Monday, April 11, 2005

Hello and Goodbye

Hello and Goodbye
Rhonda Baker

From “Zuzu and the Baby Catcher”, Issue 6

Back in issue one I talked about the son I gave birth to in March of 1984. Actually I only talked about the birth; I didn’t really talk about my son. It’s time to tell the story.

Placing my son for adoption was not my first choice upon discovery of my pregnancy. I was sixteen; it was the summer before my senior year. I was going to graduate and head off to NYC to become a fashion designer. Pregnancy was NOT part of the plan. I scheduled an abortion, but through a long chain of unpleasant events, it did not come to pass. Thus I found myself as described in ZBC #1, a pregnant high school senior.

I made a deal with God: I would have this baby and give it up, but only as long as it was a boy. Boys were foreign to me, and I certainly couldn’t raise a boy without a father. So, God very kindly agreed that I would give up a son, and that someday I would be the happy mama of a daughter or two. The Cath-olic priest my mother worked for stepped in and arranged the adoption with a couple he knew in Louisiana. (He had also ‘arranged’ the mess-up of the abortion appointment, which I wouldn’t find out for years.) The couple he knew lived next door to his niece, and he’d actually met them, so it wasn’t like my baby would be going to complete strangers. I’d maybe even get news of him now and again. It was settled.

The birth was dreadful – well, the LABOR was dreadful – I was in awe of the actual birth, which I witnessed in the mirror above my spread-eagled body. My body gave birth, and they cleaned him up and handed him to me. I was wheeled out of the delivery room with my black-haired, black-eyed, gorgeous baby boy tucked in one arm, and my teddy bear (the only stand-in for the father that the hospital would allow) in the other. I must have looked like such a baby myself. Back then, moms stayed in the hospital for three days, even after a normal delivery… and I intended to make use of every moment to be with my son. Jonathan, my son.

I knew he was not mine – my heart and soul knew that keeping him would be the wrong wrong wrong thing to do, and I knew I would not waver. But my son…he was so beautiful – his eyes so dark, promising to be chocolate brown, and thick black hair, olive skin. He was magical – staring so intently about him, never crying, just seeking answers everywhere. He was familiar – I could see my nose, my mouth, my chin in that tiny face. I fell in love, as every new mother is programmed to do – but even as I knew he was not mine, my heart was tearing, shredding. “And a sword shall pierce her heart,” says one version of the bible about Mary’s agony. I knew that agony.

I held him as much as I could, fed him a bottle while my breasts ached to nurse him. There was no such thing as ‘rooming in’, and only one designated person could hold him or be in the room while he was there. Had I been a little braver, a little wiser, I’d have broken those rules all over the place… what were they gonna do, take him away? But I followed the rules – so only my mom and I held him. If anyone came to visit I had to bring him back to the nursery. As you can imagine I hated all visitors, robbers of my time with my baby.

The days passed in a blur. Getting yelled at by Nazi Nurse who found me asleep with Jonathan. Lying alone with a heat lamp between my legs as my episiotomy itched and stung. Getting reprimanded for pushing the help button in the bathroom when I thought I was going to pass out. Wondering over and over again how I could reconcile my longing for my baby and my lack of longing for motherhood. My daddy showing up to visit after ignoring me the entire pregnancy, then weeping with pride and sorrow in my room. Sitting with my son on my lap as I wept and wrote the final pages of a letter to him. A letter that started as a 16-year-old’s foolish pen pal meanderings and ended in utter despair, begging forgiveness, praying for understanding. Weeping.

On our last day we borrowed the priest’s 35mm camera and took pictures. They are all taken in natural light – they show a lovely alert baby boy and a sad young girl who is already showing her lifelong mask of grief. The last picture was taken a few moments before 4pm that day. At 4pm the circuit clerk was coming with papers, relinquishment papers. At 4pm my time was up.

At 3:59pm I kissed my son’s impossibly soft feet, nuzzled him, inhaling his sweet newborn scent, stroked his hair and put him in his bassinet. Slowly I wheeled him to the nursery, my heart pounding and empty. Marching to a death knell, a nightmare of tile and fluorescent light and sore body and agonizing slow steps. My mom was beside me but I don’t remember it. I just remember feeling terribly, finally, alone.

I knocked on the nursery door, and asked the nursed who answered to please put him right by the window so I could look at him as long as I could. I pushed him through that door, and as it closed a wail of pure grief rose from my soul. I cried as a child cries, as a mother cries. The anguish ripped through me, devoured me, and I let it. I’ll never forget the startled faces of the excited new mamas and daddies, their reveries so rudely and bewilderingly interrupted by a distraught teenager. I turned my eyes to my son as my mother held me up. We wept together, but after a moment she could not bear it and moved away. I stood there, my eyes locked on my baby, memorizing his face. At that moment he stirred and for the first time since he was born, I saw him cry. We cried together, my son and I, as if he felt it, too; we were being torn apart, and I was doing the tearing. We cried.

