Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences.
By Heather Kurut
She Went From Nurse to Nurse, Being Rocked, Comforted . . . and Loved.
As a welcome gift for our twin daughters, two of my dear colleagues gave us the book On the Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman. It’s a beautiful, sentimental book about the fanfare in the heavens and among wildlife in celebration of a baby’s birth. It almost always makes me cry, but not because it prompts vivid memories. We weren’t there on the snowy Friday night that our daughters were born.
In fact, we know very little about it, save for what we have pieced together from hospital records. Once upon a time, I got very sad about not having been there. I cried not over the event, but the time that we had missed – we didn’t get to take them home from the hospital, we didn’t have those first weeks with them, hunkered down at home, bonding as a family.
Our girls’ story with us started when we first met them at six weeks old – but, of course, that’s not when their story began. Like their birth, we have minimal information about their time prior. We know what was reported to a social worker: prenatal care was started rather late, and they were exposed to nicotine and alcohol in all three trimesters, daily.
By reading between the lines of information about the birth parents’ relationship with one another, we can surmise that the days leading up to their birth wasn’t a celebratory time for those immediately involved. That’s what we know, and nothing more.
The amount of contact our girls’ birthmother is comfortable with has not afforded us the opportunity to fill in any gaps, and that’s okay - her story is hers to tell, not mine. One day, for our daughters’ sake, I hope we will be able to answer any questions they may have.
What we do have, though, is a thick folder of detailed charts from their seven weeks living in our adoption agency’s nursery. From the time they arrived there on an equally snowy Sunday evening until the afternoon we brought them home nearly two months later, we have a record of almost every single thing they did.
With relative ease, I can look up how much formula they each consumed at three days old, whether or not they had a bowel movement that day - even what its consistency was! I can read about their sleeping patterns and how they interacted with nurses, volunteer cuddlers and one another.
I have such tender feelings about the women and men who loved and cared for our girls before we even knew they existed. While I wasn’t there, I like to imagine the warm and excited welcome they got the Sunday evening they arrived at the nursery, at two days old. Their photos were taken, and tags were made for their cribs – one has a sticker that says “Love Bug”, the other, “Snuggle Bunny.”
Thanks to their charts, we even know that they arrived around seven o’clock that evening. While they weren’t welcomed into our home that night, the nursery has a “homey” feeling. It doesn’t look remotely clinical; instead it looks like a rather large baby’s room. The soft peach-colored walls are adorned with murals of trees and flowers and tiny birds, and rocking chairs meet in a circle at the room’s center.
The day we met the girls, six weeks later, was cold but sunny. After a match meeting with the birth mother and both social workers, we were given permission to head to the agency to spend time with the babies. We were ushered upstairs to a belonging room, donned hospital gowns, scrubbed our hands and held our breath for a moment… and then a nurse arrived at the door with Snuggle Bunny.
Here was this tiny little stranger – dressed in pink and white striped, footed jammies that said “Mommy loves me” – with whom we were immediately and hopelessly in love. Nurse M handed her to me, then sat with us for a few minutes, showing us where the diapers were, leaving us with a bottle of Similac, lovingly brushing a few stray pieces of hair from Bunny’s forehead as she pointed out her cradle cap before heading back down the hall to fetch her sister.
Love Bug arrived awake, but groggy, her hands alternately opening and making tiny fists. The love was just as immediate, just as overwhelming. Her jammies were similar, pink and patterned, but not identical – the perfect metaphor for our fraternal twins. Nurse M gave us the thirty second run down on Love Bug, too – she loves her pacifier, loves the bouncy chair, loves to be held and talked to. Nurse M said she would “leave us to it” and called us Mom and Dad. She was the first to call us that; I will never forget it.
For the next week, as we waited for placement, we made the ninety minute trek to visit daily. Each time, we were greeted by a different nurse. Each of them had a tip or a story to share – Snuggle Bunny takes a long time to burp after a feeding, Love Bug can really get herself worked up when she’s crying; swaddling and bouncing usually calm her down the quickest.
