I have always wanted to be an adoptive parent. Most of my favorite books and movies as a child were about kids who were Orphans. (Narnia series, The Secret Garden, The Little Princess, Annie, etc) My mother would always talk about her dream to have her own orphanage. And she did, in a way. She took in all our friends and they moved in. She helped my friends with their homework, took them to the doctor, got them glasses, packed them lunch for school and so much more. And when my brothers and I grew up and moved out, she became an official foster parent and later an adoptive mother. Adoption is a part of my family.
I knew Jeremy was going to be my husband since I was 16 years old. And I dreamed of at least six kids. Two or three would be biological and the rest would be adopted. That was how our family would be put together. I was sure of it.
When I was 15, I competed in a statewide competition between other Christian private schools. I did a dramatic monologue. On the day I was to compete, I sat in the room watching the others go before me and, to this day, I can only remember one girl. She played Hannah from the Old Testament. She was terrible. She basically sat on the floor and wailed loudly for three minutes, crying out for a baby. Everyone in the room tried not to giggle at her awkward fake weeping. But, something stuck in my heart that day: that deep pain and agony of wanting a child. It unsettled me. And it still haunts me.
When I was 19, I was engaged to be married and about to be a junior in college. I was home for the weekend, visiting my mom and getting wedding details taken care of. I was driving. I don't remember where I was going, but I remember the exact road I was on when I heard a woman on the radio talking about how painful Mother's Day was for her. She had no children. She told a story of how at church on Mother's Day she would have to watch all the other women get acknowledged, followed by a large brunch and someone would announce that the mothers would get to be first in line. One year, someone whispered to her to get in line too and that inclusion meant so much to her. The story shook me in two ways. It opened up my eyes to all the women out there who are hurting from having empty arms. And it freaked me the hell out. I remember praying, "Dear God, help me to remember those women; but, please let me not be one of them."
At 22, I was a Children's Pastor at a church. One day, a friend sent me a link to an adoption agency of her friend, after hearing we planned on adopting. I clicked on the photos of "waiting children" and wept when I saw the face of a little boy who was 9 months old with down syndrome in Taiwan. I wanted to be his mother. It was overwhelming to me how I could instantly love a complete stranger. I showed my husband and he wept in my office with me. We didn't meet the age requirements for that country at the time and this beautiful boy was later matched with a family.
That experience opened up by heart to a profound and deep ache to adopt. I always wanted to adopt, but now I ached for it. I honestly dreamt of it more than I dreamt about getting pregnant. (Not that I didn't dream about that.) Adoption seemed so out of reach financially that it seemed the best option would be biological kids first. Yet, that didn't happen.
Then I was 27, living in NYC and crying out to God to make me a mother. Both my brothers had recently become parents. My cousin (who shares my age) had a baby. My friends were all having babies and some were working on their 2nd and 3rd. NYC is a very expensive place to live. Adoption just wasn't feasible. Our best friends in the city had begun their adoption journey. I was thrilled for them, but my empty arms ached even harder. I would cry at work. I couldn't even control it. Then one night, I heard God speak to my heart. He asked me to wait three more years. There was something He needed to work out with my husband's job and then He would make me a mother. I said okay, like a martyr. But then the next day, I told myself I had imagined the entire conversation.
My family back home was going through a hard time and we moved back to be present. For nearly a year I was so distracted by my family's profound pain and crisis that I didn't have a chance to really deal with my own. I did however become obsessed and addicted to adoption blogs. Once the dust began to settle with my family, I researched and contacted every adoption agency I could find. It was all I could think about. I still took pregnancy tests every time I was late. I didn't care how the baby came.....as long as one came. A friend in the middle of an adoption (who was doing way more research and prep work than I) called me one night to talk about how she had just learned how important and essential it was for infertile couples to grieve the dream of their biological child. I'm not sure I was ready to hear that yet, because I wasn't ready to let go of that dream. Still, it stuck with me.
