Today is the last day of National Infertility Awareness Week. I've been working on putting this post together for the duration of this week, and honestly I'm nervous to hit the "publish" button. I'm nervous that it will be too direct, too opinionated, too much for some people. But my prayer is that if you choose to read this, you'll have a greater understanding of my story, and potentially stories that are similar to mine. My hope is that my words can bring us together, not divide, and that we can all rest in the unique plans that God has for us.
Before I even start writing all of the thoughts I have, let me first state that this post is my experience and my experience alone. I have talked about these things with women who have walked through similar circumstances, but I cannot write their stories, I can only write mine.
This week is National Infertility Awareness Week. I've seen blogs and articles from mommy bloggers and paid journalists alike who are writing on this topic this week. Usually I shy away from adding to the "noise" of opinions that hit our news feeds, but this is a topic that I'm living, that I'm walking through, and that is embedded in the very essence my family and how God is knitting it together.
Without getting too deep into it, here's the gist of my story: When I was 16 I found out that I have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), an endocrine system disorder. There are a host of outcomes caused by PCOS, but one of the most common is infertility, or at the least, difficulty conceiving. As a 16-year-old female, this news completely devastated me. It took time, but I realized that my desire to someday (many years down the road) have a family would come to fruition, but maybe just not like I thought.
Jason and I began our adoption journey after we'd been married for a year. We knew that we wanted to build our family through adoption, we talked, prayed, and planned for it even when we were just beginning to date. We hoped (and still would like to) have biological children some day, but so far, God has allowed us to add to our family through adoption only. We chose adoption as our first plan intentionally, because we knew it could be difficult or impossible to have biological children. We wanted to come to adoption without the hurt of infertility. Again, this is our experience and the way that God led us to build our family. Many people come to adoption in a myriad of different ways and for different reasons.
When we started the adoption process, though, I was on birth control. Birth control can help some of the other symptoms of PCOS, so because we were newly married and we were choosing to adopt first, we made the decision that I would stay on birth control for the time being. A little while later, we made the decision (for a lot of reasons) that it was time for me to get off of birth control. What we now know is that our suspicions about having difficulty conceiving were, in fact, correct, however, we have elected to continue our journey of adoption and forgo any sort of fertility treatment. Again, strictly the decision that we feel God has led us to, but we know there is not right or wrong way walk through this journey.
Even though our circumstance may be somewhat unique, I wanted to share five things that someone who has either walked through infertility and/or walked through adoption may want you to know, based on my own experience. I hope that if you are someone who has walked through some of this, these five things will bring comfort to you and let you know that you're not alone. If you haven't walked through infertility or adoption, I hope that you'll be encouraged to walk alongside friends or family who may go through building their family in a way that might look a bit different than the "norm".
5 Things I Want You to Know
One: It's not a given that I'll get pregnant after I adopt.
All throughout our adoption process people have said (even my OB/GYN) that as soon as we bring home our child, I'm probably going to get pregnant. I love hearing stories about this when it does happen, because it does sometimes. But, when someone says that to me, it's as if they're telling me that what I'm doing is second best, and when I get pregnant, I'll get first best.
I realize that is surely not anyone's intention, and I totally give people the benefit of the doubt, but what I'd rather hear is how excited you are that we are adopting, and that's all. Because that's what is happening. And while there are those awesome stories of people getting pregnant literally in county as they're about to bring home a child through adoption, that has not been our story. And that's perfectly okay with me, I love our story the way it is.
My little blessing of a baby is the very best in my life. She is God's gift to me, and I treasure her as such. I wouldn't trade her for anything. And if I would have had her biologically, she wouldn't be the baby that I have. And, what if I never get pregnant? Does that mean I only deserved second best and others deserve first best? Does that mean God loves other women more than they love me? Of course not.
If you know someone who has been called to adopt before, during, or after a battle with infertility, please don't tell them they'll probably get pregnant as soon as they adopt.
Two: It's awkward when you ask me if I can have my own kids.
Along the same lines as #1, sometimes people will ask about our adoption process(es), and I'm always up for talking about that. If it's a particularly hard time or moment in the process, you may get a "canned" answer of, "we're just continuing to wait and pray," but other than that I'm good to talk about adoption all the live long day.
You'd be surprised how many people take it a step further, though. Not only have people asked Jason and me this question, but people have asked my parents, my sisters, and other close friends: "Can you not have your own kids?" or "Do you want your own kids someday?"
Look, I'm not going to pick a part everything about why people should not ask these questions or how they could be asked differently, but just know that it's not okay to ask things like this.
Here's the deal, these are awkward questions. I'm a fairly modest person, and I don't want to think about someone asking my mom and dad about all this, but it's happened. And how am I supposed to answer? "Yes, I want to have biological kids someday but by golly we keep trying and trying and every month I'm not pregnant." Um, no. Or, "No, I don't want biological kids." Well, that's a lie. And what happens if I do get pregnant, then am I a liar or unhappy that I'm pregnant? No. It's weird. It's awkward. Let's just talk about adoption.
The other thing is that Brighten is, and Judah will be just as much my own child as any child I may or may not birth someday. They are real people, with real hearts, real souls, and we are their real family and their real parents.
Also, our track record says that we won't be able to have biological children now or anytime in the future. I've spent over a decade of coming to terms with this, so while it's okay with me that I may never be pregnant, many women and families are struggling with infertility, and even if they have chosen to adopt it doesn't mean they aren't still grieving the realities of infertility.
