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Nancy Bo Flood’s No Name Baby is a multifaceted story, set in the aftermath of World War II, of a teenager’s discovery of family secrets. In this poetic and compassionate telling, readers are drawn into Sophie’s story as she learns her mother is not her birthmother and a family secret slowly unravels as she learns that her aunt Rae is the woman who gave birth to her. While this is a novel of family secrets revealed, it is also the story of Sophie’s coming of age. The novel opens with Sophie refusing to help her mother with the family’s pigs. When her mother falls and goes into premature labor, Sophie believes it is her fault.  Her new baby brother is born so early, his survival is uncertain. According to one reviewer, “Flood succeeds in creating a story that doesn’t pull any punches about life or death, but it’s far from grim – we’re left with a great appreciation for the resilience of the human spirit.”

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We published Bonnie Peters’s short story, “ambien 10 mg costseveral weeks ago. Here, she speaks with us about writing and raising a daughter with disabilities.

side effects of generic ambien crWhat was your inspiration for your short story “A Hole in the Roof”?

Years ago, I taught a Sunday school class my daughter Sara attended.  Mark 2:1-12 was to be the story for the week and as I read and reread the scripture to prepare, the words bothered me.  I knew the story held an important truth, but I was afraid the students and most importantly Sara would only see the literal message – that Sara or her family had sinned and the punishment resulted in Sara’s physical disabilities.

 I solved my problem the coward’s way by skimming over Jesus’ words to the paralytic and emphasizing the message of how far we might go to help our friends.   The story tells about faithful friends lifting up a full grown man to the roof of a house, and then tearing a hole through this roof to lower him to a place of healing next to Jesus.  The tale inspired me.  The words sin and forgiveness frightened me.

Not long after the Sunday school incident, Sara and I were shopping.  As I pushed my daughter’s wheelchair between racks of clothes in a department store, an employee walked up to us.  Without even a greeting first, the man offered what he must have felt was life changing advice.  “If you had more faith, she could walk.”  He no doubt meant well, but my anger at the man’s insensitivity kept me awake for many nights.

I held these two events inside until I worked them out in a story.  As always, the characters took off in their own direction.  I never resolved any major spiritual questions, but the scripture is no longer scratching at my heart.

 

I love the way you link a mother’s desperation for her daughter to be well, whole, healed with the biblical story of the friends who lowered a crippled man through the roof so that Jesus could heal them. The ending of your story has so much pathos, with your main character Anna realizing that she, too, would do whatever it took—anything—if she just knew where to look to find healing for her daughter. Can you talk a little bit about your artistic impulse in leaving this aspect of the story open to so many different possible interpretations?

 When we first adopted Sara, I had the arrogance to question how any mother could give up their child.  Because I couldn’t understand it, I wrote about it, trying to experience life from the eyes of a mother in a different place than the one I have enjoyed.  I wanted to know her emotions, her questions.  That is why I read stories.  That is why I write stories—not to tell my story, but to feel their story.  I didn’t want to tell the reader what decision Anna made; I wanted the reader to feel the pain of having to make such a choice and ask herself what decision she might have made under similar circumstances. 

 I grew up in a Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, Cosby Show type family.  It is easy for me to love God as my Father because I have a fabulous human father that I honor.  It was easy for me to adopt and care for a child with severe disabilities because I grew up with a mother that nurtured and loved me.  As an adult, I also had support all around me, the support necessary to cope with the not so normal aspects of parenting a child with disabilities.  My husband and I had everything we needed to walk, climb, and lift another person to some level of healing and comfort, and that is what Jesus expects us to do.

 

As a teacher of teenagers with disabilities, and as a mother to a child with similar disabilities as Marah’s, can you talk about the unique challenges  a single mother of a child with cerebral palsy and possible mental retardation faces? Are there resources out there to help her?

As a teacher of children with mental and physical disabilities, I knew how difficult parenting a child with many needs would be.   And I was quite certain that I would never be up to such a task. 

My husband and I gave birth to an adorable little boy and when he was five, decided to adopt a little girl from Korea.  God had other plans and led us to Sara.  In spite of my reservations, it was love at first sight.

Sara became our daughter when she was three years old and lived with us until she was twenty-four. She has spastic cerebral palsy that involves all four limbs and is also mildly mentally challenged.   At first, Sara only had a vocabulary of ten words.  But competition with her new brother caused rapid growth in her expressive language abilities.  She learned to speak so she could tell her brother what to do or not to do and then tell on him when he wouldn’t comply with her wishes.  As with all children, you laugh, you cry, you are amazed, you are sometimes even horrified by the things they do and say.  I think these moments are intensified with children who have disabling conditions.  Sara has inspired me, energized me, frustrated me, and exhausted me. 

With her big hazel eyes, thick brown hair, and a beautiful smile, Sara could and still can charm the most hardened personality.  When tickled by something, she laughs from her belly.  ambien pill genericWhen Sara is angry, she can scream with a pitch just shy of breaking glass.  She is a master manipulator, very observant of details, and has bionic hearing when it comes to things you don’t want her to hear.  She loves to know what is going on in everyone’s lives and then tell everyone else.  I learned to not skinny dip in my backyard pool ever again if I don’t want Sara’s entire elementary school to hear about it.

