Sunday, June 1, 2014

Let it go

Last night I attended Roo's last dance recital. Dance is boring, she says, so she's going to try something new in the fall. She danced pretty well for a four-year-old. It looked to me like she knew the choreography better than any of the other little duck-costumed preschoolers on the stage. Her face really sold it for me, too. This girl was serious about her duck dance. M and I sat next to each other and we both took video of Roo dancing. It was one of those moments that could have been photographed for a PSA about open adoption.

After the recital M found Roo among the lines of tiny dancers filing out of the auditorium, and my heart felt full to burst. To someone who doesn't understand the beauty possible in adoption this will sound weird or even awful, but it makes me so, so happy that M is Roo's mom. They belong with each other. I see the two of them together and I think, that's what I want, if I ever have the chance to be a mother again.

I don't feel a smidge of sadness about the almost-five-year-old who danced so enthusiastically in a sparkly duck costume last night. She's got as good a life as any little girl could ever hope to have. She's pure sunshine - goodness and sweetness in human form. She makes me happy. It's impossible for me to feel any pain where she's concerned. In that sense, as far as placing a child for adoption goes, I am way beyond “over it.”

But this afternoon I got a reminder that there are some things I might never get over. It's a reminder I've gotten several times before but I keep managing to push it out of my mind. And, just like so many of life's disappointments, this one is because of laundry.

I was a mother for nine weeks before I placed Roo for adoption. When you've got a baby, you've usually got this entire collection of things for the small human in your care. It's quite amazing how many things accumulate for such a tiny person. I had a crib and a car seat and a stroller and a Pack and Play and crib bedding and blankets and burp cloths and dozens of teensy little outfits and socks. There were pacifiers and miniature fingernail clippers and bottles and stacks and stacks of other things that modern society says are required for the well-being of a ten-pound person. I spent every penny I had on accouterments for my baby. And I was happy to do it. I loved every last accessory.

Then one day I didn't have a baby anymore.

But I still had all this stuff. Scads of it. Boxes and boxes worth of baby things. Most of them I was able to put aside without an overabundance of pain. Clothes were a different story. The last load of little laundry I did, the one after placement, just about killed me. I folded up clean Onesies and sleepers and knew that I wasn't going to put them on my baby ever again. I didn't have a baby to put them on.

Eventually all of Roo's things were packed into Rubbermaid storage boxes, which were labeled and tucked away into a back corner of the garage. The crib was taken apart and bubble-wrapped and nestled with the mattress on top of the boxes. The car seat and stroller were mummified in plastic and hidden with the rest of the proof that I used to be somebody's mother.

My mother consoled me with the idea that in a few years I would likely be unwrapping and unboxing everything with my husband, getting things ready for the child we were expecting together. I clung desperately to the idea of this storage being a temporary thing. I thought, I will be a mother again before this pink-patterned car seat expires.

But I wasn't. Roo turned two and her baby things remained untouched. I considered selling them but I panicked when I tried. I wasn't ready to let them go. If I ever thought of the boxes after that I decided to worry about selling their contents when Roo was three. I would be ready then. But I didn't think about the boxes very often. I wasn't at my mom's house very often and I certainly wasn't spending time in her garage. Roo's third birthday came and went and her baby things never came to my mind.

I found some way to block from my mind the existence of those boxes and that shrink-wrapped furniture. I would see baby clothes at Target and have vague memories of how, in my early twenties, I used to collect little outfits here and there for some future child but my mind never jumped from that collection to the storage boxes. I managed to forget about the sad reminders of my interrupted maternity until last month.

My sister-in-law is pregnant and due in August. This pregnancy is something of a miracle and, with more than four years having passed without a new niece or nephew, I am almost desperately happy at the thought of holding a Barber baby again. My sweet nephew Elliot died two years ago, before he was born, so every day Becky is pregnant with this little girl is an answer to prayer.

My brother and his family were in town for Easter. They're getting ready to move to Texas this summer and somehow or other it came up that they were going to have to buy a new crib and mattress for Baby Girl. My mouth knew what to say before my brain did.

“I've got a crib and mattress in the garage. It's yours if you want it.”

They said that they did, and I loved the thought of their miracle baby sleeping in Roo's old crib. I felt ready to let those things go. I was proud of myself. I was finally ready! They reassured me that I could have both items back when I needed them but I said I didn't think that day would come and they were welcome to keep what I gave them. And then the conversation moved on, and again I forgot about the things in my mom's garage.

