Thursday, July 28, 2011

Meeting Day

I was surprised by my own nervousness.  After all, I was the one holding all of the cards, wasn't I?  I wanted them to like me, why I don't know.  In my own mind, I needed them to not look on me like some poor screwed up mess. I wanted them to realize that they weren't doing me and this child a favor by taking her off of my hands.  It was more than that.  They needed to understand.  How I thought all of that would get across in an hour long meeting, I have no idea.  Blame it on the hormones.  I went out to Ross to find the nicest prego-sized top and shorts that my now gargantuan frame could pull off.  I knew one thing going in, they would know exactly who I was as soon as they saw my belly come in the door five minutes before me. 

My friend Angel came with me for support and to help watch Carli while I was at the meeting.  Actually, Angel very graciously booked a swanky condo through her timeshare for us to stay in for two nights.  I felt like I was treated to a mini-vacation at the Four Seasons with an en suite bathroom and lap pool for a bathtub in the master bedroom.  It had a water park that Angel could keep Carli entertained at for however long I'd be gone.  She was apologetic that the condo was a bit of a ride from Miami where I was supposed to meet Brett and Kayla but I was grateful for the ride there with some time to clear my head and settle my nerves.  I knew I'd be hyped up in the morning, first encounter and all, so I warned her that I might come across as sharp.  That's usually what happens when I have high expectations of an outstanding outcome and low expectations of my pulling that off.  She nodded in agreement and told me that she'd take care of Carli in the morning and my job was to just get myself ready and head out the door. 

I slept very little that night.  As if on cue, the baby's father started texting me at 1:00AM.  He was overtly communicating his sorrow over how he'd treated me, repeating "I'm sorry" over and over.  He was trying to express himself but the extensive typos on my screen let me know that in person, he'd be slurring his words.  He is oft a sobbing, emotional wreck when he's drunk.   He called and I, for better lack of judgement, answered the phone.  His soggy sentiments turned to rage when I informed him of where I was and what I'd be doing the next morning.  As if scripted, his anger escalated when I showed no sign of being able to bend to his manipulations so I terminated the call without a final word.  I tried to put it all out of my mind but with my anticipation and the phone call, not to mention the discomfort of sleeping while 'baby's on board', made for a restless night.

I headed out early as I could, with extra time to get lost, or so I thought.  Responsibly, I put my GPS on for the destination but the closer I got to the coffee shop, the more it added on minutes to my arrival time.  Morning traffic in Miami was nothing to tangle with unbeknownst to me.  I frantically called my adoption counselor to let her know we'd be late.  She simply answered "we'll be here" and ended the call.  I know that there was no major issue with my being a few minutes late but in the business world where I came from just months ago, showing up late to a meeting was a sign of disrespect and a lack of interest. I didn't want to leave either of those as a first impression.  I had hoped to seem eager to meet them. 

I was praying as I drove that they wouldn't be too nervous.  I could only imagine what it would be like, particularly for Kayla, to get this far in the process.  The anxiety of the possibility of meeting me, only to be turned down.  I don't know if I could take it had the situation been in reverse.  I had to admire their courage.  To be told that I was going to be late had to add to that.  Them counting down the minutes on their watches, only hear that the countdown had to start again, for another fifteen.  I could only hope that God could squelch the pangs. 

In I came, waddling with a big smile over to the table.  I saw Kayla first.  I will never forget her face.  She looked like someone told her she'd won a million dollars but she wasn't sure if what they were telling her was real yet.  Brett looked desperate for this to be a good experience, I am sure for her sake and his.  You could tell by his face that this had been a long road and he was eager for it to end.  We did our best to make small talk, discussing sports teams and my home town while we ordered.  The emotion surged through the air like an electrical current.  The faint smell of sweat was evident. The noisy buzz of the coffee shop almost made me laugh at the idea that something so important was happening right in this very room and no one but us had any idea there was anything more than coffee and breakfast.

