I clutch my husband’s arm as our driver weaves through traffic, dodging pedestrians and potholes, horn blaring. Next to me on the seat is my bag, holding the pink, ruffled clothes that I spent hours shopping for, lovingly washed and neatly packed in the bag right next to my hopes and fears. I wipe the sweat off of my brow, my stomach tightening. Will I feel an instant bond with my child when I see her? Will she know that she was meant for me and I for her? All my years of longing and sadness and pleadings to heaven, culminating in this one moment.
At thirty-two, I’m finally about to become a mother.
Go back six years. After a year of fertility treatments, I’m standing in the delivery room and watching my sister-in-law, Kim, give birth. After hours of sweating and writhing and begging for it to be over, after the nurse announces, “There she is—just one more push!” Kim groans and pushes and suddenly, there it is, a perfect new life. I watch as Kim holds the baby to her chest, breathes in her baby’s scent, strokes her soft tuft of hair, and kisses her for the first time. Reverence, joy, and love fill the room. I have never experienced anything quite like it before and I want more than anything to give birth myself.
Two years later, I sit in my doctor’s office in disbelief as he gently touches my arm and tells me it is time to look into other options, options like adoption or a childfree life. I watch his mouth move, and his words swirl around the room, but I can’t fathom their meaning. My heart knows, though, and it is breaking into a million little pieces. Tears fill my eyes, my stomach twists, and a scream threatens to escape. Three years of fertility treatments, three years of hoping and dreaming and praying and begging, all hang here in this room.
I’m simply going through the motions, barely mustering up enough energy to make it through the workday with a smile on my face. It seems like all my coworkers are announcing pregnancies. At home I sob and pray, asking over and over why I am being denied this gift. I feel alone and wonder if my prayers are even being heard.
James, my husband, watches me struggle. He hugs me and holds me tight and whispers that he is sorry. I know he wants to fix the situation but he doesn’t know how. We talk about adoption, but I’m not quite ready to let go of my dream of giving birth, even though I have a brother who was adopted.
One night, however, I find myself saying to James over dinner, “I need to get better, to move on, to be a mother.”
He looks at me, his eyebrows raised.
“I’ve been thinking about adoption,” I say. “And I’m realizing that it’s just a different path to motherhood. I can still be a mother, just not in the way I imagined.”
He smiles with relief.
Our evenings consist of researching adoption agencies and dreaming of our future children. As we begin this new journey I am overwhelmed but hopeful, filled with a quiet confidence. Perhaps my prayers have been heard, after all.
Yet, something still nags at me—the delivery room. I will never have that experience. I will never hold my child’s wet, slippery body against my chest as she takes her first breath. This is a hard truth. Just as I haven’t understood much of the grief associated with infertility, I don’t understand this either. Why am I being denied this miraculous experience? I try not to dwell on it, try not to let bitterness seep in.
One night, as I open my scriptures, I read in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee.” I begin to understand that it is. Grace is in each new day, giving me strength to move forward, courage to face my trials, comfort in my grief, and hope in adoption. Grace will be in another woman’s sacrifice of her own flesh and blood, when she gives me a gift I’ve done nothing to earn, a gift I can never repay. I will be part of a sacred exchange: two women, each playing different roles in the creation and life of a spirit.
My labor is entirely different than my sister-in-law’s. Mine consists of mounds of paperwork, numerous interviews, parenting classes, background checks, references, financial statements, and physicals. I bemoan to my mother on the phone one day, “I’m so tired of proving that we can be parents. Fertile people can just decide to have a baby and get pregnant, while the fate of our family is in other people’s hands.”
She gently says, “You know, honey, adoption is a gift. You hold a key to a treasure chest that very few are given. This experience, no matter how hard it seems, is the most special thing in the world.”
Warmth floods me as she speaks. I trust her, as she, too, has experienced the grief of infertility and the joy of adoption. And so I labor on.
We are finally matched with a birth mom. Three days later we drive 400 miles to pick up our baby girl. I keep looking at the car seat perched in the back. I am so excited that in just a few hours it will hold a real, live baby. But after arriving at the hospital, we learn that the agency lied to us: the baby was born addicted to cocaine and severely handicapped, and the doctors don’t know how long she will live. We are not prepared or equipped in any way to deal with her challenges, so we leave the hospital empty-handed, our hearts breaking. We drive home, stopping only once to buy more Kleenex, as I cry all day long. I can’t stop thinking about the baby lying all alone in the hospital, without a mother or father.
Once home, James focuses on one task: packing up the bassinet in our bedroom. It is the only tangible thing he can fix.
We are matched with another birth mom. We meet her for lunch one day in a little diner and quickly discover that she and I have a lot in common. We become friends and speak on the phone once a week. She calls after each doctor visit and fills me in on the details. One day she asks me, “Would it be too weird for you if I told you I want you to be in the delivery room when he’s born?” My heart skips a beat. I’ve been secretly hoping she would ask me to be there but I haven’t dared ask. As the due date approaches, I shop for all things blue and pull the nursery together, and James and I finally settle on a name. We will call him Matthew.
