12.16.2014

# 90: LILY'S 3rd BIRTHDAY




PAGE # 90
Tuesday
12/16/14


Dear Lily,

Today is your third birthday. I hope you are celebrating somewhere with people who love and care for you. I hope you are happy and healthy. I hope that your natural mother and all members of your biological family, both maternal and paternal, are also well under the circumstances of so much loss.

The year has gone quick for me. It has been a difficult one, filled with many health challenges. Even the ostensibly enjoyable stuff, like building a new home, created more stress than joy. I have written little, and obviously, nothing here since your last birthday.

I think of you often. I notice all things relating to adoption. I stare too long at the faces of little girls around your age. Perhaps we've eaten near each other in a restaurant somewhere? Is it possible you have played beside our Sara, now age five, at a local park? You are probably far away from here. Where are you?

I have received a handful of comments and some emails from my readers--most ask when I'll be finishing the story here. I am struggling with this. I do intend to finish writing "Where's Baby Lily, Mommy?" The question is whether I will continue blogging it here, or continue privately, in hope of ultimately reaching a wider audience through a more traditional book. 

I attended a writers' conference earlier this year. Many suggested that this story could indeed be a book, but that publishers are not likely to print something already online. So, I have suspended further posts. But I miss the online community here; I'm not quite sure how I will proceed.

Please say a prayer for "Lily" tonight. Her story, though she had no voice, is an important one. I hope to find the right path toward telling it fully. Each narrative, each story that helps illuminate the unethical practice of adoption in this country, is worth sharing. The challenge is how to bring these stories, mostly consumed by the minority of us online here, to the mainstream culture. The challenge is transforming the cultural schema of adoption or, at the very least, making room for new voices. 

Story by story; word by word. 

Happy Birthday "Lily."

Wishing you much love,
Jennifer

12.16.2013

# 89: LILY'S 2nd BIRTHDAY



PAGE # 89
Monday
12/16/13

Dear Baby Lily,

Happy 2nd birthday to you, no longer a baby, but a toddler now. You probably have a different name as well, which would put you on at least name number three, and it strikes me as crazy that any toddler should have been named more times than her actual number of years old. 

I still look for you in the faces of other little girls. If a child looks genetically unrelated to her parents, I tend to suspect adoption immediately. In these cases, I really study the child's face for clues of your baby face. Sometimes, depending on the circumstances, I may even strike up a conversation with a parent. If they were to share an adoption story, I'd make an apt listener. 

I wonder when or if I will ever stop looking for you. It's not as if I am in ongoing pain; no, I think I am fine. I think it's just the nature of such a bizarre loss--surely it is not the normative experience--plus, I am curious. So, I predict the habit will continue on till my dying day.

The chances, I think, are actually good that we might someday meet again. I recently found the daughter of my mother's ex-fiance on Facebook. This is impressive for a multitude of reasons:

1)  My mother was not very forthcoming about the fact that she had been engaged to someone else before marrying my father. In fact, she only told me about her broken-off engagement after I'd been married myself. This once-upon a time engagement was over 40 years ago.

2)  After learning of this other man, it took me another ten years to find out his last name. Finally, a few months ago, my mother told me.

3)  That very day, the same day of finding out his last name, I learned that the man had unfortunately passed away less than two years ago. Also, I found one of his daughters on Facebook. And then I noticed that the daughter and I have a mutual friend. And many of my friends are friends with her friends. 

4) We connected and are now Facebook friends. Her dear mother even scanned old photos for me of her late husband, then a young man, with my then-young mother. So people save stuff. And they are happy to share! It was super exciting to see these resurrected pictures of my mom and to finally get a look at the man who almost cost me my very existence! He was indeed handsome.

5) The daughter and I are planning to meet in the spring. We both almost never existed and yet--we are now connected by this immutable detail of our parents' history. AND I FOUND HER IN LESS THAN AN HOUR once I learned the last name of my mother's fiance (which, by the way, his daughter no longer shares, and still, it was easy).

