Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Infertility and Adoption

So it turns out that April in National Infertility Awareness Month -- who knew, right?  Honestly I didn't know until a couple days ago when I saw it on someone else's blog.  Doh.  Truthfully, I tend not to pay much attention to that sort of stuff -- I'm not really the activist type.  I tend to have people, not causes. But a blog post seems like a pretty small step for saying a bunch of stuff that I've been wanting to say for awhile anyway.

It seems like infertility and adoption get lumped together a lot.  It drives both the infertility groups and the adoption groups a little bit crazy sometimes.  I mean think about it -- how big a deal can your (whichever it is) issue be if it's always tagging along with another one?  And so I feel a bit ambivalent about lumping the two together yet again, but I have good reasons for it.

My last and final IVF treatment was just this past June.  If you don't know the story already you can find it here.  Jason and I brought Max home from Russia in February.  I went from grieving yet another cycle to being a mother to a two-year-old in less time than if I had carried that embryo full-term.

Wild, right?  I am still reeling from the shock of it myself.

So what I'm saying is that the ins and outs of both infertility and adoption are incredibly fresh in my mind this year and so I'm going to lump the two together.  I promise to find something new next year.

Years ago when we first investigated (domestic) adoption, I distinctly remember our social worker telling us that adoption means loss for all members of  "the triad": the loss of a biological child (birth-parents), the loss of a biological family (adoptee), and the loss of infertility (adoptive parents).  I'm not sure how much it sunk in at the time (apparently enough that I remember it, at least) but it's been percolating through my head for years now, and I think I understand it better now.  Certainly now that Max is home I am confronted daily by the losses -- tremendous, terrible losses -- that he has already suffered in less than three years of life.

It hurts my heart when I think about it for too long.

Yet oddly enough it is my years of infertility that allow me to step up to the plate and look at those losses -- and mine -- with (I hope) empathy and compassion.

So often we think of adoption as a quick equation.  Childless parents + parentless child = adoptive family.  Adoption seamlessly replaces biology and all is well.

It might work that way for some people.  In fact, I think I know a few people for whom that is true.  But I know others for whom the equation is not so simple.  We want to believe that adoption "fixes" both infertility and the loss of a birth family. It seems like it should.  After all, love makes a family, not genetics, right?


The thing is that while biology is certainly not everything, it is also not nothing.

We Mormons traditionally put a lot of effort into thinking about heritage and ancestry.  It's just one of those things.  I think if you were to draw the LDS view of an individual it might look a bit like this:

We are the dot in the middle -- above is our ancestry, the great-grandfathers and long-gone grandmothers who have given us our skin color, our hair color, the shape of our eyes, our gift for music or for sports.  Below is our progeny -- a hazy future mix of genetics where maybe some future grandson or granddaughter will have the same smile, the same freckles, the same aptitude for physics.  Most people take all of this for granted -- the idea that you can set yourself directly in the middle of a past and future and take a look around to see yourself.

This is not the case for everyone.

Max's tree looks like this:

 He doesn't get to look at me and say, "Oh, so that's where I got my hair/cheeks/whatever."  There is a certain comfort to being able to do so that I will never be able to give him.

My tree is the opposite:

My little boy is clearly the most beautiful child ever born -- but I can't take any credit for it.  None of our grandchildren will have Jason's red hair or my pointy chin.  Jason and I...well, we're a biological dead end, I'm afraid.  

It's not the worst thing in the world, being a dead end.  I can think of plenty of worse things.  But it is a loss. And yet this is a loss that allows me to see the losses of Max's life more clearly.  They are not the same, of course.  Our losses are the inverse of one another's.

I think of all the times when I have heard people say (online or in real life), "I could never look for my biological family because I think it would hurt my adoptive parents' feelings."  And yet...biology is not nothing.  If in five years it were miraculously possible for me to have a biological child, would I turn the miracle down?  How would I not want to plug that final hole?  Knowing this, then how could I do anything but support my adopted child(ren) if someday they want to find the people that are biologically "theirs?"  

Adoption agencies often tell prospective parents that before they commit to adoption they need to "resolve their feeling about infertility."  I think this is part of that -- to realize, deep down, that there is a loss that both adoptive parents and their adoptive children share.

And yet families have never been strangers to loss.

We lose pets.  We lose grandparents.  We lose jobs.  We lose children.  We lose parents.  We lose marriages.  We lose spouses. We lose trust.  We lose faith.

And we move on despite those things.  We do the best with what we have -- no matter how much or how little there is.  Our relationships stretch to protect the scars that those losses leave behind.

A few months ago a few friends threw me a toddler shower.  I had already met Max at this point and was well on the way to finally being a parent.  One of my friends suggested for the benefit of the others that I tell "the story."  I am a pretty decent storyteller most of the time, but this one fell remarkably flat.  Ostensibly this is a happy story -- and it is, I assure you! -- and yet there are veins of grief running through it.  I don't hide them completely, though it's tempting.  But "the story" -- and by this I mean the circumstances of Max's background and my struggle with infertility before adopting -- is never going to end up being shared in casual conversation.  It's too complex and too fraught with false starts before finally winding to the happy beginning.

