PAGE # 59
Baby Lily's First Birthday

Happy First Birthday!

I hope that wherever you are in this world you are loved, happy, and healthy.  

Is your birthday cake made of ice cream or did you get the fancier fondant kind, complete with your own little smash cake?  What presents did you receive?  Did you have a party with a super girly party theme?  Or maybe your "final" family is pink-averse and went with some trendy brown owl decorating scheme?  

I imagine you are walking now, if not yet, then very soon.  When I am out and about and notice little girls toddling around, not quite with the hang of it yet, I always look closely at their faces--just checking to see if the universe will grant me that lucky coincidence.

But that is unlikely.  And even if possible (it is of course possible), I'm not sure I could recognize your face now.  It's not like we have the genetic link that would make you stand out as a relative.  And although I study your newborn pictures sometimes, just in case I do come upon you someday, you were still in that snuggly, sleepy baby phase.  Not even the smiling phase yet.  So, it's hard to know whether I could ever know you, now changed.

And Kendra...

She must be thinking of you too today.  I am sure this is a painful day for her.  I hope she will be okay.  I have no doubt that you will be reunited with her someday.  She already has you registered in our state's adoption registry--I have checked.  17 more years to go!

I, on the other hand, don't know if you will even know about your time with us. Ever.  And I don't mean to sound envious of Kendra's potential to be in your life someday; it's simply a fact, a strange twist of fate, that you spent time with us, never to know us.  I doubt your "final" parents even know of our role in your first month of life.

And...I hope your paternal first family finds peace this holiday season.

As for us, we are okay.  And we hope that you are okay too.

Happy First Birthday to the little girl we called Lily, who was first called Holly, and whose cake today probably reads some other name altogether.

I don't know how to reconcile that part at all--that you kept getting renamed, like an object, like living property.

I am sorry that I didn't fight harder to keep the name Holly.  That would have been the right thing to do.  I am not sorry I didn't fight to keep you.  That would've been the wrong thing to do.  It was the hardest choice, but it was the best choice.  Of course, our decision couldn't force other persons to act ethically concerning your fate (or did they?).  But.  We did what we could given the knowledge we had (and didn't have).  

Happy Birthday little girl.

Wishing you a lifetime of love, health, and happiness,


After I finished typing, I selected a birthday cake picture to use for this blog post.  I had just inserted the image when I heard Sara calling me.  She was finally awake after a long afternoon nap.  I lifted her up, hugged her close, and she told me:
"Look over there.  Look at that birthday cake."
She was pointing to the back wall of her bedroom, a wall we have decorated with pictures of flowers and ballerinas.

There is no picture of a birthday cake.  Not even close.



Maybe I was stuck in some bizarre dream?

PAGE # 58
Approximately 8:45 pm

There was something therapeutic about going up and down the aisles at Babies "R" Us, rushing to find everything before the store closed for the day.  The sheer physicality of it all--running back to the first aisle for a bottle brush, lifting the heavy pack n' play into the cart, sorting through a rack of onesies for the right size--it was good for my mental health.  I needed the distraction; otherwise, I thought constantly of Kendra and felt nothing but anguish.

TJ, who had been happy to accompany me initially, was growing tired.
"I'm beat.  Can we go now?"
"Not yet.  I don't want to have to come back tomorrow," I explained.  "Why don't you look for some Christmas presents for Sara and Lily?  I'm gonna be a bit longer."
TJ sighed, then headed in the direction of the toy department.  A text came in from Tom that read:
"Lily ate more than an ounce and then went to sleep again."
I smiled reading this, mostly because I was happy not to be breastfeeding.  Tom could wake up at night and do half the feedings.  At least that would be easier this time.

Feeling satisfied that my cart contained all items essential to newborn care, I spotted TJ pacing around the front of the store by the check-out line.  He saw my approach and applauded.
"Finally!" he exclaimed.
"You didn't pick any gifts?" I asked, noting his empty hands.
"I'm not in the mood," TJ explained.
"Christmas is in a week.  There's not much time left."
"I was thinking about Christmas," TJ said, "and I think we should invite Kendra and Lily's brothers over for Christmas Eve or something."
We were standing in line, waiting for another customer to finish her purchase.
"I'm not sure how Kendra wants to proceed with things," I said.  "But I think that would be a really nice gesture."
TJ and I started placing our items on the counter.
"Don't you think she misses the baby?" TJ asked.  
"Yes, I think she must."
"Do you think she wants her back?"
"I don't know."
"I think she's probably crying right now."
"Probably," I agreed.  
The drive home from Babies "R" Us took nearly a half hour, and when we pulled into the driveway, I told TJ to carry the bags in and I would walk the dog.  I let Jersey out and put him on his leash without bothering to go inside first.  I needed to cry, I needed privacy, and I couldn't hold in the tears for much longer.

I took Jersey for a long walk that night.  I felt as if someone had died.  And in the darkness, alone with no one but my little dog, my terrible sadness began to collide with feelings of unreality.  I felt as if I were trapped in a dream; perhaps I would wake to discover that there was no baby.  

No Kendra.  

