Jennifer Rose Asher
Journey to My Daughter
A memoir about adoption and self-discovery
Jennifer is a very strong-willed woman who had always known she would never have children until she realized that she was about to turn 30. She has to convince her husband of 8 years to go along with this plan but he eventually relents, thinking that it will take a while to get pregnant. Jennifer immediately gets pregnant but suffers two miscarriages.
Since her husband Marc has said he will not go through another pregnancy attempt, Jennifer begins the process of adopting a child the day of her miscarriage. She wants to become a mother as quickly as possible and chooses the route of International adoption. Jennifer bullies her way through the process of getting approved and does her best to plow through each task with maximum speed and efficiency. Marc remains the voice of reason, keeping her as grounded as possible.
Earlier than expected, Jennifer is offered the opportunity to travel to Vietnam to meet her assigned child and submit her paperwork. She is thrilled but very anxious as she will have to leave quickly and travel on her own due to the last minute arrangements.
Upon arrival in Hanoi, nothing goes at all as planned and chaos ensues. No one was there to pick Jennifer up at the airport; when she gets herself to the hotel, she learns her assigned child is ill and ineligible for adoption; the paperwork with the newly assigned replacement child is rejected at the embassy; Jennifer coerces the facilitators into bringing her to their "office" which turns out to be a dilapidated hotel room; she gets assigned yet another baby and makes the difficult journey into the North Vietnam countryside to meet her, only to be informed the next day that she was accidentally assigned to another family; the other adopting moms she is traveling with turn against her and Jennifer decides to go home a day early.
All along the way, there were multiple signs that this adoption in Vietnam was not meant to be, but Jennifer is convinced that she will be able to make it happen.
When she returns to the USA, Jennifer quickly learns that the adoptions in Vietnam are suspected of being fraudulent and most agencies, including hers, are immediately terminating all adoptions in that country.
Jennifer persists, attempting multiple different angles for adopting internationally, through several agencies and countries. She systematically calls agencies all over the US, asking what International programs they have and if they ever place babies that are already born if they are domestic agencies, as Jennifer doesn't want to be matched with a pregnant birthmom. She tells each agency her story and urges them to keep her contact information "just in case". She continues to apply to multiple International programs and plans to move forward with whichever agency approves her and gives her a referral for a child most quickly.
Jennifer gets a call out of the blue from a domestic agency in Oklahoma. They have a Vietnamese couple who delivered a baby girl that morning and had no one to adopt her who fit what the birthparents were looking for. Jennifer stays up all night making arrangements as the agency tells her she must get to Oklahoma in the morning to pick up the baby.
Once she gets to Oklahoma, challenges continue to pop up. Jennifer and Marc's homestudy report was written for International adoption not domestic and will need some major modification; they will need to become licensed foster parents in their state in order to adopt domestically, which can take several weeks; they learn that the birthmom tested positive for Hep B before she left the hospital, but the hospital hadn't gotten her the test results.
But by this time Jennifer has learned to allow things to happen organically and more reasonably than she had in Vietnam. Each challenge that comes up she tackles head on, but with a calm head. She is able to make it all work and Jennifer, Marc and Hilary are able to go home as a new family just ten days after they had arrived in Oklahoma.
First 10 Pages
No Kids, Just Horses
For the first twenty-nine years of my life, I was sure I would never have children. I did not think questioning this belief and simply opening my mind to the possibility of having a child of my own would change my life completely. This single thought led me on a journey literally to the other side of the earth and back, changing who I am and how I see the world for the rest of my life.
I never wanted to have any kids. I don’t mean that I didn’t really want them; I mean I actively, strongly, passionately, aggressively would fight for my right to never have children and would debate this point with any well-meaning friend, family member, or stranger who would dare to question my position.
I guess I should explain further why I felt so strongly about this. I was always a very outspoken and very strong-willed person, and even in childhood I had a great need to make any attitude or opinion concrete and definite. I often saw the world as clearly black or white, and it was easier for me to hold tightly to the extreme of my positions than to question them.
