Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Infertility Awareness Week - Honouring Birth Parents

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.  

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Real Language

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.