What Does It Feel Like ?

Today’s very sad story . . .

I wonder if everyone has a breaking point. Where they’re just done. Numb. Detached from everything that once was…..I moved out of my adopted parents’ house a year ago into my own house that I’m still renovating. Today I stopped by to see how they’re are doing as my adoptive mom is dying. I went to my old bedroom and found it completely empty. Why am I so upset about this? My adoptive dad threw out EVERYTHING that had come from India with me. No more photos or books in my native tongue. Gone is my baby book filled with what I liked and disliked. And the most terrifying loss? My little teddy bear that kept me company when I flew to America. I feel like I was abandoned again. I feel like that little girl again in the orphanage, crying for her mom. Crying. Crying. Nothing.

In a situation like this, one can only hear the sorrow and feel for the loss. And often, since there is no fixing a situation like this, that is all that is needed. It was a horrible abusive act on the part of her adoptive father. No excuse for such heartless cruelty. The least they could have done is either box it up and ask her to come get it or allow her some space to chose what she wanted before they cleaned out her room.

It’s Not What Comes After . . .

The better life, the money, “stability” etc…it is the “before” that causes the trauma. This can’t be loved or bought or guilt forced away. Taking children in the first place is what causes the trauma, not how you treat them after. Nothing un-dos that first wound.

When I was unable to financially support my daughter and her father refused to pay child support, like my maternal grandmother before me, I sought temporary care for her with her paternal grandmother who she had been cared for by since infancy as I had to go to work in the outside world. So that is who I turned to, when I tried to make some significant funds to cushion my intended reunion with my daughter. I was driving an 18-wheel truck with a partner. I didn’t even know whether I could do that work (turned out I was relatively good at everything but backing that big rig up) or how long I would be doing it. I didn’t have a long view and I didn’t know what I know now about mother/child separations.

It didn’t turn out to be temporary. She ended up with her dad and he remarried a woman with a daughter and together had another daughter. A yours-mine and ours family life I was not able to give her during the period of her childhood. She is now nearing 50 years old and I only recently found out that her life in that family situation was not as good as I imagined it to be – though she loved her step-mother (now deceased) and loves her dad still regardless. We once shared that her circumstances make her in many ways subject to the same deep emotional wounds of separation that adoptees experience. It does make me very sad that I inflicted that on her in my ignorance and belief that as long as one of the two parents were in the child’s life it was equally good for that child.

Here is someone else’s story taken from the Daily KOS and the source of my image for today – My Family Separation Trauma: A Wound that Never Heals. Excerpts, you can read the entire story at the title link.

I was separated from my primary caregivers, my grandparents, when I was five; thirty years later I was separated from my four-year-old daughter. Now she is 19 and we are estranged. None of this is of my choosing. I fought it with all I had. I ended up with no family at all.

Lots of people have a family-separation story, and they’re all heartbreaking.

For my own self, the effects have been similar to how this woman describes it below for her own self. I will add, for me, it was always difficult to pick out a “daughter” birthday card because the words never fit the relationship I had with her (thankfully, as adults we are loving and close, though at times the wounds shine through as they should so I never deny what was done).

I seldom got to see my daughter as she was growing up. I was prevented from being a part of her life. I’m having a hard time grappling with the enormity of all that I lost—from her first day of kindergarten, to picking out her prom dress, to what’s going on with her right now—the depth and breadth of experiences that I missed. The richness of bonding with one’s growing child and seeing their personhood evolve. I missed it all and I can never, ever get it back.

She goes on to write – “I always thought, “At least my daughter is fine.” By all reports she has been happy and thriving. But this happened to her, too. I understand that now; she has trauma of her own. She was only four.” Mine was 3 and I thought the same. At least, she is a generally upbeat and happy person today.

I carry my own wound. There were no role models for an absentee mother in the mid 1970s. I always felt that others must be judging me as some kind of monster of a mother not to be raising my own daughter. The writer says for her own self, “In the meantime I carry this wound. I must move forward with it, accounting for it, dealing with it. Most of the people who see me every day have no idea of how badly I’m damaged. It’s taken a long time for me to figure it out myself.”

My daughter seems to forgive me and understands I was doing the best I knew how to at the time but I seem unable to fully forgive my own self for inflicting an abandonment on her (even if I never thought of it as “that” until very recently, since learning about the practice of adoption more deeply, as I uncovered my adopted parents (both) origin stories. First, I came to accept this about my parents and their original parents, only later realizing the effects on my own life and my daughter’s life.

