Written By Camille Parker in May 2019 as part of a project for Alana Hutchins, Momivate Director of Energy and author of Last of Her Kind: How a mother of eight can help you move from striving to thriving. (Book expected to be available in 2021) Published here with permission from both Camille and Alana. Thank you!
I never considered that infertility could be in my future. As a young bride of 19 years old (just a baby myself, really), I married a wonderful man and was blissfully naive to the possibility of being infertile. After our first anniversary I planned to get pregnant and have a child every two years until I turned 30. Five children; that’s what I wanted, and believed doable, with the full support of my man. Fast forward 10 years, and six weeks after my 29th birthday we adopted our first, and only, child. Funny how life is. And by funny, I mean fickle, inconsistent, painful, chaotic, unruly, and so very heartbreaking. We enjoyed lovely days together, my husband and I, during the 9 solid years of invasive infertility tests and procedures, coupled later with aggressive adoption interrogations and paperwork. We worked, traveled some, and spent time with friends and family, but mostly I remember experiencing extreme sadness, anger, frustration, jealousy, and a constant pleading with God for one successful conception and pregnancy; but it never came. The grief that accompanies infertility, and in my case, barrenness, is ongoing in some ways. I still flinch a little when a friend or relative announces her pregnancy. I still struggle when said friend or relative asks me to hold her newborn baby, because it feels too painful to engage with a precious life-form. I still try to avoid the maternity section in clothing stores. And I still get a glimmer of hope when my period is a day or two late, because maybe, just maybe...even though I know my period will come. It always does. Its consistency is oddly reassuring.
For me, a diagnosis of infertility was soul-crushing. In varying degrees, its doom infected every aspect of my life: my job, my hobbies, my social life, my future plans, my relationships with family, friends, and with God, and, of course, with my spouse. There were several years when sex was difficult. Not the mechanics, mind you, but the desire. Just have fun! Have as much sex as you want! It’s the best part of trying to get pregnant! people would tell us. But after a while, sex wasn’t fun; sex was stressful. Our intimacy was suffocated by the pressure of trying to conceive, and sometimes, yes, even the mechanics were nearly impossible. You try being aroused when all your hopes and dreams of becoming parents depends on the perfect timing, position, physical environment, and kismet of a single passionate shot to the uterus. Add in dozens of infertility tests, treatments, painful procedures, surgeries, oral and injectable drugs, vaginal suppositories, vaginal ultrasounds...vaginal EVERYTHING, weight gain, mood
swings, hot flashes, and countless tears, to an already tense situation, and then tell me how sexy you feel. While all of this is occurring, try not to be angry at your spouse if he has the reproductive malfunction preventing your vision of motherhood; or harder still, try to not drown in guilt and sorrow over your own broken body that can’t seem to create or sustain life, even with extensive medical assistance. Not to mention the thousands of dollars - sometimes tens of thousands - you’ve shelled out to take this ill-fated ride. This is infertility. It’s a trip. A long, expensive, and brutal trip. Especially if every procedure has failed.
For those who are blessed to reach their goal of conception and bring forth biological offspring, I can only imagine the elation they must feel. In many ways, they have the hardest go of this whole parenting thing. First, all the difficulties of infertility followed by all the difficulties of birth and parenting. Out of the frying pan and into the fire, I suppose. But after so long a road, being thrown into the parenting-fire must feel very welcomed – maybe even magical – and not nearly as painful as the infertility frying pan was. For those who never bear children, the pain of losing the infertility game is eased only by the optimism that by some alternate miracle, children are still possible through adoption.
Brace yourself, Reader, for what I will say next might sound downright cruel, but I promise you it isn’t, it is simply the truth: Adoption is rarely anyone’s first choice. There. I said it. When we shifted our focus to adoption it was as a last and final attempt at parenthood, as it is for many couples. While it was not our first choice, it was absolutely the right choice. When people flippantly say ‘maybe we’ll adopt’ after little to no difficulty conceiving and having children – or choosing not to have biological children – an anger bubbles up inside of me that wants to burst: ADOPTION ISN’T EASY! IT’S ONE OF THE HARDEST THINGS YOU AND YOUR CHILD’S BIRTH PARENTS WILL EVER DO! To treat it otherwise is ignorant and disrespectful to all involved. What makes adoption so challenging, compared to infertility, is that you are now at the mercy of someone else’s choice. You have zero control. With infertility, you are in charge:
you research, weigh options, make decisions, work with doctors, plan procedures, timing, choose to take medications, and even inject them yourself; you own this journey. Even if you never have a successful pregnancy, every detail and procedure was your choice, but adoption is hoping and praying that another mother will choose you. To hope for a successful adoption is to fully surrender the micromanagement of your experience that, up to this point, has helped you maintain precious sanity through immense disappointment and heartache. It is hoping that another mother will have the courage to break her own heart to heal yours. This is a deeply humbling realization. And the process is rigorous.
