Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Journey Home

I left early in the morning a few days later.  The Aunt and I decided that we would not inform my birth-mother about my departure.  I did not realize it, but my Aunt would be the one who ultimately paid the price for that decision.  It would be her responsibility to tell my birth-mother and, after all, that was her niece and she would be delivering heartbreaking news.  I worried about her later, forced to fuel the flame of an already emotionally charged situation. At the time, she did not seem to struggle with this betrayal, but I'm sure that it must have been a heavy burden.

The goodbye at the station was so hard, and it would be the last time I saw the Aunt.  I'll always love her. She was an amazing person who seemed to intuitively know just what I needed. I think perhaps out of the entire family I met there, we were the most alike.  When the bags were all loaded and the bus began boarding, I hugged her tight.  I thanked her for everything and promised to call her often.  With tears, we parted and I took my seat on this bus that would take me across the country, and back to my home.

The ride was incredibly long, it was going to take me roughly 36 hours.  I'm not ashamed to say I was feeling frightened and alone.  I was now very pregnant but still a waif and some of the people on this bus were intimidatingly large. The bright spot, and there just always seems to be one, was the gentleman seated across the aisle from me.  Ironically, he was the biggest person on the bus. When I wasn't napping he would chat with me, eventually asking how far along in the pregnancy I was and why in the world I was travelling across country in my condition.  He was older, perhaps mid-thirties, and reminded me of "Bear" from the movie Armageddon. He had an easy laugh and incredibly deep soothing voice. I told him a short version of the story, and that I was going home. He shared stories of his own and we passed the long hours together.  He was from Tennessee and the lay-over in Knoxville was the only stop where I would have to board a different bus.

I had to wait three hours in the station for the next, and final leg of this journey and those were the longest three hours of my life. The station was dark inside, it was three in the morning, and we were in the middle of downtown. I noticed my "Bear" keeping an eye on me, occasionally checking in to make sure I was safe. Here was another angel I thought. His bus left an hour before mine, and we simply smiled and waved at each other as he disappeared from my life. The significance of his random kindness will be with me always, he was literally a light in the dark.

I didn't have a Bear on the next bus, but I was so exhausted that I slept almost the entire ride.  As we neared our destination, my anticipation and excitement grew.  Soon I would be able to rest, reflect, and be with the people that knew me the best. My mom was there when we arrived and I fell into her open arms.  I was home, safe and sound.  The chaos was over and I would be allowed to focus on what was most important in this moment, the arduous task of finding my son's adoptive parents.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Best Laid Plans

When we arrived at the counseling center, I was really impressed.  It was a whole center devoted to adoption, from birth-parents, to children, to prospective adoptive parents.  There was information everywhere in the waiting area and it warmed my heart so much. I thought, in this moment, that I would love to be somehow involved with this kind of advocacy. I didn't even know places like this existed.

We initially sat down together with our counselor.  She was very nice and I could tell she was intrigued by our story. Birth-mother meets child given up, that child now pregnant and considering adoption for her unborn child. As interested as she was, this counselor did not pry or force the conversation any deeper than necessary, and I appreciated that.  After about fifteen minutes she told us that she wanted to speak with us separately and I was asked to return to the lobby for the time being.  I retreated to the information hub and started poking around at all the brochures.

When it was my turn to speak to the counselor, she sat me down and simply asked me "what are your reasons for considering adoption?" So I explained it as I had before, I want more for my child, certainly more than I can provide at this time. I know that there are plenty of wonderful people out there that cannot have children for one reason or another and they deserve the chance to be parents.  I gave her all the reasons in my heart.  She told me that over the years, so many mothers had come into her office needing advice on what to do.  These girls were scared and unsure of the decision to adopt, and it was always difficult for her because you cannot steer someone in one direction or another, in the end they can only make the choice that is right for them.  She explained that she had never come across a young woman so convicted to do what she thought was right, whose decision was made so firmly from the beginning. It made her feel that I could emotionally handle the road ahead, because it would be an incredibly difficult journey.  She gave me some information to read and started to say something more but stopped herself. There were tears behind her eyes and I (being way too sensitive to the emotional state of others) had to ask if she was alright.  She smiled and said she was, but that she would like to call in a few days to see what I thought of the  reading material she'd given me. Of course I said that was alright and we said our goodbyes.

