PAGE # 64
8:30 pm

Relief is a short-lived emotion.  

Whatever comfort I felt from speaking to Kendra earlier--it had now evaporated.  My sense of reality was questionable and a feeling of derealization was again setting in.  My brain couldn't comprehend the sudden appearance of a baby in my arms; in turn, even the familiar objects in our home started to appear as if viewed from the inside of a floating bubble about to pop.  

At exactly 8:30 pm, I texted Tracey the following:
I talked to Kendra.  I think I'm having a little anxiety.  I feel a little bit of derealization too.  Like I'm in a dream or something.  Have I gone insane?  Is there really a baby in my house?  Maybe I've gone mad?!?!?!
I sat in my bed, waiting for Tracey, or anyone really, to rescue me from this onset of madness.  Baby Lily was asleep in the bassinet beside me.  I don't recall where Tom, TJ, Sara, or my mother were at the time.  Perhaps they had gone out for a bite to eat.  

I was also waiting for my friend Sadie to arrive.  She was eager to meet Lily, and when she finally came in, a little before 9 pm, she raced across the room to peer into the bassinet. 
"She's beautiful Jen!  Oh my God, she's perfect!"
"I know."
Sadie sat at the foot of my bed and we chatted for about an hour.  Lily slept through our conversation.
"I cannot believe you have a new baby!" Sadie said.
"I know."
"This is amazing!"
"I feel like I'm in a dream," I said.
"I know!  It's unbelievable!"
"No.  Really.  I feel like I'm in a dream.  Like nothing feels real," I explained.
Sadie listened.
"I kind of feel how I did back in college, when my friend Leslie died."
I explained how my close childhood friend had died at age 19, the summer just before our junior year of college.  There was a Woodstock revival that August, and Leslie and her boyfriend planned to ride bicycles there--all the way from just outside of Manhattan.  They got as far as Poughkeepsie when Leslie hit a bump in the road.  Her bike swerved in front of a truck.  She was run over from the waist down.  She did not die immediately; she bled to death.  In fact, she was conscious after the accident, coherent even, telling her boyfriend, "I can't feel my legs.  I can't feel my legs."  

Her death occurred five years after my father died in a car accident.  
"There is something so unbelievable about the sudden and final disappearance of someone," I said to Sadie, knowing she would understand.  
At age sixteen, Sadie and her younger cousin, who had been visiting from another country, were hit by a car while crossing the street.  Sadie survived; her cousin did not.  Sadie and I had discussed these losses before.  She already knew about Leslie and my father.  But I told her the same stories all over again.  Dear Sadie!  She listened quietly, nodding, just staying with me as I struggled to get to my point in retelling all this.
"So, I've decided that adoption is the flip-side of a sudden tragic death, as pregnancy is the flip-side of a long fatal illness," I concluded.  "Even though there is some shock when you give birth, you're also somewhat prepared after nine miserable months of physical suffering.  If someone's dying from an illness, there's still the surprise of total disappearance in the end, but there is also some degree of expectation for the surviving loved ones.  Childbirth and illness are like the yin and yang of life and death.  And I think adoption is like that too, only it's the flip side of a fatal accident.  This sudden materialization of a baby feels exactly the same as when someone suddenly dies.  I feel unreal and anxious and constantly on the edge of a full blown panic attack."
 I could not stop talking.  I probably sounded manic even.
"It really is the perfect analogy!" I went on.  "Pregnancy is the slow, biological creation of life.  Illness is the slow, biological destruction of life.  And when you adopt a baby--it's like a magic trick:  Poof!  A life out of nowhere!  Just like a tragic accident--Poof!  And you're gone!" 
I would repeat this analogy again and again over the next several weeks, to all my friends, probably more than once.  It was a coping skill, a way of constructing meaning out of the nonsensical; a measure of linguistic and cognitive structure erected precariously over the psychological abyss of disbelief.  It helped, thinking such thoughts and stating them aloud to witnesses.  And if my friends thought I sounded ridiculous, they were kind enough not to mention it.  They all listened with care and concern.