Today my sister-in-law sent me a text message asking if my offer of the crib and mattress was still good. I said that it was. She asked if I still had the bedding and I said I had everything. When I used the word “everything” I was thinking of bumpers and blankets and I was ready to part with it all but then Becky asked what I meant by “everything” and I suddenly remembered the box of baby Roo's Onesies and sleepers and I lost it. I went full-on Kim Kardashian with my ugly crying.

I want my sister-in-law to have the crib and mattress. I want her to take the box of bedding. I'm ready for that. But those tiny clothes … will I ever be ready to let them go? Roo starts school in the fall. How am I still haunted by her gingerbread jammies? How is it that five years later the thought of her pink polka-dot Onesie reduces me to tears?

I have a box full of baby clothes that I'm not using, that I may never use. I want to let it go. I want to want Becky to take them. I don't want tiny striped socks to have this kind of hold on me. What's it going to take for me to be ready? How long will it be before the ghost of the baby who was mine stops casting a shadow over a box of clean laundry?

I don't know. I know plenty of birth mothers, including several who parented before placing, but none who placed before I did. I don't have anyone to look to as an example of what trajectory my grief hoarding might follow.

I've passed the point where I'm hanging on to little laundry for some future baby. I wasted a lot of time with motherhood as my only life's goal. It would be fine if I were married or expected to marry but I have to think differently as a single woman in my stage of life. I have to plan for a future where I'm the only one who's going to take care of me because there are no guarantees. I know that I wouldn't marry me right now. I've got too much baggage and I probably always will. I expect to unpack it on my own.

The memory of the newborn I placed is strong enough to keep that box of baby clothes in my mom's garage. I just wish that the thought of the five-year-old that baby became was strong enough for me to let the box go. I'll get there someday. Someday I will be able to open that box, to save a pair of jammies or two as a reminder, and let the rest of it go.

Maybe that day will be sooner than I think. The crib and mattress will be loaded into a Texas-bound van in July. And a few days before that, Becky and I will open the boxes that I haven't touched in five years. We'll pick out sheets and blankets for her tiny miracle. Becky is one of the strongest women I know. Maybe her strength will make me brave and we'll open the box that hurts me the most.

I've cried alone over these things for so long. Maybe crying over them with someone else will give me the courage I need to finally let them go.


Suprise! said...

my heart just aches for you here. thank you for sharing your heart with us.

Suprise! said...

my heart aches. thank you for sharing. i wish you comfort as you process. i'm so proud of your strength.

hi_banana34 said...

I don't know you personally and I've never commented before, but I just want to say that you are such a strong woman and your words are so inspiring, and I feel like I should let you know that and share something with you. I am also a member of the LDS church, and I recently was asked to speak about motherhood in church on Mother's Day, which was intimidating because I don't have children yet although I desire to have them. In preparing for it, the thought struck me that (obviously) in our church we believe that our relationships with the ones we love continue beyond death, on the other side of the veil. So if a relative we love dies, be it grandparent, cousin, sibling, aunt, uncle, child, mother, or father, we are not any less their parent/child/grandchild/sibling etc. just because they are beyond the veil. What I hadn't fully comprehended is that it goes both ways. Just because my children are on the other side of the veil doesn't make me any less their mother. And that relationship won't change depending on if or when or how I'm able to raise them in this life. I know that it's not always the most comforting thought. But it gives me hope and a knowledge that even if things don't go as I expected or planned in this life, there is something better waiting. This quote helps me hang on as I wait for the children I long for and I hope it'll help you hang on too as you wait for the righteous desire of having your own eternal family to be fulfilled: "Don't you quit. You keep walking, you keep trying. There is help and happiness ahead. Some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don't come till heaven; but for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come." --Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

Jill Elizabeth said...

hi_banana34, I love love LOVE that. Thank you so much! I'd never considered that it goes both ways but I'm glad that you did. I needed that today. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Jill, I've been following your blog for a few weeks now, and I just love your writing. You are so self-aware (and funny!) Thank you for acknowledging in this post how long it can take to "let it go." Really, I don't think there is such a thing as "letting it go," but there WILL come a day when unpacking a box of your daughter's things won't make you cry. It's a long journey, but in the meantime, keep enjoying those recitals -- I mean, a duck dance would cheer ANYONE up. :)

Robyn C said...

Crib mattresses that have been stored for long periods of time have been linked to SIDS. You can Google it. The hypothesis is that mold or spores get into the mattress. If your SIL can do it, organic, non-fireproofed mattresses are the healthiest.

I'm sorry to be so practical at a time like this.

Brooke said...

This post was perfect. Lots of love to you and I hope everything continues to go well with your sister in law.