No adoption plan.

I clutched Jersey's leash too tightly.  My other hand was clenched into a fist, with my nails digging into the softest flesh of my palm.  If I could just feel the discomfort--if l could actually feel the jagged force of my fingernails pushing into my own skin--maybe, just maybe, things would start to feel a little more real. 
To Be Continued...



Protecting My Heart?

PAGE # 57
Approximately 5:45 pm 
"Oh my God," Tracey muttered, "she's the most beautiful baby ever!"
Jim and Tracey were staring at Lily, who slept peacefully in the bassinet.
"She's amazing," Jim said.  "This is all so amazing.  Congratulations, guys."
"Well, she's not ours for sure yet," I quickly reminded them.  "The birth father has another three weeks to contest the adoption."
I was exhausted but still managed to ramble on about our uncertain future.  Jim and Tracey sat down across from us and shared their opinions:
"I doubt he will do that," Jim said.  "If he wanted the baby, he would have said something weeks ago."
"Seriously," Tracey added.  "And even if this doesn't work out, Shelley will find you another baby.  You end up with the baby you are meant to end up with."
I knew Tracey was trying to be supportive, but I still shook my head, indicating my disagreement with what she had said.  Tom squeezed my hand.
"Look at us, look at Ricky," Tracey continued.  "We were paired with a totally different birthmother at first, and it was devastating when that didn't work out, but that turned out to be part of the path that led us to Ricky."
I tried to be sensitive to what Tracey and Jim had been through.  After spending nearly $25,000 on the living/medical/legal expenses of a pregnant woman with an adoption plan, medical tests revealed that she was abusing narcotics.  The baby still had another trimester till birth, and Jim and Tracey opted out of the adoption plan.  They had been devastated at the time, but did not want an infant who had been exposed to drug abuse.  They had lost a lot of money, sure, but they had also invested time and emotional energy in a birthmother they felt had deceived them.
"What you guys went through was terribly disappointing," I said.  "But actually having a baby here at home, well, if it doesn't work out, I just don't think I'd feel like another baby could replace Lily."
Tracey pressed on:
"Three weeks is not that long.  If the adoption falls through, yes, it will be horrible, but you won't be that attached yet."
"No and yes," Tom said.  "No, it won't be that horrible because if the adoption gets contested, Lily goes back to her mom and her two big brothers.  And she'll be with a perfectly great family and we'll be happy for her.  The yes part, though, is that yes, I get attached real fast.  I'm so in love with her already."
Tracey laughed a bit awkwardly.
"I guess I'm the weirdo then!  It took me like six months to bond with our first one and he was biological!"
I did not identify with what Tracey was saying.  My experience as a new mother, both other times, was quite the opposite:  the intensity of love I felt for my newborns was so intense, it was primal--almost animal like.  I was never even comfortable with friends or hospital staff holding my babies. 

Still, I am aware that the experience of falling in love with one's children varies for everyone.  It's highly personal and not something one can judge another for.
"You are not a weirdo," I said to Tracey.  "You're just more honest than most people.  I'm sure tons of other women take time to bond, just most don't admit it."
And in that very moment, I was keeping my own secret:  I could not announce, as Tom had just done, that I was in love with Lily.  I could not state with honesty that my feelings for her were identical to the ones I had felt for TJ and Sara at first.  But perhaps it was easier for Tom to fall in love with a baby he had not carried for nine months?  It's a condition of parenthood for all men.  Each and every time.  

Or, perhaps I was just better at protecting myself against the inevitable loss?

Or maybe, I worried, maybe adoption was just completely different?  And maybe I wouldn't be able to love this child as much as I loved my other two?  

Then again, it was also possible that I would love her just as much as my biological children eventually.  It would take more time--it would be a different process--but there would be love in the end.  

I looked up and saw tears streaming down Jim's face.  
"I'm just so emotional," Jim said, wiping at his eyes with the back of his hand.  "This is such a touching situation."
When they left a little while later, and we told TJ over dinner how Jim had shed real tears, TJ said:
"Maybe he is upset he didn't keep Lily for himself?"
I felt my heart drop.  Not for Jim, or us, or even for Kendra--but for this baby girl who seemed to be thought of as an object that could just be transferred in and out of families, whether for real or just in theory.  

I worried that I would never be able to love her enough.

To Be Continued...




PAGE # 56
Approximately 5:00 pm 

"Where's Baby Lily, Mommy?" Sara asked.
"Shh...she's sleeping, honey," I said. 
Sara ran straight to the bassinet and climbed up over the side. 
"Careful" I warned.  "We don't want to wake her--she's really tired."
"Look!" Sara beamed.  "She's dreaming!"
"What do you think she's dreaming about?"
"About Jersey!" Sara declared, referring to our dog, who was resting just beneath the bassinet on the other side from Sara.
Since we had returned home from the hospital, our little dog refused to leave Lily's side.  I had been worried that Jersey might resent a new baby in the house, but I was so wrong.  Our dog loved Baby Lily and acted like her private guardian.

