“You should just adopt!” is a phrase many in the infertility world are used to hearing. While said often as a well-meaning response, it can be extremely hurtful and upsetting when you realize that your path to family-building will look different than your sister’s, your co-worker’s, or your college best friend’s. When you decide to adopt a child, you don’t get to experience your baby’s first kick, you don’t always get the luxury of nine months to nest, you don’t always get to see your child’s birth. And, for some, the risks of an adoption not going through or not being able to carry your own child are just too much. So, why then did we choose to adopt?
Kevin and I received an unexplained infertility diagnosis in 2011, a little over a year into our marriage. We were young, just 25 years old. But because of our age, and the fact that we both came from two large Catholic families, it took us time to really accept the reality that we really were infertile. Our medical records would suggest otherwise, but for the two of us – and even for our family and friends – we couldn’t quite believe it. So, instead of turning to the rabbit hole of treatments, we decided to wait.
I know for those reading this, the fact that we chose to wait may seem unfathomable. Wait?! How is that possible? I get that. Once you know you want to start to “try” and have a family, that is what you want. Waiting just doesn’t fit into the picture well. And, waiting, wasn’t easy for us. But, in waiting, we learned a few things about what was right for us — as a couple.
First, we learned to talk as a couple about infertility. Sure, I get it. Talking doesn’t sound that remarkable, but instead of talking about which treatment we were preparing for or how we were going to pay for the medications, we started to talk about “big picture” infertility. How did we feel that we couldn’t make a baby? What did we want out of our relationship now knowing that we couldn’t get pregnant? Was having a biological child a non-negotiable for us? Did we even need to have a child?
That last question was a defining one. We thought, for sometime, that the answer was actually “no”. We learned in talking to each other that we were okay at the moment with still waiting. And so, we did just that for six years. In between that time, we set off on new ventures. We both went to graduate school, we added to our family with the addition of another dog, we traveled, we even bought a cabin. We were pretty happy, and we also knew that all of those experiences were possible because we weren’t saving for treatment and because we didn’t have a kid. Sounds pretty ideal, right?
Well, the truth was while we enjoying the excitement and adventure of what our life could be…, our life without kids, there seemed to be something at the core of our foundation that felt empty. We couldn’t really point to it, we didn’t really talk about it. It was just there, until the fall of 2017 approached. We had just moved back to our home state of Wisconsin after living in Michigan throughout our entire infertility journey. We were now back “home” with many of our distractions now wrapped up. We both were done with graduate school. We both had the careers we wanted. We had the vacation home. We could travel. But with many of the distractions gone, that empty feeling in our marriage began to creep back in. Six years into living without children, were we still okay with that?
We started to talk again, like we did when we were first diagnosed with infertility. We asked ourselves many of the same questions – though this time we were less consumed by the feeling of hopelessness that can happen when first diagnosed. How did we feel that we couldn’t make a baby? What did we want out of our relationship now knowing that we couldn’t get pregnant? Was having a biological child a non-negotiable for us? Did we even need to have a child?
That last question stopped us once again. “No.” Neither of us felt like we needed to have a child. What we did realize though was that we wanted to have the experience of being parents. We realized that this was one of the foundational pillars that was causing a feeling of emptiness. We wanted to be experience parenthood, or at least try.
We started to discuss our options. Kevin’s company at that time had decent coverage for fertility treatments. We could try and get pregnant. But we had never done treatment before. Would it work? We were both in our early 30s, there was still time to see if I could carry. But in talking through what treatment would like, how we would manage the expectations, treatment just felt too stressful. Our marriage had already gone through enough with accepting our infertility, and for us, it felt like opening up pandora’s box if we went down the treatment route. We also realized that neither of us felt a strong desire for me to carry the baby. We didn’t feel robbed of that experience. We didn’t need the nine months prior to having a child, we just wanted a child.
Knowing that our goal was to become parents – not for me to experience pregnancy, not for Kevin to cut the umbilical cord, not for us to do a gender reveal announcement – we came quite naturally to adoption. It just seemed to make sense for us and our goals. Of course, there were still risks involved.
For instance, we decided to work with a domestic adoption agency in Wisconsin which heavily encouraged open adoptions. New questions emerged that Kevin and I had to tackle. Were we open to older children? Did we want a newborn? How much drug or alcohol exposure were we open to? How long would it take for us to be matched with a family? What type of relationship would we want with the birth mother and father prior to the birth of the child? How much contact would the birth mother or birth father want after the placement? What if they changed their minds? All of these were big questions. But, because we took our time, waiting and talking to figure out what living with infertility looked like for us as a couple, we had the tools to tackle these questions. We were each other’s advocates in the adoption process. We asked hard questions to each other, asked hard questions to our agency, and to our social worker. But in asking questions, we grew more comfortable with adoption and joined the adoption agency in February of 2018.
And then we waited. Again. But we were used to waiting at this point in our infertility journey. It just seemed natural at this stage. Waiting became the new normal. And we felt like we had control over the situation because of the honest questions and answers we had with each other and with our social worker. Then, in March of 2019, we got the email. A birth mother and birth father wanted to meet us and discuss a potential match for their expected child.
We went to that meeting anxious. What should we expect? What if they don’t like us? What if we don’t like them? During that meeting, we all just talked. We learned a bit about the birth parents. We told them about ourselves, about our long journey with infertility and how we choose adoption because we just wanted to be parents. We didn’t need to be there for the birth. Kevin didn’t need to cut the umbilical cord. I didn’t need to be the first to hold the baby. We just wanted to take care of the child and experience parenthood as a couple.
A few days later, after that meeting, we were matched. And then the unthinkable happened. We were brought magically into our birth parent’s lives. We were invited to go to the regular check-ups. We were sent videos of the baby’s heart beating. We were invited to be part of her birth plan. We were there at the birth. Kevin cut the umbilical cord. I was the first to do skin-to-skin. After years of waiting, and accepting that we were okay with not experiencing the nesting and the birth, we were given those moments.
Adoption was an unpredictable journey. Often decisions were out of our control. But, without a doubt, it was well-worth the wait.
Maria Novotny and Kevin Jordan live in Milwaukee, WI with their two dogs and adopted daughter. Maria is an assistant professor of English and the co-director of The ART of Infertility, an arts organization that makes visible the lived experiences of recurrent reproductive loss.