When I was a young child I didn’t have a ton of friends, and I really didn’t like playing the kinds of games most kids play. I didn’t enjoy spending time outside, playing board games, or dressing dolls, and I absolutely hated any form of active game or sport. I saw other kids my age as immature and boring. In addition to my dislike for children in general, I also had two younger brothers. I was in constant competition with my brothers, and they did nothing to improve my opinion of younger kids.
As a teenager I could never relate to children who were younger than me. Babysitting was like torture. I found myself pretending to enjoy rocking a baby to sleep, trying to interact and relate with toddlers, or feigning interest in the games of grade school kids. I was miserable every time I needed money so desperately that I agreed to a Saturday night watching a neighbor’s kids.
Although my opinions and preferences were close to set in stone once I identified them, I was a curious child from early on and gathered information hungrily about the world around me. My mother did her best to answer all of my endless questions, often too completely. She told me where babies come from at a very early age. I guess I must have asked about it, but I think I was only about five years old. Even though I was young, I have a very strong, almost visual memory of my mother’s explanation of childbirth and my reactive feelings about it.
First she told me that being pregnant was like having an alien living inside you, and it was creepy and miserable not to have control of your own body for nine months. Then she described childbirth. She told me it was the most awful, dirty, painful event a woman could ever experience. Well, the impression that left on my mind was more than concrete. I could almost taste the excruciating physical pain and had no warm emotions regarding babies or young children to temper the mental picture of that pain. When combined with my disgust for all children younger than me, my mother’s description left quite a strong negative impression of actually giving birth to a child, which remained burned in my consciousness for decades to come.
While other young girls dreamed of getting married and having kids, I dreamed about a future life of owning and riding horses every day. I have always had an almost irrational love for horses. I would say as strongly as I felt about disliking other children, I felt just as strongly in the opposite direction about these majestic animals. The fact that I believed I never wanted to have kids was simply a part of who I was, and this somehow innate attraction to horses was also an integral part of my self-image. When I was a child I would draw, sculpt, and read about horses. I don’t really remember this as a childhood obsession, but I have seen the ancient evidence in my mother’s collection of memorabilia.
While I can’t explain or even remember this very early attraction to horses, I can clearly recall when I was a bit older the feeling of bliss I experienced whenever I was in the barn or anywhere near these amazing animals. Horses exude a feeling of silent strength. Just standing in a stall, they somehow seem wise and able to shoulder and withstand taking on all of my weight—not just physically, but also emotionally.
I felt then, and still feel, a wave of calm wash over me when I stand at the pasture fence or in the doorway of a stall, watching a pony lazily munch on hay or grass. Somehow, horses are able to absorb a huge amount of stress and tension, relieving me of that burden. I find their simple approach to life and strength of conviction incredibly soothing and reassuring.
When I have the privilege of riding a horse, even on a pony ride when I was little, the rhythm of their gait creates a form of meditation for me. From the first time I felt this motion, it made me feel powerful and free in a way that nothing else did, and I could not get enough of this feeling.
I didn’t grow up in Texas or on a ranch with horses all around me. I lived in a fairly urban suburb of Chicago where there were no barns within about a half hour’s drive, so I didn’t ride when I was very young because I simply never had an opportunity. I was just somehow born with this desire to be near horses. I only actually saw horses at rare summer carnivals or if we saw horse-drawn carriage rides on a trip to the city. I was just innately drawn to these animals if I ran across them in person or even in books or movies.
It wasn’t until I was almost in middle school when I had the opportunity to spend more than a random afternoon with horses. During the summers of my pre-teen years, my mother didn’t want me in her hair, or watching TV, and she didn’t care what it cost to keep me out of the house. She told me I was allowed to go to any summer camp I wanted, as long as I didn’t stay home all summer. I did tons of research on my options and managed to find camps that offered as much time riding as possible.
