Complexity and Fertility


February 12, 2008 by multiracialsky

Over the weekend we spent time with a group of families/couples. There was a meeting followed by a meal, although (and I didn’t know this going in) for the duration of the meeting the children and I were sequestered in a finished basement, which was not really set up for little kids. For two long hours, I was down there with all four of my kids along with three other kids and their moms.

Our basement group included a mother and her only child. The mother spoke only Spanish to her child, and her child only spoke Spanish back to her. We speak a little Spanish, and have several friends with Spanish/English bilingual children (in our friends’ families, one parent’s first language is Spanish). I talked to this mom a bit, introduced myself and my kids after we arrived. She volunteered (in English) that Spanish is not her first language, or her bio child’s. That’s pretty much all she ever said to me.

Because this mother and her child would only speak Spanish, they couldn’t/didn’t talk to anyone else (adult or child) who was sharing this very small space. My Spanish is rusty, but I could understand everything this mother and child were saying–but my kids couldn’t. And the other mother and children present didn’t seem to know any Spanish. It was like being back in high school when two of my best friends learned/invented a secret language they called ‘Gibberish’ (think of complicated pig-latin).

Our friends who are raising their kids bilingually speak Spanish and English to their kids, and they translate for my kids after they say something to their kids in Spanish. (And they are happy to converse in English with my kids and with me.) The exclusionary style of parenting, choosing to converse with your child in a language nobody understands when you both also speak a language everybody else present both speaks and understands, was so unbelievably rude. It came off as the we-are-so-important-we-don’t-have-to-consider-anyone-else philosophy of living.

I often struggle to connect with parents who purposefully have just one child. In my experience, these parents are more likely (than the parents of 2+ kids) to act as though the sun rises and sets over their perfect child. I have struggled through parents-of-onlies who allow their child to cheat at games, cut in line, and snub other kids, and other parents who perpetually treat their single growing child as though they are a baby (picture a parent feeding every bite of a meal to an able-bodied grade-schooler).

The step beyond the only-childers (these people are rarely part of our circle–wonder why?) are the childless-by-choice. I’m talking about adults who purposely choose not to have any children in their life (not biologically, not adopted, not step, not foster, not guardianship, not living with their sister and her two kids–none). There were some of these people at this meeting too. Liberal, over-educated bobos who somehow think it is reasonable for little children to be neither seen nor heard. People who pretend children under the age of ten are not actually there. People who don’t acknowledge kids, who don’t even look at them, smile at them, speak to them, help them, move out of their way. People who glare at the parent (me!) when a child brushes against their leg trying to squeeze by.

What’s beyond childless-by-choice? The people with no children and no pets (yes, there were some of these people present as well). It’s not that I think everyone should have children (or dogs)–not in the least. What makes me skittish is that in my experience people who have chosen not to have children (or children and pets) view their life–and by extension the world–as an eminently controllable thing. The neat, organized life of Choice A leading directly to Point A, with no annoying detours in between.

My life with four young children and one large dog is messy, chaotic, loud, dirty, constant, and (mostly) fun. Many of the moms I know with 3+ kids, especially if the kids are closely spaced, understand the parenting part of our life. But if my friends with 1 or 2 kids struggle to understand how (and why) we do things the way we do, we must apear completely crazy (and hey–they treat us that way) to the no-pets/no-children/1-perfect-child sets. I realize children inevitably create a bit of chaos, I want to say, but you’re scorning the future leaders of the world.

As one of our children’s (young, active, single) uncles said, “Children are so exhausting and irrational!” Uh . . . yep. We were all children once, as exhausting and irrational as the best of them. The adults who cannot find it in their tidy hearts to–at the least–acknowledge the existence of these little people in their presence, I just don’t understand them (and honestly, I don’t like them much either).

At the meeting there was a family with an internationally transracially adopted toddler. The toddler was the only child close to Teri’s age. Teri and the toddler eyed each other, as only tiny children can. I tried to make small-talk with this mother. She turned her back to me. I tried again later–twice–and she literally turned away. I watched her talk to other people, even discuss her child, and couldn’t figure out what was going on.

