It's a typical Saturday of running errands, and we decide to have lunch out. I slide into the booth after a visit to the ladies' room.
"This place is loaded with babies," I chirp my public service announcement. "They're everywhere."
"Oh yeah?" my husband, Greg, answers.
"Yup. You wanna know what's really great?"
He bites. "What's that?"
"It doesn't make me sad!"
Greg smiles and takes the bottle out of our son Christopher's mouth. "That's good!" he states affirmatively.
After seven years of intensive treatment for unexplained infertility, and after seven years of ignoring the problem while dealing with a live-in mother-in-law with Alzheimer's disease, I was sure infertility would leave me emotionally hobbled forever. The one thing I was sure I was meant to do, be a mom, I simply couldn't.
I know. What about adoption? We thought about it. It can be scary and complicated. And worse, it lacks the illusion of control that infertility treatment offers. I was good, no, superb, at planning treatment cycles and figuring out the next step. I could show up at appointments and egg retrievals. I could regroup from a miscarriage. But how do you create a family through the grace of a stranger? I didn't know. Even after 14 years of desperately wanting a baby, I didn't think adoption was "for us".
I was wrong on both counts.
I'm happy and feel whole for the first time in a very long time. I'm a glowing advocate of adoption.
I am a mom.
The seed of Christopher's adoption was actually a pregnancy. My own. At 45, I decided to make one final check in with a reproductive endocrinologist. To what end, I wasn't completely sure, maybe for some kind of closure. She told me what I already knew. At my age, IVF with my own eggs was as good as trying on our own. In two words: Not very. Maybe 1 percent. Egg donation was an option, so was adoption, she told me. Greg suspected that no good could come from this appointment. It could only rip the scab off a wound that was struggling to heal. He was not pleased. We were past all of that, and it wasn't something he was keen to revisit. We were too old. He wasn't comfortable with egg donation or adoption. He was resolved about remaining childless. I just wasn't.
This was a hard time for us. He didn't want to hurt me. I understood his view, but had a terrible time accepting it. Two weeks after that doctor's appointment, I had a funny feeling. I took a home pregnancy test. Two lines. Dark ones. Shockingly, this pregnancy looked more promising than any that came before it. Not so shockingly, at seven weeks I miscarried for the fifth time.
I was furious. This was especially cruel because my last chance had been stolen and Greg wasn't willing to try egg donation. I roiled at him until he cracked. In all the years we'd struggled with infertility, he never showed me his own grief directly. Now it was right in front of me. The loss was profound for him, too. We both truly wanted to be a family of more than two. After a week of spending my spare time sobbing uncontrollably, we decided to talk with the counselor who had seen me through my long years of infertility treatment.
Somehow in that conversation, the seed of adoption sprouted just a little. The idea of international adoption, in particular, resonated with Greg. In record time, we submitted paperwork to adopt from China. Several months later, we could see the wait times for a referral were slowing to a crawl. I was beside myself. Every time I got close to a baby, something went wrong. As older parents, we felt strongly about having two children, and the new time frame made our plans to adopt twice from China questionable. Greg suggested that we consider domestic adoption for our second child. And adopt our second child first, while waiting for China.
The story of Christopher's adoption would take a book. It was more fraught than most, including his birth parents changing their minds at his birth. And changing their minds back, three weeks later. When things fell through the first time, several adoption professionals - and adoptive parents - told me, when you get "your" baby all the pain and aggravation goes away. It just goes away. I didn?t believe them. Not until Christopher was placed in our arms.
For years, I had imagined what it would be like to hold my baby for the first time. When that moment arrived, I wasn't in a hospital or birthing center. I was standing in a small office surrounded by file cabinets and some of the wonderful people who worked on Christopher's placement. And it was better than anything I had pictured. I felt an overwhelming sense of peace. This was meant to be. My heart was restored. I was normal, I was who I was meant to be. I was now a mom. It was true. As I gazed at Christopher, asleep in my arms, his tiny fists thrown over his head, the pain and anguish lifted.
I've tried hard to figure out what held us - me - back for so long. Surely, adoption is not an easy thing to do. There is paperwork and intrusion and hoops to jump through. You feel like you have to "qualify" for what is a simple biological certainty for others. But for me, I think it was something that I can put words to only now: Adoption requires that you embrace loss. The birth parents' loss, your child's loss, and your own. I think that was the hardest for me. Truly acknowledging that I would never give birth.
I was a little taken aback at the ferocious love we feel for this child. How I couldn't love him one iota more if he came from my body. That I wouldn't want him to have come from my body because he wouldn't be him. I didn't expect to feel fully prepared to help him deal with whatever losses he may feel as he grows up, but I'm ready. I did expect to question myself. Because I didn't carry him or bring him into the world, could I truly be his mother? With each passing day, I realize just how much we belong to each other. I am his mother. I cannot imagine being anyone else's mother. We can't imagine being anyone else's parents.
I'm sure that at times the announcement of a pregnancy or birth will stir the well-healed scars. But I've survived infertility. And I can't believe I'm saying this, but actually thrived as a result. Because it made me Christopher's mom.