Whereas Jersey was inseparable from the baby, Sara would come and go, running back and forth between her toys and Lily.  She'd play a little, but a few minutes later, she'd be back, looking for Lily.  We hadn't been sure how to explain Lily's presence to our toddler--the biological father still had another three weeks to contest the adoption--but we ended up telling Sara that she was a big sister now.  It seemed like the simpler explanation at the time.
"I'm a big sister!" Sara had proclaimed, and we reread the "Big Sister" book that our friend Jim had lent us a week earlier.  I tried to lure TJ over to the couch too, teasing that I'd read him the "Big Brother" section of the book.  But our teenager rolled his eyes at me, kissed Lily's forehead, and started back toward his bedroom.  "I'll be on my computer."
Now, Sara remained perched over Lily in the bassinet.  
"I want to cuddle her," Sara said.
"Maybe later, when she wakes up.  And you can help me feed her too," I promised.
"Okay, Mommy," Sara replied as she climbed back down and ran out of my bedroom.  
I was resting in our bed, exhausted not from the physical labor of childbirth this time around, but from all the emotional devastation that adoption brings with it.  A terrible sadness filled the pit of my stomach.  Even though the baby herself brought us so much joy, her tragic beginning of life was almost too much to witness.  It was all starting to make me feel physically ill.  I closed my eyes, tried to sleep for just a few minutes, but instead, I heard my mother talking to Tom in the kitchen.
"She really is a beautiful baby," my mom said.  "She has such delicate features.  Do you think she looks like her mother?"
"I can't tell," I heard Tom say.  "I kind of think she looks like me," he joked.
I heard them both laugh a little, but I wondered how we would answer inquiries about Lily's appearance as life went on.  People were bound to search for family resemblance--would we constantly be explaining that Lily was our adopted child?  And how would this impact her development?  Especially with our other two children being our biological offspring?

As for similarities, Kendra and I share similar coloring, and she had been glad about that.  
"I don't want her to grow up feeling like she doesn't fit in with her family," Kendra had told me.  "So I'm glad she's ending up with you guys and not Jim and Tracey.  She would have been the only one in their house without red hair!  With you guys, she'll blend in better."  
But hair and eye color hardly make for true family resemblance.  And all the searching for family traits starts immediately at birth.  In fact, conversation about a newborn is mostly dominated by the topic of family resemblance and who the baby does/will look most like.  Let's face it:  there's not much else to say about a new baby, other than the eating, sleeping, pooping bit.

I heard a text message come in.  It was from Jim and Tracey--they were on their way over to meet Lily.  I got out of bed and started rolling the bassinet as gently as I could toward the living room.  Lily did not wake up.  She would prove to be a real heavy sleeper--something I was not accustomed to with my own gene pool--and really, she would be the easiest newborn I'd ever care for, if one wants the full truth regarding the eating, sleeping, and pooping parts.  Baby Lily was, indeed, a great little baby.

Tom joined me in the living room while we waited for Jim and Tracey.  I was actually a little nervous to see them.  
"Did I tell you what Tracey told me before on the phone?" I said to Tom.
"Well, Tracey forwarded Lily's picture to some of their friends.  And now, some of them are asking if they regret not taking her for themselves.  If they regret passing up this opportunity and handing it over to us."
Tom shook his head.  "That's ridiculous.  Tracey wasn't even remotely interested in this adoption.  She's sick as hell with her pregnancy."
"Yeah, but Jim wanted her.  Tracey told me so," I said.  "I just can't imagine how Lily will feel someday if anyone ever says anything to her about how our next door neighbors were her original birthmother's pick.  I don't know, it just makes me feel like we're talking about an object or something getting passed around.  It makes me uncomfortable."
Tom wasn't worried:
"In a few weeks, everyone will be so used to Lily being our baby, they're not even going to remember that part of the story.  And I'm sure Jim is over it."

To Be Continued...



PAGE # 55
Approximately 2:30 pm 

I was rolled out of the hospital in a wheelchair.  
"It's the discharge policy," the attorney had told me.  "Whether you birthed the baby or not."
A nurse waited with me.  Tom had run ahead to get the car.  I sat in the wheelchair, snuggling the baby.  I wasn't sure whether this particular nurse knew that I was not the baby's real mother.  Most likely she did.  I imagine it's the kind of thing that the nurses must talk about; that is, they probably gossip more than usual when a baby goes home with someone other than the woman who checked into the hospital in the first place. 

