One if my closest friends is currently going through the process of adopting a child. It’s a really important thing that she is doing, and a huge decision to make, but recently we were talking about her journey so far, and it occurred to me how similar her journey into parenthood has been to mine, despite the obvious differences.
It was a conversation we were having after the 3rd or 4th potential match fell through, and it was her describing how she felt that I recognised, so clearly, from my own experience.
Now, to be clear, I am not suggesting that any one method of becoming a parent is better or worse then another. I am also not saying that there are no differences to our experience, because of course there are, but I was struck with how similar the struggle is, and how alike the rollercoaster to parenthood turns out to be.
As I listened to her talk about the loss of another match, at how much hope she had had at the start of this part of the process, at how disappointed she felt knowing something inexplicable had prevented this match from working out this time, I was reminded of how I felt when I lost our first baby, or how I felt at every period when we were trying to get pregnant. Building up the hope of what might be, looking at every physical response in my body and reading (or miss-reading) it as a sign of pregnancy. For my friend, every email or phone call from her social worker was a new bit of hope that this might go further, every step towards a decision lead to more hope developing, added to her story of ‘this time.’ Reading and re-reading emails to glean extra bits of hope that this might be the one, trying not to read into phrases in an email that might suggest extra hope for this one. Trying not to sound too hopeful, after one email saying ‘perhaps’ is so similar to trying not to sound too hopeful after one ‘attempt’ to get pregnant. And trying not to lose all hope after 6 months of emails and maybes or attempts and the odd late period…it is so similar. I could hear in her voice how much she had hoped…how she had learnt not to get her hopes up too much but couldn’t help herself.
On one occasion, she got down to the last 2 possible families, and got told very last minute that she wasn’t the choice. I know how she was feeling, because I have been there with pregnancies of my own, the thrill of the positive test, the hope of what might be, trying not to tell anyone when you want to burst with the news and then trying to downplay how awful you feel when it doesn’t work out, for a reason you will never know. The second-guessing of yourself - was it me? Did I do something wrong? Say something wrong? Is that it? Have I blown my only chance? The inexplicable feeling of the loss of something you never actually knew, for a reason you will never know. I watched her go through it all and thought time and time again how similar it is to my own journey.
I can’t even say her journey took longer then mine, because while my pregnancies were only 40(+2) weeks, we started the journey of trying to get pregnant long before any bump appeared. We had months of trying and nothing happening, doctors appointments and conversations, followed by at least one loss (possibly more but we will never know) before I ever actually got to a viable pregnancy. That pregnancy was fraught with fear and worry. I kept telling my husband, ‘let’s just get to 12 weeks,’ or 20 weeks or 24 weeks or whatever it was….my friend was the same, once she had a match, there was still formality after formality to go through, at every turn it might not work out or someone might change their mind, or something in the process might just go against her somehow.
Her journey was also long, from her decision that adoption was right for her, to being successfully matched was years of form filling and learning. Interviews and references and credit checks, being told what you can and can’t do, being taught what is best for a child you don’t even know and don’t even know if you will ever know. Every step is designed to weed out those who aren’t really committed to the process and she was constantly reminded how tough it would be.
Since then, happily a match has been made, and she is a soon-to-be mummy of an 18-month old. Even then, the similarities haven’t stopped. Somebody threw her a baby shower. She has spent weeks ‘nesting’ and buying what she needs, worrying she has forgotten something, and organising work so it won’t descend into chaos the second she goes on maternity leave. People have wished her luck and best wishes, and she has been flooded with ‘helpful’ advice, some of which is helpful and some not. Some downright insensitive. She has been ridiculously excited to meet the child, only to find that the day-to-day reality is a variety of highs and lows, with some days being magical and other days really tough.
She has a long way to go-like any new parent, figuring out what the child wants and needs, how she will make parenting work for her, what sits right for her little family and what doesn’t, what items turned out to be pointless for her and what turns out to be invaluable for her. How she will fit in play-dates, friends, school, work, herself…all the issues any new mum has. And they have to get to know each other, just like I did with my babies.
Physically giving birth to a child does not guarantee you will like each other. It’s a hard reality of baby making, you might love them with all your hart, but it doesn’t mean you always like them. I am sure we can all think of parent/child combinations in adult life who just don’t get on, try as they might. Biology doesn’t always mean connection. My friend has as much chance of getting on with her child as I do. She will love the child, with all her hart, because, like me, she loved that child long before they actually came face to face. But love does not erase hardship, as any parent will tell you.
I am thrilled for her that she gets to be a family, plus, of course, her cats. I can’t wait to be involved in her child’s life, as I am in hers, and I am comforted by the face that parenthood is pretty much the same for us all, in it’s highs and lows, in it’s experience if not actually in it’s day-to-day activities. Despite how parenthood comes to you, it is pretty much the same for all of us.
And good luck if it is, somehow, coming to you!