I mentioned this snub to my partner as we drove home. He immediately said, “It’s probably because you have bio kids.” (Picture me smacking my forehead–Duh!) Like most adoptive parents, this couple is likely infertile. I forget that fertility/infertility is often still an issue for parents who have already adopted. (I’m more mindful of infertility issues with pre-adoptive/waiting couples.) It used to be that I really didn’t get the fertility-bias thing. Since I have always planned to adopt, I didn’t think it would have been a big deal to me if I hadn’t been able to have bio kids. And then a strange thing happened.

At a certain point in our family-building we were planning to adopt, and then it seemed as though we weren’t going to be able to. My partner floated the idea of having another biological child instead–and I was so opposed to getting pregnant again at that point in time. I realized that I didn’t just want a child, I wanted a child through adoption. And suddenly I understood a piece of infertility that had alluded me for years–beyond the grief of not being able to pass on your genes, to see yourself in your child’s face and temperament (not always a good thing, I tell you), there is the additional piece of infertility that frustratingly denies you the ability to do something very basic that you always thought–assumed, even–you would be able to do.

For us, becoming both adoptive and bio parents was relatively simple. In our adoptions, we had one quick match, one ‘instant’ baby, and no failed placements. With our pregnancies, we had two ‘instant’ conceptions and no miscarriages. In the building of our family, our biggest hardships (if you could even call them that) were financial (adoption) and my health (serious problems during and after Rico’s birth from undiagnosed eclampsia).

We interviewed pediatricians while waiting for Jaja to be born. While talking to one doctor (who we eventually chose) we mentioned that we hoped to have a biological child about 18 months younger than Jaja. “You should know,” the doctor said, “after trying to conceive for six months, only 50% of couples are pregnant. Only 80% of couples are pregnant after trying for one year.” She issued these numbers as a warning to us. We talked about these ‘statistics’ on the way home: we didn’t want our kids to be years apart. Somehow we didn’t factor in that we were both in our mid-20s, completely healthy, taking no prescription medications, hadn’t been using any medical birth-control for several years, and nobody in any part of our families has ever had any fertility problems (including mothers giving birth at 37 and 40 years old).

Jaja and Rico were born 9 months (plus a few days) apart. That was a busy year.  And that was (and is) complicated in all different ways, some ways in which we (as parents) have absolutely no control.

I embrace that intricate and intimate complexity. To me, those are the most rewarding parts of life.


13 thoughts on “Complexity and Fertility

  1. Susan says:

    I’m wildly curious what kind of meeting that was that had you sequestered in a basement with people who did not speak the same language, WITH all your kids. Does not sound like fun.

    I am sort of with you on the Onlies thing. I was one of those kids! I was adopted, AND an only, so you can imagine. I did not have a babysitter once in my entire life. Yeah, you can imagine.

    Interesting about the CBC people. I do think that people who do not want children should NOT. EVER. have children, but I also do not think they should be subjected to children because it is a mutually disagreeable experience (unless they are psyched to be the cool auntie type). I think they should stay the heck away from kids, and vice versa. I am also a parent who doe NOT believe that children should be superglued to their parents at every moment, and that they should be brought into adult-only spaces that they are not prepared for (ie nice restaurants or adult-only parties).

    When I had toddlers, I was terrified of teenagers. Now that I have teenagers, I am not so wild about toddlers anymore. I mean I think or I know I do not have the energy to deal with them anymore, at least not on a day-in day out basis. Each age has its unique difficulties and frustrations and charms.

  2. lisa4011 says:

    Please do not judge the woman for only speaking Spanish to her child, it could be that the child is being brought up multi lingually and in the proper fashion. My sister-in-law has three children, they are being raised tri lingually. Due to issues with the first child being extremely delayed, they ended up in courses and discovered it was their method of going about teaching spanish, english and french to their children. Where, as adults, we have the capability to understand differences in language, young children cannot. They learn the word for milk and they don’t know that “milk” is english, “lait” is french and “leche” is spanish, all they know is that the 3 words bring them the drink they want. Thus, they were instructed by the experts, to have each adult in their life speak ONLY one language in their presence while young. In this way, the child learns the distinction between languages, because Mommy only understands “lait”, Daddy “leche” and Auntie Lisa “Milk”. At about five, depending on the progress of the child at this point, you can begin to mix languages because the child is mentally able to distinguish them at that point.