Tom drove the car up and rushed out to help with the baby.  I ran around to the other side of the car, crawled in back, and watched the baby sleep peacefully as we drove away from the hospital.
"This is the strangest feeling ever," Tom said.  I could see him looking at me in the rear view mirror.
"Yeah," I agreed.
"I feel like we just kidnapped her or something," Tom said. 
"Seriously," I said.  "This feels crazy.  It's like my brain can't figure out how there's a baby here."
But even if we could wrap our heads around it all, our brainpower was needed elsewhere:  Tom was battling our health insurance company--they didn't want to add the baby to our policy until the adoption process reached finalization--but that would take at least six more months.  Plus, I needed to call our pediatrician for a Monday morning appointment.  I reached for my cell phone, started dialing Dr. Shine, then pressed 'End Call' before the pediatrician's receptionist could even answer.
"Wait.  I can't call yet," I told Tom.  "I don't know how to schedule an appointment for her until we decide on her name."
"What are you talking about?  Call the office, tell them we adopted a baby named Lily, and hurry up because they close early on Saturdays."
I shook my head.
"Tom," I said, "I don't think we should name her Lily anymore."
"What? Why?"
"Because it's not the name Kendra picked in the end.  Kendra already named her Holly and I don't think we should change it."
"That's ridiculous," Tom said.  "Of course we can still name her Lily.  Kendra said she loved the name."
"Yeah, but she ended up naming her Holly.  So her name is technically Holly.  And that's the name that's going to be on her birth certificate."
"No, the social worker said that she'll get a new birth certificate after the adoption is finalized."
"So what?  I don't think it's right.  That's her name and I don't think we should change it."
Tom stopped at a red light and turned his head around to face me:
"I don't think Kendra cares if we change it--she knew we were picking the name Lily.  Maybe she wants to have her own name for the baby too."
I hadn't thought of that.  That Kendra might prefer we not keep the name Holly.  But I continued my protest:
"I'm not sure that even matters.  This little girl was given a birth name and I don't think we should change it.  What are we supposed to tell her someday--that we changed her real name?"
I was thinking about one of my best friends--Crystal.  Since Crystal wasn't adopted until age five, she was in and out of multiple foster homes--and in one case, her name was changed.  I didn't think it was right.  My severe case of moral indignation was beginning to emerge. 

Tom disagreed and he did so strongly (please recall his aforementioned power of persuasion):
"Look," he argued.  "I hate the name Holly.  I really really hate it.  It's got to be better to name her Lily--that's a popular name right now and it's going to be hard enough for her being adopted.  I think it's only fair to give her a name that blends in more easily."
"I like the name Holly.  I don't think it's an odd name.  Tons of people are named Holly."
"Name one," he challenged me.
"I can't think of anyone right this second, but I know it's a perfectly fine name.  It's a real cute name.  I like it better than Lily even."
"Can you imagine how the kids are gonna tease her with a name like Holly?" Tom countered.  "It's the plant people kiss each other underneath at Christmas!"
"No it's not!  That's mistletoe!"
"Mistletoe Shmistletoe!  It's just another holiday plant!  Do you want her named after a holiday plant?"
"No, but it's already her name!"
"So, people change names all the time after coming home from the hospital."
Tom cited a couple of our friends who had changed their kids' names a week or two after coming home.
"I just don't think it's right.  Her name is already Holly."
Tom refused to budge.  "No way.  We picked Lily.  We're going to be raising this child like our own and we're calling her Lily."

I didn't fight Tom on the issue any further.  I could tell from his tone of voice that it was all futile.  But another piece of my heart broke for the little baby girl who had already lost her first family and was now about to lose her true name.  
"Fine," I said.  "You win," but by the time we arrived home, I was so disgusted with my husband, I wanted to whack him over the head with a baby bottle.
"I can't believe you!" I shouted at him.
"I can't believe that this is what it feels like to take home a baby you haven't birthed."
"What the heck are you talking about?"
"That you just waltzed home with a baby this time and the other two times.  And now I'm waltzing too--no pregnancy, no labor and no delivery--and now I see how much easier it is to have been you the other two times!"
"What do you want from me?  It's not my fault I can't do the pregnancy part!"
"Yeah, but now I can see how much easier it was for you and it's pissing me off!"  We were not quite in the front door yet.  Tom was holding the baby in the infant carseat carrier.  He let out an audible sigh but I could not stop:
"This is utterly ridiculous--bringing a baby home and feeling totally normal!  Physically normal," I clarified.  "I can't believe this is what it feels like for a man.  I can't believe this is what it felt like for you.  I'm freaking mad at you.  I'm really freaking mad at you."
"Jen, I think you're losing it a little."
"Maybe," I admitted.  "But I feel like I want to hit you."
Tom laughed.
"It's not funny," I pouted.  "It's not fair."
"But I love you," he said.  "I love you more than anyone in the world."
"You're annoying."
"What did I do?"
"Nothing!  Forget it!"
"Is this about the name?  Is this because I don't like the name Holly?"
"Maybe.  I don't know.  I feel terrible."
And then, I burst into tears.

Tom hugged me with his free arm.
"I know, honey, I know" he said.  "It's really sad for Kendra.  And for the baby too.  But look, we have to take care of her now.  She's going to be our daughter.  It's not fair to her to be sad when she comes home for the first time.  She needs us to be happy.  She deserves a happy family."
To Be Continued...



PAGE # 54
Approximately 1:45 pm 

Who can recall the exact details of those last minutes with Kendra?  That final gut wrenching exchange under the hospital's fluorescent lights--can anyone remember it fully?

