This past weekend, I watched a friend’s two kids while she was out of town on vacation. It was the first time I’ve done this type of thing in awhile. Occasionally, I’ll take another friend’s daughters for a day or an evening, take them to do something fun, have them to my home for a sleepover, that kind of thing. This was different. It was, now that I think of it, the first time I’ve cared for anyone’s school aged children for more than a twenty-four hour period. This involved an entire weekend of meals and bedtimes and trips to the community pool, schlepping coolers and floats and all manner of other paraphernalia that you have to cart along with you whenever you are taking kids anywhere, plus getting them bathed, dressed, fed, and on the bus before heading off to work myself on Monday morning. And then of course the younger one, whose hair is mad curly, wanted her hair straightened for school, which of course meant that she went to school with straightened hair and I went to work with glorified bedhead.
It was fun, it was exhausting, it was … well, yeah, fun and exhausting pretty much cover it. Or, in other words, minus the husband, it was very much like the life I had always assumed I’d have. Even from a very young age, I always assumed I’d be a mother. And not just because it was something that was expected of me. It was something I wanted. Something I yearned for. I had it all planned out. Like my mother, aunt, and grandmother, I would become an elementary school teacher. I figured I’d do it the way my mom had done – stay home with my kids when they were really young, substitute teach once the youngest started kindergarten, and then segue into teaching full-time at some point after that. My own mother waited until I was in eighth grade and my sister in fifth before she started teaching full-time.
Of course, I also thought I’d meet my husband, and the father of these imagined children, in high school, or college. But that didn’t happen, (which in retrospect I’m glad about – I’ve changed far too much since then to believe for one second that any man I married in my twenties would still be a good match for me today), and the years passed, and well, the truth is, there have been men I have loved and men who’ve loved me, but it’s been a bit of a challenge to get both of those things happening at the same time. I don’t really know why that is, whether it’s bad luck, or bad timing, or some unrealized and therefore unable-to-be-corrected flaw in my deepest self that makes it impossible for me to reciprocate the feelings of the men who seem to dig me, or vice versa.
I also decided about mid-way through college not to become a teacher, and I told myself all sorts of stories about why that was so. The money was terrible, I wanted kids of my own one day, and I didn’t want to spend eight hours a day giving the best of myself to other people’s kids and then coming home to find I’d left nothing for my own. There was another reason I told myself these stories, though, but that’s probably a post for another day. And the guy, well. The truth is, that even if I’d found “the guy,” years ago, it’s a reasonable surety that I still wouldn’t have had children to get off to the bus stop or to bake cookies for after school, or take to soccer practice, or swimming lessons, or do any of the other things that people do when they have children, because the simple fact is that I can’t have any. I’m not alone in this, I know. I’ve had three friends who’ve struggled with infertility. Two were finally able to conceive via IVF, and the other finally made peace with the fact that a viable pregnancy just wasn’t a possibility for her, and decided to proceed with adoption. She now has a beautiful son.
Which, for the record, was something I explored as well. Seven-ish years ago, I finally decided that, you know, I was in my mid-thirties, I wasn’t married, I wasn’t even remotely close to being married, and in fact the year before, my nearing-eighty-year-old grandmother had taken me aside and asked me point blank if I was a lesbian, and then, while I stood there in shock with my mouth gaping open, proceeded to tell me that, if I was, it was perfectly ok with her. Now THAT was an interesting conversation! I told her I appreciated her interest in my sexual orientation, as well as her willingness to be open-minded about same, but that while I agreed there was nothing wrong with being a lesbian, I happened to like men very much, I just hadn’t found one I wanted to marry, or one that I wanted to marry who wanted to marry me, or, well, you get the idea. I think she believed me, as she didn’t pursue the conversation much further, except to say “I just don’t understand why you’re not married! You’re a beautiful, smart girl! You should be married by now!” I thanked her for the kind words and escaped to the kitchen for more wine.
Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes, adoption. I was thirty-five or six, (definitely heterosexual but still unmarried, just in case there was any confusion on this point), I had a solid career, I owned my own home, and I figured, well, if I can’t just go to the nearest sperm bank, buy myself some sperm, and get pregnant on my own, I can damn well adopt a baby. So I started researching, and then I researched some more, and talked to people, and went to some meetings, and talked to more people, and emailed some people, and researched and researched and researched. After about six months or so, I was ready to move forward with adopting a baby from China, which seemed to be the most stable, as well as one of the most financially feasible, foreign adoption programs around, and, unlike many of the others, they did permit adoptions by single women. The only glitch was that I had to wait almost another six months to apply, because while single women could adopt, they could only apply at certain times of the year, unlike married couples, and I had missed my window.
I figured it wasn’t the end of the world – it would just give me a little more time to plan – , but by the time that six months was just about up, I started hearing rumblings from the online adoption groups I’d infiltrated that China was changing some of their guidelines, and that single women were no longer going to be able to adopt. Which, unfortunately, turned out to be true. Because the program in China had been so stable for so long, it was, and still is, a very popular country to adopt from, and some people were waiting more than two years for a referral once all their paperwork was in. In an effort to make the process move more quickly and to cut down on the wait time for those still working their way through the mountains of necessary paperwork, they were making the guidelines far more stringent, and it wasn’t just single women who were being affected. My friend who eventually adopted her little boy domestically was also out of the running. We’d talked a lot about how if things worked out and we finished our home studies and other paperwork at the same time, maybe we’d both be in the same batch of referrals and get to travel to China together to bring home our babies. Unfortunately, some health issues on her husband’s end meant that she, too, had her hopes of adopting from China dashed.
I will tell you honestly – I didn’t handle this news very well. I see now that for several months after I got the news, I was actually pretty depressed. For as long as I could remember, I’d wanted to be a mom, and for eight or nine months I had been making some actual strides in turning that dream into a reality by taking some very concrete steps down a road that, some eighteen months to two years or so later would end with me boarding a plane to a country so far away I could scarcely imagine it, and having my baby placed in my arms. I knew that this baby would likely be a girl, because most children adopted out of China are, for primarily cultural reasons, female, and though I couldn’t know for sure exactly what she would look like, I knew that she would have black hair and dark brown eyes. I even chose a name for her.
So to find out that this child I’d been dreaming about for so many months, as I planned, and waited, and navigated some very confusing paperwork essentially on my own, was never going to be, well – it was a blow, is all I can say. In fact, and I’m trying not to be melodramatic here, but it really felt a great deal like a death, if not of an actual child, such as is the case with a miscarriage, at least the death of a dream. And it took me awhile to get over it, and try to think about what my next step was going to be. If I couldn’t adopt a baby from China, what was I going to do? Where to go next? So I researched some more, and talked to more people, and emailed more people, rinse and repeat. By this time, my friend had found and contracted with an agency specializing in domestic adoption, and by some infinitely well-deserved miracle, she and her husband were chosen by a birth mother almost before the ink was dry on their home study. I was leery of domestic adoption for a lot of reasons, but I was encouraged by her experience, at least enough to go in for an interview, but ultimately it just didn’t feel right.
No, that’s not true. The truth is, I felt a little inadequate. Because, here’s the thing. With a foreign adoption, as mercenary as I know it probably sounds, and as long and expensive and frustrating a process as it usually is, if you dot all your i’s and cross all your t’s and pass all your home studies and fill out all the right forms in just the right way, at some point, long months or even years down the line, it is going to be your turn. The procedures and the length of the wait are a bit different depending upon the country you are adopting from, but eventually you are going to get your chance. You will get your baby.
Domestic adoption is not like that. For one thing, it is often even more financially daunting than foreign adoption, or at least it can be. For another, there is no guarantee. Unlike with a foreign adoption, it is not just a matter of filling out the forms and completing the home studies and proving to who knows how many different people in who knows how many different agencies in who knows how many different offices in at least two different countries that you are fit to parent a child. Which, I am here to tell you as someone who as at least partially gone through it, is a really scary and humbling process, not to mention the fact that it all seems tremendously and even pathologically unfair, especially when there are teenagers getting pregnant in the backseats of cars every single day, while you, on the other hand, can’t get pregnant no matter how many backseats you are willing to take your clothes off in, or how many doctors you enlist to come to your aid. Anyway, the point is, with domestic adoption, you have to be CHOSEN. And as a single woman, I just wasn’t all that confident, and I still am not, that I would have been chosen, and here’s why: because I was not sure *I* would choose me, or any single person for that matter, if it was *my* choice to make.
