I’m having a baby.
Not that you would know it to look at me. My stomach, while not exactly flat, lacks that telltale baby bulge. But I am having a baby. I just don’t know when.
My husband and I are adopting, and while the physical symptoms of pregnancy may be absent, the reality that we’re going to be parents is beginning to set in. We’re talking names, looking at cribs and admiring tiny little onesies in gender-neutral shades.
But as we examine car seats and strollers and changing tables, I find I feel like an imposter. I don’t have the burgeoning belly or giveaway glow that the other future mommies do. Our child isn’t growing inside me. We don’t even know when to expect her—or him. We just know a baby is coming.
Trying to conceive
Erik and I have endured years of well-meaning questions about whether we want kids. Well, yeah. A couple of years of trying the old-fashioned way led to fertility drugs, surgeries and interventions that eventually culminated in five rounds of in vitro. I got pregnant several times, only to lose them.
During that six years, we withdrew from the world. Only our closest friends knew what we were going through, but even they couldn’t understand the pain we were experiencing. Why I couldn’t go to a baby shower. Why I pointedly ignored pregnant women anywhere I saw them. Why I couldn’t bear to even look at a baby.
Over time, my hope to carry a biological child begin to dim. But my desire to be a mommy was growing stronger. For most people, pregnancy and parenthood are irretrievably linked. Others realize that giving up one needn’t negate the other. I’ll never carry a child or see my belly swell or feed my baby at my breast. But is that really what being a parent is about?
Deciding to adopt
I gave up my pregnancy fantasy and focused on becoming a mom. My husband and I met with social workers, filled out reams of paperwork and took a 10-week parenting class. We were fingerprinted, our backgrounds checked, our mental and physical health examined, our house inspected.
We spent hours writing a "dear birth parents" letter, trying to put into words our desire to be parents, choosing photos that reflect our responsible yet fun-loving selves, promising love, time and attention along with baby swim classes and homemade chocolate chip cookies. We started advertising. We received our license to adopt. And we waited.
Our baby could be born any day! We knew it could happen that fast. But I couldn’t share our excitement with the world. There was no bulging stomach, no due date to circle on the calendar. Sure, we’d tried to have a baby for years. But now we really were! And yet our baby felt like a secret.
At a conference out of town, I realized people wouldn’t know—unless we told them. So I started spreading the news. I announced to long-distance friends I saw only once a year, "I have big news. I’m going to be a mom!" Then I started telling business colleagues at the conference. Then I told anyone who would listen.
And people were thrilled. I was congratulated, hugged, blessed. I met moms, dads, aunts and grandpas who had adopted children. I met adopted adults who told me how happy they were for me. With each good wish, each kind word, my baby become more real. I didn’t realize how healing the joy I had experienced was until I got on the plane to return home.
The man sitting directly behind me was holding a newborn—six weeks, I overheard him say. When I got up, I saw him, and for the first time in years, I could look at a baby. I could admire the tiny body, the feathery eyelashes, the loosely clenched perfect fingers without feeling that awful mix of desire, jealousy and sorrow. I gazed at this tiny little person, utterly and completely asleep, and for the first time, I wasn’t reminded of what I had lost or would never have. Instead I saw hope and joy—and certainty.
And I thought, I’m getting one of those!
"He’s beautiful," I told the baby’s father, who looked up at me and smiled. And ours will be too.
Kelly James-Enger is a Chicago area freelancer, and mom to Ryan Reid Enger, whose adoption was finalized Dec. 28 of last year. He’s the best Christmas present she’s ever received.