Sometimes, I wonder if Baby Lily has any memory of the traumatic loss--those moments, not a single one, but the collective ones when she could no longer hear the voice that carried her, no longer be fed from the mother who nursed her--would those most primitive losses be stored within her?  Obviously, she will not remember that last goodbye in the way in which we commonly speak of memory.  But will her body remember it?  Will the essence of her being simply know it?  Perhaps yes, and perhaps in a way we can neither communicate nor understand with simple language.

As for my recollections of that afternoon:

Despite my excellent autobiographical memory, I did not recover easily after the attorney scolded me; thus, my memory for what happened next is not just fuzzy--whatever happened was not fully observed by me in the first place.  It cannot be remembered, as it was never 100% perceived.  But perhaps I blame too much on the nasty attorney.  Perhaps my memory was doomed from the start, given my place in such unnatural circumstances.  For how many people actually take a baby from a mother's arms and bring that baby home thereafter?  It is not the stuff of adoption as one might imagine it--an orphan taken from nothing.  No!  It was, in this case, a living breathing mother right there.  Right beside me!  With her own parents (the baby's biological grandparents) there to witness the exchange!  It was a heartbreak that I cannot recreate easily, as I cannot claim to have understood it even then.


I do remember some things.

1)  I remember how Kendra cried when I gave her the necklace.  It was a blue topaz pendant--the birth stone for December.  Since Kendra also shared a December birth month with the baby, I thought it was perfect.  I had seen a lot of "adoption triad" jewelry for sale online, but somehow, I never found one that appealed to me.  I'm not sure if some unconscious part of me sensed that I would not become a permanent member of the adoption triad, or if I just found the idea of inserting a symbolic reminder of myself around Kendra's neck somehow distasteful.

2)  I remember Kendra's dad (Mike) suggested that we exchange email addresses, but then the attorney interrupted, and I was stressed out because Kendra and I never exchanged contact information before she was hurried away in a wheelchair.  (I wasn't even sure if Kendra wanted future contact with us, but when the attorney had earlier shared that Kendra was worried about us disappearing, I assumed it meant she did want to remain connected.) 

3)  I remember the moment when Kendra handed me the baby.  Kendra was crying. She put the baby in my arms.  I don't know what I said if anything.  I only remember Kendra's sobs and then Kendra's mother saying, "We should have gotten a picture of that.  That would have been a great moment to capture," she said this with an ooh and an aah, referring to the moment Kendra gave me the baby.  And I remember thinking that was a cruel and unusual thing to say. OR maybe I only thought that later.  And almost immediately after that, Kendra was rolled out of the room in the wheelchair.  I would not see Kendra in person ever again.

As soon as Kendra and her parents were gone, it was all business with the attorney.  Unfortunately, I remember very little of that too.  Except that she hurried it along, even instructed the discharge nurse that "you don't need to go over everything--these are not 'first-time' parents."

And I interjected with:
"No, please slow down.  I may have two other children, but I never bottle fed a newborn before.  I need you to go over that part with me."

And I couldn't understand why the attorney--who was getting paid close to $600 an hour for her time, appeared so agitated with this request.  But she stayed quiet while the nurse explained formula feeding to me.

Now, I think we signed some kind of discharge paperwork.  But maybe we didn't.  I honestly don't remember what, if anything, we did or did not sign.  

Weeks later, I'd be trying desperately to find any legal proof of our taking Baby Lily home.  
"Didn't you sign something?" my mother would ask.

"Don't you have paperwork?" my friends would question.

"Where's the forms?" my neighbors would inquire.
I couldn't find anything in my files or in the piles that cluttered my desk.  In fact, I couldn't remember if we'd signed anything at all.

Tom was adamant that we had not.
"I don't understand," my mother would say.  "This is so unlike you.  You are so careful about everything.  You must remember this.  Don't you remember if you signed anything?"

"I don't, Mom," I'd respond.  "It was such a fucked up situation."

And it was.

Sometimes I'd feel like I had lost my mind.

Was there ever a baby here?  


But I do still have the baby's footprints and her hospital identification bracelet.  These things remain in my home like evidence obtained from a crime scene.  They are proof that a life was here, and that we have not constructed some elaborate fantasy fueled by some rare form of psychosis that afflicted my entire family.

To Be Continued...



PAGE # 53
Approximately 1:35 pm

Kendra had definitely been crying:  Her eyes were red and puffy, and a bunch of crumpled tissues were piled beside an uneaten meal.  She held the baby in her arms.
"How many days does Bobby have to contest the adoption?" 
This was a question for the attorney and it came from Mike, Kendra's father.
"Thirty days from notice of the adoption plan.  We served those papers before the birth, so it's less than that now."
I was trying to calculate the exact date in my head.  The date when we would know for certain whether the baby would stay with us or not.
"Does that mean 30 business days or do weekends and holidays count too?" I asked.  
I couldn't hear the attorney's response because Mike said something to me at the same moment.
"We'll all have to go out and celebrate together when the thirty days are up," he suggested.  "I'm praying that Bobby doesn't mess up this adoption--I can't stand him!"
It occurred to me that I knew nothing positive about the baby's father.  What was I supposed to tell this little girl as she grew up--that her dad was a terrible man?  There had to be something nice to say about him. 
"Kendra," I started, "What should I tell the baby about her father?"
"Just tell her that Johnny [Kendra's husband] is the father," Mike interrupted.  "His name is on the birth certificate and he signed off on the adoption paperwork anyhow."
Kendra sighed and shook her head.  "No, Dad," she said firmly if softly.  