Older Adoptive Parents

I read an adoptee’s story this morning. It reminded me of my adoptee mom’s experience as well. The woman wrote, “My mother did not teach my too cook or sew or quilt or any of the things she did so well. ‘Its easier to do it myself.’ When i got married at 16 to escape I had virtually no life skills.”

My mom was pregnant with me at 16. Thankfully, my dad married her (he had just started at university). He had to teach her how to cook and clean house. He was also adopted but his adoptive parents were humble and hardworking with a small business making draperies. I assume they expected him to help around the house as well.

She writes, “I was adopted by older parents- 39 and 41. By the time I joined their family who they were was pretty ingrained and they never really adjusted to having a small child or a teen.” When I had my second family with my second husband, I was 47 and 50 when my sons were born. I have seen people our age who seem much older to me than my husband and I. I guess we are both just young at heart. Certainly, for my own self, at 67 this May, some physical decline is setting in. However, we adjust. I remember thinking when I turned 60, that my youngest son will only be 20, when I turn 70. It was a sobering thought. When we told my parents we wanted to have children, my dad honestly said “I question your sanity.” Like his other saying, “You have to eat a little dirt.” it has stayed with me.

We stayed with my dad’s adoptive parents many weekends (to give our parents a break from us or simply because my grandparents really wanted to have us – though I suspect as much to save our souls by taking us to their Church of Christ on Sunday). They loved to fish and so often took us fishing with them. Mostly we just played outdoors. At home, we were outdoors a lot too. I am grateful for that actually because it instilled a love for nature in me.

The woman writes, she got her first car at 15. I believe I was 16. My parents gave me a car so I could take over the transportation services for myself and my middle sister who was 13 months younger than I am.

The woman writes, “I was the perfect child. Smart, self reliant, great grades, active in church.” I smile. I, at least, pretended to be a “good girl.” I did make good grades and I didn’t depend on my parents very much. They were a bit weirdly detached. I blame it on their adoptions.

The woman asks the rhetorical question, “Would I have been better of with my first family? Probably not.” In coming to terms with both of my parents adoptions and learning about my original grandparents, I realize I would not even exist had this not happened. My mom would have grown up in poverty in her early years, though he father eventually owned his own little grocery story, so things might have improved. I learned from the daughter of my mom’s genetic half-sibling that her mom remembered going to bed hungry and seeing the chickens under the floorboards of their shack.

I have a great deal of compassion for the woman’s who’s story I read today. Her adoptive father was a violent, functional alcoholic and other men with associated access to her sexually abused her as a child. One was a family member, another a family friend, one was part of her church, another her babysitter’s husband. All these assaults occurred between the ages of 6-16. She writes, “I told the very first time, nothing happened and I never told again. I didn’t see the point.”

She ends her piece with this – “Abortion should be legal. I am making my life now and I am happy with my husband and my ‘made’ family but at 60, I should not still be trying to over come my early life.”

Cousins Through Adoption

My aunt called me last night to tell me that her only son, my cousin Allan, had died this last Saturday. It was a bit of a shock and not a shock because for several years she would often ask me to pray for him due to some health challenge. When I mentioned his poor health to her, she said he was actually doing better lately and she worried about him less. He was a security dog trainer and he was doing a meet and greet with a potential new client when he literally dropped dead, with his wife nearby waiting for him in their car. The ambulance arriving was what alerted her that something had happened. So, he died instantly without pain doing what he loved.

I became closer to my two aunts – both from the paternal side – after my mom died and then my dad died 4 months later. I really didn’t have much contact with them for decades until that happened. It is like they came to fill a bit of a void for me of connection to something childhood. In fact, I told my husband – cousins are a childhood thing. They connect us to when we were children. My husband remembers meeting this cousin and I remember it was when we visited my aunt at her parents home in Pennsylvania before we had children. In fact, I wasn’t seriously close to this cousin had it not been a reuniting with this aunt by telephone and hearing constant updates on him. My aunt will be 90 this coming December and my cousin and his wife had just celebrated their 27th wedding anniversary on April 2nd. I don’t even have a photo of him, though I do have a recent photo of my aunt that she sent me one Christmas not long ago.

