By Rebekah Biercz
I have always understood the world most clearly through narratives. From an early age, stories were the way I made sense of things, the way I escaped when I needed to, the way I helped others understand what I was experiencing, and the way I learned to have empathy for other people’s challenges and unique perspectives. Stories have also helped me better understand what I mean when I say “family,” whether it’s in reference to the one I was born with, or the one I’m creating through my adoption journey.
When I was younger, the word “family” evoked a narrative of the most traditional persuasion. I was born to a mother who was married to my father. They had a son and a daughter before having me. Their children were healthy; their children looked like them. The world we lived in mirrored our image- the families on television and billboards, the stickers on the backs of minivans, the people walking down our city’s streets. There was some variety, in hair or skin color or dress, but essentially we were all the same.
Eventually, I grew up and began to think about creating my own family. There were small revisions to the story I wanted to make, of course. I had the list of “I’ll be less like ________,” and “I’ll be more like ________,” and “I’ll never _________” statements many of us do. But essentially, I thought, we would be the same as the family I grew up with.
Then, eight years ago I had some testing done. My husband and I discovered I was a carrier for a serious genetic abnormality. We had choices. We could get pregnant and take our chances. We could get pregnant and test for the condition when I was several months along. We could make embryos and test them and have them implanted. We could decide not to have children. We could adopt. As we began down the path of making our decision, I realized there were very few narratives out there to guide me. What did it look like to be married without children? What did it look like to care for a child who wasn’t healthy? What did it look like to have an adopted child, to adopt an older child, to adopt from another country, to adopt a child of another race? If you looked, there were people talking about these things, but they certainly weren’t as readily available as the models I’d seen in my childhood.
At first, this left me feeling lost, unsure of how to proceed. My husband and I tried out different stories, trying to find one that felt like it fit. We became the couple seeking help from an infertility clinic. We bought tickets to another country and became the childless couple, eternally honeymooning on a tropical beach. We became the couple who doted on our nieces, never planning on having a child of our own. We became the couple who made our friends our family. Eventually, we decided we wanted to adopt domestically.
What will our family look like? That’s a question we’re still asking. Like any other couple who is expecting, there are decisions to be made. We’ve researched daycares and nanny shares, read books about child development, discussed our opinions about parenting. Unlike the friends and family members whose pregnancy and birth stories we have witnessed, some of those decisions come with unique considerations. For example, will we have a baby shower before our baby comes home, or after? Can we give her a name we’ve chosen, or will her birth mother want to pick one of her own? What should our relationship with her birth mother look like going forward? Some of these differences are easy to celebrate — cocktails at my baby shower and not being physically impacted by my child’s delivery. Others are disappointing — for me, not being able to breastfeed. Most are simply preparing me for the inevitability of parenthood, I think.
While it’s comforting to think there’s a clear path, or even a clear destination, raising a child seems unpredictable and surprising even when it adheres to the familiar narratives. Like any parents, my husband and I are figuring things out as we go. We know our family will have a wife, husband and birth mother, and a child who was adopted once, but who is now ours. We’re not sure what she will look like. We can’t predict the strengths she might possess or the struggles she might encounter. The world around me will not mirror the image of my family as it once did, and that is okay because we are creating our own story.