(Title apologies to Alan Sillitoe)
Readers, I’ve been feeling morose lately. I’m not quite sure why. I’m fairly sure it’s hormonal and maybe to do with those crazy chemicals rushing around my body, or work being a bit full on and then easing off, or breastfeeding slowing down a bit… or something.
In one way I’m my usual deliriously happy self. B is an absolute joy. I can’t believe I still have him, and get to be his mama, and all that stuff. I mean it’s like a little injection of happiness to every single day.
It’s not that I’m particularly unhappy with life. It’s just that now and again I feel a bit morose and this week happens to be it. Maybe it’s that the weekend went too fast, because we went to see both sets of grandparents and didn’t really get much downtime with just our little family.
Maybe it’s the work thing. Work’s going really well. I feel lucky to have landed a boss who I get on really well with and I mainly enjoy the work. But the gigantic bid I was working on hasn’t transpired yet and my boss wants me to go back to a day job (a decent job I can’t complain about – I’ve just been very full on with the bid for months and months and it takes up a lot of energy, so it feels a bit of an anticlimax to be tailing off that…)
I definitely think social media has something to do with it. I recently took a break from a big adoption group I’m very involved in. It’s something I keep meaning to write about but never seem to have the emotional energy. I’ve mentioned before that I kind of ebb and flow with it. Which makes me sound ambivalent but really it’s not that – it’s about self care and realising you can’t be on high emotional alert all the time.
The big adoption story in the news is something that those not in adoptionland probably aren’t aware of, but something that has been weighing heavily on my mind. And very upsetting to many transracial adoptees.
A couple of white adoptive mothers drove a car off a cliff, killing their six black adopted children. It transpired they had been somewhat evasive of CPS and concerns had been raised in multiple states. And one of the mothers had already been convicted of hurting one of the little girls who’d been beaten black and blue over the edge of a bathtub. Who does that to a child?
Moreover, one of the children was Devonte Hart, whose picture went viral when he was pictured crying and hugging a policeman. Anyone who knows anything about racial justice would notice the peculiarity of a black boy hugging a white policeman for the cameras – egged on by his white adoptive parents.
The more facts that come out about this story, the more hurt and triggers are piled up. As transracial adoptees we know that the narrative is heavily skewed in favour of white adoptive parents. And so much of the time that is manifested in benefit of the doubt and excuse making. It is upsetting because of the sheer amount of loss these young adoptees had. And to end their lives at the hands of those who called themselves their parents; the people who were meant to love them.
And the fact that there are many injustices still being perpetuated against adoptees, such as access to basic medical records and original birth certificates.
I guess you could say over time I’ve become awoken to these injustices. Part of me wishes I’d just stayed blissfully ignorant.
So – self care and social media. I’ve tried to take breaks but I find that it can be somewhat addictive. If I’m trying to stay away, I tend to hang out more in the Disney groups because how horrible can people be when it comes to Disney?! (It turns out you still do get mean people in all groups… sad!)
Mum groups can be one of the worst. I think I’ve mentioned before that I have felt really at odds since I went back to work and most of the mums I knew didn’t. It’s a lonely path to tread.
Mum groups online are kind of vicious. Even the ones that are meant to be non-judgemental and supportive. They have reams of nice supportive comments and then you’ll get the odd mean one, and depending on the day I find that can get me down (even though I don’t tend to post on them very often – I only try and comment supportively now and again). But anything based around an ideology, like motherhood is… well, it can be taxing.
Breastfed vs formula fed
Gentle parenting vs Cry It Out
Working mums vs SAHMs vs part time working mums
Only children vs sibling groups
It’s like everything mum related is shrouded in judgement. And maybe you join online groups looking for likeminded people because there aren’t that many in real life, but then they end up making you feel all heckled and I just wonder sometimes if it’s worth it.
Real life is another story. I do have some working mum friends because we have met other working mums through nursery (daycare). And it’s nice to see them because it makes me feel a bit less of an odd one out for working. The sad thing is, I think the SAHMs think I’m somehow competing with them or something when really I would have preferred not to go back to work! It kind of blows my mind I’ve been back for almost a year when if I’d had maternity leave like most people in the UK do, I would only just have gone back.
My NCT (antenatal) group makes me wonder as well. Out of seven mums in the only one to have gone back to work full time, and I feel like a completely odd one out. And I wonder if there’s any point in keeping on that friendship / contact when I usually end up feeling pretty negative about it.
An example (feel free to skip as I’m just venting here):
Before Christmas they wanted to have a meet up, and so I offered to book somewhere for a Christmas dinner, and we’d get the babies all dressed up and so on. They all agreed. Then when we had agreed a date, I got the details of the local pub and because it was Christmas they wanted us to pre-order, and give a deposit. Out of six other couples who had agreed, only two sent through the deposit and the other four just didn’t say anything. Nothing (on a whatsapp group). In the end I cancelled it. They didn’t even apologise. Just ignored it. In the end, the three couples who had agreed to meet had a meet up, plus one other couple. The others didn’t bother.
So now it’s April and they decided we should meet up. One of the girls (SAHM who quit her job after the baby was born and has got super involved in all the local baby stuff) decided to organise it. And found various non child friendly places. Bear in mind this involves seven kids. I found a place with a kids play area and high chairs and instead she decided we would go to a pub and the kids would just sit on our laps or whatever, and we would go for Sunday roast at the only time they have available… 11:30.
Then she says we all have to pre order and pay a deposit. Sound familiar? And of course everyone replies and says yes sure. That’s fine.
Just writing this out makes me feel super petty and ridiculous. I mean I shouldn’t even care. But I said it to T and he said he could understand why I’d feel upset. I mean the same people literally didn’t bother replying to me over the Christmas thing that they asked me to organise, and yet they’re falling over themselves to say yes to this arrangement of eating a roast on a Sunday morning. So strange.
I think maybe I’m just overly emotional lately because I don’t know what. (Hormones? Periods? I have to say I’m not happy about the Return of the Blob. It’s extremely unedifying.)
Also I had a health check at work because someone didn’t show up and the Health Champion guy really wanted someone to do it, so I did it. And I got weighed for the first time in forever and realised that I’m overweight and by way more than I want to be – 10kg minimum, and I suppose that sent me down a slight rabbit hole I had been avoiding. I finally dropped the habit of daily weighing when I was pregnant (after a slightly unhelpful obsession since my teens) and so getting back to that has mainly annoyed and upset me.
And I do wonder how much of it’s to do with breastfeeding. I have long thought it has an effect on mood. B is still nursing but less often now. Usually morning and night and I have one pumping session in between. So I’m sure that affects me. I know that pumping always made me kind of depressed and now he’s able to go longer between feeds even at the weekends, perhaps that’s depressing my mood a bit. (Don’t get me wrong. We still have fun. It’s impossible not to smile when you see a one year old’s joy on a swing.) Maybe I just need to ground myself more and try and rationalise it when I feel a bit low.
In the run of bad news, a close friend found out her husband of many years had cheated on her for the second time. I met up with her for a girly day and I just felt so sad for her. Two of my friends are battling cancer. One terminal. The world just seems kind of shitty some days.
Finally I guess I’m just feeling a bit run down and missing something. Maybe that’s it. Hay fever season is coming upon us and I feel a bit worse for wear. And I think often when you’ve been working hard and you suddenly ease up, that’s when it hits you. I feel kind of sad sometimes that I have to work and so I don’t get to see as much of my family as I’d like. I have such a wonderful time at the weekend that it maybe hits me hard when I have to go back to work on a Monday.
I don’t know what I’m hoping to accomplish with this post. I suppose catharsis.
I think what I mean to say is that I could have everything I ever wanted – and I do – but I still have down days sometimes, and today is one of them.
But right now I’m lying in bed – our superking sized giant mattress – and next to me is my little snorting baby-who’s-now-a-toddler, and further down the bed is my big boy Dog who’s turning five tomorrow, and on the other side is my partner T, my best friend, who I too often take for granted. And we are in my absolute dream apartment. I love it, with its little terrace, and summer is coming so we can spend more time outside and it’ll be lovely.
Today I have the blues but tomorrow is one step closer to the weekend…
I’ve talked a lot about infertility before – that’s the reason this blog started in the first place. But once you’ve been through it all and ended up with a baby – what are you? I’m still technically infertile, but I am a mother. I don’t feel like I can properly call myself infertile, aligning myself with the many women still in pain, still trying to deal with infertility, when I have our longed for child.
I talked about the strange hinterland of post infertility on one of my previous blogs. It’s that way we’re a particular kind of mother, an ever-grateful mother, a mother who doesn’t take having a baby for granted. I feel like a mother in an everlasting state of wonderment and joy that I get to be one. (It’s kind of sickening how happy I am about the whole thing, and I can assure you I don’t go around pooping rainbows – I just hold the happiness in my heart when my baby giggles or reaches for me, or does just about anything…)
I also feel The Fear for others. I have friends who get pregnant and announce straight away and I have to stop myself from saying, – Stop! What if?! and How can you be sure? – because those are my anxieties and not hers. It’s a strange place to be because we know what could go wrong, and we are those Miracle Mamas, the Mamas Against All Odds, and so our very being is confirming to them that good things do happen, and so we can’t be the ones to rain on their parade even though we know that not all trying ends up with a pregnancy, and not all pregnancies end up with a baby, but we nod along and smile because that’s what we do.
One of the things that’s come up a lot lately is the idea that one might not be enough.
And that’s something that’s just so alien to me, I can’t even imagine how it must feel to have that degree of sadness from having an “only”.
I was one of four siblings, and we got on well. It was complex, for sure – having two bios and two adopted. It was harder for the adoptees, but overall it was good – we had a fun childhood with lots of family games, kids going on adventures, and lots of freedom to play together. I don’t know why I never pictured myself as a mama of many. I guess I knew from quite a young age that I would find it difficult to have children. (I had been told something fleeting when I was much younger, which was never repeated by later doctors, but then told I had extensive endometriosis and likely fertility problems in my mid twenties.) I’ve always been someone who didn’t wish for things I didn’t think I could have. So the most I ever wished for was one.
Also, personally – I think I would have enjoyed being an only child. I don’t know if this is to do with being adopted or just my personality. I always felt as one of four that I didn’t get quite the amount of attention I would have wanted. And I don’t mean this in a drama queen way (although I had plenty of that) – I always felt needy, and maybe that is an adoption thing. I would just wish sometimes I could have a day of my parents just to myself. Don’t get me wrong – I do get on with my siblings. But I also enjoy now that I’m an adult that I often see my parents on their own and I don’t have to share them with anyone else! I guess I’d have been what they call now “a high needs child”!
