Thursday, May 26, 2011

Five Days in July

I am horribly behind in telling Roo's story. I'm not going to get all caught up today, but I thought I'd at least get a bit more of it written down. Maybe it'll be easier to write than I think it will.

My due date had passed. It sneaked up on me, really. It seemed like I ought to still have three weeks left. I felt horribly unprepared. Some days it was all I could do to take care of myself. The thought of caring for a tiny, helpless newborn was overwhelming. I secretly feared I wouldn't be able to do it. And what if I was a horrible mother?

To make matters worse, I began having nightmares about my baby being injured - being dropped, or falling, and they terrified me more than anything in the world ever had before. I didn't want my little girl to ever hurt. Ever. I wanted her to be happy and safe and secure, and I wanted her to have everything in the entire world. I didn't ever want her to feel scared or confused or worried or sad. I recognized that I had very little control over quite a bit of that, and I hated it. I already loved my baby girl so very much. I felt that she deserved better than me but I was too selfish to let her go. I just couldn't do it.

The day after my due date, I had a visitor - a woman named Cindy from my mother's ward. I was acquainted with her, and I knew she knew I was pregnant, but she had her own struggles and I couldn't imagine why she would have taken the time to come visit me.

Cindy brought me fresh-baked bread. She teared up when I answered the door. She said that she was very proud of me, and that she loved me. She said she admired my strength. Her kindness was overwhelming. I wrote in my journal that night, "Kindness is a funny thing that way. Sometimes it's more overwhelming, more of an emotional blow than cruelty or apathy." I cried for twenty minutes after Cindy left, completely undone by a simple act of kindness.

I had a doctor's appointment on July 2nd, a Thursday. I spent 20 minutes hooked up to a couple of monitors - one for the baby's heart rate, and another for my contractions. I read a months-old issue of People magazine while the monitors beeped and clicked. When the technician returned and checked the results, she said I'd been having a few small contractions, and had I felt them? I hadn't, but I was excited at the prospect. The technician checked the other monitor. She also performed a brief ultrasound, checking fluid levels and fetal movement.

"You've got a happy baby," she told me.

My doctor felt that I should be induced. "Well, what about Friday?" she asked.

"Tomorrow?" I asked. "Friday is tomorrow."

She made a face. I think the weekend had caught her unawares. She instead scheduled me for Sunday the 5th at 7pm. I don't know what it says about my maturity that my first thought was, Sunday at 7? I'll miss "The Simpsons."

My contractions grew stronger as the day passed. I could feel them now. My mother refused to let me drive anywhere alone, afraid that my labor would progress suddenly and she'd have to come rescue me anyway. She didn't make me feel particularly calm about being induced. She was induced with her first baby, my brother. That was nearly thirty-four years ago, and she still winces and clutches her stomach at the mere mention of the word "induce." It made me nervous. It was amazing how quickly I went from not wanting to be pregnant anymore to not wanting to not be pregnant quite so soon.

I knew that my relationship with my mother was going to change when the baby was born. My mom had taken good care of me throughout my pregnancy. In a funny way, it was like I was her little girl again. I knew that my own maternity would change that. It made me sad. I didn't feel ready. It was stupid, because I was 25 years old, but I still felt like a little kid in so many ways.

I tried to take my mind off things by narrowing down my list of baby names. I got down to three or four that I loved but I couldn't commit to one yet. I wondered if that meant something. Adoption was still on the back of my mind. I thought, maybe I can't choose a name because I'm not supposed to be the one who names her.

Sunday the fifth arrived. I was depressed. I knew that I was supposed to be excited, but all I wanted to do was cry. I was terrified that I was going to be a bad mother, that I would grow to resent my baby for the way she changed my life. I worried that I wouldn't bond with her, that I wouldn't be patient enough, that I would always love her a little less than I should because of who her father was (I don't, for the record).