If infertility means having five doctors and nurses simultaneously poke and prod your body, stare up your vagina, and inflict physical and emotional pain while trying to “fix” you (true story, friends), then the adoption application process is the personal, bureaucratic equivalent. (But at least you get to keep your clothes on.) Interview after interview, together and separately, background checks, home inspections, health inspections, financial inspections, parenting classes, endorsements, caseworkers; every aspect of your life is investigated, questioned, and then questioned again. I’m not saying this process shouldn’t happen – children have the right to be placed in safe, loving homes – but it is extremely draining, and takes the better part of a year to complete. Once your home study (official title for said scrutiny) is finally approved, the waiting begins. Not passive waiting, however, an intensive profile-building, blogging, marketing, matching, spreading the word, anxiety, sleepless nights, fervent prayers, birth-parent contact, “yeses” then “no’s”, “maybe’s” then “no’s”, forced smiles, and hidden tears kind of waiting. During those agonizing months and years, our intimacy was driven by a deep need to find temporary refuge from the inward grief we both felt but couldn’t outwardly show, because, who wants to give their precious baby to a clearly miserable couple? No one, that’s who. Heaven-forbid we express any feelings about our new endeavor other than positivity and excitement. And so, love-making became our secret, fervent attempt to experience something other than the constant emotional pain and broken hearts of childlessness.
If you are matched with birth parents and begin a relationship, born of varying levels of desperation in both parties, there is still no guarantee that you will bring home a baby. And even if you do, until the adoption is finalized (i.e. legally binding, varying by state, but generally 6-12 months after placement), there is no guarantee you will get to keep that baby. Complications with birth parents, legal concerns, dishonesty, bonding issues, negotiation, manipulation, and fear regularly prevent successful adoptions. Failed placements (the phrase used when you’ve been selected to adopt, and the birth parents change their minds) are both common and devastating for adoptive couples. Even more devastating is the experience of the birth mom who goes through with her decision to give her child to someone else. It’s a cruel reality that an adoptive couple’s most joyful moment comes at the expense of a birth parent’s most agonizing one. I will never fully comprehend how our daughter’s birth mother (and father) did it, but I am eternally grateful that they did.
I don’t know how it feels to give birth, but I do know how it feels to have a mother hand me her child so that I can assume that sacred title. It felt like my broken heart burst into a million pieces and then reassembled itself into a new organ, capable of love and sacrifice in a way it hadn’t been before. It felt like going from white-knuckling a steering wheel through a never-ending blizzard to have the landscape instantly replaced by sunny skies and dry roads; my whole body exhaled. I felt relieved, renewed, and energized, and at the same time so overwhelmed with joy and gratitude that I was weak to the point of near-collapse. It felt like I was a Phoenix, suddenly consumed by the flames of a decade of exhaustive trying, only to rise victoriously from the ashes of the childless woman I used to be. It felt like a miracle. Too many metaphors? Perhaps. Sound dramatic? It was. Stunningly, tenderly dramatic. This is adoption.
Our daughter is now 6 years old and is breathtakingly beautiful and out-of-this-world amazing. While I don’t have the physical battle scars of motherhood (my boobs still resemble perky, full water balloons, thank you very much), the fight to become a mother dealt brutal blows to my soul, unseen by others, which I now bear with deep appreciation. She was hard won. She was wanted and loved before she existed. She was prayed for, begged for, sacrificed for, searched for, and then one day, she was found; or rather, she found us, through selfless and brave birth parents. And she was absolutely worth the wait.
Becoming parents to our precious child brought love, laughter, light, and peace back into our lives. The depth of despair we once felt has been overcome by the joy we now experience as parents. Also, our sex is amazing. As two survivors of a reproductive war – waged by biology and saved by our champion, Adoption – we are well on the road to healing, and our love-making carries with it a new passion intertwined with shared wounds and triumphs. While parenting is undoubtedly challenging, for me it has not been as arduous as the journey to become a parent. Some say I’ll be singing a different tune when she is a teenager, and perhaps they’re right, but for now the slow burn of this parenting-fire feels pretty darn wonderful compared with the childless hell I’ve already endured.
The Barren Woman
By Camille Parker
You do not know what it is to be barren.
To have an empty womb that cries;
That longs to grow a precious child
And to carry, to hear, and to feel
The thump-thump rhythm of life inside.
You do not know what it is to be barren.
To be unexpanded physically; spiritually;
By a connection that will never be.
No flesh of my flesh, no bone of my bone;
No piece of me giving life to someone new.
You do not know what it is to be barren.
The grief of never growing, never knowing, never bearing
A soul that is separate but part of me,
Created by love, by hope, by prayers unfulfilled.
You do not know what it is to be barren.
Not you, with the glow and the beautiful protrusion.
Not you, who’s hand absently strokes your child as she rests within you.
Not you, who’s pain will bring forth joy and new life.
No, you do not know what it is to be barren, but I do.
My womb is empty.
No eruption of cells; only space.
No tiny beat-beat; only silence.
No flutter of new life; only stillness.
No miracle; only sadness.
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