Saturday, October 10, 2009
Baby Bear's Story
(Excerpts in italics from my private journal, edited to remove names)
Until I walked the road of adoption, I did not realize that love so easily holds hands with grief; that hope and doubt may share spaces and that the human heart had such a deep capacity for giving.
The phone rang twice today. The first was JL reminding me that we'd invited them to dinner tonight. I'd forgotten but it didn't matter. The second one was C--K's Mom--apologizing for missing a play date. I felt a hot surge of anger toward both of them for making me get up from my book to answer the phone, an absurd fluttering hope in my chest that it would be our Social Worker (from now on abbreviated SW) calling.
I also saw on the streets of P-town a family walking along, the little girls like salt and pepper, white and black. I wanted it to be me walking there, holding the hand of the littlest girl, her black ponytails like bumpy antennae on top of her head. My children played Train, following the red lines of brick in the cement while I watched that family walk down the street.
All spring and summer I waited for that phone call, my heart alternately despairing of ever getting it and wildly hoping that maybe tomorrow would be the day. At night I dreamed we'd gotten a call, only to awaken in the morning to nothing. Friends would ask us constantly if we had any news and we'd say the same thing over and over, hundreds of times, "No, nothing yet."
A call from D (other SW) today. How does CdA-town sound? How about a really open relationship? Depends on the family we're adopting along with the baby. They want to go to church...that's a good sign and I think I'll cling to it like a life preserver. Can I trust them with my heart like I am asking them to trust me with theirs? We will be forever linked.
When the call came, I was unwrapping a cereal bar for my son to eat for breakfast. I held the phone on my shoulder, tearing at the rustling foil, listening to D's words, memorizing each one of them. All she was asking was permission to share our profile. There was no guarantee we'd be picked. Twice before we'd gotten a follow-up call announcing that other adoptive families were chosen and we had not been picked. We would have to wait some more.
We're chosen! We meet on the 19th. Such guarded hope, such feeble optimism. Every day seems to go by so slowly, until I can cram 1,000 paper cranes into it, each a fragile dream of baby.
Again my phone rang, D's name scrolling lazily across the ID screen and hope leapt in my heart, immediately to wash away with the certainty it would be a negative. But no, we'd actually been chosen and matched with a young mother-to-be, provided the initial meeting went well. I knew almost nothing about her, not even her age. D told us she had not used drugs or alcohol and right away I felt that she loved and cared about her baby enough to take care of herself while it grew inside her. Although we had requested a girl-child, the gender was unknown and we agreed to the match anyway.
Tomorrow the meeting.
The week before the meeting slithered by with the frightening anticipation of waiting for a job interview or an important test. Would she like us? Would we like her? How could total strangers, ships passing in the night, meet for one hour then decide the future course of their lives?
A (mom) seems really unsure and quiet. Overall the meeting felt reassuring and awkward, weird and just right all at the same time. My mind retains only snapshots of the day, mental pictures to replace the digital ones I forgot to take. A in a pink shirt smiling nervously. T (another SW) wearing a gaudy silver necklace that drew my eyes frustratingly to her chest rather than her eyes. Gray, mellow walls. A table, cobbled together from several folding tables and set with plastic cups of water that nagged at the back of my mind with the worry they would be spilled. M's (A's mom) warm eyes and ready smile. L (A's dad) with dark hair and a friendly but cautious expression. D, comfortable, assured. A white board behind us bringing memories of boring work meetings.
We drove home for two hours with tired, cranky children who had missed their naps. The golden sun set over wheat fields in the midst of harvest, their tall stalks tangled in the wind like the tangled emotions in my heart. We instantly liked A, her mom and dad. We felt like they were good people, people we would welcome into our lives in the future. We were told they approved of us, but the closed look in A's eyes nagged at the back of my mind. She wanted this baby. Even though all the circumstances stood against her, mommy-love was already so strong... and something more. She hoped to take this baby home and make him part of her life. I saw it in her eyes. I did not blame her. I would have felt the same.