When I got back into the car with my birth-mother she had been crying. I asked if she wanted to share something and she said not yet, that she was still thinking.  By the time we reached the aunt's house, she had made her mind up to ask me what I know had to be a very difficult question.  She asked if I would consider giving my baby to her.

I was stunned into the deepest silence I can remember.  The thought to consider her had never entered my mind. Very quickly I analyzed my thoughts.  One, she had two small children already. Two, neither she nor her husband were currently employed and were living with her mother. Three, I didn't feel she was emotionally stabilized from the trauma of giving me up.  And finally, I just didn't completely trust her intentions. I had pictured my child in a stable home environment, one where he would never want for anything, most of all love.  One where he would be free to grow into the person he was meant to be.  Most of all, I knew in my heart that I would have to trust these new parents completely.  It wasn't rational, but I felt that I would know the right place for him when I met them.  And I didn't feel that his rightful place was with her. This is what she had been thinking about, not just today but perhaps the whole time I'd been here. It never crossed my mind but it should have. I should have been prepared for this.  At least then perhaps my answer would not have hurt her as much.  I basically told her I didn't feel that it was the right fit.

"How could being with his family not be the right place for him?" I didn't have an answer for her.  I didn't have the nerves of steel I needed in that moment.  I began to cry, I asked for time to think it over, I told her she had caught me off guard and I really felt uncomfortable. I know my answer hurt her very much and she was angry.  It was never my intention to hurt her, but I already knew what I wanted for him and those feelings were so strongly rooted in my mind that I could not see anything else.  I went inside the house. I cried for a very long time.  I called my mom.

I told her the situation.  I told her everything that she had missed since I'd left.  I asked to come home, told her that I was sorry for the pain that I caused her and she apologized too. We talked for hours, working through all that had happened between us.  We cried together. She told me that she would need to think about everything and talk to her then boyfriend to let him know of me possibly coming home and that she would call back.

I called the Aunt and while she was on the phone, my birth-mother had come back.  She was still angry and acting and talking out of perhaps all the pain she had felt for the past nineteen years. I had seen this behavior before, but never been on the receiving end.  It's a rage that only severe emotional trauma can induce and I recognized it because I'd felt it too (but that's a story for another day).  I felt threatened and at the same time this display hardened my resolve.  The aunt told me to put my birth-mother on the phone and I'm sure that she told her to leave and go calm down.  She did leave but I was sure this wasn't the end of it.  When my aunt got home we both decided it might be time for me to consider going back, at least until the baby arrived and the emotional stress was calmed.  At this point I was almost seven months pregnant and flying was not an option.  The Aunt was in no way able to drive me across country herself though I'm sure she would have if she could.  We decided that I would go by bus within the week.

The next day, I was surprised to hear from the counselor.  I told her I hadn't had much time to look at the print-outs she had given me, but that wasn't why she was calling.  She wanted to pick me up and take me out to eat and talk.  Well this is very odd, i thought and she had my attention.  I said of course and off we went.  When we sat down she looked at me and said, "I have struggled with whether this is the right thing to do.  As a counselor I shouldn't push anyone in any direction and I certainly shouldn't divulge my thoughts about someone's emotional state but I've been so impressed with you.  I want to tell you that what you are doing is admirable, and that what you've been through already is incredible.  But I'm worried that your situation here may turn in a negative direction." I stopped her there, knowing what she wanted to say and didn't want to say at the same time. I said, "I am aware of the strain this is putting on my birth-mother, she made that clear after we left.  I am going back to stay with my adoptive mom. I know that it's the right thing to do for everyone involved here the intensity is too great."  She smiled and slid a book across the table. "I am sorry to see you go if nothing but the loss of seeing how everything turns out for you.  You have really touched me and I can't explain why that is. But I'm glad you'll be safe and protected in this journey ahead. I feel as though God is watching you closely." The book she gave me was called "Dear Birth-Mother" and I've read it since that day maybe one hundred times. It's a compilation of stories and testimonials from and to birth-mothers, and it helps explain ways to deal with the particular loss felt when giving up a child.  If only my birth-mother had had the support that was given to me, maybe she would not have had to deal with more pain than she could carry on her own.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Shades of Doubt

