*Originally written in the last week of August with minor edits since. Posted with the permission of the mother you will come to love by the end of the post.
In August, my husband and I passed through terrible heartache.
In late July, we experienced with humility the joy that comes from being chosen by an expectant mother (out of the blue!) and falling in love with her and her incredible family. It was bliss.
We Skyped. We emailed. We chatted on the phone. Mr. R flew out to visit her and her family. He got to hear Baby Boy’s heartbeat! (We’ve never done that before.)
We fell in love with this little man from the moment his mother invited us to be. This mother explained to us that she had planned on adoption from the start. She had selected another family, but things weren’t ideal. She confided in a friend–a friend who had placed years previous and now runs a non-profit for women who have placed. Her friend recommended she check us out. Her friend and I knew each other from a service project I had done for her organization years ago. We have kept in contact ever since.
Apparently this expectant mother loved us …and oh, the feeling was mutual! Funny (hysterical, really!), brilliant, talented, well-spoken and big-hearted. How could we not fall in love with her? She will always hold a special, tender, private place in my heart.
My dear friends threw me a secret baby shower with just me and my mom. I have been militant in protecting the privacy of this expectant mom and her baby. Very few people knew the details of what was going on …but these ladies did.
They made the baby and the expectant mom a beautiful quilt with their names and the raddest rickrack the world has ever seen. (The quilt has since been mailed to her.)
We planned for this little baby boy (in hyper-speed since he was due in just a few weeks), packed for him (I opened–for the first time in 4 years–the sacred box that held my sons’ newborn clothing) and we flew out to meet him and his biological family in Cleveland.
We had a BLAST hanging out with this expectant mom and her family and the expectant father. Cleveland has AMAZING food and we sampled it all with our “tour guide family”. I will always giggle at how they teased me for not knowing what pierogies are. (A note to my favorite Cleveland family: I still don’t! LOL)
We met with the young man who is the biological father of this perfect little life. Although his Facebook page would have you believe otherwise (still confused about this), he seemed like a great guy and totally won us over–sweet, respectful and downright interesting. He explained his difficult life to us. Stories of dropping out of two different high schools, on his own since he was 16, jobless and essentially homeless, but nonetheless he stole our hearts with his personality, love of electronics, music and good food. I couldn’t believe the miracles that seemed to be lining up.
We got to take this perfect baby boy home from the hospital. We memorized his smell. We cherished his newborn squeaks and cries. I imprinted the feel of his fluffy hair on my cheek and I snuggled him all night long.
It was bliss.
Our last afternoon together, I remember rocking him with his hair nestled into my cheek. The house we were staying at was quiet. This birth mother and I chatted in hushed tones with a cello playing in another room. I looked at this perfect baby and confessed to his birth mother, “I am so in love with him.”
“I know and I am glad,” she responded. “It’s why I chose you to be his mother.”
We were his parents for three perfect days.
Well, his unofficial parents.
And then things took a turn.
Although he has told us all differently, the father ultimately decided not to sign adoption papers (as is his right and we respected that), he and his mother expressed that they were convinced the child was not his and yet he moved to solidify his rights with a DNA test at the Child Support Enforcement Agency. He threatened to kidnap the baby from his mom. He threatened to sue the her for custody. The DNA test came back with 99.9% accuracy. Though not involved for the duration of the pregnancy, his rights were the only ones protected.
We have since learned from the mother that he is most likely in jail after an arrest for possession of a firearm. He has not contacted her or their baby since the day we left …5 and a half weeks ago.
Our hearts shattered. It turns out that “heartbreak” is literal not figurative. There were times when I literally grabbed my chest for the pain.
We were no longer his parents; we had never officially been.
We spent the morning memorizing that beautiful baby boy through our sobs. Taking turns apologizing to him and telling him how much we would miss him. Telling him that we tried as hard as we could to protect the life his mother had selected for him. It was horrendous but reverent.
My husband managed to give him the most beautiful priesthood blessing through his sobbing. Although sad, those 10 minutes will always be one of the most sacred experiences I have been given. The spirit was strong. The pain intense. When he finished speaking, Mr. R and I embraced over this little boy we loved so much and wailed. Literally. So much love and so much heartache at the same time.
We drove around Cleveland delaying the inevitable. I sat in the back seat stroking his face, kissing his hands. Apologizing.
