Not 24 hours after learning I was a mother, I was pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving. Two cop cars, four officers. Do they take new moms to jail?
I woke up in a hotel room 16 hours prior. I didn’t anticipate a brush with the law in those first dark minutes in a strange bed. Nor did I expect a son. I got up and sat at the little table near the lamp and rehearsed the talk I was to give that evening.
This was supposed to be a weekend away for a church women’s retreat. Straightforward. No major life changes on the itinerary. I’d had this date highlighted in my planner for three months. Odds being what they were, only in the most passing of thoughts did I consider this might be the day. The Day.
By eight I stood alone in the elevator, down down down to the lobby. Then came the breakfast, eggs, coffee, little folded signs telling us the hotel was proud to brew Starbucks. I thought of the man waking up in my bed far away who would believe there was little pride to be had there. But, no mimosas, no Bloody Mary’s, in case you were wondering.
At 8:45 a.m. I missed a call. The Call. In our world: The Missed Call.
At 9 a.m., it’s a boy! And so followed three dizzy hours of calls and texts and pinching myself.
12-4 p.m.: blurry hours. Between massive excitement over the baby news and minor nerves over my impending talk, I floated through the day, my head in the clouds, my eyes on my notes (have letters always spun on the page?) my heart racing. All I could think was his name.
5 p.m., dinner, some chain, whoever could take a last minute party of 14. A wagon wheel on the wall, pictures of bison. The coffee snob likes bison. I snagged a newspaper off a table in the lobby on my way out. This is a day worthy of saving. The day I became a mom. My sentimentality got the best of me. Let’s save a newspaper! Soon after we were seated a wool fiber lodged in my eye. It irritated me all through dinner. I excused myself a noticeable number of times. Have I scratched my eye? Is this something worse? Will I be able to give my talk? My sweater, so carefully chosen, now bore a dark horizontal shadow, a water mark from leaning over the bathroom sink. My dinner went cold. I rode back to the hotel with one eye squeezed shut. Someone advised me to blink excessively. It didn’t work.
6:30, 10 minutes before my talk, a tap on my shoulder. Angie, my friend, she’d just rounded the corner after a terrible bout of morning sickness. She held out a white cup. “Sorry about your eye. I’ve had that happen, it’s terrible. Would coffee help? Pumpkin latte? It’s decaf.” I kid you not, one sip of a decaf PSL and my eye was healed. A miracle. I smiled. I thought of my baby.
6:45, so probably bedtime, yeah? What did I know. Sleep tight, baby boy. I thought that. I wished for ESP. The social workers said the foster family caring for our son was one of the very best, the most loving. I said a hurried prayer, be right about that. (They were right about that.)
7, go time. My eye is healed by the powers of pumpkin, my shirt is dry by the powers of time and Indian Summer. I did what I came to do.
7:45-10 That After Hours Dorm Life, Sorta. Come to my room. Who wants to go to the fire pit? Who wants to go get some French fries? Movie and face masks in our room. And then, Who wants donuts? Me, always me. We drove around for an hour. Every donut shop was closed. We pleaded with the tired and amused workers at Krispy Kreme. They smiled at us and continued to stack chairs. Please, just five minutes, we’ll be in and out. She just found out she has a son, can’t you spare a donut. We’ll pay extra. What if we just waited by the dumpster and you brought out a box and we paid you straight cash.
So yes, I did do something shady that night. But no, I was not drunk. I am proud to say I was sober when I begged to meet someone at a dumpster and trade cash for donuts. The loyal Krispy Kreme employees held fast, but a supermarket with a jammed door had the goods. We squeezed in at an angle, praying the automatic door wouldn’t at that very moment right itself and crush our ribs, got the dregs of the donut options, and sailed back to the hotel. Giggling. Loud music. Texts pinging all around.
I tried to explain. My husband and I, we’re parents! We’ve been in this long adoption process and we just got the call today! I have a son! Yes, really. Nine months (not true). We pick him up Tuesday. And then, Karen’s voice from my backseat: “Would you like a donut?” She held the tan box high. The officer at my window laughed. He called over his shoulder, “We just got offered donuts.” She offered the cops our donuts! And it was magnificent! Pure comedic genius, or at least some kind of genius because they declined the donuts but offered congratulations and let us go.
We howled all the way back to the hotel. Word spread of our escape from arrest.