My adoptive family relations became more complicated for me once I discovered who my original grandparents were (both of my parents were adopted and their siblings were adopted except my dad’s step-sister who is the biological genetic daughter of my dad’s second adoptive father – yes, he was adopted twice in childhood after his adoptive mother divorced – as my youngest son said not too long ago, “you have a very complicated family”, well yes) and started having reunions with my genetic cousins with whom I have no shared life history but through whom I acquired insight into my original, genetic biological grandparents. I also acquired digital copies of photographs of my genetic family members. It is difficult to build relationships with decades of not knowing you existed between the two of you. I take a patient perspective on it and allow it to be whatever it will be. My genetic biological family is important to me and made me whole but there are still these other people with whom I have life history and I have begun to reintegrate them into my life as well.

So, while I was on the phone with my aunt, I thought of my cousin Christy. She is the daughter of the other aunt (that step sister by adoption) I’ve become closer to with the death of my parents. She recently turned 80. I remember my youngest sister sharing with me that she, Christy and Allan used to get into mischief at my Granny’s house (my dad’s adoptive mother). So I told my aunt, I would call and let Christy know and my middle sister as well. My youngest sister ? I am estranged from her, due to the severity of her paranoid schizophrenia which created a wedge between us due to cruel treatment by her towards me as I tried to administer my deceased parents’ estate and create some kind of ongoing support for her now that there are no parents to provide that.

My memories of my now deceased cousin are complicated in ways I would rather not share publicly. He is part of the story of why Thanksgiving was wrecked for my family. My uncle died due to the complications of Lou Gehring’s Disease during a holiday football game on TV as my dad and uncle’s family awaited Thanksgiving dinner to be served. There was always that watching of football games as part of my family’s holiday. The dinner was interrupted and the holiday ever after a reminder of his death. My cousin was only a child when his father died. This cousin was strikingly similar in appearance to his dad and I believe my paternal adoptive grandparents came to relate to him like a replacement for the son they lost that Thanksgiving Day.

RIP Allan Hart. May your dear wife, Christine, find comfort in the closeness of her own mother. They were living on the same property with her at the time of his death. I can truly say of ALL my cousins – God made us cousins. No truer words could ever be said since none of us are genetically, biologically related.

All You Can Ever Know

Nicole Chung

With Asians on my mind this morning, I stumbled on this book when an essay in Time magazine titled “My adoption didn’t make me less Korean” got my attention. I can not locate a digital link for this (I will share some excerpts – her own words about being Asian at this fraught time – later in this blog). In my all things adoption group, there have been a number of Korean adoptees. The international adoption of Korean children by Americans was the result of a large number of orphaned mixed children from the Korean War after 1953. That is not Nicole’s story.

In looking for her book, I found a New Yorker review by Katy Waldman – Nicole Chung’s Adoption Memoir, “All You Can Ever Know,” Is an Ode to Sisterly Love. Like many adoptees, her parents believed she was a gift from God. Like many transracial adoptees, growing up among white, Catholic Oregonians in the eighties and nineties, students teased her for being adopted and for looking “different.” 

Her adoptive mother couldn’t tell her much about her original parents. They “had just moved here from Korea” and “thought they wouldn’t be able to give you the life you deserved.” This brief story, one of love and sadness and altruism, “may be all you can ever know,” her mother told her.

After a protracted and unglamorous process of filing paperwork and wrangling lawyers, she finally uncovered the reality of her original genetic family, the Chungs. She discovered an older sister, Cindy. Sadly, her sister had been physically abused by their natural mother. She learned that her parents are divorced and not speaking to one another. Her birth father had told Cindy that Nicole had died. 

Nicole explains why having a baby mattered to her so much, “I wouldn’t be alone anymore. There would be someone who was connected to me in a way no one else had ever been.” For her memoir, Chung wanted to explore “the quiet drama of the everyday adopted experience.” 

Remembering the fiction she scribbled down as a kid, Chung writes that she “found a measure of previously unknown power” in envisioning “places where someone like me could be happy, accepted, normal.” 

From Chung’s Time essay – What her adoptive parents struggled with was to fully and consistently see and understand her as a Korean American woman. She doesn’t blame them for this, she notes – “Acknowledging it flew in the face of everything ‘experts’ had told them when they adopted me in the early 1980s – the adoption agency, the social worker, the judge had all maintained that it wouldn’t, shouldn’t matter.” She shares the things they would say to be color-blind with her.

