The author of this guest post is a fund- and friend-raiser for a nonprofit children’s shelter in Houston. She has been with her husband, a veterinarian, since they were freshmen in college.
From the author: I cried a lot writing this. Thank you for the catharsis. Recovering yourself and your marriage from depression you didn’t even know you had can predictably really slow down the timeline of becoming parents. Life gets in the way, and sometimes we just don’t have the strength to push back. Therefore, I want to extend grace to myself and others struggling with this situation. Having babies is more complicated than strange men wishing such a thing for a woman they hardly know.
I’m dropping off a donation of household items someone gave me at a party, and the worker who is helping me says, “You should have a baby.”
“What?” I laugh. “Why?”
“Because you’re so happy all the time. You seem like you’d be a great mom.”
“Don’t we have a lot of babies to take care of here?”
“I guess. But they’re not really little. You should have a baby.”
He has no idea what he’s just said. Even I didn’t parse it out until later.
Of course men telling me that I should have kids, especially in my professional setting, is nothing new. I work at a Christian shelter for children as a fundraiser, and it seems like, at some point, every man there has observed that I’d make a good mom. Maybe it’s that nonprofit culture can be too familiar. Maybe it’s the Christian mission since the men at my church want to tell me this, too. It’s even gotten as creepy as, “I have a feeling you’re going to be pregnant sometime soon.”
“Because you’re so happy all the time” is the kicker. Last December, just after turning 33, I was diagnosed with my first major depressive episode. Of course I’m happy now! I’m on drugs that work extremely well for me, and I practice daily self-care. (I use positive self-talk, eat meals, wear comfy clothing when I can, shower every day, and go running.) It’s taken a while to fully come to terms, but I believe I have wrestled with depression since I was 22.
For years, as depression manifested, I piled up the reasons (imagined and real) not to have kids: we don’t live close to family and that makes it hard, one of us would have to quit their job and we know who that is, my family would be indifferent to my baby and that would hurt too much, medical stuff freaks me out, so how could I go to all those checkups and then deliver in a hospital? The list went on, and on, and on.
It’s not like I never thought about having children. In fact, thinking about whether or not to have kids caused me so much anxiety when I was depressed. I felt like I should want them, that we would make great parents, but life itself was overwhelming. Marriage was hard. Work was hard. Between my unmanaged depression and my husband’s demanding, stressful work as a veterinarian, I couldn’t see it. I liked to tell people that my husband and I have weeks where our marriage is a little like a frat house: we shout, “See ya later, roomie!” as we head out the garage door, grab each other’s asses as we pass in the hall, and face a wasteland of dishes and laundry on Sunday afternoons.
And there’s my husband to consider. D. doesn’t want kids. When we first met, he said he never wanted to resent them taking up his time or attention. His family members are proud “introverts,” but I have discovered they are narcissists. I’m sure his mom and dad resented his presence often, which is why he wants to please everyone. Just like it took me until my 30’s to really get a handle on my depression, it’s taken him until his 30’s to feel confident in who he is and what he wants. Until our Godkids and friends’ kids got big enough to talk and play with, D. didn’t even like interacting with children.
I don’t want to tell you this next part on a blog about struggles with infertility. The number of people who know this information can be counted on both hands. But, I feel like it’s relevant because this is what unchecked mental illness has done to us.
My husband got a vasectomy with my blessing a few years ago. I desperately wanted to get off the pill, blaming it for my sexual pain and lack of libido. I got UTIs five or six times a year. I felt like I had the vagina of 50-year-old and was enraged when a colleague in her 50’s told me she had “never had a problem” and “never used lubrication.” I mourned our wonderful college sex life. Meanwhile, the fights we had over sex were insane. They were an unending feedback loop of shame and frustration and blame. Forget getting pregnant. Was I ever going to even want sex again? (I hadn’t even considered that my anxiety and depression probably had A LOT to do with it. When depressed, your sex life is one of the first areas in your life that suffers.)