 I didn’t find the challenges of parenting a special needs child too daunting early on.  For one thing, I knew our daughter had cerebral palsy before she was our child, so there weren’t any expectations shattered.  I also didn’t carry the guilt many mothers mistakenly feel after giving birth to a child with disabilities.  Because Sara was a special needs adoption, financial support had been set up for us even before the adoption took place.  If Sara had been born to me, I would have had to seek out and maybe even fight for the financial help.

I don’t want to sound like it was an easy twenty- one years while Sara lived with us.  It wasn’t.  The stress of constant care-giving built over time.  Sara was tiny for her age, yet the necessary tasks of diapering, dressing, bathing, and lifting her from one position to another quickly became exhausting even with the help of her father.  At ages three, four, five, even six – it wasn’t much of an issue.  By the time Sara was a teenager, I was building up some muscles and tired of wiping her butt.

When I worked, I had a part-time helper assist me in the afternoons.  Still, I had to take time off to drive Sara to appointments at orthopedic clinics, neurology clinics, and wheelchair clinics. Sara had physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy.  So far she has needed six major surgeries with week -long hospital stays and two or three outpatient surgeries.  The home care after the surgeries was often brutal.  I found myself sobbing uncontrollably after spending too many nights of getting up every two hours to change her position and/or to clean diarrhea out of the half-body cast the doctors had bound her in. 

 Sara became the major focus of our lives.  She had to be.  We made time for our son, but probably not as much time as we would have had his sister been more physically able to do things.  Family vacations had to be limited to ones that didn’t include hiking, biking, kayaking, or going anyplace lacking in wheelchair accessibility.  Otherwise, one of us needed to be left behind, making the vacation a little less family oriented. 

Wherever we went, Sara was given plenty of positive attention.  A cute little girl in a pink wheelchair is not a threat or scary to even young children.  People were very accepting, accommodating, and helpful the majority of places we went.  They often went out of their way to speak to her, tell her how cute she looked.  

I still remember the time we attended a county fair.  Alden wanted to win one of the huge stuffed animals and tried many times at various booths—penny toss, shooting range, balloon busting, etc.—but only managed to win a tiny plastic toy.  My husband and I gave him the “you can’t win them all”, “the fun is in the playing, not the winning” talk and he was buying it until one of the carnies took pity on Sara.  She had also been playing the games with a lot of help from her dad, but still hadn’t come close to winning even the smallest of prizes.  The man at the penny tossing booth gave Sara one of the coveted bears, a brown teddy as big as she was.   Alden smiled, but I could see how invisible he felt. 

Life is much easier now.  Sara moved to a group home four years ago at the age of 24.  Her home is next to the school where I teach and we see each other a couple of times a week.  She manages to text or call me a couple of times a day, and attends all family and holiday gatherings.  

We—myself, Sara’s father, step father, brother, step siblings, and the extended family- are all so thankful to have Sara woven tightly within our lives. The difficulties have only made the fabric of our existence richer, rarer, and more luxurious.  But I am well aware of how much easier our journey with Sara has been because of the support system we have been graced with. 

 Do I understand how Sara’s mom could make the decision to give her up?  Yes, I believe I do.   My heart breaks for all the Annas out there living in circumstances that require them to even consider giving up their child.  I applaud their bravery and their sacrifice for making a selfless choice, either direction they take.

Did you worry about how Alden might have responded to your choice to adopt a child with disabilities, given how that rearranged the focus of your family?

I worried about Alden feeling slighted until he showed me a paper he had written his senior year in high school.  Alden was asked to write about the most important year of his life.  He wrote about the year we adopted Sara, 1987.

In his paper, Alden told about some of the frustrating times.  “If I felt like jumping right into something and Sara was with me, I couldn’t because of her needs.”   He mentioned the disappointing times.  “They (friends and their siblings) could play on the swings or go swimming in the pool and play basketball outside, but I wasn’t able to enjoy those things with my sister.”  But he concluded on a positive note.   “Even though there have been tough times, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  Sara has made me a better person, and I thank her for the things she has taught me. ”

Do you have any regrets about how your family responded to the challenges of raising a child with disabilities and a child with no disabilities?

Giving birth to my son and adopting Sara are two of my greatest blessings.   I didn’t and don’t always appreciate those blessings.   When Alden became a teen, I had regrets about giving birth to such a mean, disrespectful, ungrateful human being.   I questioned the sanity of anyone who even thought about having a child.  Why give birth to someone who hates you?  Sara to this day can become so frustrated and angry that she takes it out on anyone close enough to scratch or be deafened by her piercing screams.  Those are times I daydream about life without a disabled child.   But my moments of regret are fleeting.  I thank God for both of them, 99% of the time. 

What stories are you working on now?

Two months ago, my husband (Sara’s step father) and I were given the opportunity to share our home with a young man who didn’t have one.  It has already been an emotional ride, full of ups and downs and swift turns.  John and I are old enough for AARP cards and having a teenager living with us brings back feelings and fears we had long forgotten.

Our new charge has seen plenty of difficulties in his seventeen years, and his life story has motivated me to write.  I don’t know where his character will lead me.  I’m not sure if we will stick close to the truth or if a new story will appear in the writing.

I am also revising and updating a couple of young adult books I wrote years ago. 

