My mother once told me the story of Mrs. Fine, the wife of one of my father’s fishing buddies, who one day showed up to ladies’ auxiliary with what was clearly a pillow strapped to her stomach. She wore it for many months, and then one day she was sans pillow, cradling a baby who was closer to a toddler than a newborn.
I’m sure the Fines wanted a child so badly that they would have done just about anything to make one themselves. They surely did a one-eighty on the rhythm method (if it even existed in the 1950’s), and their turkey baster absolutely wasn’t just for poultry anymore. Mrs. Fine had to have consulted the wisdom of mothers and grandmothers, aunts and great aunts. I wouldn’t be surprised if fertility poultices, concocted from things like rendered possum fat and fire ants, were applied to Mrs. Fine’s belly or nethers at regular intervals.
When all else failed, that’s when they would have settled for adoption.
Now, 70 (seventy!) years later, the Fine’s circuitous route seems an antiquated part of the past, on par with sausage curls or vibrating exercise belts. At least I want it to be. The disappointing fact is, however, that a percentage of today’s population still views adoption as an “if-all-else-fails” and even shameful.
When we decided to adopt, I would have strapped my fetus-pillow on the outside of my clothes, a pronouncement that my first son was on his way—though not literally stuffed in my uterus. I would have rented a sandwich-board and bullhorn to notify passersby that our perfect baby was arriving within months. The only thing holding me back was 1. an understated, less-showboaty husband; and 2. a wee worry that the adoption agency might get wind of my unbridled zeal and rescind their offer.
In the end, we let the world join in our elation in a more traditional (i.e. boring) way. We sent out 1,258 baby announcements; we made too many, and yet never enough, Facebook posts. I, in particular, might have stolen the spotlight at a few retirement parties and funerals.
What followed was often automatic and genuine congratulations. But many acquaintances offered cockamamie fertility advice, because they imagined we were having difficulty getting pregnant. (We weren’t.) They couldn’t hide the pity they felt for my broken lady parts and my husband’s mediocre sperm. They oozed a “better-luck-next-time” vibe, and we found their cluelessness baffling but entertaining.
The jaded crowd, usually unpopular old-timey family friends, weren’t passing out any cigars. They found our public joy distasteful and whispered that adopting was selfish and an embarrassment to our family. (I bet they longed for the days when distant relatives cloistered unwed mothers until they—and their conspicuously flat bellies—were eventually allowed to return home. This time, though, these same folks probably expected me to hide my not-expanding midsection until I was, finally, equipped with a definitely-sprung-from-my-loins offspring. It was only right.)
I didn’t comprehend their stance, but in retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised. These people would have predated Mr. and Mrs. Fine, and back then the pressure to keep up appearances must have been overwhelming. It doesn’t make their collective reaction excusable, but I understand its genesis. It’s just like mayonnaise—I realize it exists and that some people are even comfortable with it, but I don’t have to like it.
In the end, none of their outsider thoughts really matter. We and the like-minded get it: there are many ways to make a family and being able to love and raise a child is the gift. The only huge difference I can see is this: the parents who whipped up a baby with their body’s ovum and a handful of sperm get to witness and video the miracle of birth. They are awarded archival footage of a crowning mucus-y head, an exhausted mother and a flinchy father, terrified of missing the umbilical cord. Our prize, on the other hand, was our baby powder-dusted, swaddled package, placed gently in my arms at the airport.
Look at the contrast any way you want. But, if you ask me, we got the win.