“To really tell this story, I need to go back to a time where I wasn’t born. Perhaps I wasn’t even an idea in either of my mother’s heads.
It was the 1970’s. My mom was volunteering as a counselor for women who were thinking through options for their unplanned pregnancies. My mom worked with a great team of people who did anything they could to support expectant mothers: arrange prenatal care, build and decorate homes where they could stay, provide ongoing counseling, and most of all provide unconditional love and support for their decisions.
My mom loved what she did. Unbeknownst to everyone around her, she had several miscarriages during her time as a volunteer. She grieved many losses before she learned she had endometriosis and would not be able to have a child of her own. She and my dad slowly accepted this news and finally settled on a baby bulldog. It was late one night when a co-worker called that my mom finally confided in her and shared the grief she felt. This call would change the course of all of our lives.
The story of my adoption is one of many tales showing the power of women helping women. Encouraging women helped my mom and dad register to be adoptive parents. A separate tribe of compassionate women were several towns over counseling my birth mother who was receiving in-patient prenatal care in a NJ hospital. My birth mother did not want to raise a child as a single parent and made the brave, loving choice, with her family’s support, to place me for adoption. While my adoptive mother and my birth mother never met or even knew about each other, I’ve always felt they were connected in some unexplainable way.
Days before she held me my mom had a dream. She pictured me with big round eyes, brown hair, chubby cheeks and olive skin. She would share this dream repeatedly with me from the time I was a toddler. She got the call from the adoption agency on Friday and there I was Monday morning exactly as I appeared in her dreams. ‘What is yours will find you!’
My parents were equally in awe of my younger sister, their biological child, who joined us 5 years later! I took my job as ‘big sister’ very seriously (still do)! I had to teach her how to dance to Madonna, do somersaults on the grass, wait for the fruit loops to turn your cereal milk a fantastical swirl of color, make a bunny disappear from the hat, and turn a Twizzler into a delightful candy straw! We were always given equal amounts of love, affection and playfulness. My parents loved being ‘mom’ and ‘dad’. After many years believing they wouldn’t be parents, the gratitude and joy they felt was undeniable!
I don’t remember being told I was adopted because it was part of my fabric from such a young age. It was such a natural part of me, like my arms, my legs, my brown hair. I didn’t think it odd or different. But then family was never constrained by biology. Since my maternal grandparents were deceased, their friends volunteered themselves as grandpa and grandma. Grandpa and I watched hours of Wheel of Fortune and Grandma and I played even more hours of hangman, imprinting on me my love of words, puzzles and most importantly the love they shared through play.
My adoption story has grown considerably in the last decade. About three months after my love, Joe, proposed to me, I found a lump in my breast which would turn out to be early stage breast cancer. I was told I was ‘lucky’ because I had the good kind of cancer. At the time, I thought this was a hugely insensitive thing to say. My friends were buying homes, getting promotions, having children – and I’m the ‘lucky’ one? But now I realize I am lucky! The cancer I had was successfully treated through surgery and chemotherapy and I was cured!
I got the green light from my oncologist to have children which again put me in the ‘lucky’ camp as many go into premature menopause or have estrogen-sensitive cancers that make pregnancy a risk factor. I didn’t have those strikes against me but with a poor ovarian reserve (from chemotherapy) and a unicorneate uterus my chances at a successful conception were low. When Joe and I first started family planning 5 years ago we knew it might be difficult. But we had survived my cancer diagnosis together (writing our vows from the infusion room) and knew we were stronger than our struggles. We decided we would try for a biological child and adopt a second and/or third child.
I can’t remember how many times I thought about stopping our fertility treatments. When you are trying to conceive each failed attempt feels like an enormous defeat. I had the best doctors and incredibly supportive friends and family. With each miscarriage I thought not only was I letting myself and Joe down but I was letting all my favorite people down as well! It was like being trapped in the myth of Sisyphus where every time he rolled the great boulder to get to the top of the hill, the thing would roll right back down again.
And then one day the boulder stayed at the summit. For months I had dreams it was going to roll back down. The heartbeat appointment, the anatomy scan, the weekly updates – all these check-ins were both terrifying and exciting beyond words. Then it happened, despite all odds. In 2018, I gave birth to a daughter through a donor egg and I experienced again the bond between a mother and a nonbiological child – this time in the reverse. My daughter, Adriana Rose, instantly became the sun in my universe. She was born on my birthday, my 7th pregnancy, lucky number 7. She could not have been more perfect to Joe and I. When she died unexpectedly two months later I thought my heart stopped with hers. Even now I question how it can still keep beating without her.
The thing about having a child I didn’t know is the entire world becomes more beautiful. I wasn’t just in a deep love with my baby, but with everyone and everything around me. When Adriana was with me, I looked at the moon at night and it shined brighter. I listened to the raindrops gently falling on our balcony. I listened to the birds singing with her in the stroller. I sang her every song from every playlist: Madonna, The Beatles, Ani DiFranco, Taylor Swift, Coldplay, you name it. Each song seemed like it was playing for us.
The loss of my daughter has given me a lifetime membership into a club you never want to belong to, parents who have lost a child. It has also connected me in a unique way to my birthmother. Since it was a closed adoption I don’t know much about her. I wonder how she dealt with the complicated feelings of loss birthmothers often speak of. I wonder if she second guessed her decision at any point. My wish is she knows deep down in her bones her decision gave me a life of love and promise which I’m forever grateful for. My birthmother must have really loved me to want something more for me than she could give. My adoptive parents made it their priority to love me unconditionally and talk about her with tremendous respect and appreciation. There are many questions that come along with adoption and there are many questions that come along with any type of family building. The main question for me was never left blank. Was I loved? Yes, always. And by two moms!
Now we find ourselves with a new boulder ascending up a new mountain. Joe and I met with an adoption social worker to complete our home study and kick off a several-month long process of becoming legally certified adoptive parents. During a 3-hour interview we were asked about our financial history, our upbringings, our parenting styles, and our communication styles. At the end of the interview, our social worker commented on the strength she witnessed in us and the depth of our love for our child and each other. She could see we are ready to parent another child and will give this child the dedication, nurturance and guidance we were given as kids. We have been connecting with other hopeful adoptive parents and parents of adoptive children and listened as they share the complexities of their process. We believe an open or semi-open adoption could be the best solution for our family and for that reason we have chosen an independent adoption route. With an independent adoption, the adoptive parents speak directly with expectant moms to find their ‘match’. We think this is a great option for us so we might foster a long relationship with our child’s birth parent(s) or at the very least be able to tell him or her all the wonderful things we love and respect about her. In these types of adoptions, the child has information about their birth mom and may or may not have a relationship with them through letters, pictures and/or visits. I know adoption works from my own experience and the experiences of so many families who have shared their stories with us. It’s only a matter of time until we reach a new summit. There will be more boulders I imagine, some heavier than others, but nothing we can’t carry.
Joe and I put together a profile of us and a website www.amyandjoeadopt.com so expectant moms can learn about us. We are looking forward to the time when we are holding a child in our arms and looking up at the moon during those middle of the night feedings. Putting together our website gave us time to reflect on how much we have been given and how much more we still have left to give…”
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‘You might look at these pictures, and feel uncomfortable. You might think, ‘I could never ‘share’ my child like that.’ She leaves the hospital with empty arms. Open adoption does not equal co-parenting.’