At 5pm, I was still standing there. My mother paced the halls, fuming at the circuit clerk, coming to stand with me, pacing again. I was not about to budge – I was taking every second I could get. My eyes did not leave his face. I waited. Like the condemned wait for death – part of me dying already. I thought… I still had time… I could be holding him. I thought…if I touch him again, I’ll never let him go. I thought… I will not wreck both our lives… I will wreck only my own. I realized that all I could do was to stand there, and stare, and weep, and wait.

At something like 6pm, the man showed up, no apologies, no clue. By then my tears had stopped and I was holding the fragile strands of my soul together by sheer will power. I had to be alone in the room when I signed the papers, so no one could say I was influenced in any way. My mother hugged me before leaving, whispering, “Its okay if you change her mind…” which only strengthened my resolve. I signed the damn papers, the word ‘irrevocable’ standing out neon bright. I hated the word, hated that man, hated the people who were taking my baby. Loving my baby, tears scalding my cheeks, barely breathing, I signed the damn papers.

At that moment, I became a new person. I became a birthmother.

I was wheeled out of the hospital empty handed, empty bellied. I was leaving behind my only child. He would remain there for two more days, until Louisiana law took effect and I signed yet another set of papers that gave him to his new parents. For two days he would belong to no one, have no one. The thought of this nearly killed me. I went home to lie in bed and sob. My poor little sisters, so young at the time, did not know what to do. I slept in my mom’s bed, comforted for a few moments at a time before the grief would wash over me anew.

I found out what they named him – Tyler – and I flew into a rage. Their act of naming him meant he really really was gone. Grief became my best friend who never left my side. The only way to survive it was to embrace it.

I never got counseling – I just went back to my life as much as I could. Everything was tainted. Nothing seemed as worthwhile as it did before. Elsa Klensch, a fashion reporter with a show on TV called “Style” made her observation that “Yellow is SO important this season,” and I realized that Elsa had no idea what was important. Yellow was certainly not it. Fashion was not it. I didn’t know what to do, thrust so into a sobering adult world of real loss. I didn’t know where to go. I was lost. But I survived.

The years passed. His birthday was the worst… a day to cry, bake a cake, take the day off work, and remember. Mother’s Day sucked. I was an unrecognizable mother. I cannot begin to describe the many phases and faces my grief took on. It was my crutch, my shield, my excuse, and, in very bad times, my reason to keep living.
I kept meeting adoptees, dating adoptees. I learned to accept the grim reality that while female adoptees nearly always search for their birthmothers, male adoptees rarely do. I knew that it would be a long wait until I could contact him with any hope of acceptance. I settled in to wait.

I turned thirty in 1996, and that same year my sister had a baby, the first grandchild since my son. At the time I was a live-in nanny and my eyes were opened to the reality of parenting. These things inspired me to write a letter to Tyler’s adoptive mother, thanking her, and asking her very humbly to let me know how he was doing. I knew from the priest and from my attorney that his parents had been very reluctant to have any information about me – despite it being an open adoption they were not interested in an exchange of information. They had seemed very protective and afraid, as if they wanted me to simply not exist. I knew I had to tread carefully, and my letter was a loving and humble request. I sent it to my attorney, who then forwarded it to the adopted mother’s attorney. I waited. I heard nothing.

Later that year I got access to the internet – still a rather new media for the masses. Of course I did an internet search on his name… and up came his name on a role-playing game site! He was online! He played computer games! He wasn’t a baby anymore; he was a kid. A smart kid. He wasn’t some stupid drug user like his father, he was a computer boy. The years had suddenly leaped by. There he was. Wow.
I was excited. I was scared. I had information now – an address and phone number that I couldn’t do a damn thing with. Nor was I about to. But having that information was powerful. He was alive. He was out there. And someday, when I thought he was ready… I would reach out. Someday.

November, 2003. A few weeks past my 37th birthday, mama to 2 ½ year old Zuzu and heavily pregnant with Josie, I sat down at my computer and did my yearly internet search for my son. The same old stuff came up… and something new. A poetry site. A page of his poetry. My heart stopped. I still was not going to contact him… he’s too young, I thought. But then I found a poem that made me weep with sorrow – he believed he was the product of a rape! I could not let him continue to believe that. I could not.

Two days later, my son and I made contact. “What took you so long?” he asked.
I will say this. For nearly twenty years, there was a hole in my soul – as if I was missing part of a lung. Every time I thought of him it was an incomplete breath. But now, when I think of him, I can breathe. My soul is full, my spirit at peace. My child is with me.

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