We settled and my adoption counselor broke the ice for the actual conversation by asking me to share my story of the box of books.  I quickly got out tissues and recounted my encounter with their picture book and how we got to this stage in the process.  Not a dry eye around the table, I was glad that they got to hear how much care went into them sharing breakfast with me.  They asked questions about me but that ended when I said to Kayla, "So what are you going to name her?"  I don't have words to express the non-verbal exchange between Alex's mothers.  I don't think we spoke. Tears flowed heavily with sighs of joy and relief.  I looked at her face for what seemed like a long time.  She now understood that I was carrying her daughter.  I felt so honored that God picked me to deliver to Kayla and Brett such a precious gift. 

I took out a plastic sandwich bag of Alex's ultrasound photos and we poured over each picture.  It is at that moment that I could see the emotional transition taking place between me and Alex, watching her mother smile and cry over the images.  I let her take them home.  I kept one from myself, just because.  We left each other with big hugs, more tears and a promise to see each other one more time before her birth.  I got into my car and drove off, smiling from ear to ear thinking about what it would be like to be a fly on the wall in theirs.  

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Box

When I left the counselor in Miami, I wished I was leaving with the picture books of prospective parents in hand.  The agony of waiting for the box to arrive in the mail was daunting.  I was painfully aware that God's timeline and mine were grossly out of sync.  I was in a rush to be done, much like my grief with my husband, which was why I was in this position in the first place.  Over and over, I'd count down days, weeks, months.  I'd make milestone after milestone on the calendar, all in an effort to get through to my due date.  I had to see in ink that I would not be in this forever.

While I was waiting, I had to make a trip up to Miami to a genetics counseling clinic.  I was not too jazzed about the idea of an amniocentesis but given my age group of late thirties and the fact that this child would be raised by other parents, I thought it only fair for them to know if any health problems were on the horizon.  I also wanted to know the sex.  I didn't see the need for any holdouts or surprises and it would help me to keep things in a better perspective if I knew who was holding residence in my belly.  I had called the baby 'Alex' because it was unisex and I wanted to identify my multi-dimensional frame with a person instead of just feeling fat and clumsy.  Feeling a little nostalgic, I reached out to the baby's father to see if he'd like to come but alas, he was too busy.  I don't know what other response I expected but it made my blood boil anyway to be going through this completely without his support.  It solidified my decision.  This kind of involvement is what it would always be for us.  The baby deserved better.  I arrived the next day with Carli in tow and after much fanfare about tests, odds, statistics, paper signing and risks being related to me the procedure went much less painfully than I anticipated and it was fast.  The results on ultrasound were very conclusive.  I was having a girl.  The call came days later, no health risks were detected.  So now I knew that Alex, or rather, Alex Ruth was healthy.  That would be good news for her parents.  I also would have ultrasound pictures for them.

To me, it took so long to get them that I nearly forgot all about the box coming but just another sunny day on the island, I was returning to my second floor condo in the afternoon and was surprised by a FedEx box sitting on my welcome mat.  It was leaning lazily on the door, as if to say "where 've you been?  I've been sitting here waiting for you".  My heart skipped.  I picked up the box and looked at the return address label.  Sure enough, Bethany Christian Services of Orlando.  I gripped it in both hands and tried to slow my breathing.  My daughter was jumping up and down at the thought of a present arriving and gleefully chirped as I held on to it, "Mama, is it a present from Nana?  Is it a present from Nana?"

I didn't know what to do.  Open it now?  Wait until Carli went to bed?  As I was making up my mind to put the box away and wait until after my daughter's bed time, I sat down and ripped back the tab on the box. It zipped open readily.  I stared down at the opening as I contemplated whether or not this was a good idea.  Maybe just a peek.  Would it hurt to just see how many were in there?  I pried open the flaps like something would jump out at me.  Carli kept asking to see inside.  I shooed her away from the box at my feet and pushed her sidewalk chalk that I always kept next to my rattan chair in her direction to draw on the balcony's cement floor while I fixed my attention on what was inside the package.

My eyes zeroed in on two names neatly typed on a blue on blue picture book, Brett and Kayla.  I was overcome with emotion seeing their names on a spine in the middle of a stack of five picture books.  I pulled their book from the bunch and looked at the picture on the cover.  They were embracing each other, smiling at the camera. The background was a dewy mountain view.  Kayla looked like she could be any member of my family.  Her features were very similar to all the women on my mother's side.  We are all unmistakably related whenever we are together.  She would blend into a family photo as easily as any one of us.  Brett looked like a calm, gentle man with the kind of lines that looked like he smiled a lot.  Both young and attractive with warm faces and love in their eyes.