I tell this seemingly unrelated story now because it gives me hope that someday I will be able to find you. Finding a person is easy nowadays, given all the social media. The hard part, on the other hand, will be getting your name in the first place. But that too, I do not believe to be an impossible task. I have hope--some of that hope rests in the fact that your biological mother, according to her twitter feed, became a private investigator. Just like your maternal biological grandfather is. 

In any case, your footprints will be waiting. And your hospital identification bracelets. And your earliest photos. 

I wish you a very happy birthday, wherever you are, and hope that you are loved, healthy, and enjoying life. 

Love,
Jennifer

*

A Note to Readers: Please note that my writing time has grown quite narrow these last few months. This lack of output is not related to the Baby Veronica case outcome--it is merely the result of other life events (including recurring illnesses and building a new home). I intend to complete Baby Lily's story in its entirety. Thanks for your patience. 

11.22.2013

# 88: I JUST WANTED TO TAKE A NAP, BUT...



PAGE # 88
Friday
12/30/11
Morning Through Afternoon


I was at the Department of Motor Vehicles.  I was not supposed to be at the Department of Motor Vehicles.  Not even close.  

It was Friday--the one day of the week that I have babysitting help--and I had planned to catch up on some chores, maybe even take a nap.  But Tom, who was supposedly off from work for the holidays, ran out for a business meeting early in the morning.  And my father-in-law, with no prior warning, decided that this very day would be the day when TJ got his driver's permit.  He appeared in my house even before I'd had my coffee and immediately dragged TJ out of bed.

"But Grandpa," TJ protested, "I haven't even studied yet."

"Study Shmuddy!  Who needs to study for a driver's permit?  You can study while we wait in line," my father-in-law told him.

"Wait!" I said.  "I can't do this today.  I have things I need to get done.  And I'm too tired for this right now."

"I'm taking him," my father-in-law said.  "You don't need to come."

"I doubt that," I replied.  "I don't think he can get a permit without a parent there."

"Jennifer, Jennifer, Jennifer.  Don't worry so much.  I am the grandfather.  They will deal with me.  Relax."

They left for the DMV, and within the hour, Tom texted me instructions to head to the DMV right away.  Of course a parent needed to be there.  And, I needed to bring my license and two utility bills for proof of address.

Oh, I was so mad!  I was exhausted from the new baby and the holidays.  I wanted to rest.  Instead, I spent hours at the DMV, waiting in lines and feeling totally annoyed at my father-in-law--who left upon my arrival so he could grab some lunch.

TJ and I were still waiting, when at 12:56 pm, I received this text message from Tom:
Nate and the whole clan are coming over around 2:30, after lunch.
Nate is one of Tom's best friends.  The "whole clan" referred to Nate, his wife, his two daughters, his two sisters and their respective husbands, as well as his parents and parents-in-law.  A grand total of twelve unexpected house guests. In addition, Tom's parents would attend the impromptu event, along with Tom's brother, his wife, and their two children, raising the head count to that of party status.  I wanted to punch my husband between the eyes, but since I was still stuck at the DMV (where Tom was not stuck), I sent him back this text message instead:
I'm still here at the DMV!  The whole clan is coming?  I need a fucking shower!  I'm going to kill your dad too!  I'm stuck here for hours like a moron!  On my special babysitter Friday!  I need to shower before they come.  Seriously.  I am disgusting.  I am gross.  Very gross.  
Tom did not empathize with my frustration.  All he wrote back was:
U have time.  No cursing.
I was livid.  All I wanted was a few hours to myself--already impossible--and now I had to prepare to entertain guests?  At the last minute?  

TJ failed the permit test.  When we returned home, he carried his despondent self straight to his room and slammed the door behind him.  

Tom, on the other hand, did not let the bad news about the permit test affect his mood:  he was beaming, looking radiant as he held Baby Lily in his arms. He was eager to show her off to his friend.  He smiled over at Sara, who was playing with the babysitter.

I ignored Tom when he said hello (maybe I gave him a dirty look), and ran straight toward our bathroom.  I wanted to check my email again (Kendra had still not replied to me), but noting the time, I hopped in the shower.

Weeks later, after Baby Lily was gone, I would remind myself of this day in an attempt to console myself.  I'd convince myself that having a third child was too much for me anyway.  I could barely handle a day at the DMV and some unexpected visitors that day--how could I handle a third child for the rest of my life?