Shelley, the attorney, started in with some other matter of legal business, and it was then that I realized I never heard her answer to my last question.
"What did you say about the thirty days?  Is it just business days or do weekends and holidays count too?"
"Jennifer!" the attorney scolded me yet again.  "Pay attention!  I've already answered that.  You're always doing that--making me repeat what we've already gone over."  She folded her arms.  "Yes, every day counts.  Even Christmas."
Unfortunately, all of my aforementioned superpowers were inaccessible at that moment.  I was emotionally drained.  If only I could order the universe to grant me a corrective experience, I would arrive at the hospital that morning in full combat gear.  And I would aim my super punch right for Shelley's jaw.  And again.  Maybe give her black eyes too.

But that's not what happened.

Instead, my cheeks burned with humiliation.  Shelley's latest assault left me feeling like a small, powerless child.  

To be continued...



PAGE # 52
Approximately 1:30 pm

We were in the hospital, following the attorney down the corridor, only moments from reaching the room where Kendra and her baby waited.  The attorney moved quickly.  I hurried past her, then did an abrupt turn directly in her path, forcing her to stop.
"I don't understand.  It's been hours.  What happened in there?"
 Shelley spoke softly.  "Oh, there was quite a bit of fighting between Kendra and her mother.  Her mother was terribly condescending toward her.  I felt so bad for Kendra."

Tom hadn't sprinted forward alongside me, and was only now joining the conversation.  "Go on," he instructed Shelley.

Shelley continued.  "And her husband just wanted to get out of there so he could go fishing.  I mean, poor Kendra!"  Shelley cupped a hand over the side of her mouth and lowered her voice even more.  "I really think she was hoping that someone, anyone, would show more concern for her.  I imagine she was even hoping that interloper would show his face here," Shelley remarked, referring to Bobby, the biological father.
"I thought she was afraid of him," I said.
"Well, yes, of course," Shelley said, rolling her eyes.  "But you know how the fantasy goes.  She probably just wants someone to care about her.  Her husband signed off as the legal father on the paperwork, thank God!  But he just wanted to get done so he could run off with his fishing buddies.  Oh, I already told you that."
"I don't understand," I said.  "I thought Johnny didn't want to sign off on the adoption paperwork.  It's not his baby."
Up until this point, neither Bobby (the biological father) nor Johnny (Kendra's legal husband) had been willing to sign off on the adoption paperwork.  

Bobby had refused to sign off on the adoption, but he also hadn't demonstrated any interest in parenting the child--he had taken no action to assert any paternal rights.

Moreover, Johnny had also refused to sign off on the adoption paperwork--he was not the baby's true father and he didn't want to sign any kind of legal document that stated otherwise.  Aside from the moral issue at stake, there was the volatile history of his marriage to Kendra, and Johnny's own attorney had advised him against signing the adoption forms.  If the adoption, for whatever reason, did not work out, Johnny didn't want legal responsibility of the child.  Whether his marriage to Kendra would continue was questionable.  They were trying, sure, but Johnny could potentially be risking financial responsibility for the child, if the adoption plan failed, and if he had signed a document that asserted paternity for the child.
"I thought only Kendra would be signing off on the paperwork?" Tom begged for more clarification.
Shelley walked forward a bit, then turned to face us again.  
"Be happy he signed it!" she instructed us.  "Otherwise, we'd have no leg to stand on in court!"
"Court?" I asked.
"Well, it's not going to come to that.  It's just a legal thing.  Don't worry about it."
But I was beyond worried.  Those early feelings I'd had about the attorney were back, only tenfold.

Shelley must have noticed my panic, because she changed the topic.  Of course, at the time, so much information was getting thrown at Tom and I, neither of us could process it quickly enough.  What Shelley said next diverted my attention to a new matter, but I would fail to cognitively grasp the sheer manipulative strategy Shelley employed:  She had clearly noticed my empathy for Kendra, and exploited it by shifting my focus off of the legal concerns and back onto Kendra.
"Before we go in there," Shelley continued.  "I just want you to know why else it all took so long."
Shelley looked straight into my eyes.
"Apparently, Kendra did some online research last night, and she read that some adoptive parents promise to keep contact with the birth mother, but then after they get the baby home, they completely disappear and the birth mother never hears from them again."
"Oh my God," I said.  "How can people do that?"
"There's no legal way to enforce an open adoption," Shelley explained.
"But I thought people did open adoption all the time nowadays?" I countered.
"Well, that's what people say they're going to do, but when the adoptive parents cut off contact, there is no legal recourse for the birth family.  There's no such thing as a legally enforceable open adoption."
"Oh my God, that's utterly evil," I said, in true horror.  "What kind of people would do such a thing?"
"People who want a baby and will say anything to a pregnant woman to get one."
"Oh my God," I repeated, starting to appreciate the terror Kendra must be feeling.  "We would never do something like that.  Kendra must know we would never do that."
"Well, she doesn't know that for sure.  And that's why she was having a full blown panic attack.  That's why it took so long.  Kendra's worried you might not follow through on your stated interest in maintaining a connection with her."
I realize there is no way I could feel exactly what Kendra was going through, but my heart filled with terror.  I felt as if I my body had been injected with Kendra's fear and panic.  It was terrible.

