Every Bitter Thing

Rereading an old post tonight and feeling long overdue for writing the happy ending to what began as a not so happy story.  A note to self, a letter of gratitude to God, a reminder that not everything goes sideways, a stone on the alter.



About a week ago, my family and I were in the middle of what has become a shameful Delgado tradition.  We were all (5) jammed into our little black truck parked by the ocean breakers lining the water on a small peninsula we call the Island, eating McDonald’s for lunch.  Sometimes, all the effort of cooking and putting on bibs and jamming kids into booster chairs and then wiping the mess down after IS NOT WORTH it people.  Thus this frequently repeated scenario.  Our three kids jammed happily in the back wolfing down french fries and shooting juice boxes all over themselves, H jammed in the middle looking like Alice in Wonderland after she grew to the size of a tree inside a tiny house (and usually trying to beg, borrow or steal the happy meal prize that the smaller ones got).  And in the middle of this not so domestic bliss, with a half eaten empanada in my hand, I asked my husband casually “didn’t we get the littles right around this time last year?”  I think he grunted.  I’m sure he didn’t really know.  H agreed emphatically that yes, yes we did and I realized a little ashamed that it was EXACTLY a year ago, and so it looks like this fancy McDonald’s lunch on the edge of the ocean was a celebration, after all.  And that about sums it up.  After so many years of waiting and wanting, of H asking when would she EVER have a sibling (The answer: just wait 10 years), she is a year into having two and we forgot to remember.  And like all good oldest siblings, she has regretted it many times and asked to send them back more than once.  Which feels about right.  Even my husband turned to me on the late cross country drive out to get them a year ago and asked “doesn’t two seem like too many more?”  And I laughed then (or snorted?) and I laugh now, because hello, A.) not the time to ask that question (and I repeat) and B.) are you KIDDING? A twofer?  I was raised on raiding the Fred Meyers cereal isle when it was on sale two for one, because that was the only time mom was ever agreeing to Kix, and getting up at the ass crack of dawn the day after Thanksgiving for their spectacular sock sale.  I got up before the sun for SOCKS people. Do you THINK  I would look down on such a spectacular deal as two KIDS after 10 year of wanting them? A boy AND a girl?!!! It’s the dream grab bag!  These babes are my happily ever after, the kit to my Kat, the peas to my pod; whatever else cheesy thing you can think of, they ARE.  They complete us, even if H doesn’t agree (it IS a tight squeeze back there.  Can’t blame you sweet pea).  And I probably should have shouted it from the rooftops, or at least mailed out the announcement I had an Etsy artist come up with the minute I knew they would be mine.  Of course I didn’t, because, well-you know.  I have three kids now.  And two of them are little munchkins who follow me around like ducklings all day.  I can’t poop alone, so I sure the heck am not getting much of anything else accomplished besides the laundry these days.  And part of me feels it is my cynical duty as a previously professional bitter sister to say that adoption is hard, adopting older(ish) children is hard, little kids are hard, family integration is hard, keep your expectations real and all that.  But ooh man people, happily ever after may mean McDonald’s on the side of the road in a truck, but it is achievable. My happily ever after looks like glorious chubby cheeks and Moana eyes and sausage link arms, surprisingly auburn hair and long long eyelashes and squishy soft skin and dimples, beautifully divided between two tiny people with inexhaustible hugs and lots and lots funny.  It is more than I dared to wish for.

Just tonight, my 14 year old gave the ducklings permission to visit her room, and volunteered to read them their bedtime stories.  These are the magical moments that I thought would never happen in our little family.  And they are usually sandwiched between a lot of yelling and crying and accusations of so and so giving mean dirt looks or pinching so and so, and that kind of business. But those are part of the magic moments also, because they are proof that siblings by adoption are still siblings after all.  They will laugh one day together about how it was dad’s idea of a special occasion to eat McDonald’s in the car on the side of the road.  And about how S always cried and Isa always jumped around like a bunny screaming with glee and H always made mean looks and gave secret pinches but also read bedtime stories and wrestled, and remember how Isa would sit on her head and H would laugh so hard she couldn’t move her off?  It is the stuff of being a family.

I feel like I am lifetimes behind saying the things that I have thought about this past year when the future maybe became the past already.  The first thing is the kismet of finding a book I thought I had lost 3 years prior in a secret compartment I never realized existed before in a bag I packed for the trip we took to go fetch our two newest family members.  The book is called “Every Bitter Thing is Sweet” and while I love that title, I do not agree with the sentiment.  Some bitter things are just bitter, and what you do with that can certainly make you a better person, but the process won’t be sweet.  However, on that particular day of discovery, the title was perfect, and the content of the book was uncannily relevant. The book is largely focused on the experience the author has with infertility.  And I was able to read it in the gaps of time between our visits with our kids and relate to a degree, but also recognized that the author had come to a conclusion that I had not.  She struggled with the grief of infertility and eventually she and her husband adopt, but through the process, she seems unable to believe that her children by adoption were the answer to her grief, and holds onto the belief that God will give her a biological baby.  Which I think somewhat unfortunately, actually occurs.  It is the meme which everyone who can conceive should be warned off sharing with those who can’t.  And I would like to say from personal experience that children by adoption can fill the void, scratch the itch, because they are not Pinocchio.  They are real boys and girls, not second best, not waiting to become real.  They are real sons and daughters if you can be a real mom or dad.