So when I was told I probably couldn’t have kids, I just wished for the one, and when that wish was granted (by a lot of medical science and a fair amount of money and effort, rather than the Fertility Fairy!), I felt – gosh, life couldn’t get any better.
I see a lot of stuff now on FB about people worrying about only children. People worry they’ll be spoiled, or socially inept, or not know how to relate to other kids, or not able to function as adults, and I find it interesting because I wonder – where are they finding these terrible only children who grow up to be dysfunctional adults?! All of the single children I know have grown up to be just fine as adults. I don’t think they’re any better or worse functioning than the general population. And one thing they all had was a good relationship with their parents. B has been in nursery since a young age and he’s probably more socialised than a child who stays at home with his mother who doesn’t have a sibling for a few years. He enjoys seeing his friends at nursery, but he’s also securely attached to me. (And to his dad, and dog brother!) I figure so far, so good – he doesn’t seem like an irreparable weirdo!
For us, the lengths we went to in order to have B were pretty gruelling. (Though not a patch on what some have to go through. We were lucky.) I know that for me, I couldn’t be the mother I want to be to B if I were to continue going through additional treatments. It’s most likely I’d need another endo op, possibly another fibroid op, more IVF, more immune therapy. It was hard physically, but it was harder emotionally. I already feel a degree of loss that I have to go to work and B is at nursery during the work week, even though I know he’s absolutely fine. I wouldn’t want to be under emotional strain as well, trying to conceive a sibling, when I don’t think he needs one to be happy. I hope that by giving him a full life, and living in an urban area where there are a lot of kids about, that we can counter any potential loneliness he might have as an “only”.
I understand that being okay with one is not “normal”. Most people have more than one child. And maybe there’s something a bit strange about having no siblings, or not having multiple children. I don’t know. I feel sadness for people who can’t have children, including those who can’t have a second child and desperately want one. I just don’t feel the sadness of being a mother of one myself.
I never thought I’d be “that kind of mother”. I sort of thought that the baby phase would be kind of boring, that I’d probably find it a little bit of a drag until toddlerhood, until some kind of doing stuff like walking, eating, talking… but it’s been a joy. I thought I’d find it hard, because everything leading up to having a child has been hard, but it’s been relatively easy. And I don’t take that for granted at all. I’ve seen others struggle with breastfeeding and reflux and post natal depression and sleepless nights and I think we’ve been lucky, because it hasn’t been that hard for us. No tongue tie, no breastfeeding problems, no ongoing health issues and the sleepless nights I was used to due to my job! So whilst the adjustment has been monumental in some ways, it’s just been a case of slotting in as though he’s always been here in other ways.
And the thing that’s bittersweet as a mother of one is that I know that every time is the only time, and every last time is the very last time.
I’ll never have a tiny little baby again. B is my one and only (human!) baby and he’s now one, toddling about, vocalising, making his feelings known. (He’s a terrible tweenager already! Just like his mama used to be!) I’ll never see a baby take their first steps again. I’ll never see my baby roll for the first time again, or the time he worked out how to giggle and it made me cry with happiness – that’s the first and last time. We’re coming to the end of our pumping journey – and it’s been a slog. But the last time I pump breastmilk for him will be the last time. I can’t even think about the last time I breastfeed him. The last time I babywear. The last times are all the last times.
But… I feel so much gratitude that I even got to experience the firsts. And even if the firsts are also the lasts, I’m at peace with it, because it’s more joy than I ever thought I’d have.
I thought for so many years that I would never even have one, that I’d never be a mother. So to me, B, my “only”, my boy, is the most amazing thing. (I hesitate to call him a gift, because he’s not an object. He’s his own person, who has his own ideas of what he wants to happen in life, and most of those involve chocolate or bubbles). He’s an amazing, wonderful – and completely run-of-the-mill all at the same time, because that’s amazing also, the way we take the normal stuff for granted, the giving of life, the joy of family – little boy I never thought I’d have. So I guess I just never had the time to wish for another, because I was so busy wishing for him.
I never seem to manage to make the time to blog much any more, and that’s a perfect microcosm of how it feels to be a working mother – there’s never enough time for anything. Which is crazy, because I have a million unwritten blog posts swirling in my head. Many of which are about the strange hinterland that is being a working mum (mom!) after years of infertility.
First things first: I am so grateful to be here. I still do a double take every single day when I wake up next to my beautiful boy and I realise that somehow, after all the struggle, I am a mother. How did this happen?, swirls through my mind every day. I thank all those people silently who helped that dream become a reality. And I don’t easily forget all the years where it didn’t seem possible.
Second things second: Being a mother after infertility is a strange thing to be… I feel like it’s almost a different thing from being a “normal” mother. I don’t think we post infertiles ever really forget the deep grief and fear, the joy-pain of pregnancy after loss, the hoping and wishing that something will go right after so many wrongs. My overwhelming emotion most of the time is deep joy and gratitude that I have managed to have this experience of carrying and giving birth to a human being… my first known biological relative.
Which brings me to the third point: Having a child after being adopted [in a closed adoption] is a huge thing. It’s monumental. Having a child after having been transracially, transnationally adopted – if you weren’t, you can’t even begin to comprehend the profundity of it. I couldn’t, before it happened to me, despite that person being me.
To look into my baby’s face and recognise my own – to feel that deep kinship, to feel joined to someone else when it has never happened before in my living memory – it’s the most gut wrenching joy-pain you can imagine. To realise what I lost as a baby. To realise what I’ve gained through having my baby. To realise my birth culture and language is lost to me and I can’t pass it on to him… To realise that matters – even despite the joy. To live in that complexity where joy can coexist with grief and loss.*
Of course – I don’t want to put that on him. He has no responsibility other than being my baby doing babyish things and hopefully drawing as much joy out of life as a baby can inhale. And yet – he is everything.
(*I already knew what I’d gained – prevailing adoption narratives always focus more on gain than loss. I can be happy and adopted and have suffered deep loss all at the same time. That’s adoption complexity for you.)
Fourthly: After so many other “Not like the other” categories, Working Mother has to be the most stark. I genuinely never knew that the battle lines of Motherhood were so entrenched. And none more than Stay At Home Mother vs Working Mother. I never wanted to be caught up in these battles, any more than I wanted to define myself by Crunchy Mom vs Gina Ford Mom, or Breastfeeding Mum vs Fed is Best Mum – and yet, if there’s one thing mothers seem to like doing, it’s defining themselves as a Mum Type. (I’m Haphazard, Intuitive Mum… completely disorganised and completely in love. That’s all really.) I realise in so many spaces I don’t really fit in. And the (relative) loss of my antenatal buddies – who fell by the wayside as soon as I went back to work – felt like a rejection of the old school kind. (And that’s not even to get into the whiteness of motherhood… and how that makes a transracial adoptee feel. A complex subject for another day!)
And yet, I think we’ve settled into our own niche. I’ve found mum friends – some of whom will probably last and some of whom probably won’t. Quite honestly, it’s hard to cultivate friendships when you work full time and other mums seem to have endless pools of time to do Mum things and they use their weekends to catch up with their husbands… My baby is at nursery during the week and so even if I’m working from home, I can’t really meet mum friends, because why would I want to go and spend time with someone else’s baby when mine is in daycare? Like I said, it’s a strange hinterland and we find our own way.
I have made some Mum buddies whose kids go to our nursery – their kids are a bit older, because I had to go back to work so soon. But it’s good because we have more in common. (I’m the terrible one feeding my child Ella’s Kitchen premade pouches instead of developing a varied baby menu and posting pictures of tot cuisine to our whatsapp groups. Our working mums group is a safe space for all of us who’ve ended up rushing across town all sweaty to grab our babies at the last possible minute. No Lingo Tots or prosecco in the play park for us!)
The thing is, I wish I could join those other mums. I’d love to be a stay at home mum, for even a time, and I find myself wondering whether it’s possible to have it all, and I’m pretty sure it isn’t – something has got to give. For working mums, it’s missing out on all the mundane stuff that our SAHM friends take for granted. The idea I might not see my child’s first steps.
Which brings me to: The Dilemma.
I’m doing not too badly in my job. Weirdly… It always makes me a little nervous when things are going well because I’m primed to feel like something is bound to go wrong. But I’ve managed to develop a great working relationship with my boss (the one I wasn’t happy that my old boss – who I love in a work platonic way – put in place). We seem to be quite symbiotic and complementary and work well as a team. And I am lucky that what I’m doing right now means I have the flexibility to work from home a fair amount and to continue breastfeeding/ pumping. (11 months next week. How did that happen?!) It’s important to me that I am able to do that. And coincidentally, I also get paid more than I ever did before, and my working hours are more reasonable. I honestly don’t know how that happened. I like to think it’s my karmic reward for putting up with so much **** in my old job!
Let’s not beat around the bush – I’m the main breadwinner. By a lot. I get paid almost double what T gets paid. We were lucky enough to have an offer accepted on our dream flat this year and it’s my salary that enabled us to get the mortgage (plus a fair bit of help from my parents with the deposit). So I need to work to continue to provide for our family. T is an awesome partner as he’s much more organised than I am and he figures out everything we need to do domestically. I just have one job – to earn the money. (Well, and to feed B!) Doing what I do helps keep us afloat. And getting promoted, earning more and doing well would help us reach our sweet spot (pay off debts and mortgage) sooner.
Our company is having a leadership summit in January, and I received an invitation. It’s a long way away – a transatlantic flight away. It goes on for four days plus travel. And only approved people get invited.
I got an invitation. It’s a big deal.
I asked my big boss if there was a mistake. (Surely not me!) My manager wasn’t sure either… She said our big boss had to approve all names so I must have been invited, but maybe not.
I emailed him to check there hadn’t been an error.
He called me. No error. I’m invited. “As a member of the leadership team.” Of course! (I’m like the most junior person in the team. They’re all one or two grades above me, or in his case, four!)
And when is this conference? Smack bang over my baby’s very first birthday.
He told me, You don’t have to come. Let me know and if you don’t want to, I’ll give your space to Andy. (Andy is another relatively junior member of the team. Hopefully not as well regarded as me.)
All the global leadership will be there… It’ll be a great networking opportunity. All expenses paid.
And… It’s my baby’s first birthday.
T says, He won’t know. We can move it a couple of days and celebrate then. I say, But I’ll know. I’d be on the other side of the world when my baby turns one.
My manager has asked me to work on a big piece of work over that time anyway, so the decision may yet be taken out of my hands, but the summit probably takes priority – if I want to go.