Tom expressed disgust upon hearing this news--that other adoptive couples manipulate birth mothers with the false promise of an open adoption--but it did not impact him with the emotional force I was experiencing.  He knew he would never do such a thing to Kendra and that was comfort enough for him; on the other hand, I had a more visceral reaction to the whole conversation:  It was not enough that we knew we would never close the door on the baby's birth family.  I felt actual terror thinking that Kendra felt terror over this, and that she was saying goodbye to her little girl with no real knowledge that she would ever see her again.  

The whole imagined scenario was just too devastating.  I thought of what Kendra must be feeling inside, and I felt terror.

Then, we rounded the corner and were just a few feet from Kendra's hospital room.  That's when the attorney said:
"Oh and I opted not to use a court reporter earlier.  It was a strategic move on my part."
"I thought there had to be a court reporter present," I said.
"Oh no," Shelley replied.  "A court reporter is for Kendra's benefit, but in this case, I made the strategic decision to help Kendra by opting out of the recording.  Kendra would only hurt herself in the long run in a court report."
Shelley was now just outside of Kendra's room.
"Wait!" I exclaimed.  "Isn't it the law to have a court reporter present during the adoption paperwork?" 
Shelley's eyes narrowed as she reprimanded me.  "Jennifer!  You are not the lawyer here!  That's my job.  I'm the legal expert.  I've done this over 2,000 times.  Please!  Kendra is waiting for you to take her baby.  Leave the legal matters to me--you are not an attorney and you don't understand the law."

And with that, Shelley knocked on Kendra's door, and before I could grasp even a percent of all the conversation that transpired along the walk from the elevator to the doorway, I was face to face with Kendra, her baby, and Kendra's parents.

Johnny, Kendra's husband, was already gone.  
"Fishing," Kendra told us, although we already knew this from Shelley.  "He said to tell you guys good-bye and thanks for everything."
To Be Continued...



PAGE # 51
1:11 pm

I wasn't hungry but figured I should force myself to eat something.  There was a kiosk in the hospital lobby where I purchased coffee and a bagel.  
"You want anything?" I asked Tom.
He shook his head.  He had already eaten two muffins.

I plopped down next to my husband, kicked my shoes off, and sat with my knees crossed.
"Might as well be comfortable," I said.
"This will be a weird story someday," he said.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean the story of how we almost adopted a baby girl."
"Yeah," I agreed.  
I checked the time on my cell phone and noticed that our friend Jim had sent a text message. 

I had texted the following update to both Jim, and his wife, Tracey, a few minutes earlier:  
Tom and I are waiting in the hospital lobby now.  Shelley [the adoption attorney] and Margo [Shelley's partner] are upstairs with Kendra.  It has been a very long time.  Long long time.  We saw Kendra's dad going up a little while ago.  Whatever will be, will be.
And at exactly 1:08 pm, Jim had written back:
It took about an hour with the attorney and birthmom for us.  They have to go over a ton of stuff and it needs to be recorded.  
I showed the text to Tom who shook his head in response.
"About an hour!" he exclaimed.  "We've already been here for at least two, plus it took us nearly a whole hour to get here as well."
"Well, this is what we hoped for," I said.
"Yep," Tom nodded.  "I'm happy for them.  The baby gets to stay with her family and they're a great family.  We'll get to be like an aunt and uncle to the baby.  I'm sure Kendra will want that."
"Oh, honey, I just don't think so," I held Tom's hand.  "I mean, I'm sure Kendra likes us and all, but how would she explain our presence to the baby when she gets older?  I don't exactly think she's going to ever tell her that she almost placed her for adoption."
"Maybe she'll just tell her we're good friends," Tom said.  "I think that's why this all happened in the first place--so we could be like mentors for them.  We're older and went through early marriage and parenthood too."
"Maybe," I said, but I thought Tom was overestimating our importance in the whole scheme of things.
"Well, maybe they'll send us monthly pictures or something," Tom suggested.
I laughed at this.  I couldn't help myself.
"I'll miss them too," I said.
We each sighed, and without another word, we retreated into our own thoughts.

I wondered if everything was taking so long because Kendra was afraid to tell us she'd changed her mind.  We'd seen Kendra's dad in the lobby a little earlier--either he hadn't noticed us or hadn't recognized us or didn't want to be the one to tell us the news.  Or maybe he was there to help Kendra explain her change of heart?

Then I got to thinking about our friends, Jim and Tracey.  They were surely going to be acting sympathetic when we returned home with an empty car seat.  How would we explain that we felt happiness for the baby, as opposed to sadness?  As adoptive parents themselves, would they be offended that we thought it a better outcome that a child remain with her natural family?  