Thank you friends.  

To Be Continued...



PAGE # 63

When the phone started ringing, I grabbed it and ran out of the house for more privacy.  I had left Kendra a message a little earlier.  She was calling me back. Finally.  

What did I feel at that moment?

Relief, of course, because I was desperate to connect with Lily's natural mother.  I imagined that a sustained relationship with Kendra would make everyone feel better.  For the rest of our lives.

But there was something else--I don't think there is a precise enough word for it--as there is no one word to describe that first moment one speaks to a birth mother, the woman who no longer holds her own baby, but you do.  Meaning I do.  Or as is the case here:  I did.

And the fact of the matter is that there are no words to describe it because there are no useful words for the conversation itself.  For, what can one say to such a woman?  Thank you doesn't quite cut it.  How are you?--surely, she could not be feeling well!  And anyhow, I was feeling neither thankful nor well myself; in fact, I felt sad and unreal.  But I couldn't actually tell her that either:  

Hi ya Kendra!  Sure you're feeling like total shit, having just given away your baby and all, but guess what?  I feel like total shit too!  I feel sad for the baby and for you and even though I'm supposed to feel grateful and happy that you've picked us, I really think you ought to take back Lily--no, Holly!--because that seems to make the most sense.  

When Paula (the social worker) and I had spoken earlier that day, she had given me some advice:
"When you talk to Kendra, you need to utilize your therapist background.  You don't want to unload what you're going through onto her.  I'm here to help you with whatever hard feelings you may be having, but when you speak to Kendra, well, she's just done the hardest thing she will ever do in her entire life.  You need to support her.  You cannot put your own sadness upon her.  Jennifer, imagine you are working with a client.  You wouldn't dump your own issues on a client going through a hard time--you wouldn't make it about you.  Just put on your therapist hat when you speak with her--really, if every adoptive parent had your clinical background...well, it would be a lot easier.  It's been such a pleasure to work with you--someone from the same professional background."

As I listened to Paula, I felt my face grow hot with shame.

Was I really that selfish?  How could I even fantasize about having such a conversation with Kendra?  The woman had followed through on the hardest decision of her life--who was I to question that now?

I could hear Paula take a deep breath on the other end before giving me her instructions:
"You tell her concrete things about the baby.  You tell her how well the baby is eating.  You tell her how well the baby sleeps.  You tell her things like that.  Simple, concrete facts.  Not too much detail.  This is the time when a birth mother is suffering the greatest, missing the baby.  You need to help her through this.  You need to support her.  You can do this!  You are so personable!  So very likable!  Kendra is lucky to have found an adoptive mother like you.  Trust yourself, be yourself, but remember to keep it about how the baby is doing--eating and sleeping and pooping.  Birth mothers love to hear that their babies are good eaters.  Tell her how well the baby is eating.  She'll be pleased to hear it."

And now.  Right now.  This very moment as I type this blog entry.  I cannot deny what I feel right now:

Like an idiot, like a pawn, like someone who was made to doubt herself and instructed to act otherwise.  But I couldn't see it then--and honestly, I doubt the social worker intended to treat me as a puppet.  The attorney--yes--but the social worker?  No, it seems unbelievable to me.  She was so warm, so nice, so smiling (you could even hear her smile over the phone).  She surely was doing what she thought was in everyone's best interest.  Sociopathic traits are common in lawyers, but in a fellow therapist?  I would like to think that she gave me that "Script For Talking to Your Baby's Birthmother" because she truly believed in it.  

And what the hell can I presume to know about adoption, even now?  What would have happened if I answered the phone with Hi ya Kendra!  Guess what?  I think you should take the baby back?

I will never know.  Because I didn't do it.  Instead, I told Kendra what a great eater her baby was.  How she didn't even spit up.  She slept well.  She peed and pooped.  What a good little baby!   

