Like every other woman crammed into the waiting-room couches at the infertility clinic, I was desperate to conceive a child. Trying to become pregnant through artificial means had consumed my emotional and physical energy for over three years. Every time a heavily pregnant woman, often with another child in tow, trudged past, some of us looked up from our magazines, unable to conceal our pure, unadulterated envy. Others made a brave show of continuing to read.
We carefully avoided staring at infertility patients exiting the consultation room, especially if they were dabbing at teary eyes. After all, we might be next to be told that all the injections, medications, hospital stays, endless commutes, missed workdays, mental anguish and money spent this month had, alas, once again failed to produce the longed-for kodakara (treasure child).
There was no conversation in the stony silence of the waiting room. Each woman created a small, protective shell around herself and was a practiced master of gaman (silent forbearance). American and chatty by nature, I wanted to hear others’ experiences and to share mine. The only foreigner present, I kept my mouth shut, not wanting to embarrass anyone, including myself.
Japanese patients often seemed grateful for an opportunity to talk to a kindred spirit, however, when I happened to encounter them waiting on the train platform or when we shared a room during hospital stays. Hearing their stories, I realized that my own burden, which seemed so very heavy, was in fact lighter than theirs.
Many were pressed at every opportunity by in-laws — often totally unaware that their son and his wife were receiving extensive infertility treatment — as to why they had not yet produced a grandchild.
They listened with disbelief as I spoke lovingly of my own Japanese mother-in-law, who supported wholeheartedly our resolve to adopt a child once we had reached the bitter end of the baby-making road, or perhaps even before that. My husband and I viewed starting a family as a journey with two potential routes. After two in vitro fertilization treatments failed, we began applying to become adoptive parents. Somewhere in a Japanese orphanage, we knew a child was waiting for us; that knowledge was what enabled us to cope emotionally with continued treatment.
In contrast, not one of the Japanese patients I met was considering adoption: “I don’t want children that badly”; “I could never love someone else’s child as much as my own”; “I don’t have the courage necessary to raise an adopted child in this society.” About 600 adoptions of non-blood-related children occur every year in Japan; the number in the U.S. is an estimated 65,000.
Just as I was about to check out of the hospital after IVF No. 3, my husband received a telephone call from an agency: We had been selected as potential adoptive parents for a 2-year-old boy who was currently living in an Osaka orphanage. Could we come down and see his photo as soon as possible? “Yes, yes, yes!” Six weeks later our beautiful new son was sharing our lives.
On the morning of that telephone call, two fertilized embryos had been placed by the doctor into my uterus. Two weeks later, she informed me that I was pregnant with our second child. In nine months we were going to be a family of four.