Both girls love the swing, both girls love baths – Love Bug, especially. Each time, the girls were carried to us, happily nestled in a nurse’s arms when they arrived. Our visits ranged from one to two hours, and mostly involved holding and snuggling and feeding and staring. Then we handed them off, watched them melt into a nurse’s embrace, and went home to prepare their room.
When we first brought them home a week after meeting them, everything was a blur. We had gone – instantly – from no kids to two infants. The folder with the nurses’ notes sat, untouched, on my grandmother’s desk for a long time. I don’t now recall what made me want to read the contents, but I remember marveling at the amount of information the first time I glanced at each page. For each girl, there were pages upon pages of detailed notes and charts. I have pored over those pages many times since, and the sheer volume of information continues to amaze me.
Somewhere around the time the girls started sleeping through the night, when I was in less of a new-mom-fog, I started reading those notes with a more careful eye, paying attention less to the facts (i.e. how many ounces of Similac Sensitive) and more to the story contained therein. An example: one particular February night, Love Bug was fussy, almost inconsolably so. She was fed, and rocked, and changed, and rocked, and was still unsettled. Nearly half a page of notes is devoted to this evening – many people were involved in the efforts to calm her down. And no one had stopped trying. She went from nurse to nurse, being rocked and comforted… and loved.
Suddenly, my regret about having missed seven weeks of their lives was replaced by an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. Before our daughters had Mommy and Daddy, they had a team of caretakers in scrubs and white shoes who not only fed them, bathed them, changed them, and monitored them – but loved them. These were the voices that whispered their names, these were the heartbeats they rested against, these were the people who provided them the security that unconditional affection affords.
Of all of the pages in that enormous, thick file, my favorite notes are on the final placement instructions. After many paragraphs of typed infant care tips about bathing, feeding, and sleeping are several handwritten lines, in three different handwriting styles. They are the farewell notes from the nurses who daily attended to our girls – their final opportunity to tell us what they wanted us to know. “Likes being held. LOVES baths. Can be spitty at times – sit in bouncy after feeding.” And on each girls’ discharge instructions, accompanied by a smiley face; “Sweet baby.”
During the week between meeting them and taking them home, we struggled to say goodbye to the girls at the close of each visit; I can’t imagine saying goodbye to them after seven weeks.
Two years later:
While we weren’t there for the night our daughters were born, we have been blessed to celebrate two birthdays with them since. For each one, we have gone back to the agency’s nursery to see the team of nurses who cared for them before we knew they existed.
After all, these are the women and men who welcomed them home from the hospital. Before we could, these are the people who selected their outfits, smoothed their hair, offered them a finger to hold, felt their breath rise and fall, and rocked them to sleep. These are the people whose necks they pressed their faces to, and whose embrace they craved.
Each time we have gone to visit, we have stood in the hallway outside the nursery, peering in through a huge picture window. Nurses approach, tiny little babies in their arms, and talk to us through the glass. They lean in and wave, delighted when the girls wave back. “Which is the one who had all the hair?” they ask. “I remember you,” they say, smiling. Invariably, a few steal a moment to come into the hallway to greet them, to lovingly touch a sleeve and talk to them in sweet, gentle tones.
It has always been comforting to know that our children were so carefully attended to and cared for before they could come home to us. We will never forget the kindness and tenderness of the men and women who, after six weeks, handed them off to us at each visit, and eventually helped us pack them up to go home.
Although we didn’t get to celebrate on the night they were born, I am certain that those nurses made them feel celebrated the night they arrived. And they are certainly celebrated still, as evidenced by the sign that greeted us at the agency this year – beneath photos of the first night the girls arrived, it said “Happy Birthday… Welcome Back.”
Heather Freer Kurut lives with her husband, twin daughters and a pair of cats on the city's South Side. When she isn't playing with her family, she spends time as the principal of a middle school and a yoga teacher. Her articles about yoga have been featured in Yoga Chicago.
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