I finished my bagel and walked toward a garbage can to throw away my empty coffee cup.  And that's when I saw her.  She had a huge smile on her face, as if she'd just won the lottery.  I blinked, confused for a moment.  When she reached me, she threw her arms around me in an enormous embrace and said, "Congratulations!  Follow me!"

And so Tom and I followed the attorney toward the elevator.  I was sure I had misunderstood.

Shelley pressed the button for the third floor.  
"I don't understand," I explained.  "She's not keeping her?"
Tom looked just as bewildered as I felt.

In fact, I felt like I had stumbled into someone else's party, where all the guests jump out yelling "SURPRISE!" and then realize they've got the wrong woman.

Surely the adoption attorney was making some kind of mistake.  
"I don't understand," I repeated.  "It's been hours."
But the attorney was already out the elevator, plowing down the corridor.

To be continued...


# 50: UNPREPARED! (and pissed off too)

PAGE # 50
Approximately 10:00 am
"We should probably go to Babies "R" Us soon," I suggested. 
Tom shook his head.  "She's going to keep the baby." 
"But what if she doesn't?  We need to be prepared!"
A mixture of frustration and anxiety stormed inside me.  We could be bringing a baby home in a day or so, and we had no baby supplies.  Instead of being out shopping, we were lounging at Tom's brother's house.  

Tom didn't budge.  He rested upon the sofa, watching Sara chase after her 4 year-old cousin Max.
"Seriously babe," I said to him.  "We have like three newborn outfits and nothing else."
Sam, my brother-in-law, was listening to our debate.  
"Dude, you guys have a 2 year-old!  Where's all her baby stuff?"
"Gone," I said.
"Gone!" Sam's eyebrows shot up.  "We still have all of Max's stuff saved."  
 A voice from the kitchen chimed in:
"All saved in bins and labeled by size."
This voice belonged to Sam's wife, Diana.
"We have everything," she added.
"We gave our stuff away," I explained.
Sara and Max were running circles around the coffee table.  They were the only ones apparently not interested in our unbelievable lack of newborn paraphernalia.  
"Actually, I did keep some of Sara's outfits.  The ones she wore in the NICU.  The ones that have meaning to us."
I had given away the rest of Sara's baby wardrobe, and also all the baby gear:  car seats, strollers, baby toys, etc.  What was the point of cluttering up our limited storage space?  I certainly hadn't anticipated the arrival of a newborn anytime soon.  Remember--we hadn't even signed up to adopt a baby!  And we certainly were not having any unprotected sex.  Our two kids are FOURTEEN years apart!  Who would've thought we might actually need that stuff a mere two years after Sara's birth?
"I don't think you guys should buy anything," Diana advised.  You don't even know about the birth father yet."
"That's true, but even foster parents need baby supplies."
"But you guys are not foster parents.  You're adopting."
"Technically, we're foster parents if we take the baby home.  No adoption is final right away.  It takes months.  And if the birth father contests the adoption, then the baby goes back to Kendra.  So, technically, yes--we are foster parents for now."
My sister-in-law looked more confused than a toddler lost in a corn maze.
"But foster parents don't have to pay money!  They get paid by the state to be foster parents."
"That's true in some cases, yes, but this baby is not in the system.  This is a private fost-adopt situation."
I was getting agitated.  I needed to go buy baby stuff.
"Tom, seriously, we need to go to the store.  Like now." 
"Okay.  Okay," Tom finally stood up.  "Come on Sara," he reached toward our daughter.  "We need to say bye-bye now."
But before our toddler could protest, Tom's cell phone rang.  It was Shelley, the adoption attorney.  
"Now?" Tom spoke into the phone.  "Okay, we're coming now," he told Shelley. 
"We need to go to the hospital immediately.  They're discharging Kendra soon. We need to pick up the baby."
"Right now?  Are you sure?" I asked.
"Right now," Tom reiterated.
"But she just had the baby yesterday!  They're discharging her already?" 
"Apparently, yes." 
"Okay.  Okay," I was thinking out loud.  "I'll bring the newborn clothes I do have.  We'll just have to go buy the rest of the stuff later."
Tom hurried to put Sara's shoes on.
"Shit!" I exclaimed.  "We need a car seat!  We can't take the baby home without a car seat!" 
"I already texted Jim.  He said we could borrow one of theirs." 
"Okay.  Good."
Tom carried Sara out the door.  I was right behind him, but Diana stopped me:
"I still don't think you should buy anything new if you don't even know if you're going to be able to keep her yet.  I mean, what if you end up having to give her back to Kendra?"
"Then Kendra will get her baby back along with a whole bunch of baby gifts!  Seriously, Diana, the last thing on my mind right now is money!  The poor baby!  The least we can do is give her a good beginning.  We're going to be foster parents for right now."
"But can you do this?  Can you really be a foster parent?  Can you really do this?" 
"I'm about to pick up a baby from the hospital, so yes, it seems that I can."  
I left without saying goodbye.  I probably slammed the door too.

To Be Continued...