To Be Continued... 

11.09.2013

# 87: WHAT LOOKS LIKE A MID-LIFE LOVE AFFAIR?




PAGE # 87
Thursday
12/29/11
Throughout the day...


Pretend you were there that day, watching me from a window, observing my activity morning through night.  What would you see and what would you conclude if you knew nothing further about the details of my life?


You would have seen this:

A house full with me, my husband, three kids, a dog, friends and neighbors stopping by (and later that night--my aunt and uncle), holiday decorations and new toys.  There was a flurry of non-stop social activity.  Shared meals. Diapers changed.  The mundane details of an otherwise ordinary life.  

You would also notice that in each and every opportunity between feedings, laundry, and conversations with others, I was engaged in a most obsessive pursuit: checking my email.  You would have seen me on my iPhone, scrolling madly through my online mail.  You would see a middle aged woman, surrounded by her domestic obligations who took each and every spare moment to check her phone again.  And again.  And again. 

And except for those captured moments--me, looking frantic and wild for something on my iPhone--for someone--you would be otherwise bored. There's not much intrigue associated with washing baby bottles.  

But...you'd want to know what was going on with all that checking of my phone. You'd probably think I was having some secret love affair--waiting for my lover to make contact!  It would explain the compulsive checking behavior.

But you would be wrong.  I was waiting for Kendra to reply to my last email.  I would calculate the passage of time between our previous correspondence--Kendra had always replied quickly and within the same calendar day--and I did, in fact, suffer from a feeling of abandonment by nightfall.

When my aunt and uncle arrived that evening, bringing with them a homemade Italian feast, I was so grateful for the nourishment and the distraction.  We ate and we laughed.  My aunt held Lily most of the night, and again, as I had noted during my mother in-law's visit, I realized I was more able to "share" Lily with others than I had been with TJ and Sara during their newborn stages.  Again, I wondered whether this indicated that I loved Lily less than I did my biological children?  Or, maybe all mothers hand off the third child with greater ease? Perhaps it was simply a matter of exhaustion. 

After my aunt and uncle left, and all the kids were sleeping, Tom practically leaped into our bed.  "Come on, what are you doing?  Let's go to sleep already."

"One sec," I told him, as I checked my email again.

But there was nothing from Kendra.  I plopped down beside Tom. 

"Goodnight," Tom said.  "I love you."

"Kendra hasn't written me back from last night."

Tom rolled over to face me.  "She's probably just busy.  Don't forget, she still has two little boys she's caring for.  Let's go to sleep.  I'm sure you'll hear back from her tomorrow."

"But she always writes back the same day."

Tom sighed.  "Jen, come on, I'm exhausted.  She's probably exhausted.  Forget it for now."

"Okay," I said.  "I just hope she's alright."

As I closed my eyes, I wasn't just worried for Kendra.  It was more complicated than that.  I felt the anxiety of a cast-off lover.  I felt the pain of rejection. There was something humbling and humiliating about being chosen by a birth mother and then, in a mere day's time, feeling neglected by her.  But what exactly did I expect from this younger woman--a daily ongoing partnership? What more could I possibly want from a woman who had already given me her baby!  

To Be Continued...

10.19.2013

# 86: BIRTHMOTHER'S BIRTHDAY




PAGE # 86
Wednesday
12/28/11
Just Before Bedtime


After a busy day with the kids and Tom's parents, I was eager to go to sleep, but I sat down to write an email to Kendra instead.  It was her birthday, and I'd been thinking about her all day.  This is the email I sent Kendra at exactly 9:51 pm:

Happy Birthday!

I'm pretty sure the paperwork said it is your 25th birthday today!  Happy Birthday from all of us!

It sounds like you guys had a great time on vacation.  Did they decorate really well for Christmas?  It must be lovely there during the holidays.

