A few weeks ago, my family was invited to speak to a group of individuals and couples considering international adoption. My husband and I adopted our children through Spence-Chapin Services for Families and Children, and we were delighted to support our agency in this way.
We entered a room crowded with people and introduced ourselves and our kids who willingly shared that they were “dopted” and had a “birf muvver in Koreer.” We began to speak about how we became a family when I saw several couples move to hold each other closely. Then I noticed one woman with tears running down her cheeks. My first instinct (from years of working as an actor) was, “Oh God, we’re losing the audience! Quick! Do something!” I refocused my attention from the kids’ emotional comfort level to the “audience’s” and was overwhelmed by the tremendous anxiety and desperation in the room.
That got me thinking about how some of us—okay, me or rather, “I”—will spend years obsessing over something; and then once it happens, that period of all-consuming intensity simply evaporates like a wave crashing into the sand only to be replaced by a new obsession.
From ages eleven to fourteen, I was convinced that no boy would ever want to date me and I’d wind up an Old Maid (yes, that term was still in use during my childhood). Once I stared dating, my desperation immediately shifted to whether I would ever have a Real Boyfriend. Real Boyfriend came along when I was fifteen and stayed until I was nearly twenty. When that relationship ended, I became fixated on meeting The One. I finally met The One and my obsession seamlessly transitioned to becoming Engaged. Several years later on Christmas Eve at the perfect location on bended knee, The One proposed Marriage, presenting The Ring of course. We had our Dream Wedding and Honeymoon, and all was well until I awoke one morning to the pitter-patter of my biological clock. And … a new obsession was born.
I began to haunt the children’s book section at our local Barnes & Noble. It was an awesome place with all those pastels, fuzzy books, and babies … yummy, soft, sweet, unconditionally loving babies. I wanted one. Badly. I longed to be one of those women clad in khaki capri pants and a chambray shirt sitting cross-legged on the floor with a baby in their lap listening to The Very Hungry Caterpillar at story time, instead of lurking in the Judy Blume section pretending to shop for my niece.
Weeks turned into months. Months slipped into years. And I no longer visited the baby book departments. I stalked them. During that time, my three sisters-in-law gave birth to five children between them and I appeared destined to be The Barren Aunt spoken of in hushed sympathetic tones at family functions. Why couldn’t I just get pregnant like a normal woman?
My husband and I were ready. We agreed that we’d reconciled our emotions regarding our unexplained infertility and were prepared to move forward with adoption. So, four years after awaking to my reproductive system sounding the alarm, I found myself sitting at a general information meeting about international adoption at Spence-Chapin in New York City. The presentation included a number of couples with their babies or toddlers who they’d adopted internationally through the agency. I sat there feeling frightened, sad, angry, bitter, frustrated, and resentful—so much for reconciled emotions. Then as the families spoke to us about their experiences, a new feeling began to creep in. Hope.
One year later we flew to Korea to meet our six-month-old son; fast forward twelve more months and we returned to Korea to meet our six-month-old daughter. Without fanfare, those years of utter despair, anxiety, and longing swirled away like a wisp of smoke as I became all-consumed with mothering.
Which brings me back to our presentation: I looked at the faces in the room and saw all the feelings I once lived with reflected back at me. I halted our joyful tale and frankly told them that when my husband and I attended this meeting on April 7, 2003, my feelings were conflicted, too. (Nods of agreement.) But through research and numerous heart-to-heart conversations, we came to believe that adoption was right for us, and on April 6, 2004, we met our son; one year to the day from our information meeting. Our son’s birthmother had been four months pregnant when we sat in those chairs.
As soon as it began, our presentation was over, but I continued to feel off-balance about the experience for some time. I was taken aback by how far removed from the people in the room I’d felt. I’d literally spent years of my life in a place of childlessness, how could I have become so disconnected from it? Yet being with children day in and day out has taught me to live more in the moment. They won’t tolerate life any other way.
To those prospective parents I wish I had said, “Don’t be afraid.” Or better yet, “Be afraid and do it anyway. From my experience I can assure you: Yes, you will love your children. Yes, they will bond with you. Yes, it is different from having a biological child—not less than, not worse, just different. And yes … your child will love you.”
Do I still obsess? Well, I could tell you a story or two about the preschool and kindergarten application process in New York City, but my kids are calling for me right now.