The Baby We Didn’t Adopt
Memory misbehaves. I remember bits, and my husband remembers other pieces. How can it be we have forgotten anything? Time passes. Decades blur. Five miscarriages. After the third one, an infertility guru, cousin to my sister’s husband, sees us. “Good news, you can get pregnant. Bad news: you don’t stay pregnant.”
Progesterone shots in my hip. Sonograms without heart beats. Cycles of sorrow. Then one Halloween, in an apartment building in Manhattan, a small dinosaur got onto the elevator, and I swallow my tears, thinking, “I want a dinosaur, too.”
If we cannot have a baby, perhaps, we could adopt? Our specialist gives us his blessing. We begin the adoption odyssey. A workshop at the 92nd St. Y launches us; investigations of various countries suggest an open adoption here in the U.S. might be best. We are rejected by various agencies because I am Christian and my husband is Jewish, because I work, because our minute NYC apartment does not have a separate room for the baby. I am furious at an extremely well-respected agency in Texas that charges more for a white baby than for an infant of color—my disgust and horror only amplify when my darling parents express their concern that we might end up adopting a baby who isn’t white. I rail against bigotry, against bureaucracy, against my broken body that cannot produce a baby.
We discover of Friends in Adoption in Middletown Springs, VT. They are kind, optimistic, helpful. Forms. Lots of forms. We engage an attorney. We clean our tiny apartment, as it has never been cleaned, hunting down and annihilating dust bunnies in preparation for the social worker’s home visit. The day for fingerprints, taken in a courtroom building in Lower Manhattan, is the day of the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles; in our taxi, we find downtown deserted. The courts have closed. We climb the stairs to discover they stayed open for us.
“It takes so long to schedule,” the clerk smiles. “We didn’t want you to have to wait.”
A separate phone line must be installed. Our technician arrives late in the afternoon during an ice storm, concerned about if he’ll be able to run the line in the foul weather. After we explain that we need a phone line so birth mothers can call us, he says, “Well, in that case, we’d best get on with it.” Up he climbs onto the slippery roof of our apartment building, wishing us well on his way out.
Well-meaning people tell us over and over again that they know people who got pregnant once they started adopting. “Getting pregnant isn’t the issue,” I think grimly. “Staying pregnant is the problem.”
We research adoption laws in different states, place personal ads in Penny Saver weeklies, create our adoption resumé, selecting photos that make us look friendly, kind, welcoming, as if we’d be lovely parents. We have it color copied—no in-home printers in those days. No Internet. “Choose us,” we intone, licking envelopes to send our pulsing hopes all over the country
Then, in May, I get pregnant. I pay less attention. After all, why hope. We go to Philadelphia for a vaccine—a last ditch experimental effort. In the lab a new specialist will give me an injection of Seth’s white blood.
I stay pregnant. Eight weeks. Nine. FIA calls. A birth mom has phoned them. Chris. She has chosen us. We enter into an agreement and pay for Chris’ medical care. Chris’ baby is our real baby.
A few weeks later, maybe—we’ve forgotten the exact chronology–FIA phones. Are we a Jewish-Christian couple? My heart beats hard, a screw gun drilling into the center of me.
“Yes,” I answer truthfully.
Phew. That’s what Chris had hoped for; that’s what she and the baby’s father were. She likes that we are both teachers. Her medical care proceeds. So does mine. We write the checks for her care gladly. I stay pregnant.
We tell my school I will need to take a leave in October when Chris’ baby arrives. There is much rejoicing among my colleagues.
We believe in Chris’ baby; we do not believe in the one I am carrying.
Midsummer. 14 weeks. Our infertility wizard says it’s time for us to switch to an obstetrician. I do not want to leave him. Gently, he reassures me, “You’re going to have this baby. I don’t deliver babies. I just help you hold onto them.” Seeing someone else feels terrifying. He is my magic charm.