Time passed. I missed two periods in a row and had all the pregnancy symptoms. But, the tests came back negative. We were drowning in school debt and adoption seemed impossible. I went through such a deep depression that there were days I couldn't and didn't get out of bed. One night, I heard God speak to my heart, reminding me about the promise He made to me in NYC. It was two years later and I felt God say to me that I would become a mother in the next year. I did, ten months later. My son was born exactly three years to the month that God had spoken to my heart on NYC. My husband had also started a new career the week my son was born. God's promise was reality. My arms were full.
My son is adopted. Another woman gave birth to him. Another woman shares his features.....his eyes, his chin, his magical smile. My son is - by far - the greatest boy in the world. We would be surprised two years later with our daughter when our birth mother became pregnant again. My daughter is everything I have ever dreamed a daughter would be, and more. They are both perfect to me and I am grateful everyday for them.
But, I still grieve.
I don't think I would love a biological child more. I don't see a biological child as somehow more mine. And I have made peace that I will always have to share the title "mom" with another woman...a woman I dearly love.
Please, don't misunderstand me. See, my dream was that I would have both at my dining room table.
When my friend talked about how important it is for infertile couples to deal with their grief before adopting, I took that to heart. I wasn't ready at that moment, but later, before my son's birth, I continued to search my heart to deal with it. I was hoping to just have a good cry and let it out and move on. I would even watch movies with pregnant women, go to baby websites or walk through maternity sections in hope that it would trigger my heart so I could get the grieving out. I didn't want anything in the room distancing me from my kids. I didn't want anything to harm my children. I never wanted them to feel like they were less for having different DNA.
The thing about infertility grief is that you can't just get it all out at once. Yes, it gets easier as time goes on. But when you least expect it, something small will set off your heart and you, once again, will have to grieve for the child you will never meet. The little girl with your husband's curls and your toes will never snuggle in your lap. You will never hear her laugh or wipe her tears. Those dreams you had for all those years of the children you bore won't come to fruition. And you have to mourn a person you will never meet. My biological children might have never physically existed, but they were very real to me. And it's a painful loss to deal with.
I am now 34...months from 35 and this age has been silently looming over me for the last few years. The chances of conceiving become even slimmer. I had a cancer scare a month ago and the Friday before Mother's Day I will have to have surgery. In signing the papers for my upcoming procedure, I had to sign that I understood that this surgery could cause sterility. Permanently.
I lingered over those words for a moment in the doctor's office and then quickly signed and got out of there as fast as possible. I ran out to the car and cried. Look, I have already grieved this. I know my age and I have honestly dreamed more about my plans to adopt than giving birth. Like, way more.
My kids are the best. And I wouldn't trade them for anything...or anyone: including biological offspring. But I would be lying to you if I didn't tell you that the longing hurts. It really hurts.
I'm not telling you all this because I want pity. And please don't offer up fertility options or treatment advice. I have faith in my Creator's plan for my family. How could I not? He orchestrated my kids' adoptions with such miraculous and perfect design.
I speak about my heartache for the women out there who share it with me. You are not alone.
To the woman whose arms are empty, I know Mother's Day is the worst day of the year for you. I dreaded it every year. My advice? Get another childless girlfriend and skip church. Avoid Sunday Mother's Day brunches. Go get a pedicure and enjoy places you can't bring children to. Go see a comedy at the movies. Keep yourself busy and the day will pass and you will make it through another year. But most of all, don't give up hope. One day your arms will be full. It may not look like you dreamed. But, I have the hope and faith that it will be better than your original plan.
My story isn't over yet. I still have empty chairs at my table. And even though at times, I hurt; at times I grieve. I do a lot of laughing and dancing. My family might not look like I thought it would, all those years ago; but thank God for that.
So, I might need to take a moment and have a good cry. I'm human. But then, I will wipe my tears, hug my children and spend time with other women who know exactly what I am feeling. And it will be okay.