By Jennifer Palmer
She was mine, this sweet baby girl, but she belonged to others, too.
“Do you think you’ll try to adopt again?” they ask, and the question settles on my shoulders like a shroud. My heart begins to race and my palms begin to sweat and my first instinct is to shake my head violently, to run fast and hard from the very idea lest it lodge itself in my brain and take root. The mere thought of walking that path again makes me want to lash out, to cry, to curl up in a ball in the corner of my room and hide from the world.
This reaction is all beneath the surface; somehow, I try to remain calm. I shrug my shoulders and give a half-smile. “I don’t know,” I answer. “We’ll have to see what comes.”
* * *
I was there on the day my daughter was born. My husband and I arrived at the hospital early, having been startled awake by the jangle of my cell phone in the wee hours of the morning, and so I was there to see it all.
I was there with her maternal birth family—her mom of course, but also her grandmother and great-grandmother and multiple great-aunts. We made quite the crowd, there in the delivery room, laughing and crying and praying together, all waiting for her to come.
I was there for the early stages of labor, when the contractions were few and far between. I was there when the pain began in earnest, when my daughter’s oh-so-very-young-and-scared teenage mom was given her epidural. I was there for transition. I was there as her mom pushed, and I counted and I encouraged and I held my breath along with everyone else. I was there when my daughter crowned, when the long hours of waiting were finally over and she slipped, alive and healthy, into the doctor’s competent hands. I was there.
I was the first to hold her after the doctor and the nurses, the first after the cord had been cut and she had been cleaned and weighed and warmly swaddled. They brought her to me, and I reached for her amazed that I might be entrusted with this small, sweet bundle. I looked into her tiny face and her eyes met mine and all doubt fell away. In that moment, I was her mom. In that moment, my heart claimed her as my own.
When I finally tore my gaze away from her face, her grandmother’s eyes were on me, the pain stark in the set of her jaw. She was mine, this sweet baby girl, but she belonged to others, too.
* * *
A few days later, we nestled her into her car seat, so small amid the soft, pastel fabric, and we left the hospital. We just walked out, with this precious baby between us, and they let us go. I sat in the backseat with her for the long drive home, watching her face, watching her sleep. We pulled into our driveway changed forever. We had left it a young couple with no kids; we returned a family of three.
What to say of all that came after that moment? The story is long, far too long for a simple blog post, and I do not know that I have the words to tell of those first sleepless and anxious and incredible and wonderful weeks, of her one-month birthday, when her mom’s consent was final and I breathed a sigh of relief, of the call from our attorney two days later saying my little girl’s birth father was contesting the adoption. How can I tell you of that summer, one of worry and fear mixed with love and joy, of one court date after another, of the support of her mom’s family and the venom of her dad’s? What can I say of the love that carried us through those days, of the night before the final hearing when friends and family gathered to pray for justice, for truth, for wisdom? No matter how I try, I cannot express what I felt as my daughter’s biological father took the stand and lied, looked straight into the eyes of the judge and said words I knew to be false.
I took the stand, too, on that day, recounted the events that led to all of us being there together in that courtroom, hoping that my words would have weight. I knew, all too well, that what our lawyer said in her closing argument was true: “No matter the judge’s decision, somebody’s heart would be broken.” I just prayed it wouldn’t be mine.
What words are there to explain all of this, to tell you of the moment when we got the decision and I collapsed on my living room floor, unbelieving? How do I help you know what it was like to place the girl who had been my daughter for five full months in the arms of the one who had conceived her? How can I convey to you what it was like to allow my legs to carry me down the unfeeling tiled halls of the courthouse, leaving her behind, when everything in me wanted to turn and snatch her back into my embrace? And then, the helplessness as we heard of drama and court battles and teenagers who would rather party than care for a child, the deep grief mingled with love and a need to know as the texts and pictures came in those early days before fizzling away to silence, months and months and months of silence.
* * *
It’s been more than a year since I said goodbye to my sweet baby girl, a year with its own sorrows and joys, its own defeats and triumphs. Time marches forward and life slowly returns to normal and grief begins to fade.
And this is the amazing thing after it all, after all the tears and pain and loss: I still believe in the idea of adoption, in the beautiful (though painful) gift it can be to all involved. I still know it can be so very good. And deep down, beneath the fear and the hurt, I still hope it can be a part of the story of my family someday.
* * *
And so, they ask, “Do you think you’ll adopt again?” and I am afraid, so very afraid, and a large part of me wants to run in the other direction. But I smile, say, “I don’t know,” and my heart whispers the unspoken completion: “but I hope one day I might be brave enough to try.”
Jennifer Palmer is an electrical engineer turned stay-at-home-mom who lives in Northern California with her husband and five-month old daughter. She shares her thoughts about everyday life at choosingthismoment.blogspot.com.
Photo by Scott Boruchov
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