December means holidays, and holiday’s mean holiday parties. Parties mean fun and laughter with close friends, catching up with more distant friends, and making small talk with casual acquaintances. I distinctly remember my feelings one year ago, as we were swimming in the seas of infertility treatments. Being a social person I looked forward to the fun and merriment that parties bring, but I also dreaded the inevitable question. At some point, chatting with someone I don’t know very well, they would ask “So, what have you been up to?” It’s such a simple question that can usually spur plenty of things to talk about. But at that point the largest, all-consuming thing in my life was not something you shared with a casual acquaintance over cocktails and finger food. Even if I had felt comfortable sharing my reproductive challenges with this distant soul, chances are they would not have been comfortable on the receiving end of the conversation.
But this year could be different. This year the topic on the forefront of my mind is socially acceptable to discuss. We’ve slowly been sharing our journey with a wider circle of friends. Going into the holiday party season my husband and I agreed that, should the subject come up, we are now comfortable sharing our news with whomever happens to be on the receiving end of the conversation. I would not stammer when asked the inevitable question. Instead I would simply respond with “Life’s exciting. My husband and I are waiting to adopt a baby!”
But old habits die hard, and when you’re used to hiding in the shadows it can be hard to stand in the sun. Last night I found myself at a holiday party surrounded by a mix of close friends and more distant acquaintances. Chatting with friends who know our story is easy. Terms like “adoption wait”, “birthmother outreach”, and “when you get your baby” flow freely, and I don’t feel the need to hold back at all any more. But casually bringing it up to those who don’t already know… I found it wasn’t as easy as I thought. When faced with the question that I thought would be so easy to answer now, I surprised myself by responding as I had before, “um, not much.”
But then it got worse. The party in questions was at my parents’ house, and many of the acquaintances in attendance were friends of theirs. I found myself faced multiple times with some form of the dreaded “So, when will you be having babies?” If you don’t know already, this is the worst question you can ever ask someone you don’t know well. Imagine, if you will, that you are dealing with some form of infertility. That you want nothing more than to have a baby, but you can’t. How do you respond to that question? Do you break down in tears to this person you only marginally know and hysterically cry out that you can’t have a baby, you want to, but you can’t?! As this is the only honest response you could give, you instead must lie. I usually mumble something about “someday” and get away from this person as fast as I can.
Again, this person should be a bit easier to address in our current adoption mindset. I should simply respond with “I’m hoping it will be soon. We’re waiting to adopt!” Instead I found myself filling up with anger. I wanted to shout “It’s not that easy! Not everyone can just decide to be parents and have it happen, just like that!” I didn’t of course. Instead I snapped back with a simple “Not yet.” Then I allowed myself to seek asylum with the closer friends in attendance, avoiding the small talk.
It’s one step at a time down this road. Even the simple things can prove more difficult than you might think. There is no societal map to follow. Few elements of popular culture talk about adoption at all, and when they do it’s often unrealistic and overly dramatized. Not only do we have to chart the course for ourselves, but we must educate everyone in our lives at the same time. Educating the casual acquaintance is a bit daunting, but it also won’t go away. We’ll be educating those around us every step of the way, in some form or another. The holiday party is only the beginning.