Adoption…it’s a hard, emotional, beautiful, thing. My brother was adopted, so I’ve seen first hand the joy and struggle adoption can bring to a family. Right now, I have many, many, many friends who have adopted or are in the process of adopting. It’s heartbreaking to watch the emotional roller coaster that so many of my friends have been on. It’s also a privileged to pray for them and walk with them through the process.
I wrote this short story a couple of years ago, but I’m sharing it today in honor of all my adoptive/adopted friends.
We painted the nursery the palest shade of pink. Someone in an office somewhere named the color, passion berry. I call it, perfect. My sister, Anna, hand painted butterflies scattered around the walls. It’s always spring in this room. Everything from the butterflies to the cushions on the rocking chair is pastel. Perfect. My husband John even bought a pale yellow rattler, which he gently placed in the crib on top of the robin’s egg blue, cotton blanket.
I find myself standing in this room, examining it, every single day. Even now, I am arranging and rearranging the position of the teddy bear in the crib. Sit, stand, or lie down. The first impression of the teddy bear is so very important. There are other things I should be doing, I know. Yet, I just can’t pull myself away. But, now the phone is ringing. Ring-a-ling, ring-a-ling, and I have never been one to ignore the seductive nature of the telephone. It is ringing because someone wants me, and not answering the call seems so unkind.
“Katherine, how are you today?”
It’s my mother. I can hear my dad breathing on the other line. I can picture him sitting in his den, a pipe dangling from the corner of his mouth. Mother is in the kitchen with an ugly apron around her waist; her cheeks are flushed.
“I’m well.” I say. “How are the two of you?”
“It’s almost time.” My father says with some excitement.
“Are you nervous?” Mother asks, just giving my dad enough time to finish his sentence.
“I’m more excited than nervous.” I say. My hand involuntarily goes to my stomach.
“You’ll call us the minute she arrives, won’t you?”
“Yes, Mother. The minute she arrives.”
This is a necessary lie. My parents need to think they will be the first to get the call. But, John and I need that first minute to ourselves. Uninterrupted. Because that first minute is for us, when we will be forming the union of our family.
“We can’t wait to see her.” My father says.
Her. It’s still hard to believe that by this time tomorrow, we will have a daughter. John’s mother picked the name Ellen. My mother picked Katie. John and I agreed on Grace. We will call her Gracie. She will be graceful and kind. I will comb her hair and tell her that she can be anything she wants to be. John will teach her basketball. I will teach her to cook. She will wear ribbons in her hair and small dainty earrings. I know, I think I have it all figured out. I think I know the future. But, whether or not I am right, one thing I know for sure is that she will always have my love. My unconditional love.
There is a flutter in my stomach and I retreat to the rocker; sway back and forth. My hands hold my belly and I can’t help but feel the emptiness that has lingered there for far too long. John and I have been married seven years, and we have lost five babies. For the longest time I blamed myself for the miscarriages. I convinced myself that my love was just too strong. That somehow, these babies could feel my love, could feel how my arms ached to hold them. And, what is a child to do but leave the womb and try for those longing arms?
The last pregnancy test I took scared me. Positive, again. I told the wet stick that I hated it. Then, I quickly apologized and cried. I rubbed my belly and cried out, “I want you, I do! But, not yet! Please wait! Wait until we tell you to come out!” I never told this to John. This is the one thing I will keep from him.
John is a doctor. He chose pediatrics because he loves children. He hides his emotions from me, but I know he treats each child as if they were his own. And, I know his heart breaks everyday when he returns to our barren home. But, tomorrow, tomorrow will be different. Tomorrow we will have Grace.
Tomorrow . . . we are a day away. I am baffled at the science of it all. Tomorrow at 11:45 am, I will be a mother. My sister-in-law delivered her son by C-section. At first, it seemed strange that she knew the exact time her baby would be born. But, Anna told me that it doesn’t matter when, or how your baby comes into the world. What matters is the moment you hold your baby in your arms for the first time. What matters is the introduction. “Hello, there.” Anna had said to her son, “I am your mommy, it’s so nice to meet you.”
My mother has called three times this morning.
“How are you feeling?” she asked, “Are you nervous?”
“You must be.” I wanted to say. But, I can’t be snippy with her. This will be, after all, her first grandchild. When she finally hung up, I took the phone off the hook.
John is reading the paper and I am in the bathtub. When I am finished shaving my legs, I will get out and put on my favorite dress. It is yellow with tiny white flowers. Then, I will paint my fingernails and when they dry, I will paint my toenails before putting on my new sandals. I want to look nice. I want to look fresh, like spring.