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fiction by Bonnie Peters

On her first birthday, Marah couldn’t sit up, or roll over, or say “mama.” Her head wobbled like one of those dash-board dolls.

“We could suction cup her butt and stick her right over your glove box.  Kinda like that Hawaiian Hula girl Dave used to have in his old Chevy.”  Karol, Anna’s mom, laughed as she kissed Marah’s toes.

Anna had to hold her daughter’s chin while she spoon fed her a piece of the birthday cake, mashed up with the white and pink icing and a little milk.  Marah’s left eye looked at her nose whenever she tried to focus on a face.  Drool and pieces of cake pooled in the left corner of her mouth and returned there within seconds after Anna wiped it away.

 At her twelve month check-up, the pediatrician gently pushed and stretched Marah’s legs into strange frog like positions.

“Marah needs surgery to correct the scissoring.”  Dr. Allen looked at Anna and must have seen her confusion. “The tightness and crossing of Marah’s legs makes it hard to position and clean her properly. After surgery, you’ll be able to take care of her easier.” 

When Anna didn’t say anything, the doctor continued.  “We’ll wait on the surgery, but I’m writing a prescription for physical and occupational therapy that she should start right away.  Lacey, at the front desk, will give you some paperwork to fill out so you can get help with all the services Marah is going to need.”

When Anna still didn’t respond, Dr. Allen put his hand on her shoulder.  “Anna, do you realize that Marah is never going to grow up normal?  Her cerebral palsy and probable mental retardation are going to require a lot of extra support.”

Anna smiled, nodded her head, and after paying the bill and sliding the therapy prescriptions behind the last twenty in her wallet, she put Marah in her car seat and drove back home.  Words kept repeating and echoing in her head—cerebral palsy, mental retardation, surgery, therapy, not normal.

A couple of months ago, Anna had been given a pamphlet explaining the medical term cerebral palsy, but it was confusing.  So, Anna had looked up each word, first cerebral and then palsy in the library dictionary—intellectual tremors, cerebrum shakes?  Marah didn’t shake; she jabbed.  She could push out her arms and legs so hard they could pierce through you if they were swords.  zolpidem best price

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Interview by Jessica Powers

Last week, we published Leslie Worthington’s short story, long term ambien usage a story about a young woman, pregnant and  unwed, and trying to deal with her emotions as the father of her baby arranges an adoption. This week, I spoke with her about the spark for her story; about the realities of young women and pregnancy both today and back in the 1960s, when the story is set; and about why writing about these issues is important.

1. What was the spark for your story?

 The spark for the story came from a single sentence: “Bastard babies are born with broken hearts.”  That popped into my head, and I liked the alliteration and the oxymoronic nature of the phrase “bastard babies.”  We don’t use the word “bastard” in its original sense much anymore, so it added a shock to the statement.  At first, I thought the sentence was a line of poetry, but it eventually became the story “The Beach House.”  I wrote the story around it.

 2. Setting (time and place) is critical for this story. Can you give us a little bit of historical background for women who found themselves in your protagonist’s situation (unwed, pregnant) in the 1960s, when this story is set? The 1960s are an interesting bridge between cultural mores since the so-called “sexual revolution” was happening yet it was before Roe v. Wade.

Women find themselves in this situation even today.  Their options may be different, but sometimes when they are young and poor as Cecelia is, things aren’t all that different.  I set the story in the 60’s partly because I wanted the reader to think about that.  At first glance, you can say “oh, thank goodness it isn’t like that anymore.”  But is that really true?  Yes, as you say the sexual revolution had begun, but yet women didn’t have access to reliable birth control, there was no planned parenthood, and the options were, keep the child or put it up for adoption.  I think most women got married whether they wanted to or not.  Those who put their babies up for adoption were often hidden away as Cecelia is.  These girls were kicked out of school and sometimes sent off to homes for unwed mothers or to live with family far away so they could come back and pretend nothing had ever happened.  No one spoke of the child, and the girl could never speak of what had happened to her.  Another option was sometimes to give the child to a family member as Cecelia’s mother had left her to be raised by her grandmother.  Most of the time, these women never had a voice or avenue for release, a way to deal with their loss and pain over the huge thing that had happened to them.  They just had to shove it down inside themselves.

 
 
 

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Dr. Leslie Worthington

Despite easy access to birth control, despite additional options, despite the lessened stigma on pregrancy without marriage, women, not just girls, still find themselves in this situation.  As a college English professor, I meet them all the time.  They are in my classes, they miss exams to have babies, and they write essays about babies they’ve lost and given up.  And society now, in the twenty-first century, isn’t as forgiving as we might like to think; these women aren’t always as forgiving of themselves. 

For Cecelia, she isn’t going to get married.  The baby’s father doesn’t have that in mind.  Her family thinks she is, so she can’t even go home without humiliation.  Can she go home to her grandparents with a baby, as her mother did?  It’s obvious she doesn’t have the means to keep the baby and care for it by herself.  It’s also obvious that she doesn’t want to give that baby up.  She’s decided on the baby’s gender, given him a name, and a future.  She’s imagined his future without her.  She’s fallen in love with her child before he’s even born, as mothers do.  Cecelia faces a horrible dilemma.

3. I love the ending, where we don’t know if Cecilia dies or just imagines her death and, later, makes it to shore. Metaphorically, however, she felt as though her life was essentially over. Can you talk about how you crafted the ambiguity and the metaphor into that ending?