And that is one take away point I’d like for my imaginary biography. Another of course is that some bitter things are just bitter, but people don’t have to be.  How you meet your circumstances is a choice.  Bloom where you are planted.  Cultivate what you plant and watch it bloom.  My great grandpa was a horticulturist and we grew up spending occasional summer vacations running through the fruit orchards he planted in sunny Sacramento (California).  Many of those fruit trees had branches grafted onto them from other trees.  But the fruit off those trees were part of those trees, of course! Real apples and pears.  A glimpse into my future of real boys and girls, grafted right into our family with as much right to be there as any other branch, but giving a more interesting and in my mind, beautiful fruit.

In the decade between adopting my first child and the second two, I read many things saying that it is important not to make an only child feel like they aren’t enough, and I always appreciated the reminder. My first child was a total God given miracle, a one in a million result of chance encounters and good people creating a best outcome in a broken system.  Most kids going through foster care don’t get happy endings.  Most infertile women don’t get a baby before they learn about their condition.  It is probably fraudulent to a degree to try and empathize with women facing infertility with no babe already in arms, but I still want to come full circle with my story for women I know of that find themselves in the despair that infertility creates.  Because there is such a thing as secondary infertility and babies that die at birth and single individuals wanting children but never finding the right partner.  There are so many ways to feel the pain that childlessness brings, however it finds you. Infertility is a big loud NO when it feels like everyone around you gets an easy yes.

We live in an incredible and frightening era of medical pregnancies, which introduce a whole world of ethical considerations and expensive disappointments, and while they are an option, they are fraught with both.  Adoption is another way of building family, but adoption can also be expensive to the point of exclusion, and generates a frantic pick me contest where perfectly lovely people may sit on a waiting list for years because they don’t have enough beauty or charisma or money, or who knows what else.  My husband and I adopted in Chile, and we were incredibly blessed to have been accepted as the parents for our children the first time around, basically in competition against other couples throughout Chile that also wanted them.  Getting the call to say they were ours made me feel like I had one a Miss (South) America competition.  But it was not lost on me that our joy was bitterness for the other couples who had also gotten a call about the kids and presented their file, hoping to be picked, only to get another call that they were not.

I sat through adoption classes with a perfectly lovely couple, the husband of whom I ran into not long after coming home with the kids.  They had, to the last of my knowledge, been presented with the file of a little girl and had put themselves up as potential parents.  We met in the isle of a grocery store.  Isa was seated on the metal rack below a meat counter when I saw him.  He looked at her almost with melancholy and said with surprised “she’s so little.” I asked if they had gotten good news about their potential  little girl. He said no.  She was not the first child they had lost to a different couple.  I follow them on Facebook.  They seem more in love than a long time couple should, and take exotic trips and seem to have a full wonderful life.  But no one has picked them yet for a child.  And when you are on the inside of that kind of heartache, you know that anniversaries, celebrated as they may be, are reminders of what you don’t have try as you might.

My bitter thing is a decade hoping for a baby.  My sweet thing is turning 40 as the very grateful and proud mother of a 14 year old, 4 year old and a 2 year old.  I never did get a baby.  I got toddlers all around.  And it is sweet.  I got a husband who was perfectly happy with the first one, but let me bring home two (too many) more, even though he worried that I would regret not holding out for a baby.  He let me choose them. He trusted my choice.  He laughs at their antics and kisses them to sleep because he watched me cry in the shower too many times for too many years.  And I am healed, and I am not.  And it is bitter sweet.  I do not wish for a baby anymore.  But I do cry each and every time I watch or hear anything about childlessness or infertility.  And I always will.  Because I know and will always know exactly how it feels.  Here is the sweet caramel inside that bitter candy though.  My husband has proved to be the kind of man who can truly, madly, deeply love a child he didn’t contribute his shrimp to. Not every man can.  My husband allowed total strangers to inject themselves into our personal lives in an invasive TWO YEAR process that no one who gets drunk and pregnant in a single night can EVER understand.  He let me say yes to two kids just months after we finally got through that two year process.

My oldest daughter looks uncannily like me with a little South American brown thrown in.  I’ve had people argue with me when I have said (because it was relevant) she was adopted.  They don’t believe me.  That’s how meant to be she feels.  The sun is browning everyone up in our summer season, and she was making fun of me a few days ago for being so white.  I asked her “don’t you remember? We used to say daddy was the coffee and mommy was the milk, and you are the cafe con leche.” She didn’t, but she is.

When she was a toddler and had a delightful spell of toddler diarrhea while cutting teeth, my hands were bleeding from all the hand washing I had to do that exasperated my eczema.  At the same same time, I was working and in grad school and a single mom (with a very helpful room-mate, shout out to you Rachel;).  And I remember driving around that first miserable summer in my old volvo that would not hold freon, no matter how I charged it, so H would get a terrible heat rash on top of the diarrhea-and thinking-the more work this kid is, the more I seem to love her.  And that thought has stayed with me over more than a decade of behavioral problems and diagnosis and family drama.  We love our people not because they share some genetic code, but because of all the investment we make in them.  So if you cannot have a baby with plan B (you know, biological), I heartily suggest considering plan A (adoption).  It will not give you a tidy timeline, or a story to share about how you told your baby daddy that you were knocked up, and you will have to deal with ignorant comments from ignorant people that confuse children with wooden puppets, but I promise you that if they are terrible terrors that keep you awake and have explosive diarrhea, you will learn to love them if you are a real parent and a real child is what you long for.  And yes, you may have to swallow a bitter pill to get them.  You may have to subject yourself to infinite waiting and exasperating application processes and offensive and ridiculous questions that all the pregnant people you know never have to go through and spend money you don’t have or do have but would rather spend on a house.  But there might be a caramel center to that bitter pill.  I would not give up knowing what I know about my husband and his capacity for love and empathy to have a timeline or a genetic mini me. I would not trade any of my brown eyed babes for a baby.  They are all three my caramel centers.