She also notes – “Often, people who’ve read my memoir will note my white family’s ‘color-blind’ approach and ask whether this led to me thinking of myself as white. My answer is always swift, unequivocal: no, I never thought I was white.” However, she goes on to say her adoptive parents did “assume that I’d be protected from racism because the world would see me as they did – their child, no more, no less – and as my race was irrelevant to them, they could not imagine anyone else caring about it either.”

She says, “While my adoptive family saw me as almost raceless and therefore safe from racists, I lived every day from the age of 7, when I heard my first slur from a classmate, understanding that my Korean face made me hypervisible where we lived – and that it could also make me a target.”

This startled me. I cannot imagine children that age knowing racial slurs. Then, I remember reading once that children learn racism in the family. I thought about WWII, the Korean War and more recently the Vietnam War. I could believe that some returning veterans, having done battle with Asians, might have brought bias home with them.

Chung describes how from the start of the pandemic and racial scapegoating, she has thought of other Asian American kids growing up in white families and white spaces, even as she knows their experiences are not interchangeable. She says, “I know it can feel like a unique burden when you witness or experience racism in a kind of isolation, unable to retreat and process your rage or sorrow with people who also know what it’s like to live in an Asian body.”

She speaks of the experiences of transracial adoptees – “asking, sometimes begging our adoptive relatives to acknowledge our experiences; to stand with us; to challenge the racism endemic in our society as well as our own families and communities.”

Her adoptive parents have died. She says, “I’ve had to accept that there are questions I’ll never get answers to, things we’ll never be able to settle. That my parents didn’t entirely understand or accept my racial reality will always be with me, part of my adoption story.”

In her final thoughts she says, “I know the last thing either of my parents would have wanted was for me to despair, or live my life in fear. And so, for their sake and my own, I won’t.”

Disrupted

Perspectives from a thwarted adoption . . . .

“Just experienced a disrupted adoption. Mom changed her mind after signing the paperwork. I will forever treasure the few days I had with that little girl and hope her and her mama stay safe on their journey to independence. I’m sure I looked like a crazy lady walking through the Dallas/Fort Worth airport carrying a diaper bag, car seat, and duffle bag of baby items with no baby, just sobbing on and off. TSA definitely gave me some weird looks when I got randomly selected to have all my luggage searched and I just kept crying as they took items out. Luckily the winter storm and rolling blackouts in Texas meant there were fewer than normal people at the airport to witness my sob-athon.”

The most obvious question is – Why wouldn’t she just give all that stuff to mom?

The most obvious answer is – They’re expensive and she wants them for the “next time”. 

What does a genuinely nice reactions look like ?

One couple went to Target and bought mom and baby boy everything they could possibly need and gave these to the mom with a card congratulating her and expressing their understanding related to her decision. They had that little boy’s needs set for his entire first year. They were really respectful of mom’s decision and didn’t try to talk her out of it in anyway. PS this was a black couple, comfortable financially but not wealthy, and they always behaved well and offered things if mom chose to parent.

And to treat the hopeful adoptive mom in this story with consideration – her being sad is understandable. I think its ok to be sad, even if the baby wasn’t hers in the first place. She wished them well and doesn’t seem to have been angry. She never referred to the baby as “hers”, no display of entitlement nor was she angry.

It is so easy to criticize and judge. Every one of us needs to reach into our hearts for a sincere understanding of the place other people are seeing things from. Often their personal experiences are coloring their perceptions.

It Matters What We Are Called By

The name of a thing does not matter as much as the quality of the thing.
~ Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

A person’s name is the greatest connection to their own identity and individuality. Some might say it is the most important word in the world to that person. … When someone remembers our name after meeting us, we feel respected and more important. It makes a positive and lasting impression on us.

I love hearing my sons say “Mom” and my grandchildren say “Grandma”. My oldest son, now 20 years old, sometimes says Steve or Debbie when referring to us but I see this as a maturity thing. Though most of us will still say Mom or Dad even when we are in our 60s, if we are so lucky to have them still living. Back in my early 20s, my young daughter (preschool age) did also sometimes call me Debbie. The children hear other people refer to us by our given names and that is a factual reality, we do carry the names we are given, unless we change them intentionally.

