Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Pregnant Elephant In The Room

If you are expecting my story to be all smiles and smooth sailing, stop reading right now.  When you are in a situation like this, there are many facets to the problem.  I was lulled into a sense of isolated eutopia in Key West.  No one really knew what was happening outside of my family and a few scant church members from home.  I never ran into anyone unexpectedly.  There were no awkward meetings with people who hadn't seen me in a while.  I was anonymous on my southernmost island and I rather liked it that way, that is until I drove up to Orlando to see my friend and her family. 

She was very supportive, I had filled her in early on in my journey so there were no surprises.  It wasn't the conversation that I was hesitating on, it was the body language and the awkwardness of her seeing me face-to-face that I was dreading.  People can give away much more in their posturing and facial expressions than they can ever realize.  I spent 10 years in sales negotiations as a career.  I was paid to translate the unspoken conversation and I was exceptional at at it.  Most of my successes in business transactions were because I positioned against what was never said.  It was great for my commission checks but it can be a bummer in real life.  Sometimes, I lament that I notice so much more than everyone else.  This was one of those times I that wished my eccentric talent would vanish.

The time came for our meeting.  I drove to her parents' house and Carli and I piled out of the car after 9 long hours on the road.  There it came.  Not from my friend, from her husband.  The painted smile.  It was something more of a grimace.  That 'No, I don't notice anything' smile that lets you that they don't know what to do with the situation.  She greeted me with a warm smile and compassionate hug.  I'd later find out that her kids were verbally threatened against asking and questions or making comments.  The children said nothing but they avoided me like I had a scary disease they might catch.  I wasn't hoping for much more than that.  I settled in and hoped that the weekend would go by faster than I could wish it away.  I wanted to go home already. I longed for my island bubble that I could hide in until Alex was born.  It was safe there and free from judgement. 

Her parents arrived a few hours later from work. Everyone avoided the one topic that would usually garner it's own conversation, my giant belly.  Women who are great with child can usually command a room.  It is a nice jumping off point with a person whom you don't know.  Talk about the baby.  When are you due?  What are you having?  Do you have a name?  Easy things to start with but not if you know that the mother-to-be isn't keeping her child.  Where do you go from there?  You avoid the conversation all together.  It's kind of like pretending not to notice that someone has a prosthetic limb.  You know it's there, they know it's there.  You know it's diffferent, they know it's different.  Everyone tries to avoid looking at it or pointing it out.  I know how amputees feel now. 

I played along with the long pauses while everyone asked how my drive was and if I'd been to Orlando before.  I think we were all glad that I was staying at a hotel that weekend.  There was only so much you can say when you'd rather have another conversation instead.  Carli played with her long lost friends from home, completely unaware of the sorrow that I was enduring in order to make her birthday special.  I emailed Kayla to say that I'd made it safely.  I was desperate to hear from someone who was in my corner.  I became alarmingly aware of how alone I felt in all of this. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Second Meeting

Circumstances were going to bring me north of Key West again.  I was going to visit with a friend of mine and her family from my home town. They were traveling to Orlando for a trip to Disney and asked Carli and me if we'd like to join them.  I had to consider carefully.  I wanted to take advantage of my proximity to Disney World while I was in Florida.  I didn't know when I'd be able to take Carli again.  I wanted to bless her with this trip for her birthday.  When I asked her if she'd like to visit with Terri and her family instead of having a birthday party, she exploded into 'Hooray' and lept up and down with excitement.  My thoughts turned to my condition and whether or not it would be feasible for me to walk around an amusement park all day.  The trip would be three weeks from my delivery.  I wondered if the stress on my body, not to mention my size, would cause any complications.  I decided that Orlando probably had hospitals and chuckled a little about how funny a story it would be to deliver this little princess at the threshold of Cinderella's castle.  I wanted to make it happen for Carli.  I told Terri that we'd be joining her and her family for the trip. 

As I reviewed maps online to plot our trip, I realized that I would be passing within miles of Brett and Kayla.  We had made a promise on the last visit to make every attempt to see each other once more before Alex's delivery.  I wanted to make good on that.  I panged when I went to doctor's visits, knowing that Kayla would have loved to have been there but distance just made it impossible to really share in my pregnancy aside from emails.  I would have felt comforted by more of her presence.  Thinking of her always brought me so much peace.   I asked them in an email if they could meet me for lunch.  I thought it would be nice to get some personal time in, just the 5 of us.  We were about to embark on such an important union between our families.  It seemed a shame not to give it more effort if we could.  They quickly agreed and we settled on a shopping mall that we both could locate and that was not far from their home.

I think I was more excited about the lunch than I was Disney.  I wanted to see them again.  In my mind, every email or invite was assurance to them that I was as committed as they were and that I wasn't going to back out.  I needed them to feel safe in that I had made my decision and it was final. 

Carli and I entered the mall that day and walked toward the restaurant that we agreed on.  I waddled down the long, echoing hall towards the eatery with a blathering toddler, asking a question every second about why we were and what we were going to do.  I was trying to spot them and her yammering was distracting me.  As we got closer, they stood up from the bench that they were sitting on. I saw their heads pop up from behind the greenery of the planters.  I was grateful that they'd located me first.  Their beaming smiles made me emotional as I choked back tears and just tried to look happy.  It was another reminder of the realness of what I was taking on.  It could feel so heavy on my heart sometimes.  The burden seemed to weigh down at inappropriate times.  I didn't want them to think that I was sad.   We hugged and paused for them to make small talk with Carli.  We made our way into the Rainforest-themed eatery that we thought we could tolerate and that my daughter would enjoy.  We were wrong.  Carli recoiled at the mechanical animals that would suddenly come to life following thunder and a pretend rainstorm. She coward in my lap with each episode.  I felt sorry for us all, we tried to make this fun for her but to little avail.  Brett was able to mildly entertain her with his attention and her ruffled feathers seemed to smooth so we could continue our visit. 