I guess I haven’t thought much about intentionally crafting the ambiguity of the ending.  I’ve displeased some readers who couldn’t believe I’d create a woman who would kill her child.  I think the ambiguity comes from the fact that even Cecelia doesn’t know what she’s going to do.  She doesn’t set out intending to commit suicide.  She doesn’t go into the water intending it.  Maybe she thinks she’s letting fate take over, and the universe will decide.  She’s been in denial, not thinking about what’s going to happen.  She’s a very adaptable person, as we can see from her memories of her life before the baby.  She’s alone, and her future is uncertain, but she’s making the best of where she’s found herself.  She’s enjoying the leisure, her reading, the beach.  Being able to adapt to change and stick it out through hard times is a desirable and even admirable quality, but sometimes it hurts us.  Sometimes we need to be able to say, “No, stop this” “or I want out of this.  I’m not going to take this anymore.”  Wes’s remark about this being over soon sets her thinking more deeply about her situation.  So when she sets out for her walk that day, reality is flooding over her.  She does not want to give up her baby, and maybe killing herself and taking the baby with her is the only control she’s ever going to have over her own life.

One thing I did want the story to have was metaphor.  I wanted the things she sees on her walk along the beach to have meaning to her, as our surroundings take on life and meaning when significant things are happening to us internally.  Yellow houses become symbols of a happy life.  Birds protecting their nests become young mothers who have to give up their babies.  The world around Cecelia becomes infused with meaning as she becomes more emotionally aware.

4.  Why do you think it’s important to probe these issues surrounding sexuality, pregnancy, and motherhood in literature?

These issues are part of our common experience, and art is a cultural experience as well as an individual one.  I don’t believe literature has to be didactic, but it does need to be about something, something important.  Sexuality, pregnancy, motherhood are all important to who we are as women, and the sharing of these experiences and feelings joins us.  Sharing can sometimes lead to healing.
 

5.  What are you working on now?

I’ve just finished an academic book about intertextual connections between Mark Twain and Cormac McCarthy entitled Cormac McCarthy and the Ghost of Huck Finn.  It was released a couple of weeks ago.  I’m currently working with a colleague on an anthology of essays about images and definitions of home in the work of Appalachian artists.

With my own fiction, I’ve been working on a collection of short stories for some time now.  It will probably be called Odes of Solitude. Each piece has a female character who imagines, remembers, or hallucinates the story, yet she’s the only character who is actually present.  “The Beach House” is part of the collection.  And I continue to write poetry, usually about the experiences of women: career, love, children, grandchildren, and balancing all our many, many roles.

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Poet David Glen Smith

Your poem “ambien price comparison” provides a sensual recreation of the experience of immersion in a foreign language morphing familiar via the body—here through the lens of love and fatherhood and the translation into body rhythms. Can you talk to us about this rich braided layering of history, family history, and future? How you arrived at your metaphors and the process of writing this poem?

For a number of years, after many attempts at learning conversational Spanish, I reached the conclusion all languages are musical in origin, and my approaches conflicted with developing a poetic understanding of the phrasing—sometimes, on a basic level, there is a satisfaction just listening to a group of people absorbed in their cultural conversations without my comprehension of the words: the meaning transforms to music. From that starting ground I wanted to describe the sensation of a persona’s developing understanding of another language through a close relationship: a partner born from another culture. And the persona’s need for his child to understand the background of both parents, both cultures.

Likewise the process of creative thought is similar to language comprehension— in the sense writers often drown themselves in a collection of impressions and sensations in order to sort out and organize the flow of relevant themes and emotional impact to provide their readers. In this poem’s case, by mirroring the experience of language and creativity I opened myself to a wide assortment of material I needed to weave into a specific tapestry of information.

On a recent trip to Puerto Rico I discovered how vast the quantity of history and literature and music were hidden from me, through no one’s fault but my own. Borrowing from my experiences of San Juan —the copper-blue cobble stones for instance, the carts of candy and chipped ice, the older men playing dominos in the town square— I discovered my persona would likewise be alien to the past life experiences of his partner as well as the average day-to-day speech of an unknown city. Once I acknowledged that fact, the watery metaphors quickly swept over the poem.

In “As A Figure of Hermes” the narrator open with the writer’s dilemma: “A moment of confrontation: me and the blank paper,” dilemma enough without the presence of a child to raise and love and imagine a life for over the rest of one’s days. Eventually the narrator latches onto the metaphor of Hermes, sliding into reverie about mortal son. Can you speak to the relationship between fatherhood and writing? How has fatherhood come to bear on your writing life?

With the experience of becoming a father last year, and the whole process of the adoption of our son Brendan, I quickly fell into a mode of redefining myself. Almost immediately a whole new understanding of my goals and aspirations emerged—I know it sounds cliché, but once the title of Father is attributed to you, a strange mindset develops without warning: no matter how much mental preparation you are supplied.

The poem in particular was a projection of a future possibility once Brendan reached his middle teen years—written before a birth mother had even matched with us. What I find interesting, although the projection of him as a dark-haired boy is inaccurate, my fear of a loss of communication with him is very similar to the fear of losing touch with my creative energies. Once, in the mid Nineties, I experienced a long spell of writer’s block, partly self-imposed, partly circumstance. My fear if the blank page echoes my fear of Brendan not understanding the creative energy of a writer-father.