Every few minutes I change my mind about what is an obvious decision. And it comes back to my multiple identities and how the “obvious” answer changes according to which identity I’m cloaking myself in at the time. I am a mother. I am a working mother. I’m an adoptee whose baby is the most important person in the world to me. I am a mother after loss who realises how precious those small mundane things are. I am a transnational, transracial adoptee who finally made a family. I’m someone who was cut off from her roots who invests a huge amount emotionally in birthdays because they are the only link to my past.
I am all those things and I am my baby’s mother and I am a great worker and I want to do well so I can provide for him and make him safe, keep a roof over his head, keep him happy.
But he is not me. B is not me. He is himself, and he’s wonderful and joyous and giggly and amazing and cute. He doesn’t need to be anything for me, but I need to be everything for him.
How do we ever resolve our multiple identities? How do we decide what is best?
I don’t know if we ever can, but I’m going to have to try…
…sometimes I can’t find the words. And Facebook is such an instant kind of interaction whereas blogging has some sort of responsibility associated with it, to have a subject or theme rather than just stream of consciousness rambling… (although anyone who’s followed my blog for a while will be used to that!).
I guess it’s a bit hard to think of pithy subjects for blog posts when there’s such a lot going on in the world. And I have a lot of other outlets for discussing that, and others have done it far more justice than I ever could, so I’ll just say I’m saddened and kind of scared with what’s going on right now. It makes me wonder if one day in future we will look back on these days and think they were peace time. I hope that isn’t the case.
We all have a responsibility to speak out. As a transracial adoptee I feel my “foreignness” more than most people, and I’m astounded and saddened by what is happening in America now.
B turned seven months old! I can’t believe my baby is over half a year old. It’s gone by so quickly. I’m sure this happens to every parent but I feel like this time I’m sort of at peak love with him. Although probably next month I’ll think I love him even more. He’s at a great age now where he gives a fair amount of feedback, smiling and giggling, and he’s almost confident at sitting up (only falling over occasionally and slowly) and trying to crawl (but only succeeding in moving backwards, generally under the sofa). He’s tried food but doesn’t like it much. Which means: We’ve now reached seven months of breastfeeding!
One of my biggest surprises about this entire journey is how much I’ve enjoyed breastfeeding. I started out thinking I’d probably end up doing formula, because my body manages to cock up everything else, but for some reason I seem to be made to nurse my baby.
It’s an amazing feeling to think that my milk has nourished him to seven months. And he’s really pretty healthy. He’s quite big for his age – we know other babies who are a few months older and he doesn’t look significantly smaller. And aside from the occasional snotty nose and nursery bug, he’s been really well.
Also as an adoptee who wasn’t breastfed, I feel that it’s a very healing thing to be able to nurse my own biological baby. That’s not to say I wish I’d been breastfed. I really find that difficult as a concept from an adoption standpoint. We have had many discussions about it in adoption groups – suffice to say that pretty much all the adoptees were against it and all the people supporting it were adoptive parents. It’s a very emotive subject for adoptees and led to me deciding to leave my local LLL group. (I really support breastfeeding but adoptive breastfeeding is something else. I understand different people have different views and I can only speak for mine as an adult transracial adoptee, that it is deeply taboo in our community.) It’s a shame as we have had such a good breastfeeding experience and I was thinking of becoming a peer supporter. But still – we are still enjoying it and will probably end up doing the extended breastfeeding unless he decides to wean himself earlier! I’m not particularly worried as I guess most 15 year olds aren’t into it!
We are starting to wean B, but we are a bit lacksadaisical about it. We wanted to do baby led weaning, but he really isn’t very interested in food, so we’ve ended up doing some mush as well. I have to say I’m grossed out by mush. Especially banana. I hate bananas but it turns out babies love them. B doesn’t seem averse although he never voluntarily goes for food. He’ll eat mush offered to him on a spoon but stuff in his hand he just waves around. Apart from the baby chocolate biscuit. He’s clearly a man after my own heart.
We decided to hold a naming ceremony. I guess really we would have had a christening but neither of us is religious and so it felt like it would be a bit hypocritical. We wanted to mark B’s entrance to the world somehow… I guess it’s a natural inclination to want some sort of significance to it. Anyway I was going to do it myself and then thought about it and how I’d probably turn to mush and start crying, so I found a humanist celebrant who’s going to do it. Quite excited as we’ve been to humanist weddings in the past and they are really nice and personal. Anyway will have to write more about that on another post!
We are finally completing on our new house! Wow, it’s been an insanely long wait. We first made an offer that was accepted back in April. It’s been a bit frustrating – like what are they actually doing? – but feels amazing to think we will get our dream home this week! I actually feel a little sad for our lovely tiny current flat, but we are keeping it and hope to rent it out. I would love for us to keep it for B so he has some security for when he’s older, but we shall see. The new place isn’t actually a house but another flat very nearby – it’s just that it has a terrace so we will have some outside space, and it has two bedrooms so B can have one of his own! And a slightly bigger living room so he can actually learn to crawl! So exciting. It’s funny when I see people’s homes outside London and they are massive! We have low expectations for space here! I absolutely love London though and can’t really see us moving until much much later. Maybe when we retire to Disney World!
We have booked B’s first Disney trip! Before I was pregnant we went to Disneyland Paris each year during the Christmas season, and last year was the first time we missed it as I was heavily pregnant at Christmas. We decided because we both have our “big” birthdays this year (don’t mention it!) and it’ll be B’s first Christmas that we would go all out. We always go past the Disneyland hotel and sometimes even pop in for a drink or dinner. Well we have booked a posh room there with a park view! So excited. Now to find some good outfits for B…!
Stuff is actually going okay at work. The funny thing is, I made a decision to try and get on with The Woman (my new manager) and actually we’ve been getting on really well. She went on holiday and left me in charge of a piece of work and I caned it (up till 3am one night finishing it!) so I think she appreciated that I was pretty good even though I’m working from home most of the time. So although it’s hard work, I do tend to enjoy working hard periodically. I like that I have other days when I have hardly anything! Anyway it’s sort of nice to be able to take pride in my work!
My sister had her baby! I now have another niece. She was absolutely tiny weeny (a bit over 6lbs) and she’s super skinny… I don’t think B was ever that tiny! She ended up having a really similar experience to mine – ending in an unplanned caesarean. On the flip side she doesn’t really seem super happy about it – I think it has all gotten on top of her. I may have mentioned before she is quite highly strung… So I think the whole thing has traumatised her. I’m hoping that it’s going to pass and she won’t end up having postnatal depression – although I can see it happening. Luckily baby is fine and hopefully with a period of adjustment my sister will get into the swing of things.
I was finally a bridesmaid! They do say, “Three times a bridesmaid, never a bride!” So I kind of thought seeing as I’ve been a bride, maybe never a bridesmaid. Anyway it was such a fun day. Our bridesmaid crew was just the three of us and it was a great experience. I mean really all you have to do is turn up and have your hair and makeup done and wear a dress. It was kind of great. I even managed to nurse in the bridesmaid dress although it was a bit of a “wap ’em out” situation. Also I almost gave people an eyeful during the ceilidh dancing when the boob tube part of the dress came fully down! Fortunately I had some fabric over my boobs but there is no time during Strip the Willow (energetic Scottish country dancing, lots of spinning) to correct it. Ha! It was wonderful to see my friend so happy and to get married to the perfect guy for her. (I take full credit for persuading her to do internet dating!)
I think that’s about up to date with the news. Oh aside from the fact that I woke up today with what feels like horrendous whiplash. How did that happen?! Who knows. I’ve barely been able to move my head all day. I’m in agony. I’ve been taking painkillers in between pumping and feeding (as B is at nursery I have a safe-ish gap) but I am in massive pain. I don’t know how to do make it go away. I have a feeling it’s from side sleeping (co sleeping and feeding during the night) as I tend to get a sore back, but usually that’s manageable lower back pain rather than crippling under neck pain. I had a sports massage which helped a bit but ow!
I guess there was too much good news so I had to have a bit of pain mixed in!
I was looking at old photos of myself on Timehop (God bless Timehop, the regurgitator of past lives!) and realised that I was really skinny. This was something of a surprise to me as I spent a good proportion of my life and most of my adult life feeling fat.
It's like a lot of my old life is something of a shock to me now. I remembered with a jolt the other day that I didn't wear trousers for five years because my ex told me my legs looked a bit like sausages in them. Five years! When did I allow someone else to have such agency over my body?
Even before I met my ex, I think I had some pretty disordered eating. Not quite anorexia – I never really was one for seeing things through – but I did maintain a pretty low body weight that is significantly lower than I am now. (For context: I am around 5'2", and I used to be a UK size 8-10, and now I'm about a UK size 12. Generally not considered "overweight".)
I'm not sure when my disordered eating and strange body image first started. A lot of people (especially girls) start this around puberty, and perhaps that's what happened for me. I think it's a bit deeper than that, though. I was adopted as a baby, transracially, and I grew up around white people so all my life I've looked different from most of the people I was around growing up.
When I went to a predominantly white school, all of this got amplified. I remember that it was a shock because I slowly realised that I was "less than" because of my race. I realised that I was supposed to be blonde haired and blue eyed and I was about as far from that as possible. I started to find myself ugly (and people started to tell me I was ugly to my face). I never had the skinny white girl legs. Mine were muscular and I was just a different build. Really average for my race, as it turns out. But you don't know that as a child if you grow up with people who don't look like you.
Adoption is complex, and I don't know how much of this was tied up in adoption, but I do know I can't separate out being a different race from my overall experience of growing up. My feeling of not fitting in, even though that was all I knew. Anyway, I got kind of chubby. Although looking back, I wasn't chubby. I don't think I was ever actually chubby – I was just short, and not lanky.
Then one time when I was around 16, I went away on a holiday (to learn a language) and when I was there I got pretty sick and I couldn't really eat anything. And I dropped a load of weight. When I got back, suddenly everyone said how amazing I looked because I was skinny. I was suddenly approved of, and I liked it. So I maintained it.
I maintained it for a really long time. The thing is, I'm not naturally meant to be that weight. (It's about 20-30kg lighter than I am now. I don't know exactly how much as I don't know how much I weigh now.) So I got by on some disordered eating that kept me at my magic weight. My magic weight crept up over time… I kept in a 5kg weight range through school, and then it kind of crept up during my time at university, until it was +10kg, and then it was about +15kg in my last few years with IVF and everything. And even +20kg post miscarriage.
For me, I always thought I was "happy" when I was a lower weight. But when I look back, I was always kind of unhappy. I was happy that I'd managed to keep my weight down but I always felt a kind of anxiety about it. I used to weigh myself every day. The number on the scales made me feel like I was achieving something or I was failing something.
