I do not know what he or she will look like, can only imagine the color of their eyes, so wide and trusting; of their hair, a downy softness under the brush of gentle fingers; and their skin, scented with a milky warmth, a sweet and newborn freshness.
I do not know if their features will grow into a round fullness or chiseled strength, if they will be more inclined to pick up a paintbrush than a baseball, to find the configuration of numbers more intriguing than the cadence of words, to greet life with a bold merriment or a measured practicality.
But I do know he or she will be loved. Immeasurably. With a fierceness and wonder that will be breathtaking to behold. And when I meet him or her for the first time, I know my heart will be cracked open just a little wider, witnessing not only the becoming of a mother and father but the triumph of hope and the piecing together of a dream from so many scattered fragments.
My dear friend Shannon has decided to adopt. After struggling with infertility for more than two years, she and her husband, Jerry, are, at last, looking forward to starting their forever family. Only it is not the family she always imagined, not the way she once planned to grow her household of two. Adoption is not the path she saw herself walking when they married, after seven years together, in 2009. But it does feel right.
And after watching her endure what has undoubtedly been her darkest and most painful journey these last few years, I am overjoyed to see her emerging, with such a sense of peace, into this expectant space. Last year, I wrote about how Shannon had inspired me with her courage in the face of her devastation but it is only now, as she awaits her precious child, that I am beginning to see how much she’s really taught me.
For as long as we’ve been friends, I’ve known Shannon would make an amazing mother, and indeed it is a role she’s yearned for with every fiber of her being. Learning she could not naturally conceive was the blow that felled not only the dreams for the future she’d envisioned with Jerry — himself a devoted family man who derives some of his greatest joy from interacting with his many nieces and nephews — but a sense of self that had once seemed so solid and secure. Motherhood spoke to the very essence of who she was as a woman and to have her instinctive longing denied by a traitorous biology left her standing, lost and stunned, at the door to a club whose membership she sorely wished to revoke.
Yet Shannon is not a bitter person. Nor is she the type to wallow in defeat or act out of desperation. Sure, she has succumbed to all of those feelings at one point or another in the last few years. As friends and family have announced their own pregnancies, with the cards that come in the mail emblazoned with multiplying cherubic faces, as unintentionally careless comments and gestures have rubbed her grief raw, the tears, the rage, the shame, the self-pity have all taken up space in her heart.
And like many women confronting a diagnosis of infertility, she has fought to restore balance to her body, exploring myriad treatments and resources and options that would aid the rooting of life in her womb — only to be repeatedly confronted with what it would be easy to perceive as abject failure.
But somehow she has always steered herself back to a greater resilience and determination, becoming a champion not just for herself but for the countless others wrestling with the same ache by starting a blog, Infertility Awakening, to encourage healing and hope.
At every turn, I have been there to support her, to keep vigilant watch over her dreams, especially when they would appear nothing but gossamer threads slipping through her fingers. Cheering her on every step of the way hasn’t always been easy, however, for I’ve been acutely aware, no matter how I’ve yearned to take away her pain or for the power to swing open a different door, that this is a journey uniquely her own.
Having entered into so many of each other’s experiences over the years with empathy and the familiarity of recognizing a shared truth, I have often felt helpless holding fast to every bright possibility for her future, any comfort I could give appearing paltry in the face of such unfathomable heartache.
Still, I know how much my love and support have meant to her. And I have been honored and blessed in ways I never expected by being on the outside looking in. In the last three years, Shannon has been among my greatest role models for living with grace and fortitude, with purpose and authenticity — and, yes, even joy.
Time and again, I’ve watched her collapse amid her crumbling dreams only to rise with greater insight into the woman she is and the life she is meant to lead. I have watched her push her health, her sanity and even her marriage to the breaking point in the drive to conceive, and then in the quaking aftermath, learn to lean instead into the beckoning of something larger, though still perhaps beyond her comprehension.
I’ve listened to her passionately share all she’s learned about infertility and women’s health, read every single one of her blogs and marveled at her vulnerability, her wisdom, and her determination to be a voice for a struggle many women still feel too ashamed to discuss.
And when the bitter sting of infertility keeps surfacing, as if to mock all the progress she’s made, I’ve seen her allow her uglier emotions free and gentle rein and then turn, unfailingly, toward a sense of gratitude for the existing bounty of her life, the gifts within her reach.
It’s as if I’ve been observing her apply brushstroke after brushstroke to a magnificent work of art, recreating and reshaping not only her dreams but the woman she needed to become in order to mother the little soul now making its way toward her and Jerry.
They did not come easily to the decision to adopt — though Shannon had always considered it — but once they made up their minds, life began shifting into an easier, more harmonious rhythm. It seems they had to build the sturdiest of foundations in their marriage, to discover what they were truly made of, together and individually, and have their hearts broken to better understand their capacity for love before they could spin out of the cocoon where they’d struggled for years.
Now they’ve let go of what they believed was lost and in their ending found a beginning, a more beautiful dream pushing its way through the emptiness.
They’ve not only started their own adoption website, Shannon has begun another blog writing letters to the child who doesn’t yet know her but already is deeply loved — and already being celebrated by me, and so many others, as the greatest of wishes come true.
– Life in LaLa Land, published in The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times