After returning from India into the bleakness of a New England winter, the adoption felt farther away than ever. On the worst days, I found myself starting to sink into the kind of depression I hadn’t experienced in a long time. I sat on the couch, watching too much television, feeling sorry for myself about all the babies being born around me while I waited for something that seemed like it might never happen.
The wait had become excruciating. Any day we were supposed to hear from our social worker with a referral — a medical report and photograph of the little girl we were to be matched with — and each day of waiting drove me crazier than the last. It was hard to sit still. I had a tough time believing there really was a child on the other end of this bureaucratic process.
Maybe if my belly were growing each week, I would’ve believed more in the reality of my impending motherhood. Or maybe not. A friend who’d been through two miscarriages and her own battle with infertility told me that until the day her twin boys were born she didn’t believe things would be okay. Now I understood the superstition of not wanting to shop before a child is born. I was afraid to set up a room for a baby on the other side of the world, a baby I hadn’t even been matched up with yet, a baby who in my worst moments I worried I’d never have the chance to bring home.
It’s not that international adoption takes years and years: we applied just last summer. The problem is that the waiting started years ago. I’d always wanted to be a mom, a desire in part driven by my own unhappy childhood with a violent father and a mother who spent too much time crying in the upstairs bathroom. I wanted to have a happy, healthy home where things would be different, where my child wouldn’t have to worry about feeling safe. And since I didn’t want to do this alone, first I had to hunt for a partner — a person who was gentle enough, wise enough, adventurous enough, funny enough and kind enough to help me create the kind of household I’d always imagined.
Six years ago, I found that person, a cute graduate student named Neil. The next step was to convince him to have a child with me in the not too distant future.
When we first met, Neil wasn’t even sure he wanted children, and I scared him off by talking about potential baby names on our fifth date. (I blame it on a freezing cold Madison, Wisconsin, night and one too many cheap beers.) When we got back together a few weeks later I managed to take things more slowly, but in the back of my head I knew that Neil was A1 co-parenting material. We married two years later and, a year after that, when Neil had landed a good academic job and I’d begun writing, we started trying to get pregnant. We were young and hadn’t for a moment anticipated the months of waiting, the happiness and subsequent crash into depression after an early pregnancy ended in miscarriage, and then more waiting and disappointment when a much hoped for second pregnancy didn’t materialize. We briefly dipped our toes into the waters of the infertility clinic — which felt as cold to me as the frozen Madison lake where Neil and I skated on our third date. Quickly, we fled to the warmth of our local social service agency, embracing the idea of international adoption.
It’s now been six years since that too early date in the Madison bar where I mentioned baby names, so long that I don’t even like those names much anymore. It’s been a little less than three years since we started trying to get pregnant, and over two years since my miscarriage. So, although we began the adoption process just last summer, we’ve already done our share of waiting.
But somehow, I found this latest round of waiting to be the worst. Babies are sprouting up right and left: at any given moment it seems one third of my friends are pregnant, another third have infants underfoot, and the rest are single and don’t understand what’s so hard about waiting a year or two or three. My friends with kids urge me to take advantage of my freedom, to enjoy the luxury of sleeping in on a Saturday morning, or a late dinner out with friends. And yet, truthfully all I really want is to be starting my life as a Mom.
In the last legs of a New England winter there seemed no way I could muddle through another nine months or more of waiting. And then spring came, and something clicked. I realized there’s something to what those friends had been trying to tell me. This is it — my time of gestation, my pre-motherhood period of emotional incubation, as real as any pregnancy. I’m not sure why this all of a sudden made sense. Maybe it’s the change in season — this will be the very last spring before the adoption. Motherhood really is around the bend, and so these last few months are a gift I can give myself, a time to read and write and teach, to spend weekends eating Kung Pao Tofu with Neil, to practice lots of yoga and take walks with friends. It’s my time to think about the kind of mother I want to be, and what I want to teach my daughter about the world.