The heart can conquer the body
Every now and then, a columnist pleads for the indulgence of readers on a
personal matter. I am asking for that indulgence now. For the next month, I will be taking maternity leave. Human gestation still takes nine months. But until now I have not been able say when we would become parents, because I am not the one who is pregnant (at least, not in the biological sense). My husband and I will be adopting our baby – and so his or her exact arrival time has been a tantalizing mystery.
FOR US, ADOPTION represents the sun peeking out after a prolonged eclipse. Infertility is an emotionally, physically and financially devastating condition. I have been physically gouged during laparoscopic surgery, financially gouged by fertility specialists and emotionally gouged by the well meaning but insensitive comments of friends and relatives. Like a serious illness, infertility pierces the illusion we all enjoy of invulnerability. It shatters our sense that we are in control of our lives. The most careful timing of ovulation, the most painstaking scientific investigation of the process of conception, avail us nothing. There is nothing we can learn, nothing we can do to help ourselves. After a while, when infertility begins to feel permanent, it robs the couple of the sense that they are full participants in life. The roundness of being born, growing up, getting married, having children, then grandchildren, seems to get warped. One feels thwarted, stunted and sometimes … punished. Katherine Sosnowski, an adoptive mother who wrote of her feelings in the newsletter of Resolve, the organization for infertile couples, described the self-laceration of the infertile woman. “I lay in bed at night for six weeks waiting for the final adoption agency report, wondering if human beings could see what God had seen and take away my second choice as He had taken away my first.”
FRIENDS AND RELATIVES, even some physicians, offered pointedly unhelpful advice: “If you just relax; you’ll get pregnant” Ah. So not only are we unfortunate – we are to blame. Perhaps others derive comfort for themselves from this. It must be the infertile couple’s fault, they rationalize, and that’s why this will never happen to me. The world never looks so fecund as when you cannot conceive. I have become expert at spying a pregnant woman hundreds of yards away. She can be at the other end of the supermarket, standing at the meat counter, and from my vantage point at the produce section I notice her and hot tears will fill my eyes. At first, the adoption option seems little comfort. One hears stories of birth mothers changing their minds months after the placement. Waits at many adoption agencies can be as long as five years. Costs are extremely high. And just when you are wondering whether a baby with no biological tie to you will really feel like your own, you are plagued by hearing from all and sundry about the “real” mother vs. the adoptive mother. Does infertility then mean that one is never going to be a “real” parent? It used to feel that way to me, but it doesn’t anymore. I now understand that the focus on birth parents and open adoption is a consequence of supply and demand. Without denigrating the very real grief birth parents go through (all the braver since they could have chosen abortion) it is a fact that they are in the driver’s seat. Still, my husband and I are proof that it is still possible to find a wonderful agency that does confidential adoptions. For the first time in years, we are now starting to marvel at h0w lucky we are. Unlike our feelings while undergoing fertility treatments, we now know that we are going to be parents. For the first time, we are allowing ourselves to get excited, and even to decorate the baby’s room.
WE BELIEVE, WE TRUST, that while the mind cannot always conquer the body — it is the heart that can.
First Published July 15th, 1991