That is what happened the day I found out you were mine. Tell me, Ridley, does that sound like the day of a woman who was just given a consolation prize? Do you remember with cinematic clarity every detail of the days you file under meh? Does second best call for donuts and erratic driving? Really, I am asking. You tell me.
You’re five, so they’ve stopped saying it in front of you. For a while they said it right to your face. And mine. “He looks so much like you guys.” I’d think in my head, in Johnny Cash’s voice “I hear that train a comin.”
The glance down at your baby sister. It’s rollin’ round the bend.
The question: Did you guys try to get pregnant first?
The old scab: the miscarriages.
The dagger: Isn’t it amazing how that works. You hear that all the time. Once you stopped trying.
I get it. This is, by all accounts, not the most heinous comment that could be made to a mother. It’s not even heinous at all. These folks, often lovely people, are not approaching us to cause harm.
But I fear what they are saying will do exactly that. To you. I fear their words will cause great harm.
You were the bridge.
The necessary fork in the road.
The antidote. The fertility drug.
Adoption is voodoo. Isn’t it amazing how that works?
And here the current really gets moving under the placid surface of those innocent comments because for some families, this is true and wonderful and not offensive. I’ve read the posts and heard the stories and clicked the red heart on the long caption explaining how we got to the ultrasound photo in the picture above.
Some people try to have a biological baby and when that doesn’t work, they move toward adoption and in a large number of stories, these parents eventually welcome a biological baby into their family.
I think this is fantastic. I mean it. I am crying at the baby showers with all of the rest of the people who for this child prayed.
I know what it is to long, long, to have a child with the person you love most. I know what it is to wonder if that will ever happen, and to mostly believe the fear that resides in your heart that tells you, that tells you all the time: it never will.
I know what it is to be told by a doctor I feel good about this one and to hide my maniac, Wuthering Heights Heathcliff eyes, and do all that I can not to grab them by the white collar and say do you really?!?
But. That’s not why you’re here. That’s not the reason every single person starts filling out those stacks of papers. And it matters.
The comic irony: the pregnancies—though doomed— were themselves plan B, after a failed adoption. Isn’t it amazing how that happened? The whole truth is we didn’t plan to have you first. We didn’t plan to adopt through the government at all. I spent most of my teen and young adult years imaging my first born as a little Chinese girl and when that didn’t work we tried for Ethiopia and then Columbia and when none of those worked we gave up and got pregnant. That didn’t work the first time or the second. So then from my bed, in my pajamas, while recovering from miscarriage two, I clicked on the words Find Out More. Three weeks later we sat in a jumbo room of a county hospital and got tested for TB and raised our hands to ask if it would be okay that we had two German Shepherds. Oh, to think back on all the unnecessary worry over a dog named after Sirius Black. We were always on the road to you. It was just that then, that day, the day of so I see here you prefer no pit bulls but we actually have … we could finally locate ourselves on a map.
Does that bother you? Will you always wish you had been first, before the dead end international adoptions and the pregnancies that didn’t make it out of summer?
Maybe I hate the comment because I harbor the same belief. This is what your father calls a presupposition. Maybe just like the friendly people who smile at you and your siblings, I pre-suppose that love has to be linear to be love. The best kind at least. The believable kind.
Adoption is fraught with doubts.
And though we walked toward you our entire lives, we didn’t walk a straight line.
The truth: is that what this is about?
One night, a few years ago, a nice woman at a party told me you will have an identity crisis. I repeat: will. I believed her. She said it could be catastrophic, drop out of college, change your name, scream in the driveway that you hate us. It could be relatively minor. Like what, like go to a Burning Man festival? She didn’t laugh.
Now I don’t laugh either. She might be right. Someday, you might be sad.
I decided to take a stand that night. Not my kid. Not my story. Not on my watch. You keep your will, lady. Who asked you?
Maybe it was a mistake to bring this up. Have I only managed to upset you, upset everyone I tell. Why do people always have to say that, I’ll comment once we’re all in the car, out of earshot. I wish she’d let this go. Is that what everyone is thinking? Am I villainizing? Judging? Over analyzing? Being too critical?
Twenty years from now will you put your hand on my shoulder and say, Mom. Mom. Don’t get so worked up?
I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought this up. You know how I get.
But I need us to talk about it. Me and you.
Will you please talk about it? Please tell me if you heard it. Do you still? Please tell me if it hurt you. Does it hurt, my boy? Please tell me you know it’s not true. It’s not, you got that? You are not voodoo, the hocus pocus of all our real hopes.
That train is always comin’. I’ll stand in front of it for you.