And yet is is a happy beginning.  Mark my words, it is a marvelously happy beginning.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


So about two weeks ago we had a major upset one afternoon.  I started to blog about it, but never got past the post title, which was: "My fat lip and his goose egg."  Essentially the story went like this: one afternoon while my friend was visiting, Max was sitting on my lap and did one of those two-year-old head butt things that pretty much ended with me trying to hold a conversation while holding an ice pack to my lip.  Not even an hour later he was clambering around on the couch and took a flying leap off.  I caught him...sort-of.  While he didn't hit the floor, his forehead made an audible bonk on the end table.

(Just remember for a moment that at this point I have been a mother for all of...oh maybe 40 days).

After the bonk, Max freaked a bit.  He wouldn't let me touch him, and cried for oh, maybe a minute.  I was thinking, "Phew!  That was close."  Fast forward two minutes and he's sporting a big old goose egg.  I've heard about these, but never seen one in real life.  The thing stuck out almost half an inch from the middle of his forehead!  It was terrifying.  I wrangled him into letting me look at his pupils and my friend and I managed to mostly get an ice pack on him while putting on the TV.  (He seemed fine at this point, and though I kept a close eye on him for the rest of the day, we barely even ended up with a bruise afterward).  

But it was a bit of an eye-opener.  

Max was in panic mode -- you could tell.  He trusted no one to comfort him -- least of all me! -- and honestly he barely cried, considering.  I know you are all thinking, "Wow, tough kid."  And he is.  But it's more than that.   He never noticed when something hurt.  Scraped hands?  Not worth bothering about.  Bonking your head on Mama's?  Hysterically funny.  The truth is that he had never quite learned to communicate when something hurt.  And it is learned response when you think about it.  Why throw a fuss if there's no guarantee that someone will pay attention to it?

So...I decided that Max needed to learn about owies.

Every time he did something that might have hurt, I exclaimed, "Owie!" and ran right over to give it a kiss.  (This was not always a welcome response, by the way.)  We played with Band-aids until he will occasionally even let me put one on his hand for all of 15 seconds.  

Then last night he was a crazy man as he was going to bed.  He was wearing a set on monkey pajamas and boy did he ever live up to them!  Jumping on the bed, throwing pillows, you name it.  And what do you know?

He bumped his head.

I said, "Owie!" and leaned over to kiss his head, even though he hadn't hit it very hard.  He didn't pull away.

Then he did it again and I did the same.

The next time, as soon as he bumped his head he immediately stretched out for me to kiss it.  

He did it twice more -- on purpose this time, I think, just to repeat the experiment.  And of course I always kissed the owies and eventually my little monkey decided it was time to sleep.

Image Source: TheFasterTimes.com

I expect that he is suddenly going to find lots more owies, and that's ok.  Because this time he can trust that I will be there to kiss them away.  

Sunday, April 8, 2012

First Easter

Easter is my favorite holiday.  Always has been, and now I think it always will be.  Since meeting Max, our family has celebrated several major holidays (starting with Thanksgiving and a November birthday and all the way through the winter holidays).

Today was the first major holiday that we spent together.

We started out with Church -- he made it maybe 15 minutes through the first part of the service, which is truly a continual improvement!  Afterwards, Jason gave him his "baby blessing" -- the Mormon version of a christening. Both of our mothers were there, Max wiggled like the mini-tornado he is, and it was a really special moment for everyone.

The Easter Bunny came while Max was asleep for his nap -- and happened to be VERY generous this year. OK, maybe it was a little over-the-top, but I am quite convinced that several different bunnies happened to be a part of this Easter...table.

Afterwards we took ourselves out to the front of the house for an egg hunt!  It took Max a few eggs to get the idea of it (partly due to the fact that he was totally fascinated by the lawnmower running next door!) but pretty soon he was finding eggs all over!  (Even better -- he seemed more interested in finding the eggs just because it's sort-of fun than because the eggs are filled with sugar!).  Later in the afternoon he even went back out to look for more!

Amazing what you can find in the yard!

Happy Easter from our family to yours!

Friday, April 6, 2012

One Year Ago Today

I'm not generally a person that remembers dates.  Really -- ask my best friend.  She can tell you that any scheduled event in my life tends to occur give or take a week.

So I find it odd that I can remember exactly where I was one year ago today.

Last year on this day I spent most of the day at the IVF clinic for an egg retrieval.  Jason was there with me, I got to wear one of those super-sexy hospital gowns, and my ovaries were the size of softballs (yes, it was incredibly uncomfortable, if you are wondering).  And I distinctly remember telling Jason that I had a good feeling about this one -- that this was going to be the time that worked.  And I suppose that last time was the closest we ever got but still...not so much.  It was wrenching and I came so close to giving up on having a family at all.

And yet tonight as I write this, Max is asleep upstairs in a room full of monkeys after a day at the zoo.

So much can change in a year.

I don't know exactly what exactly Max was doing a year ago today, but I know just where he was.  And (as I think I have said before) while his baby home was not the sad, awful place that so many people imagine an orphanage to be, neither was it a home.  There were no sloppy dog kisses, no cuddles with Mama and Papa, no trips to the zoo, and no cookies to bake when you get up from nap.

And yet tonight as I write this, Max is asleep upstairs in a room full of monkeys after a day at the zoo.

So much can change in a year.