The "A" Word
I have a thing against nasty language. I'm no Mrs. Grundy, but ugly words make me cringe. I've been known to order my broody high school students to replace their favorite "That sucks!" with the more palatable "That Hoovers". If the euphemism goes over your head, you're welcome to drop by my house for dinner, where we own a Eureka (not a Hoover) that mostly hangs out in the closet with the dust bunnies during soccer/track/tennis season.
So, the "A" word. What is it? you ask. Or maybe you've already guessed. The word is "adoption". When my husband, Mark, and I kicked off our fertility efforts -- beginning with basal thermometers and scheduled intercourse and later diving into the alphabet soup of assistive reproductive technologies -- I scrawled the "A" word at the bottom of my "How to Have a Baby" plan as a "just in case". At age 27, with plenty of childbearing years ahead, I was certain the expletive would stay confined to that piece of paper until I crumpled and tossed it into the trash upon accomplishing my own healthy pregnancy. Like most people, I viewed having a biological child as the gold standard and adopting one as a consolation prize.
Four years later, after a boatload of failed procedures and a tubal pregnancy, I found myself not just warming to the idea of adoption, but downright enthusiastic about bringing home a baby born of another woman's labor.
Our adoption journey officially began the very same day a phone call from a nurse informed us of our failed frozen IVF transfer. After bawling until my eyes puffed up and my head pounded, I strolled over to the phone and dialed the number of the adoption agency that featured the largest ad in the yellow pages. My sudden resolve was a sign that the idea of adopting a child had been rolling around in my subconscious for some time. At 31, while infertility treatment was still an option, I was ready to leave its crazy-making hormones and false hopes in the dust. I was ready for a baby -- any baby -- to call my own.
Less than a year after that phone call, we brought home a blue-eyed, rosy-cheeked baby girl. Her sister followed two years later. Now my daughters from another mother are entering their teens and I've had fifteen years to examine my initial perception of adoption under a microscope. Is adoption second best? Has disparate DNA hindered the development of a deep relationship with my daughters? Has mothering two girls that I did not birth made me less of a mother? For years, these unspoken fears compelled me to chase after a biological child as if my life depended on it.
It's true that adopting a child adds another layer to his identity, another set of family whose story must be tended carefully. Perhaps this, more than anything, is why people shy away from it. When it comes to babies, we have a burning desire for sole proprietorship. Or maybe our anxiety lies in the unknown, the "otherness" found in a child with different biological parents.
Regardless of the reason for this seeming adoption aversion, I am obliged to set the record straight.
Fifteen years into mothering, I have survived toxic diapers and sleepless nights. Ear tubes and potty training, kidney reflux and strep throat. I have dragged screaming toddlers to dance lessons and braved April soccer games in frigid temperatures. I have witnessed the awkwardness of middle school and borne late-night couch sessions discussing mean girls and monthly periods. I have even survived my daughters' questions about their birth families without falling apart. What I could not endure, however, is not being their mama.
But how to explain this certainty to the world...that regardless of lineage, my daughters and I belong to each other?
My 12-year-old spitfire, Faith, barreled into the kitchen this morning declaring, "Mom, my mouth hurts! Look!"
With a cross bite and a surplus of teeth in Faith's dainty mouth, our orthodontist, Dr. Shannon, fitted her with expanders three months ago. When I peered at her hard palate, I discovered the pain source. Faith's gums had begun to grow around the metal appliance.
"Ouch Honey!" I said. "Do you want an ibuprofen? Should I make an appointment?"
"Nah" she replied. "Dr. Shannon said it's normal, but it's really gonna hurt when they take off my expander in a couple months!"
I winced on the inside, but gave Faith a reassuring smile.
Like Faithy's invasive expander, my girls and I have spent years growing around each other. My mothering began when I first held each soft bundle in my arms. Through the years, our bond has cemented amidst spilled chocolate milk and living room dance-a-thons, dirty socks abandoned on the kitchen counter and dramatic eye rolling.
While relatives spring from shared bloodlines, families are forged from shared life.
My daughters are mine and I am theirs and "the A word" has become my own exquisite jewel. Now, I fasten it proudly and gratefully around my neck so that all the world can see its shimmer.