by Kelly James-Enger
While my husband and I were trying to have a child--first, the "old-fashioned way," and then through fertility treatments--we often talked about what our child would look like. I wanted our baby to inherit Erik's distinctive hazel eyes and thick lashes. Erik hoped our baby would have my smile. I imagined that our baby would be a blend of us--an appealing mix of our best qualities. But over the years, our conversations became briefer, and then they ceased altogether.
One day, soon after another miscarriage, while I was sitting in a restaurant, a woman and her daughter caught my eye. They were both tall, long-limbed, dark-haired, with oval faces and similar features. The mom said something that made her daughter laugh, and they threw back their heads with the same mannerisms. They belonged to each other. That's what I had wanted, had dreamed of for years. But as I watched the matched pair, I realized it was a dream I'd already begun to give up.
Undergoing rounds of IVF that resulted in failures or miscarriages, and watching the chance of having a biological child grow ever slimmer, had shifted my focus. I was no longer obsessed with having "my own" baby. I just wanted to be a mom--now! Learning about adoption made that more of a certainty. We changed our course.
Less than a year later, and just weeks after being chosen by a birthmother, we drove to the hospital to meet our son. In the car, I felt that long-forgotten question reemerge. What would our baby look like? Our child was not going to share a genetic link to Erik or to me, so this time around there was no speculation, only curiosity.
He was, and is, more beautiful than I could have imagined. My son, who's now three, has olive skin, huge blue eyes, dark, springy curls, and a sunny smile. His looks garner a lot of attention from friends and strangers alike.
When complimented on my child's appearance, I say "thank you." Secretly, yes, I think he's the most beautiful child who's ever lived. But I had nothing to do with creating his arresting looks. When I admire him, I'm admiring not my genetic legacy but that of his birthparents. I'm just the grateful recipient of it.
I'm also aware that some of the attention we attract is inspired by something other than my son's striking appearance. I watch people glance at me, then at him, questions showing on their faces. This was brought home to me a few months ago, when I dined out with my brother and his kids. Both of his children bear a clear resemblance to their father, but my nephew, in particular, is a carbon copy of my brother as a child--their round faces mirror each other. "Well, look at him," the waitress commented. "Donít you look just like your daddy?" I realized then that no one would ever say something like that about Ryan and me. Does it matter? No, but it's nonetheless a reminder of what I lost.
Biological parents may be given the gift of seeing themselves in their children's faces. Adoptive parents look for other reflections. I see myself in my child when he kneels beside our old golden retriever, Sandy, gently stroking her and calling her "good dog." The way he mutters, "slow down and try again" (his mommy's mantra) to himself when he's frustrated. The way he loves to read, snuggled in my arms. That's my legacy to him.†
Kelly James-Enger is coauthor (with Jill. S. Browning) of The Belated Baby: A Guide to Parenting After Infertility (Cumberland House).
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