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...