It’s natural to assume that a mother being handed the most beautiful baby boy imaginable would feel blessed. Add to the equation the fact the mother couldn’t bear children of her own, and of course this is an extraordinary blessing. One by one, people showered their well wishes and gaped in awe at how lucky we were. They brought the cutest little clothes and said things like, “You must be so happy” and “Amazing! What a miracle! How fortunate you are!” Trouble is, a part of me was miserable.
Since I was 23, I had known that I probably would never have children. I’d known since I was a child that I wanted to adopt one day. I thought I’d give birth to one or two and then adopt a beautiful rainbow family. It was going to be an Angelina Jolie-esque family without the fame, fortune, or paparazzi. I was idealistic and imagined I’d be a very nurturing, loving, creative mother. My adolescent fantasy also included homesteading, goats, sheep, and a home made entirely by hand with my perfectly wonderful guitar-playing hippie husband. Oh, and a llama. We just HAD to have a llama.
In April of 1991, when the doctor told me my last 5% chance of ever getting pregnant was probably gone, I didn’t grieve. Instead, I saw this as motivation to get the adoption ball rolling. After all, they said it could take years to successfully adopt a child. Though I knew in my gut this wouldn’t be true for me, I bought into the myth enough to believe I should start soon. A month later, before we’d begun to explore adoption, my sister mentioned there was a woman in her church whose daughter was pregnant and wanted to place her child for adoption. She wondered if she should ask her if she’d consider an open adoption with us as the adoptive parents. I said, “Sure, why not. It’s a long shot, but you might as well ask”.
June rolled around and we found out the birthmother was interested. Oh my GOD!! What do you do? How does one go about such things?! When in doubt, check the yellow pages under ‘adoption’. Voila! We found the coolest social worker imaginable at Lutheran Social Services. She told us about creating a portfolio and we were off and running putting together photos of our lives, letters, and anything else we could think of that would enroll this stranger-to-us in why we’d be excellent parents for her child.
In July, we learned she’d probably chosen us. Still no contact. Still no confirmation that any of this was really going to happen, but we knew she was due in September. We started painting our world ‘cream’, just in case. We bought a crib, just in case. It’s a strange thing to be maybe seven months pregnant but not sure. Most women have a growing belly as an indication. They’ve been getting used to this idea for a while. Often when I see women who are 8 or 9 months pregnant, they are so ready to NOT be pregnant anymore and get on with mothering this ever-growing baby. I was there with my flattish belly, working my butt off with our glass business, and trying to plan a life around maybe having a baby in a month or two and maybe having the heartbreak of no baby. It was all so surreal.
I believe in August, we heard nothing. More cream. More just in case purchases. More hanging out in the mystery of what our future would be.
On September 24th, while sitting in my darkened living room watching the most intense scene in the movie ‘Misery’, the phone rang. It was my sister enthusiastically announcing that the birthmother had given birth to a baby boy, and that we had been named the adoptive parents! Oh my. Oh my. Oh my my my!
Full speed ahead! Off we went to WI to meet this child that was likely to become our son. Everything seemed like a sign of the perfection in the grand plan. Synchronicity was everywhere. When they handed us this beautiful baby I wept tears of joy and gratitude. He was the one. I’d been waiting for him and he had found us. God was clearly involved in this soulful matchmaking event.
The depression kicked in shortly after bringing him home a month later. It made no sense to me. How can one have post partum depression when there’s no partum to post? Here was this beautiful gift of life… it took just 5 months from finding out I couldn’t bear children for sure to having a gorgeous blonde-haired, blue-eyed babe in arms. Almost everything had gone smoothly. We had our own business, enough money, support, and love around us to make this possible. There were no llamas, goats or sheep to get in the way, and my non-guitar-playing non-hippie husband was totally engaged and endlessly helpful. I couldn’t find anything out there that talked about this side of the equation. I was ashamed of how I felt, so I didn’t talk to anyone about it. I stuffed and suppressed those feelings as much as I could.
After what seemed like hundreds of people telling me how blessed I was, one day a close friend of my mother’s phoned me and the first thing she said was, “Oh Helen, isn’t it just AWFUL?!?” I burst into tears – big, fat tears of relief! She had two adopted children my age and she acknowledged the hard bits of having a child handed to you that you had no idea how to take care of. She told me how awful it had been for her to have life as she’d known it halted, to have this tiny human full of needs depending on her, and to feel so helpless as this once competent person was faced with her incompetency daily. Now that’s a blessing!
Once my feelings were given a little space, were acknowledged and validated by another as well as myself, I could let it all go. The victim melted away and I joined the ranks of all the rest of the parents in the world that feel incompetent much of the time. My depression lifted and I could embrace the miracle and blessing that greeted me each day in the form of our beautiful son. Waking up in the middle of the night didn’t get easier, but it only lasted nine years. He didn’t do any better on formula, and I still longed for the naturalness of breast-feeding, but he got bigger anyway. My business didn’t run itself, and I still struggled to juggle the demands of keeping it going while parenting a newborn. Yet, somehow, I knew we’d get through. We’d survive the hard times and revel in the good, and every day of my life I marvel at this miraculous blessing of becoming a family. The gratitude I feel towards the courageous birth parents of each of our children is immeasurable.
I invite you, dear reader, next time you catch yourself starting to say something like “You must be so happy” or “You’re so lucky!” to stop for a moment and connect with the person you’re about to say it to. What’s really true here? Is this your stuff or theirs? What’s beneath the surface? Is there something they may not be so proud to share? Are you a safe place to share it? As a Co-active Coach, I often help clients normalize, acknowledge, and express their feelings. And still, from time to time, I catch myself assuming blessings or misfortune where it’s simply not helpful or true. If we can just help each other accept what is, methinks we can make room for all that can be.
As always, I welcome your thoughts, comments, and generous responses. We are creating a better world by being real with one another and engaging in conversations that matter. Thanks for hanging out with my words.