I’m more than a little embarrassed to admit this, but from the moment I started dating my husband, Neil, I was dying for him to ask me to marry him. When he did, offering me a plate of pasta and tucking an antique engagement ring inside the cheese grater, that’s when I started having major second thoughts. Did I want to marry a man who was a card-carrying workaholic? Did I really want to buy into the institution of marriage? Was I sure I was even straight?
I felt something similar in the days after making the decision to end infertility treatments and get started with the adoption process. Had I stopped trying too soon? Would I always have regrets?
Although I’d thought about adopting one child and giving birth to a second, I hadn’t pictured myself going through life without at least one full-term pregnancy. Ever since I’d watched a natural-childbirth film during an Intro to Women’s Studies class my sophomore year of college, I’d imagined myself pacing the floorboards of my house during labor, holding my sweetheart’s hand while waiting semi-peacefully for the next contraction, giving birth in a bathtub. And since I first laid eyes on a new mother walking through a health-food market with an infant tucked into her canvas baby sling, I pictured myself walking in her Birkenstocks. Just the thought of a baby clinging to my breast, feeding off my body’s milk, seemed like the sweetest experience one could know.
When we made the decision to adopt, I thought I had come to terms with letting go of the idea of breastfeeding and childbirth, but silly as it may sound, I couldn’t seem to let go of the thought of a baby sling. And I didn’t think I would have to — after all, my new favorite celebrity, Angelina Jolie, international-adoption poster mother, carried her new baby girl in a Baby Bjorn. (Despite having only seen one of her films, I secretly adore Jolie for making adoption hip.)
And then, halfway into the home-study process, I found out that babies coming from India, where we’d already decided to adopt from, are older than we’d expected, 15 to 18 months — not really babies, after all, but young toddlers. This news was hard to take. All I could do was think about what I was going to miss out on. The news felt like another in a long line of small deaths that had begun with my miscarriage. But waiting is a reality of international adoption. The court system in India works slowly and diligently, and, like many bureaucratic processes there, adoption takes time. There can be as much as a year from the time of referral to when the child gets to come home. Our social worker wanted to know if I was okay with that.
Could I accept an older baby? Should we instead adopt from a country, like China or Ethiopia, where we’d be matched with a younger baby? If we decided to go ahead with our plans to adopt from India, we’d be bringing home a child with her own history and thoughts and feelings, not the blank infant slate I’d been picturing. I wasn’t sure if I could make the mental adjustment. My baby-sling fantasy was showing signs of unraveling.
During this time, I made the mistake of flipping through a motherhood memoir by Judith Newman in my local public library. Id enjoyed her recent pieces in O magazine, and the book, about being an older mother of twins, looked promising. Newman started trying to get pregnant in her early thirties. Seven years and a huge investment of time and money into infertility treatments later, she gave birth to twins at the age of 40. Her story made part of me feel reassured — because a seven-year ordeal was just what I wanted to avoid, and since we have no in-laws or parents around to provide help with childcare, I was terrified of managing twins on our own.
The other side of me wondered if I’d made the wrong decision by not pursuing fertility treatments. After all, Newman had her biological babies, eventually. I’d seen the photos of them in a recent magazine spread — they were beautiful kids. Not that my adopted baby wouldn’t be beautiful, too. But I didn’t yet know what that particular beauty would look like. There were so many unknowns, so many more, it felt, than would be involved with giving birth, and I wasn’t sure if I was strong enough to manage all that uncertainty. And then I arrived at the page when Newman turns to the question of adoption, and what she says to all the friends who ask her why she didn’t “just” adopt.
Newman’s take on adoption is, to put it mildly, bleak. As I read her mini-diatribe about why she didn’t adopt — because “the number of self-reported unhappy adoptees is huge” and “because you can’t turn on the television set without seeing people’s lives torn about by an irreparably damaged child who ‘just needed loving to straighten out’ ” — I wanted to curl up right in the library aisle and cry. All my anxieties and worries — everything that initially kept me from making the decision to adopt — came flooding back. Would my daughter resent me for taking her from her birth country? Would she accept me as her mother? And the biggest question of all: would she be able to love me even though we didn’t share DNA?
On a steamy hot August night in Cambridge, Neil and I went for dinner down the street and had a heartfelt talk about whether to stick with the plan to adopt from India. He reminded me of the research we’d read that completely counters Newman’s fear-based arguments and shows that there aren’t many important psychological or behavioral differences between adopted and biological children.
At the restaurant, Neil held my hand and reassured me, saying this was not just the right thing, but also exactly what we were meant to do. Something deep inside me told me he was right. There’s so much more to parental love than shared genes. There was another, bigger reason we’d chosen adoption, and moreover chosen to adopt from India. Does it sound ridiculous to say we believed we’d find our daughter there? Neil has always encouraged me to have big, risky dreams, and he has always been right in his advice to not listen to other people’s fears and judgments. That night, we decided this was our path, and we were sticking to it.
It’s now early December. Our social worker says we can expect our referral (a photo and medical information about our daughter-to-be) in a few months, and that we may be traveling to meet our child as early as next November. Meanwhile, Neil and I are getting ready to take a month long trip through India this Christmas (the first time for both of us) to start getting acquainted with the country, and to celebrate our imminent parenthood. I’ve even allowed myself to browse online for nursery furniture and strollers. Suddenly, for the first time, the adoption seems real. And, unlike last summer, I am sure that we’ve made the right decision. A friend recently said to me that somewhere in India, a little girl has just won the lottery. I like to think it’s the other way around. Neil and I are so grateful for the chance to become parents to a little girl who needs us, and who we need even more.