I spent a week that summer in North Carolina visiting my grandparents and cousins, who I think always viewed me as either mysterious or freakish, or maybe mysteriously freakish. I came ready to get away, with a big belly, red swimsuit, and scars all over my arms.
My grandparents were fascinating. Old and wise, light-hearted and nosy and liberal. My grandpa gave me encouragement, this being before I considered adoption. I never lacked support from my family, even when they knew the father and they knew me, and they knew about life and about babies and about finances.
I vaguely remember coming home from my vacation, and really believing the apartment would be clean, because that would be such a nice gesture, one I’m pretty sure I had explicitly asked for. And I remember immediate anger and frustration and hopelessness.
I was praying a lot those days. And the day before I made my decision. I was trying to read my bible, and he would read with me. We were trying and nothing was clicking. We grew further and further apart, more and more exasperated.
My mom was the one to take me to the attorneys. They were middle-aged, attractive brothers, and the one we met with made flattering comments towards me which left me smiling shyly. I remember no real details from what he told me, only my history intake, him suggesting what adoptive parents look for in the biological history, and me somehow ending up with a stack of profiles fresh out of what could have been the 90s.
There’s just a blur now of grainy photos and unattractive pages and pages and pages and pages. None stuck out, but in hindsight, it never occurred to me to ask for more. So we sorted through them again and picked a couple. I spoke to the wife multiple times on the phone, at length. She was easy to talk to and her voice was kind. But weeks before my delivery, we were notified that they backed out due to my maternal history of bipolar disorder and his paternal history of schizophrenia. They weren’t prepared to take on those risks.
We picked another couple from the pile. They stuck out because of musical tastes, and I think because he liked that the husband was Irish, a cool thing to be. It being so close to delivery, we never did have any contact with them before I was induced.
A friend from the summer before stopped by to visit on his break from the Navy. I remember Golden Corral, not because he was there, but because he had texted me about it while we were there. I always think of that day when I see Golden Corral. And I always remember Coldplay because that was the day we bought the X & Y CD. I have a Coldplay CD for every major chapter of my life.
I arranged to visit my old high school and surprised the Boy on his lunch break, walking into the cafeteria in my third trimester. I don’t think I had a real reason to be there other than to bump into him.
My due date was on Friday. I went in Monday afternoon and they began the induction that evening. I don’t remember Tuesday. I do remember my Childhood Friend staying up all night Tuesday night before she left, sleepless, for a field trip the next morning.
Her job was to keep me from getting mad at him. And she was perfect.
They coached me through contractions. They handed me buckets to vomit in. She talked sweetly when I sobbed, “I can’t do this, I can’t do this”. Looking back, there was another looming fear throughout my pregnancy: fear of labor and delivery. I was convinced I would die and the anxiety grew as each month passed.
I took the crisis pregnancy classes, I took the birthing classes with my mom, but I was wholly ignorant and unprepared. Something I wouldn’t realize until my third pregnancy.
I knew I would get an epidural, but the thought of a hefty needle in my spine kept my heart racing at night, along with the stories my health class teacher graciously shared about inept epidurals and partially numbed legs.
The anesthesiologist was busy at the precise moment I needed medication, and I made a snarky, demanding comment to the nurses, like all the women in the stories. We watched the contractions on the monitor, oblique neon green lines against the black background, crawling, climbing, climbing, holding, drifting. Each one required new faith that the pattern would hold. Each one impossible and unending. The lines divorced from what must have been happening in my body.
And then the epidural. Nurses huffing incredulously over my inconceivable inability to execute the roly-poly roll-up required for perfect epidural insertion. Somehow they managed, and after that moment, it was smooth sailing. I watched the monitor like one would watch the clouds roll by, laughing at the absence of pain.
And then it was early in the morning. I realize now my parents weren’t in the hospital – it was just after midnight, maybe and things began to progress, so my parents were called. I don’t remember the times but they got there just as I was ready to push, which was a surprise to them as they had brought all sorts of fun things to occupy everyone. I’ll never know what those things included.