When I met T, after I'd split up with my ex – I had to adjust to a new way of being. I was always very controlled with my ex. He wouldn't think he was, but he controlled a lot about me. He had a huge effect on my feelings of self worth (or not). This was someone who had always dated very skinny women and even told me I was the fattest person he'd ever been with. It made me feel pretty bad about myself that I was that. The whole thing with my ex was that I never felt good enough. With T, I felt good enough. He really didn't care about weight. I actually met him when I was still pretty skinny and I piled on the relationship pounds… I let myself go.
I'm still conflicted about how I feel about it, because I recognise that my magic weight wasn't magic at all, but a strange idea of how I was supposed to look. And T tells me he loves me the way I am. But it was hard in the beginning putting on pregnancy weight – not just because of the weight itself, but the fear that it might be for nothing, like our first IVF and pregnancy was.
This pregnancy that gave me B also gave me a lot of weight. Firstly I had to take IVF drugs which make you put on weight. And also I had to take steroids which make you put on weight also. I got to halfway through pregnancy in a state of fear that it wouldn't work out, but then when I got halfway I decided I was going to try my best not to fear it any more.
I also decided to stop weighing myself. I have weighed myself every day, sometimes multiple times a day, since I was a teenager. I even recorded my weight every day in an app so I could see how much weight I put on. It's a bit crazy obsessive.
When I was properly pregnant, I gave myself permission to stop weighing myself. And I let myself relax into the pregnancy.
And you know what?
The strange thing is, I have no doubt I'm at least magic weight +20kg. Possibly +30kg. And I definitely have my moments of feeling a bit concerned about it (especially if I catch a glimpse of myself coming out of the shower – stretch marks and overhang and pendulous mammaries hanging out) but I generally feel absolutely awesome.
I don't know how it works for other people but for me – my body was always this thing that failed me. I wasn't the same as my white friends. I looked different. I was ultimately not enough – I wasn't enough for my birth mother to keep me; I wasn't enough for my ex to love me how I needed to be loved; I wasn't thin enough or attractive enough or whatever.
But having B was like all vanity went out of the window. I love myself now, because I know I'm just the same as anyone else – I'm fallible and imperfect, but my messed up body gave me B and I love myself for that.
I love my ridiculous humungaboobs that feed B like a dream… when his dad "flies" him over to me for a feed, he giggles and opens his mouth to latch on. They may be saggy and baggy but they do exactly what they need to do to feed my baby, and I'm proud I've been able to do that and even to pump for him so he's been exclusively breastfed for his entire life, for half a year.
I love my saggy stomach. (This one requires a bit more imagination!) I love that it carried B safely (even though he needed cutting out at the last minute!). I love that I got to experience being gloriously, amazingly pregnant. I once had a big bump that I never thought I'd get to have, and I grew a human in there, and if it looks like a fleshy deflated balloon well – so be it. My bikini days are over anyway and I have an awesome very flattering swimsuit with tummy panels!
I love my fuller face. (Again this is a hard one!) I love that it's the face that my son loves. His eyes light up when he sees me. He giggles and reaches his arms out. We even had to hide the cushion with my face on because he kept staring at it! Yes, I don't have the cheekbones I used to have but they'll come back one day. Or maybe they won't. But I refuse to hate my face because it looks a little bit like my boy's and I love his.
Anyone who sees me now probably thinks I've "let myself go". And I really have.
I've given myself permission to breathe out. (You kind of have to if you had a caesarean, just saying.)
I've given myself permission to not care. I don't have to listen to the whispering voices of bullies from the past, who said I was fat and ugly. I'm not fat and ugly. I am the size I needed to be to carry my baby into existence. I'm the face of my ancestors, who I'm finally beginning to connect with through adoption forums and same race groups, and I refuse to be ashamed of my non-whiteness because I don't ever want to see that shame in my son's face.
Of course I don't advocate being unhealthy. (Well, chocolate notwithstanding.) The thing is, I'm a size bigger than I was pre-pregnancy. But there's a freedom in letting myself have this. I have told myself I won't diet until I finish breastfeeding. Right now, I don't know when that will be. I want to do at least a year. In fact I'm enjoying it so much (never thought I'd say that!) that I joke I'll do it till he's 15… although I think he might decide to wean himself before then! (We have started baby led weaning but B is not interested in the least… It's a messy business!)
I will start exercising again when I have the time, for sure. But it will be just for myself. I miss the enjoyment I used to get from exercise, a bit, but then we are pretty active as we walk almost everywhere and we have Dog, and he gets us out and about. Plus I do swimming with B once a week, if bobbing around in the shallow end counts. (Yes it does!)
The important thing is that I want B to have a healthy self esteem and be happy. And a huge part of that is having happy healthy parents. I don't want him to see his mother dieting or hating the body that he changed by coming into existence. I don't want him to hate half of his race that came from me. We've taken steps… He's in a diverse nursery in the diverse area we live in. So he will never have the experience of feeling the odd one out, like I did.
And his parents are currently happy together and don't argue that much! (And when they do, it's his mama's fault… Hopefully the hormones will have died down a bit by the time he's more aware!) We are hopefully moving to our new place soon, so he'll even have a bit of outside space. And he has an awesome Dog for a buddy, and a load of new buddies at nursery… Life is good… and we are going to focus on the good things we are grateful for, rather than the bad things we wish we didn't have.
Those of you who have followed my blog for a while will know we are massive Disney fans. We have booked to bring B to Disneyland Paris this year, because even though he won't remember it, it's our happy place (and we will save Orlando and the transatlantic flight for when he's older!). We have been every year apart from last year (heavily pregnant) as a couple and now we're going back as a family.
And of course, one of the best Disney songs ever is from Frozen: Let it Go. I don't tell that many people this, but I can barely ever listen to that song without wanting to cry. It's the perfect song that sums up so much of how I feel. (Which is strangely embarrassing given I'm an almost-40 year old definitely not Scandinavian most likely not a princess archetypally buttoned up British-by-adoption person.)
Let it go, let it go
And I'll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone!
So here's the thing… I never was perfect. But I was trying to be, and it was exhausting.
And I never realised that all this time I needed to find acceptance. Not from other people, but from myself.
Or: Lost and found
I didn’t go searching for the past. I was dreaming of future things: of our new house and the child that might one day play in it – when I found my birth certificate. Or to be more precise: an ancient, fragile document comprised of thin pages covered in writing that I can’t understand. Plus an English translation of certified provenance. Certificates of adoption into my now native country. Official looking seals. Records of identity, and photos of a baby that looks a bit like me.
It’s never been hidden from me that I was adopted as a baby, from a country far away from the one I now live in. This document is the link to who I was back then, before I became British (“more British than the British”) – before my parents became my parents and long before I ever came to live in England and become fully assimilated into the middle classes and later, the hustle and bustle of London life.
It seemed somehow serendipitous that I should come across them that day, as for some reason (infertility, a new IVF cycle, the moon?) I’ve been thinking a lot about adoption and the fact of having been adopted. It seemed like a sign from the universe, if I believed in such things. (I don’t.)
The only reason I was going through boxes is that we’re in the process of buying a house. The London housing market is such that anything we can afford to buy is approximately half the size of the place we now rent, which means some downsizing and rationalising of the immense amount of clutter we’ve managed to accumulate. T has been strict about me doing a bit of sorting every night, and I’ve been roused from my customary placement on the sofa to dig through piles of old stuff that we never unpacked from the old house.
And there it was: an old folder bursting with documents of Me. All that information laid out there, so tantalisingly close and yet so far from my comprehension – characters on a page in a language I can’t understand.
And yet… I could pick some words out. I could match it up from the translation of my name, because I know what my name is in my birth language. (My parents gave me the fusion name: a name in my birth language and in English, a name I now realise my first mother must have known when she signed away her rights.)
I can see her name. I’ve never looked for it before. I don’t know why. I look at the dates of birth and I realise she was 20 when she had me. A baby herself. I look at her birthdate and wonder why I never thought what it was before. I work out how old she would be now. Not much older than my ex; quite a lot younger than my parents. I calculate that she’s exactly the same amount younger than my dad as I was from my ex. A strange thought.
Little things. I see this on the translation next to her name and somehow it seems poignant.
I misunderstand it at first, thinking that she just appeared to give consent, suggesting that maybe she was ambivalent. Then I read it again, and I think that I have the emphasis wrong, that it is merely a statement of fact that she turned up and I wasn’t signed away in absentia. I look at it again and I’m not sure. Somewhere, back in the mists of time, my first mother held the certificate that this translates. Maybe for longer than she held me. I don’t know; she had me for a few days after my birth and I don’t know how much of that time I was with her.
I snap a picture on my phone and I look up the English translation on the translated document. Later, at work, I contact the first person I can think of who speaks my birth language and I ask her if she’d be willing to look at something written down and tell me what it means, and type it for me. My untrained eye can’t translate it into type for future internet searches, but she can. She tells me to send the picture and instantly she’s able to tell me my mother’s name. It’s similar but not quite the same as the translation says – she has a name that I can type now and I google it idly for the rest of the afternoon, but nothing comes up.
I thank my coworker and tell her it’s my birth mother’s name. She sends me a smiley emoji.
You can’t move forwards without looking back.
I’ve never tried to look at these documents before, which seems ludicrous at the age of 30-something (late thirties!) – I always knew I wouldn’t be able to understand them because I don’t speak that language. It wouldn’t really tell me anything I didn’t already know: that I was born, and I had at least one parent, and then I had two more and I lost the first. Maybe I was in denial, or I didn’t want to look, or it just didn’t seem relevant. In recentish history I’ve had the chance to look at these things and the chance to visit my birth country, but I never took it and I don’t know why.
So much of my adoptee narrative was given to me and I never questioned it. I’ve questioned everything else in life – religion being a big one (I told my religious mother that I was an atheist at a very young age, and I’ve tried every branch of Christianity just to see if I could possibly start believing – I really like it, but I just can’t believe it). I’ve questioned my superiors. I’m totally one of those annoying people who always wants to know Why?
Why did I never question my story? Why have I never tried to find out more than that? I think I just so internalised the narrative… that I was transplanted from poverty, that my first mother wanted to give me up, that she had a very common name, that she was young and marginalised and it would be really difficult to find her. My parents always said they would help if I wanted to. I never wanted to. I’m not the type who ever wants to set myself up for a fall.
My birth country is pretty advanced in terms of adoptee rights. It’s the language barrier which gets massively in the way. I can’t even search for my first mother’s name because I couldn’t read what the results showed. Even if I could find something online, I’m unversed in the language of the country of my birth. Without language, I’m mute. I’m a foreigner here, sitting on a computer which in my imagination is a giant tin can with string that stretches all the way around the world and there, somewhere on the other side is my birth family. Are they huddling around the other tin can? Are they off living their lives, playing out in the distance?