“Without hesitation, / shove kindling and kerosene-soaked-rags / under the foundations of any structure / binding your slender body to the past” opens your powerful poem, “I Tell My Son to Burn Down All Bridges.” This poem strikes me as the kind of letter, as a poet, I would hope to find in my “baby book” (or, from the prenatal birth classes parents of our generation might attend, where one is often asked to write a letter to one’s future child). Can you talk to us about the inspiration behind this poem?

The “Burning Bridges” poem is another example of writing which appeared before we were matched with the birth-mother. It was the first full length poem I wrote addressing my son as an actuality, rather than a possibility due to the fact we were processing the paperwork and profile information for the agency. As you mentioned, it is a letter “exercise” I heard about years before as a means of developing ideas into something stronger and more stable.

Most of the inspiration is based off negative experiences from my immediate past—mainly a one-time corporate employer telling me to not burn any bridges in my exit interview. This of course only made me burn a huge pyre when I left the company to pursue my writing and editing positions. I pray he is never put into such situations of corporate middle management—or ill-advised authority figures—which of course became the backbone of the poem itself.

Furthermore I did not want to bind him to any expectations of my own. Certainly I want him to be involved with the creative arts in same fashion, but it will have to be up to his own choosing, not mine.

Most importantly, I wanted to prepare him in a sense for the opposition he will bump into later in life due to the fact his parents are in a same-sex relationship. I hate that expression; it sums up the situation in a very cold, clinical fashion. Regardless of that fact, I want him to be able to see beyond the definitions and restrictions society often places on diverse thoughts, diverse ideas, to hold firmly to his opinions and live according to a moral code based on his own choice construction, and analytical process.

How do the practices of sketching and writing compete/complement your imagination’s processes?

At one time my sketching was more intensive, more of a ritualized practice which helped explore new ideas—during the drawing process I discovered that the development of new schemes with a different manner of expression brought new focus to writing. However, with Brendan’s birth, my regular practice of drawing and painting has stopped temporarily. Once the demands of raising him lessen slightly, or offer windows of opportunities, I’ll start the process again, exploring a way of bridging the two different fields into one project. I have partially generated a series of Japanese tanka verses partnered with ink-brush illustrations—a project only half realized at the moment. As it stands currently, what resulted is that my two selves, illustrator and poet, tend to argue who is in control of the output. Oftentimes the original idea seems to suffer between the two extremes. A compromise needs to be built between the two aspects of my personality.

Any writing mentors you wish to share with us?

When earning my MFA in Creative Writing at Vermont College, then affiliated with Norwich University, I was fortunate to work with three established writers of merit: Susan Mitchell, Lynda Hull, and Mark Doty. Each of the trio, with their unique methods, did instill a better sense of direction for my writing. Through their individual approaches I strengthened my style of building connections between a variety of themes and story-lines. I always admired the manner their particular styles braid more than one conceit through one body of work. Some quick examples from their creative efforts I often use in my classes: Hull, “Ornithology;” Mitchell, “Havana Birth;” Doty, “Tiara.”

There is much talk recently about the validity of a higher degree in creative writing; at the time I was working towards my own, I felt a strong connection to the concept of guided study for developing a stronger sense of self, a stronger sense of craft. It is not a direction suited for everyone. On a practical level, I chose the MFA specifically to enable me to have a background for teaching university-level courses. On a more emotional approach, I needed to learn how to feel comfortable in my own skin and how to be honest with my own personal experiences.

We understand you are at work on a new series of poems, Quintet, with a unique structure. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Quintet is a manuscript, near completion, which explores numerous interior monologues. I do like the idea of a tight “concept album” in the music industry—in a tongue in cheek manner I created the same idea for a poetry collection. In this sense, the full narrative of a five member modern jazz group is heard. Edgar Lee Masters’ book Spoon River Anthology proved a valid inspiration ever since I read it in high school. In my case, the thoughts and impressions of the band are shown in a manner mirroring the sixties jazz be-bop movement, sudden solo improvisations popping into the middle of a memory without warning. The verses appear alternating between a tight, traditional form and an abstract, expressionistic pattern on the page. In this manner I follow the Modernists from the Twentieth Century, their rebellion against expectation and strict definition.

David-Glen Smith’s work appeared in various magazines including:Assaracus (where “I Tell My Son to Burn Down All Bridges” first appeared), The Centrifugal Eye, ffrrfr, Houston Literary Review, Lady Jane Miscellany, Louisville Review, Mid-America Review, Saltwater Quarterly, Slant, The Steel-Toe Review,and The Write Room. In addition, a recent print anthology titled Ganymede-Unfinished accepted two of his poems. Currently residing in Cypress, Texas with his partner of ten years, they recently adopted a baby boy, a welcome edition in their lives: new topics and inspirations for poetry projects. Smith teaches English Literature at both Wharton County Junior College and Lone Star College-CyFair. He received his MFA at Vermont College, and his MA at the University of MO at St. Louis. For more information visit his generic ambien names.

