I am full of more and more thoughts, memories, ideas. This little family that we made and the family history we are making day by day. Now that she is nine, some of the memories seem long ago and far away. And some seem like they happened just this morning. There is a reason for the clichés– it all does seem like just the blink of an eye ago.
This is a very little story, told, of course, from mine and not my daughter’s perspective. Although I talked and talked to her in the hours after we met her, this is about what was actually my first deep conversation with her. She was 12 days old and had known me for only a few hours. I had this conversation with her because it seemed so obvious that adoption is tied to a loss, a large disruption for the young person. When it was time for her to say goodbye, I knew my young person was no exception.
The day we met our daughter, June 1, 2001 was a very long day, filled with many emotions. She was 12 days old and had been with her foster mother for 10 of her 12 days. She had spent her first 48 hours of life in the hospital but as I understand it she hadn’t had any contact, with her mother (who is now called her birth mother, but was her only mother then) after being born.
Our daughter’s foster mom was (is) an interesting, dynamic woman, a married-with-two-sons professional woman, who was at the time, the executive director of a large non-profit which provided respite care to children whose parents were on the brink. She also served as the foster mother for many of the babies placed for adoption by our agency, just because she loved to be with newborns.
We chose to have the placement happen at her home. We spent far longer with her and her husband than I suspect any adoptive parent ever had or ever has since. We stayed for many hours after the papers were signed, photos taken and the agency people had gone back to work (or home). We felt we we owed it to our daughter to get to know her on her home turf before taking her to a new home and new family. We had a wonderful afternoon and my partner and Stephanie and my daughter and I walked to a great restaurant for dinner.
After nearly five hours together, it was time for us to pack up and take our new baby back to our hotel. As bags and the car were being packed up by others, I found myself alone, for the first time, with my baby girl. I was holding her on my lap in the living room.
Since we had arrived she had looked and looked, listened and listened–but she had barely cried at all for the hours and hours we had been together. I was alone with her. I suddenly felt that clearly my job as her mother was to tell her what was to come next and I thought about what was coming as best I could, from her point of view.
She was looking at me and I was looking into her eyes and I said something like this: We are your moms and we already love you so much. I love you. In just a little bit we are going to say goodbye to Stephanie and John and you aren’t going to live with them anymore ever again. We are going to take you with us and you will live with us. You don’t know us very well and I know it will be hard, but I can promise you it will be ok. You’ll be ok. And I also promise you that this is the end of the line, the last time this will ever happen to you. We will never leave you and you will never have to leave us or move to a new family again. We will always be with you and you will always be with us and you will be ok– I promise.
Think what you will, that it was gas or whatever other things people say to disprove the obvious emotion, the intelligence of new babies. But as soon as I said that she was going to say goodbye to John and Stephanie, she started to cry. That kind of in-it-for-the-duration kind of newborn cry that gathered steam as it went. She cried as I sat with her and as we packed the car and she cried harder as we drove over a small mountain pass to the other side of town and harder still as we went up in the elevator to our room. She cried in our arms on the bed until her eyes drooped then closed and she slept– her first night with her new family. She had started to cry around 8:00 and cried until around 9:30 or 9:45. For the next six or eight weeks, she cried again– sometimes shorter, sometimes longer–sometimes tiredly, and sometimes fiercely, but every night, always starting at about 8:00 p.m. And that is how we started.