Tears poured as I read their letters about each other and the qualities they saw that they thought would make their mate a great parent and most importantly, what they loved so much about being together.  Brett had such a genuine appreciation and adoration for his wife. You could read the pain in his words about not being able to heal his wife's longing.  Kayla was head over heals for her husband. That was my opinion from her gushing letter of the man of her dreams.  They were both teachers.  This comforted me.  I felt that they had a natural inclination to want to be around children with Kayla having a position as a grade school teacher and Brett being a Physical Education teacher and a baseball coach. 

I fumbled amongst the overflow of emotion and found a personal letter they wrote, to me.  If ever there was a letter that had touched me so deeply, I can only think of the Valentine that my late husband made for me the first year we were together.  Their letter was one of the hope of a promise that they'd make to me to be the committed, loving parents that my baby deserved, wholly devoted to being raised to know The Lord.  I turned and studied every page of their book.  I noted their smiles, studied their words.  I liked knowing what they liked to do.  I admired how they looked at each other.  I fell in love with them from page one.

To be fair, I had to read the other four.  None of the other books struck me like Brett and Kayla's.  I tried to hush my sobbing as Carli had notice her mother crying and became quite concerned.  I assured her that Mama was just happy and that sometimes when Mamas are happy, they cry.  She wasn't convinced which is fine because I wasn't being a good actress.  My tears were mingled with relief, joy and sorrow.  I was starting to understand that the child I was carrying was going to belong to someone else. I had been so wrapped up in just wanting this to be over that I had distracted myself from fully comprehending what I was about to take on. 

I wanted to be sure that this couple was the one for me.  I took the stack over to a dear friend's house.  She was a fast friend that I made at the church I was attending.  We spent a lot of long conversations sharing deeply about each other's lives.  I trusted her impression implicitly.  I mixed up the books and asked her to read them all and tell me which couple she'd pick. She carefully studied each book and page, commenting on the faces, the lives and the stories.  I listened patiently and watched her face for tell signs. She really didn't give any.  After all the books were poured over, she sifted the pile and pulled out Brett and Kayla's.  I knew this was from God.  We both cried together and read their book again.  It felt right, but wanting a solid and unanimous opinion, my mother was coming for a visit so I did the same thing with her the day after she arrived.  I was not surprised that she too, had picked my parents.  The decision was final.  Unless Brett and Kayla turned out to be squirrely when I met them, they'd be meeting their birth mother within weeks.

I called up my counselor and gave her my names.  I wanted to meet them as soon as possible.  She said she'd make the arrangements.  They agreed and we made plans to meet at the same coffee shop that I'd met her at before in two weeks time.  Adrenaline raced through my veins when I thought of what it would be like to see them face-to-face.  I couldn't wait to give them a big smile and share the good news. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Counselor

My counselor had the same name as me.  It seemed odd to me to call up a number and ask for 'me'.  She had returned my call and wanted to talk to me about where I was in my decision making process.  I was right about the 'can we get this whole thing over with tomorrow' stage.  She asked me a bunch of questions and told me she'd send me some paperwork on the laws in Florida and information about Adoption in general.  That was helpful but I wanted to know more.  She said we'd get to it when we met.  We arranged a meeting at a coffee shop in Miami.  She was in the Orlando area so Miami was the closest thing in the middle we could think of.  The prospect of hauling my big belly and my toddler into my car for a 3 1/2 hour drive was not too appealing but my curiousity of seeing who I was talking to eased my tension into excitement.  If I met her, I'd feel like I was really doing something about this, moving forward, something, anything other than feeling like I was suckered into my situation and now I had to sit and wait until eternity for it to be over. 

The baby's father didn't know what I was doing.  He was told that I'd pursue adoption but he didn't take me seriously.  His drinking career was well underway and he was no where to be found the tiny island I lived on, not that I was looking for him.  My thoughts of what the reprocussions would be once he found out rattled around in my brain. I was anxious to have my counselor set them free.  I am a voracious consumer of information so details put my mind at ease.  I was deseperate for that. 

