I’ve just tucked my children into bed and am scouring my closet for something to wear in the morning. It’s going to be unseasonably warm and I need to leave the house to drop off Anna and her bestie at preschool. I want to be comfortable but perhaps wear something other than a sweatshirt, mainly because my favorite ones are dirty. And there it is, the blue flannel shirt hanging nonchalantly beside my other blue hued shirts. I flashback to last February, a few days after my son Henry was born.
Exhaustion had set in from being up for what seemed like a week straight. We were still settling into the ‘newness’ of Henry and learning to live as a family of four. He’d come home from the hospital less than a week before and I’d begun snapping at people from lack of sleep. With Anna napping and Ken taking care of Henry, I’d crawled into bed, still in the blue flannel shirt and jeans, the cozy fleece sheets welcoming me into a much-needed slumber.
The phone woke me up. Immediately my heart plunged. I just knew. I knew that ring had bad news attached to it. I scrambled out of bed but didn’t quite make it to the kitchen in time to answer. The caller i.d. further confirmed my suspicions. It was our adoption agency calling. My heart sank.
You see, this adoption was totally different from that of Anna’s and had been from the beginning. With our daughter we were nervous about things falling through but the small tidbits of news we received during her birth mother’s pregnancy were always positive. With this situation we felt as if we received negative news alongside the positive. There were snippets of information leading us to believe that a family member might decide to take steps to parent the baby, but these rumblings never amounted to anything. Then Henry was born, we roomed with him in the hospital, and we took him home to his new house. We introduced him to his big sister, both sets of grandparents came to visit, and he wore clothes we picked out just for him. We were in it for the long haul because, after all, this was our son.
I called the agency back and learned that a family member had taken the basic steps necessary to gain custody of Henry. These steps become part of the legal system and we could do nothing but wait as things played out. We were given a choice. Did we want to parent Henry with the possibility that he may leave? Or would we decide the hurt would be too great and sever ties before we became too invested? We gave the same answer as the one we gave throughout his birth mother’s pregnancy: we will keep going. We felt God put Henry in our lives for a reason and we didn’t want to give up on the idea of him being a part of our family. We knew we might be hurt beyond what we could imagine but we had to at least try.
I felt numb the rest of the afternoon. The potential loss had intensified exponentially since we brought Henry home. He was no longer in his birth momma’s belly; he was our son. We knew the scratches on his cheeks came from his long fingernails. We knew which hat stayed on his head and which ones slipped off when he wiggled. We knew he slept the best when we held him. We knew he liked to stretch his legs and that his little heels would touch causing his toes to point out. We raced to get him dressed because he would start to scream when he got cold.
That night I looked at him as he lay swaddled in his cream sleep sack with a brown and blue striped cap on his head, the translucent hospital issued pacifier in his mouth for the time being. His tiny eyes were shut tight against the light and, for the moment, he slept peacefully in his bassinet. I started to cry as questions raced in my mind. How would I get up each night and feed this baby? What would it do to Anna and her understanding of adoption if we have to return Henry to his birth family? What would we do with the clothes we bought for Henry? Would his birth family appreciate the quilt my mom made especially for him?
It is hard for me to admit that I did not easily fall head over heels in love with my baby. I regret I could not fully bond with Henry when we both needed it most because of that nasty emotion called fear. It terrified me to open my heart and let it potentially break in ways I didn’t know how to fix.
The details of this time last year haunt me. I remember the day of the phone call each time I pull out my blue flannel shirt, the shirt I didn’t let myself wear until we finalized Henry’s adoption. I remember the numb feeling of receiving frightening news while trying to be present in the moment with Anna and Henry. I remember the depth of sadness I felt when I realized I would have to relay this news over to my husband. I remember how it felt deciding what to tell our families and friends; trying to explain that we would need their support and understanding as we waited to see what would happen next. I remember wondering if it was fair to extended family to begin to bond with Henry knowing that he may leave. I remember going out in public as a family of four and introducing Henry as our son while doubts played out in the back of my mind.
How do I do this God? How do I let myself love this baby knowing that we might be told he is no longer ours?
Love him, he replied.
I’m as sure that the answer came from above as I am sure that the chair I am sitting in is brown. Two words. Love him.
Throughout all the ups and downs of the legal matters, all the rumblings of bad news I clung to those two words: Love him. Focusing on loving Henry and leaving the rest to God became my priority. I learned that he liked to be swaddled tight and he detested being cold. He craved touch and the warmth of my arms so I learned how to wear him in a wrap. I, somewhat begrudgingly, I’ll admit, woke in the middle of the night to feed him and rock him back to sleep. Throughout all this we formed a bond deeper than I could have imagined, a bond that is strengthened each time he takes a tumble and seeks me out for a hug.
Henry is nestled in the crook of my arm now, breathing through a slightly stuffy nose watching the words appear on the computer screen as I type. I wonder, does he know I’m remembering the beginning of his life? His birthday is tomorrow and we will celebrate alongside our boy as he samples chocolate cake for the first time. We will make homemade ice cream and I will try to push aside the feelings I remember from this time last year. We will open gifts with our family and I will be oh so thankful we are on this side of his birth and can remember the good that came out of a situation that could have ended up so differently. Tomorrow I will wear my blue flannel shirt while celebrating with him instead of wondering where he is.
Guest post written by Jessica Wagner. Jessica is a wife, mother of two, and a teacher taking a break from the classroom. She spends her days chasing her kiddos, coaxing her chickens away from the road and savoring the respite called nap-time. This is her first published piece.