Opening the Door On…the Secret Closets of Infertility
For the record, I never really talk to people about my hall closet. For all of my advocacy, and as much as I’m open about infertility and what it has meant in my life, I very rarely have told people about the things behind that door.
There’s a baby bathtub resting along the inner right wall, with washcloths and a temperature duckie that sit lonely inside of its hollow belly. Blankets with nothing to wrap themselves around lie still and unbothered on the lower bottom shelf. A picture book gift from a friend is kept in it’s original mailer rather than being added it to my bookshelf and sits in a closet organizer where there are also infant clothes with tags hanging from their sleeves and a first Easter dress that was worn once and still smells of baby lotion. Sitting silent on the top shelf, collecting dust and grime as the days go by, are toys that have never been opened.
Sitting at my dining room table, just underneath a chair is a bumbo chair from a friend that I never touch. It’s blended in so well at this point that I often forget it’s there. Kind of like the carseat that sat in the corner for months until we finally got the courage to toss it out. Or the bag of newborn caps that is in the trunk of the car.
Ever so often, I will come across a barrette or headband that slipped through the cracks and just so happened to turn up on an especially hard day. There are also times where I run into that old box of baby bottles that I can’t bring myself to throw away, or a plastic case that used to hold baby wipes that I’ve had to re-appropriate.
The thing about my closet, and my hall, and my bottom drawer, is that they aren’t unique. There are thousands of other closets and drawers and trunks with hidden pockets of delayed hope. So many other people have walked past one onesie too many in a store and decided, “No, I’m gonna buy this in good faith.” Others still have walked down the road towards adoption, and prepared their homes and closets only to be left with the remnants of a dream that fell through their fingertips.
For over 200 days, my husband and I were foster parents to a child who was originally supposed to be our adopted daughter. We cared for her and loved her and encased our life around her in the hopes that fate would see our dedication and reward us.
They were mine, but not mine.
It was like holding our breath every.single.day.
I remember one night at my husband’s job, where I watched a couple pull up in their Mercedes truck. They came to the desk and gave him their keys making small talk about how “The Bulls Game is over, so we’re gonna go pick up the baby”. And my husband and I laughed at the fact that they were giving him that much information.
30 minutes later, they come back down, he carrying the baby carrier, and she carrying the bag while chatting on the phone. And they took their baby, and got into their Mercedes, and drove away to their life. Which may not be perfect. But had so much that I wanted in just that scene.
I wanted so badly to leave work, and pick up my husband, and pick up MY child, and go on with MY life. That’s what I WANT.
Instead, I’d drive to my husband, and we’d worry, and we’d plan, and we’d ponder…then we’d go and pick up someone else’s baby, and drive to our apartment, and we’d eat junk, and we’d worry more.
And I’d get so TIRED of it. Of those moments that didn’t really belong to me.
Of that little girl. Of singing to her, and taking my time with her, and loving her.
For it to not be mine. For me to have to turn her over to someone who didn’t care enough about her to not give her drugs before her first breath.
Seemed like some bullshit to me. And I tried consistently to have grace under pressure.
But it’s still some fucking bullshit.
People so often ask those with infertility why they won’t “just adopt”. They assume that all we want is a baby. And that since there are “sooo many” babies just waiting around for someone to save them, it’s a win-win for us both. And they don’t mean any harm for the most part. They see what could be a means to an end, I guess.
And in that means to an end, they don’t see what happens when it doesn’t work. When you’re holding your breath in the hospital and trying not to get too excited. They don’t see you standing in the hallway of the birthmother’s room, hoping that her visitors aren’t telling her to change her mind. They have no idea how tumultuous it is in your heart when you’re trying to show love to a newborn, and show their birthparents that they haven’t made a bad decision, while not overstepping any invisible boundaries. Or how confusing it is to answer the hospital staff about just who it is you are.
When people tell you to adopt, they don’t know about the feelings of inadequacy when that child is crying, and you aren’t sure if it’s because they know you aren’t their “real” mom. Or how many times you’re left speechless when trying to figure out how to answer medical questions, or fill out paperwork.
They have no idea how fast and intense your very being can plummet when a birthparent tells you that they have decided to parent. Or the fury and sadness that intermingle when they don’t even say it to you directly, but avoid you or simply block you from the hospital room, when just hours, days, months ago they were calling you their new best friend and thanking you for being there. There is no way to understand until you’ve been there that not only is it very easy to love a child whom you did not give birth to, but that when the prospect of being that child’s parent is snatched away, it feels as though your own has died.
And like others who have loved and lost, we mourn. And like so many others who mourn, we hoard those small reminders. Clothes and blankets, and toys, and dreams. Sitting on our shelves, stuffed into our closets, and unforgotten in our hearts.
You are not alone.
My closet is full too.
Regina Townsend is the primary author and founder of TheBrokenBrownEgg. A librarian and writer, Regina’s mission is to make people aware and active about the unique concerns of reproductive health in the minority community.