I had a bagel for breakfast with strawberry flavored cream cheese. I smiled while spreading the pink cream all around. It even tasted pink. John did not eat breakfast, said he was too nervous. I shouldn’t have eaten, but that’s what I do when I’m nervous. John resorts to black coffee; I resort to food.
“It’s almost time.” John calls from the kitchen. “I’m almost done.” I call from the bathroom. For once my make up has gone on perfectly and for the first time in a long time, I feel pretty.
“Honey, we need to go.” John is impatient. I’ve already thought this through, and we don’t need to leave for another half an hour. But, he is anxious and I find it so attractive that I wish he were this way more often. Full of anticipation, full of hope and wonder. Full of joy.
“The van is running.” He calls out from the front door. “I’m coming.” I answer. But, I am not. I am staring at myself in the mirror, memorizing how I look, because by this afternoon, I will be different. I will be a mother.
The drive is like a means of torture. Traffic is backed up in every direction. I am thankful for John and his foresight to leave early. Horns are honking, hands are waving, faces are twisted and scowling. “Don’t you think if we got out and announced that we are about to become parents, don’t you think everyone would just pull over and let us through?”
John smiles at me. “I love you.” He says. “I love you more than you will ever know.”
“You’re about to be a father.” I say to him. John looks back to the road and says, “I’m not sure I’ll believe it till I have her in my arms.”
In front of us is a minivan. There are two small boys kneeling in the back seats. They are facing us and making silly faces. Blonde hair sticks out from the headrest on the driver’s seat. “Do you think that mother knows how lucky she is?” I pose this question to the air as much as I do John. “I’m sure she does.” He says. “I hope so.” I whisper under my breath. John leans over and places his hand on my belly. “It isn’t about luck, Katherine.”
He leans his full body over and kisses my cheek, lingering there for just a moment. “You smell nice.” He says, “Like spring flowers.” I can’t hide the enormous smile on my face and suddenly I feel like laughing out loud. So, I do.
“What’s so funny?” John looks at me as if he is being entertained by a clown at the circus. I’m laughing with my whole body and the young boys in front of us stop what they are doing and stare. “I’m just so happy!” I say in too loud of a voice. “I’m just so happy!” And then it happens, suddenly the laughter ends and the tears come. The flood gates have opened and there is no controlling it. I manage one last time to say, “I’m just so happy.” Then, before I can stop myself, I say, “What if I’m not a good mother?”
John clears his throat, rubs his forehead. I know what he’s thinking, “hormones”.
“Katherine, do you remember our first date?”
“Of course, I do.” I say with a full nose. John digs in his pocket and offers me his handkerchief. John always knows what I need.
“I took you to that little Italian place on South Street.” He says, “You wore a white sun dress with spaghetti straps and I could see the freckles on your shoulders. You had on an ankle bracelet with all these little dangling charms that sort of jingled when you walked. You wore your hair up in a loose ponytail, and I remember your lips were really shiny. Do you remember what I asked you? I asked you what you wanted to do with your life, and you smiled and said, ‘I want to be a mother’. I never knew that would be so attractive. I knew right then and there that you were the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. And, as badly as I want to be dad, what I am most excited about today, is that you will be a mother.”
Again, the tears come again. I love this man. I love that this child will call him Daddy. I love that he will teach Gracie how to ride a bike, how to swim, how to fish. I love that one day John will walk Gracie down the isle on her wedding day. I love my life. And, as I wipe the tears from my eyes, I love that the traffic is moving and we are only minutes away from having all our dreams come true.
We’re in. John has my bag on his shoulder, the camera case in one hand, mine in the other. Our fingers are entangled like the roots of a tree. We are strong together. We are walking quickly. We are on a mission. The hallways are long; crowded. The overhead lights are humming. The air can’t be on because I can hardly breath. “I love you.” John says to me. “I love you.” I say. Then, before I realize it, we are there. Right where we are suppose to be.
“John, Katherine. Are you ready for this?”
“Yes, sir.” We say in unison.
“Then follow me.” He says, and we do. We follow him into a small room, and there she is. Her olive skin is glowing. Her dark, perfectly slanted eyes are glistening. She looks brilliant. “Gracie.” I whisper. She giggles and claps her hands. “Can I pick her up?”
“She’s all yours.” He says to me. And that is it. My life has just been made complete.
I pick her up and she places her fingers on my chin. A tear slips down my cheek. John rests his hand on the small of my back. “Hello, there.” I say to her, “I’m your mommy. It’s so nice to meet you.”