Because no two paths to parenthood look the same, the Cut’s How I Got This Baby invites parents to share their stories. Want to share yours? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us a bit about how you became a parent.
Lori pictured herself as a mother from the time she was very young. But she never imagined what she calls the “fairy-tale family,” with a husband and a house in the suburbs. During a brief marriage in her late 20s, she did think about trying to have a baby with her then-husband; now, she’s grateful that didn’t work out. She discusses what made her decide to pursue motherhood in her 40s, her experience adopting a baby from Russia, having a child with health issues as a single parent, and what she hopes will always be true about her relationship with her son.
On dreaming of motherhood. Always, motherhood was my dream. Ever since I can remember. Motherhood was the only thing I knew that I wanted for sure. I didn’t dream about being married. I always just thought about being a mother.
I did get married at 28. That marriage was very short-lived. I did think about getting pregnant to bring us closer, to make that marriage better. Thank goodness I didn’t, because that would have been a mistake. We ended up getting divorced after two years. Ever since then, I’ve tried various relationships but I think I’m a better mother than a girlfriend or a partner.
On an unplanned pregnancy. When I was in college, I had a miscarriage. That’s when I found out I had endometriosis, and I was told it was unclear if I would ever be able to get pregnant again. It was kind of always on my mind after that — getting pregnant as soon as possible. That’s basically what the doctors told me to do, after I miscarried.
On realizing what she wanted most. After my divorce, my desire to become a mom was still there. I felt like a huge failure. I kind of knew, before we got married, that it wasn’t an ideal situation. I just thought, you reach a certain age and you get married. So that’s what I did. But we weren’t right for each other. I felt like a failure because I knew I shouldn’t have gotten married, but I did anyway.
I still never had the dream of being a wife and being a homemaker. I knew I wanted to be a mother, but I just never had the traditional dream of getting married, living in the suburbs. It never occurred to me that could be my life. My childhood wasn’t particularly happy; my parents weren’t a great example of a good marriage. A fairy-tale life was never part of my consciousness.
I did fall in love, after my marriage ended. For various reasons, those relationships didn’t work out. One relationship ended right before 9/11. Right after that, I decided to get off my butt and think about adoption. 9/11 affected me greatly. I just remember thinking, “You don’t know what’s going to happen. Life is finite. You need to make things happen for yourself that you want to have happen.” I started to wonder what my regrets would be if I died tomorrow. The only thing I could really think of was that I’d always wanted to be a mother.
This was something I talked about with family and friends, and with a therapist. Some people were very supportive. Other people thought I was crazy because I was single — that it was crazy, that it would be too hard, that I couldn’t do it by myself. I just didn’t really listen to anyone. I thought, I’m 42. I have a house, a pretty successful career. It felt like the only thing that was missing.
On making her desire concrete. I started off by going to the doctor to see if there was any chance of me being artificially inseminated. I did want to go through the experience of pregnancy, but they pretty much told me that ship had already sailed.
Then one day, my therapist said to me, “Why don’t you just do it? Why don’t you start looking into adoption?” I remember that moment: I just looked at her and thought, Why not? I called up an agency, went in to talk to them, and the rest happened very quickly. My son was home with me after about nine months.
On adopting a baby from overseas. At that time, you could still adopt a baby from Russia as a single parent. They were very welcoming to American parents, even single ones. (American parents, single or coupled, can’t adopt Russian kids anymore.) I started pursuing the adoption of a Russian child. There were a lot of kids up for adoption at the time. I don’t know what the situation is now.
After starting the approval process and getting accepted, the agency will start to email pictures of prospective children. One day in July, I got that first email: They had a girl and a boy, and told me a little about each of them. I freaked out. I felt like, Oh my god, I’m not ready. This is too quick. I told them to give me a little more time.
The next week, they sent me another email, with a little boy. It turned out he was my son. Later, I realized that it was the same little boy as the original email. I think a lot of people get flustered at the initial contact, so agencies try again. I’d always wanted a boy. He was 15 months old.
All I knew was his age, a bit about his health, and about five or six pictures. To this day, I’m not quite sure if I got the right pictures — the baby in the pictures has blue eyes. My son’s eyes are brown. But I said yes, and we started making arrangements for me to go to Russia. It was a four-day trip, and I was traveling three out of the four days. My son was in an orphanage in Siberia — you fly to Moscow, then it’s another five hours to get to Siberia.
When I got to the orphanage, I was taken to a huge room. Then the baby was brought to me. Then they left us alone, for about an hour. You’re expected to say yes or no after that hour.
He cried for the first 45 minutes. Then I took him over to a window with a ledge, and we looked out at all the kids playing outside. There were so many children. I just started telling him things in English — what his room would be like, how I had two cats. He finally stopped crying. We sat down, and he fell asleep in my arms.
