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Savoring Holiday Cards And Adoption Journeys

Every January I celebrate the arrival of the New Year by opening my holiday cards. Most cascade in between Thanksgiving and Christmas and go directly into a big envelope where I store them until January 2. Then they are opened in one big blaze of celebration. Although the cards resemble each other in most ways — cute kids and cheerful greetings — the "back stories" vary widely. In opening them together, I get to celebrate all the ways in which people find their way to parenthood. Some seem to walk over hot coals, and others have smooth sailing. What delights me each January is that they all get there. Everyone who keeps going gets to baby…to a happy ending and new beginnings.

Now before I go further, I want to acknowledge that receiving a stream of photos of cute, smiling children is not always a happy experience. Working with people struggling with infertility, I know all too well the pain the holiday cards can bring.

This year’s collection included the card of a family that adopted all three of their children, a son and two daughters. I remember the dad’s hilarious account of going to meet his son’s birthparents the night before a scheduled caesarean. Dad-to-be sent out an all-points bulletin to his friends and family, alerting them that if he and his wife disappeared, they must have been bludgeoned by the birthparents. Fast forward ten years or so and this is the same man who flies across the country with his family a few times a year because he loves visiting his son’s birth family.

There is also the card of the couple who started out to do a domestic, same race infant adoption and then called one day and said, “We’ve figured it out — we’re going to Ethiopia to adopt orphaned brothers, ages 6 and 8”. The boys are now teenagers, the family has moved away, but the photo on the card sure suggests this family is thriving.

I’ve got a card from a single mom who ventured into my office at age 50 declaring, “I know I’m too old to adopt”. Math tells me that she must now be 60, but the photo of her hiking with her 9-year-old daughter has her looking younger than when we met. Further along in my pile of treats is the photo of another single mom and son, the one whose birthmother called her about a second unplanned pregnancy. This mom decided to stay a one child family, but her efforts to connect her birthmother with another single mom made a family. I’m sure that new mom’s card is in this pile as well.

Sprinkled in the array of cards are always a few “I’m giving up” stories. These are the folks who grew dismayed while they were waiting to adopt and went through waves of thinking that they would be best off giving up on adoption and moving on in their lives in some other way. I remember, in particular, a couple who nearly gave up just short of their second adoption. They had adopted quickly when both were 41 and embarked on a second adoption two years later. When another child did not swiftly come their way, mom began declaring, “I’m too old. We should just quit while we are ahead”. She set a deadline of her 45th birthday and as it drew close, she became increasingly emphatic about keeping to the deadline. I implored her to ease up a bit, reminding her that they were already older parents so what difference did it really make if she was 6 months or a year older than she’d hoped when their second child arrived. About 2 months past the Big 45, the couple got a call that a born baby was waiting for them in Florida. He is now the adorable 4-year-old on their 2016 card.

As I write this, I know that for some readers, holiday mail is painful to open. Those of you who have struggled with infertility and are not yet parents may well be opening cards from friends who you had not even met when you began trying. Now they send a smiling, glossy photo of a toddler and a school age child. Where did the time go? While they were doing diapers and making birthday party goody bags, you were enduring difficult hours in an IVF waiting room.

I am writing now to assure you that next holiday season — or surely, the one that follows, will be different for you. Adoption works quickly for some and more slowly for others, but you WILL get there. The time will come when you will joyfully and proudly send your card. It will have a smiling and adorable young face on it and a back story you will remember with the satisfaction and gratitude that comes from staying the course in your adoption journey. I wish you a healthy, happy, and very busy 2018.