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Fertility Heroes: Meet Joy


a blog by Ellen Glazer, June 23, 2011

When I first met Joy, her name did not fit: she was anything but joyful. Joy was 44 at the time and painfully single. A very attractive woman with a quick wit, Joy looked like the kind of woman who would have no trouble attracting men. Indeed, she confirmed this — over the years she had had countless eager dates.

But as is all too often the case, the right man had not come along. Joy had thought about becoming a single mother off and on since she was 38, but had always put this decision aside, hoping that if she waited a bit longer and tried a little harder, she would find a partner.

Joy began trying to have a child through sperm donation when she 43. She conceived on her third insemination, spent a few jubilant weeks and was then crushed by a miscarriage at seven weeks gestation. A self-made millionaire, Joy was able to afford to try in vitro fertilization (IVF) with sperm donation, and she wasted no time in launching this effort. It, too, led to disappointment and worse still, self blame.

“I shouldn’t have waited so long,“ Joy declared when I met her. She berated herself for waiting until she was past 40 to try to conceive on her own saying, “I’m capable, I have ample financial resources, and supportive family and friends. There was really nothing stopping me.”

Although it was tempting to urge Joy to stop blaming herself, I had learned from past experiences that when someone is in the throes of self blame, the worst thing is to try to talk them out of it. Its power has a strangle hold on them, and it is best to let someone grapple with that affliction on their own, which is exactly what Joy did.

“I’m going to adopt,” Joy announced one day. “I’m going to adopt a little girl from China.” This was a few years ago, when adoptions from China were moving along at a steady pace, and China was still placing with single women. No sooner did Joy sign on for Chinese adoption than this changed: China closed to single women. Joy was upset but far more resilient than I’d anticipated. “I’ll find another path,” she said. And find another path she did. Joy signed up to adopt from Vienam. And then it closed.

“I can’t do this,” Joy said. “I’m getting a message. I’m not meant to be a parent. That is why nothing is working.” Once again, I knew enough not to try to persuade her otherwise. Joy felt too defeated by having not one, but two programs close in her face. She needed some time.

Three months passed, and I was meeting with a couple just back from Ethiopia with two sons, ages 4 and 6. The boys were captivating, and their parents were over the top with delight. While I was meeting with them, I had a thought. “Would you be willing to talk with a single woman I know. She’s very discouraged. The door to adoption keeps shutting in her face. Ethiopia is accepting single women, and I’d really like her to hear your story.”

My couple said yes, and to my surprise with just a bit of pressure from me, Joy agreed to meet with them. She phoned me right after the visit and said, “This is it. I’m going to Ethiopia. I’m going to give it a try and get all my adoption paperwork changed.” And with that, Joy began scrambling to have all her documents in order for Ethiopia. I have never seen anyone who is adopting go into such high gear so fast.

Two months later I walked into my office very early in the morning and saw the light on my phone flashing. “Oh no, “ I thought, “who called in the middle of the night? This can’t be good.” How wrong I was. When I listened to the message, I heard what sounded like two (or more) little girls giggling and speaking in broken English that I could not understand. Then I heard an adult woman say to them in the background, ‘Now it’s my turn girls.” With that, Joy picked up the phone and left me the following message. I will always cherish it. “It’s me, Joy, and I’m in Ethiopia. I have two daughters. They are beautiful. A miracle has happened. A family has been formed.”

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