Still, a sense of rightness pervaded my thoughts. The name A had picked used two family names, both names we liked and had considered using. We had purposefully decided not to pick a name for Baby Bear in case it was important to his birth mom to choose his name. It was. So many little details lined up. What did this mean?
Finding myself quite down and disappointed today. Unknowingly I had imagined thinks differently... better. I had imagined perhaps a shared ultrasound photo. I imagined being there at the hospital, holding the baby right away and perhaps getting to nurse. I didn't realize I'd built up these pictures in my mind, built on others' stories of holding their baby right away. I feel like something precious is being taken away, something I will never regain.
Memories of birthing my other two babies seemed to flood my mind and I could not push them away. The first precious moments. The tender care I took to make sure they were handled just right. The knowledge that I was their Mommy and would never let anything happen to them. It was during these days that the truth of adoption hit me with full force. It is not the same and will never, ever be the same. He will never be mine in the same way that the other two are. I knew I would love him as deeply, care for him as fiercely and and tenderly and that he would hold the same power over my heart. But he would be shared. I would forever share him with another family, just as surely as they had shared him with me.
Someone handed me the moon, I think. M (A's mom) called asking to see us again Saturday. She said A didn't want to come which scares me. The things that made me cry with joy was her announcement of no Cradle Care. Instead of a week in a plastic bassinet, Baby will be with his family.
As the weeks went by, I imagined how A struggled with the decision. And all along our SW, D warned us how difficult it was to make. We were told over and over not to be surprised if A changed her mind; even if she was 100% sure on one day that she would place the baby, another day might be different, particularly once the baby was born.
A came to the coffee shop with us after all. As usual, I put my foot right into my mouth suggesting she might want to fill out her family tree in the baby book. She's adopted and has no family tree and told me so in no uncertain terms. Arg. I meant at least her and T (bio-dad). At least she came. She told me her story of growing up. Hard and pain-filled, full of neglect and grief, but also courage and survival. She doesn't want that for Baby. No kidding, me either.
I don't know how much of her story to share. Because her story is Baby Bear's story and because her story made it so much harder to decide to place, it is important. But it is her story to tell, not mine. In the future, Baby Bear should hear it from her.
I called our Pediatrician today to ask what to do when the baby came. Such a routine, mundane acts felt oddly reassuring. Taking care of kids involves days and days of such mundane acts as remembering to schedule Pediatrician visits and somehow it made it all the more real in my mind. Baby is due in exactly one week and I'd be really surprised if he came early.
It also ended up being an excuse to call A and M to tell them they can give the hospital the name of our Ped. I think that will reassure them that Baby is going to get good care. It still seems absolutely unreal that we are most likely going to be parents again in only one short week. It seems it is constantly in the back of my mind, the see-saw of maybe-we-will, maybe-we-won't. I'm surprised at my level of emotional calm. It must be all the people praying for me. I feel like a soft layer of something is wrapped around my heart, that whatever happens is in God's hands and that I can wait calmly for events out of my control to unfold. Very unusual for me. I'd like to think it is growth in emotional maturity but I have a feeling it is more due to so many people praying for us. I lean on them.
I thought more about A during this time than the baby. I knew in her shoes I would also struggle, turning over and over in my mind the best thing to do for the baby, for myself. I could see how much she loved her baby and thought about the sense of abandonment she'd felt in her own life; how she did not want that for her son. It made me more determined than ever to make sure he grew up knowing her and hearing her tell him she loves him.
At the same time, I began building a protective shield around my own heart. I knew there was a very real possibility she would choose not to sign the papers. Even though the cards were stacked against her, I see in her the same strength I see in myself, that she would not be intimidated by circumstances. I began to imagine our life in a month, without this baby, maybe still waiting, maybe not, but moving on.
I woke in the middle of the night last night from another nightmare. I lay there in the dark listening to the sound of someone riding past the house on a skateboard. The dream had been about someone trying to kill me again but that doesn't matter; the part that matters is that it woke me up in the quiet middle of the night when I can only lay there and think. I lay and thought about a baby that I would not get to see born. And a mother who couldn't hand him over. I came downstairs to eat a bowl of cereal and shed myself of thoughts, to bury them where they belonged in the place where pain hides.
