Expecto Patronum

In the Harry Potter books, there are evil beings called Dementors: eyeless, hooded, rotting creatures that feed on human happiness.  The only protection against them is to conjure a Patronus, a difficult defensive charm that takes the shape of a silvery animal brought forth by recalling a true, pure, singularly happy memory.  Only the most highly-skilled witches and wizards can successfully combat the soul-sucking Dementors, whose sheer proximity chills a person with mind-numbing despair.

Over the summer, I spent a lot of time thinking about Halloween, because part of me believed I would finally have the chance to do a themed costume with my own baby.  I knew I would likely recycle my costume from last year, as it was pretty great: Luna Lovegood, one of my favorite characters from Harry Potter.  I decided, therefore, that the baby would be a silver bunny, because Luna’s Patronus is a hare.

Halloween morning, I received a strange and unexpected package.  It must have come as the result of some form I filled out over the summer, when I was signing up for various baby-related websites and starting registries: a box from Enfamil full of free samples of baby formula.  It’s currently sitting on my counter.  I’ll probably hang onto it for a few months–the samples don’t expire for a long while–and will find someone to give it to if I remain unable to use it myself.

Every day I am not a mother feels as if there is a Dementor hovering over my shoulder, blindly siphoning my spirit and leaving only a great and terrible emptiness behind.  I am utterly unable to conjure my own Patronus; I can only wait, and wait, to be deemed worthy of rescue.

 

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The Outcome

I spent the last three days in a hospital room, alone, with no windows.  Although everything was progressing as if this placement would happen, at the last minute, when it came time to sign, the baby’s mother changed her mind and decided to parent.

I have received so much love and support these last few days, and I apologize for not being able to reach out to everyone individually who has reached out to me (I will, when I feel myself coming back to life inside).  Please, please know that I have received your words, and they are truly a balm for my shattered heart.

The Last Week

A week from today is the baby’s due date.  It’s often difficult to know what or how to think about this.  The coming week could contain my very last days as a childless person; I might be just days away from becoming a mother, from encountering an entirely new and wonderful and unfamiliar terrain in my life.  But that is, of course, a significant might.  I might also go to the hospital and return from the hospital in the exact same state that I am in now: childless.  Motherhood-less.

There is a whole tangle of emotions associated with this, many of which I’ve addressed before.  What I’m hoping for is the inevitable grief of another woman–a woman who is no longer an abstract concept but an actual person whom I’ve gotten to know and like over the past three months.  I don’t want her to suffer, to feel any kind of pain, and yet I am terrified of her changing her mind, because I know the anguish that awaits me if she does.

Over the past few months, I’ve taken up the habit of stalking the Waiting/ Matched/ Recently Adopted sections of my agency’s website, following that narrative arc of anticipation and joy as it has played out in the lives of the other families at my agency.  I’ve shared in their joy when I’ve seen their profiles appear on the Matched page and the elation as they’ve eventually moved on to Recently Adopted.  I’ve taken such pleasure in seeing my own picture on the Matched page, each time with a kind of disbelief that I’ve really come this far.  Earlier today, I noticed that a couple who had been hanging out with me on the Matched page for the past few months–indeed, they were already there when I arrived–were no longer there.  I quickly jumped to Recently Adopted, excited to find out the name of their child, but they weren’t there, either.  It was with such sinking disappointment that I found their profile back on the Waiting list, my heart breaking for what they must be going through right now.

Of course, the voice weaving through my mind keeps saying, that’s going to be you, too.  The closer we’ve gotten to the due date, the harder it has become for me to believe that this will, indeed, work out as planned.  I can’t keep the fear at bay, the fear that this dream–to which I am closer than I have ever been in my life–will once again dissolve through my fingers.

I am absolutely excited, but there is a necessary self-preservation in muting that excitement, and it hurts that I can’t just let myself feel it entirely.  If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that that has been the refrain to all of it.  In mid-July, I accompanied S to an ultrasound and could see the little spine on the screen, the little hands.  I used to fantasize about what it would be like to be pregnant, to look at the ultrasound image and think, That’s my baby!  But when I looked at the screen, I couldn’t think that, because that isn’t my baby–not then and not right now, as I sit here anxiously anticipating a trip to the hospital, the car seat base already installed in my car, the bag packed with everything a baby might need on the three-hour drive home.  That’s not my baby even though S and I have already decided on a name.  It’s surreal.