They even have a standardised adoption search form. I’ve looked at it. I could kick off the search right now, with what I have – all they need is a birth certificate, proof of my identity and a signed consent form. Those old certificates are sitting there in their folder, and all it would take would be for me to scan them in, send them through cyberspace and whoosh, the people at the other end (the nice officials with their much more advanced attitude towards opening up closed adoptions) would do their stuff. I don’t even have to pay anything. My birth country sees it as a service they should provide to grown up adoptees. It catches me a little bit, in my heart, that they have a whole website devoted to reaching the people like me who are foreigners in their birth country. They want to welcome us back. They want to help me search.
Why have I never done it? I’ve never really looked back.
It is said if there’s one thing that’s sure in life, it’s that you can’t move forward without acknowledging the past.
My past is locked up in an old wooden chest. My parents, my “real parents”, the only parents I’ve ever consciously known put this chest together for me. It’s old and the lock’s broken and some of the feet fell off. For my entire childhood that chest has been a part of my life. It used to sit at the end of my bed and my other adopted sibling had one too – it marked us as special, as the bio kids didn’t have one. All our old things were in there, and sometimes we’d hide toys in there, but really what it was meant to be was a place to store our past.
I’ve never really paid much attention to it. The chest, like my past, is just a part of me – a fact; an adjective. No big deal in my everyday life. But I finally got around to clearing out some stuff, because to move forward I have to do that. I have to touch the past. In collecting my stuff from storage and in sorting through that and trying to get a new mortgage and start my new life, I inadvertently stumble upon the past.
Without even opening it, I know that in the chest is a baby outfit. It’s not a western style outfit. It’s from my country of birth. There’s a blanket. Some booties. My first favourite book, and my second and third. (I’ve always been a voracious reader since the age of 2 when I apparently figured it out.) As a child I never really thought of the significance of these first things. My first photo album full of photos, my parents bedecked in 70s sepia with me, a little foreign baby. I look like a changeling. I always thought stories about changelings were about me. Those words again: The person involved personally appeared to performed the right of consent. Those words I can’t read: somewhere on that page of foreign writing is the writing of my first mother, signing away her motherhood of me.
As an adult, and as an adoptee, a label I’ve always been resistant to claim (not because I ever dispute the fact that I was adopted or am ashamed of it, but because it reminds me of amputee, and suggests I’m not whole, that I’m just an object, an -ee for someone else’s agency), I look at these things anew. I’m not so inured any more to the everyday-ness of the past, of my papers. I’m older now and I’m possibly the end of my line, so maybe I should look at it because there might not be any more. (On family trees: I’ve always thought of myself more of a spliced branch onto my parents’ family tree – I never quite got why adoptees would get so upset about “the family tree project” – I have a tree; it’s just that mine bears different fruit… Or possibly no fruit.)
Now things are new, and modern, and instant. In the age of social media and omniscience delivered via warp speed fibre networks, adoptees are rising up in their hundreds and demanding information. What was once “very difficult to find” is now instantly searchable, crowdsourced, blogged, viral. Some of their quest I can’t relate to; I can’t picture myself as one of those adoptees in a photo, holding up a sign asking strangers to tell them where their biological relatives are. Those people so earnest in their vulnerability. That isn’t me.
But… I can hold my birth certificate in my hands. The original documents, the ones that other adoptees fight to attain. (OBCs or Original Birth Certificates are sealed in many US states, and adoptees are banned from ever finding out the kind of information that sits innocuously in my wooden chest, that was a prop of my childhood games… Even worse, some adoptees in the USA don’t even have citizenship rights for the only home they’ve ever known, which is a travesty.) It strikes me that this information that I’ve casually had to hand for most of my life and has never been hard fought for is something I’ve never romanticised or idolised. It’s just there. And in being just there, I’ve almost ignored it.
And yet… It’s now here, in my immediate possession, not an abstract file somewhere that’s sealed by the state. I have the very papers that my first mother touched, that she put her signature to, on which her name and birthdate and other identifying details reside.
If I could read my birth language, I could look for her. I could look for my first father. In my head, I have at least one biological brother who’s impossibly cool and would teach me that men of my ethnicity can be cool, too, rather than exotic beings I’ve never known. In my head, at least my sibling is on Facebook and we could exchange stories and figure out where to go from here.
Many adoptees are now doing 23andme, and other DNA testing. I’ve even seen posts on adoption forums where people urge adoptive parents to get their children tested when they’re still young, so they can get “answers” and “identity”. I guess my take on it is that I’ve never felt that my identity was purely DNA or biological, and that whilst it’s incontrovertible fact that I don’t look like the majority of people in my country, and I have my own idiosyncrasies (a tendency to wear black, an evil stare… But also an enthusiasm for animal cartoons and kawaii cuteness that may bely my biology), the me-ness of me is more than genes.
I worry that it might open up more information than I need, more questions than can be answered. If I did it – if I swabbed my cheek and found a distant cousin – or even a sibling, or parent – what would that mean? What would it mean if I found nothing? If it just confirmed my status as a genetic island?
I think all of this, the idea that information is out there and maybe I could find it, is wrapped up in a fear of raising my expectations in a way that wouldn’t be positive. I remind myself that I’m happy. I question the idea that all adoptees need to search for self (the prevailing paradigm being that somehow self and identity is tied up in finding one’s genetic roots – something to wrap your head around when you were brought up as the last of the “colourblind, assimilated” cohort of adoptees, where success is predicated not on remaining in touch with one’s birth culture but in assimilating as far as possible into the adoptive one).
I don’t feel like I’m missing out by not knowing. I know many adoptees do, but so much of my story is of everything that happened since. It’s hard to miss what you never had, and it’s hard to yearn for another life when the life you have is good, and nice, and full. And if you always managed down your expectations, if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t try and get their hopes up, and if you’re so used to being different that Other is a core part of your identity, then to search is to turn that paradigm on its head.
For me the only clear fact in all this is that I have this information… Information that I never lost, and information that I was never conscious of having. I didn’t have to dig for it, save for sorting through stuff to take to the new house, to the new life.
My birth certificate, my other-language identity, is in my hands.
I have been thinking lately about what it’s like to be infertile / pursuing IVF / post miscarriage.
I realised that’s how it feels. I feel Other.
Regular readers of my blog will know that I’ve had a whole lifetime of getting used to being Other. I was born overseas and I was adopted a few days after birth by my white British parents. Unlike some adoptees (note: I dislike the word but for the purposes of this blog I use it for brevity rather than “people who were adopted”), my parents actually lived in the country of my birth and even spoke some of my “native” language. (I say native as I was preverbal when I lived there so my native language is English.) I realised over the weekend when I was randomly thinking about it that my white British parents actually lived longer in my country of birth than I ever did. Strange.
Growing up with non-white features it was ingrained in me from the start that I was Other. (Okay, possibly not the start, but pretty much smacked me in the face when I moved to England.) The predominant beauty standards are white and you probably have no idea how internalised that beauty standard is. For example, it’s taken me until recent years, my late 30s, to understand that people of my race can actually be attractive. And for me – I used to hate how I looked so much, that I would stare for hours in the mirror at myself and wish that my eyes and nose and hair and skin were different, and I could just be “normal” (blonde, blue eyed). Even though there are probably more people who look like me in the world than not. Fast forward to adolescence and females of my race are fetishised as exotic and ascribed a level of ability with the opposite sex that has simultaneously served me well, as well as slightly repulsed me.
It’s kind of tricky growing up different. Of course I had a sibling, also adopted from the same country, who was supposed to make me feel less alone. Our parents wanted us to have that kind of buddy and racial mirroring, I guess. (They came from the era where “colourblindness” was the prevailing attitude, pretending you can’t see race, which is really quite confusing to transracially adopted kids. They didn’t know any better – I don’t blame them, but it really is confusing when people tell you they can’t see a problem when there is clearly a problem.)
It’s been a love-hate relationship between my adopted sibling and me all our lives. At times it’s felt like a reminder of my own failings, a mirror to my Otherness. At times it’s felt like I had an ally and at times it’s felt like we were both as clueless as each other. We don’t know how to be [our race], other than in looks. We had very few racial mirrors growing up (as they now talk of as important on transracial adoption forums). I hate to admit it, but I was kind of scared of people of my own race… they seemed so foreign… and if I really admit it, I probably still do. I’m insanely jealous of [ethnic minority] colleagues who have loads of [their race] friends. Like, I like white people; I really do – I live with one, and my family’s mainly white – but it would be nice once in a while to not be the token ethnic.
Infertility and transracial adoption is a strange and ironic kind of intersectionality where I kind of want to start singing Alanis Morrisette’s Ironic, aside from the fact that everyone knows it’s not really about irony. There’s a special sort of bad luck associated with that primal desire to have some sort of genetic connection to another being, which adopted and non-adopted alike seem to want more often than not, and the inability to have that even when your first genetic links were severed. It’s like lightning striking twice – no, you can’t have a genetic relation! Can you really lose both your first family and your potential family? That seems kind of double bad luck! You lose the ability to see your parents in yourself, and you lose the ability to see yourself in your kids. That is something basic, something primal, and something that pretty much everyone else takes for granted. It seems doubly unfair not to have both, no matter how “lucky” you are as an adoptee.
I can only speak for myself as an adoptee. Others have different stories… We aren’t some amorphous mass of adoptedness. A lot of the time when I read stuff on adoption forums and blogs, I feel like I can’t relate, and maybe that’s another layer of intersectionality – the treatment of ethnic minorities (UK term) / people of color (US term) in the UK (where I live) and the US (where most bloggers/forum posters seem to live). I think my experience growing up overseas in a primarily American expatriate environment followed by “assimilation” in the British environment in the UK gives me a specific perspective that probably differs from a lot of what I read online. I don’t at all dismiss those voices, and equally I think it’s good if we recognise we aren’t all the same – some dichotomy of angry or grateful (the adoptee tropes) – we are all different, all complex, all different shades.
My feelings about adoption have changed and developed, which is apparently common with adoptees. As a younger child and adult I really downplayed the idea that genetic links mattered and that there was any need to have a child related to me by blood… I kind of thought it didn’t matter, because it didn’t matter that my family wasn’t genetically related to me. (I always saw myself having children, though.) As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more “woke” (as they call it in adoption rights parlance) to the idea that adoption isn’t just as tickety-boo as it might seem (I’m not opposed to it but I think there are reasons I would hesitate about doing it, particularly in the UK where there is far less of a domestic adoption “market” as there is in the US/overseas, meaning that we don’t really have babies adopted to order and more likely involving traumatised children who have been involuntarily removed from their parents). I’ve also become more in tune with the idea that I’ve lost my genetic links and my cultural heritage and that that’s a loss rather than just a fact, and I would like if possible if my child could have that familiarity and genetic link to its parents.
