Skipping along the streets of our New York City neighborhood, I clearly remember sharing with my mother my dreams of being pregnant. I was 8 years old and already discussing the prospects of having a big tummy and wondering how it would feel to have a baby growing deep inside of me.
It was no surprise that images of my pregnancy were so vivid so young. I grew up with stories of my family’s fertility. I heard about the twelve children each of my mother’s grandparents had given birth to and then, over and over, I heard about my mother having three children in three years and eight months. After all, she was marrying late at the age of 29, and she had to hurry to create her family.
We were raised in a small, one-bedroom apartment. In this cramped, intimate setting, we grew up understanding and, for the most part, appreciating what it meant to be a family.
When I was 19 years old, tragedy struck. My older sister died of an obscure cancer. Our tight-knit family was blown apart by sorrow. My brother and I picked up pieces of her life. In time, he became the doctor she had planned on becoming, and I became the wife she never had the opportunity to become.
My husband was the only single Jewish man in the small Northern Ontario city where I took my first professional job. We were told it was beshert, meant to be. We moved to Toronto — a compromise between his small city and my New York upbringing — and immediately started to work at making our own family.
Within the first four months of our marriage, I had two ectopic (tubal) pregnancies. My Fallopian tubes were destroyed. In vitro fertilization was still in its early days and unavailable to the general population, especially in Canada. At age 26, my chances to hold that baby in my tummy were vanquished before I even had the opportunity to begin. Our doctor told us in no uncertain terms that I’d never become pregnant, and then he hastily walked out of the consultation room, leaving us shocked, shattered, and sobbing.
The insensitivity of that doctor hurled me toward a major career change: I became one of Canada’s first advocates in the field of infertility support and education.
My husband and I created a family through adoption. We had a daughter and a son, each adopted domestically as newborns, two years apart. Our daughter’s hair was strawberry blond, her eyes were blue, her body slim and lithe — a sharp contrast to me, her tall, dark-haired, dark-eyed mother. Acceptance was not automatic. This was not the child I had imagined as my daughter. She became the daughter of my reality instead of my dreams.
I have often described parenting as the ability to experience the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows and everything in-between. And so it has been. Were the normal challenges of parenthood complicated by adoption? Probably. We definitely did not share looks or a similar style of communicating, but a great love and a strong bond existed between us. So we survived our children’s childhoods, their teen years, and their years of dating awful partners. And then my children and I survived the untimely death from leukemia of my husband — their father — when they were in their mid-20s.
In the year following his death, my daughter had an unplanned pregnancy. Instead of the anticipated announcement of her engagement, I heard about one skipped birth control pill and a resulting pregnancy.
Memories washed over me and triggered many intense feelings from the period of my life when I had tried to conceive: Feelings of being a failure, of not really being a woman, immediately rushed back. My daughter’s life would never be shaped, as mine had, by an inability to conceive. It was to be yet another thing that I would not be able to share with her. With great shame, I realized I was jealous of her and of all that she was going to be experiencing.
The jealously was difficult to admit and even more difficult to resolve. Ultimately, it was my daughter who helped me to confront my disappointment and envy. Her gentle, understated style eased me through the nine months. No need for fanfare; she knew that she was not the first person ever to be pregnant. However, she was the person who knew and understood best what it was like to be the daughter of an infertile mother. Tenderly, she opened the door and invited me to join her in her new world.
Today, I have two little blonde granddaughters. With joy, they wave to their mom and skip down the street alongside me and stop to pick a flower.email print