I can remember when, as a young lady in my early 20’s I first learned of some health issues that I had which might make it tricky for me to have biological children. I was not yet married, but knew in the back of my mind that once I found my future spouse it would behoove us to try sooner than later to begin a family. Yet I also, from as early as I can remember, carried a desire in my heart to adopt a child who needed a family. Both of these pathways to adding to our family were possible, in my mind.
Fast forward ten years. I was now married, had moved away from family, and was trying to settle in to a new state where I didn’t know a soul. It was not so easy to imagine that “jumping into” having a family was a good thing so early into our marriage. In the back of my mind, I knew about the possible difficulty my health issues would cause. But we were not settled into a good place in our lives yet.
When I was thirty-three, we moved back near my hometown. I finally felt like we would be able to pursue having a family, because we were settled nearby family. I was not surprised when we had difficulties because of my age and my past surgeries due to endometriosis. We delved into the world of fertility treatments. After a few failed attempts and side effects from medications, we stopped. Why spend tens of thousands of dollars on the next steps in treatment that may not work out when we could adopt a child in need of a family? I truly wanted to adopt, yet thought we might later revisit having a biological child, too. I was a little worried that nobody could ever tell me what the exact problem was. I was given the diagnosis “Unexplained Infertility.” But I kept a door open to figuring this all out at a later date. We simply decided to pursue adopting, first.
In the summer of 2005 I was on my lunch break at work as I sat outside on a park bench. A distinct feeling came over me that there was a baby in the world that needed me. It was a clear sense that there was a specific baby that had already been born that God had identified as one that was going to be in our family. It might interest you to know that at the time I had this thought, our future son, Liu would have just been born (April 2005). Isn’t that interesting? I had other taps on the shoulder from God that made it clear to me that we should pursue International Adoption. Someday I will perhaps write about those, too.
Soon we were in the adoption process. Any questions or issues of fertility were pushed to the side. Well, actually they were pushed back out of my mind. I won’t say they were gone, just pushed down somewhere deep. Later on they would come back, begging for attention.
The adoption process was long. That’s putting it mildly. I thought it would become easier once we received our referral-a picture of an eighteen month old boy with the chubbiest, rosiest cheeks I have ever seen-but now we knew who we were waiting for. And while the idea that MY little boy was languishing in an orphanage a half a world away, we were trying to justify our existence-or so it seemed, as we filled out reams of paperwork to prove we would pass muster as parents. This idea grieved me so. At that juncture, I was NOT grieving over not getting pregnant. But I WAS filled with anger over the seeming injustice over the fact that many…even those who DIDN’T really want to have children would haphazardly hop into bed with someone one time and then suddenly announce, “Surprise! I’m pregnant.” I just didn’t understand why the world worked this way. And if I’m honest, I felt like this was somehow “God DOING THIS to ME.” I sooooooo wanted my little boy to come home to me. It hurt my heart as the months went by and he got older and older…and we just had to wait….I was grieving over the difficult process we had to go through to bring our son home. It’s. Not. Fair.
While I grieved, or got anxious and angry, during that process, I did not let myself express or even feel much sadness over what I considered the “betrayal of my body,” or my inability to conceive. Two reasons kept me from doing so: I NEVER wanted others to think I was adopting as a second choice. I believed with my whole heart that had we conceived or not we would still be pursuing adoption at some point. I always wanted to do that. And, because I still told myself that we would try the biological route again later. I didn’t want to think my body was broken and couldn’t be mended. Yet as I aged, I knew the chances were small…but there was a chance. So how do you grieve over the chance of future loss that might happen, but wasn’t for sure yet?
This is what is particularly tough with this type of grief…Anticipatory grief…It is complicated because you can see the handwriting on the wall. You can see what might happen and it is tough to imagine how you would handle it if it actually becomes reality. In my case, I knew that I would grieve long and hard once this door was truly closed. But the door always remained a tiny bit open. My mind was telling me that we would maybe find some way to beat the odds. The mind has many defense mechanisms. Maybe it is its way of protecting itself from taking in too much, too soon before it’s ready. I just could not fathom any possibility that something I had wanted so badly, a “good” something, no less, could actually never happen. It couldn’t happen for me, when, for so many others it seemed so easy and natural. I pushed those thoughts away the best I could.
So finally the time came in July 2007, after an eighteen month process, to go to China to bring our son home! The moment we met was absolutely stunning. I felt that this boy was without a doubt MINE. I felt like he was a part of my heart that had been missing all of my life and it was GLORIOUS. I will give that story the treatment it deserves in another entry…not here. It should be said, that I realized, too, the magnitude of this little guy having to soon leave everything he was familiar with. He would have his own grieving process. You see, there is nothing “easy” really about adoption.
I was then plunged into the world of being a first time mom…to a hyperactive, malnourished toddler with a history of cleft lip and palate and many delays in development. But my heart was all in. I loved him and felt so much empathy for him from the beginning, knowing how much he had been through. All kinds of losses in his little life. But I didn’t know how to handle his constant motion. I am not exaggerating when I say the boy Never. Stopped. Moving. Not even when he slept.