I don’t know if I’m really explaining it very well… It’s just how I feel. Both my partner and I were adopted as babies; we both had largely positive experiences (though mine was negatively impacted by being a different race to the predominant one) and we both feel that our adoptive families are our families, and we feel secure and happy in our families. And yet – we both would like to have a child who is genetically ours. We haven’t fully explored what our choice would be if/when we decide to give up on the fertility treatments. I can’t say for sure what I would want, but I don’t think we would automatically move towards adoption (plus I think it’s insulting to think that just because we were adopted, we should “just adopt” – it’s really not that simple). Life without kids isn’t worthless, no matter what the media might portray. We enjoy our life right now with Dog and without children, so maybe we would just not have kids.
And here we are, putting ourselves (mainly me) through this gruelling and intrusive process, just to grasp that teeny tiny flicker of hope that it might work and we might become parents. I started down regulation just over a week ago and honestly, I feel pretty crappy.
First of all, it makes me feel like I have perma-PMS. I now have a big zit on my chin, which always makes me feel really self conscious (I had very bad acne as a teen which only healed when I went on the pill – bad skin just added to my intense hatred of my looks). I’ve also piled back on the weight which I don’t know whether to attribute to a bad month of eating (staycation, Easter, general PMS-like feelings from down regulation) or to the side effects of the Buserelin. Either way I’m back up to a high weight and I’d been doing really well losing 4-5kg, so it makes me feel awful and fat. Plus whatever’s in Buserelin (it dampens down your body’s natural cycle which is then kick started by stimulation meds in a couple of weeks) makes my boobs grow enormous.
The upside of this is that T really likes the bigger boobs; the downside is I hate them. They feel sore and I feel like they make me look fat. He says the drugs make me more moody too, which is probably not a surprise as they basically mimic PMS symptoms. Ugh. So I’m spotty, with greasy hair, humungaboobs and fat as well as moody. It’s basically the dream combo for making a baby! (Nevertheless we did have a bit of how’s your father over the weekend, because you may as well take advantage of having big boobs when the situation arises.) I’ve found myself feeling more emotional than normal, which is maybe a side effect of down regulation. (Or: I’m just a moody cow.) I feel more than ever that there are situations in which people (let’s call them breeders) act in a way that is massively triggering.
One such occasion happened last week when I was on the tube. The tube was delayed for ages due to some kind of mechanical problems which means it was way more crowded than usual. I was standing up for part of the way and was feeling kind of gross (as for some reason I’ve also been feeling a bit nauseous, probably due to the Buserelin or possibly that I keep stuffing myself). A guy holding a toddler obnoxiously asked people to move down inside the carriage (people do this and it’s very annoying because the carriage was already really crowded and people weren’t standing there just for fun). Someone in front of me vacated their seat and I went to take it, and then this guy holding the toddler kind of muscled in and said in a really loud voice “Could I have that seat please” – indicating the child as a reason. I duly gave up my seat.
This is probably a London etiquette thing but the basic hierarchy for seats is: disabled people, pregnant women, old people – then everyone else. There’s no place in the hierarchy for children, and in many cases, people will ask their children to stand up or sit on their laps if lots of people are standing. The other point is that children travel free. So by taking up a seat, a child is taking a seat from people who have paid, whilst they haven’t paid. Now, I always give up my seat to people who fall in the above categories. Believe it or not, I’m especially attuned to pregnant women because to see one is basically to be punched in the face with your infertility. They have these badges they wear saying Baby On Board which is depending on how you see it, either a smug way of saying they’re pregnant but more likely a British thing of asking for a seat without actually having to ask. If you see someone with a badge on, you need to offer them a seat. Everyone knows that. (Strangely it always seems to be me giving a seat, rather than a man.)
What bugged me and triggered me about this man was his sense of entitlement. Sure, it’s not fun standing on a crowded tube train with a toddler. But he was travelling in rush hour, which is when most people are getting to work (it seems unlikely he was, given his casual wear and the kid), and there were delays, meaning that most of the carriage was full of standing people. Like I said, it’s absolutely not the norm to give a seat because someone has a child (it was an able bodied, verbal child) and then it soon became apparent that this guy was there with his wife/partner, as he started speaking in a loud “Daddy” voice to the toddler about “Mummy” for the entire journey. I’m all for fathers being happy to be fathers but parents who shove parenthood into everyone else’s faces really p*** me off.
In fact the man sitting next to him immediately got up and offered me his seat, because he also seemed to grasp how ridiculous it was to be told to give up your seat for an able bodied man and child. (Note I didn’t say anything about feeling nauseous or ill or anything, because as a non-pregnant non-mother we are pretty much implied to be invisible and pointless… I don’t get a vote.) I appreciatively took the seat and then wham… a woman gets on with a Baby on Board badge, and nobody offers her a seat, so I jump up out of my seat and she waddles through the crowd and takes it. (I’m not mad at her, just mad at all the people closer to her who should have given up their seat – including the able bodied man and child… The guy just carried on yabbering to the child really loudly, as if he thought he didn’t have to give up his seat for a pregnant lady.)
Point was of this whole story is how a seemingly innocuous event can make you feel terrible. Maybe it’s the down regulation and the drugs that are making me feel bad. Maybe it’s my history of infertility and loss that makes me feel like I’m constantly reminded of how I’m a second class citizen because I don’t – can’t – have a child. Maybe it’s a lifetime of feeling Other. Or maybe it’s all three.
I got a seat eventually, when the obnoxious Daddy got off (not after giving the entire carriage a running commentary in baby voice about every single stupid aspect of the journey – basically being inconsiderate to everyone else, either because he thought his job as Daddy was so important or he just didn’t care). It’s such a stupid small thing, but the effects of that journey are still ongoing. I am still smarting from it a week later, still feeling inadequate and still feeling resentful. I even feel resentful that I’m resentful. Like, I shouldn’t even care what some dimwit does on the tube, but I do. It’s pretty much impossible to escape one’s childlessness and the constant reminders that we are lesser human beings because we haven’t managed to perform this basic human function.
And yet. There are good things happening too. (I promise you I’m not sitting around in a fug of childlessness… I’ve been childless my whole life so I’ve had time to get accustomed to the idea!) Hopefully our house is moving ahead, which is a good thing. I mean, it’s exciting to think we might have our own home. We even went to the Ideal Home Show at the weekend just to look around, as we got free tickets – it’s fun to play dream house although our new place is tiny and doesn’t have space for most stuff! T made me think of fun things like what would my ideal cooker be. (He’s great at cheering me up. It would be a big range cooker! Impractical for a small flat!) On Sunday we introduced Dog to our friends’ dog – they’d never met – and went for a long walk. They aren’t friends as such given the other dog is 4 times Dog’s size, but the other dog “gave” our Dog a cow’s ear (URGH) to chew on, which Dog’s almost beside himself with happiness about. (I, on the other hand, am disgusted.)
Work is much easier now I know I’m leaving! It’s quite gratifying when people are being annoying, to think that I don’t have to deal with them for much longer. My work friend left last week which was sad, as it means I don’t have her to chat to any more, but I did inherit her desk which is a total prime desk by the window in the corner (not overlooked – win!) which is fun to think of as it means I have it for the next couple of months whilst working my notice! Which is quite nice!
So actually I’m sort of happy about things. I’m just working through my feelings on here, and aside from the Buserelin Blues (which should be a song – boo-boo-be-doo) I am generally okay. I need to work on not getting worked up!
Next steps for IVF:
I have my first scan on 12 April. This means in a week’s time I could be starting stims and I also have some of the reproductive immunology stuff from Dr S to take. Maybe a week or two after that, egg collection. Quite exciting… although daunting to think of how many other steps there are after that. T and I were talking about it and thinking ahead to next steps if this doesn’t work. Like if we move, we might have to go to a different clinic for the next cycle. We might change eligibility so might not get another NHS cycle, which would mean going privately. It sounds negative but I find it easier to try and plan for contingencies and think that we have a plan if it doesn’t work out.
I am hopeful. It’s just that I’m slightly more realistic… slightly more bruised than I was in Cycle 1.
Today is my due date.
To celebrate, I’m going to work, just like any other day. I’m working on a new client and I can’t afford to miss it. This afternoon, when I’m supposed to be wondering if that was a contraction or something else, I’ll be delivering a client workshop. I’ll be trying to instil a level of confidence, demonstrate quality and innovative thought. In the back of my mind, I’ll be thinking of him.
My baby died months ago, before he or she ever got to be a baby. In the absence of getting that far, I thought of my baby as a boy. He was a little blob (with a heartbeat), and then he wasn’t. The odds weren’t good, after 15 years of never getting pregnant naturally, after years of operations and investigations, after a long wait on the NHS waiting lists, after finally agreeing funding, our first IVF cycle – BAM! – pregnant!
That’s how it’s supposed to work. All the IVF success stories, the parents who showed infertility who’s boss. We were supposed to be those people. And then we weren’t.
A gradual narrowing down of odds.
Slow responder… 12 eggs retrieved.
Of those 12… 6 fertilised.
Of those 6… 3 were still going on Day 3.
Of those 3… 1 was good enough to transfer.
No frosties. 1 day 5 embryo transfer.
At 2 weeks… A positive test! My first in 30-something years.
At 6 weeks… A heartbeat! A blob with a flicker.
At 7 weeks (a second scan “just to see more clearly”)… My flickering blob wasn’t growing.
At 8 weeks… He stopped flickering.
At 9 weeks… Scan at EGU (Emergency Gynaecology Unit, sensitively located next to Neonatals) showed baby had died.
At 10 weeks… Baby pre-empted the planned EPRC and miscarried “naturally”.
At 11 weeks…
I deleted all the pregnancy apps. Cancelled appointments. Stowed the positive pregnancy tests in my underwear drawer, where they still reside. (I can’t bring myself to throw out the only proof that I once was pregnant.) I put the baby book I’d bought in my desk drawer. (I never filled it in – I never felt confident enough.) Put the stretchy “might fit me as I grow” clothes back in the wardrobe. Went into hibernation.
I deleted all the pregnancy related dates from my calendar. I didn’t want to be reminded when week 20 would have been. There’s no trace of what once was, and yet even so, the due date lived on in my mind. A suckerpunch last weekend – a christening; baby celebrations. I persist.
