I laid in bed praying endlessly for just a friend. All I wanted was a friend. I prayed and prayed. And five days later, I sat in my dad’s room, using his computer to scroll mindlessly through Myspace, and a friend request popped up from someone whose name sounded vaguely familiar. He wore a tan jacket and a scarf in his picture, standing in his dorm room, blonde hair swept to the side. He made Coldplay references in his captions. I accepted and, both of us being online at the same time on a Friday night, we started a conversation that would last hours. Or maybe days with occasional breaks for sleeping.
I’d never connected with someone like I did with this person and we arranged to meet the next weekend. He was a freshman at a prestigious college an hour away, studying mechanical engineering. We’d heard of each other in high school, but while his crowd of friends was busy with marching band and wowing teachers, mine were busy skipping school and getting either high or pregnant, a fact I decided to hold off on sharing with him.
I was still within six weeks postpartum; I distinctly remember not initiating anything sexual on our first date. Which was probably normal for him but intimidating for me.
He was just above my height, deep-set, green eyes, always sleepy, but always observing, and thin lips usually drawn comfortably closed, hands perpetually planted in the pockets of a hoodie. He aspired to be the wise, quiet type who seldom spoke so that when he did, others would be anxious to hear. And they always were; he had a way with words, speaking life into inanimate objects and teaching me the efficiency of a vast vocabulary. His stories were fluid and subtly humorous and I admired him, a child at his feet. Our first date was a tour around the dorms at dark, an immersion in his crowd of nerdy college friends, a synchronized light show, a load of laundry, specialty coffee, and just a lot of laughing. I drove home elated. The song ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ came on as I sped home in the middle of the night and I called the Boy, from so long ago, because it reminded me of him and because I was happy. I left a message. Or maybe we talked. I don’t know. He shunned me for so quickly dating someone new when, in his mind, we were supposed to be together. There was no reason now for us not to be. But I was no longer interested.
I briefly held a double life before the truth surfaced. The Student knew we went to the same high school, he didn’t know I was finishing up in an alternative school. We would talk almost without coming up for breath, and then I’d sign off and meet the father for counseling, or for comfort.
But soon those nights with the father died as seamlessly as they were born, and I started dating the Student, the same month my son was born.
One night before a counseling session, I decided it had to be then. To tell him. Because my birthmotherhood was always screaming into my ears, inaudible to everyone else, unavoidable to me. As I shook the hands of new acquaintances, it screamed, “WHEN WILL YOU TELL THEM.”
So I punched the keys, just enough for a sentence, straight to the point, and logged off immediately, bounding down the stairs, out the door, to the car, heart pounding, wondering where we would go from here. Wondering if we would go from here.
We spoke later that night and he had nothing but curiosity and fascination and support. And with that, he unlocked something within me. Over the next two years he would bring out sensations never so intensely felt. Romance, joy, confidence, ambition, unreserved generosity, spontaneity, as though he had single-handedly implanted and nurtured the beauty sense into my soul. We fell into each other and never landed, to the exclusion of everyone around us. We wrote about each other and to each other and everyone else was so small and faraway. And sometimes we wrote about that and them and we thought we knew it all and saw through it all and we could never be stopped.
“I am thinking it’s a sign
That the freckles in our eyes are mirror images
And when we kiss they’re perfectly aligned.
And I have to speculate
That God himself did make
Us into corresponding shapes
Like puzzle pieces from the clay
They will see us waving from such great heights,
“Come down now,” they’ll say
But everything looks perfect from far away,
“Come down now,” but we’ll stay…”
I reveled in his affection. People would talk about the connection between a woman and the father of her children, how it was unbreakable, and I was almost smug in the happiness that such was not the case with me. I was freed. Not only freed, but I had moved up in the world. Every boy in my life up until that point had been troubled, each one enabled or exacerbated my self-destructive behaviors and left me content to wallow in misery.
But him. He inspired, enlightened, pampered. He was untainted, well-mannered, meticulous, obsessive, intelligent.
He tried to break up with me a few months into our relationship when I disappeared one night and lied to him about where I was (with the father, though innocently). And unwilling to let him slip out of my grasp, I miraculously convinced him to give me another chance.
He did not like the father and stood in the way of our time together to review updates. The father wrote spiteful things about me on social media and said I was “just like my mom”, in reference to my biological mom, an insult which he perceived to be the worst possible.
The Student came to my defense and the two argued over the quality of my character. My conscious self absorbed every beautiful, perfectly-worded sentence the Student constructed, but my subconscious knew who told the truth.
A few months after the birth, I got a job as a hostess in a restaurant. No one knew my story, and I isolated myself. An introvert bearing the burden of a secret. My social skills were lacking and didn’t get along with my coworkers or my customers. Not that we fought, just that I didn’t fit in. A recurring theme of my life. Just not cut right.
I was too shy to be expected to greet people warmly. This shyness was further complicated by the fact that seeing pregnant women or babies increased my pulse and triggered tears, leading me to frequently seek refuge in the women’s bathroom. Once the tears were under control, I would stare, or glare, from my station, at the families. At the pregnant women. At the teen moms eating with their children. And I just felt angry. That energy undulating within, again finding no outlet. There were no words to describe my sensations, no logic for my feelings.
