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When you are a 37-year-old, straight, married woman longing for a family, you become very accustomed to hearing clichés about baby-making.
I no longer flinch when someone tells me, “It will happen when you least expect it,” or, “Just relax, go on a holiday and get drunk.” My favourite? “It will happen when you are complete as a person.”
I am a veterinarian with three university degrees, a job that I like, a family I still talk to and friends who tolerate me. I am complete.
One thing people never tell me, though, is “if all else fails, you can always adopt.” My husband and I started our family quest by trying to adopt internationally, and four years later we remained childless.
I always knew I would not be one of those women who just had sex and got pregnant. It seemed too easy. I always joked about being a “half man,” and years ago I remember telling my doctor that at times I thought I could feel the testosterone running through my veins.
I had a few characteristics that made me suspect that I wasn’t “all there” hormonally: I never cried when I saw a newborn baby; I never felt the need to experience pregnancy; and truthfully, I always figured my children would come from the womb of another woman.
Fortunately, my husband shared my commitment to adoption, and six weeks after we got married we began the adoption process. One of our first steps was attending an education session with other families hoping to adopt.
The first day, our class was told we had to “mourn the loss of our fertility,” and I remember being very perplexed and hoping I was not expected to cry. I had nothing to mourn. It was like asking me to mourn the loss of my red hair and brown eyes: I always had brown hair and green eyes. You cannot mourn something you never thought was a possibility.
We selected an international adoption with an expected wait time of 18 to 24 months after our file was registered in our chosen country. Adoption is brutal. You are truly judged as a person. After eight visits with a social worker, multiple medical tests, numerous criminal-record checks and examinations of our finances we were approved.
And then we waited. After 30 months, we were told we needed to start over and consider another country. Instead, we decided to look into fertility treatments.
I figured this would be another waste of my time and money, but at least I could do something tangible – jabbing myself with needles! I am someone who prefers physical pain to emotional pain, so I took some weird comfort from turning myself into a human pincushion. I am a good student, so I took all the advice my fertility doctor gave me. I lost weight, saw an acupuncturist for fertility enhancement and gave up all my vices.
Two weeks after my first treatment, the doctor’s office called me with the results of my pregnancy test. The nurse asked what my plans for the weekend were, and I told her I planned on drinking: “I’ve gone two weeks without a drop of booze and I am getting antsy!” She told me to change my plans, as I was pregnant.
I was stunned. The nurse asked me how I felt about the news. As a vet, I’ve learned never to ask a pet owner their thoughts after I’ve given them shocking news, as they will tell me the first thing that comes to mind, regardless of how irrational. When she asked how I felt, I replied quite honestly that I was very excited to be pregnant, but slightly disappointed as I had been planning to drink that weekend. I suspect my child will be checked for fetal alcohol syndrome based on that statement.
Naturally, after becoming pregnant, I received a phone call from our adoption agency stating that a child was available and waiting for us. The social worker from the agency was so excited for us, and quickly rattled off the details of the child – a 20-month-old girl.
It broke my heart to tell her that I was pregnant, as I knew the offer would be rescinded.
The offer was withdrawn, and we were advised that our adoption file would be closed.
That day, it seemed to me that my city had an overpopulation of little girls. They were everywhere: in the coffee shop, crossing the street, shopping for groceries.
For the first time in many years, I cried over the loss of the family I had envisioned. I may not have mourned the loss of my fertility, but I was mourning the loss of my adoption. Four years after attending our adoption education seminar, I finally understood why the couples beside me were crying.
Eventually, I became a typical pregnant woman. I was amazed the first time I felt the baby kick, and relieved each time I heard my baby’s heart beat. I attended prenatal classes, practised pregnancy yoga and read articles about breastfeeding. On April 5, we welcomed our son.
We went back to our adoption agency and pleaded for our file to be reopened. We have not given up on our dream.
The family we create may not be traditional, but our children will always know that they were wanted.
Jane Vermeulen lives in Victoria.