And Kendra was, in fact, pleased.  "What can I say, I make great babies!" she told me.

She went on to share that she was suffering from a breast infection--mastitis--from too much breast milk and no baby to feed.  Her obstetrician put her on antibiotics that morning.  "It's so painful."

"That sounds painful," I said in return, reflecting words like a dull mirror that one glances at quickly without really seeing one's image.  A reflexive habit. 

Also, Kendra told me, she was upset with a close friend.  The friend had recently had an abortion.  When Kendra told the friend about the breast infection, the friend replied not with empathy but with an accusation, saying:
"I think this is God punishing you for what you just did.  For giving away your baby."
And Kendra had been indignant, "At least I didn't kill my baby!" she'd yelled back at the friend, who was suddenly, not a friend anymore.

And then there was me, a mindless mirror, trying to reflect everything back to Kendra--perfectly, with great empathy, trying to put myself in her shoes so I wouldn't say anything wrong or bad or God forbid accusatory!  

Because a birth mother, they will tell you, is very fragile.  Handle with care during that first conversation post-relinquishment!  Of course, earlier, they tell you that a birth mother is very strong--only the strong (the very opposite of weak or delicate) choose adoption over abortion.  Strong yet easily damaged!  They will say both these things about birthmothers--but never at the same point in time.  And it will feel kind of familiar--like other feminized contradictions--the virgin/whore for instance, and that familiarity will enable the dichotomy to work its way inside you.  And it will slide into your awareness with some ease, but not enough ease that you don't sense an odd bump (what the fuck was that?) as the paradox wedges deep inside your idea of reality.  But don't dare speak of it!  If you try to expose the paradox--for how can a birth mother be both the strongest and the most fragile at the same time?  Or wait--was it strong only before relinquishment and fragile afterward?  What obfuscation!  The adoption mythology will torment your intellect; there will be no logical way out.  Instead, it will melt around your brain, forming a hard stubborn surface, not unlike a helmet, adamant on keeping you from bleeding out the truth when it comes to adoption. 

And Kendra, just two days post-relinquishment, already suffering the downside of yet another birth mother paradox:  the selfless giver/selfish abandoner.  And what would the social worker suggest I say to that?  Forget your mean friend, Kendra!  Your baby just downed four ounces like a champion!

In reality, I tried to respond to Kendra as I would to a loved one, or close friend:  
"I'm sorry to hear that," I said.  "What a terrible thing for someone to say to you.  Sounds like she's just projecting her own guilt about her abortion onto you.  Perhaps she even envies your choice, the strength it took not to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.  I've never been through what you're going through Kendra, but I've had to give up some friends along the way too in this life.  It's not easy.  I think you need to surround yourself only with people who are able to love and support you right now.  And who knows, maybe your friend will even apologize someday."

But in saying this, even though I went with my heart and abandoned the social worker's script, I thought I sounded ridiculous.  And I could hear the effort in my tone of voice.  I could hear the hint of affectation as I struggled to communicate with Kendra.  For what was the purpose of my communication?  There is no band-aid for grief.  There are no words.  Just like when somebody dies.  Except in this case, someone hadn't died, at least not yet, and things could, in fact, still be reversed.

But I would not ask Kendra the question on my mind--Do you want her back?  We love her but we understand if you want her back.  

I didn't think I could.  I didn't think it would be fair to Kendra, who was, according to the social worker, "a grown woman who made a thoughtful decision, the most difficult one of her entire life, and to question it now would be disrespectful."

To Be Continued...



PAGE # 62
Morning hours

We sign in at the pediatrician's office.  When the receptionist sees our name, and then Baby Lily in our arms, she looks more confused than surprised.  

"We're adopting her," Tom says quickly.

There is too much to explain so I just stay quiet.

When Lily's name is called, our pediatrician, Dr. Shine, greets us with a hug. 

"I had no idea you guys were waiting to adopt!"

"We weren't," I say.  "It was kind of a sudden opportunity."