After all, there is a reason it takes two people to make a baby. Parenting is a hard job, and while I don’t know that it necessarily takes a village, it for damn sure isn’t ideal to do it alone. I know people, both men and women, do it all the time, God bless them. Every day, in fact, and for all sorts of reasons – death, divorce, desertion – you name it. And I knew I’d have a great support system, and I thought, and still think, I would have been a great parent. After all, and I really believe this, I learned from the best. But ultimately, I just wasn’t willing to don my Ruby Slippers and skip off down the Yellow Brick Road of domestic adoption because I wasn’t at all sure that I’d ever reach the Emerald City. I wasn’t confident that a good witch dressed as a midwife (for the record, if Glinda were a midwife I think she would wear cotton candy pink scrubs with little lacey hearts all over them, and her scrub cap would be kind of like a crown, but her wand would look just the same because anything else would just be wrong) would appear to advise me on just exactly the right thing to say to a birth mother to convince her that she should trust me with the task of raising the baby that she, for whatever reason, couldn’t. It just seemed so impossible.
At some point, though, I may have gathered my courage, and made the leap. Donned the slippers, picked up my basket, and started skipping like hell. But before that could happen, the global economy shit the bed, and I, well, I got spooked. Parenthood is daunting. Single parenthood even more so. But the simple and unavoidable truth is that with my house suddenly worth far less than it had been when I’d bought it just two years before and my industry in crisis, I was no longer in a financial position to even afford an adoption. And, in the years since, after getting smacked down not once or twice, but several times (I won’t go into that – this post is getting long already), I have just not wanted to open myself up to the possibility again, because I didn’t want to be hurt again. Also, if you accept that a certain path is closed to you, it stands to reason that eventually the ache of that loss will fade, and just maybe there will come a time that it won’t hurt anymore.
But as I sat watching my friends’ daughters run through the fountains at a nearby community gathering place, their squeals of laughter mingling with those of all the other kids running across green grass or skipping through fountains in the summer dusk under a pink cotton candy sky, it struck me that maybe that never really happens. When you want something as badly, as viscerally, as all-consumingly as I wanted to be a mom, I don’t know that you ever really get over it, at least not deep down. Move on, yes. Get over? Maybe not so much. And the fact is that I really have no viable option but to accept this. My life is my life. Most days it’s pretty good. Great, even. I have people, both related to me and not, who I love deeply, who love me, who I know will always be there for me, and who I’ll always be there for. I even have some pretty great kids in my life, who think I’m cool because I’m not their mom, who I can borrow when I feel like it. I’m happy, even content, at least more often than not, which is more than a lot of people can say. My life is not a perfect life, but whose is? No one that I’ve ever met.
I guess the point is … sometimes you think you’ve put the hurt of the past and certain hopes for the future away, and then you realize that even if that’s true, deep down, it still hurts. Not as much as it used to, but it hurts. In a weird, kind of behind-a-pane-of-glass way that almost doesn’t feel real, but it is. Ok, you know what it’s like? A few years ago, my elderly neighbor’s cat got loose and she was panicked. She put signs up all over the neighborhood, but no one had seen him. It had been like a week. Then one afternoon, I was letting the dogs out in the yard, and they trotted out nonchalantly at first, and then all of a sudden two sets of ears perked up and both of them took off running for the back fence and began barking their scruffy little fool heads off. And when I went over to investigate, I saw that trapped in the space between my neighbor’s privacy fence and my stucco wall was my neighbor’s cat. In my ensuing attempts to rescue him, the little shit bit me on the thumb of my left hand, pretty badly in fact. It required a visit to a doc-in-the-box on a Sunday afternoon, some antibiotic injections, and some pretty serious bandages, although no stitches because you can’t really stitch up a cat bite because of the infection risk. The lesson here? Cat bites suck. And even now, years later, I still have a bit of weird, tingly numbness on the inside of my left thumb. But if you push on it, the numbness goes away for a second and it still kind of hurts. So yeah – this feeling I was talking about? It’s like that.
* Top photo by Silver Moon Photography. Crappy iPhone photo courtesy of yours truly.