How Infertility Touches My Life as an Adoptive Mother
Infertility is the greatest loss of my life, but it is also part of the path by which I found my greatest joy – my beautiful daughter Davan. As much as anything else in my experience, infertility has shaped who I am as a mother. I believe what it has taught me about embracing uncertainty and growing through loss will help me parent my child with greater empathy, understanding and gratitude.
Less than three years ago, still desperately pursuing pregnancy, I could not have imagined the gifts infertility would bring to my life. Then, infertility was the enemy, threatening the ability to create children I had assumed since my childhood. When I ended infertility treatment, I began in earnest the work of grieving and accepting the loss of my biological babies and the fulfillment of self I had associated with being their mother. Grief and acceptance, in turn, brought healing. I started to reclaim and rediscover the intrinsic worth and meaning of my life, independent of my ability to give birth, and to see myself as whole once again. Reconciling infertility and my sense of self freed me to recommit my life and all its options with renewed faith. And it opened my heart to receive my daughter as surely as pregnancy prepares the womb to support life.
Infertility has taught me to embrace uncertainty: there is more than one path to your heart’s desire. Although my husband and I did not create Davan of our flesh, she is without a doubt the child we were meant to raise. And the path by which we became Davan’s parents lets us enjoy who she is, free of expectations about who she should or will become. When I still hoped for a biological child, I dreamed of a perfect little creature embodying the best of my husband’s and my own traits (but none of our flaws). I used to joke that our child would have my singing voice, academic bent and creative sensibilities and my husband’s thin build, practicality and business smarts – a slender singing genius!! A little constricting don’t you think? The experience of infertility helped me put aside the desire to see myself reflected in my child, and to clearly see parenting as the sacred duty of honoring and nurturing a child’s spirit. Even at 15 months of age, Davan is clearly her own person – loving, feisty, bright and inquisitive, with a strong will and a terrific sense of humor. She has so many characteristics and talents I am in awe of: her amazing physical prowess, the delight she takes in everyone she meets, her love of adventure and her fierce determination. The reality of her being is far more beautiful and complex than any Pygmalion project of my fantasies.
Part of honoring my daughter is also recognizing the sense of loss being adopted will sometimes create in her life. Here again infertility is my teacher. There are, after all, parallels in the losses of infertility and being adopted. Infertile couples lose the experience of giving birth to and raising a biological child; adopted children lose the experience of growing up in their biological family. Infertile couples lose their genetic connection to the future; adopted children lose their genetic connection to the past. Both infertile couples and adopted children endure the sometimes-isolating pain of being different in a world where fertility and biological ties are assumed. Both infertility and being adopted can be experienced as a loss of self and a challenge to identity. Davan’s is an open adoption, and I hope this will ease her sense of loss and disconnection, but I know it will not erase it. I believe the experience of resolving infertility’s losses will help me to empathize with and affirm my daughter as she struggles with feelings of loss related to her adoption.
When my daughter experiences this sense of loss at different stages in her development, she will need to grieve it in order to come to acceptance and understanding. Without the experience of infertility, I might have obstructed her grieving process by failing to recognize it or wishing to deny it. As Lois Melina points out in Raising Adopted Children, if we stay in touch with our own experience, we can more readily support the need to grieve in our children. We can let our children know their conflicting feelings are normal and okay: “that they can grieve for the loss of their birth parents and wish it had never happened without meaning that they wish they didn’t have their adoptive parents” (1998, p. 148) We ourselves know that when the sadness of infertility resurfaces from time to time, “we are not wishing we hadn’t adopted; we are having an appropriate emotional response to a separate event” (p. 149.) While both my daughter and I sometimes feel a little ache for what might have been, I can tell her with complete certainty that grief ends and love is forever.
As Davan grows up, she will decide the meaning of her own experience and incorporate this understanding into her sense of self. The experience of infertility has taught me that I cannot control this process, but I can love her through it. I have faith that my daughter will grow through loss and someday experience greater wholeness, compassion and joy because of it. In The Spirit of Open Adoption, James Gritter says that when we honor the losses of adoption they can be transformed into something beautiful, and “joy on the other side of pain is a priceless gift from God” (1997, p. 86.) I believe the ultimate lesson of any loss is deeper gratitude for life and its blessings. This is infertility’s gift to me as a person and as a mother. I hope it will be adoption’s gift to my daughter.
By Nancy Fleming
The Changing Face of Openness
Feburary 24th, 2014