This is not a case of pessimism, but realism.  People who haven’t gone through this process often tell me, “Don’t think that way!”  But there is no other way to think.  Adoption matches fall through all the time; the women in my single-moms adoption group know this all too well.  They’re the only ones who have never told me, “Don’t think that way,” because they understand.  They understand why I follow every hopeful, plan-filled statement with the words, If this is my baby;” they understand the inability to say anything with certainty anymore.

So, this is the last week, friends!

Balance 2.0

I have now been matched for nearly two months, and the experience has been an incredible exercise in emotional balance.  The excitement, anticipation, and sheer joy I’ve been feeling is unmatched by anything I’ve ever felt.  For the past two months, I’ve been living on the cusp of realizing my biggest, greatest, longest held dream–something that is an almost effortless reality for most people to achieve.  Becoming a mother is the only thing I’ve ever truly wanted in my life, and this is, by far, the closest I’ve ever come.  I find myself falling into periods of daydreaming, itching with impatience as each day slowly ticks by to September 2nd, this baby’s due date.  There are many moments throughout the day when my heart swells with the thrill of what my life might soon be.

I met S, the expectant mother who chose me, on May 24, and I can absolutely see a successful open adoption with her.  I admire her and like her, and she seemed to like me, too (that meeting made our match official).  I think about her every day and check in on her each week.  Eventually, before the baby is born, we will get together again to formalize our hospital and open adoption plans.

I want to give myself over to the excitement: to plan the theme for our first Halloween costume (I already know what it would be) and figure out grading while baby-wearing and finish putting away the extra furniture, such as the coffee table, because soon there will be baby equipment everywhere and we’ll need the floor space.  I want to start thinking in terms of we.  But of course–just as with every stage of this process–I have to swallow the excitement with huge gulps of realism.  A match does not guarantee a placement.  If the match takes us all the way to the baby’s birth, I could spend time holding and feeding that baby in the hospital, and S–as is her absolute right–could change her mind, and the baby would be going home with her and not with me.  I could find myself right back at the beginning, waiting for a match all over again, as happens with 25% of the agency’s matches.

That outcome would be absolutely devastating, but it is very much a possible outcome that I have to prepare myself for.  Because we have such a long match period, it would be excruciating were that to happen.  Everyone keeps telling me not to think that way, to just be excited and enjoy it, and as much as I’d like to, I know I can’t allow that possibility to leave my mind even for a second.  To do so might make it impossible to deal with a fall through.

That’s where I’m at right now–teetering between ecstatic hope and determined realism, just as I’ve been from the very beginning.  Having a match doesn’t change that, except it makes the hope and excitement that much more pronounced.  After all, there is now a real baby in the picture, no longer just the hope of one.  And there is the chorus: Hope, hope, hope!

And now, for those of you who enjoy seeing pictures, here is the nursery, pretty much complete!

 

 

 

A Different Mother’s Day Post

I had planned a much different post than the one I present here, because things have shifted rather unexpectedly.

I’ve been chosen by an expectant mother who is due in September. I have an adoption match!

Of course, there are no guarantees, so this is, at most, a tentative announcement. I found out on Thursday, but I’ve struggled with the decision to announce it this publicly, just as newly pregnant mothers like to wait until their pregnancy is viable before letting everyone know about it. But what made the decision for me was this: just as it is lovely to have a large community to celebrate the wonderful moments in our life, so, too, is it necessary to have community when grieving. I say this not because I expect to grieve, but because it is, as with any match, a potential outcome, and the kindness and support I’ve received here will undoubtedly carry me through the grief of a potential fall-through.

Nevertheless, I’m absolutely through the roof with excitement!

As my coordinator was telling me about the woman who chose me, I could feel my heart opening to envelop her, this young mother I don’t even know, and she has been in my thoughts every moment since that phone call. We will be meeting sometime in the near future, and with the nerves comes a depth of tenderness toward her that formed immediately and without reservation. Regardless of the outcome of this match, she has now taken up residence in my heart.

And so, I wish everyone a beautiful Mother’s Day–every mother, every happy, hopeful, grieving, worrying, lonely, scared, sorrowful, waiting, planning, beautiful mother. Especially my own, and especially the woman who has chosen to make me a mother. May this day, for each and every one of you, wherever it comes from, mean LOVE.

Can’t Bear to Watch, Can’t Look Away

In a few days, the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale premiers on Hulu.  I devoured the first season with the kind of peering-through-fingers fascination with which one might observe a car accident or a fire.  The depictions of the Republic of Gilead, in light of our current political climate attacking what little progress we’ve made on such issues as racial equality or reproductive rights, frequently felt all too plausible and, at times, terrifyingly inevitable.  That alone was enough to give each episode’s viewing an awkward tension between macabre enjoyment and intense discomfort.

