A cheerful email appeared in my inbox last Friday afternoon. A friend in California is pregnant with her second child. Then another email: a writing acquaintance is newly pregnant as well. Saturday morning, my neighbor knocked on the door and announced that his wife is pregnant too. I spent that afternoon shopping with a close friend who was looking for tunics and empire dresses and long sweaters that might work during her second trimester.
Months ago, the simultaneous news of three pregnancies would have left me in bed weeping. And I would’ve rather gone to the dentist than shopping with a pregnant friend. But something has changed in me. I’ve done my share of introspective work (therapy, yoga, meditation) but the outside world around me is shifting, too. Images of motherhood in the media are expanding to include international adoption.
Back when I was pregnant — briefly, for eight short weeks, three years ago — I holed up in bed in the evenings, eating egg salad on whole-wheat sandwiches, and reading gossip magazines. Courtney Cox was pregnant too, as were Britney Spears and Brooke Shields. Like Courtney and Brooke and Britney, I was living in Los Angeles, but short on money and shorter still on glamour. I was struggling with what to do with my life, and while I was thrilled to be pregnant, I was dizzy and sick to my stomach all day long. I was definitely not ready for my photo-op.
And, then, my world stopped. At my first check-up I saw the blank roundness on the ultrasound screen, the gray circle with no heartbeat inside. I miscarried and spent months grieving. Courtney, Britney, and Brooke remained pregnant and over the next few months, I followed along with the magazines and entertainment “news” shows as their pregnancies developed and their children were born.
None of my fellow pregnant women had perfect mothering experiences. Brooke Shields later appeared on the Oprah Show to discuss Down Came the Rain, the memoir she wrote about her experience with extreme post-partum depression. Courtney Cox, I read, suffered with multiple miscarriages and infertility before having Coco. And Britney Spears has played hostess to Child Protective Services more than once. No matter their problems, I envied them. I’d lost my pregnancy, and they had their babies.
Enter Angelina Jolie. Watching Angelina jet around the world with her beautiful adopted children changed the way I thought about adoption and becoming a mother. Following Angelina and Brad during their time in Paris, Africa, and now India (for the filming of their new movie), I saw a different version of motherhood reflected back to me. Angelina didn’t convince me to adopt — we’d decided on that before she hit the news with the adoption of her Ethiopian daughter Zahara — but in the months when I was coming to terms with my newly made decision, the romantic images of her and her family made me feel like my would-be family might be romantic and worldly, too. Angelina talked about having a “global” family, and these were words that resonated with me. A college semester in Nepal, plus a year spent living in Israel when I was 22 had opened up my life in a way nothing else had. Also, Angelina and I have something else essential in common: We’re both estranged from our fathers. And so, perhaps the biological connection between a parent and child means less to us than it might for others. In Angelina, I saw a motherhood not dependent on “bumps,” breastfeeding, or biology — even when she had her third child biologically — but on the daily art of mothering.
Madonna, who inspired me to wear stacks of black rubber bracelets on my arm in the eighth grade, recently adopted a son from Malawi, and controversy has arrived. Madonna appeared on the Oprah Show via satellite in late October to discuss the ethical questions surrounding international adoption and to talk about how her son was adapting to life at home in London. But however much criticism there may be, the media debate surrounding Madonna signals that international adoption has become a part of our culture.
These days, when I put my brain on ice at the end of a long week and flip through an issue of my favorite gossip magazine, I see glowing images of post-adoption motherhood. Angelina and Maddox and Zahara on location in Pune, India; Meg Ryan and Daisy True at lunch on Montana Avenue in Los Angeles; Ewan McGregor and his four-year-old adopted and biological daughters hand in hand on a trip to Jerusalem. Of course, these images are unreal in many ways, dependent as they are on fame and fortune and daily hair blow-outs; but then so are the photos of Hollywood’s pregnant actresses. At this point, with our referral long overdue, I’ll take inspiration anywhere I can get it — even in the pages of Us Weekly.