I wept in Hubby's arms. "I wish he could stay with his mother." That was all that came out.
So this afternoon I was not surprised to get a call from D. Of course my heart jumped into my throat. Her tone held a warning and as quickly as she could she told her tale. The guardian ad litum thought A seemed ambivalent on her decision to place the baby. The guardian ad litum thought a receiving home would be wise. No one wanted the baby to get taken from our family. I listened in silence, half my attention on her voice and half my attention on my son who was whining from his room where he needed his diaper to be changed. Somehow his voice was an anchor holding onto me.
"So what do you think?" Donna asked. I was surprised how even my voice sounded, how calm. "I think it sounds wise. We'll just have to wait and see."
This time I did not cry. I still have not cried. The tears stay tucked away and I calmly changed Mister and put him back to bed to finish his nap. I watched a movie, I worked on some writing. My blog is sadly neglected, however. I have nothing I can write there.
The walls around my heart grew thicker. As the baby's due date approached and passed, I wondered if even A who must by absolutely miserable by now could even compare with the awful anticipation with which I awaited the next phone call.
Early this morning the phone rang and my heart jumped. D calmly informed me that a baby boy had been born at 2:30 this morning. She had not called us yesterday because there had been nothing to tell, she said. How could she be so calm? I feel a sense of finality. He is born. We were not there, were not even told. This is not our baby, it's A's baby. We need to move on.
The more I tried to lock the gate to the fortress I'd built around my heart, hope, as my enemy, kept hammering to get in. There was still a tiny ray of hope, perhaps not even strong enough to be called hope but merely wishful thinking. It would not let me rest, would not let me close the door entirely, the hope that maybe this baby still needed a home, needed me, not to replace his Mom who gave him life, but to raise him, to take care of him and love him and teach him.
D called twice today. There is a court date after all. Why after taking him home would they set a court date? She said they took him home. The roller coaster just took another wrenching turn. I'm not sure if the carefully built walls of protection I built around my heart can withstand such a direct attack. Friday, two days. They said to bring a car seat. Donna said we'd get to have the baby at 10:00 AM. I don't think I believe her. I don't want to believe. I want to stay safe.
Each trembling day I walked the balance beam between hope and disappointment. Was it really possible after all this that it would be better for him to live with us than his mother who had fallen completely in love with him? It is true that she would have a much tougher time as a teenager raising a baby than I would with a secure income, a partner to help with the night shifts and the experience of two previous babies. But mother-love can almost always trump the voice of reason and I still felt I had little hope left for myself.
Tomorrow morning... CdA again. A big part of me dares not hope, even now. It has to be some kind of a cruel joke, as if we signed up for this regimen of torture for some sadistic reason and it will never actually end, just go on and on with brutal uncertainty... after this round ends another will begin. Of course sometimes a thought slips through the cracks and I imagine myself holding a tiny, soft, curly-haired.... no, stop. It is too good to be true. I know if it is true I will cry like crazy, shedding the months of emotional tension in one great rush of unstoppable tears. Soon we'll find out. Soon. But not soon enough.
Two days ago I wrote that, and a lifetime ago. Today I hold him, newborn still, smelling of diaper cream and indescribably baby smell, my heart full of deep, deep mommy-love. His skin is darkening each day as I have been told AA and biracial babies do. His smile looks exactly like his mother and I rejoice to see it there on his small face. I have been given a precious gift; I feel so privileged to get to share in the life of this amazing new person. Even sweeter: he'll get to grow up knowing not only his adoptive mommy, but his mom too. As often as possible she'll get to tell him she loves him and what kid is luckier than this one... to have so many people who love him?
I was told adoption is a miracle and I previously disagreed. Adoption is sad and scary and painful. I still think that, but I realize now that there is a miracle involved. The miracle is the people. A mother strong enough to do the best for her child. A family willing to wait and not know. A baby kept healthy and safe. Social workers who not only worked but prayed and cared and called and counseled. A circle of friends and relatives who waited and watched and prayed. Most of all, a God who loved and is loved by all of them who put each piece in place at the right time.