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An essay by Jody Keisner

 

Besides the frogs, fireflies, grasshoppers, and June bugs that my younger sister Debbie and I trapped in canning jars, my parents adopted seven cats, six dogs, three rabbits, two hamsters, one duck. And me. I had been adopted as a newborn, and Debbie was my parents’ biological child.  I don’t remember some dramatic moment when my parents told me they weren’t my first set of parents. It seems like I have always known. It wouldn’t have bothered me that I was another adoptee in the Keisner menagerie, except we moved to the country when I was nine, and the lives of most of our animals ended tragically. I wondered if I was next.

Our new home was on four acres in Louisville, Nebraska, a town with a population less than 2000. My bedroom faced a mowed front yard that led to dozens of dense trees. Unkempt pasture and the occasional cow bordered one side of our home, separated from us with barbed wire. The adjacent farmland gave us opportunities to stick our noses into trouble. One dog died from a gunshot wound inflicted by a half-blind farmer, one cat met death from a parasite living in cow pies, and a hamster was flattened under a truck. My mother swore an eagle plummeted from the sky to snatch a lap-dog from the snow. I found my rabbit stiff as a board one morning when I went to feed her, the death ruled a mystery. A furry gray and brown puppy we named Odie, who we liked to roll down the sides of a small hill, disappeared into the middle of the night just weeks after his birth in a cardboard box in our garage. Armed with flashlights and Dad, we walked all four acres. We never saw Odie again.

The cats that roamed our property were once kittens Mom had rescued from a farmer whose only other option was a potato sack and a lake. Our dogs were strays my father brought home from the railroad, beaten dogs that tucked tails between legs and wolfed down food in a few bites. Mom’s dog, Ladybug, was different. She had been handpicked and was our only inside pet; she slept on my parents’ bed instead of in the garage on a smelly blanket with the others. A blonde Pekinese Maltese who always had goo in the corner of her eyes, Ladybug followed Mom from room to room, her toenails clicking on the linoleum of the bathroom or kitchen floor while my mother cleaned. She tolerated my sister and me, lifting her pug nose in the air. She allowed us to briefly pet her before prancing through the house, searching for something more entertaining.

I worried about our pets’ bad luck. Was I a doomed stray that had wandered into our family? Or had I been carefully selected like Ladybug, meant for a life of luxury and coddling?  I wasn’t like Debbie, who always wanted to be around my mother, boiling the spaghetti noodles while Mom stirred sauce or cuddling with Mom and Ladybug on the couch, watching Little House on the Prairie. I preferred to be alone, reading books or exploring the neighboring land with one of the transient dogs.

One day, I studied my mother as she sat on the couch, folding laundry into a basket.  She bent awkwardly to avoid waking up Ladybug who lay curled in her lap. Even though she was only 37, half of Mom’s hair was completely gray.

“Your hair looks frosted,” I said. “Like you had it professionally done.” I knew what “frosted” hair was supposed to look like from seeing it on a magazine picture of Madonna. Mom wouldn’t let me listen to “Like a Virgin” on the radio. She claimed I was too young to know about such things, but I learned plenty from listening to the older boys up the road. The thought of my mother and Madonna sharing a hairstyle made me giggle.

“What can I say? I’m a natural beauty,” Mom said, continuing to fold the laundry.

Mom had never colored her once-black hair or even had it professionally styled. Her beauty routine consisted of a bar of Coast and Pert Plus: Shampoo and Conditioner in One. She sprayed her short “frosted” hair into a stiff, helmet shaped hairdo every morning with clouds of Aqua Net that burned my eyes and made everyone but her cough. Aqua Net was good for other things, too, and I sneaked it out from under the bathroom counter to spray bugs permanently onto the walls.

My hair was what Grandmother referred to as dirty dishwater blonde, but Debbie was a brunette, just like Mom had been when she was a child. I wondered what color of hair my other mother had.

“Why didn’t that lady want me?” I blurted.

Mom looked up at me, startled. She held a pair of Dad’s worn Wranglers, stiff from drying on the clothesline.

“Your biological mother?” she asked.

Ladybug licked her paw and yawned.

I nodded.

She set the jeans in the laundry basket by her feet and patted the couch. I sat a few inches away. 

Mom scooted close to me and hugged me hard. “You are my special gift. I chose you.”

I imagined a room full of rows of crying babies in baskets, displayed like puppies or flowers. I imagined Mom pointing to me and saying, “I want that one.” 

 “You asked me about her once before—when you were very young. I couldn’t believe a three-year old figured that out. That there was another mother,” Mom said, her eyes filling with tears, which didn’t alarm me because she was what Dad called “Sensitive.” Little House on the Prairie set her to boo-hooing, even when the episodes were reruns. Sometimes she choked up just from standing in our bedroom doorways after tucking us in, her hand on the light switch. “I just love you so much,” she’d say. “When you’re a mother you’ll understand.”

“You’re my Mom,” I said. I meant it. Mom was her name, but she wasn’t my only mother.

 

Thoughts about my adoption were mostly infrequent. The concept was abstract. Mom was there, in the flesh, every morning to pick out my clothes and make me scrambled eggs with flecks of ham. At bedtime, she weaved my freshly showered hair into dozens of tiny braids, so that I could have “permed” kinky hair like The Bangles. The process took hours, me complaining of a sensitive scalp the entire time. (In high school, friends would brush my hair into ponytails for track practice because I wouldn’t learn how until college—my mother did it at home!) She was, in my mind, proper—a proper mother.  Mom had worked her way up from bank teller to credit union manager all without a college degree and still quizzed me out of my history books and clipped my toe nails before sending me off to bed at night. She made sure our family attended Mass on Sunday, even Dad who sometimes fell asleep in the pew after working third shift at the railroad.

