Time Wasted: Part 1

This is the first in a series of posts reflecting on the months leading up to the adoptions of my children. Suz and I will revisit this period of time, from our perspective and very different points of view, in the session we are doing together at the American Adoption Congress conference in April. It’s an intensely emotional time of life-changing decisions for surrendering mothers and prospective adoptive parents, yet for many, we know about on another only in the abstract. The misunderstanding we carry through our lives has often negative repercussions for our children and for ourselves, and has contributed to the skewed attitudes toward adoption that prevail in the mainstream.

But if adoption is to be, there has to be a better way to prepare us all for it, and to make sure that we all understand the lifelong implications of every decision we make. We owe it to our children.

I don’t have any answers. In fact, I pretty much have only questions. I also can’t promise that this will be interesting reading. It’s hard to look back at that time, for several reasons. At the top of the list is the fact that many of the details are hazy; after all, with The Boy turning 20 and The Girl 18 in a few weeks, I don’t remember it all clearly. Some of it was pretty painful, too, and once the kids arrived I allowed myself to just let it go. But I’m going to try to give as accurate an account of what I was feeling, and hopefully I and others can learn from it.

From my kids’ ages you can tell that my first steps toward adoption took place in the mid and late 1980s. My husband and I were about five or six years into infertility treatment; Third Dad had been ready to throw in the towel pretty early in the game, but I believed that if we just hung in there, we’d be successful. With each failed cycle, we upped the ante and tried the next-best treatment. But by 1987, following surgery to remove a large fibroid that lessened our chances even more, even I had to concede that it was unlikely I’d ever get pregnant. And so, based on no more than the little information we’d gathered at Resolve adoption education meetings and from a neighbor and now close friend who had begun the adoption process the year before, we applied in November 1987 to a local agency to adopt a child from Korea.

When I think back to those first steps, I remember two feelings above all: reluctance and relief. I didn’t really want to stop treatment, and believed, even after we submitted the application, that I’d succeed. Superstitiously, I worried that I’d jinx my chances of success by even starting the adoption process. But what little common sense I'd hung onto through those years of treatment (and believe me, common sense is hard to keep when you’re in the care of a reproductive endocrinologist) told me to send in the application, and so I did.

I also felt relief. In the very beginning, it was just a glimmer, the realization that the treatment that had controlled out lives for so long might soon be over, and yet we might still have a family with children. It was good to imagine life without the emotional rollercoaster of those many cycles of IUI, GIFT and IVF.

Reluctance and relief are a strange combination of emotions, though. I was alternately excited about this new possibility that we might have children, and depressed that our treatments had failed. Although our agency cautioned against pursuing an adoption and treatment at the same time, we did just that, and planned one more.

That last cycle of IVF was my turning point. From the medical point of view, it was picture perfect - hormonally, if ever a cycle had a chance of succeeding, this was it. But interestingly, it was during the most hopeful time, after our embryos had been transplanted and we could consider ourselves pregnant (if only for a few days and even though it wasn’t technically so) that life at the other end of the infertility tunnel began to come into view. When it became clear that I wasn’t going to stay pregnant, the glimmer of relief with which we’d mailed our adoption application and attended the required introductory meeting bloomed. Third Dad and I were sad that the cycle had failed, and we certainly grieved. But we had finally reached the point at which we could separate our desire for to be pregnant from our desire to parent. Perhaps this is why I can say with honesty that once we turned the page on infertility, it never caused us sorrow again.

So there we were: spring of 1988, infertility treatment behind us, adoption application accepted. Our reluctance had been replaced with relief, and although we knew virtually nothing about adoption, we were ready to embrace it. After all, it would bring us the children we would some day call our own. With success all but assured (as we knew of nothing that would prevent us from being approved), we were ready to move forward as quickly as the process would allow.

But this was 1988, the year of the Olympics in Seoul. We didn't know it that spring, but it was the beginning of another long and painful wait.

Part 2 coming soon.

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