoption is all about.

Open adoption means opening up to the birth family in whatever way all involved feel comfortable. When I first heard about what an open adoption was about, I admit, I was terrified and did not want to open up my life to a stranger. Luckily my husband and I worked with an agency in our area who took the time to educate us on the benefits of an open adoption verses a closed adoption and in our training sessions with them we realized being open was a very good thing for everyone in the long run. By the time we were officially on the list to adopt a child our minds had transformed so much that both my husband and I commented that if we didn’t have a chance to be involved in some way with the birthparents then we weren’t sure we’d want to adopt that particular child.

Perhaps because I’ve been immersed in the adoption world for a fews years now I forget that not everyone knows what I do about adoption and questions that I get from other people still catch me off guard at times. Two months ago, a hairdresser who was cutting my 1 1/2 year old son’s hair found out he was adopted and asked me, “Why didn’t his birthparents love him?” This particular question was so astounding to me because it was clear how terribly misunderstood adoption is. Why didn’t they love him? Are you kidding me? His birthparents have nothing BUT love for him. Clearly this person just really didn’t get the sole essence of open adoption which is in a nutshell, immense love. I assure you, a birthmother that didn’t love her child would never in a million years go through the painful process of birthing her child; find suitable adoptive parents to raise her child; and then give her child to them – only to have her choice be misunderstood by society later on.

My son’s birthparents put faith in us to raise their child when we could not have a child of our own. They gave us the biggest gift anyone could ever give another person – a family. How could we as adoptive parents be fearful of the very people who gave us this gift and put such huge faith and trust in us? To deny them the simple pleasure of seeing how their child is doing over the years to me is clearly not an option.

In adoption the adoptive parents are often viewed as saviors. What many people don’t realize is the adoptive parents don’t view it that way at all. In fact, in my husband’s and my case we view the birthparents as being the saviors. If it weren’t for them I shudder to think about where I’d be right now. But I do like how our son’s birthmother put it in one of her emails to me: “We, all 4 of us, saved our son. And maybe our son is saving all of us in return. Maybe we are all saving each other.” So true. Our little boy has saved me. If I died tomorrow he would have saved me from the deepest, darkest despair. It’s amazing to think that one person, even a little baby, can make such as huge difference in this world simply by being. Perhaps that is the greatest lesson a birth of a child can teach us, that simply by “being” each and every one of us is making a difference in this world.

Birthmother: Answering questions

By Birthmother – I was at a typical getting-to-know you gathering on a Friday night, casually making new acquaintances, when I met a particularly loud-mouthed woman.  She had a knack for saying the wrong things and asking the wrong questions.  For instance, she asked me if I had children.

This question is always hard for me to answer.  Yes, I’ve HAD children, but I don’t HAVE them.

When a doctor or medical professional asks this question, I immediately say, “Yes.”  They may need to know that my body has gone through the physical process of bearing children.  When a casual acquaintance asks, however, they’re usually trying to fill space in a conversation… they’re not likely to want to get into that conversation.

So what do I do?  Even 5 years after the adoption of my daughter, I still find myself choked up and grasping for words when confronted with this very simple question.  If I say, “No, I don’t have children,” I feel like I’m denying the existence of two amazing children.  I think of these children every day!  Their pictures are on my fridge!  How can I deny them?  And how can I resist the urge to mention how amazing they are?  But if I say, “Yes,” I have a lot of explaining to do.

I decided to open my silly mouth and tell this nosy woman the truth; I’ve given birth to two children, but gave them both up for adoption.

The woman sat there silently, staring at me as though I had admitted to something horrific.  She made a point of extending her open-mouthed silence as long as she could, widening her eyes at me, to make sure that her shock was evident.

I should point out that in 5 years of being a biomom this was the FIRST person to openly disapprove of what I’d done.  I was at least as shocked as she was, but I attempted to move on with the conversation politely.  I explained that the adoptions are open, allowing me to watch the children grow and see how loved they are.

She asked me, “How old were you at the time?”  I said that the youngest child had been born less than 2 years ago.  I was 29 years old.  I was not young.  Her shock continued.

She asked me, “Were they [the children] disfigured or disabled in some way?” at which point I may have looked at her as though she were horrific.  Why would the health of my children be relevant?  Would it have been more OK for me to walk away from my children if they were in medical trouble?  I said none of this aloud.  I explained that both children are healthy and beautiful and wonderful, perfect in every way.  Her shock continued.

Finally, she looked away from me.  She said, “I will not judge you.  I will not judge,” in the tone of someone who, clearly, was judging me very harshly.  I laughed out loud and mumbled something like, “I would hope not, you don’t even know me!”  Then I turned the conversation to other topics and we went on with our evening.

My friends rush to my defense when I tell this story.  For instance, they call this woman “narrow-minded and dumb,” saying that her own ignorance caused her to behave the way she did. They express shock and anger that anyone would think badly of me for choosing adoption. They remind me how strong I am, how wonderful it is that I gave the gift of parenthood to two childless couples.

But I can’t shrug off this woman’s questions as easily as my friends can.  Because every woman who chooses adoption for her child has to be familiar with this question, “Why?  Why did you do it?”

Even if I get remarkably lucky and no one ever asks me this question out loud again, I have no doubt that I will ask it of myself every single time I see or think about my children.  And someday my children will ask me this same question.  I’m going to have to answer.  Every biomom will be held accountable for her own answer.