I longed to have my own horse but knew that would simply never happen. During high school my parents allowed me to take riding lessons once a week during the school year for a while. However, they weren’t happy about how far away the barn was, and I had to take a bus to get there. Riding is also a very expensive pastime, which definitely didn’t help my case. At this time during the eighties, kids didn’t automatically have sports or activities. My parents were not particularly supportive of my riding, and eventually the logistics became too difficult. So I gave it up.
By the time I went to college, I repressed my desire to be a barn rat, cleaning stalls and grooming horses all day. I decided instead to get married and become a successful businesswoman in the financial world. I started dating Marc, who is now my husband.
Marc was kind of geeky and interested in computers, with a college major of engineering physics. This was a stark contrast to the silly, fun-loving sorority girl I was at the time. However, he was also kind, loving, brilliant, fun to hang out with, and could definitely hold his own against me in a discussion. In appearance he could be my brother; we were both on the short side with a fairly average build and both had greenish-hazel eyes with light olive skin. Our hair belied the Jewish heritage we shared—thick, dark, and frizzy—and we both wore it in typical eighties styles. He had a mullet and I had thick bangs cut straight across my forehead. I thought he was pretty darn cute, and from the time we started dating neither of us ever really looked for anyone else. I
remember fairly early in our dating relationship expressing to him in no uncertain terms that children were not something that would ever be a part of my future. The look of surprise on his face was mixed with humor, and I could tell he didn’t think this was an issue in our current situation.
“No!” I told him. “This is not funny. If you want to have kids, there’s no point in going any further in this relationship.” I made my point as clear as I could.
“I guess I always thought I’d have kids, but it’s not a deal breaker or anything,” he told me.
“Well, it is for me,” I told him sternly. Any prior visions of laughing rug rats must have diminished for Marc, since he continued dating me. In fact, he eventually married me and never asked me to reconsider my position.
Even as a young adult, children of any age continued to annoy me whenever I spent time with them, and I was glad I had absolutely no responsibility for them. They got on my nerves, and I saw nothing cute about their antics.
I just couldn’t wrap my brain around why seemingly intelligent adults would completely alter their lives just to have kids. I had a great many discussions with different people over the years on this topic. My attitude never wavered, and theirs didn’t seem to either. Whoever it was I was talking to invariably told me that it would be different when it was my own kid. I assured them it wouldn’t and I would never be finding out.
Right after graduation Marc and I got married, and our lives changed in every way.
I started working like any other business school graduate. I got a full-time job and worked as hard as I knew how to. I was often in my office for sixty hours a week or so. I was constantly fighting for respect, and when I realized it wasn’t going to happen, I started to give in. I saw how much more money Marc was making, and it frustrated me. He didn’t work harder than I did. He wasn’t any smarter than I was. What was the difference?
I worked for a string of bosses who didn’t appreciate me or my ability. I personally experienced prejudice because I was Jewish, because I was a woman, and because I was not a part of the family whose business I was working for. I allowed this series of employment experiences to create doubt in myself and lead me to lower expectations in this area of my life had been so driven and focused on career, diminishing these expectations allowed for more time and space in my life for other endeavors and may have contributed to my shift in attitude toward motherhood.
Shortly after we got married, I started riding again and quickly bought the horse of my own I had dreamed of for as long as I could remember. I spent endless hours at the barn from the time I was about twenty-three on. I think that time of my life was similar to the childhood most people experience when they are young.
I hung out with other horse-crazy girls and women, groomed my steed to immaculate perfection, rode around as long as I thought would be acceptable to my mount and trainer, and then started all over again. I would organize my tack, ride extra horses for my friends, even sit and watch other students’ riding lessons. I would do anything I could find to do without leaving that wonderful dusty haven with the intoxicatingly pungent scent. I was in the fortunate position of having a husband who made more than enough money to support both of us without question, so I was able to finally live out my childhood dreams.
