It was Mother’s Day in 2002 when in the service our pastor asked all mothers, grandmothers, and mothers-to-be to stand up and be recognized by the congregation, but I sat in the pew, shoulders dropped, looking at my feet, silently wishing them all to hell.
It was in that dark, vanishing place where I spent a solid year after being told my husband and I were infertile. For two high school sweethearts who’d already named the four children they planned to have after getting married, it was harsh truth in a lonely world.
Because, of course, everyone around us was getting pregnant with incredible ease.
Being told that we couldn’t conceive a child signaled the arrival of a black cloud that hung over me for the rest of the year and into the next. Mother’s Day was the first hurdle, and after that came Father’s Day and announcements from two friends that they were pregnant, one by choice, one by accident, which was a strange sort of pain I’d never experienced before.
At Christmas, another friend came out as pregnant, and by the summer of 2003, my sister was expecting her second child. By that point I’d steeled myself to endure baby showers and births, some with faux excitement and others with genuine support. The accidental pregnancy would take more time to process. After all, we were in the early stages of the adoption process. Surely, our time would come. I couldn’t sulk forever.
But even that was harder than I anticipated – the process of convincing social workers and adoption attorneys that we were suitable for parenthood. How does one even begin? At what point does the uncertainty become certain? Aren’t we good enough? Nice enough? Didn’t I offer you a beverage during the home study?
The tedium of adoption only spotlighted the ease in which friends and family members got pregnant. Here we were with paperwork and blood draws and gathering financial statements, and there they were having drunk sex, planned sex, or, for some, a quickie. There were many nights when the thought of filling out one more questionnaire, making one more phone call, waiting one more day for a paper-pusher to push paper, made me rage all over again and hate the cards we’d been dealt.
Then, sometime in the middle of 2003, we stopped our adoption process with agencies. We’d been consulting with two, but neither felt right. For reasons I couldn’t identify then and can’t identify now, it did not feel like the path we should take, even though we had already invested time in conversation and application, time that was now going to be wasted.
Instead, my husband and I regrouped and went basic. I created a paper profile that told our story and shared photos of us. Then I collected addresses from everyone I knew and spent more than a hundred dollars in stamps. By my birthday, August 2, I’d mailed more than 300 profiles to family members, friends, and friends of friends with instructions to contact me if they encountered a pregnant woman who was looking to place the baby for adoption.
“Spread the word,” I told them. “Tell everyone you know.”
Later that week, I sat across the dinner table from a friend who stopped time when she said, “I know someone who’s pregnant.”
Her words floated across the dinner table, swam into my ears, and sank into my chest. Finally, a glimmer of hope.
“She wants to place the baby for adoption?”
My friend nodded. She went on to tell me how she knew the woman – the sister of a friend – but she had little else to offer. I ran to my car to retrieve one of our profiles from the stack I kept in the glove compartment. Can you get this to her, so she can learn about us, I asked. She said yes.
Another week went by and we’d arrived at a baby shower that I’d helped organize for one of my best friends, Karin. She was pregnant, and frankly, she was the only pregnant woman I was able to be around and not be overcome with jealously. She was due in early September, but in previous months I’d gone with her to register gifts. I’d helped paint the nursery. I’d done everything I could as a friend and as someone who would never experience pregnancy. My body had failed me, but I could feel her son kick from the outside, and if that was the closest I was going to get, I’d take it.
The baby shower went on beautifully. Karin was spoiled, deservedly so. I ran around the event like any best friend would – getting her a drink, bringing her the next present to open – and I did it happily. We loaded up the loot and drove back to her house, where I intended to help her sort and organize.
I only made it as far as the driveway because my cell phone rang and I put down a load of gift bags to answer it. I didn’t recognize the number, but in the early days of cell phones, that didn’t matter much.
“Hello?” I answered.
“Jennie? This is Sarah*.”
Within seconds I knew I was talking to someone who could change our lives forever. She was eight months pregnant, and though she had no defined plan, she knew she was meant to place the baby for adoption. Already a single mother, keeping the baby – a boy! – was going to be more than she could manage. She’d read our profile and something about it resonated with her.
It was hard to continue standing, like the earth was spinning too fast to hang on, so I plopped down in the middle of Karin’s driveway, surrounded by her baby gifts, to have a proper conversation with a woman who might have a baby and give him to me.
We agreed to meet the next week. It all felt good, natural, meant to be, but how could we make this agreement – a decision of this magnitude – without ever meeting in person? It happened at a Cracker Barrel, where we met each other in the parking lot and burst into laughter upon realizing we were wearing the same outfit. Black shirts, white shorts. I hugged Sarah and her swollen belly pressed against mine. He’s in there, I thought. Right there. Though it wouldn’t be formally said until well into dinner, I knew when I hugged her that she was carrying my son.
With her she brought her six-year-old son and a stack of ultrasound images. My husband and I swapped stories with them, laughing, getting to know each other, feeling more comfortable than I thought possible. It was happening. We were going to be parents, and not only that, it was going to happen quickly.
From the phone call to the day of her induction was four weeks. We walked into August 2003 with little hope that parenthood would ever come our way, but we welcomed September 2003 as the month that would change everything. She checked into the hospital and began the labor process with her family, our family, and us by her side. It was a group effort to do whatever she needed to be comfortable and to ensure the baby’s safe arrival. In that hospital room, adoption wasn’t a bad word. It wasn’t an abandonment. It was love.
Just when I thought my joy had reached its pinnacle, I got the phone call that Karin had gone into labor. Only a few weeks prior I’d been planning to be at her side. Now, I was at Sarah’s. My son was coming, and so was Karin’s. We kept in touch every couple of hours to compare progress, but by 7:30 p.m., I needed to focus because Sarah was fully dilated. It was time to push. With her mother holding one leg and me holding the other, we encouraged her, calmed her, and waited.
At 8:03 p.m., our son was born. Jeremy had arrived, the son we never thought we’d have, the child we never thought would come.
Karin’s son, Ethan, arrived five hours later, just after 1 a.m.
The darkest time of my life ended with the brightest light – the glow of the lights above a hospital bed, the glimmer of life in Jeremy’s eyes, the glistening of tears on every face in the room. I’d spent more than a year in a dark place mourning the pregnancy I’d never have. Now I was holding my newborn son, my hot tears falling on his face, and the future never looked so bright.
*Name changed for privacy.
Jennie Treadway-Miller is a writer and photographer living in the rolling foothills of East Tennessee. When she’s not running or reading, she’s homeschooling her two sons and enjoying life with her husband. Together, they enjoy the outdoors, college football, and board games. Read more at jenniecreates.com.