I’m quite proud of my shrinking waist. I’ve lost 2.6kg since the beginning of my diet (Jan 4 – everyone knows diets start on Mondays). I’m getting there, and I’m slowly coming back to being me. I put on a bunch of weight through IVF and comfort eating and it made me feel terrible about myself. My reasoning was “if I’m not going to have a baby, I might as well enjoy myself”. The b**** at work (who’s fatly pregnant with her second, of course – life’s fair like that) asked me if I was pregnant back in summer. I wasn’t pregnant – I’d miscarried weeks before. I’m a size 10. It’s fatter than I want to be, but it’s smaller than average. (I’m a small person.) I wanted to punch her in the face. I still do.
T is there for me, and so is Dog. But neither of them really understand. To T, the baby was an abstract thought. He’s sad for both of us, but that sadness was back in summer when he never got to tell his parents they’d be grandparents. (I had told mine due to their requirement for all people in their presence to drink wine. Retraction of pregnancy announcements suck.) Dog of course is a massive comfort but I think he’s more bothered about where the next food is coming from than empathising with me about loss. (We’re the same, all three of us – taken from our first mothers at birth and raised in another family.)
And me… I came back to life following the miscarriage. I’m still my old self, the funny one, the weird one, but something inside me cracked and if I allow myself to think about it (not often; I drown out the noise with laughter and fun and distracting work and Disney), I know there is a wellspring of tears. I don’t want to start crying because I might never stop. Nobody wants a hysterical snotbag telling them how to improve their organisation. I’ll go and I’ll talk and I’ll sit there in my work clothes and try not to think about my other life that peeled away from this one back in July. The life where I only have a short time before meeting my baby and everything changes forever.
In this life, everything changed and yet everything’s still the same.
I never thought that this week would be so hard.
I’ve been a bit ranty and hormonal lately, and luckily (*sarcasm) for me, it’s because it’s my Time of the Month rather than because everyone in the world is being annoying. (Actually, I think it might be both.)
Oh yeah, I’m expecting my period next week. It was gonna be my baby, but y’know, 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage and that’s just nature’s way of telling you that baby wouldn’t have survived / had defects. I’m just going to have to try again, and it’s probably because I have a stressful job / didn’t try hard enough / didn’t lose weight / God decided it wasn’t my time to be a mother / maybe we should “just adopt” / I need to go on holiday and relax…
You know what? I hate being like this. Angry/sad. Sangry? It sounds corny but I have done a lot of work on myself lately, as the self help books call it. Several years ago, I came out of a very long term relationship with the guy I had naively assumed would be the father of my children. Infertility, and possibly the aftermath of adoption and never really resolving the grief of various things and my overwhelming insecurities really didn’t help. We both hurt each other and we still haven’t fixed it, but we are trying. (I want to draw a line, especially a financial line, but that’s proving difficult even though it’s getting to half a decade stage. Agh.) I think we both had huge reserves of grief that being together couldn’t find a way to fix.
I went a bit crazy with grief actually. After that, I spent time with some people who in hindsight did nothing for me (other than offering excitement and escapism, which I guess are valid things, for finite timescales). I dated unsuitable men. (Clue: He’s never going to leave.) I allowed myself to be seduced by a feeling I’d never had before: want. My want; their wants; feeling wanted. I grew up a bit. I learned how to be the aggressor, the dominant one, the wanter, instead of my long-held role as submissive, the pleaser, the subjugator of my self and desires. Including the desire to feel loved, cherished and attractive, and the desire to have children.
A child. One child.
A single child would be enough. I knew I didn’t have much time. (I also know I didn’t “waste” time. If I’d been working normally, which I wasn’t, judging by the ops, I would have had a baby with my ex.) When I met T, I had already learned the hard way what my wants were. How I behaved in a couple and the level of participation I wanted to have in a relationship. (100%, not too much to ask, eh?) I told him about how I was seeking commitment and a family. And he was adopted, like me, as a baby, so in some ways we had a common understanding. That desire for stability and a family. The desire to know someone biologically related or to look like your parents or your child. (Never underestimate that. I know if it ever happens to me, I think my mind will be blown.)
Do you understand kin? “Blood is thicker than water.” That’s what my mum used to say, thinking she was telling us that family mattered more. She never really thought that we didn’t share blood. That I’m no more related to my family than my friends. Than my dog! My dog is adopted too!
Kin is made of blood and marriage. Kith and kin. We are blood and water. Both give life. We need both, but they are not the same. I am not my family’s blood and I am not T’s blood. The only way I will ever meet a person who is my blood relative is if I track down my family overseas in a country whose language I don’t speak, family whose names I don’t know, who have been redacted from my history. Or if I give birth to my first known blood relative.
My last blood relative I never met (unless you count passing him/her painfully, clots of almost-baby, the blood of dreams denied). Each month my endometriosis and fibroid(s) and barren uterus conspire to remind me that I’m female, so I must suffer, and I’m infertile, so why not let me suffer some more? I don’t know how the religious infertiles do it. It must seem like a God with a pretty bad sense of humour who gives neglectful parents and paedophiles and murderers babies, and keeps perfectly nice people childless. As for purposely giving you suffering to “benefit” you somehow, or make you stronger, I know from experience that suffering does not automatically make you stronger or a nice person. I was probably more inclined to charitable thoughts and deeds and entry to a mystical cloud-home when I didn’t have a decade of infertility and loss under my belt.
And yet I have hope. I feel thankful (not grateful adoptee; grateful human) to have enough. I read on one infertility blog “God never gives us more than he thinks we can handle”. Well I’m telling you, God, up there divvying out the baby bingo cards for kicks (wtf?) – I can’t handle much more of this s***. I have a life to live, and I’m sure as damned not going to live in a state of loss and grief and want. You know what? Enough is enough.
I don’t know when enough will come, and I’m not really in the giving up hope mood right now because I’m stupidly dreamy at times and I believe in the magic of Disney and the happiness that comes from things that other people think are stupid.
Like friends coming through for you in unexpected ways. (When I was mugged and my kindle was stolen, they bought me a new, better one.)
Like a partner who loves me even when I’m fat and grumpy (“You’re always grumpy!” is his answer when I do my daily check on whether he still loves me, even though…), who dreams up silly ideas to celebrate Christmas, who taught me how to believe in magic and Disney again.
Like family who are bloody cray cray and yet madly in love with each and every one of us, who want the best for each other even if they can’t really figure out what that is or relate to each other’s struggles. Not consolation family, not “real family”, just family. I’m happy I have one even if they drive me crazy. I could have had none. I’m privileged enough even to complain about them. My parents are both still here.
So in this time of waiting, I try and channel my energy, grief and anger into action. Here’s what I’ve been doing. There’s no guarantee it would work for anyone else, and I don’t even thinking it’s “working”, but it is keeping me busy. This plan is what I call The Long Haul.
- Finding stuff out. The first time we did IVF, I put my trust in the doctors and the protocol. It worked, and then it didn’t. Losing my first pregnancy was traumatic to say the least. Just when I think I’ve forgotten it, along comes something to remind me. I’m not willing to go through that again with the same levels of trust and ignorance. So I researched – on blogs, through blogfriends, Google, books, etc. And I know what happened last time round so at least I can understand what to expect. I blogged my first IVF cycle so I can look back and see how I felt and what I took last time.
- Allowing myself to be triggered sometimes. It sounds weird to say this, but the British way is not to “wallow”, and largely I haven’t. I’ve gotten on with life, and I’m pretty much back to my old childless self. We have had a lot of fun – we enjoyed two trips to Disney last year, and had a fun Christmas. I really don’t think about it (infertility, loss, adoption) very often. But I do allow myself space to explore those feelings, mainly on here. Seeing messages of support and responses to things I’ve written from people who understand has been a life changer for me. If there’s anything this “journey” has shown me, it’s that I’m not alone. It sucks that so many people are hurting, for many reasons. Knowing I’m not alone, or some kind of freak in the fertile / not adopted / white / male world is a comfort.
- Making appointments. It made me feel like I was doing something. We had a second opinion at a private clinic (who suggested we go ahead with the NHS cycle) and a more detailed scan. I also have an appointment with a doctor who specialises in reproductive immunology next week. I think I just want to know that I’ve exhausted every avenue and there are no more reasons to check.
- Losing weight. I’ve been on a vague diet since January 4 (the first Monday of 2016!). So far at my lowest I am down 2.6kg, which is not too bad. (I go up and down during the week… Usually on a low by Friday or Saturday and then up again after the weekend!) It is a way of feeling I am doing something and also feeling a bit better about myself. I found IVF really made me feel terrible about my body, with the weight gain from the meds and the comfort eating after the miscarriage. I have put on a huge amount of weight over the past few years, although I was probably underweight previously. My aim is to lose 10-15kg this year. I think it can be done! Unless of course I get pregnant, in which case I’ll at least have a consolation of getting fat.
- Saving money. T and I are seriously on austerity measures. We realised we have to save for a deposit if we ever want a chance to buy our own place. (Complications with my ex who is financially dependent – we are hoping this will be resolved soon after many years!) We sat down and worked out a budget and savings plan. It’s a bit tough but it feels good in a way to have a plan and a way out of our rental accommodation.
- Taking a FB break. I could do a whole blog post on this! Maybe tomorrow. This is a very big deal for me, but because of this week (due date) I feel like it’s self preservation. This does mean that I can’t vent as much on there or idly browse silly videos or pictures of food, but at least it limits the triggering baby exposure.
- Being open to opportunities. Weirdly I went for two interviews lately! I’ve been working really hard at work. Some days I feel like I’m getting somewhere, and others are a kick in the teeth. I’m working on it. I don’t want my whole life to be about infertility. Who knows what might happen?
- Spending time with my family. My crazy family this past weekend, but I mean my family – Us. Me and T and Dog. We think of ourselves as a family. (Well, Dog possibly thinks of me as a food source, but I’ll take it.) I do sort of take it for granted that I have these two amazing
peoplehuman and dog in my life, who live with me and love me. So yeah, the loss sucks and there are some pretty tough feelings this week, but it’s not long till the weekend and the future.
So… Tell me what you’ve been doing to make your life more fun!
So I’ve had some time off work and I’ve been doing some thinking about the latest adoption-related social media hashtag. Disclaimer: These are just my opinions as an adult adopted person, obvs. I don’t speak for every adoptee, just like you don’t speak for all [insert whichever category conveniently fits into social media hashtags here]. It has also been discussed incredibly sensibly and insightfully on The Declassified Adoptee, so much so that I’m not really sure why I’m writing this post, apart from to say: read that blog, I totally agree with it, and here’s my tuppence (I’m British!) as a somewhat older adopted person who is also going through all sorts with infertility.
A while back, someone decided to start a hashtag called #shoutyourabortion. I haven’t done a lot of thinking about this, apart from in passing to find it pretty distasteful. Even if you are pro-choice I find it odd that you would want to shout about it – I am British, after all, and we don’t really like shouting about anything, least of all medical intimacies.