My dearest friends and family texted to see how we were doing. All I could do was send them the above photo.
We pulled into his mother’s driveway and time stopped. In slow motion, I remember standing on her parents’ front porch. The wind was blowing. I was suddenly keenly aware of it on my tear-streaked face. The wind chimes mocked me with their playful toll. I will always hate wind chimes now.
The door opened and with it a rush back to reality.
Everyone inside was sad. Eyes were swollen and red. Countless apologies were given on all sides. This was not her plan. It was not her family’s plan. It was not our plan.
Mr. R placed Beloved Baby Boy in his mother’s arms. We were there bringing her son back to her against her wishes–she expressed that this was not the life she dreamed of and designed for herself and her baby boy. Nonetheless, she is and will be an incredible mother. I kissed that sweet baby boy one more time, got one last feel of all that beautiful hair, kissed her on her cheek and told her and we were cheering for her. “WE LOVE YOU. You can do this! We know you can! We will always be cheering for you.” She just looked so shocked and upset. It was a haunting moment for me. My heart ached for her. What an impossible situation for her to be in. I was standing in the doorway when the heaving sobs overtook me. Mr. R was saying something but all I could think of was escape. Escape this carnage.
Outside I looked at our rental car. I ripped out the car seat and shoved it in the trunk.
Mr. R came out, his chin quivering.
Somehow (and not safely) we drove away. I was encompassed with grief. My body was making sounds I didn’t even recognize as coming from my own body. We were distraught.
We found ourselves on a bench at a nearby lake. I lost myself in the sound of the waves hitting the shore. I think I was actually in shock.
Then we went to three movies in a row at the theater. Upon giving our tickets to the teenager who ripped them in half, we were asked light-heartedly how we were as more of a greeting than anything else. “We are horrible. Never worse,” my husband replied and we walked away. (The poor kid.)
We left the first movie with about 20 minutes left because it looked like it was going to be a happy ending. The trailer at the beginning of the second sunk into my soul. The lyrics pulled at my heart. They were perfect and turned out to be what got me through the next 3 days.
“And still I dream he’ll come to me. That we will live the years together. But there are dreams that cannot be. And there are storms we cannot weather. I had a dream my life would be so different from this Hell I’m living. So different now than how it seemed …now life has killed the dream I dreamed.”
In the middle of second movie, I lean over to Mr. R and tell him that my heart hurts, like someone is standing on it and it’s about to explode. He grimaces at me and nods. He feels it too.
This is grief.
I didn’t feel better after the second movie and needed more distraction.
Before purchasing our third set of tickets, we took a restroom break. In the stall, I silently screamed and sobbed. In prayer I begged for the heartache to be removed. It didn’t leave all at once, but it did eventually settle into a dull roar while we watched The Dark Knight Rises …again. Alfred’s apology scene at the very end hit home. It stung.
We got into bed around 2am. Mr. R played sad music for us on the computer and I drifted off to sleep.
The next morning I needed to write. Writing is how I cope. It’s my home. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I wrote to our family and our closest friends who had been with us emotionally on this journey. Who were hurting with us. Who were fasting and praying for us. I wrote for hours.
I just needed them to read what was in my heart. I don’t know why, but I needed someone to actually read it. Validation, maybe? Proof that it really happened? A trophy for surviving THEE worst day of my 33 years so far? Acknowledgement that the sun really did come up the next morning even though I had my doubts? I don’t know.
Mr. R and I grieved as we do with good food, sarcasm and dark, dark humor. We were terrible, but we were together. I believe I fell in love with my husband all over again that day. No one gets me as he does. No one even really comes close.
We survived the first day of our new normal. It wasn’t pretty, but we made it.
Heading home, Mr. R and I took different airlines (he has a family member that works for Delta so he flies for pennies). He dropped me off at the curb and we embraced. And for the first time in 11 years, I was able to say something I have always wanted to say as we left The Ohio and headed home to Zion …a line from Legacy, a movie that I despise after seeing it so many times on my mission.
“It may be in Zion when we meet again.”
Followed by a verrrry dramatic, “If we ever meet again, it will be Zion to me!”
Minute 4:18. You are welcome.
Oh how I have wanted to say that! HA! For over a decade I have waited for the perfect moment. And here it was. In Mormon pioneer history, the early members of the church (my ancestors) were sorely persecuted (some murdered) in Ohio. They moved onto Illinois and eventually onto the Salt Lake Valley which they called Zion.