Two weeks before the due date, the adoption agency calls. The birth mom has gone missing; no one has been able to contact her. She’s safe—that much they know—but she needs time to “think things through.” No one speaks the words—they don’t need to. A few days later her sister calls to apologize. The birth mother has decided to keep the baby.
I take to avoiding people, going out of my way not to run into anyone I know so I won’t have to explain what happened. I can’t even think about the loss of this baby without crying, much less talk about it. James is upset as well, but he doesn’t talk about it, just stomps around the house and spends hours alone working in his shop. We both felt adoption was the sure path for us, but we had no idea it would be this difficult.
We keep the door to the nursery closed. Sometimes at night, after James falls asleep, I creep into the nursery to look at the empty rocking chair, the changing table with its unopened baby powder and tiny little diapers, the dresser filled with blue outfits and soft socks. I pull the clothes out and hug them to me.
James catches me one night. “You know he wasn’t our baby, right?”
I nod, the tears hot on my face.
“She’ll love him and take care of him,” he says. “She is his mother.”
My tears spill even faster. Even though I know he is right, I also know that I want to be that baby’s mother. I’m not ready to say it wasn’t meant to be, to move on, to quit grieving.
Seeing the look on my face, he pulls me to him and lets me sob all over his shoulder. He assures me we will be parents in time.
Sitting in church one Sunday morning we sing “More Holiness Give Me.” A knot forms in my throat. More faith in my Savior, more sense of His care. More gratitude give me, more trust in the Lord. It seems like every word in this song is meant for me. Gratitude envelopes me as I’m reminded once again that the Savior is aware of me. I can feel His love for me in this moment. And I am certain He will help me overcome.
We’ve been focusing on U.S. adoptions, but one day I receive an email about an orphanage in Haiti. As I read I begin to feel that we need to research this new possibility. Adopting internationally will require us to redo some of our adoption paperwork, have an addendum to our home study and an interview with a psychiatrist. The government must also approve additional paperwork to secure a passport and visa for our adopted child.
We decide to go for it. We pass all the interviews and complete all the additional paperwork, and we are matched with a little girl who has just recently been brought to the orphanage. They email us a photo. Her soulful brown eyes have a familiar look of sadness, eyes that plead, “I need you to love me. I am scared. I am hurt. I am not sure how I got here.” I realize she needs a family as much as we need a child.
I’ve dreamed of my future daughter since I was sixteen. I imagined she would have my same shade of brown hair and my blue eyes. I hoped she would love school like me and be funny and smart and strong. We would attend the theater and art galleries together, and she would share all her secrets with me. We would share a bond that only mothers and daughters do.
I had no way of knowing that my daughter would grow inside another woman, would be born in Haiti, and that I would miss out on her first three years of life.
Grasping the bag next to me on the seat, I watch as our driver continues to weave through traffic, yelling in Kreyol. My stomach flutters. What if she doesn’t like me? What if she’s too scared to come to me? What if this wasn’t the right decision?
I don’t have long to ponder my questions, however, because suddenly we’re pulling up at a gate. The driver honks, and two armed guards with sawed-off shotguns let us in.
After settling in at the guesthouse we walk across the street to the home of the orphanage director, who greets us with “Bonjou” and hugs and kisses. Small talk commences, but all I can think is, how much longer? My husband and I stand on the orphanage director’s porch while the nanny walks with our daughter from the orphanage two or three blocks away. It is probably only a matter of minutes, but it feels like hours.
Sweat beads on my forehead; I am not acclimating well to the Haitian humidity. I look at the unfamiliar abundance of exotic, lush, green plants surrounding the porch. I notice a tree in the courtyard with big clusters of bright pink flowers and wonder if my daughter’s favorite color is pink. James reaches for my hand and smiles, sensing my anxiety. Just as I’m about to explode with anticipation, the director says, “There she is.” I turn my head as the gate opens, and I see her for the first time. She is tiny and even more beautiful than her picture. Is this real? Can this child really be mine? Her sundress is the exact shade of the pink flowers in the tree.
There on that porch I hold my daughter for the first time. I breathe in her soft baby powder scent. I stroke her thick, coarse hair, twirling the braids around my finger. I notice a scar on her leg as I try to memorize every inch of her. I press her little body against me and stare into her timid brown eyes. This is the daughter I dreamed of all those years despite the fact that she doesn’t look like the daughter I imagined. I look at James and recognize this warmth washing over us: it is the same feeling that was in the delivery room when my niece was born. The grace that accompanied the arrival of that perfect new life six years ago is in this moment as well.
I do not know yet how much I will love this child, or that I will discover in the years to come that my daughter loves school just like me, is quiet and reserved and hardheaded just like me. But I know she is my child. My own amazing Grace.