Looking back now, I can pinpoint the exact moment everything changed. I was laying in a hospital bed, adrenaline and nerves in overdrive as two nurses pushed me down a long, empty hallway. I remember counting the flicking lights as I rolled past. It was hypnotic, the first moment of calm I’d felt in months, and all I kept thinking was, How did I get myself here?
I was about to undergo my second egg retrieval. I was in the throes of my second IVF cycle, plump and achy, swollen with almost a week’s worth of hormones in my gut. I’d been an emotional, irrational wreck for weeks. Months, probably. Actually, I’m pretty sure I became unraveled a year before when I went off birth control. I was 34 or 35 at the time and while I knew I wanted to have a child, pregnancy terrified me. It seemed more like a means to an end. Something to get through. Something to survive. But when I went off the pill, nothing happened. Literally nothing. My period, something I suffered through for 20 years, was gone. It simply vanished, abandoning me when I needed it most.
I went to my gynecologist who said I needed to gain weight. Ten pounds, she said, will probably do the trick. I went to a nutritionist who told me my diet was shit. “You realize that eating Cheerios is the equivalent of having cardboard for breakfast, right?” She put me on a full-fat diet. Still no period. I went to an acupuncturist. Nothing. I took herbs, vitamins, all the supplements I was told to. Still no sign of the damn thing. I went to my general practitioner who checked my thyroid and a host of other things: it turned out I had a tiny tumor on my pituitary gland. After an MRI I was told it was nothing to worry about. But still, no period. My gynecologist recommended I see a fertility doctor. Immediately we started an IVF cycle. I swiftly abandoned my mission to find out what was wrong with me and put all my energy into getting pregnant. I was down the IVF rabbit hole, barreling down this path with such urgency and determination that I forgot how much I didn’t want to be pregnant.
I knew I wanted to have a child, but pregnancy terrified me. It seemed more like a means to an end. Something to get through.
Still I was devastated when it didn’t work. I felt broken and incapable, but also slightly relieved. For the first time in a long time, I was thinking clearly. I didn’t want to be pregnant. My husband and I had talked about adoption years before, when we were dating, but now we were revisiting it as an actual option. I don’t know why it took me so long to get there. So I started talking to friends who’d adopted their children. One of them recommended her adoption lawyer. We went for a consultation and attended a few adoption seminars to really get a sense of what it was all about it because everything I thought I knew about adoption was totally wrong.
When you adopt a child in this country you can do so privately, through an attorney, or you can use an agency. We chose the former, and when you do, you’re responsible for finding your own child. Sounds impossible, right? It’s not. In fact, I quickly learned there are many, many women in the US who are having babies that they for one reason or another cannot parent. Our attorney advised us to place ads, or mini-profiles, in pennysavers and local newspapers, keeping in mind that not everyone has regular or convenient access to the internet. If all of this sounds daunting and overwhelming, it is. But it’s helpful to remember that while you have never adopted a child before, the professionals you’re working with have done this thousands of times.
I talked to dozens of women. Their backstories were wildly varied—most of them really just needed someone to talk to. They were scared and felt terribly alone. I spent hours on the phone just listening as they talked about their boyfriends, their families, their struggles, how they’re managing on their own. Sometimes we’d talk for weeks then I’d never hear from them again. My husband and I even went to Missouri to meet one woman: She had four or so children and a boyfriend who was in and out of jail. They were sure they wanted us to adopt their baby (she was seven months pregnant at the time). It was almost expected that we’d cover expenses related to the baby’s health and wellbeing, that included their rent, car payments and grocery bills. They asked for a lot and we gave as much as our attorney said was within reason, which turned out to be thousands of dollars. Then one day we stopped hearing from them. After all that time, we were back to square one.
A few months later, I met a woman from Ohio. Over the phone she was soft-spoken and warm. I felt comfortable with her immediately. She asked if I wanted to meet her at her next OB appointment and so I flew to Cincinnati for the day. As I sat in her doctor’s waiting room, I knew I shouldn’t get too attached, but I felt so connected with this woman. When she walked in, I immediately knew it was her: She was tall and beautiful and seemed to radiate warmth. Her eyes were kind. She walked over to me and gave me a hug. “Ok, mama, let’s get you some sonogram pictures,” she said. When she gave birth to our son a month later, I was in the delivery room. He was plucked from her belly and immediately placed in my arms. My husband and I had our own room in the hospital right down the hall from Charlie’s birth mother. On our third morning together, as she packed her bags to go, she told us that she was sure we’d give him an amazing life. In the three years since, we’ve tried every day to do just that.
When people realize that we’ve adopted our son, they always say something like ‘wow, it’s so great of you to do that.” Like we’re some kind of saviors. Not even close. We’re two parents who are sleep-deprived, time-starved and trying our best every day to raise a kind, curious, open-minded boy. I’ve also heard some incredibly stupid things, like, I always wanted one real baby, and one adopted baby…or …I don’t know if I could raise a child that wasn’t biologically mine... To that I ask, is there a difference? Is the love a parent has for a biological child any greater? I simply cannot imagine it. I couldn’t imagine a bigger more encompassing, overwhelming love than the one I have for my son. It reminds me of something Charlie’s birth mother told me when we were talking in her car, after her doctor’s appointment. She said, “This has always been your baby. I wasn’t meant to be his mother. You were. It was always you.”