The father had left to get a drink maybe, so my mom took her position at my head. I remember how easy it was. How I thought, “I could do this a million more times” thanks to the epidural. I pushed and breathed and pushed and I held my breath as I felt his head coming out, waiting for the sudden shock of pain, but when it didn’t come, I pushed, and there was an enormous relief as he oozed out like jelly and my entire body released and they swept him away into the cart to do all their little tests, and my head fell to the right, resting on the pillow, and I watched intently and tears streamed uncontrollably and I felt good.
I held him. We have pictures from the quiet, dark hours of that morning. My mom holding the youngest baby she’d ever held, her head angled, legs crossed, soft smile, peering into his face, his dark hair and jaundiced cheeks. Speaking to each other in whispers.
My dad took one picture. Of me. Sleeping in the hospital bed. I don’t know why he took one picture. I don’t know why that was the one picture he took. But the reasons I’ve imagined made it one of the most meaningful pictures I have. Him behind the camera. The urge to do something. That something never manifesting in the form of words, yet still finding a way out. A glimmer of love and of turmoil.
I drifted in and out of sleep for a few hours. I remember waking up listening to his mom on the phone, clutching the baby, the nameless child, choking shakily over words and mucous. “Yes, she’s going to do it. Yes, I know. Yes, she’s going to go through with it.” I closed my eyes and drifted away.
We had to prevent his family from harassing me in the hospital. Most memorably, they said I was incapable of love, that I wasn’t a Christian. My heart was hardened against them. What I now see as the aberrant death-throes of a family’s hope and love and blood, I saw then as fuel for my decision. It stung, but I wouldn’t question whether there was any truth in what they said until many years later, when no one would care what the answer was, when the only person I had to face was myself.
I loved baby name books. I liked the name Cole. I liked Dominic. I liked other names. He liked names like Asher and characters from games and movies. Consequently, our baby went without a name until a day or so after he was born. We knew his parents would rename him, but I felt an agreement between the three of us that we should have a name, our name. Somehow the middle name was the same as the Boy’s, my future husband, though how or why that happened has also been repressed.
The adoptive parents lived many states away but as soon as they heard he was born, they left to see us. He was born on their anniversary.
My cognition was muted during the hospital stay, and the pregnancy, and my whole life up until that point. There are many pieces I didn’t put together until years later, and I’m sure there are more gaps to be filled. It didn’t occur to me that the parents were staying somewhere, or that maybe they held him when I sent him off to the nursery. Either way, I felt unencumbered, left to grieve and rejoice, cuddle and photograph, share and rest on my own time and in my own way. I had three days in the hospital and I tried to do things that seemed appropriate for such a situation, like tell him things I thought were important and take pictures of us together and stare at him. We had a few friends visit, and I have pictures of now long-lost friendships, secretly bound to my heart forever, holding my son in a bright, white room.
I remember registering that someone called the parents over the intercom. And as though my brain was conspiring with the attorneys, their last name was obscured within my ears, muted, inexplicably.
The attorneys hadn’t explained my options, but everyone knows what a closed adoption is, so when they presented the ground rules for the arrangement they were offering (what I now know is called semi-open adoption) it sounded better than closed, and I agreed effortlessly. The deal was weekly updates for a month, monthly updates for a year, then once a year for five years. Then nothing until he turned 21 and may or may not decide to find me.
The parents visited us in the hospital, and I can envision them from two angles. Two different visits. And maybe a third. I remember nothing we spoke about except that I was nervous when my boyfriend was there and my boyfriend was guarded and shaky and pretending to be nonchalant. He threw a few interrogative questions out there half-heartedly, and seemed decently satisfied with the answers. We talked about bands. Maybe the Allman Brothers. They held J. They gave him back. They left. We rested.
The attorneys came to the hospital for me to sign. Nothing they said took up any permanency in my mind, except that as I looked down on the paper, with him chattering on in the background, I saw they had simply put “Baby ___” with my last name, and a fire was ignited within me and all I knew at that moment was that there had to be a name there and I made them put his name down.
And then I looked beyond him and beyond my mom and out the window, and I hesitated. I pictured myself walking out of the hospital with J, I imagined a lifetime in a moment and I felt freedom. Because I’m stubborn. And I’ll only do something if I know I don’t have to do that thing. And I knew I didn’t have to sign those papers.
So I did.