If you find yourself in a conversation with someone who is adopting, please phrase your questions in a way that won't rub that raw place. I know it's unintentional, and I'm not mad or angry when people do this, but I also want you to understand that as an adoptive parent, I have gone through a process of letting go of the "imagined child," which can be a different and difficult process for every family.
If you're unsure of what to ask, simply say that. I have a close friend who is a champ at prefacing conversations with, "I want to say the right thing and ask questions the right way, but I'm not sure how, so please stop me or correct me if I say something hurtful."
For me, transparency is the ultimate gift, and a little empathy is all I'm asking for.
Three: There is no way to include me in a conversation about birth stories.
I'm not sure at what age or stage or time it became a thing for women to start sharing their birth stories, but it is, apparently. For those of us who are adoptive parents, waiting to adopt, waiting to get pregnant, or waiting to get pregnant again, this is H-A-R-D!
I'm extremely blessed to have had the opportunity to be present for Brighten's birth, but we didn't know that would even be something I could be a part of literally until the night before. We also know without a doubt that we won't be part of Judah's first few months of life, or even years, much less his birth. Is that okay with me? Heck NO! I wish I could be present for every part of my children's lives from the moment they entered the world in their birth mom's tummy. I wish I could have a say in what their birth moms eat, drink, what she does, where she goes, how she talks to her growing belly; I wish I could be there for ultrasounds, celebrations, pains, and everything in between. But that's not the reality of adoption.
Adoption can feel extremely isolating at times, and infertility can certainly feel isolating and extremely painful. Women having discussions about their birth stories is hard when you are walking through a struggle or if you didn't give birth to your child.
I'm not the police of the world, so I'm not saying that you should or shouldn't blog about it or talk about it at all. I have the option to not read your blog or that Instagram post, and you should totally have the freedom to talk about giving birth, and even struggles that you may have had as part of your birth story or stories. Everyone needs an outlet and their people to talk to, and I'm 100% a fan of that for sure. But here's my request: can we not talk about it on a girl's night with a group of women with varying stories and struggles?
I love the way God is forming our family, but this, probably more than anything, makes me feel like there's something I've missed out on with my baby girl. I didn't get to feel her move or kick. I didn't get to make the decision about natural or medicated or c-section. I didn't get to choose if we'd do skin to skin or if she'd be breast fed or on formula. Many of those decisions were not mine to make, or were not options for us. And for those of us who are struggling with infertility, these conversations likely bring us to a place where we are having to put aside a jealousy that we don't mean to have, and certainly don't want to have.
Four: As a society, we must move away from the notion that womanhood and motherhood are synonymous with being pregnant and giving birth.
Whether explicitly spelled out or just implied, much of our society still attributes womanhood and motherhood to being pregnant and/or giving birth to a child. I have a huge problem with this. If there's anything that you take away from this blog, I hope that it's this: There are many, many women who play the role of a mother who did not give birth to a child.
From foster and adoptive moms to single women pouring into those younger than them, these women, who didn't necessarily give birth, are standing in as parents in a whole host of circumstances for a wide array of reasons. To say or imply anything other than that is simply a narrow view of our world.
When I see or hear someone talk about how being pregnant is the most feminine or womanly part of their identity, or when when someone indicates that they way they birthed their child(ren) makes them a good mother, my heart literally breaks. What about me? What about all of the women like me who did not get to carry our child? Am I less of a woman or less feminine? Am I less of a mother? It sure doesn't feel like it, but from some of the words I read and hear and some of the implied conversations, is sure seems like some ladies would say so.
There are so many ways that we are given opportunities to lean into our womanhood and our God-given maternal tendencies. It's not by carrying a child. It's not by giving birth. Yes, those are wonderful and beautiful things, there is no doubt about that. But, can I encourage us all to widen our definitions and become more inclusive of those who have not had that opportunity, for whatever reason. Let's celebrate women who are loving and caring for kiddos in all capacities. Let's lean into unity as women, and not divide ourselves amongst each other.
Five: Let's not assume we know people's stories.
Making assumptions is something I'm super guilty of, but it's one of the worst things we can do. Making assumptions inhibits compassion or the ability to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. Just because someone has a child, or isn't married, or has adopted, or has lots and lots of kids doesn't mean anything about where they've been or what they may currently be struggling with. There are so many examples of this with infertility, failed adoptions, miscarriages, prolonged adoptions, and more.
For me, today, I look at my family and feel so so blessed to have Brighten, but I still see an incomplete Morales family because we are still waiting on Judah. There are some days that I live life normally and I can easily accept that this is just where God has us right now. Other days it is so, so hard.
In those tender moments, I hope that God brings people around me who will weep with me and not make assumptions about how I do, or should feel. And I hope that someday when we bring Judah home, these same friends will be rejoicing with us!
I think it's important that we don't create a world for ourselves in which we tip-toe around one another, but rather have intentional conversations where we learn about each other in a way that lends itself to compassion and empathy.
Lately I've seen people post pregnancy announcements and then start private Instagram accounts or Facebook groups for those who want to follow along with their pregnancy and birth stories. I think that this depicts what it means to be women who love each other well. By saying, "Hey, I'm super stoked about this news that I have and I want you to know about it, but I recognize that this may be hard for some of you to follow, so you can do that over here if you choose to," gives way for there to be room for all of us and our stories and celebrations and struggles.
I'm so thankful for weeks like this one that bring light to topics and battles that are often lived very privately. I love in John when it says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5) I think that infertility is a struggle that is so personal and that many battle alone in the darkness. We need to shine light into those dark corners of hurt, and with Christ's love, rally around one another and our unique stories. We need to ask the right things to say, give options to celebrate things that may be hard for some, and give way to empathy and God's plan for each of our lives and families.