I also think there’s a subtle but significant difference between being pro-choice (women’s rights to have agency over their own bodies in negative situations) and pro-abortion (“shout your abortion” sounds oddly celebratory to me). But perhaps that’s just me.
My stance on abortion has changed over time… although I think the general gist has remained the same. When I was younger, I was very pro-choice. It was just the way to be, being brought up in a progressive culture where personal choice is king. There’s something barbaric about forcing people to give birth, and not have control over their own bodies – I get that. But as an adolescent I thought of an unwanted pregnancy framed as a temporary state of physical inconvenience; a ball of cells, not a baby; a life that didn’t really count.
(I recently lost one of those “balls of cells” and I can tell you, it did count. I felt the physical pain of my body expelling those much-wanted cells. My baby. It was a baby.)
As an older adult, one who was active in the manner that might produce a baby at some point (oh, the irony of infertility), my feelings started to change. More as a thought exercise than anything: What would I do if I had an unwanted pregnancy? As a teenager it was easy to say “I’d have an abortion rather than ruin my life” but as an older adult that started to feel naive and simplistic.
Firstly, I wasn’t so sure it would ruin my life. As I grew up through adolescence in the 90s, it became more and more apparent that pregnancy was not the horrific, life-ruining state we were once taught it was. In the 90s UK, “single mothers” became the scourge of the right wing press but it did plant an idea in our growing minds that if “the worst” happened, we wouldn’t be destitute. We’d get looked after by the government. We might even be able to go to uni. I’m not saying that this ever appealed to a properly-brought-up middle-class adopted-girl academic-overachiever (and even if it had, there was a shortage of willing fathers-to-be who wanted to get jiggy with a geeky grungy girl in Doc Martens) but I started to believe that it wasn’t such a simple decision to terminate for quality of life. The quality of life argument doesn’t really fly when you have a welfare state that will make sure you are fed and clothed and sheltered.
As I grew older, I started questioning this even more. Because when you think about it, there is something kind of perverse about terminating a pregnancy. It’s doing something that by dint of separation of a mother’s womb becomes legal rather than illegal. It’s finishing a life that would otherwise have carried on and matured into a viable human being. (In most cases: Here I make the distinction between Termination for Medical Reasons and abortion – to me these are two completely different things even if the mechanics are the same. Of course there is very little reasoned argument against prolonging a pregnancy that will lead to suffering of the baby and/or the mother.)
I don’t know what happened to me during this time but I started to have distaste for the pro-choice lobby. Not because I believe there should be no choice. I always believe a woman should have agency over her own body. So for that reason I still fall within the pro-choice camp rather than the pro-life camp. But I think what a lot of the pro-choice rhetoric fails to recognise is the deep fractures in our culture and society where we have normalised and medicalised termination of children’s lives before birth. There’s something weird about people being so strident about their rights to terminate, that we don’t find this shocking. It’s as easy as taking a couple of pills, or having a minor “procedure”. You could do it in your lunch break.
In addition, we have moved on significantly since Roe vs Wade. Abortion is by choice now, and not for medical reasons or psychological reasons (as a result of abuse or rape). And this is what the pro-choice and pro-life lobbies use: extreme situations to justify their reasoning, when most instances fall somewhere in the middle. We won’t get the exact stats for rape or abuse, but it seems apparent from the commentary that for many pro-choice people, abortion is a lifestyle choice rather than a medical or psychological necessity. And I respect that argument, but call it what it is. Justifying abortion for medical reasons or as a result of forced pregnancy is entirely different from “I don’t feel ready to be a mother right now”. Essentially you are conflating Termination to Avoid Harm with Termination for Convenience.
As someone who was adopted as a baby, the reasons given being “young unmarried mother [in a country that didn’t support single mothers]” I guess the aversion to abortion was always woven into the fabric of my existence. Because, I realised when I got older that maybe if times had been different that I might have been aborted… because the narrative of abortion and pro-choice / pro-life debates equates adoption with avoidance of abortion.
I call bull on this.
The alternative to adoption is parenting the child. The alternative to abortion is parenting the child. In logic, we call this a logical fallacy of Affirming the Consequent. In other words, it’s a logic fail as an argument.
If Child A hadn’t been aborted, he would have lived (with his mother).
If Child B hadn’t been adopted, he would have lived (with his mother).
Based on this, I think Abortion = Adoption.
See? It’s a bit silly to say they are both the same decision. They are logically different things. And here’s the thing: adopted people had the exact same chance of being aborted as non-adopted people. There is no reason why adopted people should be more thankful for not being aborted than non-adopted people.
Adoption and abortion are not statistically correlated in a way that suggests they are philosophically equivalent choices in the minds of potential mothers. This 2014 article states:
the rates of adoption versus abortion are vastly disproportionate, suggesting that women themselves are not overly interested in the former as an option. Recent statistics show that approximately 14,000 newborns are adopted annually in the United States through voluntary placements, a number that has remained flat for about 20 years. Meanwhile, in 2011, 1.06 million abortions were performed—the lowest number in decades.
For those of you of a statistical bent (like me!) there is a very good statistical analysis of US abortion and adoption data here. This shows that there is not a clear cut correlation between adoption and abortion, and hypothesises about the different factors that may affect the data (such as different attitudes towards having sex during the time period… the 70s; the race of the mother; the employment rates; Medicaid funding…). There is a shedload of information in there, but significantly:
We do not find that Roe v. Wade had a significant effect on adoptions, although our results suggest there may have been a negative effect on adoptions of children born to white women.
A lot changed during the 70s and 80s… Not just abortion law, but also economic and cultural changes. When I was born in the 70s, and growing up in the 80s, it was still relatively normal for a mother not to work. The role of women has changed significantly from the 70s until today. I now work in a “typically male” job and I am the main breadwinner in our family… I know many other women who are the same. That’s going to have an impact on our reproductive behaviour. Quite aside from any effect of infertility (which on gut feel appears to have increased significantly over time, but I could be wrong – perhaps just access to fertility treatments has increased). There are many many reasons why women are not mothers, not just abortion/adoption.
Not your poster child
As an adopted person, I feel pressure to pick a side. We already have the angry adoptees and the happy adoptees (another categorisation that adopted people get very cross about… overly simplistic and diminishing of the adoptee experience, if you think about it). And as adult adopted people we are expected to be spokespeople for adoption. To speak out about adoption as an experience, either to support the adoption lobby (primarily adoptive parents) or to support “adoptee rights” (primarily adult adoptees who are critical of adoption).
And as an “adoptee” (I hate that word), I say this: I am not your poster child.
I didn’t pick being adopted – I just was. I didn’t make any choice to be a representation. I am not a meme.
If you scroll through what’s on twitter against this hashtag, #shoutyouradoption has a variety of stories. In many cases it is adult adoptees saying thanks to their parents for adopting them, and to their first parents for choosing adoption rather than abortion.
Wait a second. I think we just disproved that logic up there. Adoption =/= Abortion, remember?
But in a whole lot of cases, we have people co-opting the hashtag and using children and babies to justify adoption. Here is an example…
I find this massively problematic (and there are countless examples of people using their adopted babies and children to make this point). This girl looks young, and she’s been co-opted into making a public statement that she would have been aborted, had her first mother not “chosen adoption”.
Firstly, think how much of a narrative burden that puts on Kaley, a young girl, to have to be the poster child for her adoptive mother’s wishes to justify adoption as A Good Thing.
Secondly, think about how adoption is a many-layered thing, and whilst it is in many cases A Good Thing for adoptive parents, that child has suffered a great loss (of their first family, and of their first culture and biology and everything other people take for granted). That child is destined to live a life apart from any other person they’re biologically related to. That’s a bit bigger than a poster, yes? (And for those of you who say biology isn’t important… Let’s just say I’m going to take away two members of your family and you’re never going to be able to see them again and you won’t get to find out anything about what happened to them and whether they’re alive or dead. Still think it’s unimportant?)
Thirdly, wait: adoptive mom Shawn… You told Kaley she would have been aborted if you hadn’t adopted her?
I really don’t like to be a bitch about this, but I think you just need to go away and think about that for a moment. Please come back to me when you have a plan for your continuing relationship that doesn’t include the words “saved”, “grateful” and “real”. Kthxbye.
This whole hashtag movement smacks of the narrative burden that all adoptees feel, and falls under that pretty darned awful trope of The Grateful Adoptee – the idea that all adopted people need to feel a huge amount of gratefulness for what they’ve been “given” (no mention of what was taken away). It minimises the very real loss that adopted people have and it minimises the huge loss of the first family.
Because here’s the thing: No matter how you want to frame it (young-unmarried-single-mother-poor-country gave-you-up-for-a-better-life), that first mother (and father) has lost something pretty precious. Their child. And the child has lost them in return. The child that you may want to frame as “unwanted” but who was wanted enough by adoptive parents in more affluent situations for them to expend a lot of effort and money in getting that child. So you can’t on the one hand minimise the value of that child (unwanted, could have been aborted) and on the other hand glorify it (saved, grateful adoptee, a gift – NB all things you probably shouldn’t ever say to your adopted child unless you’re keen for them to hate you in later life).
That’s where this whole thing gets messy, when you use your child to make a point.
For sure – I have no beef with anyone who wants to shout their adoption, if they’re doing it because they want to and not on behalf of somebody else. But do not conflate it with abortion. And don’t speak for your children, please. Their story is theirs alone, and in speaking what you think is their narrative, you’re silencing them. You are denigrating their experience. You’re telling them what to think and feel about their adoption, when they’re not even old enough to have processed it yet. You’re seeing it all as a win for you and not as a loss for your child.
And with every time you speak over your child’s narrative, you’re increasing the chance of alienating them in later life. I’ve seen those adoptees and they scare me. They scare me because I know it could have been me… but I’m one of those people who has not suffered more than I could stand. I have [adoptive] parents who love me and who don’t treat me badly so I’m a relatively well adjusted (ha) adult. If they’d have spoken over me, made me hold up signs on social media about how I hadn’t been aborted, and told me how grateful I should be for having been adopted by them… Well, maybe we wouldn’t be in the same position.
And when it comes down to it: I am not an adoptee. I was adopted but it doesn’t define me, for good or bad. I am me, a human being, with good bits and bad bits – I try for more good than bad. I am totally fine in sharing the fact that I’m adopted. As you may have noticed – I write about it quite a lot. (A lifetime of experience trying to burst out!) But I refuse to be a poster child for adoption, and I refuse to #shoutmyadoption just to further a cause that has been falsely conflated with my existence.