The coupons you mentioned would be great, thanks!  The next time I see Shelley, I will bring that photo album we got for you, along with some photos of Lily.  Then, you can just add future photos to the album.  I have to tell you, she is an eating machine!  She is already almost nine pounds.  Moreover, I think she is a future Olympian athlete.  I have never in all my life seen a stronger baby.  She is lifting her head all the time and even grabs the nipple and aims it right into her mouth!  She is super coordinated already.  She even looks like she is ready to scoot across the floor when we do tummy time with her.  I'm telling you:  future gold medalist!

Sara and TJ are really enjoying her.  Sara absolutely loves watching her get her diaper changed.  TJ is great with feedings, not so much diapers!  Everyone is simply thrilled.  My in laws met her for the first time today.  They came straight here from the airport.  They said she is a beautiful baby, and I told them she looks just like you. 

I hope you are doing well.  I think about you and your boys all the time.  Our son asks about you too and he says hello.  I think you have left a profound impact on him for the rest of his life.  This experience seems to have matured him, as I'm sure it has all of us, in ways that leave him well beyond his peers.  

I also hope that the trip with your in laws went well.  In laws are never easy, even under the best circumstances!  My friends and I all joke that we should co-write a book about what NOT to do to a daughter/son in law, so at least we will have a written reminder for when we are in that role someday.

By the way, please tell your mom that her story (how her birth mom took 8 years to start a relationship with her after your mom found her) was an inspiration for one of my best friends.  Also adopted, she found her birth mom a few years ago, but after initial contact, the mom declined any future type of correspondence/relationship.  Your mom's story gave her hope, that maybe her birth mom will come around too someday.  It's really amazing how this adoption story is touching the lives of so many people around us in so many different ways.  I hope that people around you, unlike that one friend you mentioned on the phone, are responding to your experience in all this with grace, love & support.  Perhaps you will even inspire someone else to not get an abortion and to choose adoption.  You never know how far reaching your impact can be on others.

One last thing--I'm so happy that we got to spend the time we did together in the hospital.  I think Lily is very fortunate that we were able to connect and share her birth experience together.  


Hope you ate a delicious piece of birthday cake!


***

At the time this email was composed, I see now that I was beginning to deviate from the social worker's script:  I start off with the more mundane details of feeding and diapers, but then I start sharing more personal subject matter--that I think about Kendra and hers sons all the time, that my son is having an emotional reaction to the adoption placement, and that I've thought more about our time together in the hospital.  I was interested in an authentic and continuous relationship with Kendra and her boys, and I can see here, that I am beginning to share more of my true feelings.

Of course, how I felt about things then, are altogether different from how I feel about things now.  For instance, my opinion on PAPs being present in the hospital and even pre-birth matching has entirely changed.  I now think such methods in newborn adoption are coercive and unethical. 

To Be Continued...

10.11.2013

# 85: THE OTHER (PROSPECTIVE ADOPTIVE) GRANDPARENTS


PAGE # 85
Tuesday to Wednesday
12/27/11 to 12/28/11
From one day to the next...


My mom left Tuesday evening.  She took the latest flight possible back to New York, and her departure signaled not merely the end of the Christmas holiday, but also the approaching end of the entire holiday season.  The new year was imminent, and a few days thereafter marked the final day on which Lily's biological father could contest the adoption.  Since we hadn't heard anything further regarding Bobby the bio-dad, the hypervigilance that guarded my heart seemed to soften slightly, and Lily began to feel more and more like a permanent family member.

We barely had the chance to feel my mother's absence on Wednesday morning, because Tom's parents returned home that very day.  They had been off traveling the world, I cannot recall where, as they never stay home for more than two consecutive weeks at a time.  At any given moment, they are likely en route to someplace other than home; in fact, it's hard to even call their nearby apartment a "home" outside of legal purposes; after all, they must claim permanent residency somewhere.

And so, almost two weeks after Lily's birth, my in-laws were coming to meet her.  On the day we brought her home from the hospital, my father-in-law called with a congratulatory remark followed by an apology:  "Sorry we are not around for this."  To which Tom had replied, "Don't worry, we're used to it."  I listened for traces of bitterness in Tom's voice, but there were none.  "We're used to it," was a matter of fact for Tom.  The statement was not intended to convey any underlying hurt feelings toward his parents.  