There was, however, another aspect to the show which made it difficult for me to watch, at times making me wonder if I really could emotionally handle another season of the series (to be honest, I’ve never read the book, so all of it is new to me).  A major premise of the story is that the United States has experienced an epidemic of infertility, which has resulted in a zealous desire to harness the reproductive powers of those few women able to bear children and essentially turn them into enslaved broodmares for the ruling class.  The infertile wives of powerful men are often depicted as cold hearted, desperate for children yet lacking the empathy and kindness necessary for motherhood.  They pull babies from the sobbing arms of their mothers to claim them as their own, but there is nothing maternal about these wives as they fail to acknowledge the Handmaids’ pain.

I’m pretty sure you’ve started to figure out why seeing this overwhelms me–an infertile woman waiting for an adoption match–with unbearable guilt.

Yes, I understand that the woman who chooses me to be her child’s mom is doing so because adoption is her plan, her choice–one choice among others that she has available to her (adoption, abortion, parenting).  I understand that, if we match while she is still pregnant, she has every right to change her mind even after her baby is born, that all of the decisions are hers until she makes the decision, through her signature, to hand those decisions over to me.  I understand that I will not be prying my child from his or her birth mother’s arms against her will, as happens so heartbreakingly in The Handmaid’s Tale.  I understand all of this.

However, it’s impossible for me not to think about the fact that many expectant mothers make adoption plans because they are in a situation where they cannot parent their child–due to financial reasons, living situation, lack of support, substance dependence, or any number of circumstances that inhibit the ability to take care of a child.  We live in a society where the cost of childcare is often prohibitive; paid maternity leave is the privilege of a select few; our minimal social welfare programs are continually being diminished; good rehabilitation programs are woefully underfunded and out of reach of the people who need them most.  These are often the factors that lead expectant mothers to make adoption plans.  And when it comes right down to it, that doesn’t seem like much of a “choice” at all.

As I watched the first season of The Handmaid’s Tale, I couldn’t help but feel as if I were no different from the wives of the ruling class, whose infertility has led them down the path of the ritualized, government-sanctioned theft of other women’s children.  While I know, rationally, that it’s not exactly the same, this has by far been the hardest part of my adoption journey: my greatest joy is going to come as a direct result of someone else’s immense sadness, someone else’s lack of options.

And yet, I don’t walk away from adoption.  As a result of the imperfect world in which we currently live, it is necessary to have an ethical adoption system in place.  The women who find themselves in the position of making an adoption plan must feel confident, comfortable, and at peace with their choice of family to parent their child.  If an expectant mother chooses me, she has decided that I’m the best mom for her child in a situation where she, for whatever reason, cannot be.  Too many people erroneously see adoption as an act of charity, but that cannot be farther from the truth.  I’m the one who will owe my child’s birth mother an enormous debt of gratitude; I’m the one who will owe her child complete and emphatic devotion.  She will be entrusting me with the most divinely precious life, and it is I who will forever be indebted to her.

Hanging on while Letting Go

As I slog through the wait for a match, my mind tends to cycle through different patterns of thought.  Lately, it’s been hard to avoid going down the path of examining everything I’ve had to let go of in this long process of trying to become a mother, and those aren’t always the best paths to follow.  Some of the items on that list:

  • Doing this with a partner
  • Experiencing pregnancy
  • Feeling a baby kick from inside
  • Having a child who shares my Maltese ancestry
  • Ensuring a safe and healthy prenatal environment
  • Having a timeline for baby’s arrival
  • Being able to plan ahead for work
  • Seeing resemblances to myself and my family in my child
  • Becoming a mother before I turn 30 (that ship has long since sailed)
  • Universal acceptance that I am my child’s “real” mother

I know that some of the items on that list are selfish, but they’re things that most women don’t have to think about–and, admittedly, going down this path as a single woman does tend to lead to a great deal of navel-gazing (no partner to share with or be concerned about; lots of alone time).  It’s been hard to keep my mind from drifting in those directions, which inevitably stir up worry and resentment and distract me from focusing on everything that should be exciting.

Infertility doesn’t leave you with many choices, and adoption even fewer still.  In adoption, all of the choices are in other people’s hands.  It’s the kind of thing that feels both imminent and worlds beyond my reach.  The latter is what makes it so difficult–and yet so essential–to maintain hope that the process will work for me.  “Hope” is that recurring theme here, a thread so delicate that part of me is afraid to breathe too heavily on it lest it break.

