Adoption Retrospective: The First Goodbye

It has been ten years since we began our adoption journey.  Each month, I am reflecting on our lives in 2003.

September 2003, Part 2

It is now Friday morning, and the hospital is preparing to discharge newborn K into the custody of her foster mother, Susan.  As a hopeful adoptive mother, I have no legal rights, but the social workers and the foster mother are wonderful about including me in everything.  Susan and her husband Keith are only interested in providing temporary foster care – not in fostering to adopt – so there is no tension between us, which is great.

Andrew has flown back to Chicago, because we are scheduled to move out of our old apartment this very weekend, of all times!  I will stay and spend the weekend in K’s town, visiting with her as much as possible before I head back to Chicago.

The reality is that I need to return to work on Monday.  We have no idea how long the process will take, and I don’t want to use up my limited precious time off.  I plan to take leave for twelve weeks when K is hopefully able to come home with us.  My company offers 4 weeks paid leave for adoption, and I will take an additional 8 weeks of unpaid leave.

Friday is a gorgeous sunny day.  Prior to discharge, the hospital requires the parents to watch a video about the dangers of shaking a baby.  Susan and I watch the video together, and I feel nauseous and weak at the image of someone violently shaking a helpless baby.  For a moment, a stab of fear goes through me that something will happen to K, that somehow she will be harmed if I do not stay with her every minute.  The sheer vulnerability of a newborn is terrifying.

I think of K’s birthmother, M, who will be going home today to an empty house.  It is so painful that her other kids are also in foster care.  There is nobody at home to comfort her and distract her from her grief.  Her life is in tatters right now, and she has a long road ahead before things will stabilize and improve.  I promise to remain in M’s life and to be her friend, now and for all the years to come.  I promise that if we are able to successfully adopt K and keep her from spending extended time in foster care, that we will always always always allow M to be in her life.

The hospital discharge goes smoothly, and Susan and the social workers let me take K for visiting hours for the rest of the day!  The agreement is that I must meet them at their office at 5 pm to return K.  My mom has hopped on a plane and is scheduled to arrive at the tiny regional airport in an hour.  I buckle K into her new car seat in my rental car, and we drive to the airport.  I drive with inordinate caution.  My mom arrives with a beautiful baby blanket, and we spend a blissful afternoon with 2-day-old K.

After we return K to the social workers, I grow anxious and edgy.  I have been with K every minute since her birth on Wednesday, and it doesn’t feel right to spend the night away from her snuggly little body.  Again, my mind flickers to M, and I worry about her.  My mom takes me, her baby, out for dinner and urges me to eat and get a good night sleep and take care of myself.

The next few days pass in a blur of visiting K during the days and missing her intensely at nights.  Everything she does fascinates me.  I inspect each tiny toe, the little birthmark at the nape of her neck, her greedy little mouth sucking down formula as fast as possible.  We do lots of kangaroo care, lots of skin to skin time, and I sing all my favorite songs to her.

Sunday morning comes.  It is time to say goodbye.  My mom will be flying back to Tampa, and I will be flying back to Chicago.  For five days straight, I have lived and breathed K.  And now I must leave her and return to my old life, with no certainty about when we will be able to adopt her.

Just before I return K to the social worker, I unsnap the onesie she is wearing and pull it off her tiny mottled newborn body.  I tuck it into my bag.  I dress her in a clean warm outfit, kiss her fuzzy had, and they take her away.

Alone on the plane, I miss my daughter.  I miss my mother.  Tears sting my eyes, and when I open my bag to find a tissue, I see the onesie.  I bury my face into it, smelling K’s baby scent, sobbing so hard that my head throbs, as I zoom through the sky, farther and farther away from my baby.  This is not how it is supposed to be.  I call M that night to check on her.  Our voices combine in sadness.  “Please come back.  Please do not change your mind about adopting her,” M whispers.

“I’ll be back next weekend.  Please hang in there.  Please get some rest.  After visiting hours, Andrew and I would love to get together with you.”

“See you next weekend.  I love you,” M tells me.

“We love you too.”

Here are the previous entries in the retrospective:

Jan 2003; Feb 2003; March 2003; April 2003; May 2003 June 2003 July 2003; August 2003; September 2003, Part 1

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