When Sara was born, Tom's parents had been out of the country on a vacation.  They were not around the two weeks she had spent in the neonatal intensive care unit.  Their absence from significant life events never seems to bother Tom; he merely shrugs it off, as if expecting otherwise would be akin to betting on a nonexistent number at the roulette wheel.  He's a practical man.   

When they arrived, my mother-in-law took to Baby Lily with much enthusiasm and warmth.  She held her for hours, snuggled her, fed her--I was surprised but grateful.  This same woman had scrunched her nose in disgust when Jim and Tracey had adopted Ricky, saying, "I could never do it.  I couldn't love it."

I watched her gazing at Lily's face.  She couldn't get over Lily's beauty, and this seemed to please her very much.  When I showed my mother-in-law a picture of Kendra, the natural mother, there was a gasp, followed by, "I cannot believe it!  She is gorgeous.  Like a supermodel!"

My father-in-law nodded in agreement.  "She is very pretty and the baby is very pretty too, but Sara will always be the number one granddaughter."

I could have pointed out that family is not a competition, but I didn't.  And maybe the truth about all families is that competition is inevitable, lurking beneath achievements and disappointments, carried by sibling rivalry, reinforced by parents across all cultures.  I felt powerless to stop a dynamic that was already unraveling:  Lily might be adored or praised, but she would always be considered inferior to our other children.  I wondered if Lily might have been better off in a family that had no biological children in the home.  

Just as I was doubting Lily's placement with us, my mother-in-law said, "You are so lucky, Jen.  Two kids are not enough.  Three kids is a perfect family.  All of my friends with less than three wish they had more now.  I'm telling you, three is the best amount."

My mother-in-law held Lily all day.  I took a shower, caught up on some household tasks, played with Sara.  Once in a while, I'd peek in to check on Lily and my mother-in-law would smile saying, "I just love babies."

This was such a surprise.  I could not recall her gushing and cooing over TJ or Sara like that.  But then it hit me:  I never let her hold TJ and Sara like that.  I never gave her the opportunity.  I clung to my own flesh and blood fiercely and selfishly.  I didn't share my babies easily.  Not with anyone, really, except for Tom. 

I was not the same mother with Lily.  I was a different mother, an inferior mother.  In a later conversation with Zeni, one of my two best friends, she asked me if it felt different to adopt.  And all I could say was, "I don't know yet.  I'm not sure if I'm protecting my heart from a possible loss, or if I'm going to feel less love for Lily forever."

To Be Continued...

9.01.2013

# 84: BACK TO BABY LILY'S STORY


PAGE # 84
Monday
12/26/11
Afternoon

It was the day after Christmas.  Our nephew, Max, was playing with Sara in our family room.  He was excited about all the new toys in the house, and I watched as Sara gave him the tour of her new kitchen set.
"Look what Santa brought me," she said.
I sat on the couch, holding a sleeping Baby Lily in my arms.  I heard Max lower his voice down to a whisper.  He looked over at me, and with a smile wider than his face, he said to Sara:
"There's no such thing as Santa."
Then, Max looked back over at me.  I was surprised at the degree of anger boiling inside me.
Really, Jen?  You feel this much anger toward a child who is only on the brink of turning five?
Oh, I was mad.  There was no good way to intervene at the moment, but Sara, weighing only 21 pounds at 2 years of age, was articulate enough to handle things by herself:   
"Santa's real.  You silly Max!  He brought me my kitchen.  Look..." she said, her hand pointing at the evidence.
But Max would not let up.  I had already discussed this issue with him--after a previous attempt he made at killing Santa.  He knew the topic was off limits.  My husband, Tom, and his family are Jewish, and despite the fact that I consider myself agnostic, I was raised in a Catholic family and do enjoy carrying on the holiday traditions.  I had hoped Tom's family would respect my wishes regarding the Christmas holiday.  And I had already spoken with my brother and sister-in-law, Sam and Diana, more than once about it.
"Max, I think it's time to go home now," I said.  
"No!"  he cried.  "I promise I'll play nice."
Within minutes, Sara and Max were playing dress-up.  Sara donned her new chef's costume, and Max was running through the rooms sporting a pair of pink fairy wings.  I put Baby Lily back in her bassinet and grabbed my iPhone to capture it all on video.  After recording a good twenty seconds or so, I sent the video off to Sam and Diana, knowing that seeing their son parade around in a fairy costume would be unsettling for them.

