Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Big Adoption Series - Chapter 9

The sun scorched hotter and the days dripped slow with impatience. Shosh's mom called to say that it would be soon, and so began our moth-like existence - breathless banging against the screen, fluttering toward the light. You know, these things always happen in the middle of the night.

One sleepless night would blur into day and our anticipation would desaturate. It was still there, our anticipation, but the demands of the day faded it at the edges.

Then, again, came night.

I would lay in bed feeling so sure that this would be it. It almost felt silly to sleep. I felt compelled to hop up and shower, to fix my hair. I would conjure up the feeling that was sure to sweep in with the mid-night ring of the phone. I would imagine a tail light-streaked drive down the highway to my daughter.

Then inevitably, I would drift to sleep.

Morning would come and with it, the reality that one more day had passed. The glare of day did its work and I pined for night, when my unabashed excitement had my full attention. I did not want to trudge through reality. I wanted to bask in what was yet to come.

August 11, 2006, just a few hours after we had drifted, the phone rang.

The voice on the line spoke with urgency - Shosh is in labor. You need to get here quickly, or you'll miss it.

We called Cory's parents. No answer.

We called Cory's sister. No answer.

We called Cory's other sister. No answer.

We called Cory's parents again. And again.

No answer.

With Calvin asleep one room over, we called a friend who lived two blocks down. In no time flat she was asleep on our couch, and we were headed to town.

(But not before stopping to get gas, since, in typical "us" fashion, the gas light was on.)

We raced in to the hospital, disheveled and glowing, all at the same time.

We waited in straight-back chairs by a pop machine. Before long, I was led into the delivery room where things were heating up.

I stood at the side of the woman giving birth to my child. I felt out of place and silly. I felt useless and like I didn't deserve to be there, in a moment so sacred. I felt panicked, not knowing what to do or how to act. I asked if she wanted time alone with Ruby after she was born and she declined.

I listened to her pain and saw the sweat bead on her forehead, while I stood idly by.

She began to push and the weight of her pain - both kinds of pain - cracked me open. My eyes welled and spilled as I bore witness to the birth of grace - a gift I did nothing to earn, a gift born of selflessness, a gift I could never repay.

How could I simply watch as she summoned all of her courage, her focus, her fierce will to bring life into this world? How could I possibly be a part of something so unfair?

She pushed again and time stood still and the clock hands raced.

A baby cried.

A mama cried.

A mama cried.

A flurry of medical scrubs and jargon buzzed and thrummed and all I could do was look at my daughter.

The truth is, I did not feel that storybook rush of instant adoration. I felt protective and worried as they hustled around in indication that all was not entirely right. I felt confused, like I was standing on the stage of someone else's show - my lines not fitting the plot, my costume from the wrong period.

I wanted to take some of her pain away. I wanted to act in any way that might inspire confidence, but I had no way of knowing what that would even mean. I wanted my compassion to fill with color and become tangible - a warm blanket to wrap around her, the whistle of a tea kettle lilting the promise of comfort.

I wanted to hold my baby.

I wanted her to hold her baby.

I wanted to be fair. I wanted to be kind. I wanted to do whatever I could.

She asked for time alone with Ruby and I was grateful. She was doing what she had to do and she was confident in asking.

I left the room and hugged Cory - Ruby's Daddy. I called my parents and relayed an APGAR number which was not stellar.

The updates came - Ruby was having difficulty breathing. She was being admitted into the NICU.

What should have been a standard two-day affair was now stretched out taut and shiny.

We moved into a room down the hall, with Shosh just a little further down.

Over the next days, we would scrub up and walk through those swinging doors so many times. We would feed bottles and change diapers and watch her chest reach for air. We saw her through a tangle of wires. We watched her yellow right up, then fall back down to perfect.

Sometimes, we would round the bend to find her in the arms of a girl with long, curly hair.

Sometimes, that girl would see us, too.

She would invite us over and we would double-up our love for that precious baby. We would rain it down on her cotton curls. Look at all of this love you have, Lucky Baby. Please feel this love. Please know that this is love multiplied, not divided.

In those moments, my heart swung an anchor that landed square in the heart of another woman. Come what may, our hearts were connected by a fine, pink chain. The chain was beautiful. It was delicate. It was iron coated in titanium.

The social worker came in two days after the birth for paperwork to be signed by Ruby's birth mom. As sure as I was that this was sure, well, I wasn't entirely sure. The game had changed and I knew it. We all did.

We were not present in that room and I am thankful for that.

Inked on tear-soaked paper, the adoption was official. The truth of the last 9 months circled all the way around. It was a sure thing. But I know, it was the hardest thing.

We made a brief visit later and hugged and smiled through a veil of fog, the air clouded with emotion too great for the square footage of the room.

I humbly asked if there was anything we could do for her.

Her request? Cherries.

We brought Bings and Raniers, because there is a big, big difference, and when you want a Ranier, you want a Ranier.

The nurses whispered to us about family members - Ruby's flesh and blood - arriving to hold her in night's dark, to sing to her and kiss her head and pray over her.

I prayed that the prayers would pile up. Come on, heap them on. I want this baby girl - my daughter -  to feel them. I want her to feel love from every direction. Soak her heart in them. Fill it up so full that when the questions come - you know they will - she can reach down and pull up a bucket of love to rinse the salt tracks from her cheeks. Galvanize this child in love clear as the morning light, deep as the brown of her eyes.

Before long, Shosh went home.

But now and then, she would breeze into the room in her exotic skirt and we would talk about silly nicknames. We would share memories. We would not talk about the future. The space was still too tight to linger there, on life outside the hospital walls. Instead, I'd pass that burrito baby to her first mama and we would marvel at how - how? - did we have the prettiest baby in all the world?

I wanted so badly to go home.

And I wanted so badly for time to freeze, so that we could live in the microcosm of our shared life, doing exactly what felt most right for the moment.

Ruby, looking like an eight-pound moose next to the preemies beside her, healthied up. She slurped her bottles. We had more opportunity to look right into her eyes.

Within five days, we bundled up a girl as hardy as oatmeal, as breathtaking as a miracle, as perfect as pie, and we headed home. We crossed the threshold from sterile and cool to blazing August hot.

With just one step, we walked into a future that would have its share of questions, but that would be sure to its core.


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Join me here next Wednesday for Big Adoption Series - Chapter 10

(To catch up on Chapters 1-8, click here and start from the bottom.)