My mother used to tease that she had found me in a pumpkin patch, and my sister under a cabbage leaf. Secure in our elementary knowledge of biology (and the baby-book photos of her bulging belly) we didn’t think twice about our origin, despite her joke.
I used to make a similar wisecrack when my teens were small, asking them (usually in moments of amused exasperation), “Who spawned YOU?!” …which always prompted a giggly response of, “YOU did!”
With a shifted perspective, those jokes come to mind now… I am eagerly observing the emerging personhood of a little guy who grew in his mommy’s heart instead of in her tummy. I’m always greedy for news and photos of him, delighted by his smiles and grateful for his medical progress…
He’s not my son now, but I’m the pumpkin patch where he grew.
For most of my pregnancy this boy was my baby. After all, it’s a natural assumption, when you find yourself “in the family way,” that this new person will, in fact, become part of the existing family. The pregnancy was NOT intentional (I’m in my 40’s—and did I mention my kids are teens?)… but it’s not the first time that God’s plans have trumped mine, and I do my best to roll with that.
It didn’t even cross my mind that he wasn’t intended for me…
Shocked though I was at first, I welcomed one more journey of pregnancy with all its attendant amazing experience. If I’m being honest, I’d felt a little cheated by my daughter’s early arrival, missing out on a full third of the pregnancy as well the ability to nurse her… so here was an unexpected gift of another go-round. And another new person, with all the miracles that entails. Before I even showed, I glowed (or so I often heard)–and I contentedly blossomed into maternity tops.
Relieved to find I’d be raising another boy, I called him Robbie for my dad. This one proved feisty and active, relentlessly pummeling the tar out of me. Ultrasounds took extra long when he persisted in somersaulting while the poor tech tried to frame some photos. I bought baby shoes. I sang my favorite lullaby to my stomach.
But… By the end of summer my world outside the boundaries of my skin lay in shattered shards. The baby’s dad was still married to two other women. And cheating on me with another. And yet again unemployed but still squandering what little money I did have. And… Well, suffice it to say I finally had to admit he was an absolute asshole, take a deep breath, and kick him out.
(On the surface it doesn’t seem like that should have been a difficult thing to do… But I was several layers-of-scared, not to mention too stubborn to admit easily that I’d made a mistake in the first place.)
Both broke and broken, I sat down on the balcony of my apartment, took another deep breath, and did the second difficult thing. I called my mother. For this particular call, however, it wasn’t my mother I was phoning; I was calling one of the few attorneys in the state of Idaho who specializes in Adoption. She just happens also to be my mother. “Please find me a great family.”
As she has done on many occasions, she came to town, and to my rescue. She invented the paperwork to file for legal annulment (unlike divorce papers, there aren’t ready-made forms for that!) and she started telling me about families she had represented who would like another child.
I didn’t need a “catalog” of prospective parents; I trusted my mom in this. So she called Jennifer. She explained the “unusual situation” of the birth-mom being her own daughter, she handed the phone to me, and I met Robbie’s Mom—the beginning of a beautiful Friendship.
In explaining later to the judge who vetted the Termination of my Parental Rights, I described the pregnancy from that point as essentially a surrogacy. Sure, I happened to be the biological mom as well as the birth mom—but from that point on, Robbie was her baby. And even his name (though we both still used it) became a place-holder nickname till she chose his permanent one.
Jennifer lives five hours away, so after a few weeks of texting her photos (of baby-bump and ultrasounds) and talking on the phone (“Your boy is kicking the stuffing out of me!”) we made plans for her to come visit and stay the weekend with me. Instead, the week before her planned visit, I went to a routine ultrasound, at which they told me to go check myself into the Maternity Ward. Do not pass “Go,” do not collect two hundred dollars (or even a hairbrush and phone charger from home), go directly to the hospital. Something is Wrong.