But by junior high, I started to find the idea of having another mother romantic. I spent hours on the couch with books and with my favorite band, Journey, who contributed the soundtrack to my life. Books offered me an exotic world of mothers, each one I imagined saying, “Pick me. Pick me.” I fantasized about what the other mother would be like. I imagined a beautiful and sad woman dressed in a white, flowing dress, like a character from Gone with the Wind. She would stand in an open door in a house surrounded by tall, swaying grass, watching the same sky as me, feeling the same breeze, wondering where I was. She hadn’t appeared to me, so I made her anything I wanted, a Choose Your Own Adventure mother, like the sci-fi books where I could determine the protagonist’s fate. Sometimes I envisioned the other mother as a horrible woman, unfit to raise a child: a slobbering alcoholic, a hallucinating lunatic, a slut, a bum, a madwoman ready to throw herself off the roof like Bertha in Jane Eyre.

I knew that someday I would meet the other mother and she would welcome me like my favorite Journey song, with “Open Arms.” I mostly kept this to myself, since my recent renewed interest in my adoption flustered Mom, who began claiming she had forgotten. “It doesn’t even enter my thoughts,” she said. But thoughts of my adoption had begun to enter mine all the time.

I learned from Mom that 31 days between my birth and adoption were unaccounted for. “But where was I?” I pestered. “Who took care of me then?”

“I don’t know, honey.” Mom, exasperated, ad-libbed: “Nuns? You were well cared for.”

“What about the eye infection I had when you got me? You said my eyes were a mess! I’ve had surgery on both of them because of it!”

I became certain that every shortcoming I had could be directly linked to those 31 lost days and that I had been irreparably harmed in some way. I read all the adoption books in Louisville’s small school library, many of which theorized that babies removed from their natural mothers never learned how to bond with anyone else. Another book informed me that adopted children would always fear rejection. Suddenly, every possible psychological affliction in the book seemed like it was describing me, although Mom was usually nearby to assure me how special I was.

“You saved my life,” she confided. Mom had lost three babies before they adopted me. “After those miscarriages, I thought I would die. Then you came along.” Her eyes were already misting.

Mom told me my adoption was a closed one, which meant that descriptions of my biological parents were sealed in a file until I turned 25. I decided that until then, I would become the daughter that my imaginary mother would want. I studied every night to earn straight A’s, ran track and played basketball after school (even though I was equally horrible at dribbling, passing, and shooting), stayed away from situations where classmates were sneaking beer and groping each other. The more perfect I became, the more my real mother would mourn giving me up (I didn’t think Mom was my fake mother,  but the word “real” popped into my head whenever I thought of the woman who gave birth to me).

 I often felt out of place, but every kid I knew felt the same way. Some of my friends were even envious. “God,” they’d say. “You’re so lucky. I hate my parents. I wish I had another set I could trade them in for.” My status allowed me to choose my family at whim. I told myself I was not related to Uncle Dean, who smoked pot behind Grandma’s garage during family reunions. I denied relation to a distant cousin, a woman Mom privately nicknamed Dirty Martha, who picked her scabs with grimy fingernails at the kitchen table. When, during our annual Fourth of July family get-togethers, a drunken uncle began hugging our female teenage cousins for too long, I just denied him, too.

Sometimes, though, my biological truth sprang suddenly and without my wanting it. One Christmas day, Mom and Dad, my sister, our cousins, aunts and uncles, and grandparents gathered in the living room before opening presents. A younger cousin and I looked at the new issue of Highlights, racing to see who could find the kitchen appliances and other out of place objects poorly hidden in the drawing of a tree. It had been the best part of the magazine when I was a child, but now I was too old for it. My grandmother on Mom’s side cleared her throat. She pointed at the school picture of my sister on the wall. “You know who that picture reminds me of?” Then she looked at Debbie. “You are your mother’s spitting image, child.” She laughed, pleased and everyone nodded at the unmistakable similarities: the same dainty smile, black hair, and ice blue eyes.  I suddenly found myself swimming in a crowd of faces, but I couldn’t find my nose, my eyes, or my hands anywhere. I felt like the toaster in the Highlights tree: Can you find the item that doesn’t belong?

Debbie had been born my parents’ natural child ten months after my adoption.

“Our miracle baby,” Mom said.

I looked at my younger sister, who sat grinning by our Christmas tree in her lace-hemmed dress, and I felt my otherness wallop me in the head.

 

As a teenager, I relished the feeling of belonging elsewhere, mostly because I found my own parents too strict, too familiar, and too annoying. I pretended I was an uncaught character in a Nancy Drew mystery novel and that my adoption made me mysterious. I passed hours rereading the few documents my parents had recently given me (the only papers available in a closed adoption): my health statistics at my birth, a line or two about the physical condition of my extended biological family, and a succinct paragraph of description about my birth mother. It was the later I was most interested in. “The biological mother was 19 years at the birth of the baby. She has blue eyes and light blonde hair. Her complexion was listed as fair and she is of German descent. She has had two years of college and her interests are artistically inclined.” I told my friends that I was German. My biological mother and I had the same color of hair. I thought she must be a magnificent painter, her canvas capturing what she instinctively knew I looked like. She would paint my hair dirty-dishwater blonde, like hers. I would smile in her paintings, but my eyes would be sad, the loss of each other a secret between the two of us. Sometimes, when we had a hip, urban-seeming substitute in art class, wearing paint splattered slacks, I was sure it was her!