I thought more about adoption during the first week of July than I had ever before. The prospect of someone else raising this baby used to frighten and depress me. But the thought suddenly didn't feel as awful as it had before. I wasn't sure what to make of that. I hoped it was nerves.

I loved my baby girl so much it hurt. I only wanted what was best for her. But what if that wasn't me? What if I wasn't meant to have her? Would I know somehow? I hoped so. And I hoped that I was meant to have her, because I didn't think I could handle one more devastating loss in my life.

I hated that this was my line of thinking a few hours before I was scheduled to be induced. It seemed like I should be thinking something else, anything else. I should have been doing something other than thinking myself sick.

Suddenly, it was half past six, and I realized I wasn't quite ready to go. I rushed around (as well as I could with an overdue baby in my belly), putting a few last-minute things in my bag and double-checking what I'd packed already for myself and the baby.

My mother put my suitcase in her car while I hefted myself in. I was tired and nervous and overwhelmed. My throat fizzed with unshed tears. We were running late; I could cry later. I knew that my tardiness wasn't criminal - it's not like they could start the induction without me. But I've always hated being late. I urged my mother to drive faster.

She found a parking space and we headed into the labor and delivery triage area. It was 7:20. I gave the receptionist my name and she disappeared to get my paperwork. There were five pages, and my name was on the top of each one. No, wait. My name was at the top of four of them. Someone else's name was on the top of the fourth page.

"Oh, sorry about that," the receptionist said, shuffling a few papers at the desk and finding the page that was mine. But the misplaced paper got me thinking. It hadn't occurred to me before then that I wasn't the only woman having a baby that night. That probably sounds terribly self-centered of me, but it's true just the same. I wondered about this other woman - Teresa - who was also filling out the stack of having-a-baby paperwork. I wondered if she was married, if she had any other children, if she was nervous. I wondered who was going to be in the delivery room with her. I wondered if people were excited for her. I hoped so.

My paperwork was processed and my mother and I were shown to my room. There was a hospital gown folded up on the bed and the nurse told me to put it on. My mother settled our belongings while I went into the bathroom and changed. I closed the door behind me, and I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror over the sink. I realized then that this was the last moment I was going to be wearing these maternity jeans as a pregnant woman. When next I put them on, I would be a mother. I stood there for a few minutes, memorizing the feel of wearing clothes and not being hooked up to monitors so I'd have something to cling to during my stay. Slowly, I donned my hospital gown. The motion had an air of finality about it.

For some reason, I thought of the movie "Men in Black," where Will Smith's character is told that the suit he's given is "the last suit you'll ever wear." It sounds stupid, but I had that kind of feeling just then. Like this was the last hospital gown I'd ever wear. I knew that once I opened the bathroom door, I was no longer myself, Jill, a pregnant woman, a person. Once I opened the door, I would become a patient. Things would happen, and be done, and it was slightly terrifying. I hate being a patient. I hate disappearing into a chart. I knew that once I was out there, there would be monitors and tests and an induction and eventually and IV, and I would simply be a room number to the doctors and nurses.

I stood there in my hospital gown. The air felt different already. The gown had changed me. Wheels were in motion.

I opened the door.

Friday, May 20, 2011


When a baby is born, one of the first things parents seem to do is count fingers and toes. I'm not sure who in human history decided that a newborn's extremities were the best indicator of health, but the tradition remains, and countless babies are unwrapped from their hospital blanket burritos so their tiny fingers and toes can be counted.

It's easy to count what you can see. Two eyes, two ears, one nose, two lips, ten fingers, ten toes. Unfortunately, what you can't see can be just as important as what you can. You can't easily count the lungs or the chambers of a heart. You also can't count the number of kidneys your newborn has. Unless there's some sort of health problem, you may never know.

My father was born in August of 1956. He had ten fingers, ten toes, the proper number of eyes and ears and lips and limbs, and only one kidney. That his missing kidney went unnoticed is hardly anyone's fault. As I said, they can be tricky to count. It wasn't until the 70s that my father suspected there was anything any more abnormal about him than a few deformed ribs.