We had many, many, many conversations about the vasectomy. I always cried. I couldn’t always say why I was crying. I thought about having a baby that looked like my sister. I thought about my mom holding her tiny granddaughter. I thought about how it was all too impossible to manage. Yet since his day at the clinic, I have never regretted the decision. I suppose I could if I really focused on it, but there are so many other regrets to manage and so many other ways to a make a family.
Our best friends adopted nearly two years ago. They got the call that their baby had been born on their tenth wedding anniversary. Twenty-four hours later they went to the NICU and got the release forms signed by both biological parents, which is rare and as legally tight as it gets. They are a perfect family: she is white, he is Chinese, their son is Hispanic.
Their toddler is precious and communicative. He tells you what he wants all the time and grows every day. He has a winning smile and feels big feelings. But the two halves of his brain never fused. He will never be a typical child, and we don’t know how far he will progress. Yet he’s amazing, and we all adore him.
Watching our dear friends become Mom and Dad to this boy has taught us everything. No child, no matter how they come to you, is guaranteed. You have to manage your expectations. And at the end of the day, no matter how many resources you do or do not have, love and advocacy is really all you have to give. And for all your hard work, you will be rewarded with joyful and terrible burdens.
I, myself, have felt “the call” to adopt for some time, and a few years ago, we went to Depelchin Children’s Center for an adoption 101 seminar. While D. may be on the fence about having kids, biology isn’t an important thing for either of us. These kids don’t have to look like us to be “ours.”
Every few months I go on the Texas Adoption Resource Exchange website. I tell the website I want kids in a certain age range with “mild” issues and hit search. Then, I look over the gallery of faces and imagine what those kids would be like. What it would be like to drive them to school or help them do homework at our dining room table? I try to imagine the mundane and routine because more than anything that’s what these kids need.
And I know there is a lot more to adopting a kid than looking at some photos. Working at a children’s home has educated me and changed me. Just this morning while we were drinking coffee in her office, my boss said, “We were supposed to have a group of five siblings come to visit this morning for placement. I don’t know that they are a good fit for the organization, but now they are not coming.”
“Oh, what happened?”
“The oldest, an 11-year-old girl, is having an emergency C-section this morning.”
“Yeah, her mother trafficked her for money. Can you believe that? She gave her daughter to two men for a couple of hours. And now this poor baby is at the hospital. How can she even comprehend what is happening to her? If I met that mother, I would kill her with my bare hands.”
I believe her. And I would help.
“How will she ever trust another human again?” I was crying now. “What has happened to that woman that she could do that to her kids?”
From my work, I know all too well kids in the foster care system have typically experienced real trauma and abuse while the kids at our organization have “just” experienced lots of neglect, hunger, and maybe some “light” abuse. CPS has not removed them from home, yet.
But the kids that completely broke my heart were the brother and sister who came to live at the children’s shelter at the beginning of one school year. Gorgeous children. Like dolls, with big green eyes and beautiful hair and skin. They never smiled. They had been living in hotel rooms and couch surfing with their mom for who knows how long. The kids had never watched educational television. The 7-year-old had never been to any kind of school. The 5-year-old had never heard the ABC song. Three months later, they made a game out of who could count to one hundred first. The 7-year-old refused to stop reading to eat. That summer, their mom took them back. She had brand new twins and needed help from the “older kids” to care for them.
I don’t know if I am strong enough to be a mom to a kid who has really been through it. As a foster mom at the seminar said about her role, “You gotta rock with the child.” No matter what they do, no matter how old, no matter how hard. I like to think I would commit and never, ever give up. I want to think I could be that woman.
D. and I are such softies that bonding isn’t going to be our adoption challenge. But we have a few more “adult” achievements to gain before being ready for a home study. We need a better car, and D. feels we need our own home. We just are not there yet. But we have time especially because we don’t want an infant. We could get started when I’m 36 or 37. We could keep putting it off.
Right now, though, I’m so much better than I thought was possible. I am present, alive, imperfect, and growing. We’re there for our friends and their perfect atypical son. We brought over champagne and put up baby gates with them the day he learned to crawl. We lost our shit with them when he walked across a room. D. has a fan club of little boys who can’t believe his Lego collection. And I spend time working with the teens at my job on their essays and speeches. Our lives are full of children. And our house is still sometimes a frat house.