Dr. Shine examines Lily and the thought occurs to me:  Should I ask if she sees any signs of fetal alcohol syndrome?  But then Dr. Shine is all smiles, saying that Lily is perfect and good luck/congratulations/I'm so happy for you guys.

I'm relieved that Lily's appointment has gone well.  Tom didn't seem worried beforehand, so there's no sign of any subsequent relief on his face.  Actually, he's been occupied with the concrete task of Lily's health coverage--fighting with our insurance company--so he hasn't time to worry about Lily's actual health.  Our insurance doesn't want to cover Lily until she's officially adopted, but that will be at least another six months from now.

So, as we're driving home from the pediatrician's, Tom calls Shelley, our attorney.  He needs her help--some kind of document from her--so that we can prove to our insurance company that Lily is a real baby, in our care, in need of medical insurance, until she is legally adopted by our family.

But the conversation does not go as planned, because Shelley immediately informs Tom that Kendra is not doing so well.  You need to call her.

I take the phone from Tom.

"What's going on?  Is Kendra alright?"

And I'm thinking I knew it!  I knew it all along!  Of course Kendra isn't okay.  Of course Kendra wants her baby back!

But Shelley doesn't say that.

"Kendra is okay, and she's really happy with you guys," Shelley says.  "But she's having a hard time not knowing where the baby is, not knowing if the baby is okay, so you should probably call her.  Today."

I can call Kendra?  Kendra wants to talk to me?  To us?

This is great news.  I am thrilled when the attorney tells me she will email me Kendra's contact information.  But then she says:

"And make sure you are real nice to her.  You know, we want to keep her on our side."

Our side?  What is the attorney talking about?  

"And you should buy a prepaid phone to call her from.  Don't use your cell or home phone," she says.

As soon as Shelley hangs up, I hand Tom back his phone.  Then with my own cell, I dial the social worker's number.  When Paula answers, I tell her about my conversation with Shelley.  And I ask her opinion about the prepaid phone.

"Oh, I think you can call from your cell phone.  Kendra doesn't seem like she's going to bother you with a million calls all day long.  She really thought this adoption through.  I think it's fine to use your own phone."

I want to call Kendra immediately!  But Tom is holding a a finger up, a gesture indicating that I should wait.  He's back on the phone with Shelley, he called her  again as soon as I hung up, he still needs to work out the medical insurance problem.  I am looking through my emails to see if Shelley has sent me Kendra's contact info yet, which of course, she has not, because she is on the phone with Tom.

When Tom finally hangs up, I tell him what the social worker said, that we can call Kendra from our own phone, no worries.

But Tom shakes his head no.  Shelley reiterated to him that "we really should use a disposable prepaid phone."

This seems pretty insulting to me, insulting to Kendra, who did just give us her baby.

Tom points out that Kendra won't know that we're calling her from a prepaid disposable phone.  

"Look, Jen," he goes on.  "Shelley says it's important to retain our anonymity at this point.  If Kendra learns our identity through caller ID...that kind of info spreads quick.  And according to Shelley, if the birth father finds out who we are, there's no telling how he might respond.  Even if he's not interested in parenting Lily, he might be interested in bothering us, in trying to shake us down for some money."

"Okay, okay," I say.  "We'll buy the disposable phone."

To Be Continued...



PAGE # 61
Just After Sunset

I am guilty too.  

I am no better than Sam or Diana, for I too am prejudiced toward adopted persons.  In fact, I am far worse.  At least my in-laws would never have brought home some other person's baby in the first place.

I make this discovery about myself while seated in the living room.  I'm feeding Baby Lily, watching the sky turn a bright pink--no orange--until the outside is dark, dark dark!  There is nothing to watch through the window anymore; the night has come and forced me to look elsewhere.

I shift my gaze down to the baby on my lap--What a beautiful baby!--that's what all the neighbors have said.  Congratulations!  No, really, you guys deserve her--how lucky for your family!  