 

IMG_2732And yet the only thing that has kept me hoping has been to focus full-force on
preparations, to shift my mind’s whimper of “I hope this happens for me” to a resounding “this will happen for me.”  At the urging of a dear friend who plans to throw me a shower once baby arrives, I have begun building my registry.  I’ve continued to set up the nursery, which has become my favorite room in the house (the teddy bear was a gift from my best friends on my twenty-second birthday, senior year of college, and I crocheted the giraffe), knowing that I’d rather have everything prepared and waiting than to scramble around in the days following what could very well be a last-minute placement.  Browsing baby products online makes me feel calm.

Does this make me crazy?  Maybe.  But after having to let go of so much already, I’m not letting go of that hope, that belief, no matter how intangible it really is.

 

 

Going Public

A few days ago, after debating the decision for a long time, I decided to “go public” about my adoption journey on Facebook.  A year and a half ago, when the full extent of my infertility was revealed and I found myself facing the possibility of never becoming a mother, I took a long hiatus from social media for my own mental health.  I was in a very difficult mental space, and isolating myself in that way was, at the time, necessary to help myself return to a place of balance.  I have since been mostly a lurker on Facebook, which contributed to my hesitation.  (One reason for my continued absence has been how upset I’ve been over the political upheaval our country is experiencing and how frightening I have found the Trump presidency to be; I can’t let myself get involved in the discussions and debates because I fear becoming sucked in so deeply that I won’t be able to focus on anything else.  Fortunately, I see so many of my beautiful friends fighting the good fight and attempting to bring some level-headedness, compassion, and sense to these discussions, so I know that our position of ethical empathy is well defended.  But that is for another post, likely forthcoming.)

The response I’ve received since my post has been so overwhelmingly supportive that, despite my initial reservations, I know I made the right decision.  Going through this without a partner with whom to commiserate, to buoy me through the turbulence of this emotional process, can sometimes feel quite isolating, and I realized that I didn’t want to feel that sense of aloneness in this experience.  And so I shared this blog.  I have such a lovely group of friends and family, near and far, some whom I haven’t seen or even spoken to in years, who have expressed their joy and hope for my success in this process.  I’m not a religious person or even particularly spiritual, yet I can’t help but feel… lifted by all of the positive reactions I’ve received, as if the sheer energy of their support can have some tangible impact on the atmosphere around me and help make this happen.

There is, of course, always a risk in sharing this kind of thing so publicly.  There is, after all, a reason why pregnant women often wait until their pregnancy is viable to share the news with those outside of their immediate circle.  While one’s joy is only magnified by sharing that joy with others, so, too, can the pain of misfortune be amplified when everybody knows.

But I don’t have the luxury of a partner to lean on as I trudge through the days of waiting for a match, so it’s a risk I had to be willing to make.  Those in my immediate circle have been immeasurably supportive from the beginning, and I will always be grateful for that no matter the outcome.  Knowing that I am enveloped by this atmosphere of hopefulness, that there are positive vibes being directed my way from all corners of the globe (quite literally! my family spans multiple continents), will keep me afloat in those most despairing of moments.  So, this post is an expression of gratitude that my life, over its many years, has been touched by such a beautiful assortment of individuals. It reminds me that I am not alone.

Intangible

When I started this blog, I told myself that I would post regularly, that this space would help me find my writing voice again.  And it has certainly done that, giving me a place to work through some of the complicated emotions that I’ve been experiencing since I began this adoption journey.  Many women, after all, keep pregnancy blogs, documenting each new bodily sensation, the growing, tangible evidence that, in a specified amount of time, there will be a baby.

While waiting to adopt, though, there is nothing tangible: no growing belly, no swelling ankles, no blame-it-on-the-hormones bouts of moodiness.  No timeline.  In a normal pregnancy, there are nine months to plan and prepare, a date in the future that clearly delineates the before and after of baby’s arrival.  In a normal adoption wait, there is… nothing.  There is daily life as usual, and that life could last nine months, nine weeks, or even nine days, should one get a last-minute placement.  I don’t know whether my child has already been conceived, whether their existence is visible to the world around them or whether their story hasn’t yet reached the page.  I sometimes find myself struggling to come up with things to write, because there is nothing to document but the ceaseless hoping, which doesn’t change from day to day.  Sometimes, I feel as if I’m repeating myself here; while all I can think about is becoming a mother, the shape and scope of that does not change, and the ability to plan is limited by the unknowing.  Do I fully prepare just in case, or do I settle in for the more-than-likely long-term wait that doesn’t require the immediate purchase and assembly of a crib, a glider, a changing table?  What do I write about in the meantime?  Unlike with pregnancy, nothing on the outside is changing; the jubilantly anxious tumult of my thoughts is not visible to the world.  No one can look at me and see a mother-to-be, although every cell of my being desperately wishes to be acknowledged as such.  There is nothing to make it tangible.