Adoptees are mostly never allowed to keep their birth given names after adoption. Their names are changed and their birth certificates altered. This is the erasing of an identity.

With foster care, the circumstances can be slightly different, as illustrated by today’s story.

Children ages 5 and 6 have spent 1 year with their current foster family. They have been in foster care for 2.5 years. The Termination of Parental Rights has already happened. The current foster family intends to adopt them.

Now the foster mom is crying that the kids keep calling her and her husband by their first names. They insist on calling their biological parents mom and dad. This is totally understandable as those people are their original, natural mom and dad. However, the foster mom says this hurts both of the foster parents’ feelings. Their reason for wanting to adopt is to grow their family. They want the kids to accept that, after adoption, they are the mom and dad now. They don’t want to be called by their first names going forward. They set an example by calling themselves mommy and daddy. The kids continue to persistently call them by their first names. The foster parents call the original birth parents – biodad or biomom – or even by their first names. Kids remain adamant and keep saying my “real” dad or “real” mom.

And the hurt feelings for the foster parents do not end and this matter to them because they’ve never had kids of their own before. They suffer from infertility and after years of trying, they want to become parents by adopting. They’re adopting to become “parents” not simply babysitters.

It upsets them that the original natural parents hardly made an effort to visit the kids and yet the kids still remember them and call them their parents, mom and dad. The foster parents are seeking to drive a wedge between the kids and their original natural parents by saying “A real parent takes care of you. Does not choose an addiction over you or go to prison.”

The foster parents are seeking to intentionally disrupt the children’s relationship to their original parents because it simply hurts them too much to not be called mommy and daddy by these children. The foster mom has said that it has always been her dream and desire to adopt. She is laying down the law !! She will not be called by her first name after adoption.

The foster parents had a fantasy that by now the kids would be happy to call them mommy and daddy. They believed that since these kids are so young, the kids would easily bond with them as parents by now. That after having been in foster care, these kids would be happy to receive a new mommy and daddy.

It would seem that good quality healthy people would not be obsessed with molding a child to be something they are not, when they are supposedly trying to help that child by adopting them. Why would they insist on erasing the factual family history from an innocent, already traumatized child ? Reasons why reform has become such an important concept in adoption and foster care.

Emotional Toll

In the all things adoption group I belong to, adoptee voices are considered privileged. They are the ones who know what being adopted feels like. Sometimes adoptive parents or hopeful prospective adoptive parents come into the group. They struggle with the anger and pain that adoptees in the group express. There are also former foster youth who share their experiences and current foster care parents or hopeful to become foster parents come into the group as well.

Adoptees often express the emotional toll of trying to share their lived experiences with these other group members. Some who are not adoptees cannot take what they are reading and leave or become angry and disbelieving – surely they are the exception ?

If you ever encounter a “woke” adoptee (adoptees often express how it feels to have emerged from what they call the adoption fog when they believed the unicorns and rainbows version of adoption that the industry puts forth in pursuit of the profits they make facilitating adoptions), believe them when they express their struggles with feelings of abandonment, rejection, not belonging in the family they’ve been adopted into. Though most birth parents welcome a reunion with their “lost” child, not all of them do. These are more than sad for the adoptee experiences being abandoned and rejected all over again.

Using Bio in Reference to Family

When one spends time within the larger adoption community (this includes original family, adoptees and former foster youth as well as adoptive and foster parents) the precise use of language sometimes becomes an issue. For my own self, I am entirely willing to learn to use the most appropriate language while giving a large tolerance to the words anyone else uses because we are all doing our best to improve and reform circumstances that have historically not been in the best interests of the child who ends up adopted or in foster care. That is really the most important issue – the well-being of our children overall.

Some of the adoptees or former foster youth have had reunions with their original family that have not gone well at all, only heaping more heartbreak and rejection on already wounded souls. Some had really crappy experiences with their adoptive or foster care families. Life can be incredibly hard at times for a lot of people. I try to always remember that and I too fail to be compassionate and sympathetic enough at times. We all do. Rather than beat ourselves up over our mistakes in judgement and actions, we really can only try to do better in the next instant – every instant after every instant. Life is for evolving ourselves and through our efforts to make ourselves a better human being overall, we evolve our families, our communities, our countries and our planet. It is an on-going process that never ends.