My intentions were not kind.  I wasn't seeking revenge merely over Santa Claus.  I was boiling mad over years of indecent behavior--stuff I never seemed able to nip in the bud in the moment.  This included but was not limited to them making derogatory remarks, both direct and indirect, toward TJ, mostly pertaining to his involvement in musical theatre.  Their tone was always comedic, but it housed a real hostility toward our son--and one that implied he was somehow not "masculine" enough for their own taste.

It was petty and completely unfair to little Max--but I sent the fairy-winged video off to my in-laws.  With glee and without much guilt.

Those days with Baby Lily were like living within a kaleidoscope of emotions:  Tilt things one way, and happiness made an outline around anxiety mixed with exhaustion.  But shake things up a bit--and suddenly--I could see nothing but a mass of confusion.  And whatever anger I experienced, well, most of it was directed at Sam and Diana. I'm sure a lot of it was justified, but it took on a life of its own, and started to impact my actual behavior toward them (and not just my feelings about them).  It was not merely their history of insensitive remarks, and it was not just their almost complete isolation from Baby Lily; no, it was much more.  It was, one might argue, a part of my own imagination, because as I peered into the future, a future that included raising a child who had suffered the most primal of traumas, I feared my in-laws' future behavior.  It didn't matter if it hadn't happened yet; it seemed enough that what had already occurred was like a line cast out in front of us all--a path that was inevitable and most unfriendly. 

The latest insult had occurred a few days prior, but Sam and Diana were still retelling the story as if it were material destined for a stand-up comedy act.

This is what happened:

Sam had come to meet Lily (finally) and he brought little Max with him.  It was a quick visit, and would be the only time Tom's brother would spend with Lily.  Sam questioned little Max about Lily's origins:
"You see Uncle Tom and Aunt Jenny's new baby?  But where did she come from?  Aunt Jenny didn't have a baby in her belly, so how did she get here?"
And Max replied,
"I think they found her on the street.  Someone left her there, and she was all alone, so they took her home."
Max's interpretation of Lily's pending adoption was not ill-willed; in fact, it was probably an age-appropriate fantasy to explain the inexplicable.  What was upsetting, on the other hand, was the pleasure everyone seemed to take in the retelling of Max's explanation.  I worried about this story's inclusion in the ongoing family narrative.  How would such a family "tale" impact Lily as she grew up?  Would it make her feel like a piece of discarded garbage we had found on the street?

Perhaps if the family history had not been punctuated with so much insensitivity and ignorance.  Perhaps if Sam, and later, Diana, had allowed themselves a little laughter over Max's innocent story, but then had demonstrated some empathy for Lily by explaining the reality of Lily's adoption story in an age appropriate way.  Perhaps if they didn't keep retelling and laughing at the story that, in my vulnerable state of mind, felt like sheer cruelty at the expense of an innocent baby girl.  

Maybe, under more gentle circumstances, I would have felt differently about Lily's future place within our extended family.  

But things happened the way they did.  And I wondered if other adoptive families shared similar struggles.  

The odds seemed to be stacking up against Baby Lily's best interest:

She had been relinquished by her natural mother.

Her natural father was allegedly a terrible person.

And now, our family--her prospective adoptive home--seemed destined to fail her.  
"We need to move off of this street," I later said to Tom.  "This is too incestuous, having your brother a few houses away.  It's beginning to feel like the Jewish version of the show 'Everybody Loves Raymond' except that it's not very funny.  Not funny at all.  And I'm not even Jewish."
I showed Tom the video I had recorded of Max in the fairy wings.  I expected him to react with disgust, discover that I am some kind of horrible person.  We'd have a fight over his family.  Instead, he laughed:
"That's pretty funny.  They totally deserve it."
There was hope, then, not only for Baby Lily, but for our marriage.  Finally!  I had won a battle against Tom's most impenetrable superpower:  his loyalty toward his family of origin.

To Be Continued...