IMG-2445
Tutorial: Jayda in Stitches 2017 calendar blanket

And so, as I have mentioned in previous posts, I continue to make things to convince myself that, despite the invisible nature of my path toward motherhood, it is nevertheless there before me.  My most recent completion has been a calendar blanket, each block representing a month of the year.  I hooked each stitch imagining the blanket as a source of playtime and learning, of warmth and comfort.  I’m sometimes amused by the parallel to that line from Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come.”  If I surround myself with the things that would fill a baby’s days, if I make my home look as if it is prepared to receive a baby at any moment, then these things, like a magnet, will draw that baby to me.  I have to keep thinking this way, because the alternative is too painful to contemplate.

And yet, that’s not to say that I’m unhappy! (All too often, I feel as if these posts seem heavy and mournful, and that isn’t my intention.)  I’ve been happier this past year than I’ve been in a very long while, feeling, for the first time in my life, that I’m finally moving in the direction I’ve always wanted to go.  Of course, it is all too easy to pivot away from that, to let the “what ifs” cloud out the joyful thrum of excitement that drives each of my moments.  Such is the fulcrum that is hope.

 

A Different Kind of Creation

I’m only a few months into the wait for a match, but of course, it isn’t easy.  Although in adoption terms I haven’t been waiting very long at all, in lifetime terms, I’ve been waiting decades to be a mother, so that does tend to skew my perspective a bit.  The one thing I’ve found that has kept me sane and thinking positively (as in,  I will get a match and I will be a mother), is focusing on being creative for my future child.

I’ve been calling it my pseudo-pregnancy.  Since I can’t create life, I feel an intense drive to create anything, especially items for my child, as I wait for him or her to come to me.  I’ve posted before about the couple of things I’d already made and my drive toward nesting, but now I’ve moved on toward wanting to try my hand at painting, which I’ve never done before.  This all started in November, when my wonderful adoption group had their Moms Night Out evening at a Wine & Canvas, at which we painted a pair of cute owls (I was welcomed along because, as one of the moms put it, I’m a “mom in waiting”).  That was essentially the first time I’d ever put paint to canvas, and it was so much fun that I realized I wanted to keep painting.  There was something calming and escapist about it, a feeling I wanted to continue to recreate for myself to get me through this long haul of waiting for a match.  It also forced the perfectionist in me to accept that I cannot paint perfectly and to just enjoy the act of painting itself, to appreciate the work in progress as it reveals itself on the canvas, much in the way my life is still waiting to reveal itself to me.

I’ve been watching a lot of acrylic painting tutorials on YouTube, which is admittedly fun to do just for the sake of it, and have completed a few of the paint-alongs with moderate success.  My goal is to paint a whole bunch of whimsical paintings to hang in the nursery, different animals and styles and colors.  I want my child’s world to be filled with color and whimsy and fantasy and magic.  My painting is far from perfect, but it is an expression of love.  Biological mothers have nine months to infuse their child with love before they ever enter the world; I don’t have that opportunity, so this is the one way I know how.  I don’t yet know my child, I don’t even know if my child has yet come into existence, but I already possess a love for that tiny person so boundless that it is spilling out of me.  Yarn and fabric and paint, right now, feel like the most appropriate way to capture it.

I have to credit the women who make their tutorials available online, because without them I’d never have the courage to try painting.  The online communities that they’ve built around their teaching are welcoming and supportive and provide a wonderful place to escape to and imagine the life I hope to have soon, one in which I’m rocking my baby to sleep beneath the colorful pictures I made with my own hand, each brush stroke a testament to how longed for that tiny person has always been.

Here are the links to those tutorials:

“Cherry Tree Holding the Moon” by Cinnamon Cooney

“Easy Owl Acrylic Painting Beginner Tutorial” by Angela Anderson

“Spooky the Cat” by Jane Font

“Learn to Paint a Hummingbird and Flower” by Cinnamon Cooney