But N revealed to me that this was actually normal for women who relinquish their children. Just another part of the process. I was relieved, and also not. I was told by many that the first year was the worst and that it really would get better and things would calm down after a year. A year felt like an intimidating limit, a looming presence. What if I didn’t get better after a year? What if it didn’t calm down? How could they pinpoint something so nebulous, so unpredictable, so implosive to a specific time frame?
There’s a reason “roller coaster” is the primary descriptive of that first year. Once the shock subsided, the emotions were erratic, and when they were predictable, they were nevertheless uncontrollable.
Aside from my hostessing breakdowns, the Student’s mom had remarried a few years before and given birth to a daughter months before I had given birth to my son. The weekends we spent at his house meant weekends with a chilling reminder of a child somewhere out there following her milestone footsteps. I was entranced, yet muted by her, clumsy and hushed yet drawn to her, longing to make a connection here, and a connection far away. a connection far away. I painted his face over hers and wondered what sort of mysticism I could conjure up to make him feel me here with her.
I was painfully shy around and intimidated by his family. Wealthy, well-spoken, beautiful, kind, extroverted. His mom was beautiful, a precious jewel redeemed from a dark and rocky past. She was generous and meek and wise and she loved her son in a mother-child relationship I’d never been granted the opportunity to witness before. I hoped with everything in me that I could transform into her character someday, into that warm motherhood and grace. But I fumbled over my words in her presence, and hid in the Student’s shadow. At some point I wanted to offer them an explanation, so while my boyfriend was gone on a ski trip one Saturday, my mom and I met with his parents at their home.
With trembling voice, I shared with them the short version of My Story and oncee the tender, sentimental air had cleared, the stepdad said, “I thought your name had sounded familiar.” He was the head anesthesiologist for the hospital where I delivered, and had signed off on my epidural.
I sat next to my mom at church, the same church we’d been with for the previous five or eight or ten years, on my first Mother’s Day since gaining and losing Motherhood. It was a new building, a less intimate feel, and we sat on the ground level, raised tiers of seats behind us. To all of the present-day-internet’s chagrin, the preacher did what preacher’s do on Mother’s Day and began with a call for all the mother’s to stand up. My mom on my right raised easily to her feet, and my body warred within, fighting over which impulse to obey. My mom looked down at me and pulled me up. Relief. Embarrassment. Gratitude. Validation. Anxiety. Doubt. What would everyone in those stands behind us think?
That was just the beginning of the eternal question: what kind of mother was I? The kind recognized on Mother’s Day?
The organization which offered support groups and my counseling also hosted an annual Birthmother’s Day Dinner. Seven months post-placement, I entered the building apprehensively, my mom again at my side. We sat in the compact room with a dozen women, candles, and food. A man spoke poetically about his two adopted sons’ birthmothers. Women stood to share their stories and pictures of faraway children. I was too nervous and made N stand for me, light a candle for me, comfort me. They spoke about bravery and love and selflessness. My mom wrote words of praise and embarrassed me with her admiration. But every word found root within my heart. I felt justified, mature, understood, validated. I felt broken, hollow, superficial, and somewhere deep down, fake. I would look forward to those nights every year for the next ten years.
The updates came once a month, and I was always on the lookout for their envelope filled with a stack of pictures and a handwritten letter. They alternated who wrote the letter with each update, and I would write them back. Besides updates on life, we used up a lot of ink mutually praising each other and expressing our gratitude for one another. I cried with each letter, each picture, each update day. I spent those days scouring the contours of his baby face and assigning ownership over features. My nose. His ears. My lips. His forehead. I spent the day in quiet, or not quiet, reflection. Itching for intimacy. Itching for movement. Itching for something to happen. Where was all this frustrated energy ever going to find respite? Or would I simply erupt?
Shortly after the birth, I had written a little blog post on Myspace about the whole event. But eventually that was deleted and lost and I didn’t post anything else, I didn’t offer the information to anyone and everyone. I was reserved, self-conscious. I held back from answering questions like “Do you have any kids?” honestly because I thought to tell the complicated truth which would require a complicated conversation beyond what everyone knew was the point of questions like that, would be to draw attention to myself. I imagined people internally groaning, asking telepathically, “Well, come on, why did you have to tell me that?” and thinking that maybe the answer was that I liked the attention and was full of myself.
So, I said, “No” in many ways.
The Student validated my concerns and discouraged me from sharing such things publicly. I’d been going with him to his church since we started dating and two years later had accumulated a few friends and acquaintances who had been “raised in the pews” and surely would feel scandalized by such an admission.
But as the years progressed, I became more and more vocal. Starting an album on Facebook for the updates I received. Agreeing to speaking engagements. Sharing periodically on social media. Guest blogging. Networking.
I’ve only shared more frequently and openly as the years have passed. But not without ever-present blankets of doubt, isolation, anxiety, trepidation, regret, anger, and that godforsaken energy eroding canyons and craters along the terrain of my internal organs.