Whatever we call our parents, it can only be whatever feels right to each of us personally. I think every one of my own children has called me by my familiar first name of Debbie at some time or other and it has never truly bothered me. It does get complicated when adoption is in one’s family history. I called my mom’s adoptive parents – Grandmother D and Grandfather D – they were very formal people. I called my dad’s adoptive parents – Granny and Granddaddy. They were very humble, salt of the earth kinds of people.

When I learned who my parents actual original parents were – in my heart, they did take the place of my adoptive grandparents because they are truly the genetic, biological ones. However, I never use a “grandparent” identifier with them. It is their names that I use – Lizzie Lou, JC, Delores and Rasmus (though he preferred Martin, I like the more Danish version personally). So though, when I think of grandparents now (having only learned of them after the age of 60, after they were long deceased and I will never know them but second hand through other descendants of theirs), I think of the original ones but I never use the childhood identifiers for them.

There has long been a raging controversy over the use of the word “birth” to denote the parents who conceived and birthed children who were later surrendered either voluntarily or involuntarily (forcefully taken). Here is one perspective on that issue –

I personally loathe the term ‘birth mother’ and prefer ‘bio’ to differentiate between adoptive parents and family I’m related to by biology. I don’t understand why Lee Campbell (founder of Concerned United Birthparents) insists that ‘birth’ is not offensive but ‘bio’ is. Biology denotes DNA; genetically unrelated surrogates can give birth, so it’s not an inclusive term, as far as I can see. Anyway, as an adoptee—the only person among ANY of my family who had NO CHOICE—I’ll use whatever term I please. I adore my maternal biological family, including my late momma, whom I didn’t get to know past infancy. I feel far more connected to her than I ever did to my adoptive mother. I have three living maternal uncles and we are CRAZY about each other. We don’t use qualifiers referring to each other, but in cases when clarification is needed, I specify with ‘bio’.

Some of the push related to language was actually influenced by the adoptive parents when the whole industry was going through radical change in the 1970s. Social workers started to push positive adoption language. You had adoptive families complaining about the previous terms: they didn’t like natural mother because then they were unnatural. They didn’t like real because that made them unreal.

Many original mothers and their offspring do dislike the term “birth” because a woman who has given birth to a child is much more than just a woman who gave birth. There is a bond formed in the womb and all the conditions and circumstances that occur during gestation that will forever be a part of any human being and of course, there is the genetics as well.

Here is another perspective from a former foster youth who has adopted a child out of foster care – I always refer to my own parents as my biological parents. I honestly don’t have much relationship with either of my parents. I have learned through the years they are truly incapable of having a safe parent/child relationship. And honestly they are simply my biology. Nothing more. As an adoptive parent, I have learned and respect my daughter’s mom and family and refer to her mom when speaking to her as simply – her mom. In posts on the internet I try to always use first family. I will add that I only use first family in areas of the internet when needing to differentiate. In real life, it is simply family, mom, dad, grandmother, etc and no one has ever been confused over whether I was talking about adoptive or her first family.

Another one added – I call my son’s Mom, his Mom. His first family, his family. I can’t handle the terms that make the moms less than.

I totally agree.

And many of these women really don’t like “tummy mom.”

There is also another kind of family where the adoptive parent is actually “kin” related to the adoptee. I know one of these kinds of situations rather well. So one who is a former foster youth wrote –

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I will call my bio parents whatever I want. They are not my “real” parents, because neither of them raised me. It is incredibly offensive when people ask “your adoptive (kinship) mom, or your real mom?” No. My kinship mom IS my
“real” mom. Our relationship is far from perfect. My raising was far from perfect. But she’s the only person who I’ve ever felt comfortable enough regarding our relationship to call “mom”, and I’ll continue to do so.  I hate the phrase “real mom.” My mom is my mom.  Period.

In my own case, my biological, genetically related daughter was not raised by me after the age of 3. She ended up being raised by her dad and step-mother.  My daughter considers my ex-husband’s wife her mom. I accept that. I carry enough conflicted emotions for not raising her – regardless of the reasons that came to pass. But I do acknowledge that her step-mother was the one that was there when my daughter was sick, in trouble or needed a compassionate heart to listen to whatever. I do have a decently good adult relationship with my daughter. I am grateful for that much.

