52: The Match,

52: The Match,

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: New Moms

The Match

Somehow destiny comes into play. These children end up with you and you end up with them. It’s something quite magical.

~Nicole Kidman

In the months before becoming a mom for the first time, most women worry. We worry about the health of the baby. We worry that we won’t know what to do when the baby cries and cries. We worry about how the baby will change our marriages, our careers, our lives. We worry about what kind of mother we will be, and if it will be enough.

But when your first child is not growing inside you, but inside another woman—a young girl who will be your baby’s birth mother—your list of worries changes and grows.

Along with all of the normal concerns, you worry about whether or not there has been sufficient prenatal care, or whether drugs and alcohol are being used. And sometimes you worry about whether you’ll be able to love an adopted child the same way you would love a child you had conceived… the same way you would love one who shares your DNA, your pale skin, and your husband’s long eyelashes.

We received the phone call from our adoption agency in late summer that a birth mother and birth father had chosen us to parent their unborn child. The baby was due in just six weeks.

We’d heard stories of these life-changing “match” calls. I always envisioned that when the call came for us, I would shed happy tears, maybe jump up and down, and dance a little “our dreams are coming true” dance. I assumed that my elation would be something uncontainable, spreading over us like wildfire.

Instead, I was startled by my reaction. There was a small bit of cautious joy, yes. But it was fleeting, and then far outweighed by another, more overwhelming non-emotion that I hadn’t been prepared for: numbness.

It was like I had stepped into a cold, rushing creek in the middle of a hot day, and I knew I should be feeling the relief, or the movement of the cool water around my ankles, the tickle of creek bed mud loosening beneath me, the warm, inviting sun on my face. But I didn’t. I couldn’t.

Psychologically, I knew I was protecting myself, keeping my heart safe behind a wall of control. After all, adoptions can be risky. People change their minds. A birth parent can have a change of heart just before the baby is born, or right afterward.

You can prepare a nursery, buy a crib, tell your close friends—and still end up without a baby. I understood this. And I couldn’t set that knowledge aside.

We met the young birth parents soon after our match call. Jill and John (names have been changed) seemed to be resolutely aware they weren’t in a position to provide for another child.

Also at that first meeting, Jill asked if I wanted to accompany her to a sonogram appointment the next week. I was touched that she would share such a private moment with me. When I told her that, she said, “Well, I’m thinking of this as your child now.” The statement seemed to swirl around me. I didn’t know how to respond. Was this my child?

At the sonogram, I sat beside Jill and watched the images on the computer screen. This baby, the one that Jill believed would be my child, was a boy. It was the first confirmation of the baby’s gender we’d had. I waited for emotion to come barreling toward me. It didn’t. My feelings seemed frozen, iced over.

The technician printed out sonogram pictures for both of us. Jill smiled at me. I swallowed another lump of anxiety and took the photograph with shaking hands.

I wanted to believe this was my baby, the soul I would love unconditionally and raise into adulthood, the toddler I would read Goodnight Moon to every night, the child I would hold and comfort when he scraped his knee, the son we would take camping every summer and plan birthday parties for every fall.

I wanted to believe my hope of having a family would be realized in this black-and-white image of bone and tissue. I wanted to believe the long little toes I could so clearly make out would soon be the ones I would count and tickle in the evenings as I rocked him in front of a warm fire.

But nothing inside of me told me this was true.

The remaining weeks of Jill’s pregnancy went by quickly. Just after midnight on October first, she called us. She asked if we were ready for our son to be born.

Jill and John allowed us to be in the room during the delivery, another touching gesture. We stood nearby, but not too close, waiting in those final minutes as Jill pushed. We watched as the baby came into the world, red-pink and slippery and a little mad about the whole ordeal.

Looking back, I remember those moments as if I were outside my own body, watching a scene unfold before me. I remember the room seemed too bright. I remember my husband held my hand. I remember tears running down his cheeks, something I had rarely seen. I remember biting my lip so hard it bled.

And I remember thinking: This is Jill’s baby. But is he mine, too?

While the doctor and nurse attended to Jill, another nurse took the baby aside for all those rush of things necessary right after birth. Then she motioned for us to come over.

I was hesitant at first, almost like a child waiting to sit on Santa’s lap. I had looked forward to this for so long. But now, I felt uneasy, unsure.

I gingerly placed my pointer finger in one palm of this perfect, beautiful creature with eyes the color of the sea and a full head of brown hair. With more force than I could have imagined, he curled his full hand around my finger and held it. He didn’t let go, and neither did I.

It was in that all-consuming moment that I knew. Absolutely and without doubt. With that simple, reflex motion of an infant’s hand responding to mine, it was as if every cell in my own structure underwent a transformation. I couldn’t have stopped it if I had wanted to. This was my child.

The months following our son’s birth certainly contained no more assurance than the weeks prior to his birth. In our state and many others, adoptive parents are merely foster parents for several months, until the birth parents can officially relinquish their parental rights. And then there is additional time between that event and when the adoption can be finalized.

But unlike those weeks after our match call, the months we spent as “foster parents” were full of unprecedented and unmarred joyfulness and excitement. We loved as if there were no tomorrow—or as if there were a million tomorrows.

It’s been three years now. Our son is happy and healthy, and continues to amaze us every day. When he hurts, I hurt. When he laughs, I laugh. Some days I wonder just where I end and he begins.

And when I look at him, he may not be a reflection of my hair color, or the shape of my nose, or the exact color of my eyes, but he is, undeniably, a reflection of me—my love for him and my husband, my values, my sense of humor, my way of seeing the world.

I still worry, of course. But now, it’s about a high fever, or preschool, or cavities in his light-up-a-room smile. It is never, ever about whether or not he was meant to be mine. Or whether I was meant to be his.

~Kathy Lynn Harris

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