“You can always adopt.” That’s how they tried to comfort you. If the testing and the treatment didn’t work, you could always adopt.
Yet somehow you knew that your birth control generation peers meant it–but not really. With their carefully planned conceptions, their glowing storybook pregnancies, their perfect childbirth experiences, their bouncing Gerber babies who looked just like their parents, they thought of adoption as second best. Those fertile others who offered the series of platitudes which began with, “Just relax, you’re probably trying too hard,” and months later included, “My college roommate’s second cousin finally got pregnant when they changed their diets, learned to meditate correctly, saw an acupuncturist, and then did it at high noon in Jakarta,” and ultimately culminated with, “Well, you know, I saw on Donahue that there are hundreds of babies abandoned at birth in hospitals in New York City every month. You can always adopt,” wouldn’t have wanted to form their own families by adoption. And somehow, you fear now that if you do adopt, the comments from those same well meaning others will include, “Do you know anything about his real mother?” and “Too bad there are none of your own,” or…
And so began the first book that I read when I began to open my heart to the idea of adoption (Adopting After Infertility by Patricia Irwin Johnston). I grew to really respect Pat and her advice. I spent a lot of time reading what she had to say on the adoption forums she moderates at INCIID. The things she had to say weren’t always easy to hear. That is part of why I still respect her so much. She’d cut through the crap and tell you what you needed to hear. She believed in educating potential adoptive parents on what they were doing. She was honest and realistic. I didn’t always agree with what she said, but I’m still glad that I heard her say it. I really think that people considering adoption would do well to listen to someone like her.
One of the things that I think everyone should understand is that deciding to adopt after struggling with infertility means dealing loss. Several losses, in fact. Pat had six:
- Control over many aspects of life
- Individual genetic continuity linking past and future
- The joint conception of a child with one’s life partner
- The physical satisfactions of pregnancy and birth
- The emotional gratifications of pregnancy and birth
- The opportunity to parent
Having very deeply held religious beliefs, I would add one more loss that was very real for me–loss of the ability to be a co-creator with God. I grew up believing that a special privelege of womanhood was the ability to create life. That it was our piece of godliness. And I felt that I had been robbed of that.
The important thing to understand is that adoption only fixes one of those losses: the opportunity to parent. So many couples, beaten and broken by the poking and prodding, the testing without answers, or the answers without solutions, turn to adoption. They then start a new journey–one that can be just as invasive and painful. Except instead of a speculum, it’s forty essay questions on everything from finances, to parenting beliefs, to your sex life. Instead of a negative pregnancy test, it’s a failed match. But they plod on, frequently believing that, once the child is finally in their arms, all of the rest of that “stuff” will go away. But it doesn’t. And I firmly believe that the couples who aren’t adequately prepared for that are the ones who end up buying into the claims that they somehow did something wrong. They feel guilt associated with their adoptions because they didn’t understand that, as much as they absolutely are parents, the effects of what they have been through will linger and continue to effect their lives in subtle ways.
Don’t get me wrong–I don’t see adoption as “second best” or “plan B” or anything else of that nature. I am just as much a mother to the son I didn’t give birth to as I am to the ones that I did. The love isn’t different. But some of the experiences are. The reality is that we are a compilation of nature and nurture. Having an open adoption, I can very clearly see the aspects of my son’s personality that came hard-wired in him. And I can’t always relate to those aspects. Sometimes it really stretches me as a mother. Of course, there are plenty of biological parents that experience this same challenge (just ask my sister…). The point is, if you think you can put the “experience” behind you once you have adopted, reality is going to be difficult. I am so grateful that I did the research I did before adopting–that I had the opportunity to listen to, and prepare for, the realities that are a part of adoption (particularly after struggling through infertility–I think that a lot of these things are non-issues for those who decide to adopt after having biological children). Because dealing with the difficult realities has allowed me to own my role as a mother. And what better reality is there than that?
What, did you think that I was actually going to tell you my personal adoption story? Honestly, so did I. But that isn’t what came out tonight. So much of my story makes more sense (at least in my head) when it is framed by the losses of infertility. The real story will come, but not tonight. I have a busy day tomorrow, and I need to sleep while I can.