story and illustration by KAM REDLAWSK
As young as age 8, I was envisioning my future child—namely, a daughter. I remember having such love for her and a strong curiosity about her.
It wasn’t the typical stuff like, “What is she going to be when she grows up?” but, “Who is she going to be?” I’d have visions of a happy, vivacious, independent, strong, curious, sassy and loving person—all the characteristics I admired in female figures I read about as a kid.
Despite this abstract, if constant, love I had for a child I never met, I was not in a rush to get married and have children as I grew older. My goal was to put myself through school, travel, build a career and gain a sense of who I was before bringing a child into the world. I just hadn’t realized having children would no longer be an option for me.
Since I was 20, I’ve lived with an extremely rare genetic condition that slowly takes away the use of my muscles. At this stage, I am confined to a wheelchair: I can no longer walk or stand due to progressive loss of my upper body muscles, including my hands, arms, shoulders, fingers and neck. To physically carry and give birth to a child today would destroy my body and most likely advance my weakness more quickly. While there is the option of surrogacy, it is expensive, not to mention financially unrealistic for my husband Jason and I to be assisted by a full-time nanny and caretaker. Adoption or fostering is a possibility down the road, which would make beautiful sense since we are both adoptees, but it greatly depends on our own stability, the progression of my condition and whether or not it’s realistic to care for a child in spite of my future quadriplegia.
No matter how positively I spin my condition, it is a lifelong roadblock that has eliminated or greatly limited so many of my life plans. I feel as if my disability stifles who I really want to be and my best efforts to live adventurously.
As a 36-year-old woman, I won’t lie and say it isn’t difficult knowing that it is nearly impossible for me to have a child. It breaks my heart because it’s another example of a choice taken away from me—only this one hurts more than I could ever explain or describe.
There is a bright spot: In the past year and a half, I have become an aunt, and many of my friends are in the stages of having their first child or adding more. On Facebook, I see a constant stream of adorable baby pictures and milestones. But I feel an odd mix of emotions because, on one hand, I’m joyful for the creation of such a precious life—it’s a reminder of how sweet life can truly be. On the other hand, I, too, want to experience that moment of taking care of my child and looking into her eyes as she looks back at me. I’ve dreamed of that nearly my whole life.
As Korean adoptees, both my husband and I hoped to see our faces in our future children, to continue the connection from our unknown pasts into the future. I know that’s no longer possible.
Initially, I wondered if this was a subject I should write about—primarily because this is such a personal topic for me. But ultimately I decided to share my thoughts because I felt this is a real and painful struggle for many women—especially for those fighting in the trenches of infertility.
Meanwhile, as my niece and nephew (1-and-a-half years old and 10 months, respectively) are crawling, taking their first steps and learning to feed themselves, I am traveling in the opposite direction. (I often describe this progression as turning elderly and infantile at the same time.) But with the limitation of choice also comes the choice to proceed with grace—and understanding that sometimes we don’t get the things we want most out of life. I have a choice to do my best to reconcile these limitations without letting them destroy me.
We all have the choice to seek a different path—and that’s something that can’t be taken away from me.
This article was published in the June/July 2015 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the June/July issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days).