When it was determined more than a decade later that my father had only one kidney instead of the usual pair, and that he needed surgery, my grandmother's reaction was swift and sure. She felt guilty.

The argument could possibly be made that her guilt was appropriate - the lack of a second kidney ostensibly points to a problem during gestation. But she didn't smoke or drink or have any health problems. The missing kidney was a fluke; nobody's fault. But you see, this was only half of the problem. There's another part of my grandmother's guilt. She didn't only feel guilty that my dad was short a kidney. She also felt guilty because she didn't know. In her mind, she should have known somehow that things were awry, and she should have known at the moment she counted little fingers and toes at Silver Cross.

There's a point to this story, I promise, and here it is: irrational guilt is part of parenthood. It's part of life in general if you've got the same kind of quirks that I do, but it's for sure a part of parenthood.

I'm not a parent right now, but I am a birth parent. One of the fun (ha-ha) things about being a birth parent is that you get to experience many of the worries and fears and stresses of a parent but without any of the rewards of parenthood (not that being a birth mom doesn't have its rewarding moments, but it's different than being a parent). One of those characteristics I have discovered is the aforementioned irrational guilt. It's not quite the same as my grandmother's guilt, but I think that in some ways it's more vexing. Because if something goes awry, I feel bad not just for Roo but for P and M, for not doing my part to make sure their daughter is as flawless as possible.

It's more than slightly ridiculous, but I've found that I always feel like I should apologize for anything about Roo that isn't perfect. If she gets a cold, I want to apologize for her immune system (even though she is an exceptionally healthy girl). If she doesn't smile for family pictures, I want to apologize for her being uncooperative. If she climbs on things when she's been told not to, I want to apologize for her stubbornness.

That's stupid, isn't it? None of those things are under my control. I took good care of myself during pregnancy so Roo would have the best start she could. I grew her a healthy, perfect little body. I took good care of her. She's 22 months old now; surely any little quirks she has are from P and M, right?

I'm sure they are. At my Christmas visit I got a kick out of seeing Roo sitting with M for a story, and they had absolutely identical facial expressions. I can already see many mannerisms Roo has learned from her parents. That only makes sense. They are her parents, and she takes cues and learns from and mirrors them. I recognize very little of myself in Roo. She is every inch P and M's daughter. She has exactly the personality and temperament and quirks that I would expect a child of theirs to have. She's a perfect match for them. I credit them entirely for what a sweet, clever girl she is. If I credit them for her good points, can't I also put her faults in the P and M column? (Not that Roo has many faults at all, of course.) I absolutely can. Who Roo is and who she will become doesn't have a lot to do with me beyond the choice I made to place her with her parents.

So why do I feel guilty when Roo gets a sniffle?

I'm not sure. When I was putting together some information for P and M prior to placement, I made a list of all the things that run in my family (heart disease, hypertension, high cholesterol, cancer, etc.) and I felt awful, like maybe I should also write an apology for some of the lousy DNA Roo may have inherited. I love P and M dearly. I did almost instantly. So I suppose part of it is that I feel like they deserve the very best children in the world, and I so wanted Roo to be that for them.

I'm being ridiculous again, of course, because I have no reason to believe that she isn't perfect for them. It's not as though they complain to me about Roo. I've never heard them complain, and I don't think they ever would. Roo is the best little person she could be. I really couldn't hope for anything more for her. I guess it's just this lingering fear I have that some of me will show up in Roo, and she'll be hopelessly neurotic like I am, or her childhood will be one long panic attack like mine was, or she'll lack proper social skills like I did. I worry about that sort of thing a lot, actually. I am desperate for Roo not to be like I was. So far she seems to have gotten the very best of me and H with none of our faults (unless you count being very chatty as a fault, which I refuse to do). But what if that luck doesn't last?