    I’m not saying this is what she was doing, I’m saying she could have been. If that was the case, she should have told you so that you would not think it rude, but not everyone was raised in a way where they’d know it was inappropriate. I’m sorry you had to be made to feel awkward,

  3. Ms. Four says:

    I agree with Lisa. I am an American expat in Cairo, and we’re around many, many families who are raising bilingual kids. We were also friends with a family in the states doing the same. It’s better for caregivers to speak only one language to a child. Speaking two to the child hurts their language acquisitions. Many bilingual children learn one language from one parent and another language from the other. Or they learn one at home and another at school. But they don’t usually learn two languages from one parent.

    We’re around families all the time who speak English at school and work and another language at home. I’d never expect these people to speak my language just because I’m there. Isn’t that just one way we Americans can be so self-centered–we expect people to speak our language just because we’re there?

    I think it matters not that this woman is not a native speaker. Kudos to her for helping her child grow up bilingual.

    (Also… not all adoptive parents are infertile. Take me and my hubby, for example. I have noticed that people who suffer from infertility tend to be those who request a baby as young as possible. Not always, but often.)

  4. multiracialsky says:

    Two Things:

    First of all, I often catch myself assuming that adoptive parents are *not* infertile (which is statistically inaccurate), and have to remember that many APs have infertility issues that continue after they become parents through adoption. It’s good my partner helps remind me of this.

    Secondly, on the bilingual thing. I also think it’s awsome that this mom is raising her child to be bilingual. (I wish I was more motivated on that front right now.) I don’t care that she only conversed with her child in Spanish. The part that seemed rude was this: there were 10+ of us trapped in this small space. And even though she and her child speak English as their first language (and I heard them both speak English to others at the meal that followed the meeting) they did not speak (Spanish or English or anything) to anyone but each other. Seeing as they spoke English during the meal, it seemed especially strange.

  5. Ms. Four says:

    Okay, in regards the mother/son: that is a little weird!

    And thanks for the clarification on the infertility thing… I think I make the same mistake sometimes myself.

  6. StillaMomma says:

    I know many people who culturally choose to speak their native language around others because it is comfortable. I am fluent in Spanish and I have many friends who choose to speak their language to their child. You have a “language” that you use in parenting your children and because people don’t parent the way you do, does not make them rude.

    And the people who choose not to have children…so what? You chose to build your family your way…to each his own.

  7. Lori says:

    Hi all.

    I just have to add my two cents here. Just to add yet another “we’re raising our kids bilingually,” perspective.

    My husbands is a native Spanish speaker. I’m an American. My husband only speaks Spanish to our kids. I speak English. Sometimes we all speak Spanish together at the dinner table, etc. My kids are 6 and 3. To this day they both think their father doesn’t speak English! But here’s the thing, he speaks to me in English all the time!

    So here’s my point. A woman can still speak to her child in Spanish and converse to the rest of the world in English. It doesn’t impede their ability to learn the language. You’re simply showing your child that you speak more than one language, something you hope they will grow up to do as well.

    All that to say, I just think this particular woman was just plain old rude. Sorry.

  8. Ansley says:

    WOW! I am completely surprised by your harsh words directed toward single child families. There are many reasons to have a single child family. Most are listed in the book, ‘Maybe One’, by Bill McKibben. There are also lots of grown, and happy single children in the world. Conversely, I know planty of people with siblings who have only been hurt and disenchanted by brothers and sisters.

    I second you in reminding folks that there are many parents who choose adoption as first choice. How unkind to assume all adoptive parents have psych issues due to infertility.

    We cannot expect others to accept and celebrate our unique families if we sit in judgement of their choices.

  9. multiracialsky says:

    My problem (as stated in this post) with zero-child families is when such adults come into a space *knowing there will be children present* and then behave as though the children are either (a) invisible or (b) pests to whom the adults are allergic. As a mom, this bugs me. The rest of my personal experiences with the life philosophies of the childless are just that–my personal experiences. I believe 100% in ‘to each his/her own’ and that’s why I don’t take my kids (for example) into fancy adult restaurants where there are no highchairs and a low-volume expectancy.

