Adoption Retrospective, Ten Years Later: Life is Pain, Highness

Adoption Retrospective, Ten Years Later: Life is Pain, Highness

It has been ten years since we began our adoption journey.  In honor of the passing of time, I will be publishing one post each month in 2013 that reflects on our lives in 2003. Please read the January, 2003 post , February, 2003 Post, and March, 2003 Post.

It is April 26, 2003.  Andrew’s brother P will be marrying K next month.  K is terrific, a wonderful addition to the family.  She is a kindred spirit, easy to be around, and I am grateful to have her as another sister.  Today is K’s bridal shower, which I am hosting along with several other people.  Months ago, when my MIL and I were first planning a spring bridal shower, I was aglow with my pregnancy, and we realized that there would be a new baby in tow at the shower.  Many of Andrew’s relatives, who we only see at special occasions, would be at the shower; it could be their first chance to meet the baby.  But then I decided that a new baby would detract from K, and I really wanted her to be the focus, as every bride should be, so I had planned to leave the baby at home with Andrew.

Now, the spring is here, and it is a struggle to prepare for the gaiety of a bridal shower.  Determined to put aside my melancholy, I plan to make a very special cake for K.  For weeks, I practice sculpting frosting roses, mixing buttercream frosting and discarding it by the pound.  I envision an incredible cake for her shower, completely covered with frosting roses in hues of peach, yellow and pink.  Andrew’s sister J comes to sleep over at our apartment the night before the shower.  She bakes and decorates bright spring cookies; I bake, frost and decorate the cake.  When it is done, I am delighted.  The roses are delicate, the colors richly contrasted against the dark chocolate frosting of the cake.

I dress carefully for the shower, putting on eye make-up and lipstick for the first time in a while.  I actually feel upbeat and look forward to celebrating K and her upcoming wedding; I want to show the relatives and family friends that I am doing well, that life goes on.  It is a lovely day, fresh and sunny.  The guests are arriving.  I am in the kitchen, helping to arrange trays of food.  The cake is beautifully displayed.  I move into the front room, visiting with several women, greeting Andrew’s relatives.

One of the cousins who I have not seen in months, catches my eye and bounds over to me, smiling.  Eyes alight with excitement, she looks at my flat-again stomach and asks, “Baby?”  I stare at her, confused.  She tries again, “You had the baby?  Did you bring the baby?”  The others look at her in horror.  Slowly, comprehension dawns on me.  She must not know what happened.  Quietly, I tell her.  Awkwardly, she turns to her mother, standing beside us, “Mother, why don’t you tell me these things!?”  I mumble, “Excuse me” and turn to walk to the kitchen.

Ten seconds between me and the kitchen.  Nine. Eight. Just as I make it inside, I shatter into heaving sobs.  My MIL and her friends are in the kitchen bustling around.  Barely two minutes earlier, I had been in there too, smiling, composed.  Now my MIL rushes over to me, “What happened?”  I cannot speak.  “Honey, what happened, what is it?”  I just shake my head, racked with sobs.  Her best friend pours me a drink.  I try to talk.

“She . . . asked . . . if . . . I . .  .brought . . .  my . . . new . . . baby.”  My MIL is shaken, agonizing that this happened, certain that everyone who had been told the good news of the baby had subsequently been informed of his passing.  I stay in the kitchen for about ten minutes, gulping deep breaths, regaining composure.

This is K’s party; I will pull myself together and go back out there and be a good hostess.  With effort, I work to redo my make-up, comb my hair.  But this day is now a struggle, and the loss of the baby haunts me like every other f*cking day. I am suddenly angry at Grief, at how persistent and tiresome of a companion it is, at that sense of waking up every morning and remembering why I feel so awful and knowing that I have to go through another day with Grief by my side.  I am immensely relieved when the bridal shower ends, when the tense smile plastered across my face can drop, when I can sit outside on the front steps and weep. And grieve.

Does it ever end?  How long will the hurt be this bad?  It feels so fresh, so unbearable at this moment.  I remember the Princess Bride, a favorite movie of mine.  “Life is pain, Highness,” says Wesley to Princess Buttercup.  Life is pain.

Andrew, his father and P come over after the shower.  Andrew and I take a long walk outside.

My cell phone phone rings, the one that is connected to our adoption profile.  It is a girl named Brooke.  I am surprised to hear from her.  This is the second call from Brooke, but I really believed I would never hear from her again after the first call.  The first call was a difficult conversation.  Although Brooke had called me, she would barely speak.  It was like pulling teeth to get her to say anything, and the conversation went nowhere.  All I learned was that she is a teenager, living at a shelter, two months pregnant.

Now, she is calling again, and she seems more willing to talk.  She tells me that her pastor’s family is taking her in, how they gave her an Easter basket — her first ever.  Brooke lives in Indiana, and in this conversation, I get a much clearer picture of who she is.  She works as a personal companion/assistant to an older woman who suffers from a chronic illness.  The birthfather is on drugs and beats her.  She has no relationship with her parents.

Her pastor’s wife was the one who bought the pregnancy test kit and sat with her when it tested positive.  We talk for about thirty minutes, then say goodbye with plans to speak again soon.  Andrew and I sitting in a park.  I scribble Brooke’s number down on a scrap of paper in Andrew’s wallet, because she had been calling from the home where she works caring for an elderly woman.  I lean against Andrew, drained.

It has been a long day.  The shock of what happened at the bridal shower, the energy required to put on my game face, the call from Brooke.

Brooke’s call is well-timed.  It propels me forward, forcing me to drag my focus away from the baby that we lost and towards the baby we will adopt.  Grateful for the distraction, for the gentle reminder that life goes on, I sit with Andrew and feel sympathy for this young girl and her plight, for her lot in life.  Just a teenager, yet already old in the ways of the world.  The casual, accepting way in which she mentioned that the birthfather beat her, juxtaposed with the childish joy in which she described receiving her first Easter basket.  Brooke.  The unfairness in her life, dwarfing that in mine. Brooke.

Incidentally, Brooke never calls again.  I do not know what happened to her.  In the past decade, my thoughts sometimes drift toward her.  May she be well.

Portrait of an Adoption is written by Carrie Goldman, the author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear.

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