I Drove Home Without Her

I Drove Home Without Her

In honor of November being National Adoption Month, Portrait of an Adoption is running a special series called 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days.  Designed to give a voice to the many different perspectives of adoption, this series will feature guest posts by adoptees, birthparents, adoptive parents, waiting adoptive parents, and foster parents-turned-adoptive parents.  Painful and beautiful, these stories will bring you a deeper understanding of what adoption looks like, allowing you to appreciate the many brushstrokes that comprise a family portrait.

I Drove Home Without Her

by Jill Barber

A little over three years ago, I sat on the edge of the bathtub, counting out the seconds in my head.  The package had said to wait for two minutes before reading the results, and I am nothing if not good at following directions.  It says so on my second-grade report card: “Jill is very good at following directions.”  I was willing to bet that Mrs. Warner would never have predicted where my direction-following had taken me.

While I counted, I thought about my mother. I don’t remember how old I was when I found out she was adopted.  In my mind it’s something that I’ve always known. I do remember that when I was old enough to understand these things, I wondered what sort of woman my biological grandmother had been, and how she ever could have placed a baby for adoption.  I couldn’t fathom that kind of decision.  I mean, what sort of woman gave her child away?  I knew that I couldn’t do it, assuming that those circumstances arose.

Oh, please don’t let those circumstances have arisen! I thought, as I sat waiting for the test results.  If only I’d thought of that a few weeks ago.

But when I finished counting, I picked up the slender plastic stick and saw two pink lines where I had prayed for only one. My gut, already clenched painfully tight, went cold at the sight of those lines. I checked that awful pink package again, to verify that two lines were bad. They were indeed bad.

Two pink lines were a disaster.

I had been in enough of a pickle before. I was twenty-five, poor, unemployed, single, and living with my mother.  My father had died six weeks ago from brain cancer.  Now, to top it all off, I was pregnant, an unexpected parting gift from my ex-boyfriend.  I didn’t plan on telling my mother right away, but when she came home to find me in hysterics on the couch she guessed that something was amiss, and she guessed what it was. I was relieved. I couldn’t use the word “pregnant” yet.

I couldn’t use any words for a few hours. I was in too much shock. I expected that my mother would push adoption, given that she herself had been adopted, but she told me that she would support me no matter what.

I got no such offers from my ex. I worried about what kind of life my baby would have without a father’s influence. But I was determined to make do. I had always wanted to be a mother. My situation wasn’t ideal, but I couldn’t afford to be picky. I wanted a baby, and I was going to have a baby.  Wasn’t that lucky?

Adoption was always in the back of my mind, but it was as it always had been– something that other people did.  I knew I was being selfish about it, but part of the reason I wouldn’t really consider placing my baby was that I didn’t think I could handle the grief.

I already loved this baby so much.  I had been through so much already in the past few years.  I couldn’t see putting myself through that kind of excruciating emotional pain.  So I decided that I wouldn’t.

Time passed, and my baby grew.  I still remember very clearly the second when my pregnancy became real to me.  It wasn’t at twelve weeks, when I got my first ultrasound.  The tiny wiggling blob on the monitor hardly looked like anything at all.  It wasn’t at sixteen weeks when I started to show.  It wasn’t even at twenty weeks when I found out that my little friend was a girl.

It was at twenty-three weeks, when I drank a glass of ice-cold orange juice, and I felt a fluttering in my midsection.  I had another sip, and felt another flutter.  It was amazing.  I think that was the day I officially fell in love with my baby girl.

As the weeks went by, I started shopping.  My mother generously helped me with the more expensive purchases – crib, car seat, stroller.  I used my savings from my last job to buy onesies and blankets and tiny diapers.  My baby grew and her kicks became stronger.  I could feel her
turning somersaults in my womb until a few weeks before she was due, when there simply wasn’t room anymore, and her acrobatics turned into little jabs at my navel and tiny toes digging into my ribcage.

On July 7th, 2009, my little girl arrived after thirty-six hours of labor and an emergency C-section.   They brought her over so I could see her.  She looked so small!  They gave me drugs after that while they put my insides back in place.  I woke up a little later in recovery.

On instinct, I turned my head to the left, and there she was, in a little bed under a heat lamp.  My baby girl was looking at me with wide, curious eyes.  She was very calm. A nurse came in, picked up that tiny bundle of baby, and placed her in my arms.  I looked into those wide-open eyes of hers, and I knew then and there that I would die for this little girl.  My love for her grew exponentially.

I took her home a few days later.  I settled into an exhausting routine of food and sleep.  I loved being a mommy.  Still, adoption scratched at the back of my mind.  I pushed it away time after time.  Adoption was for other women.  I loved my baby.  Our life together was far from perfect, but I could make things work.  I had to, because I was absolutely not going to place my baby for adoption.

I think that part of me always knew what I needed to do for her, but I hesitated because I thought the resulting pain would be my undoing.  So I waffled for weeks, trying to convince myself that I could be and do enough for her, that I could give her the kind of life I wanted her to have, the kind of life that she deserved.