Two days later, an emergency C-section. I couldn’t see the surgery-site or the baby (though my mother bravely peeked over the curtain and took his first picture) but his indignant yell told me he’d be a fighter. And so we all braced ourselves for his Long Fight. At two pounds and a couple ounces, he was not ready for Life-Outside-a-Tummy.
I was having a fight of it myself, exacerbated by added complications of a systemic Staph infection and blood-clots caused by an IV. I got moved from “Maternity” to the Internal Medicine Wing, where it was humorously apparent that they are not accustomed to just-delivered mothers. I buzzed the nurse’s station every few hours to let them know I had breastmilk needing pick-up, and my mom and I would giggle at the inevitable intercom-pause followed by, “I’m sorry… WHAT?”
When I was allowed out of bed, I got a doctor’s “hall pass” permitting me to leave my floor to visit Neonatal Intensive Care. I had to ask directions (I’d only had a ceiling-view of the twists and turns from the maternity wing when they wheeled me to my new room), and had to explain to a puzzled nurse why I wanted to go there…
Jennifer and I found ourselves in a weird legal limbo; adoption proceedings require the physical presence of the child, but since this child would be in Intensive Care for several months, he would remain legally mine for a while yet.
I executed paperwork authorizing Jennifer to make medical decisions, and the NICU nursing staff became accustomed to our tag-team vigil. Jennifer was shuttling weekly between Boise and her hometown, while I was still in the hospital myself with the bracelet matching his, so they might find either (or both) of us with him on any given day..
Jennifer’s daughter Avery waxed enthusiastic about her “baby bubble” (she couldn’t say “brother”) and after a few weeks the Baby Bubble himself got his Real Name written on the whiteboard-of-stats by his isolette, although it wouldn’t get legalized until the adoption. Greyson Andrew… “Andrew” meaning warrior!
After the hospital discharged me, I spent time with him once or twice a week when my follow-up appointments brought me back to the campus, and I brought milk for him till my own medical complications dried up the supply. Periodically I’d manage to swing by while Jennifer was there too—we’d share our delight at whatever progress he was making, and our prayers for whatever fears were on the table at the moment.
After three months Jennifer & Avery took Greyson home… with oxygen machine and feeding tube and breathing-monitor and… I have to mention another part of God’s Plan here: Jennifer is a pediatric nurse. I know she has felt overwhelmed at times, but she handles Greyson’s medical challenges with an equanimity and aplomb I admire immensely!
Although I was fairly closely involved in Greyson’s hospital-months, I drew the line last year at holding him. I spent time with him, touched him, talked and sang to him, prayed over him, showed people pictures of him… But I didn’t feel it would be healthy (for me) to hold him then, though Jennifer regularly offered.
This October Jennifer texted to say they’d be in Boise on Greyson’s birthday-weekend, and would we like to join the party? Along with my “yes please,” I shared with her that this time I’d enjoy holding him…
At his birthday party he spent most of the evening on my lap, and for a week afterward I wore the smears of birthday-cake-frosting on my coat like a badge of joy.
In an acute case of Mixed Emotions, I can vouch for the fact that it’s entirely possible to feel sadness that is NOT regret. I can honestly say I have not once second-guessed my choice to pair this boy with his Awesome Mom. That doesn’t mean there aren’t micro-moments of sadness about relinquishing the experience of mommy-ing him myself. Those feelings are fleeting, few and far between, and wholly selfish—but they exist. And they are greatly softened by Jennifer’s generosity in sharing photos and updates and video clips and stories.
This morning I wrapped up a fleece blanket I made for him (and one for Avery) and a copy of the book that was his older brother’s obsessive favorite at the same age, and Monday I’ll walk to the Post Office to send those off for Christmas. Also this morning, Jennifer texted a photo of Greyson and Avery ready to meet Santa.
Despite his premature October arrival, Greyson was due on Christmas Day… and I’m thinking that Santa has no idea what a Great Gift he just had on his lap. Or maybe he does… Santa is wise to the ways of Gifts.