I did not initially say yes to this request.  I didn't want to make yet another impulsive choice and be even farther away from home, if this one ended badly.  Plus, with this baby on the way I had to think about options for finding adoptive parents. I told her I would think it over. I did not have any reason to say no, but perhaps I was just simply too overwhelmed to even process the possibility.  I did ask her about the rumors surrounding my adoption, most specifically the reasons behind her contesting it.  She confirmed that she had changed her mind, that her Aunt had asked for me to be placed with her instead.  She felt I should be with her family if I couldn't be with her. She admitted to feeling as if I was stolen from her. With so much similarity in her story and my grandmother's, I had to wonder if the financial gain she expected from this Aunt was perhaps real as well, but she denied it. As for my birth-father, she revealed very little and had no idea where he might currently be.

After some time alone, I decided to stay put for the time being.  While this was not the outcome she was hoping for, my birth-mother provided for me anyway.  She located and obtained an apartment for me to stay on a very temporary basis and stocked the place with plenty to eat, she provided for me financially, and helped me clean up a legal matter that had not been completely closed when it should have. She never asked for the money to be paid back, she only asked that I continue to consider the possibility of going back with her. She made the trip back to her home and family and I was comfortable, for the time being.

I wanted to be able to pay her back for her generosity and thought the best way would be to get a job.  Then I could support myself, perhaps afford to pay some of the bills for the apartment so it wouldn't be such a strain on her. I started working at the very same place I'd haunted before.  And as time moved forward, I started to feel the manic clouds of the past few years lift.  I was finally starting to feel grounded again. It was a great feeling.

When she found out that I had started working she was not happy.  She said I shouldn't be working in my condition and that if I would just come live with her I wouldn't have to.  She wanted me to get to know her family and be comfortable during the remainder of my pregnancy. I was confused by her reaction, I can look back now and say she most likely saw me getting a job as assurance that I would not be coming to stay with her at all.  I finally said yes.  This is what she wanted, this would be the way to return her kindness financially and I realized it might be an opportunity I may never get again. So, it was arranged for her to pick me up.  This time, she brought her husband and the kids with her.

After a very long trip across the country we had time to talk and to get to know one another better.  Even so, I still didn't trust her - though I desperately wanted to. She represented a potential second chance, I could start over here. I met her mother and the Aunt whom I assume she was going to sell me to shortly after our arrival.  Curiously enough, I instantly loved this Aunt. She had an ease in her smile and no pretense about her, which was refreshing given the intensity of the others.

The afterglow and promise of the trip quickly wore off. Things became tense and conversation extremely difficult with my birth-mother. I felt as if she wanted something from me that I could not provide and I had no idea what that could be. I spent a lot of time in the room provided for me, talking online with my friends, reading, and sleeping.  I suppose I would have to admit to avoiding the family on the other side of that door, I just wasn't sure how to feel comfortable.  She finally broke down one night and I won't deny, it frightened me. She made it clear that she resented the defenses I had built between us, she resented the fact that I did not see her as my mother or even as someone I could talk to openly.  I apologized for the distance, I tried to explain that it was not intentional.  But the fact remained, she would never be my mother.  The woman back home that raised me, no matter how estranged we had become, would always be my mother and nothing would ever change that.  I do believe that my birth-mother had a preconceived notion as well.  One that portrayed how she saw our relationship developing after she found me.  Maybe because of my situation she thought she could gain my trust through her actions, which were very kind indeed, but because I didn't immediately trust her she was frustrated and hurt.  It's completely understandable in some respects but in that moment, I simply did not know what to do.  I couldn't be what she wanted me to, and I felt terrible for it. On the other hand, I also felt as if she were being unfair to me.  After all, she was a complete stranger, someone I hardly knew and someone with whom I had no history on which to base a relationship.  Perhaps she had felt connected to me on some level over the years, but the same was not true for me.

