I Was Almost a Mother: When a Matched Adoption Falls Through

Almost, but not quite.

This is the nursery that we built. These are the freshly painted walls, the star light on the wall. These are the twin cribs, no bumpers, organic sheets, organic mattresses, one borrowed, one purchased. The adoption agency said that if the adoption fell through, it would hurt less that way. That way, the story goes, you can “just” return the borrowed one to your co-worker and keep the other one for “another baby.” Insert image of myself carrying the empty, borrowed-but-unused-crib into my office and depositing it with stunned co-worker (mother of three under three, got pregnant on her honeymoon). “No, no,” I’d say, “I’m fine.” After all, the story goes, “There’s a plan for me,” and “I’ll be a mother one day.”

That’s the thing, I’ve found, about the Motherhood Story or the Journey to Motherhood or whatever epic title you’d like to lend it. It’s an unspoken club that you never wanted to join, those of us for whom (not) becoming a mother has more to do with ovulation strips and timed intercourse and parenting seminars and home study interviews, finger prints and finger pricks, and with writing checks than with honeymoons. “Just get really drunk!” they say casually because, I know, I know, they’re not sure what else to say.

The story we all learned is far easier to spout off. I lived for more than two and a half decades (you’re all noticing my age now and wondering if that’s why we haven’t conceived. I don’t blame you, I’d have done it, too, before) believing, truly believing, what I learned in sex ed: all it takes it one sperm and BAM! You’ll get pregnant. The “watch out!” was both implicit and spoken. If that were the case, then my nursery would be full of friends oohhing and ahhing over the stars on the changing pad and the little outfits I sewed from well-loved shirts representing the places we’ve visited and the sports teams my husband loves. (Yes, we’ve “taken advantage” knowing that “once the babies come, you won’t be going anywhere!”) Instead, these are the twin Bumbos with trays, and these are the preemie hats and socks, and this is the empty nursery where no one visits and no one coos.

“Write your own story,” they say, and I do. I write letters in my head that start with things like “Dear Sperm Count” or “Dear Ovaries” and end with the words “Fuck you.” Or I find anyone else who has ever suffered a loss and tell them the things I want people to be telling me: You’ve suffered an enormous loss. You never held them, but those babies were yours. You must be so sad. You must be so angry. And those feelings make perfect sense. Can I take you out to dinner? How about watching a movie, something funny to distract you or something sad so you can cry? How many gluten-free cupcakes can I bring you after work? Do you need any help with the things in the nursery? Because I have my own stories I’d like to tell about what their lives will look like or how they would have laughed at the play mat I was making them. I’d like to show it off, still.

So no matter the story you’re telling yourself about her, if you have a friend or a neighbor or a coworker who has suffered the loss of a matched adoption, reach out. Yes, she knew it could happen, but no, she wasn’t prepared, and she’s not comforted by the stories you want to tell her, that “there’s a plan” for her. As much as you might believe it, and one day she might, too, for now it feels like the plan is for her to sit, sad, in a quiet nursery. You could help her leave there sooner, just by sitting there with her truth. She was almost a mother. Almost, but not quite.

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