    Hey Lori-
    Thanks for chiming in. The way your family operates has been my experience with all our friends who are raising their kids bilingually. I was totally caught off guard and didn’t know what to say (to open the conversation) after this mom made it clear she *could* speak English, but chose not to.

    Strangely enough, Bill McKibben and his family are members of the group that I was talking about in this post. I know all about his writing and philosophies. I do not believe that being or having a single child is inherently problematic. Many of my friends grew up as single children (although the ones who are now parents have decided to have more than one child themselves), and we have several friends with only children who treat their kids much like the siblinged-kids we know (i.e. not like miniature royalty). As I said earlier above, having chosen adoption as a first choice myself, I do sometimes actually *forget* that most parents come to adoption after infertility–and that a completed adoption itself does not necessarily end the sadness than infertility can bring. I have worked with adults with true mental illnesses for 15 years, and I would *never* throw around the term ‘psych issues’. I was only saying that I need to continue to work to remember that there are more complicated paths leading parents to adoption than the way I came.

    Lastly, I don’t expect anyone to ‘accept and celebrate’ my family–that’s my job. I work on educating others about the variety of family structures around today. There are certainly many choices out there that I myself would not make (as there are for everyone) but that does not make those choices necessarily inherently wrong. Just wrong for me, or wrong from my perspective. There are choices I believe are just about always wrong, no matter the circumstances, but most everything else is just a matter of who you are and where you’re standing.

  10. Kohana says:

    Am I too late to chime in? My husband speaks Dutch with our children and I speak English. However, when we are in public and I need to guide, correct, or warn my children, I often do so in Dutch. It is nice to be able to give them a quick private correction instead of pulling them out of the group to give them a warning. When people look at me questioningly, I am quick to explain what we are talking about. I’ve spent enough time abroad and in non-english environments to know how isolating it can be to not understand what is happening around you, so I am careful not to alienate others that way.

    I also am curious to know what kind of meeting you were at!

    As for numbers of children, I think it is hard for me, as a person planning on a large family, to understand why other people don’t love the presence of children. I was at a child’s birthday party last week where an adult kept telling the children to wait at the side so he could take a turn playing the children’s games! I am a very polite person but I gave him a dirty look. It’s one thing to not impose children on “adult spaces” but completely bizarre to alientate and shut down children in spaces designed for children!

  11. Donna says:

    Natasha, while I love this blog and have learned a great deal from you and others that post comments, I must say I find your generalization of “only childers” offensive.

    Our daughter is adopted, by choice, and will be an “only”, by choice. There are a lot of complex reasons for this (our ages, our financial situation, my disability). We do not treat our daughter as if she is the center of the universe or baby her, or think she is, or needs to be. perfect. In fact, BECAUSE she is an “only” we are very conscious about raising her in such a way as to try and avoid those behavoirs.

    I have met people who have only children who act like you describe, but not all of us do so. I’m just really surprised that you would perpetuate this stereotype and make such a blanket statement.

  12. multiracialsky says:

    I do not believe that talking about some of my more challenging personal experiences with parents of only children (and there have been many) is perpetuating sterotypes. To quote myself from my response to an earlier comment above (hey–how often do I get to do that : ) “I do not believe that being or having a single child is inherently problematic. Many of my friends grew up as single children…and we have several friends with only children who treat their kids much like the siblinged-kids we know (i.e. not like miniature royalty).”

    I do think that my discussion of onlies and the childless must be viewed in the context of the event we attended, including the fact that many of the adults did not appear to care for children at all.

  13. Rachel says:

    Your comments about onlies are fascinating. I was raised as an onlie, my mother was a homemaker, and my father had a home office, so there was little need for babysitting just because of the situation. I’m also not a people person, so I had little experience with my peers, and most of my peers were spoiled brats and bullies (nothing to do with birth order stuff, just over privilege from absentee-but-wealthy parents). Anyway, I am truly shocked that anyone treats their kids that way even though I have seen it myself. I do not envy you the evening you had.

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