I’m not sure what surprises me more—insensitivity towards the infertile or my continued surprise at this New York Times “Motherlode” column (A Non-Mother’s Day ) expressing how Mother’s Day feels to someone who desperately wants to be a mother, but is denied this opportunity because of infertility. Pamela is the author of a terrific book about her journey through infertility and her final acceptance of a childfree life, Silent Sorority: A (Barren) Woman Gets Busy, Angry, Lost and Found. Her NYT essay was as beautifully written as her book.
Juxtaposing a story of sadness and acceptance into the usual mix of joyful motherhood essays was an inspired choice by Lisa Belkin, the chief columnist for “Motherlode”, adding a nice balance to this Hallmark inspired day.
So far, so good. But then there were the comments. Most were either empathetic, having suffered from infertility, or sympathetic, having the ability to feel her pain without actually having experienced it. But more than a few were callously clueless.
- DH: This is ridiculous. What does she expect, for the holiday to be taken off the calendar and for nobody to celebrate their joy openly, just because of a handful of women like her? …Another thing that struck me as selfish is how the woman now considers motherhood a theoretical concept that she will never experience. I’ll probably be joining a lot of other voices in asking, what about adoption? Birth isn’t the only way to become a mother, and if that’s what this woman wants, then I don’t see why she can’t adopt a baby and stop overdramatizing.
- SacMom: Why can’t you adopt? What about a surrogate? Or go through foster care program as as foster parent or as a big sister or CASA worker for foster kids or as the best auntie ever to your friend’s little ones. There are other ways to be a “mother” other than biological. I’m sure it’s painful to be bombarded by everything but I think there are solutions out there that are more than just having the baby yourself.
- Sue: Not having biological children of one’s own is not a tragedy.
- Uproar: Wow, 10 years of trying and testing and surgeries and fertility drugs, but not one mention of considering the most wonderful option of all – adoption. You want to be a mom. A baby needs a mom. Duh. Always amazes me how much unnatural and risky procedures women are willing to put their bodies through yet adoption never crosses their minds.
There is not enough time or words for me to address all of these comments, but as an adoptive mom and an adoption educator and proponent, I feel uniquely capable of addressing the “why not just adopt” comments. Adoption was 100%, no really it was 1000%, the right choice for me, as it is for many many people. It is not, however, the right choice for everyone.
Parenting mean different things to different people. Most people, and I suspect this would include most of the negative commenters on the New York Times piece, never have to dissect what they want out of motherhood. They grow up vaguely assuming that someday they will become a mom, and then they give birth. End of story. But if you are infertile, you have to go the next step to decide what motherhood means to you.
Some people decide that their ultimate goal is parenting. They want to go through the process of raising a child: the wiping of droolly chins; the flat footed ballet recitals; the sitting on the bench of endless ball games; the Christmas morning chaos of paper, cookies, and wonder; the sleepovers; the teaching to drive; the senior prom; the coming home from college; the grandkids. These folks have options if they find themselves infertile– donor eggs, surrogate, or adoption. I don’t want to minimize their pain at losing a biological connection, or their need to grieve this loss, or the financial costs, but they can and most often do, move forward to become happy and content parents. For them these Plan Bs are an alternative path to their real goal of parenting.
For others, their dreams of parenthood are not so simple. Yes, they want to raise a child, but not just any child. They want and need the biological connection to this child. They crave the genealogical continuity. They are too wounded by infertility to risk adoption. Most people I talk to who feel this way, wish they didn’t. They wish they could just accept the Plan B of adoption or donor gametes.
Rather than judge them as a failure or as selfish for not being able to accept the more conventional second options, I respect them for knowing what is right for them and not trying to blindly make adoption or donor egg fit. If it is not “right” for them, it is also not right for any child they might have had through donor egg or adoption. Knowing yourself and having the courage to act on this knowledge is powerful. They make this decision knowing full well that others will not understand and will judge them if they express sadness about their choice.
I sense undertones of blame in some of the comments. An attitude of “You made this choice, so now live with it.” Life, however, is full of choices we’d rather not make. A friend of mine “chose” to have a mastectomy when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Others in her position might well have chosen a lumpectomy, but given her family history and her propensity to obsess, she decided that a mastectomy was best for her. Just because she had a choice, doesn’t mean she’s not entitled to feel the grief of this choice. The same can be said for those who choose to live childfree. Most days they own their decision and make the best of it, but sometimes they think about what might have been. Mother’s Day is often one of those times.
I also sense a bit of sanctimonious holier-than-thou stuff going on in some of the comments. “If you were a better person, you would ______(adopt or foster a child from foster care, become an uber aunt, etc.). I wonder how many of those who are making these suggestions have themselves adopted from foster care or forsaken parenting in favor of being the world’s best aunt. No one way of dealing with infertility is morally superior to all others.
How anyone can feel anything but compassion for those suffering with the disease of infertility is truly beyond me. At the very least, they can try to be open to their pain. Saint Francis got it right when he prayed:
O divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love…
To hear Pamela discuss why adoption was not the right choice for her, listen to the Oct. 7, 2009 Creating a Family show.
Image Credit: MEL810