I guess the "what if" is where I need to stop worrying, because I know that no matter what quirks Roo ends up with, P and M can handle it. Their path to parenthood has strengthened them and taught them things that I'm sure they'd rather have learned some other way but they've learned them just the same. They'll be able to help Roo with whatever might come up. They'll get through it just fine.

I hope I will, too. But I know I won't be able to stop myself from saying "sorry."

Friday, May 13, 2011

Hey, Peeps ...

Are any of you going to the FSA International Conference this August? I went last year, and it was amazing. Registration has already started (info here). If you aren't planning on going, you should. It is going to be extra awesome this year.

Do you know why?

Because I'm one of the presenters!

I've been teamed up with a birth grandmother and we're going to be talking about grief. It will be epic, I promise. Well, maybe not epic, but it won't be boring.

As with last year (and every other year, I think) the conference is free for birth families. Which means that my presentation will at least be worth what you pay to get in :) If nothing else, birth moms, it's always nice to be among people who aren't going to judge you for an unplanned pregnancy, because they've all been there too.

And for those of you who think, "I should be so lucky as to get pregnant on accident!" there are like-minded people there for you as well. It'll cost you, but I think it's more than worth it for the information and the chance to meet with a whole heck of a lot of people who have been or are in the exact same boat as you.

Go. Sign up. Now.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

(Birth) Mother's Day

Warning: I'm happy. If you're not happy, this will probably make you throw up a little. Everyone is entitled to their unhappiness. Very often it's justified. I'm not going to judge. But I am happy, and I would hate to be responsible for someone being sick. So, read on with caution.

I had most of a post written up yesterday about Birth Mother's Day. I didn't like most of it. It felt like a repeat of what I wrote last year. I think Birth Mother's Day is a lovely idea, but I don't really need it. I'm comfortable sitting through the odes to motherhood recited at church with a secret smile. I don't particularly celebrate Mother's Day, though, either. Not for myself. I try to do something nice for my own mother, to let her know how amazingly blessed I am to be her daughter.

Y'all, my mom is awesome. Even if you discount the fact that I was her fourth child in six years, and made her violently ill during pregnancy, and weighed much closer to nine pounds at birth than I'm sure she was really comfortable with, she's still an amazing woman. I think that even years from now, if I have several children of my own, it won't feel right to celebrate Mother's Day for myself. It's her holiday, not mine. Only if I were to be as awesome as she is could I feel comfortable calling the day my own. And I've got a long way to go to be as awesome as my mom.

She gave me flowers today - daisies, my favorite. Red gerbera daisies, specifically, which are my favorite favorite (and she always remembers that), and after our family dinner tonight, after hours of talking and laughing and enjoying one another's company, when I gave her a big hug and wished her a happy Mother's Day, she whispered "You, too," because she gets it. My mom gets it.

She was there for those weeks when I was a mother, and I think she cherishes them nearly as much as I do. I believe this about her: No matter how many other children I end up having, when she wishes me a happy Mother's Day, she'll remember Roo. I don't know if that's true of anyone else, but it's true of her.

I love you, Mom.


Even though I don't make a big deal of Birth Mother's Day, yesterday P and M sent me five - FIVE! - videos of Roo being darling - singing and talking to her mama and generally being fantastically cute. How awesome is that? P and M are so thoughtful. Five videos is an embarrassment of riches. I am a spoiled girl. So, even though I had to work, and our computers were down and patrons were a little crabby about it, and I had a headache, I ended up having a very happy Birth Mother's Day after all.

And I had a happy Mother's Day as well. Maybe it's because I've found my happy place with adoption, but it was absolutely painless. Whereas last year I think I mostly thought of Mother's Day in terms of my lack (or my lack from the year before when I was pregnant), this year I thought of my own mother, and then I thought of Roo. I'm not her mommy, but I did grow her a body and find her family, and that counts enough for me. I've felt a mother's love. For the first time, today, while I was in church, listening to a talk about motherhood and charity and love, I realized that I will find a way to be happy if I never have more children. Because I had Roo, and I love her, and if it needs to be, it can be enough.

