The journey to motherhood doesn’t always look like you think.
I love sharing my adoption story, so every woman struggling with infertility has the courage to take that leap of faith and trust there is a baby somewhere in the wild universe that is meant to be theirs. But I also know that adoption is such a big topic. Where do you start? How long does it take, and how much does it cost? Will I love a baby that I didn't give birth too? Here are 5 things I learned from my adoption experience.
1. Do not pay attention to people who question your decision to adopt. I spent the first season of my life traveling the world, held a high-powered job on Wall Street and lived a glamorous city life straight out of Sex and the City. As a 40-year-old single woman, I made a choice to become a mother on my own, through IVF treatments. This decision was met with mixed responses that ranged from gasps of concern to resounding applause and rowdy “You go girl!” After gut-wrenchingly unsuccessful rounds of IVF, I was so angry and heartbroken and gave up. Then, after taking a few months to heal my body and my heart, I began to look into adoption -- a decision that was met with unhelpful lists of statistics and horror stories of people falling in love with babies only to have the birth family refuse to give up their rights. Still I soldiered on, knowing in my heart that someone was out there waiting for me. To this day, people still often question my decision. I say, “screw them!” So what if she isn’t my blood, if I didn’t birth her? I take care of her like any mom. I watch her breathe when she sleeps, cry when she hurts, and want to give her the best life in the world like any mama. Period. End of story.
2. You can, and will, love a baby that you didn't give birth to. I will never forget when I got the call. The birth mom was single, so she didn't care that I was single, and she chose me! But she was due in just four days! I flew out for her birth in a blur, praying for everything to go smoothly -- for this woman to please not change her mind or the baby’s father to not randomly show up. After all I had been through, I needed to believe. And then, a few pushes, and there she was. I lost my breathe for a second. I witnessed the gift of seeing my daughter’s birth. There was my miracle baby. After all my pain and struggling, I clung to her tiny body and knew I would never let go. It turned out that not only was I capable of loving a baby I didn’t give birth to, I was capable of loving more than I ever knew I could love.
3. Forming a bond with your child is not for the weak of heart. When you apply to adopt, there are extensive background checks, tests, books to read, fingerprinting and more. The agency also gave me a book about bonding with my baby-to-be, but I thought, “I know how to love and care for kids, I got this.” And while the bonding happened instantly for me after my daughter’s birth, I didn’t expect the rush of self-preservation that kicked in. I was terrified of losing my baby girl whom I had just met and fallen in love with. My lawyer advised me to continue the interview process with other potential birth mothers "in case anything goes wrong" before my baby’s birth mom signed the papers. Finally, the birth mom signed her papers and it was time to name the baby. It terrified me. If she had a name -- a name that I gave her -- than she was real. I picked my Grandma’s name: Julia. And my Julia came to life. On the flight home, with Julia on my chest, I breathed in her scent, hugged her and whispered to her, "baby girl, I love you. we're going HOME. We're safe now. We’re a family."
4. Family is family, no matter how it’s built. On our flight back home, I started to wonder if everyone else would embrace my baby girl like I had. It was, after all, my journey, my decision to make a somewhat unconventional family. Was I asking too much of my family to expect them to love a child that wasn’t “mine”? Thankfully, we were welcomed with open arms. My dad picked us up when we arrived at the airport and had stocked the car with diapers, wipes, bottles, baby blender, onesies, socks, soap, and other things I didn't even know babies needed. That evening, my brother and his kids, who were 9 and 5 at the time, came over. They knew I was trying for a family, but they never saw me pregnant. Would they understand Julia was my baby, their cousin? My fears were instantly put to rest when the youngest said to me, "Jackie, how do you know if you love someone if you just met them?" And it was then I knew, my family was complete.
5. You don’t just save them. You save each other. As I write this, Julia and I are vacationing in Spain, and she’s sleeping soundly after a wild day at the beach. I get emotional just thinking about the look of pure joy on her face as she played in the sand with the sun shining on her strawberry blonde hair. I know we are blessed to share these experiences together. Often when I tell people of our many travels, people answer with a funny, "Can you adopt me?" or a more poignant, "You saved her!" I know that my daughter will get to see so many parts of the world and experience things, food, places, smells and cultures that her very young birth mom and half siblings likely won't ever see. Inside I sigh, and always answer yes, because I know I have afforded her an amazing life. She will be my partner in my travels and in life, as I continue to explore the world. But Julia also saved me. She completed me and gave purpose to my existence. She brought life to my soul. She is my heart. That's what adoption gave this former wild child, nomadic, hippie want-to-be, world traveler. Adoption gave me the greatest, most precious life-affirming gift: it made my heart fuller than I ever dreamed it could be.