Taking Care of the Sad Part

an essay by Catherine M. Anderson

After traveling half way across the country in three snowstorms, for over thirty-six hours, I have finally arrived here-outside of this little North Carolina hospital room at 4:30 in the morning. Down the hall I hear two nurses mumbling, and the sound of generic holiday music coming from somewhere. The smell of last night’s blanched peas and meatloaf, mixed with ammonia lingers in the air.

I knock on the door.

I am a thirty-eight year old woman, standing on the threshold of the most important introduction I will ever make. I wait to hear the voice of the twenty-four year old woman who is about to offer me her child to call my own.

Unless she has changed her mind.

“Come in.” A small voice beckons from inside the room.

I open the door too slowly. Or was it too quickly?

There is a bed. There is a broad shouldered twenty-four year old black woman in a hospital gown with her hair pulled back holding a baby in her arms.  Holding my baby in her arms? She is feeding him a bottle sitting up in the bed. The baby is making little content noises. There is a little bureau. There is a nurse call button.

And, now there is a stranger that she read about in a fourteen page bound prospective- mother-profile with color photos, testimonials, and a plan to be an almost perfect parent in her door way.

Is that him? He is so much lighter than I expected. And, she is so much darker.

“Isn’t he beautiful?” she asks, without looking at me.

The door that I just walked in now feels hundreds of miles behind me. I approach carefully, as if I am in the museum witnessing the Mona Lisa for the first time. Only she is breathing, and holding my son.

I sit lightly on the corner of the her bed. His fingers are curled in a ball under his chin. His nose is squished. Her sadness crushes me. Or is it my ambivalence that I belong in this moment with this complete stranger that is pressing against my lungs. I haven’t slept in almost two days. I place the nearly lifeless bouquet of airport vending machine roses on the counter behind her. I notice the stain from the airplane salad dressing on my jeans.

“Can I get you anything?” I ask.

“Do you want to hold him?” Comes out of her more as a command then a question.

Before I can say yes, the nurse comes in to take the baby away for his his hearing test. She does not know how to greet me. Thankfully, she does not tell me to leave even though visiting hours ended hours ago.

“Is the social worker from the hospital here? I have some papers I am supposed to , um, uh. sign.” I offer with forced confidence.

“It is five-thirty in the morning.” The nurse quips. “My shift is about to end. You’ll have to ask the day nurse to see if they can find you what you need. I don’t know nothing about that.” She leaves.

Alone in the room, we decide quickly to part ways so that I can check into the motel up the road, and she can take a shower while they have the baby. We agree that I’ll come back at seven-thirty. I’ll bring Ronda then too, my best friend who made the trip with me.

“Would you like me to bring you coffee or anything when I come back?”

“No. But, have you picked out his name?” she says. “He needs a name.”  From coffee to a name, this is symbolic of the completely different worlds we are inhabiting at this moment.

We had talked about names on the phone from various airports. She wanted Joshua. I didn’t. I wanted Dexter, she didn’t like that. We had left off at Samuel, when we last spoke.

“Sam. Samuel. Samuel Lamoyne as a middle name. The La in Lamoyne is for you, it is usually L-e-m-o-y-n-e, but I want your name to be part of his*.” I take my time with this sentence for once.

“That’s nice. Real nice.” It is the first time she smiles with me.

She gets up slowly and lifts herself off of the bed. I offer my arm too late. She gets her towel, and slippers and waits for me to leave.

***

Back in the little hotel I tell Ronda that I have made a huge mistake. I am incapable of parenting a child. She tells me to get some sleep. She is right.

Less than two hours later, the hotel phone rings. It is the social worker back in Maine.

“The birthmother  needs you to show your joy. She doesn’t think you love her baby.”

***

Ronda and I walk in together. Ronda’s Charlottesville accent, and easy going charm, immediately take over the room. Laughter smoothes out all of our wrinkles. Samuel is brought back in the room. He is awake. He is screaming.

“Come here, Fatso. You’re hungry. Come here now.” His birthmother gently eases the bottle in his little screeching mouth, as I look on carefully.

“Do you want to feed him?” she asks. This time it feels like a request.

“Yes. Yes, please.”I open my arms to receive him, and then scoop him from her as she steadies the bottle. I take over easily.  “He is beautiful. He could not be more beautiful.”

“He is funny looking with his nose all squished up there and all them curls. He scared all other other babies in the nursery ‘cause he’s so big.” She tells us, while straitening out her gown, and smoothing back her hair. “I look a mess. My kids are gonna be here in an hour, I can’t be looking like I need to be checked into a hospital when they come.”

“No you don’t,” I blurt out-looking her in the eyes for the first time. “I am sorry if you did not know how excited I am. I am just having so many feelings that I couldn’t separate it all out. I feel your sadness, and I wanted to respect that. I didn’t want to start screaming about how gorgeous he is-or how I can’t believe that my prayers are answered here in this little bundle of love-when-when so deeply I sense your sadness. Your grief.”

“I just need you to be happy, and let me take care of the sad part, “she tells me, touching his hair. “He’ll be screaming soon anyway, so you’ll need to scream if you want nobody to hear you.”

The next few hours feel easy and important. She gets dressed to go. Then we sign papers. We take pictures. We hug. We take more pictures. I worry that everyone really hopes Ronda will be Samuel’s mother since she is so pretty and funny. But, I am sure that I get big points for having such charming friends.

We meet her three beautiful and sweet and smart children. Her oldest is eight, then three, and the baby, the other baby, is just eleven months. I feel guilty as I feel so much relief that they all appear so healthy, present and normal. We share stories with her sister, and listen in as she tells her father over the phone that I am there, and everything is OK.

It is time to say good-bye.

Before they leave, she and I take a few minutes alone with the baby. I hand him back, and ask her to think about what she would like for him in the world, and to tell me why she has chosen to place him with me. When she is ready to do that, I will come back in, and tell her why I am ready to welcome him into my heart, and life.

It takes only a few minutes for the door to re-open.

“I love you, Fatso. I love you. I know Miss Catherine here will love you too. I know she’ll give you everything you need because she told me she will. I want you to be happy baby, and listen, and be good. You make me proud, baby. Mama L loves you.” She kisses him, and places him in my arms.

* Although I have included two letters of her name in the story, I have chosen to withhold the entirety of her name here, to protect her identity.

Catherine Maryse Anderson is a single parent head of a transracial household. She is a poet, literary salon hostess, and public school language arts humanities teacher in Portland, Maine. Her poetry and essays have appeared in Hip Mama Magazine, Adoptive Families Magazine, and on Love Isn’t Enough (formerly Anti Racist Parent), My Brown Baby, Color Online, and Adoption Mosaic Blog and newsletter. She has been featured on the Mixed Chicks Chat podcast , writes for Moms of Hue  and blogs at MamaCandtheboys.

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