All these exclamatory remarks.  They are well-intended.  Our neighbors, our friends--they are so happy for us.  They are celebratory.

I am not.  

Instead, I catch myself studying Lily's face, inspecting her, looking for something.  A deformity?  Some sign that she is somehow damaged?  There must be something wrong with her. 

I wonder if she has fetal alcohol syndrome.  That must be it!  Perhaps Kendra, during the time she was separated from her husband and during the time she conceived Lily, perhaps she had been drinking and partying daily?  It seems plausible.  She'd been married young.  She'd already had two boys.  She missed out on all the inebriated fun that is youth in America.  So when she left her domesticated life, where did she go?  To bars?  Perhaps she started to drink.  And perhaps she kept drinking.  Non-stop alcohol consumption.  Then, upon discovering her pregnancy, thought:

 I can't keep her now.  

I throw this theory away almost as quickly as it forms in my mind, but I don't stop looking for some flaw, some defect.  I'm like a crime scene investigator looking at a dead person's body, trying to find clues.  Trying to find some evidence.  Trying to find a motive.  Except this is no lifeless body; no, this is the opposite of death.  This is life at the very beginning--infinite potential!--there is no corpse to bury.  But it feels very much like a death, like someone has died, and I cannot make sense of such incongruity.  My emotions do not match what one should feel when holding a sparkling brand new baby.

Of course, I cannot find anything wrong with Lily.  But maybe the flaw--the explanation--will show itself at some later date?  I don't want there to be anything wrong with Lily, but I cannot wrap my head around why?  I remember there were reasons.  Kendra had reasons.  But none of them really make sense anymore.  Usually, things make more sense in retrospect, not less!  This is so outrageous to me--it seems to fly in the face of the laws of physics.  I feel mocked, played with.  The universe is testing me.  Perhaps everything is mere illusion?

I'm looking down at this beautiful baby girl and I cannot fathom why her mother has given her to me.  My feelings of unreality are deepening.  I worry I might have a panic attack.  Nothing feels real.  

I wonder if Lily will do this too someday--look for defects.  I can already see her as a young girl, looking into a mirror, trying to find the hideous reason: why?

I might have cried then, thinking this, thinking about Lily's future psychological challenges, but the feeling of unreality has grasped me too hard.  There is numbness and there is shock and there is the fear of going crazy.  I feel like someone has died a terrible and shocking death.  Yes, this sense of unreality.  I have felt it before--in the past, when people close to me have died.  Especially suddenly. 

I find myself wanting to speak to Kendra.  I am desperate to speak with Kendra--as if my own sanity demands an immediate and secure connection with Lily's natural mother.

To Be Continued...



PAGE # 60
All Day Long

I did laundry all day long.

Our washing machine was still busted.  I had called for service the morning after the great flood, but was unable to schedule a repairman for days.  The piles of clothing accumulated at an unprecedented rate.  Fortunately, Jim and Tracey invited me to use their laundry room, but there was so much wash to do, I ended up lugging half of it down the street to Tom's brother's house.  In case I've failed to note the proximity of Tom's extended family members in previous posts, please note that my brother and sister-in-law, Sam and Diana, live only four houses away. 

There was something awkward about bringing my dirty clothes into the home of my in-laws.  This had less to do with the embarrassing odor of it all (it really had been left unwashed for too long), and more to do with the fact that neither Sam nor Diana had come to meet Lily yet.  The rest of my neighbors had and they weren't even family.  I was surprised by the extent of my anger over this.  I expected myself to be more understanding.  Ambivalence was twisting through my insides.  It was unpleasant to say the least.

Only a year and a half prior, Diana had been pregnant with twins following a round of IVF.  Her body had already naturally yielded one son, our nephew Max, but the rest of her reproductive history was punctuated by miscarriages.  A whopping total of six.  Diana could get pregnant easily; staying pregnant was another story.  IVF seemed superfluous given her ability to conceive, but Diana expressed her desire to have twins.  Sam was planning on a vasectomy as soon as they were able to have another child (he wanted to put all the years of reproductive angst behind them once and for all), but Diana dreamed of a much larger family.  IVF was their chance for more than one more baby, given the higher chance of multiples with reproductive technology.