We drive to meet Chris in New Jersey, blowing out a tire on the way. The town she’s from is Kearney—my mother’s middle name, my great-grandmother’s maiden name. Omens are talismans for the desperate. She is visibly pregnant, gracious, tired. She’s been working in a dry cleaners. I worry about toxic fumes. She has two other sons we do not meet. In the driveway, as we are leaving, we meet the baby’s father, himself also adopted. Perhaps the meeting is by accident. Perhaps not? Is his own adoption a red flag? Friends in Adoption says it could go either way.
In August, we tell FIA that I am pregnant. They connect us with a psychologist in Boston, who listens kindly to our tale. Our babies will have all the disadvantages of being twins and none of the advantages, she explains. We can do it; people manage, but she asks how long we’ve been waiting for a baby to be the center of our world. We say seven years.
“You could give another couple an amazing gift,” she says.
I put my head down on the kitchen table and cry. We tell my school we are adopting a baby and having a baby. My Headmistress remarks, “Well, Ann, you never did do anything by half.” A few days go by.
“You could give another family a gift,” reverberates in my head. I feel selfish. I do not want to give up Chris’ baby. I do not trust our baby will be born.
We call Friends in Adoption. They explain that we must give Chris the choice to place with us or to make another choice. I am sad, sad. Our amnio results come back. Our baby is chromosomally good to go.This one time, perhaps we do not need to do the very hardest thing.
Chris elects to place her baby with another couple, also two schoolteachers. We mourn the loss of one more baby, Chris’ baby.
I begin to feel the baby I am carrying flutter inside me. Champagne bubbles popping. I feel as if I am made of glass.
At the twenty-week sonogram, I see a dead bird on the sidewalk as I leave the hospital. I am sure it is a bad omen. I weep on York Avenue, the fall sky blue above me. A kind lady stops to ask if I am all right. “Yes,” I snuffle, “It’s just that I’m having a baby. I mean, I am really having a baby. Maybe.” She helps me hail a cab, puzzled.
I buy maternity clothes, afraid that the stretch panel I now require will jinx it all. I love our new doctor, love her calm, her matter-of-fact response to all my worries. High-risk moms are her specialty.
And, in early November, an envelope arrives. In it, snapshots of a blonde newborn—fairy curls, a golden angel baby. Not our daughter. Chris’ baby. Seth and I are both dark; it would have looked as if we’d had a changeling child. I cry at what was supposed to be, fearing all that can still go wrong with the swelling of my middle. I leave the photos on the coffee table. One day they are gone. We visit the hospital and learn to pant at Natural Childbirth classes.
Thanksgiving. I am more and more unwieldy, steering, unperturbed through crowded Balducci’s like a schooner in full sail, selecting chestnuts and fancy cheese calmly, ignoring the irritation of other New Yorkers who cannot navigate around me. I am the votress of Titania’s orders, “big-bellied with the wind.”
36 weeks. If I had the baby now, it could live. I exhale in disbelief, imagine Chris’s baby beginning to smile.
At Christmas, I marvel at what it is to be pregnant, thinking of Mary and how completely unacceptable a stable would be as a birthing room.
New Year’s. And then the countdown. The baby is due on the 15th. On the 17th, I am induced. 24 hours of labor, one epidural, undignified bouts of vomiting, two hours of pushing, and, finally, an emergency C-section. I am delivered. Miranda has been born. In the midst of wonder. Miracle. When I wake from the scary and dramatic surgery, I say to Seth, “Did we have a baby?” It seems possible that the whole thing has been a dream.
“We did. We have a baby girl. Miranda.”
A few days later, we carry her out of the hospital into our lives. She was the baby we did not adopt. Sometimes I forget that fact.
Ann Klotz is a mother, writer, teacher and Head of a girls’ school in Shaker Heights, OH. She writes most often about how those roles intersect. Her work has appeared HERE, in Community Works Institute Journal and Independent School magazine. She blogs semi-regularly for the Huffington Post.