As the years went on, my sixty hours a week at work became forty, which became thirty-five, and so on. The extra hours I previously spent in the office were now redirected to hours at the barn. By the time of my “light bulb moment,” when I was twenty-nine, on the brink of adulthood in my mind, my “career” wasn’t much to speak of.
I had a job at an accounting firm. My boss was amazing, and I loved my office and all the people I worked with. But the multiple jobs and frustrations of my past had taken their toll on my confidence and pride. I had interviewed for the position in jeans and cheerfully explained that this was as dressed up as I would be getting. Somehow, my boss was able to recognize my ability and hired me, despite the privileged attitude I displayed.
So, I had a job I loved on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, where I came after I was done riding my horses. I worked about ten hours a week in my smelly jeans and boots. It was more of a hobby than a career. I could certainly have made it more if I had wanted, but I had kind of fallen into accounting and never particularly enjoyed it. The serious career in the finance industry I pictured in college never really materialized. The few opportunities I had in that area came with major drawbacks that I wasn’t willing to accept, so I fell into accounting, which I was very good at but seemed pretty mindless and not what I was meant to be doing.
The barn was “my happy place,” where I was calm and found peace, joy, and escape from any conflict or stress in my life. It was so surprising and very distressing that a carefree conversation in this serene haven caused me to question the very direction of my life. This was when I first allowed myself to consider becoming a mother.
September 1998–April 2000
It is rare to know the exact moment when the path of life veers off in a different direction. When looking back, and only in retrospect, these twists and swerves sometimes show themselves. One hot steamy day in September, 1998, in the expansive arena of my comfortable home horse barn, the path and direction of my life clearly took a sharp turn.
My friend, Jenny, was almost exactly a year older than me, and it was her thirtieth birthday. Jenny was my horse trainer’s wife and was one of my favorite people at the barn. She was a tiny girl with straight chestnut hair and a perpetual smile on her face. She was sitting in the middle of a dusty round pen, which is a fenced-off area on one side of the arena. It is set up to keep the horse going in a circle so the trainer can sit in the middle while the horse burns off some excess energy.
A dark brown horse was galloping in a circle, kicking up dust clouds around Jenny, when I arrived at the barn. It was her milestone birthday, and I waded through the deep sand of the arena to get to her before going to find my own mount. I delivered her birthday gift on this warm September day with a sing-song greeting announcing that she was now thirty. She looked at me and said, “You know, you’ve only got one more year!” I stopped dead in my tracks.
It was a strange turning point in my life. I never realized before what a mental milestone the age of thirty was to me, but somehow when she said that, my life came to a screeching halt.
I’m sure Jenny doesn’t even remember the conversation, let alone realize the impact her simple comment had on me. At that exact moment, I realized I was an adult. I mean, she said I was turning thirty in less than a year. That’s, like, how old I remember my own mother being. I could clearly recall my mother’s thirtieth birthday, and in my perspective, she was very much a grownup with three kids who were not even babies anymore. I looked at my life from entirely new glasses, and I wasn’t so happy with what I saw.
This particular September day, I was so busy thinking about the fact that I was no longer a child that I couldn’t think of anything else. I rode my beautiful chestnut horse without much attention or joy, which was very unusual, but I just couldn’t get that comment out of my mind.
Usually I luxuriated in the feeling of freedom as my mare loped around with my hair flying in the wind. But on this day, I may as well have been sitting in a folding chair. I could only concentrate or focus on what my life had become. I was trying to figure out why I was unhappy and how I might resolve this problem.
The revelation that I would be thirty soon had so knocked me for a loop, I called work and told them I wouldn’t be coming in that day.
I thought about it all afternoon but couldn’t quite pinpoint what the problem was. I should have been happy, I thought. I was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing, and I was having fun. I had a great husband who made a great living, and we were very comfortable at our lovely house in the expensive suburb where we both grew up.