I can try to explain about being scared of parenthood, not having a maternal instinct, not wanting to bring a child into a marriage that was not ready for it.  Those are my personal reasons, though they might not make sense to anyone else.

But when I see my children in the arms of their adoptive parents, when I see how loved they are, this seems like all the answer I could ever need.  Adoptive parents devote uncountable resources to seeking a child.  You can’t miss it when you’re looking at their adoptive parent profiles; they are so ready and willing to give everything they have just for the chance to give their love to a child.  How rare and wonderful for a child to be so completely wanted and prepared for!

So whatever my reasons, I know that by choosing adoption I have achieved something profoundly good.  My choice created a family where before there was only a dream of family.  I made someone’s dream come true and I gave my child a loving home.  There is nothing better I can say.

Adoptive mother: Being on the other side

This past Saturday my husband and I spoke at an adoption informational meeting that is required for any person wanting to adopt from the agency we went through. I very much remember being at that same meeting myself 3 years ago and hearing other couples talk to us about their adoption experiences. How nice it is now to be on the other side of things.

Adoption is not an easy road for most people. It was helpful for me as we started our journey to hear other couples’ stories about their road to adoption. Even though the reality of adoption was hard to hear, it was nice to go into our adoption wait with eyes wide open. I hope our story that we shared on Saturday was helpful for the 16 people we talked to.

Our journey to becoming parents took us 4 years. We started off our journey getting pregnant in a short amount of time, only to end in an early miscarriage. What we thought was good news (the fact that we could get pregnant fairly easily) turned out to be the beginning of a very long road of frustration of failed attempts to have a family which included: post-pardom depression from a miscarriage; a couple years of disappointment as we tried and failed again and again to get/stay pregnant; 4 intensive months of failed fertility treatments; and finally taking the steps to get ourselves onto an adoption waiting list.

Once on a list for adoption our wait was 2 years. It was difficult to wait and not know when or if our wait would ever end. There were a handful of potential matches that came to us over those 2 years – one or two serious potentials and others that fell through the cracks. All of these possibilities required sole searching and brought up emotions in us that sometimes I didn’t know I was capable of feeling. (For instance sheer rage at one instance after hearing about a birthmom that was using illegal drugs in the hospital right before the delivery of her baby.) The longer the wait was the more we seriously began to consider living our lives child free.

In the end we did get our baby and now that the wait is over I can honestly say it was worth the wait. We have a precious child who I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. We appreciate every moment with him so much – more than we ever would if our road to parenthood had been easier. We’ve learned early on not to take our “gift” for granted.

My husband, Scott, summed it up best to the group on Saturday when he said, “Basically…it really, really sucked for a long time. Then it was great.”

Adoptive mother: Infertility is more than a medical issue

Infertility: A misunderstood, devastating, heart-wrenching, seemingly never-ending, giant pothole in the road of life. When finally resolved (which someday it will be) you can look back at this time and see that it was indeed a blimp in your road of life. The pothole never goes away, however, you move farther from it and can move on in your life – however you’ve chosen to do so.

We are now in the midst of National Infertility Awareness Week, a week that the majority of the population doesn’t even know exists but for those like myself that suffer with infertility, it’s a week that is very much appreciated., a major advocate of infertility awareness, has chosen a theme for this year’s National Infertility Awareness Week: “Don’t Ignore Infertility.” I personally think this theme is brilliant.

People do not realize how being infertile can have such a huge impact on a person or couple’s life(ves) and how the seriousness of infertility is often overlooked. Many aspects of a person life is affected by infertility. Friend and family relationships are often strained as a result of different viewpoints on infertility and there are misunderstandings on how impacting infertility can be on someone’s life. Many fertile people view infertility as no big deal (you can always adopt or do fertility treatments right?), when in actuality it is a huge deal and costly to adopt and not a sure thing; and fertility treatments may not be the right choice or an option for everyone not to mention the high price tag. People often don’t talk openly about infertility issues since it is somewhat of a private matter in people’s lives. This results in individuals suffering silently and insurance companies not viewing infertility coverages as valid medical issues.

We live in a very family-oriented society. If you don’t know what I mean, take a look around you. Everywhere you look people and companies support family and children. When someone is infertile and can’t have a family – or if someone chooses to not have a family – then they are left out of mainstream. They are in a minority group that most people don’t understand. Being infertile put me in that minority when I didn’t want to be there. Since I was not able to have a family on my own, my husband and I looked at all of our options: fertility treatments, adoption, surrogacy, and living child free. Living child free for me was a choice I did not like because I felt that I would be missing out on so much that life had to offer. In the end, my husband and I chose to pursue an adoption and we were lucky enough to be picked by birthparents to parent their child. Had I not been chosen to be the adoptive parent to my son, I might very likely be living child free today in a very family-oriented world.

I’m not saying that people couldn’t be happy childless. They can and they do. I’m just saying that being infertile when you want to have a family makes having infertility much more than just the medical issue of being “infertile.” It represents disappointment, lost dreams, ongoing pain, lost friendships, strained relationships, low self esteem, and unfairness that continues on and on and on and on – until somehow, over time, you come to a resolution. The best description I’ve ever heard about infertility is “living without” because you do go without many of the things that other people with children experience.

So in honor of National Infertility Awareness Week I am writing this blog in hopes to educate people a little bit about infertility and why it is something that should be taken seriously.