Wednesday, 13 May 2009

A book review, of sorts

I read a book, quite a long while back, that I found incredibly interesting. It's quite out of date, and also out of print, and not all of it was relevant, but at the time when I read it, bits of it gave me that 'aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh' you only get from writing that expresses thoughts that you didn't even know you had. It's called 'adopting after infertility ' by Patricia Johnston (and I'm going to continue to use 'infertility' as an inaccurate shorthand for my own weirdo problems here) and the first chapter lists six key infertility losses. The author says they are: loss of control over many aspects of life, loss of genetic continuity, loss of creating a child with your partner, loss of the emotional gratifications of pregnancy and birth, loss of the physical gratifications of pregnancy and birth, and loss of the opportunity to parent.

She then goes on to say that adoption adresses only one of these losses - loss of the opportunity to parent - and that all the other losses still need to be faced separately, because adoption isn't going to deal with them. Reading this was a real lightbulb moment for me, and I've thought about it a lot since. I'd been really struggling with the feelings of 'but we're adopting! I should be happy! How can I still feel sad?' and it really helped me to separate out the different reasons for the sadness and the joy I was feeling, and to start putting them in the right emotional boxes. I've found it really helpful to try to separate out which of our big sack of losses are directly related to the adoption (eg missing the first few months of THIS baby's life), and which are only to do with our fertility problems and would persist whether or not we ever adopted. This helps me not to blame the adoption process for things that aren't its fault. And allocate the blame with more accuracy, because who doesn't want to be able to do that?

I'm not sure why, but some of these losses feel very intense to me right now, and these days I feel like I'm walking around under my own black raincloud. I find the first loss, the loss of control, particularly difficult - but I guess you all already knew that. Somewhere tangled up in that, I think, is the lost opportunity to be NORMAL. The assumption that your life will be unremarkable in a good way, and that you will be able to enjoy what those around you are enjoying. That whole 'oh, we're planning to have a summer baby' thing, I guess. Of course, when I say 'normal', I actually mean 'blessed beyone measure', but I hope you know what I mean. Although actually, I hope you are lucky enough NOT to know what I mean - like you feel that you're living your life behind a thick pane of glass that separates you and all your experiences from those of the people around you. I don't necessarily mean in a depressed way, just in a 'our lives really aren't the same, are they? I think we're operating under a completely different set of assumptions' way. I guess that as life progresses, more and more people end up behind their own pane of glass, whether through serious illness, bereavement, divorce or any one of the other things that could make a person feel not only grief but intense isolation. I think a lot of us just got ours earlier than we would have liked.

I can't imagine the shock it must be if you've always assumed that you're fertile and then find out there is something wrong. But I still sort of envy that experience because I have always, always known that I was broken and I did not even get TEN SECONDS to happily grasp my husband's hand, look into the future and assume everything would be okay. And at the moment, for some reason, I'm really sad about the fact that I never even had this false normality. In my alternative life, where I don't have anything wrong with me, or at least I don't know about it, I get to spend the first few years of being married saying 'wow, I feel like I should really have kids at some point, but right now I'm just enjoying how my career is taking off, and I'm SO BUSY, you know?' rather than feeling defective and anxious.

And I think this opportunity to feel normal is now completely lost to me - gone forever. Even if we ditched this now (which we definitely aren't going to) and I got healthily pregnant tomorrow (which I don't actually want to) that opportunity would still be gone because so much of the not-normal has already happened. I am not normal. My life will not ever be normal. It will never have been normal. There may come a time when I don't care about this very much, but whatever I do I can't change it. Right now, all this unwanted differentness makes my heart feel really heavy. I don't think it's better to be normal, but dangit, it sure looks easier, and I feel weary of this.

Not helping is the fact that 'our' orphanage in Addis is having constant internet problems, and the director is unable to read or reply to email. And since we can't use an agency, we don't have a country rep to contact or send a message to. So we're still waiting for an answer to our query about twins, and that was sent a month ago, and I worry that it's a problem with power, too, and that there will be things they need to do for the babies that they can't do, and what if our baby/ies is/are there NOW? He/She/They might be! And when am I going to know how many there will be, so I can construct my sentences properly?

When is all this going to end?


  1. This is such a well written post. I just nodded along going 'yes yes yes' when you listed those losses that need to be grieved all as separate. I think many (most) people just don't understand why adoption is not an easy "cure all" for the grief associated with infertility. They just don't.
    Wishing you happier days.

  2. Claudia,
    What an articulate post! I am sorry that you are feeling this way. I know that when I was dealing with my endo issues and people would say "you can always adopt" I wanted to punch them! After a solid year of twice a week therapy where I essentially let myself cry non-stop about the infertility, I am in a much better place with everything. It rarely affects me now. But the not "normal" thing still does from time to time. In a weird way, adopting a child from a different race sometimes causes me to feel really exposed. As if my decision is out there for everyone to know.

    Thank you for this post and your honesty!

  3. Claudia, the first paragraph makes me understand a lot better what you have been going through and the associated losses. I am so sorry, thank you for putting all of this out here. I hope in some sense it is also carthatic.


  4. This post makes a lot of sense. I think people try to make adoption a cure-all for the difficult emotions involved in infertility, but it's not. It's just not. These things have to be worked out on their own.

    And I totally understand what you wrote about living behind the panes of glass, how people assume and plan on having "summer babies." I former colleague of mine felt frustrated that she didn't get pregnant at just the right month because she ended up having to work for the first 2 months of the school year. I mean, she was really complaining about it (she'd planned a summer baby), and even way back then (I wasn't even married then), I had thoughts of what a rigid set of assumptions about life this lady was operating under.

  5. I love the articulated loss categories. That is very good. I think it is very easy to tranfer IF stress and feelings and project those sentiments on the adoption process. Plus, it feels like you move from the physical invasiveness of IF to the emotional invasiveness of adoption and there is this overwhelming giant monster crashing wave feeling of inadequacy, vulnerability, failure and deep loss.

    Now, little miss not so "normal," I have only one thing to say, and actually I didn't say it, Roman Polaski said it,

    "Normal love isn't interesting. I assure you it is quite boring."

    You, my dear, have been blessed with a not boring life - an interesting life.

    You are going to expand your family in an interesting way. You get plot twists, new characters, challenges, victories, opportunities for advocacy, exposure to new ideas and discussions, soulful long talks with your spouse, a stronger sense of self and who you want to be in the world and you finally will be able to be a parent to a child that needs a parent.

    While other "normal" families want to be parents and then go out and "create" what they desire - you are sitting on the edge of the universe patiently listening to the balanced tuning fork of time waiting for an opportunity and blessing to parent a child who needs you.

    That may not be normal - but it is truly wonderful!

    So happily grab your husband's hand and for a minimum of TEN SECONDS dance and splash in this unseasonal and not-normal downpour of miracle and blessings of this opportunity to live a life so rich and interesting. So blessed to be expanded in ways that other can't even imagine.

    "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. And yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."

    Matthew 6: 28,29


Over to you!