This is not the column I was expecting to write. In my last installment of Passport to Parenting, my husband Neil and I were waiting for a much hoped for adoption referral from India. The referral was long overdue, and I was starting to become deeply worried. My India program social worker was hopeful, but couldn’t make any guarantees about when (or even if) we’d receive a referral for a healthy child. She hoped to bring back referrals on a December 2006 trip to India, but came back with none. My local social worker thought that it might be a good idea to explore other options as we waited for the India program to pick up again.
We thought about getting on the list for another country, Ethiopia in particular, where waits were much shorter. And my mind kept going back to the road we decided not to take years before — IVF.
In the meantime, our India program social worker contacted us with a referral. We were elated and then devastated, as medical experts in India and the United States told us that this beautiful little girl was very much a special needs child, who’d most likely suffer from below average IQ and related developmental delays and disorders. We wrestled with the idea of taking on this new challenge, before making the heartbreaking decision that the reasons we’d initially felt unable to adopt a special needs child had not changed, despite the long wait to become parents.
Desperation kicked in. I was about to turn 35 and had been actively trying to become a mother for the last four years. My perfect images of adopting a little girl from India were no longer enough to keep me from seeing the reality — adoption wasn’t necessarily a sure thing. Nothing much is when it comes to parenting. If I really wanted to be a mother, I’d need to open myself up to all options, including international and domestic adoption, and maybe even have another go at fertility treatments.
A friend of mine, Jen Marshall, a book publicist and contributor to my miscarriage anthology About What Was Lost, struggled with infertility and miscarriage before deciding enough was enough and getting herself to a top fertility clinic in Denver, Colorado. She became pregnant with her twins there, on a first round of IVF, and had only good things to say about her time at the clinic. She’d since referred several friends to the Denver clinic, each of whom had become pregnant on the first try.
I hung up the phone with Jen, and Neil and I called the clinic. Massachusetts is one of the few states that cover infertility treatments, and we hoped that our insurance plan would allow us to see a specialist out of state. We spoke to the head doctor later that week, and flew out for a one-day exam the following week. Two months later we traveled back to Denver for the IVF cycle. Still hoping to adopt, we debated and put in only one embryo, thinking twins plus an adopted baby would be too much for us to handle. The decision to put in only one embryo would significantly lower our chances of success. Miraculously, I became pregnant on the first try with a singleton. Our India program social worker was thrilled for us, and said we’d need to pause ourselves on the waiting list. We could get back on at the top of the list once this baby-to-be turned two years old, so that the second baby would be younger than the first. (Some adoption programs are interested in maintaining “natural birth order.”)
The next few weeks were filled with excitement and worry. Having been through an early miscarriage and then edited an anthology on the topic, I knew too much about miscarriage to be certain that this pregnancy would make it.
But it did. I’m six months pregnant. All the early screening tests have come back with great results. I’m feeling good, growing bigger each week (thanks not only to the baby but my new cravings for vanilla milkshakes) and am continually shocked and thrilled that my waiting to be a mother is almost over.
Being pregnant, after years of wanting a child, is an all consuming, joy-filled experience. We rented out our apartment in Cambridge for six weeks this summer, and sublet a friend’s place near Washington Square Park in downtown New York City. Neil will be on an academic leave for the fall semester, and we’ve decided to spend that time in New York, too. We’ll be subleting our place again and renting a one bedroom from a friend on leave from Columbia University. Having grown up in the nearby suburbs and lived in the city during my twenties, New York is where I feel most at home, and where I wanted to experience pregnancy and childbirth. Neil and I are excited to explore the city together. I can easily say, despite the aches and pains and discomforts of pregnancy, I’ve never been happier.
We still hope to adopt our second child, and though I am reveling in the pregnancy, the experience has made me more, not less, interested in the complexities and possibilities of adoption.
During all my years of wanting a child, I have to admit that my images were 100% filled with little girls. I’d always pictured myself mothering a daughter. This would be my chance to reinvent and re-imagine my own mother-daughter relationship in the healthiest possible way. In the years spent planning to adopt, I appreciated the certainty that we’d be having a girl, and my thoughts and fantasies about having a daughter grew.
When we started in on the IVF cycle, of course I knew we were just as likely to have a boy. But this possibility didn’t truly sink in until my 12-week sonogram, when the technician smiled. “Do you want to know the sex?” she asked. “Yes,” we nodded, still fixed on the baby’s heartbeat. She pointed to the nascent evidence.
We’re having a boy.
It must sound horrible to say I had mixed emotions.
A boy! How would I relate? What would we talk about? How would I keep up with him? Gender stereotypes flooded my brain. So did memories of the house I grew up in, with a temperamental and often violent father. Talking to friends and acquaintances, I’ve heard stories of women bursting into tears in the ultrasound room when they hear the news that they are having a boy. Of course we all just want a healthy baby, but the initial news that we are now charged with the task of growing and being in charge of a little penis can be overwhelming, especially for those of us who’ve experienced serious difficulties with men, and particularly male family members, in the past.
There are many women, of course, who embrace the idea of having a boy, who prefer a boy for the idea that he will be less complicated, perhaps easier and even more fun. Then there are those enviable people like my husband Neil who weren’t raised saddled with huge gender expectations, who don’t think of babies and children through the prism of gender. (Neil grew up in Berkeley, California in the 1970’s, and spent as much time in dance and musical theater class as on the ball field.)
After years of thinking about mothering a girl, I’m now wondering what kind of mother I’ll be to a boy. How might mothering a boy challenge and transform my ideas about gender? How will mothering a boy change me as a woman? Should I have any different expectations of the mother-child relationship?
Having been raised in a household dominated by a man with tempers and rages, how can I set a different tone in our home? How will I raise a “good” boy — a Mama’s Boy — not in the traditional sense, but meaning a son who will grow up to be a funny, sensitive feminist like my husband? Will my son and I become as emotionally connected as I’d imagined being with a daughter? Could this little boy, kicking as I type, be mine?
In this new column, I’ll chronicle the process of coming to love and embrace the idea and the realities of mothering a boy, with all the ups and downs and life lessons that come along the way. I hope you’ll join me.