I’m not in the mommy club.
When I’m out with my kids at the park, the local children’s museum, the skating rink, sitting outside gymnastics class, or cheering on my basketball player, I’m aware that I’m not in the club. Inevitably, as I’m surrounded by twenty, thirty, and forty-something women, the conversations turn toward subjects I cannot contribute to: pregnancy weight gain, stretch marks, birth plans, labor, breastfeeding, negotiating with the spouse on naming a child dad’s-first-name-plus-junior, circumcision, cord-cutting.
I’ve never seen a plus sign or double lines on a pregnancy test. I’ve never basked in the light of an ultrasound tech’s monitor while jelly-goo is rubbed onto my swollen mid-section. I’ve never looked at my children and seen my eyes look back at me. I’ve never wondered if my future child will have my reddish-tinted hair or my husband’s deep brown eyes.
My babies came from another mom’s body. My babies have her eyes, her skin, her hair, her build. They have some of her disposition, talents, and preferences. Her blood courses through their veins. She was their first. I am their second and always.
When I married my husband twelve years ago, having babies one day was certainly in our plans. But when I got deathly ill three years into our marriage, an ER doctor gave me life-altering news. I had type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease with no cure. I would be insulin-dependent for the rest of my life.
Curled up in the fetal position in a hospital bed, my tiny frame hooked up to wires and tubes, I stared at the swirly mauve wallpaper. A diabetes nurse educator entered the room to teach me how to count carbohydrate grams, calculate insulin units, and manage high and low blood sugars. Noting my disinterest, she asked me if Steve and I planned on having kids. I sat up. Finally someone was speaking my language: love and hope. A beacon of light in the midst of my worst days.
“Yes,” we replied, noting that we loved children and were anticipating growing our family in the next few years once I completed grad school. The nurse smiled, finally engaging me in conversation, and launched into a discussion on what a high-risk pregnancy might look like for a diabetic like myself.
I stopped listening. A single word popped into my mind and settled into my heart, as magical as a rainbow after a storm: adoption.
My hospital experience isn’t like the ones many moms have. Mine didn’t involve a plan, excited family members sipping coffee in the waiting room, or being fed ice chips by a doting partner. My hospital experience began as one where I teetered on the fence of life-and-death, where my cards said “get well soon” and not “congratulations,” where I left with brochures and bags of needles, not a bundle of joy in my arms.
But my hospital experience was the beginning. The beginning of my journey to motherhood. It was in the hospital where an idea, not a baby, was birthed.
Sitting amongst the women in social settings, almost all of whom have birthed multiple babies, I don’t necessary feel judged, but I sometimes feel sidelined. Society tells moms by adoption that adoption is second-best to being a “real” woman and conceiving a baby in the womb, watching the body change as the baby grows, birthing that baby, and then nurturing that baby at her breast. Adoption is often categorized as heroic (I am no hero), exotic (paperwork, interviews, and waiting with no due date is anything but), or strange (loving a child you didn’t conceive or birth).
I’m not sure where I fit in when I sit sandwiched between moms who have experienced the beginnings of motherhood differently than me. Sometimes I’m adoption’s spokesperson and educator, fielding interrogating questions like why my kids’ “real parents” placed them for adoption or how much adoption costs. Sometimes I’m uncertain, my responses met with awkward silence or inauthentic enthusiasm. But sometimes, I’m just another mom, sitting on the sidelines of the basketball court, pushing my toddler on the swing, or taking a hundred pictures of my preschooler finally standing on her own in skates.
I’m not in the mommy club because my kids didn’t start with me. But I am a real mom, one who kisses boo boos, signs permission slips, tucks kids into bed, holds hands, offers guidance, nurtures. I am the one who was there for my children as soon as their journey allowed, the one who is with them now, and the one who will be there for them for their tomorrows.