We finished up our meals and Brett had to return to work.  Kayla and I could sit together and visit as Alex's mothers.  I felt like I was floating as we strolled the outdoor shopping concourses and talked about motherhood.  We reviewed our first meeting.  It was fun for us to recall our thoughts and feelings on what that was like.  It went better than either of us had dreamed it would.  I offered to see if we could get Alex to kick.  I was desperate to have her experience what it felt like to feel her move.  I tried walking, sitting, pushing, poking, ice cream, but alas our little bundle was content to relax.  I was disappointed.  I knew it would be my only opportunity to try. 

The time came and we both had to leave.  I needed to have Carli and me up to Orlando by sundown.  I wanted to cry.  I wanted more time with her.  I wondered what it would be like to be her friend.  I wished that I could hear what this journey was like before she met me.  I thought that it was probably a long and painful story.  I wanted to fully understand how joyful it to receive this gift. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

Wandering in the Desert

Alex's parents continued to email me.  I was desperate to hear from them and prayed that we'd keep our connection.  There were moments in the quiet, barren emotional places where I'd hear whispers that they didn't care about me.  I was a means to an end and they'd do whatever they had to in order to apease me so they could have what they wanted.  The whispers wanted to make me something of little value in all of this.  I'd cry thinking that I was being used. I was a means to and end and the whole adoption industry was out to take advantage of people like me.  I would be stripped of what was priceless and tossed in the garbage like wrapping paper on Christmas morning.  Thankfully, there would be a great fortitude that would rise up in those moments where I just couldn't accept that this was the truth.  I'd rally and carry on, especially when I would get another sweet message from Kayla.

I continued to enlarge. There were moments when I wondered if I'd just burst at the seams.  My walk became a waddle and my feet started to swell.  My toes looked like little pork sausages.  Despite my doctor's warnings, I wanted to wear flip flops every day.  I couldn't tolerate shoes on my feet any more. 
People started to ask questions.  Carli's classmates at pre-school asked her if I was having a baby while I was standing there.  I would answer plainly and hope that it would end the conversation.  It usually did.  The adults in my midst hardly said anything at all.  I would imagine that was because I never said anything about it.  I kept my pregnancy and my plans to myself and avoided discussing it outside my circles unless it was something that I just couldn't avoid.  There was always the random old lady in the grocery store who would ask the usual questions.  The occasional "congratulations" always felt strange.  Who would want to be congratulated for getting herself into this mess?  I would weakly smile and pat my belly, trying to get out of the situation as quickly as possible.  Carli would always remain silent at my side.

I thought that Carli was just unobservant of my pregnancy.  For an astute child, she seemed quite oblivious that anything was different about her mother.  I wondered about it.  I had actually tried to explain how my belly had gotten bigger one evening as we were watching television but she quickly hushed me and changed the topic.  I swung between relief and concern for her.  I was glad to not have to deal with any negative emotions but concerned that she might be harboring something that would explode later.  I tried to pay as much attention to her moods as possible but she refused to let on. 

The truth started to materialize when Carli came to my bedside one night.  She would do this on occasion and my usual routine was to flap the covers back and let her crawl in, pressing up next to me in a little ball.  I would cover her, tuck her in snugly and rub her back until we both fell asleep.  I cherished these moments.  That night turned into a few times a week, then every night.  I started to wonder what was going on.  One night she crawled in to bed with me but this time she wouldn't settle.  I tried to calm her and tell her it was night time but she wouldn't stop talking.  I threatened a return to her own bed if she didn't stop but she just kept right on going.  Something came to me as I lay in frustration over my interrupted sleep. 

"Carli, do you have something you want to talk to Mama about?"

"Yes." Like a dam breaking, she started to sob.

"Are you sad?"

"Yes, Mama!"

"What are you sad about?"

"You!"

Her sobs turned to wailing as I pulled her close to me and wiped her tears.  I was heartbroken for her.  I had hurt her and I couldn't fix it.  As we sat talking in my bed, I gleaned from 3 year old speak that she was upset with me and didn't know how to tell me. She thought something was wrong with me and she wanted to doctor to fix it.  I reassured her that Mama wasn't sick. I needed to go to the doctor because there was a baby in Mama's belly.  My lack of talking to her about the situation had injured her and I felt so guilty about that.  I fell short of knowing how to approach her with as little damage as possible so I didn't say anything.  I cuddled my little one close to me and prayed that I could redeem myself with her and that God could make her understand.  I didn't have the ability to communicate in her language, but He did.  He was my only hope for her. 

I explained to her the next morning that God had put a baby in my belly for Brett and Kayla.  The baby was not for us and she wouldn't be staying with us.  I went on to say that sometimes God puts babies in Mommies bellies so that He can give them to a Mama who can't have a baby.  I told her that Kayla couldn't have a baby so I was having the baby for her.  It seemed to smooth over what ever scariness at this had to her.  It also made me feel better.  I was on a special mission for God and even though it was hard, it was for a great purpose.  I felt special and hand picked by Him to do this for such a beautiful and deserving couple.  In my moments of doubt, when the whispers would try to speak, I hushed them by thinking of myself as someone set apart for something truly remarkable.