Is this irreverent? Yes. Although we were terribly sad at that curb at the airport taking an empty car seat home and clothes that smelled like that little boy who will always hold a unique place in our hearts, we laughed our insides out in this moment. As we have said over and over again during our infertility and adoption journey–if we don’t laugh, we cry.
Beaten up emotionally, I am pretty sure I looked the way that I felt as everyone was so incredibly nice to me in the airport. My bag was overweight, they said it wasn’t a big deal and took it anyway. (Say what?!) I couldn’t think straight and had to ask the counter for help–I was escorted to the place where you drop off your bag and down to security by the nicest lady. I bought a bagel and the person behind the counter gave me the cream cheese for free. I wept.
On the plane, a young mother and her 5 year old-ish son boarded last. The little boy sat in front of me in the back and his mother searched for an open seat at the front of the plane. Upon realizing what was going on, I may have made a fool of myself with a declaration that “Mommies should not be separated from their babies!” to the entire plane which concluded in me over-dramatically giving her my seat so that they could be together. Yeah …that happened.
Trying to distract myself, I started reading Crossed, a book my neighbor let me borrow. I read this line and my heart stopped.
I would hope that we “let go” with grace …but I don’t really think that’s fitting. In the end, I hope this baby and his mother and her family know how much we love them. I hope they understand what an honor it was for us to be considered to be the parents of that little guy. I hope they will always know how we will cherish the love, encouragement, prayers and heartache we shared together. In that way, we will always be bound together. Our goodbye may not have been graceful, but it was filled with love. Unconditional love.
Emailing later on, I confessed to his mother how we felt like we had failed her. I felt terrible, but there wasn’t anything left we could do legally or otherwise. She told me how scared she was for herself and her baby …and that Mr. R and I didn’t let her and the baby down, the father did. My heart broke again for her. Although she was allowed to make the decision of life for her child, she was not given permission to choose the life she wanted for him.
It’s something that I just cannot wrap my brain around.
The last leg of my travels home, I watched Australia–my favorite movie. There is a scene where a hopeful adoptive mother’s hopeful child is being taken from her to a prison camp where multiracial children were “reformed” to “breed the black out of them.” The child’s biological father watched with pleasure as Nicole Kidman’s character panicked, screaming, looking for help. No one could help her or the child except for the father …and he refused. Over the next week I must have watched that scene 100 times. That panic, that despair …I recognize that now. (Chapter 20 on the DVD if you want to watch it. It is horribly awesome.)
Arriving home, Mr. R and I were embraced by family and friends–some who knew the situation, most who didn’t but recognized that we were not okay. My friend Amy gave me the most wonderful book on grief called Tear Soup. “When one person is missing, the whole world feels empty.” I have loved each person who dropped off goodies–dinners, candy, orange rolls, blackberry lemonade, new sweats, books on forgiveness and sorrow, sweet bread, eclairs, cookies, silly string, cake bites, brought me a soda or lunch, flowers, pinwheels, a box of sunshine, a new apron, movies, hugged me, loved me even when I was angry and cried tears of sorrow with us around my kitchen table …all helping us cook and simmer our tear soup.
This is healing.
I am a hopeful person. I believe in unicorns and rainbows and glitter but I have not been able to find much solace in this situation. I am not used to feeling that way. This experience has rocked me to my core. Quite frankly, it’s confusing.
Ultimately, I recognize that if we put our faith in anything but the Savior, we will lose our anchor. My hope is in Jesus Christ. Only He can dull the paralyzing heartache we are experiencing and bless this beloved baby with a fantastic life and opportunities …and with wisdom. Oh the wisdom he will need in understanding the first week of his life.
My faith is in the Savior who will consecrate my afflictions for my gain. He has promised me that He will.
I have great faith in my Savior. I know that only He has the power to heal and the power to make an ugly thing beautiful, to give “beauty for ashes”.
“Memories like bullets firing at me from a gun. Cracks in the armor.”
“If you came to me and said ‘there are two people in the world who want you more than anything; they’ll do their best, they’ll make some mistakes, and you’ll only get them for a short time, but they will love you more than you can ever imagine.’ Well, when that’s true, I’d say ‘so much is possible.’”