Nearly four years have passed since my husband and I decided to pursue adoption as our way to build our family. Feeling like we were at the end of our emotional and physical rope from failed fertility treatments, we thought long and hard about what to do next. Giving up on being parents didn’t feel like an option, but continuing on the long and winding road we were traveling wasn’t working out for us either. I was at a place where I was really feeling like Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny… “My biological clock is ticking like this [boom, boom, boom]!” Perhaps a lot of that could be attributed to the monster hormones my body had been injected with over three and a half years, or that all of our couple friends were having (or already had) kids, or the fact that when you’re as much of a control freak as I am and you can’t make something happen, you become obsessed with overcoming the challenge. But in a short and fleeting moment of clarity, I came to realize and now believe in my heart of hearts that it mattered, and still matters more to “have a family” than to “make a baby.” We turned our attention, like so many other couples in our position, to “alternative family-building opportunities”–someone actually used this terminology once with me. Super compassionate, right? I wanted to tell them to consider alternative opportunities for sounding less like an asshole . Anyway, we thought about our friends who themselves were adopted, as well as the couples we know who had chosen adoption as their way to build their families. When we told these friends we were considering adoption, they all talked about how wonderful adoption is, told us to go for it, offered advice on how to get started, smiled, hugged us and wished us well.
Honestly, prior to all this, adoption never seemed special, or a big deal to me. It was just “a thing” people did. Adoption wasn’t something, until it became necessary, that I spent a lot of time thinking about. It was not my calling; not in my original plan. I was always just going to have a couple of kids “the old-fashioned way” and go about my life as a sleep-deprived parent. But once I did start to think about it…I thought about it a lot. And nearly four years later, I still think about it a lot. Sometimes it’s a matter of disbelief that this is how my story has unfolded. I ponder what has brought my husband and me to this moment, and how it seems simultaneously like a natural progression and a series of bad choices. And when I think of the years involved trying to have our family, I’m mesmerized at how it’s been both a blink of an eye and a slow-motion eternity happening at the exact same time. Most of all, I think about how our adoption journey has changed the way in which I know and experience adoption–conceptually, procedurally, emotionally.
Let me say, I live in the real world…most of the time. But I’m a girl. I want to believe in fairytale endings– like a day years from now when my husband will learn to put a fresh roll of toilet paper on the spool instead of balancing it precariously above the naked cardboard roll that has been left behind. I dream. I wish. I hope. I never thought adoption was a magic trick, like, HEY! Watch me pull this rabbit out of my hat! or anything like that, but I did, and sometimes still do, find myself sucked into the fantasy of it all. You know, the perfectly directed, sappy, Hollywood version of adoption…
You sign up to be an adoptive parent and two weeks later you get the call.
The birth mom you have miraculously found yourself attached to is the blonde-haired, blue-eyed, straight-A, high school cheerleader with a perky personality and a bright future, who loves her boyfriend, but accidentally found herself pregnant.
Her parents are supportive and she’s had excellent pre-natal care.
She goes into labor and you rush to the hospital.
You pace the floor until the waiting room doors fling open and you are notified by a pretty, young nurse that you are new parents. Hugs all around. You’re invited to come and meet your baby–a cooing little bundle of perfection, swaddled and topped off in a blue or pink beanie cap.
Everyone smiles, cries, and says exactly the right thing at exactly the right time.
Then it’s a signature here and an initial there and… TA-DA! You’re a family.
You whisk your little package away to the catalog worthy nursery you decorated and begin your life together.
All the while there’s a soundtrack of songs that perfectly complement how rosy and smooth and tender this entire “movie” has played out.
Perfect, perfect, perfect.
I’m sure there are people, a lucky and blessed few, who have had adoption experiences like this. Close to it? Maybe? I dunno.
But the awful, wonderful truth is that the adoption process and journey is no picnic. That might sound cynical, but I believe it to be true. It can take years…and then some. There’s the moral discussion of deciding whether adoption is the right choice for you. Then there’s finding an agency (the RIGHT agency) to help you (and birthmothers) navigate through the process — you think there’s a lot of cereal to choose from at the grocery store?!? That’s nothin’. Just take a look at all the adoption agencies that are out there. Some agencies are great, but there are agencies that are mismanaged and more concerned about their profit margins than doing the ethically, morally, legally right thing. It’s overwhelming. Once you commit to the process and jump through tons of hoops, the journey can have setbacks: failed adoption matches, birthmothers who change their minds, random birth family members who come out of the woodwork and disrupt the process, and fraud. It’s frightening and not for the faint of heart.
I like to think I’m a generally optimistic person. Oh, but there are those days…the angry, sad and hopeless days that sometimes linger on for weeks at a time. I feel too old to be embarking on this journey. I wonder what I could have done in another lifetime to deserve this kind of karmic punishment. I wonder if this is the cosmos telling me that I wouldn’t be a good parent. I read blogs and chat room posts that highlight the struggles and pain of other parents in waiting and damn the system of adoption and feel it must be broken and corrupt. I hear about and see friends who are struggling to build their families and I’m doubly saddened. I read about birthmoms who endure a lifetime of grief for giving away their children and I feel guilty. I damn MTV and Teen Mom. I look at people around me who are sorry excuses for parents and damn them too. I call the whole world unfair. I create scenarios in my head of what my life, my marriage, my old age will look like if we were to abandon our quest. I give myself cut-off dates–if it doesn’t happen by next summer, then I quit. I figure I must be too fat, too ugly, too old, too something for any birth mom to pick me to parent her child. I want to throw something really hard against the wall and watch it smash into a million little pieces. I want to scream. I consider throwing in the towel.
But I keep going. We keep going.
That’s truly how I have come to know that adoption is so special, and it is such a big deal, and that fairytales aren’t make believe, but rather a kind of faith that something good is coming. Because it’s a profoundly painful and complexly beautiful struggle, this whole adoption thing. Despite my experience, the emotional turmoil, financial costs, time, energy, and setbacks, the capacity to want to love, trust, believe in, and desire something remains possible and alive within me. And when I feel like my capacity and patience and want for it has completely run out, it regenerates itself without my even trying. And that’s all that’s required to propel me forward and take on more –even the bad and the ugly.
So, that’s my awful, wonderful truth. It’s not pretty, and I don’t think Disney will be turning it into a feature-length animated film, but I look forward to my fairytale ending of becoming a mom, even on those days when I don’t realize it. And I’m moved to tears and my spirit is renewed by those who have come before me who simply say, “When your baby, the one who was meant to be yours, finds you and it all works out… You’ll understand. You’ll know. All will be realized.”
To them, I say, “I BELIEVE.”