I knew that the drive would be long and that I'd be more refreshed and ready for the meet up if I had a good night's sleep.  I knew my daughter would be much better behaved if she also had a good night.  We booked a hotel in Miami and took our time heading up the Keys. It proved to be a great idea.  My daughter loves hotels. She calls them 'Special Building Houses'.  Riding elevators is also a favorite past time of hers.  Seeing the thrill of the trip through a toddler made me relax and I got to enjoy some of the fun things about staying away from home, namely a pool and eating out at a restaurant.  It couldn't have been a better day for her. 

The next morning we met up with the counselor for coffee.  It was a nice meeting.  She was a young, attractive woman with a welcoming face and friendly demeanor, especially to my daughter.  I like to judge people by how comfortable they are around children.  I am usually right. The kind ones like kids.  The ones that don't have too many hang-ups.  She got to coloring with my little one and engaging her in conversation right away.  I leaned back in my chair.  I could work with her, this was good.

It was a roll of endless questions about my health, the father's health, my wishes, my concerns, financial stability, all kinds of things.  I thought the page flipping in her packet would never end.  Finally, I saw the last page.  We ended with a talk about my plans. I wanted to meet the parents.  To me, it was important to know that not only were they Christians but that they were actively participating in a church and serving in some way.  I wanted to see committment to their faith.  I told my counselor that this child's salvation was more important to me than her health. I couldn't have been more serious and I knew that God was listening as I spoke.  I was ready to agree and back that up.  She'd send me 5 storybooks of couples who matched what I was looking for.  I also wanted her to either be the first child or the first daughter. She was special to me, so I wanted her to have a identifiable significance to them.  The counselor said she'd look the prospects over, verify that they were still interested in adoption and she'd let me know. 

Driving home it hit me, soon I'd be looking over pictures and stories of two people who'd be this child's future parents.  I couldn't help but try to imagine the anticipation when the counselor would call them and say, "We have an expectant mother, are you still interested? You match her profile." the thought of what that would feel like on the other end of the phone made my heart leap.  How would they deal with the waiting?  If I selected one of the first five, how would the counselor deal with telling the other four?  I couldn't bear to think of the let down of "she didn't select you".  I was crushed just thinking of the sentence, never mind it permeating my reality.  Still, I had to only pick one couple. One baby, one couple.  Could I do it?

Friday, July 8, 2011

For The Love of Alex; a Birthmother's Story: Decision Points

For The Love of Alex; a Birthmother's Story: Decision Points: "My first order of business was to tell my mom what was going on. I had been away in Florida and Mother's ESP told her something was not rig..."

Decision Points

My first order of business was to tell my mom what was going on.  I had been away in Florida and Mother's ESP told her something was not right with me but she couldn't get me to tell her what.  I was ashamed.  Uttering the words would make it real and then I would have to map out a course of action.  The more I avoided being in a position to have to explain things the more heated it got with me and mom.  Calls were ending with hang-ups after screaming matches only to continue with a volley of text messages.  I tensed every time the phone rang, praying it wasn't her. 

I had somehow thought that since I was out of sight that perhaps I could just live out this pregnancy in secret, have this baby and come back like nothing happened but the pain of keeping the secret in addition to the prospect of no one supporting me felt like a worse hell than the one I was already in.  The worse place to be when you are in this situation is alone with no one to lean on and no one to talk to about it.  There were many sad days.  I just wanted to wake up, notice the time and say, "Wow!  What a dream!" but this was the real deal.  My growing belly didn't let me forget. 

I called my mom and calmly explained the situation and what my decision was.  She quietly respected my plan for the baby and asked how I planned to go about it.  I had done some casual internet searches for Christian adoption providers but I hadn't made any contacts.  Now that I was being asked, I had to reach out.  At first I was unsure of how to do that.  Email? How long would it take to hear back?  Call?  What was I going to say? 

"Hi, my name is Brittany.  I am a Widow, Mother of one, and pregnant.  I am a Christian, I really am, and I am not some half-baked loser who can't get her act together, no really..." 

