This post was originally written as part of the Open Adoption Roundtable, in response to this prompt.
Every family has an origin story. And, I imagine, every family must navigate the degree to which sharing that origin story is appropriate – sharing with outsiders, extended family, close friends, each other. For many families this navigation is done without even thinking about it. Some are more intentional when considering how open to be about the beginning stories of our lives as mothers or fathers, the first stories of our families and our children.
I think about this a lot, because the boundaries of my own little family are less clear than most – we are a family formed through a semi-open adoption. This means that our daughter’s first mother, Z, has a certain level of contact with us, and we with her. It isn’t a completely open relationship, though that is something we hope for. We are also a transracial family – our daughter J is black and Andrew and I are white. So there are some things about our origin story that are out there whether we choose to tell or not.
People are often curious, and I usually don’t mind telling a few details about us. If I am very comfortable with someone, I might talk about how we were chosen by an expectant mother, Y, to parent her child and how after that baby was born and we had met and held her Y changed her mind. I learn a lot about folks from their responses to that story. The part I love to tell, of course, is how shortly after we said goodbye to Y and her daughter I got the call about J – two weeks old and waiting for us to fly to Georgia and pick her up. Andrew and I both love telling that story – the first story of our life as a family of three. Sometimes when no one else is around we just tell it to each other, a litany of “remember when we..” sentences accompanied by dreamy smiles late at night.
The only parts of our adoption process and parenting that I hesitate to be completely open about with whomever I choose are the parts that don’t belong to me, those parts of J’s story that I didn’t experience with her, for example. Or the few things we know for sure about Z and her situation at placement and currently. Parts of “the” story that are not parts of “my” story per se.
But there is a part of my story that sometimes I wish I could hide, and feel quite private about. It is the part where we sought medical help to get pregnant. I don’t like to think about those experiences very much, and I struggle with feelings of regret that we even went there.
So this is clearly about me and my issues. I have a lot of friends – fellow adoptive parents and women who I met through my experiences with infertility – who have different experiences and feelings about fertility struggles than I do. I want to be clear that my experiences are not in any way commentary or judgment on anyone else’s feelings or experience.
“So,” Y said to me, maybe the second time we spoke on the phone. “Why are you all adopting… you couldn’t have any of your own?”
I cringed when she said that.
My discomfort came from a couple sources – I didn’t want her to feel sorry for me or to feel like her child was our second-best choice. But I wanted to be honest, so I told her that we tried to get pregnant on our own and with some minor medical intervention and then decided that road wasn’t for us. Her response was even more disturbing to me – I forget exactly what her words were, but it was something about how this was justice, how she just kept having babies she couldn’t take care of and it was only fitting for her to give one to someone who couldn’t get pregnant. I don’t think I had much of a response for her, I didn’t know what to say in that moment. But I knew that her statement was not what adoption was or ever should be. I didn’t want to become a mother because of a perception on anyone’s part that I “deserved” it and the first mother didn’t. That isn’t how it works – and it wasn’t. Y ultimately kept her child, and we fully supported her decision to do so.
Now when I look back on our experiences with the infertility business I feel a little ashamed. Not that we tried to get pregnant before deciding to adopt, but that we got involved in the roller coaster of drugs and fertility doctors after it became obvious that it wasn’t happening on “our own.” I feel ashamed because that was something I had vowed not to do. And when we were in it I didn’t feel good about it – it felt like a desperate gamble for something I didn’t even know if I wanted. My experience of all that was that it was a sad and sort of cheap game: roll the dice every cycle and if you get lucky you win. I just wanted to win, and each month that we “lost” was another excuse to feel bad about my body and the wasted money we’d spent on the latest round of drugs and testing.
All in all we quit the game long before we had exhausted all of our treatment options. We were able to get in touch with something that had always been a part of the value system we built into our marriage – that biology is not the last word on who is family to us. It is not even the first word, though it plays an important role in the relationships that have it. In fact J’s very important biology connects us forever to Z, and to her other first family members.
I am happy for people who struggle to get pregnant and succeed. I am happy for people who don’t struggle to get pregnant and still succeed. I am sad that somewhere in me I knew that road wasn’t mine – I think a part of me always knew – and I still pursued it. That’s what I don’t want Z or J to know, why I don’t like to answer the “why did you adopt” question very much. Though most of the time if someone asks I won’t hesitate to talk about it. Being able to face the parts of life that we don’t want to talk about is also a value (and skill) I want in the family we are building. Which means me first, I guess.