Suzanne gave me such a lovely introduction; I’m afraid I may not live up to the hype! I know she said I was going to tell my story, but this is more just a little snippet of my story. And considering it took me 6 months to actually sit down and string some words together, it may very well be the only part I ever get around to telling! (Yes, the spirit of blogging is obviously lost on me.) Like many of you, we hit a few bumps on the road to our family. I’m so fortunate to have had Suzanne by my side through all of it. At the time I was struggling with infertility and pregnancy loss, without any first-hand experience of her own yet, somehow she always knew what to do or say. I hope I have been at least half as comforting to her as she was to me! Because in so many ways, large and small, it’s the people around us who help pull us through. I’m Jill, and this is the story—albeit rambling—of one of my “bumps:”
Romantic comedies aren’t usually my thing, and I’ve always been neutral on Sandra Bullock. But every time “The Proposal” is playing, I will, without question, watch it. And feel all warm and fuzzy in the process (owing only a wee bit to Ryan Reynolds being fiiiiine and Betty White my favorite Golden Girl). The rest of that fuzziness comes from a dearly-held memory, a moment of normalcy that withstood the collapse of everything else.
The night before, my husband and I had lit out of Virginia for the 8 hour drive home through pitch black, not able to go fast enough to forget the empty car seat in the back. I had explained to the hotel troll that the baby we had with us the day before—the baby I had been cooing to when she snapped, “No pets!” without looking up—wasn’t going to be our baby anymore, so we didn’t need to stay any longer. She was oh-so-sorry, but our rate was going to increase since our stay had shortened, and we had also missed the checkout cut-off, so we owed for that night. The baby was, for the moment, still with us. She watched from her (our?) car seat as we frantically packed up our things, the things intended for her; as we yelled at our parents on the phone because we didn’t know what else to do. We held her, fed her and soothed her while we choked on tears, remembering the night before when we had done the same things in awe, with giddiness. We dressed her in one of the outfits her mother had sent with her, and packed up some of the baby things we had bought, to send back with her, because they were hers, after all, and they couldn’t be anyone else’s after this. Her mother had called the social worker that morning, well within the state’s revocation period, saying she didn’t want to talk to us or see us because she was “embarrassed.” But she wanted us to bring her daughter to the social worker’s office the following morning …as though we were just babysitting for an extra night, I suppose. The call came when we were in the car, heading home from a follow-up pediatrician visit. My husband pulled into a gas station, got out of the car and sobbed like I have never or since seen. When I caught my own breath, sitting in the back seat next to the baby girl we had named, I called the social worker back and said, “If this is going to happen, it needs to happen NOW.”
When we finally got home, we shut the door to the nursery and then fell into bed for who knows how long. I remember waking up to the hazy silhouettes of my husband’s mom and dad, the blinding summer sun creeping through the doorway around them. They were bringing home our dog (dear sweet Ruby, who comforted us in many moments like this) …and probably also wanted to make sure we were still breathing. There wasn't a lot of talk, just more tears. They had lost a wished-for grandchild, too. They had seen their son and daughter-in-law fight through the brokenness of infertility to a new place of hope. For this. I sent out a mass email to update friends and family, praying there weren’t more baby gifts in the mail, wondering what to do with the ones we’d already received. My husband was planning to just show up at work on Monday, rather than lift a phone and piece together words to explain the unexplainable now, in the immediate aftermath. I pondered what I was going to do with the sudden emptiness of my days. I had left my job. For this. I couldn’t really bring myself to talk to anyone just yet. Our parents, of course. And then it fell to them to burden the rest of our family with the news. I do remember calling Suzanne as we sped through the mountains. I don’t remember exactly what I said. I’m sure there was cursing and crying, and all kinds of awful, ugly things that only best friends can hear, generously forget and still love you. Things like lashing out at this child’s mother, speaking truths and untruths that were, either way, not fair to say. In a cruel quirk of fate, when we were finally too hungry and exhausted to keep up our mad race away, the only place we could find to stop was the very same 24-hour restaurant chain where not-our-baby’s mother worked. That was 6 years ago and the last time we ever ate there.
In the midst of all this, my husband and I made plans to go out with Suz and T the night after we returned. They were hurting, too; they had recently experienced a big loss of their own. I think we all just needed somewhere to be. I don’t remember what we did before the movie. Probably dinner? Probably pizza or Mexican? Probably talk about anything but these raw and gaping holes? We knew for sure that it had to be a funny movie, so from the available options, “The Proposal” it was. For whatever reason: the comfort of friends, the mental quiet in that dark theater, the pretense of a typical evening out, (<cough cough> Betty White <ahem>); I got to feel normal for those 2 hours. Not just normal. Happy! I laughed. I saw a glimpse of where we would be when we got past this (and we would get past it). I got to be with people who would help us get past it. I remember riding that wave of happiness as we walked out to our cars and hugged good night, stretching it out as far as possible until the quiet and sadness would undoubtedly creep back in and run their course. Obviously I’ve had many happy moments since that time. Deliriously happy moments even. Though I no longer need it so desperately, that movie still brings me back to that renewed feeling of possibility, to that light in the dark. So is it really a good movie? Under the circumstances, I’m not sure my opinion can be trusted. But I do know it was really really good for me.
No, adoption plans do not always come to fruition, and I know this can be one of the most daunting parts for potential adoptive parents. But, really, when you think about the gravity of the commitment, is it so surprising? It is often said that an expectant mother must make the decision to place all over again once the baby is there, crying and stretching under the warming lamp. This makes a lot of sense to me; while we had three potential adoption situations fall through at various stages, none hurt quite like this first one, where a very real baby had already nestled against us and left an impression in our arms.
In adoption, there is no way to guarantee (nor ethically could there be) that the child for whom you are preparing your heart will actually come home with you. So you must fiercely guard your heart as well. When our oldest daughter was born, we held our breath for four days afterwards. While we kissed her bald little head and watched her twitch in her sleep, we pretended we weren’t already irreversibly in love with her. On the day her birthparents signed their consents for the adoption, her birthfather called me afterward, the pain in his voice tangible, to congratulate us. As I gently set the phone down, I wept for their grief and for our heart’s desire fulfilled. When I turned around, my husband was kneeling, little box in hand, the diamonds twinkling on a mother and child pendant that I, just then, in that bittersweet moment, finally, FINALLY had reason to wear. At long last, we exhaled, and spoke our daughter’s name out loud for the first time.
I waffle a little with saying things end up the way they were meant to be, because in the case of adoption that would imply that my joy was meant to be at the expense of another’s loss. But I will just say that I certainly can’t imagine loving any other children as much as I love my daughters, nor can I contemplate a world where we are not together. The pain of our infertility struggle and first adoption experience has since been happily buried way down deep by what has grown in its wake. One thing that I can unequivocally say was “meant to be” is having Suzanne in my life! It is amazing how much we can endure and heal, with a little help. So Suz, thank you for being a friend. Many years from now, after our kids are grown and our husbands are gone (What?! Oh relax, they’re just golfing.), I will be the Dorothy to your Blanche. J