I made excuses for my selfishness: I had been her mommy for six weeks; she knew me; placement would be traumatic; she would have attachment issues; she would suffer if she were raised by anyone else.

My arguments sounded hollow, even to my own mind.  I had chosen to single parent because it was best for me.  But what was best for this precious little girl?  She deserved – she needed – so much more than I could ever give her.  I thought to myself that if I wasn’t willing to suffer for her now, we’d both suffer in the long run.  I couldn’t bear the thought of her suffering for my selfishness.

My little girl was seven weeks old when I decided to place her for adoption, and nine weeks old when placement occurred.  I knew I had found the right family.  I knew it as soon as I met them. When I placed my little girl in her daddy’s arms that day, she looked up at him, and although it might sound absurd, I knew then that she knew him.

I almost feel as though I didn’t choose them – she did.  I suppose that part of me thought it would be easier because of that.  I had spoken to other birth mothers and they’d assured me that doing the right thing brought a sense of peace.

How wrong they were!

I don’t think I understood before I placed her how grief can be so acute that it causes excruciating physical pain.  I drove to the adoption agency with a baby in my car.  I drove home without her, with an empty car seat.  The buckles clacked together with every bump in the road, and each staccato sound was like a microscopic knife attacking my stromata.

I felt certain that I couldn’t possibly hold myself – not just my mental self, but my physical self – together for much longer.  I was going to come undone.

A sense of unreality came over me.  I felt for a pulse and counted 72 beats per minute.  This stunned me.  How could my heart be beating still?  How was I not screaming hysterically?  The hysterical screaming came a few minutes later, when I walked into an empty house, with an empty crib, and empty clothes.

Memories were ghosts, and my house was haunted.  I had to take a sedative.

It had been 25 minutes since I left the agency, and already I missed my baby girl so much I didn’t think I could take it.  I thought I was going to die.  I wanted to die.  She had been my world, my life, for nine weeks – before then, really, if you count the months she spent nestled in my belly.

And now she was gone, and she was never going to be my baby again.  I checked my pulse again – 85 this time.  How could I possibly still have a heartbeat?  My heartbeat was gone, strapped into someone else’s car seat in a van headed the opposite direction.

It was the worst kind of hell imaginable.  It was excruciating, brutal, inhumane.  I would not wish this pain on anyone in this world.  And yet, I would do it again in a split second, no question.  I would do it again a hundred times, a thousand times, for my baby girl, because I love her that much.

Openness is helping me heal.  There have been more pictures, e-mails, videos and visits than I can total.  I have been able to see firsthand the fruits of my pain.  I have been able to watch the tiny baby I placed grow into a clever, sweet, and exceptionally adorable toddler.

I have been able to see over and over again the reasons I made the right decision.  I have gotten to know her parents – people who are kind and generous and so amazing that I tend to use superlatives when I’m describing them.  I have been able to witness the happiness of the person I love most.  I have been able to kiss those chubby cheeks, and whisper into those perfect little ears that I love her.

When I saw her last, I said, “I love you, little girl.”

And she said, “I know.”

I went through hell for her, and I’d do it again.  That’s what you do when you’re a parent.  You hurt for your children so they don’t have to.  I once thought that I could never place a child for adoption.  Now I think, how could I not?  I gave my little girl the world.  I did it because I love her.  And she’ll know.

Jill Barber



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  • Dear Jill,

    Your story brought back vivid memories of my own gut-wrenching pain when I had to say good-bye to our foster daughter after 13 months of raising her. The day we reunified her with her birth mother, I too was amazed that I was still alive.

    I cannot imagine the pain of carrying a baby for 9 months, falling in love at first flutter and then making the decision to say good-bye as the ultimate expression of that love. I am so glad your daughter is still in your life. She has three exceptional parents - what a lucky girl.

    People like you make me so proud to be a part of the human race. May your life continue to be enriched by your daughter and her family, and may her joy take away some of the ever-present hurt.

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    Jill, you are, quite simply, my hero. I am amazed by your strength and conviction. Thank you for sharing this.

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    You are amazing! You deserve Superhero status, and a cape!! Thank you for sharing your story.

  • Wow - you are simply amazing (along with every other birthmother)!!!! Having built my family through adoption, I say THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart.

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    We gave our daughters up because we love them more than ourselves. It was the hardest choice we ever had to face. Love is wonderful. It tears you up and makes the world go round.
    You and I both still love our daughters and always will, isn't it great to be able to give such a great gift to the person we love most in the world?

  • Thank you for sharing this beautiful story.

  • This is one of the most beautiful expressions of true love that I have ever read. You are remarkable. If I could reach through this keyboard and hug you I most certainly would.

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    THIS is why I adore birthmothers. Oh, how I adore birthmothers. You personify all that is good and right about not only birthmothers, but ALL mothers, Jill. Thank you so much for sharing. You are truly amazing.

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  • Thank you for sharing your innermost thoughts and emotions.

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