Carolyn's Story: "I Was Not a Poster Child for the Adoption Journey"

Carolyn's Story: "I Was Not a Poster Child for the Adoption Journey"

Carolyn Berger shares her path to parenthood, and her reflections on fertility and adoption in this personal essay and provocative interview.

by Carolyn Berger, LCSW

How does one take the leap from fertility treatment to adoption? I once thought the process unfolded predictably: You tried for a biological child until the options or the money ran out. You mourned the biological child you might have had, then looked to adoption. Sounds so simple…if only it were.

I was not a poster child for the adoption journey. When I approached adoption after treatment, it was after I opted out of ovum donation—then a brand-new unregulated option. I knew I wanted a second child desperately and my overwhelming feeling was one of sadness. I wanted an adopted child to fill up the space in my heart left by the biological child who was not meant to be.

Fortunately, my adoption journey took a long time—long enough for me to change my perspective and truly embrace adoption. After talking to a number of potential birthmothers on the phone, I got very excited by the idea that we were helping each other—and it struck me as miraculous that one of them might place her baby in my arms.

In 1993 after coaching my son’s birthmother through labor and delivery, she did exactly that. Barbara said, “Hold him. He is yours.” I held Ethan in my arms and gazed at his sweet face with wonder. At Ethan’s bris eight days later, I told the assembled group that the one person who deserved the greatest blessing was not there to receive it: Barbara. I have thanked her every day since then.

Our adoption of Ethan came after two miscarriages and some fertility treatment designed to outwit Father Time. At 35 my eggs were already too old and it was highly unlikely that I would get pregnant and carry a baby to term. This was not how I envisioned things would go.

When I first “met” Barbara by phone she was clearly in a bad place as well. She was 7 months pregnant, and cried as she told me she wanted to place her child. After we talked I let her know that she could call me any time. I would be there for her whether she placed her baby or not.

I didn’t hear from her again.

Then, a couple of months later she called me at 6 am to tell me she was in labor and was wondering whether I still wanted to adopt her baby. I yelped “yes” and went into overdrive to get her a lawyer and find an adoption-friendly hospital nearby. Barbara lived just 20 minutes away. 

The rest is history. That day we became a family of four: Carolyn, Dan, Zachary and now Baby Ethan. Barbara didn’t want to stay in touch, but she is forever embedded in our hearts.


Interview with Carolyn about Path2Parenthood

Athena: Can you tell me about Path2Parenthood and how it came to be?

Carolyn: Path2Parenthood is an organization designed to help all individuals and couples create families through fertility treatment, adoption, foster care and other forms of family building. One of Path2Parenthood’s areas of strength is helping members of the LGBTQ community build families.

Over the past year, Family Equality Council has made the decision to focus on LGBTQ family building. They sought out Path2Parenthood as experts, and talks about a merger between the two organizations began. Now, together we will work with the LGBTQ community to make sure they have the education, information and support that is needed to build families of choice.

Athena: Can you name some of the most common pitfalls, challenges and struggles that those struggling with family building face? If you could summarize what is needed to succeed and thrive in fertility and adoption, what would it be?

Carolyn: One of the greatest challenges to building a family is remaining flexible and open to new possibilities. Many people wishing to create a family start out with the desire to have a baby that is biologically related to them and their partner. If/when this doesn’t work out, there are a myriad of other options: having a baby using donor sperm, egg, or embryo; using a surrogate; adopting an infant; or adopting a child through foster care. Remaining open to other possibilities besides having a biological child is probably the most challenging aspect to family building. Aside from this, keeping your relationship (if you are in one) healthy despite the challenges of family building can be another hurdle. These are some of the issues I help couples and individuals deal with every day as a therapist who specializes in fertility, adoption and all forms of family building.

Athena: What does helping others, and being in this field bring to you?

Carolyn: Helping others build their families brings me great joy!! I came to this field after my own fertility struggles. I have one son through fertility treatment and one through adoption. All that I learned in the process of creating my own family, as well as all of my work with couples and individuals over the last twenty-five years, has given me the ability to make a difference in countless lives. Quite simply, it gives my life meaning.

Athena: In what direction do you think the future of reproductive technologies, adoption and family building is moving in?

Carolyn: We are moving in the direction of a world where “family” can mean a variety of things. We are talking about single parent families, families where there are two moms or two dads, families where there are biological connections and families where there are not. All of these configurations mean “family” now. It’s not all about the DNA anymore!

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