That sounds a bit maudlin. I don't mean for it to. Yesterday and today were both happy, hopeful days. I've been quite ridiculously happy all week, actually. New Roo videos made me even happier. I am so well-adjusted, it's disgusting. I have unofficially graduated from therapy. John has marked me as "as needed" in my file. We've run out of things to discuss. It feels amazing. Most of my session with him the other day consisted of eating Red Vines and talking about how amazing I am (and I am not even kidding). Although considering I still paid for the hour, John probably has the last laugh there.

Being happy makes for a boring blog, doesn't it? I've meant to post again all week but I couldn't think of much to say besides "I'm happy, life's good," and that makes for a short post. I am working on finishing up Roo's story. I have probably forty-something unfinished posts on a variety of other topics. I'll get to them eventually. I do have some sort-of exciting news to share in a few days (I'm excited about it, anyway). I am far from done blogging about adoption. I think, even if I do get to the point where I don't have anything left to say but how happy I am, I'll keep posting just that a few times a month, because I think people need to read it.

In short: I totally double-dipped on the mothering holidays, I'll probably be blogging forever, and I am happy. Very happy. The end :)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

My Biggest Secret

Today I am taking a break from blogging about adoption. I'm going to write about something else instead. I'll probably start doing this from now on, every so often, just to cleanse my blogging palate. I thought today was a good day to start, because I have something I need to get off my back.

I have tried very hard to keep this blog from being a place where I re-hash all of the mistakes I've made and list all my sins. The past is firmly behind me. I've never been the type of person to have a lot of deep, dark secrets but on the rare occasion where I have one or two, I keep it to myself.

But lately something has been bothering me, making my brain itch. It's my own personal tell-tale heart, and I'm afraid one of these days I'm going to just snap at work and the whole sordid tale is going to come spilling out. Sometimes I feel it on the tip of my tongue, biding its time until the moment when I'm less vigilant. I can't let that happen, not in public. And so I feel the need to unburden myself. This may not be the appropriate place or time, but I don't know what else to do.

Okay. Deep breath. I can do this.


I work at a library, and I don't have a library card.

Phew. There, I said it. It's out.

I used to have a Maricopa County library card. I had one, and I used it all the time, and I still have the 13-digit card number memorized. I went to the library all the time, and I checked out hundreds of books. But what with school and work and other things, I got lazy about returning them. The fines piled up on my account. I went to the library less frequently in an attempt to incur fewer fines on my account. But going less frequently meant that I wasn't turning books in as frequently. Three times in six months I paid astronomical sums in overdue fines. I felt sick about it. I thought to myself, if I'm going to spend so much money on books, I might as well be buying them.

That was when I started going to the book store, and that's how I ended up with more than 45 boxes full of books by the time I moved. I lost count of individual books somewhere in the thousands. I always meant to go back to the library at some point, but it just never happened.

Last October, when I applied for the library job I have now, I thought to myself that I had better go back to the library and get a card and get myself re-acquainted with the stacks. I never did. I got the job, so figuring out where different parts of the collection had been moved to was taken care of. But now I've been at the library for six months, and I don't have a library card.

I cannot possibly get one now. How would I ever live it down? My co-workers all know me by name. I don't mean to brag or anything, but I'm very good at what I do, and my hard work has been noticed. I have a certain reputation at work. If it got out that I don't have a card, I would be ruined. I have considered going to one of the other county libraries to get a card there, but mine is the closest by far and I'm not sure I want a card badly enough to drive 12 miles out of my way for one.

I thought at first that maybe I could get by without one. But my co-workers keep recommending books and asking me about bestsellers. I keep seeing books I want to read but can't afford to buy. Something's gotta give. I'm afraid this won't end well for me. I am going to end up completely humiliated. But the good news is, there are books written about dealing with that kind of embarrassment, and we have them at my library, and when all is said and done, I'll finally be able to check them out.