Diana did indeed become pregnant with twins.  They had done gender selection also and this too worked according to plan:  Diana was pregnant with one boy and one girl.  Unfortunately, at 28 weeks gestation, one of the twins suffered a placental abruption.  This obstetrical emergency resulted in the death of their little girl, whom they named "O", and had to bury.  The other twin, a little boy they named Jack, was delivered a whole trimester early weighing a mere 1.5 pounds.  His health at the present time (he is currently about 2.5 years) remains challenged.  He does not eat or drink but is fed through two surgical feeding tubes, one that runs directly into his stomach, the other into his intestines.  He vomits regularly, despite the fact that nothing is ingested orally.  He does not walk.  He does not speak.  While no medical professional can give an absolute prognosis, it seems likely that Jack's future will forever be compromised by his tragic beginning.  We pray that time and therapeutic intervention will prove otherwise.  There is still hope.

So, I could understand why Sam and Diana did not come to meet the newest member of the family.  Perhaps they had become too damaged, too pained, too worn out, too bitter, too tired to come meet Lily.  It made sense.

Nevertheless, my heart pained for this little girl and her also tragic beginning.  I couldn't help but wonder if Sam and Diana considered Lily an inferior family member.  Perhaps they would force themselves to welcome a new baby if she were our biological child?

There was some historical evidence to support my interpretation of their neglect as discriminatory:

Upon meeting Ricky for the first time (Jim and Tracey's adopted son), Diana told them:

"Congratulations.  Good for you that you could adopt.  I would never want a baby that wasn't mine.  But good for you that you guys are the kind of people that do."

Jim and Tracey had been offended.  At that time, Diana had not yet suffered the dual tragedy of "O" and Jack.  There was no excuse.

I could not help but consider the possibility that Diana and Sam simply would never accept an adopted family member into their hearts.  And the more I thought about it, I recalled numerous other instances when I heard them each express negative sentiment toward adopted persons.  Their shared position was not anti-adoption due to a concern for biological family preservation; on the contrary, it was a point of view that lacked empathy for adoptees.  I've even witnessed Sam crack jokes about adopted persons--and under this guise of comedy, I believe, is a hostile and demeaning view of those not fortunate enough to reside with their genetic kin.  As if he is somehow better than them.  

Forgive my detour from the story for a moment, but it occurs to me that when people speak of marginalized sub-groups or disadvantaged populations, adopted persons are unlikely to come to mind.  But when I think about it now, adoptees are unfairly depicted in our popular media all the time.  If an adopted person commits a crime, it's often blamed on their adoptee status.  There is, I think, an undercurrent of devaluation toward adopted folk, as if their status as genetic outsiders somehow renders them less valuable than everyone else.  As if they are unworthy of love, having been rejected by their very mother in the first place.  I could cite a variety of examples from movies or television at this point, but I am not trying to prove an argument here.  I am merely trying to illustrate the possibility that some people are actually hostile in their deepest feelings toward adopted persons.  Whether unconscious or not.

I am reminded now of a story a close friend once shared with me.  She is the mother of three children:  two adopted, one biological.  But her relatives refuse to allow the adopted boys onto the official family tree.  "Only blood relations," they've told her.  

And so that day, watching the laundry spinning round and round, my thoughts existed in a parallel condition--messy, endlessly looping, all mixed-up.  I couldn't tell if I felt angry or sad toward my in-laws.  And I couldn't tell whether I was insane, over-sensitive, or on to something that resembled a dirtier truth:

Perhaps our extended family would never regard Baby Lily as a true family member?

When would they come to meet her?

Why hadn't they yet?

I was too afraid to ask.

To Be Continued...