Ironically, my birth-mother thought that I needed to work after all and I began working for the Aunt's business.  I really enjoyed it and also got the chance to talk to others my own age. It was suggested that I should stay with the Aunt as well. Perhaps this would lessen the anxiety of the situation between my birth-mother and I, and it did for a time. I had a wonderfully easy relationship with this woman, she had no expectations of me and we enjoyed each others company.  It was a good fit for the situation and talking with her helped me understand my own feelings as well as those of my birth-mother.  I finally began to relax a bit and felt that this was where I was supposed to be.

My birth-mother called one day and asked if I would be interested in going to see a counselor with her. She felt I might need a professional to talk to about my baby and thought it would be good for me to have an impartial conversation about adoption. I thought it was a fabulous idea and so on the day of the appointment, she picked me up.  This day would be yet another turning point, one that I can say with certainty, I never saw coming.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Our First Meeting

Picking a place to meet was not difficult for me.  For years I haunted our local Denny's and was both comfortable and familiar with the staff and atmosphere there.  I wanted a public place, just in case the situation became tense or unreadable.  I also asked my friend to come with me and, naturally, she agreed.  We arrived early and sat anxiously awaiting the woman who was responsible for bringing me into the world.  I had a million thoughts flooding my mind all at once. Would I recognize her? Would she look just like me? Should I hug her or stay in my seat? Would I like her, would I hate her? I almost panicked entirely and left.

I did not have time to process any of these thoughts because she came in and immediately started walking toward us.  She looked at me and and the first words out of her mouth were "I knew I'd recognize you". I believe I fumbled over the word "hello" and then got up and proceeded to engage in the most awkward hug I've ever given in my life. (And yes, I am a "hugger" so that's really, very awkward.) The conversation was slow and that's a very nice way to put it. Thank goodness for my very talkative friend because she was constantly chiming in.  "Look, now we know where you got your eyes!" she said during one such lull.  Of course, I then took a peek and she'd been right, I had her eyes.  I guess you could say I was a bit surprised that she didn't look exactly like me.  Her hair was different, face was a different shape, similar frame but not nearly as small. I don't think I ever acknowledged that I had a preconceived image of my birth-mother, but apparently, I did.  And if I had been the one to walk in after her, I wouldn't be able to boast the same recognition as she had with me.

I slowly became more comfortable as the initial shock wore off and we chatted a bit about her family whom she had waiting for her back home.  It turned out I had a half sister and brother who were both under two years old. She had married the man who had stayed by her side throughout her ordeal surrounding my birth, and they were currently living with her mother for both financial and health reasons.  This first meeting turned out pretty positive, I think, for both of us.  I was thankful to have my friend there, however, because I don't believe it would have gone nearly as well if she had not been present.  We decided that my birth-mother would pick me up the next day and take me back to the hotel she was staying at in order to show me some of the pictures and documents she had brought with her.  That next meeting was just the two us and I instantly realized that I was not comfortable with this woman.  Something was not meshing for me.  I did not doubt that she was my birth-mother, I did not fear her intentions, I had no argument with myself on why I would feel so uncertain.  Yet, I did feel uncertain and I would later discover the source of that vague notion. For now, it manifested as a wall separating us and kept me at arms length.  On this second meeting, she asked me to leave with her, to travel across the country and meet my birth-family.