By René Johnson Harper
Maybe it was the heat. After all, Stan and I did have an outdoor wedding. In August. In Nebraska. Maybe it was because we were idealists. Not that we hadn't experienced any hardships in our single lives, quite the contrary, but we had found each other. Smooth sailing and happy ending, right? Whatever it was, we imagined that we would retire to our little starter home with Savanna (my four year old daughter from a previous relationship), our new chocolate lab Zoe and pop some buns in the oven. It would be easy, like a package of Pillsbury dough. I would be barefoot and glowingly pregnant in no time. Boy were we cocky. And stupid.
Newlyweds don't think about infertility. It isn't on their radar. It lurks in the shadows and consumes friends of friends, the poor woman who works at the bank or your mother's “beauty operator.” Fast forward through years and years of TTC (Trying To Conceive) -- in my mind, that's how it appears anyway. Like a garbled blur of doctor's appointments, needles, ultrasounds, baby showers for friends where I smiled through tears and secretly hated them and (myself for feeling that way), another holiday meal "ruined" by the pregnancy announcement of family members we "should be" happy for, time spent under some doctor’s office bulletin board of twins, triplets, a clown car of kids that weren't ours. Yes, I am fast forwarding, because after all, this is a happy story. It is a story where I tell you, strangely, how infertility saved us. How it broke us open in ways we could never have imagined. How because of it, our family was formed in the most intricate, serendipitous (yes, I'm still a proud idealist) and lovely way.
More than twelve years had passed, we had now gone from TTC to TTA. Adoption was something we had been comfortable with from the get go. Growing up in a house with a revolving door for people down on their luck, friends who needed a place to get back on their feet, family members who needed extra special care...adopting felt like breathing to me. By this time, Stan was an elementary music teacher and Savanna was now a freshman in high school. Me? Well, I was immersed in learning the art of adoptive breastfeeding and through our adoption agency we were taking classes on writing the perfect "Dear Birthmother" letter (Dear Birthmother, do you think this letter where I try to talk you into giving me your baby is as presumptuous and condescending as I do?). We were also becoming well versed in adoptive bonding and transracial adoption. We were ready with open arms for the baby who would be ours.
Three years in the waiting pool and our hope dwindled. We mistakenly assumed that once we decided to give up on modern fertility marvels and commit to adoption, that it would happen smoothly and quickly. Again, we found ourselves envious of others. I remember clearly sitting in one of the adoption information classes and being overcome with jealousy at a couple who had been in the waiting pool a mere two months before being chosen by a Birthmother. In all of this, the mixed feelings I began to have were palpable. There was this exuberant hope, this dream on the horizon...I would never feel this baby move in my stomach, but I could feel this baby in my arms. The other side of the coin, a dark one. To attain that hope, that lovely dream, well, it would be at the expense of another mother. She would open her arms and release the most intimate extension of herself. She would not only entrust a life to me, she would chose me. How could that be? That this was something that actually happened every day seemed so strange. Being a mother myself, I could not imagine the pain that would ensue from letting a child go. I started to think more and more about this unfathomable pain. The rose colored glasses were off.
It was from this place and through this understanding that I was able to survive the failure of our first adoption match. They were so very young, sweet and so well intentioned. I felt protective of them as I did Savanna who was the same age. They made us baby books decorated with the sonograms of this baby boy. Our baby boy? We painted the nursery wall robin's egg. Stan put the bassinet we ordered together one night as we exchanged guarded looks of anticipation and wonder. I crocheted a blanket in dove gray. The morning we were to travel to get our baby boy, the phone rang. We both knew. The last message she had texted to me after she had given birth was this, "I can't stop holding him." I understood innately. This message contained within it, both sides of that coin, light and dark. She had found her light, we were headed into the dark. For months we tended our wounds. The gray winter continued long into spring for us. Flowers from friends filled the dark corners of the house I didn't feel compelled to clean. Our angel of a caseworker kept us looking forward and also encouraged us to feel it all.
The summer came. We decided maybe we weren't meant to parent again. Maybe we were to be early retirees, travelers, young empty nesters. We started cooking late dinners together, signed up for ballroom dance classes (that we never took), got a puppy, enjoyed sleeping in. We thought, "Maybe this isn't so bad." It was the last weekend in July. I had just packed away the last of the baby clothes and we had returned the nursery to it's former purpose. Stan chopped onions for the pasta sauce, I was enjoying my second glass of wine, the crickets sang, tomorrow we could sleep in. The phone rang. The woman from our agency suggested that maybe I would like to put her on speaker so we could both hear her. I shook inside. We both held our breath as she gave us the specifics of the young mother who had chosen us. As more information was revealed, I felt a fear rising up. How could we do this again? The waiting, the hoping, how many months? She stopped me, "Your baby is already here." She told us that Jazmine had read our letter in the hospital and felt she had found the couple she wanted to enter into an adoption agreement with. Baby would be ready to come home to us in a matter of days. We were speechless, numb...yet, our hearts were a resounding and collective, "Yes!"
Maybe it was the heat, after all we were welcoming our daughter, Novella to our family in August, in Omaha Nebraska. Maybe it was because we were still idealists. Our two families had become one in a matter of days. We entered into a "fully open" adoption. There was no hesitation on either part. Yes, there would be challenges and questions from our daughter. Yet, we all felt giving her both families would be a step toward honesty and transparency in all of her questioning. Connecting the dots, it turned out that Jazmine and Savanna attended the same school. Not only that, they shared many mutual friends and every day that I picked Savanna up, Jazmine had waited in the same place. I had driven by her daily...our "Novi" nestled inside close to her heart. Getting to know this amazing, brave, hilarious, spirited girl I knew what all the waiting had been about. Good things come to those who wait, but more importantly, the right things come to those who wait. Hallelujah for infertility! Hooray for the fact that the other birthmother couldn't stop holding her son! Twelve years later, in the same month our journey began, we had come full circle...with Novi at the center. This was just the beginning.
René Harper is a stay-at-home-and-work mother of a gown-up daughter and a preschooler as well as the grandmother of a baby boy. She is the creator and designer of www.chickabiddybaby.etsy.com where she makes dollies and stuffies and lovies for young and old alike. Her husband is an elementary music school teacher and they live in a creaky old house in midtown Omaha with their youngest daughter and two mongrels. She loves writing poetry and singing and performing in her spare time. Oh...and she likes pie.