I remember even in China, he would cry as soon as I put him down. So I would not put him down. My arms were so unbelievably sore from holding him all day long. The only reprieve from that was when we would push him around in his little stroller. He loved that, yet he would turn around every so often to make sure I was still there. My exhaustion started then. I felt the huge weight of being the one that met his emotional needs. I did NOT want to let him down. I was ever so aware of what he had endured in his young life and I never for a second wanted him questioning if he was lovable or safe. I didn’t want him to feel any more abandonment. My natural instinct was just to hold him and nurture him like a new baby even though he was 27 months. As it turns out, that IS the way many experts say to treat a newly adopted child. The missing piece for me was that I wasn’t letting my guard down even for a moment. I wouldn’t let go of the guilt if I had to leave him. In the beginning I felt guilty even going to the restroom or taking a shower. So I rushed everything I did. I didn’t even feel like I could enjoy a break such as a hot shower or bath. I went as quickly as I could, so as not to have him questioning my whereabouts…My self care pretty much fell by the wayside.
I was so utterly overwhelmed. I needed a break. Yet when I got one I felt guilty and horrible. I didn’t have the first clue what I was doing. I was tired all the time and I got depressed. I couldn’t tell people I was feeling that way because they might say, “Well this is what you wanted. You chose this, didn’t you?” There is a real thing called “Post Adoption Depression Syndrome.” I wish I had known that, and gotten help sooner. I didn’t know how to handle his needs, my needs went unmet, and I was afraid to tell people what I was going through. My husband, I know was overwhelmed, too. I didn’t know where to turn for help. I didn’t want people to think I regretted adopting our son. It was never that. But I did have some anger around, “why is THIS way so hard? That, too, is grief…but I hated to admit and label it as such. To do so seemed to me like it took away from the beauty of the way our family was formed. I didn’t ever want my son to think that because I regretted some of the hardness of the process that… well, use your imagination.
This is why it’s complicated. Something that you grieve can also be…something good? I mean I was so happy to have adopted our son, but I was also pretty stressed out at the time and even went through depression. It seems odd that one can be depressed during good changes, such as the birth or adoption of a child. Yet it is true. I wish I had realized that all the feelings I was having were normal, understandable, and OKAY. Things just got harder. Just because I couldn’t admit the grief, doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. It kept begging to be acknowledged, until I was barely functional. The good news is I did eventually get help for what I was going through. I learned better coping skills and started giving myself permission to take care of myself. I believe that no matter how much we tried to prepare ourselves for the adoption journey, it just wasn’t enough to truly equip us for the road we had ahead.
Now, back to the biological issue. After Liu, we did in fact revisit the idea of fertility treatments. But the time that had gone by took its toll on what little chance was there to begin with. Now I heard that our chances were little to none. At that time, much as before, I pushed it away. I could not take that in. I told myself that “little to none” was still a chance. I chuckle about that now. Can you say “denial?”
For the past several months, I have found a new strength I never knew I had. I began to let those feelings of sadness come. At times I would be driving somewhere, just listening to the radio and suddenly my eyes would fill with tears. I realized that the time had come to face up to the truth of the situation. So, I would spend a little more time talking to God, Telling him how bad it hurt in my heart. I let myself cry if I felt like it. I would play music and paint a picture or knit or crochet. I figured those too were forms of lament. The repetitive motion of the crochet hook in my hand was soothing to me as I worked out my feelings and gave them up to God. I began to feel that God was holding me quietly through my hurt.
I know at this point that I will never have a biological child. Let’s just be honest. I never thought I would be THAT woman. But I am that woman. I still can’t believe it. I will never know why. I will never understand it, and that is okay. I can now admit it. I am beginning to move towards accepting it. And that makes me happy, it makes me smile.
I also believe that had I conceived at some point, that would have altered everything. We still would have wanted to adopt, but I don’t believe we would have gotten OUR son. I cannot imagine our lives without this boy in it.
So, now, I find myself in a strange place. I am middle-aged, close to that “change of life” place, yet hoping for more children. It is indeed curious. The biological clock in my own body is “over it” already. But the one in my brain and heart is ticking as loud as ever. I never thought such a thing could be. Or that it would be MY reality.
Another important realization I have learned along the way: To grieve the inability to conceive or bear a child does not mean I am not, at the same time exceedingly grateful for our son. At times I have thought that others felt I had no right to be sad. I mean, we have a family, right? Why be sad, if you have a child? Well, they are two separate issues. By having grief over not conceiving, I am NOT saying that way is the BEST way to have a family. It is just that I wanted to experience both ways. Having gone through adopting, I know there is so much beauty there, despite the difficulties. But there is no “better” way to a family. Just different ways.
Ultimately, I am very thankful for our son, Liu. I feel fortunate to have family at all, when others have none. All in all, I am much stronger now than I ever was. Not just because I went through those things, but because I have allowed myself to struggle. I pleaded with God for answers, I wrestled with my feelings. I went to the dark places, when I was ready, feeling the despair and not running from it. Time DOES NOT heal all wounds. It matters what you do with the time you are given. If you want healing from your wounds, you have to pursue it and work at it. Our Supreme Healer, so accustomed to deep sorrow is waiting by our side to hold us during our own sorrowful days. He wants to bring us great joy! “He came so that we might have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10)”.
That is my prayer, for you too. As you find yourself facing up to hard things you never thought you could, I pray that you would find a great inner strength that surprises you and the strong hand of the Savior holding you close.