To him, I was someone who smelled different, who spoke a different language. I knew I had to be very patient. Of course, after the hour, I said yes, that I wanted him.
On formalizing the adoption. Then I went back home. I went back two or three weeks later, this time with my sister. I stayed for a week and a half this time, because I needed a visa and a passport for the baby and to formally adopt my son. I went in front of a court — a big room, with about 20 women sitting around the perimeter. They asked me questions in Russian; I would answer in English through a translator.
My son had some health issues, the severity of which I knew maybe 40 percent before we got back to the States. The women asked me how I felt about the health issues, and whether I was nervous about them. The question was basically: Why do you want him, when he has health issues? My response was that they made me want him more. I knew that I could help him, because I had excellent insurance. Everyone started crying when I said that.
After you make your case, you leave your room and go to another room, where there are other parents from America waiting to see if they’ve been approved. You wait there with them for a lightbulb to go on. Once the lightbulb goes on, you head back into the room, and they tell you if you can become a parent. They told me yes.
We spent a bit more time in Siberia, in a hotel. I felt lucky my sister was there, because she has a daughter of her own. He just loved her. When she played with him, he started laughing and smiling right away. Still, the two of us had a bond immediately. There was no car seat, so when I held him in the car as we drove away from the orphanage he was tense at first. Then he relaxed into me. That first night, he slept in a crib next to my bed. I held his hand the whole night.
He was very hungry; he’d cry and scream as soon as he saw food. It made me sad — he’d been very well taken care of at the orphanage, but he just didn’t have enough food. He was small for his age. After we’d finished in Siberia, we went to Moscow for about a week, to get our paperwork in order. Then we got on a plane and went home.
Thinking about it now, I’m not sure how I got through the days of getting on a plane, going to Russia. I don’t know how I got the strength to do all of that. But you do what you have to do, and that’s what being a parent is all about.
On tackling health issues as a single parent. Once we were in the States, I found out about more of his health issues. We spent a lot of time working on those, some of which were fairly serious. Doing this as a single parent was very difficult. It was so very hard. I was off of work for a few months, and it felt like we spent the whole time going from doctor to doctor. Every doctor would recommend seeing a different doctor. It was very rough, but we were lucky; we had some really excellent providers. It’s another time where I knew I had to do whatever I could to make him as whole as I could make him.
His health got a lot better after the first couple of years. He had nine different surgeries in those first few years. He was a very brave, strong boy, who taught me a lot about being brave. I’ve never had a lot of health problems myself, so I had a lot to learn.
At the time, I worked at a bank. I’d known the person who hired me for about 20 years. He and the company were extremely supportive of me. They helped me with insurance claims. When I needed time off, I was given time off, and I had a fairly flexible work schedule. I am forever thankful to that company for what they did for me. I don’t know that I’d have been able to be as successful in helping my son if I hadn’t worked for such a flexible company.
I have one sister who lived very close at the time, and another sister who lived about an hour away. They’re both older than me, and were kind of in different life stages. But they were very supportive of me. I also have a really great brother-in-law, who would listen to me for hours on the phone and help me make decisions about my son when I didn’t know quite what to do. And there were a lot of times when I didn’t know quite what to do. Without him, I don’t know what I would have done.
On explaining her son’s origin story. Since I brought him home, I would tell him things like, “You weren’t in my belly. You were in your birth mother’s belly.” I don’t know how much he understood that, as a toddler. I would tell him that there was a mommy who wanted a baby, and that a baby and a mommy came together. There were a few times when he was 7 or 8 when he expressed a lot of sadness about not having a dad, when he was thinking about his birth mother and father a lot. That always gave me kind of a twinge, when my kid would bring it up. But I also realized that it was a perfectly natural thing for him to wonder about.
I just wanted to be as honest as possible with him. I would tell him, “You know, it really stinks that you don’t know your birth parents, that these are your circumstances.” My son is 15 now, and I think he realizes the ways that he’s lucky. But when he was 7 or 8, I don’t think he could think that way. He just wanted to know why he didn’t have a dad like other kids. That’s always been hard. He’s had my brother-in-law and friends who’ve been in his life, but it’s not the same as a dad.
On her relationship with her son. After adopting a baby on my own, I really think that people who have that dream should just do it. A lot of things about being a parent make you exhausted. But when your kid does something and you realize that something you’ve tried to teach him has gotten through, or when you see our kid do something like hold a door open for an older person, or anything nice at all — that makes the rest of it go away. Those are the things you remember. Those are the things that make your life, I think.
My son and I have had lots of challenges, not just with his health. We’ve had behavioral and psychological challenges as well, and we’re still dealing with things. He’s a wonderful kid who sometimes makes mistakes. I have to try to guide him. We’re very close, and I hope we always will be. My son and I, that’s my longest relationship. None of my other relationships have even come close to being that long. He’s the love of my life.