Against The Odds

A little over 20 years ago, after 10 years of marriage, my husband decided he wanted to become a father after all. True, he had been glad I had already given birth to a daughter, so there was no pressure on him because I had already been there, done that. Imagine my surprise when over a couple of Margaritas at a Mexican restaurant, he told me “I’ve been thinking” and my mouth actually dropped open in utter amazement. When I recovered from my own shock, I said OK.

We had seen a news clip that women who conceive at an older age live longer. I was 44 years old at the time. My GPs nurse practitioner during a counseling session over my cholesterol levels learned I was trying to conceive (we’d been doing all the usual things – timing intercourse, ovulation predictors and pregnancy tests – to no avail). She said to me, “I’m not saying you are infertile but at your age, you have no time to waste” and referred me to her own fertility specialist who was also an OB.

The night before our appointment, we saw another news clip that indicated my chances of conceiving were technically zero due to my age. I remember going to the place alongside the perennial stream that flows past our house to the gravel bar where I married my husband. Hugging our witness tree, I cried because my husband married a woman too old to give him what he was now wanting.

At the doctor’s office, we saw the very last egg in my ovary on ultrasound. The doctor gave us some kind of shot to give it a boost but it failed to produce a pregnancy. While we were there, he said to us – there is another way – and described donor egg technology to us. We utilized a website for matching couples with women volunteering to donate their fertile eggs. We selected one that my husband noted, one of her answers matched my own philosophies in life. She turned out to be a good choice. A mother with 3 children already of her own. She has donated to at least one other couple we know of but we do not know the outcome of that effort for not all assisted reproductive technology efforts succeed. In my online cycle group, only about 50% did.

The doctor in the town our donor was living in at that time did 4 procedures that year with only one success – ours.

Having now learned about the way an infant bonds with its mother in the womb, I’m grateful we rejected adoption as our means to becoming parents. Our donor subsequently donated a second time to help us conceive our second son. Therefore, our two sons are fully genetically and biologically the same – and yet very different people. They have their natural father as a mirror as well. Each of them is some part but not wholly the same as their dad. I marvel that I must love my husband a lot to want 3 of him – though of course, as I just acknowledged that is not 100% the truth.

At some point I became aware of a woman in my Mothers Via Egg Donation online support community who was researching a book. It is titled Creating Life Against The Odds – The Journey From Infertility To Parenthood. The author is Ilona Laszlo Higgins MD FACOG. For contributing our experience to her research, I was given a signed copy of her book. She wrote in the title page – “To Deborah and Stephen who undertook this special journey to bring Simeon and Treston into their lives! With love, Lonny”

Today, my oldest son celebrates his 20th birthday. I have referred to him as my savior because it was in trying to conceive him that I discovered I was positive for hepatitis C. Otherwise, I may have destroyed my liver without ever knowing this virus was there by drinking too many alcoholic based drinks. I haven’t had a drop of alcohol since learning about it.

I had to fight with the doctors at the hospital where my c-section took place 20 years ago today to be allowed to breastfeed my son. The lactation consultants there came to my defense. I nursed him for over a year (and at 18 months, each boy tested negative for the hepC virus). When he was about 3 months old, we embarked on a long journey that eventually caused us to traverse through about half of these United States in the Eastern part of the continent. I nursed him in public everywhere we went and to be honest, I had the right kind of clothes to do so with subtlety.

I share all of this to encourage women struggling with any kind of infertility to consider this method. Your baby will be born to the woman in who’s womb the baby grew, who’s heartbeat and internal processes has been the background noise of its development, who’s voice the baby has always known. This is all every baby that is born desires in life – to be with its natural mother. My sons do not have my genes but in every other way, no other person is more their mother than I am.

Not long ago, I read an essay by a woman with a great attitude. She was donor conceived. She accepts that she would simply not be who and how she is any other way. It is my hope that my sons will also understand their origins with that clarity of acceptance. It isn’t all that different than my own self understanding that if both of my parents had not been given up for adoption, I would not exist.

Sometimes the honest truth is the best. We have always been truthful with our sons without making a big issue about their conception. With the advent of inexpensive DNA testing, I’m glad we chose the path often referred to in donor conception support groups as “tell”. Their donor did 23 and Me. Then, I gifted my husband with a kit, then my oldest son with a kit and finally my youngest son with a kit. The youngest one was only slightly disappointed that he didn’t have any of my genes. But I am still “Mom” to him and we remain very close at heart – where it truly does matter.