March 19 - May 28 is Infertility Awareness Week in Canada. These nine days are chosen to mirror the nine months of a healthy term pregnancy.
In honour of this week, I'd like to call attention to those we typically honour, and those we typically do not.
This week we honour women who want to, but never experience pregnancy. We honour women who experience pregnancy loss, still birth, and the loss of infants. We honour women who eventually experience a healthy pregnancy and birth, but who struggle in their efforts to achieve this. We honour women who have one or more successful pregnancies, but who struggle to conceive for a second or subsequent time.
Sometimes, we remember their partners. Usually, it is fathers who - along with their partners - experience these losses. That grief is real for them, too.
Occasionally, we remember the born children who share in mourning the loss of a younger sibling. Or born children whose lives began after the tragic loss of older brothers or sisters. Their grief is real, too.
We remember grandparents without grandchildren. Aunts and uncles without nieces and nephews. Cousins without cousins.
What we do not remember during infertility awareness week is the grief and loss experienced by our birth parents.
When do we honour their losses? They are given just one day ... sometimes shared with other mothers on Mother's Day. Sometimes honoured briefly the day before on "Birth Mother's Day". Separate or together, their entire experience is given just a single day.
It may seem ironic (birth mothers are by definition fertile, right?) but I like to think of my children's birth mothers during Infertility Awareness Week. Why? Because it's a week where grief and loss is publicly permissible in a world where private grief is still preferred. It's a time where women and men can share (if they choose to) and give and receive support for their losses.
Yet our birth parents remain in the background. If anyone in this world understands the loss of a pregnancy, the loss of a child, I can only imagine it would be my children's first parents.
I can grieve for my imagined children that were never born. But when I try to imagine life in their shoes, I cannot begin to appreciate the depth of grief a birth mother has for her born children that she is not parenting.
So this week, I honour my children's birth parents. I stand in good company with many people who are unable to parent biologically. But I also would like to stand beside birth parents. I want to acknowledge and respect those men and women who make or have made adoption plans. You are not forgotten. Your loss is not forgotten. Your grief is real, too.
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
My son and I have the BEST conversations in the car. Part of that is necessity -- captive audience and all. Noah sits tall in his booster seat, and I can catch a glimpse of his messy curls in the rearview mirror. My eyes are on the road ahead, so he can talk to me and tell me things, but not see my facial expression. It's a safe place to test out hard questions. And it's a perfect place to answer when I'd rather he not see the expression on my face!
Last week's booster-seat confessional was an open discussion between my 7 year old son and I. He began matter-of-factly. "So, you're not my real mom...."
I knew the day would come when those words were spoken. But I imagined it would be during a moment of anger or disappointment, not on a quiet afternoon drive.
It stung, and that surprised me. But the sting was more for him than for me. He was unraveling another piece of his adoption story, or perhaps revisiting a truth that had been shared and re-shared with him over and over again.
"What do you mean, Noah?" I said, as calmly and non-hysterically as possible.
"You know. You didn't have me in your tummy. So you're not my real mom."
I couldn't correct him. He was right. She IS his real mother. What Noah needed in that moment was reassurance that she is important. That she matters. And that while I may not have been first, I would be forever.
"Yes, Noah, you grew inside Mommy ___. She is your first mother. Then you lived with Grammy. She was your foster mother. And then you came home to daddy and I. We are your dad and mom. And now you are here. Forever. And ever."
We stopped at a red light. I adjusted the mirror and looked back at him. He was deep in thought, chewing on the collar of his t-shirt. He didn't look up.
"You all had a job." he said.
"We are all very lucky to be mothers to you."
"Maybe I'll see her one day. When I'm old. Like 20."
"Maybe, son. I hope you will."
"I have lots of mothers." he continued. "And what about Mika?" he looked over at his sister and snatched the board book out of her hands. Wails ensued. Warning was issued. Book was tossed back into the toddler's outstretched arms.
"You know Michaela's story," I said.
"Becky is Mika's real mom and you are her mom now." he quipped. "But I had Grammy. So I have more moms than Mika!"
Leave it to a seven year old boy to find an opportunity for one-up-manship in any adoption conversation.
I let him have his victory. I'm just grateful he let me in on it.
Thursday, January 29, 2015
|Noah and Great-Grandma - 2008|
|Michaela and Great-Grandma (with Momma and Opa, too) - 2015|
Earlier this month, my daughter, my dad and I took a trip up to Prince George to visit my grandmother. She turned 95 recently, and we are incredibly blessed to have her with us.
I've been a neglectful grand-daughter, not having visited since Noah was an infant. He's 7 now, and his baby sister Michaela is 18 months old. Our visit was long overdue. It was time, and a long time coming. So we booked our tickets and headed up to see her.
Part of the delay was my stubborn denial that life must end eventually. When I last saw grandma she was 88 and still spry enough to push her baby great-grandson around the living room in a cardboard box. But 7 years is a long time for all of us, and especially so for an octogenarian.
More recent reports described her as... well.... old. Falling in the garden last summer. Unsure of details that she was expected to remember. Keeping to the house except for her weekly trips to church. Getting frail and inching closer to the end of her earthly journey.
I didn't want to see the impending signs of her life's inevitable sunset. She is the last of my grandparents. I wanted to keep her safe (if only in my mind's eye) and healthy, strong, and delightfully stubborn. Immortal.
But I promised myself that all my children would get the chance to meet their great-grandmother so long as she was still living when they came home. I was tempting fate by putting off this opportunity. So we got on the plane and headed up north to a world so close, yet so completely different from the life we live in south coast suburbia.
I am so glad we went.
Grandma is old. And frail. And tired. But she is also feisty. And determined. And beautiful in her sunset years. She baked us cookies every day we visited... but was too tired to clean up. And too proud to ask for help. And too wildly stubborn to accept it when offered. So she hid the cookie trays until she regained the strength to wash them herself.
I love this woman.
That, my friends, is 95 years worth of tenacity. 95 years worth of resourcefulness. And 95 years that could very well lead to 10 or 15 more. She is that feisty. And I am so proud.
So what does this have to do with adoption? Not much. Except that grandma has experienced WWII, a move to Canada, a new language, a serious cultural shift, 9 children, 31 grandchildren, 28 great-grandchildren, and a lifetime of hard work, frequent hardship, and unwavering stubborn determination.
She has no direct experience with adoption, except through her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Yet, she inherently knows what some of us wish our parents, grandparents and friends could somehow come to realize:
Her grandbabies are her grandbabies. And her great-grandbabies are her great-grandbabies. End of story. Michaela and Noah may have both been adopted, but 95 year old great-grandma didn't focus on that aspect of their story. Our visit was one of joyful acceptance, and a chance for one great-grandma to get to know her newest great-granddaughter.
She cared that Michaela threw a carrot in her lap and nearly knocked her curtains off the track. But she wasn't troubled by the whos, whats and hows of how Michaela came to be her great-granddaughter. She just accepted. Just loved, just wanted the chance to embrace this precious being in the same way she embraced and welcomed Noah 7 years before. The same way she accepted, loved, and embraced the 66 other direct descendants that have been born or adopted into her family.
Thank you Grandma. For being such an amazing woman, for all you have done so far in your beautiful lifetime - for your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. I hope to visit you again soon. And in the meantime, sorry about the drapes and the rogue carrots.
We love you, Grandma. We are so glad to have you and are honoured to be your grand and great-grandchildren.