Friday, February 24, 2006

The Girl with the Wait and the World in her Hands

Today I'm feeling the weight of the world.

In a discussion among families adopting from Ethiopia, parents with their children home offered comfort to those whose children will be long in coming. This comfort was offered from a place of compassion, and in some cases from a place of deep faith that their own waits had brought them the children meant to be their own.
Women who have suffered infertility before planning to adopt seemed to suggest that this was well-meant but cold comfort, because theirs was a pain, a longing, that only those with infertility could understand. This broke my heart, and I reacted - badly, maybe. I have to admit that I do not know what it is like to be unable to conceive. Yet . . .

I know what it's like to have your body not do what it is supposed to do - a body is supposed to healthily carry a pregnancy to term. It is not supposed to begin labor at twenty-three weeks. A body should not attack its self. But sometimes it does, and does both of these things.
I know what it is like to be told never to expect a healthy pregnancy.
I know what it is like to lose.
I know what it is like to hope.
I know what it is like to despair.
I know what it is like to hope anew.
I know what it is like to wait, and wait, and wait, and wait. And to miss my daughter so much it physically hurts.

There are great things about meeting and sharing experiences with people whose experiences are like our own. I can't make my traumas and losses real for anyone who hasn't come close.
But there's also a danger in that. To believe that my experiences can only be understood by those who have had the same ones poses problems.

If I am the 1 in 8000 with peripartum cardiomyopathy that would compromise a second pregnancy here in the US, my "friend" would be the other one in 16000 . . .
It also poses the problems of over-identification and exclusion. Can a woman adopting after infertility really not identify with a woman adopting from another place? Can she identify entirely with someone adopting after a similar journey or is everyone's journey just different enough?

Aren't we safest assuming that we are all coming to adoption from a place of loss?

That question is the most painful of all for me, because the "all" that I mean is not just comprised of adopting parents. In order for our family to be made, my losses were necessary. And they are minor in comparison to the losses I. will face before she comes home, to the losses her first family will experience or has already experienced. In the time that I wait, I.'s first mother will decide that she can no longer provide for her. Or I.'s mother will die. Or she has died, and I.'s first father, or her grandparents, or aunts, will have to make the same choice.
When we thought we'd adopt domestically, I imagined that choosing to place a child must be like deciding to cut off an appendage in order to preserve it, and once the decision has been made, to realize that it was not an appendage but rather the heart. Had I met with a "potential birthmother," (expectant mother) I imagined myself wanting to scream "Wait! That's your heart! You cannot live without it!" But perhaps I.'s mother knows this, and knows she has to make this choice anyway. This is to say nothing of the fact that the reasons children in Ethiopia are finding (and must find) homes in the United States relate to an impoverishment of Africa by the west, a fact which we cannot escape.
Will my awareness of the pain that brings I. to us disable me as a parent? Certainly not. But does it change the nature of both my pain and my joy? How can it not?

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