As I've reflected about mothers and motherhood, I've had other thoughts swirling in my head as well. Among them is compassion and sorrow for so many who are still in the throes of infertility. It's a grueling place to be.
There's the guilt that perhaps you're not relaxed enough, not trying hard enough, not in impeccable health, not young enough, not being aggressive enough with your doctor, and not confident about whether medical intervention or adoption is the path you should pursue.
For me, the guilt and self-doubt has been the worst part.
And I have to acknowledge that the struggle isn't necessarily over for me yet.
I attended an adoption conference last summer, which was a mandatory step to get qualified through our agency. I was skeptical about the title of one class I attended, called "The Joy of Infertility." But so much of what was shared has lodged permanently in my soul.
I needed that class more than I knew. The instructor was named Laurieann Thorpe, and as soon as she started speaking, sharing quotes from author Anna Quindlen and poems that I found unbearably beautiful, I wished she lived next door to me. This is someone I would be friends with for sure.
From her, a woman with one son via adoption, I learned that adoption does not cure infertility. It cures childlessness. This was a revelation.
Don't get me wrong; having my childnessess cured was certainly wonderful. For so many years, I just knew deep down that I was meant to be a mom, but I was terrified of how long I'd have to wait. I did try (and succeed) to live a happy and fulfilled life in the meantime, but there were some things I was putting on hold—certain projects I wouldn't commit to "just in case." The would-be nursery just sat there as an extra room that we never did anything with, because I couldn't bear to devote it to another purpose. And I couldn't bear to turn it into an official nursery quite yet either. And there were other things too. I was perpetually trying not to plan vacations or other things too far in advance, just in case. It's an unsettling spot to be in.
And then, when Keira Jane came along, I finally felt complete, like this is the life I was supposed to be living all along. Yes, I can most assuredly say that having my childlessness cured has been wonderful.
But in that class, I was warned (or prepared, I should say) that sorrow over infertility will rear its ugly head again at some point in the future. For me, it might be sorrow about not being able to give Keira another sibling, or the sorrow of never passing my genes on to another person, of being a genetic dead end.
I learned that infertility can be grouped in with miscarraige and even the loss birthmoms feel in something called "disenfranchised grief" or "ambiguous loss" or "the continuous presence of an absence."(That last phrase was from Anna Quindlen, and it's the perfect description.) You're not mourning for a loved one you had grown to love over years and years. You're mourning the loss of the dream you had of someone. And it's still real grief, although it's not publicly acknowledged or widely understood.
For the last couple of years before Keira arrived, I'd been waiting to "get over" infertility and make my peace with it before I pursued adoption. But I've realized that I'll never be over it all the way. It's a sadness that will hit me now and then, all throughout my life. Now that I know to expect that, I can stop thinking there's something wrong with me for still being sad sometimes, and I'm more prepared for what will come.
Laurieann Thorpe shared a hilarious video that I think many of us, whether infertile or not, can relate to. Feeling sad about not being able to start your family? Well stop it! Get over it! Isn't that what you feel like the world is telling you to do? It's not that simple.
For those of you going through this right now, I want to share two more quotes that were shared that day that helped me so much. I hope they help you.
A quote by Anna Quindlen, from her essay collection, Loud and Clear:
"Grief remains one of the few things that has the power to silence us. It is a whisper in the world and a clamor within. More than sex, more than faith, even more than its usher death, grief is unspoken, publicly ignored except for those moments at the funeral that are over too quickly, or the conversations among the cognoscenti, those of us who recognize in one another a kindred chasm deep in the center of who we are.
"Maybe we do not speak of it because death will mark all of us, sooner or later. Or maybe it is unspoken because grief is only the first part of it. After a time it becomes something less sharp but larger, too, a more enduring thing called loss.
"Perhaps that is why this is the least explored passage: because it has no end. The world loves closure, loves a thing that can, as they say, be gotten through. This is why it comes as a great surprise to find that loss is forever, that two decades after the event there are those occasions when something in you cries out at the continuous presence of an absence, 'An awful leisure,' Emily Dickinson once called what the living have after death."
And a poem by Billy Collins:
"She stopped at a page of clouds aloft in a pale sky, tinged with red and gold. This one is my favorite, she said, even though it was only a detail, a corner of a larger painting which she had never seen. Nor did she want to see the countryside below or the portrayal of some myth in order for the billowing clouds to seem complete.
''This was enough, this fraction of the whole, just as the leafy scene in the windows was enough now that the light was growing dim, as was she enough, perfectly by herself somewhere in the enormous mural of the world.''
You are enough. Perfectly by yourself. As I am. As we all are. And you're not alone.
p.s. Just now, I found a note written in the adoption conference program, while I was trying to decide if adoption was really truly right for us. It says "Something I need to get over: the feeling that I don't want to share." After what I wrote on Saturday, I'm happy to say that I have.