I felt like I had lost my title of being a Christian mother by being in the mess I was in.  Christians get themselves into something like this?  Yes, they do.  We all fall down.  No one is immune to making bad decisions.  It is in how we reconcile and move forward that matters.  I got anxiety pangs over what would happen when my belly wouldn't allow me to be quiet any more and I'd have to share my plight with my church friends that I'd made in Key West.  Would they still accept me?  I'd have no choice but to find out.  The fear of rejection gripped me.  There was no return from here, I had to cling to the truth of my decision and stand behind that, no matter what people thought.

I spoke to someone at http://www.nightlight.org/ and she was very kind and helpful but the closest office was in South Carolina which was too far for me to travel back and forth from.  She recommended Bethany Christian Services http://www.bethany.org/ which was larger and had locations in Florida.  It took me two days to get up the nerve to try again.  I called one afternoon and got a lovely woman on the phone who took my information and told me that I would be assigned a counselor to walk me through the process.  The reassurance of a counselor, or better yet, angel in disguise to help me with this ordeal was like being wrapped in towel that has just come out of the dryer.  My shoulders relaxed and I waited to hear back.

There are many adoption agencies and services.  My advice is to research what you would like for your child and do your homework on which agencies in your area best match your ideals.  You don't have to work with the first one that calls you back.  Find one that feels right to you and is responsive to your needs.  Most importantly work with a counselor who listens.  Don't be afraid to ask for a new one if the person your working with isn't giving you the support you are looking for. 

Genesis

Laying awake in bed, alone, I cried for the situation I had gotten myself into. I should know better, Pete's sake. I am 38 years old. Guilt, remorse and sorrow blended together as the tears rolled, pooling on my pillow case. I tried to be quiet so I wouldn't awaken and scare my 3 year old daughter. She'd been through enough and now she would go through this with me. She'd just lost her father less than a year ago. How could I be so selfish?


I met Alex's father while I was away for a long weekend in Key West to see my friend get married. I had mixed emotions about going in the first place. I didn't want to go to a destination wedding alone and I wasn't sure that seeing someone get married so early on in my widowhood would prove to be a great idea. I met him while out on the town with friends. He followed me around like a lost puppy all weekend. We stayed in touch and I was smitten by his attention. The calls, emails, text messages dulled the pain in my heart and satisfied the longing and the loneliness I felt constantly.



It happened, I went back to see him in January, for my birthday. It wasn't like I'd imagined. I felt foolish for going. I felt used and taken advantage of. He persisted after my return home, implanting the idea that he and I were meant to be together. In February, I let him know I was expecting. His response was more favorable that I thought. I moved to Key West and stayed with him, thinking we'd be raising our child and my daughter together. I thought that even though this was not what God would have planned for me, somehow it would all work out.



By April, I'd be changing the locks on my apartment. His alcoholism prevented him from being a safe person to be around and convinced me that counting on him for love, support and the role of a father would not be a wise plan.



I won't lie, I thought about abortion, you know I did. Any birthmother who tells you that it never crossed their mind isn't being honest. It seemed too easy to spend a couple hundred dollars to make this all go away. But it wouldn't go away, I'd know. God would know. I couldn't live with that. I couldn't raise her and be any kind of a decent mother or human being knowing I had a toddler who needed me desperately to be her mom, and that fact that I was only in the beginning of the grieving process for my husband. Her father would be no presence in her life, I didn't want to subject a little girl to that. I'd have two girls without fathers, the pain of that seemed almost to be almost depravity to allow.



I had researched some websites for adoption but I hadn't made any concrete plans. The thought of giving up my baby, would it be like giving up my little girl? I thought my heart would tear out of place just thinking about it.



"Do you grieve like a woman who can't have a child?"



The thought that came to me shocked me out of my self pity. I thought about what it must be like for a woman to be in her bed, same as me that night. Crying before God, desperately praying for Him to give her a baby. I thought of the agony of her peering into strollers and congratulating one more mom, knowing that her test said 'negative', again, just the day before.

I knew what I was called to do.



I'd like to share my story with you. Mostly because, I am also a good writer, a great speaker and presenter and because God gave it to me that I could use it for His good purposes. I hope for those who are contemplating, it will give you some information and courage. Please feel free to email me if you have questions. Don't wait to see if it shows up in the post. For the curious, it should be eye opening. I didn't know much about how it all worked until I had to go through it. A lot has changed in 50 years. To all, I pray it brings hope.