Since I will be asking others to tell their stories about their mothering experiences, I thought it only fair that I started with my story. I grew up in a rural setting in the 1960’s and 70’s and loved school and books. When not doing outside farm chores, I usually was buried in a book. This did not bode well for my social skills or interactions with boys, as I was more interested in good grades and a career than being at a weekend party or dating. My husband and I found each other in college, married a year after I graduated and spent the next 4 years in medical and dental school with large loans and no income. I couldn’t have been happier. During my fourth year of an ob/gyn residency (we were now living 1000 miles away from each of our parents) our first son was born. I loved being a mother, despite a colicky child, but was more than happy to return to work after 4 weeks. Our second son was born 3 years later, after we had moved back to our home state and I was working in a private practice.
My image of motherhood was much different than what my day to day life looked like. Between work and kids, I was usually always tired and feeling like I had to be more involved with the boys on my off hours from work. No difference from most working moms! Prior to my husband, I had limited exposure to boys and their culture (remember the books I was reading while everyone else was socializing with boys) and was convinced that if I just discussed the reason behind rules, the boys would completely understand. This may work for some boys, and probably most girls, but never worked in my house. I soon learned to state the rule in less than 5 words, and at most twice, and then follow with physical action. Having those 2 boys was probably the most life changing event to my personality. I went from being a quiet, reserved person to much more of a “take-charge” individual.
I loved our boys but wanted one more try at a daughter. After all, my childhood imagination had included a husband, two daughters and one son. It took a bit of convincing on my husband’s part as he was perfectly happy with two children. Son number 3 arrived on a bitter cold January day. I was less disappointed than I thought I would be and just happy that he was healthy. This time around, child #3 had an extremely sunny personality and was always smiling at his brothers and parents. Thoughts of a girl still occasionally came to the surface, but usually disappeared as I was trying to keep controlled chaos in check. My husband and I got away for a much needed respite when the youngest was a year old and we were finally able to have a conversation about family and our future. When I hesitantly mentioned a possible 4th child, he jumped in with the comment that that wasn’t working very well with our odds (he is one of 4 boys). Then the big surprise – “What about adoption and ensuring a girl?”. I had been thinking this all along, but couldn’t think of a way to insert into the conversation. This was before the day of the easily available internet, so I spent the rest of our vacation anxious to get home so that we could start the process.
The second part of my story started part way thru the above timeline. One of my good friends during residency was a Labor and Delivery nurse who was also trying to start a family. She had had many years of infertility and surgeries and soon after I found out I was pregnant for the first time, she was told that she was experiencing premature menopause and would probably not be able to carry a pregnancy. Her grief about this was short lived however, as her older brother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and she provided much of his care. He knew of her dream for a family and offered her that opportunity by willing her a large sum of money so that she would be able to consider IVF or adoption. IVF was possible, but she needed the donation of eggs from a volunteer. Both her cousin and myself volunteered. I was the better fit as I lived much closer and it would be easier to coordinate cycles. Six months after my first son was born, I produced a plethora of eggs after giving myself daily injections. 7 1/2 months later, triplets were born ( a boy and 2 girls), premature but healthy. By this time we had moved out of state, and were back living near our parents. We had agreed to keep in touch, but were still unsure exactly how that would look in the future. Although these children were biologically related to me, I never felt as if they were a day to day part of me. I enjoyed looking at pictures and comparing them to my son (who looked very much like his father, so that didn’t get me far). I was able to hold all of them at their baptism, and was honored to be a godmother to the oldest girl. Living so far away, it was much easier to compartmentalize my feelings for my biological children and the triplets. Over the next 4-5 years, we managed a few visits, usually involving us visiting them as we still had friends in the area that we kept in touch with. The kids seemed to connect immediately each time we visited, and managed to keep us busy with the antics of 5 children spaced only 3 years apart. The best way to describe my feelings both then and now is probably how most of us feel towards a favorite niece or nephew – a special affection but not the intense feelings you have about your own children. The triplets are now 22 years old and each has started down their own path to adulthood. We still keep in touch via internet and occasional visits. They will always be a part of our extended family.
This part of parenting was definitely more challenging to get started. I researched many different international countries and agencies and found that since we had not experienced infertility and already had 3 children in the house, our options were limited. Russia and Korea were the only countries that we were qualified for. After attending an information session, we decided on Korea and started to slog thru the paperwork (fingerprints, background checks, and home study to name a few). Getting pregnant had been much more fun than this! I started to feel for those patients who experienced infertility and then had to have their life examined by someone else to determine if they were capable to parent. We were told the wait was approximately one year for a referral after our home study was complete, but 3 months later we received a call and were able to see our daughter’s face for the first time. I still laugh when I see that picture, as she was only 2 weeks old and held up like a rag doll for the photographer. It is hard to believe that you could connect as easily with a picture as you did with a squirming, bloody infant handed to your exhausted self. We met her in person 3 months later in Korea – our first trip abroad. In reflecting back on her birthdate, I realized that we had spent it in Colorado with the triplets.
As life goes, the next 2 years were and still are a blur. My only real memories center around pictures and weekend trips. This was before I had a digital camera, so I am thankful that many of the pictures are in focus and actually made it from film to an album. My love for our daughter was not instant, as it had been for the boys, but took only a few weeks of nurturing her to blossom into the same kind of love I felt for my biologic children. The boys accepted her as one of the “crowd”, having just had a younger brother 2 years earlier. Our family always attracted attention – not sure if it was 4 kids, one Asian child, or a combo of both – and I started to reflect on how it would feel to be the “different face” growing up in a Caucasian family with no diversity in the relatives. I talked with other internationally adopted adults and found that many of them were appreciative of non-Caucasian siblings who helped to not only deflect attention away from their unique place within the family, but who may also understand some of their feelings and experiences growing up. I believe my true love for my daughter came thru when I considered venturing down the paperwork pathway again so that she and we could share in the wonderful adoption experience. The boys were not so enthusiastic this time around, being older and knowing better how another child could complicate home life. Daughter #2 arrived 9 months later, from China and age 2 when she came home. This time around, the mother love showed up sooner (within hours) and was put to the test early, as she only allowed me to take care of her for the first few months home.
These five children are now ages 13-23. They have very distinct personalities, get along better with some of their sibs than others, and love being part of a large, unique family. I have found that my love for each of them is steady, but some of them do try my patience more than others. The most difficult part is switching between different forms of love on any given day – knowing when to stay firm in a decision and when to give a little; when to discipline and when to overlook a transgression; when to offer a reward and othertimes a consequence. I think that more of their differences lie in girl vs. boy personality, rather than adopted vs. biologic. They all know about the unique bond they share with their triplet cousins and look forward to the times we spend together. The rare times we are all together (the last time was 4 years ago) is always a time of reflection for me. How I think of each of them and the connections I have is more a matter of daily, mundane parenting than blood lines.