Last evening, a girlfriend asked me to join her for a meeting at a prospective adoption agency. Anna and her husband, John have been through several years of fertility treatments and are now switching gears. John was unable to attend this particular event and she asked if I might be able to make the trip. Jumping at the chance to make myself useful by offering moral support, I responded to her text in a millisecond,
“It’s a date.”
The meeting ended after 50 or 60 minutes and we left the agency. My head was buzzing with legal terms I don’t understand, verbose definitions of different states’ laws, birth vs adoptive parental rights, the 182 shades of grey between the two, and the costs rivaling an Ivy League College tuition.
Slowly walking back to Anna’s car, I wanted to cut the thick silence with a resounding apology for all of the trite words of encouragement I’ve offered through these past seven years. Statements like,
“If you can’t hold the faith, I’ll hold it for you. You WILL hold your child. I know that for certain!”
Pecking at my temples in an irritating high-pitched chirp, now sounding as cliché and hollow to me as I’m certain they did to her back when they were so futilely offered. I meant well. Of course I meant well, as most people who have no way of understanding the magnitude of someone else’s pain does. But attending this meeting cracked the rosy window I ache to see my friends’ lives through.
The fact is, it’s true. The picture I have of sitting in their home, cherished, long-awaited baby in arms, tears flowing, is so crisp and vividly painted that it’s red-inked in my calendar on a nearby tomorrow.
But, while that is an important vision to hold close, it’s not really the point, is it?
I understand people come to the decision to adopt for a myriad of reasons. Not all have been through the grueling trials and tribulations of infertility. But the Mount Everest climb adoptive parents must make to reach their goal of expanding their families, regardless of what brought them there is mind numbing. Making the trek while healing emotionally and physically from multiple invasive attempts at having a biological child just throws on an extra set of ankle weights for the journey.
As a society, we thrive on happy endings. It’s uncomfortable to watch people struggle without a sweet resolution in sight. Most adoption stories are told with a short touch on how difficult it was for a time, and a huge focus on the beautiful outcome. That’s a heart warming depiction for all of us, and a vital one for those white-knuckling the phone, awaiting that life-altering call.
But, what about honoring the process? Honoring the anger, the disappointment, the grief, the sadness, the resentment, the fear?
Surely that is a necessary part of all of it too.
On the way home, Anna talked about her search for the right support group during the murky time of transition between bringing the curtain down on further medical procedures and gearing up for the long haul on the adoption trail. Her search has brought her to a plethora of fertility groups, focusing on holding faith whilst undergoing innumerable continuous In-Vitro Fertilization cycles. After her fourth unsuccessful attempt, she made a brave phone call to one group’s leader only to have the woman on the other line say,
“Don’t give up! We’ve had women get pregnant on their tenth IVF cycle!”
Thighs and belly still sore from seven years of obtrusive pricks with needles full of hormones, this was an extra stab she didn’t need.
While on the other side, she came across groups for those in the thick of adoption proceedings, up to their ears in paperwork, home study preparations, and agency fees, with a full-fledged dive into the lengthy process.
But neither offered valuable support for my friends, still shocked and reeling in confusion of what would have been and isn’t. I’m certain this niche exists, as Anna and John are far from lone travelers on this road, but for some reason, they have yet to find it.
I haven’t walked in their shoes specifically, but I used to think I kicked around in them after we lost our first baby girl. My self-inflicted “infertility” was born of grief, stress, and depression. The stare-down between myself and universal timing ended with an impatient break of eye contact, and a race straight to the fertility doctor, glaring over my shoulder with an angry “screw off” spat at my opponent.
The fact that Zachary, baby number two, was conceived through IVF after ten months of medicated fertility attempts, is not even a quick dip of the tongue into the bitter cup that is actual infertility, although three and a half years ago I would have fought you tooth and nail on that. I obnoxiously tried to commiserate with Anna as if we were soul sisters. Thank heavens for forgiving friends.
So, I can’t in good faith hold her hand and say, “I understand”. Just as many cannot say they understand my pain in losing our first-born. The only common ground I can find is in honoring the absolute unfairness that is her experience right now.
There was a man who looked at us in the midst of our intense grief, weeks after losing our daughter, and said
“When you have your children, this won’t matter at all, but will be a distant memory.”
Bless his heart.
He tried, but could not have been more wrong. As years pass (four now), it becomes neither distant or meaningless. I cherish my children – every last ounce of them. I would not change a single strand of who they are, but that does not erase the memory of Kennedy, that heavy time, or anything that stemmed from her brief physical presence.
I would imagine that’s how Anna and John, and millions of others feel concerning their mountainous climb to build their families. The reminder that it WILL happen is a critical one, but the acknowledgment of the struggle cannot be glossed over either.
I am so grateful for Anna’s invitation to catch an honest glimpse of her current reality. It gave me a set of eyes that might help me to be a better friend, which is the tiny fraction I can offer right now.
All the rest of you who are adoptive parents or, like my dear friends are climbing Everest to get there, I offer this,
I am inspired by your Strength, Perseverance and Will to create your families. These special children have won some magnificent karmic lottery to call you their parents.