Mom sat next to me on the couch when I called United Catholic Social Services. In a few weeks, I would move to Wayne, Nebraska, a small farming and manufacturing community, to attend classes at Wayne State College. I had told myself that before I moved, I would work up the nerve to make the call. My stomach lurched as I dialed.

A sympathetic sounding woman explained that because my adoption was closed, the state couldn’t release any information to me until I was 25, and even then, no names, only more paperwork.

“Your biological mother has to agree to meet you, honey.” Her delivering-bad-news voice was as soft as a pillow.

“Has she been in contact? I mean, has she asked how I’m doing?”

“Sweetie, it looks as if we’ve had no contact from her, but that’s to be expected. For some women, the entire process is just too overwhelming.”

“Oh.” I was heart sore. How could she not want to know about me? I looked down at what I was wearing—a Jordache T-shirt and tight jeans rolled into pink socks. Mom squeezed my leg. I felt ridiculous.

“But it looks as if your biological father has contacted us. He wanted to know that we placed you with a good family.”

I felt ambivalent towards him. I only wanted to meet my biological mother, the woman who had shared a heartbeat with me for nine months. I had a vision of her filling in where Mom left off. I imagined my birth mother and I would conduct serious talks about literature (Thanks to my American novel classes, I was already becoming a literature snob), boyfriends and sex, and the meaning of life. Mom read novels with cowboys pictured on the cover, told  me my father was the only man she had ever slept with (and only after their wedding) and she was raised Catholic, so she believed that life was a series of good deeds you performed to get into Heaven. I hoped my biological mother wouldn’t really be like a mother at all but more like a cool older sister.

“What now? Is there anything I can do? Can I write her a letter?” I had written her dozens of times, though each attempt frustrated me and eventually ended up in my wastepaper basket.

“Well, sure. You can mail it to us, and if she contacts our service, we’ll send it to her.”

It wasn’t much, but it was something. “Okay.” I set the phone in my lap.

“I’m happy for you,” Mom said, leaning in for a hug. “It’s just, I don’t think of you as being adopted.” Her eyes were welling.

“She doesn’t want to know me, anyway.” The phone receiver was warm in my hand. I held it tightly for a few minutes before setting it in its cradle.

 

Wadded up drafts of letters filled my trashcan, imperfect testimonies and explanations of how much I needed my biological mother. The letter I had sealed and stamped was also unsatisfactory, an overwrought story I called “The Motherless” about searching for faces in a crowd that looked like mine, finding none.  I used the same phrases one might use in a letter to a love obsession, except I kept everything in third person so my real mother wouldn’t see how fanatical I was: “thought of my mother day and night,” “wished my mother and I were near one another,” “not certain who I am without her.” I asked her if we could meet, but the Catholic Charities woman had warned me that she likely wouldn’t want to. I disagreed.  I imagined this other mother to be someone who couldn’t live without me, someone who would understand my teenage self in a way my parents couldn’t. She would never think it odd when I wrote melodramatic poetry or spent entire evenings lying in my bed feeling certain that nobody could feel the world’s pain as deeply as me. I would lie backwards on my bed, my feet draped over the headboard, and write sad sappy poetry that I signed “Clover” because of a four-leaf clover pressed in my dictionary on the page defining leprechaun.

When Mom tried to draw me into conversations like the kind we had when I was younger, when the two of us used to snuggle on the couch, I answered in one syllable words.  How was I? How was my day? Was anything on my mind? “I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine.” Leave me alone to be with my important imaginings. My parents were exasperated with the self-absorbed teenager I had become and showed me with a poster that read:  Teenagers, Leave Home While You Still Know Everything. I felt certain my birth mother would not only understand me, but find me a wise old soul full of fascinating insights into humanity. And she, unlike Mom, wouldn’t hang her nylon granny panties on the outdoor clothesline for visiting boys to see.

Amazingly, two weeks after I sent my letter, someone wrote me back. Claire Marie the letter was signed. The last name had been crossed out, just in case, I reasoned, she decided not to meet me and didn’t want a crazed lost child hunting her down. In calligraphy, Claire told me her parents had sent her to a Catholic hospital to give birth to me, a place where nuns had prayed for her forgiveness. My biological father, also a college student, moved to a different town before the pregnancy showed. He didn’t know Claire was pregnant until Catholic Charities contacted him, asking him to sign the adoption papers. Because of the silence Claire’s parents demanded, my birth became a secret that she kept through college and eventually from a husband and two young daughters.  “I will never regret my decision to have you,” she wrote. “Deep in my heart I know that you are beautiful and my contribution to this world.” She prayed and hoped that I was happy, healthy, and loved and wrote that these were gifts she couldn’t have given me then. The letter had a note of finality, of closure. She never mentioned the possibility of us meeting. I slept poorly that night, continually checking to see if the letter was still where I had tucked it under my pillow. My only proof of her existence, I was certain it would disappear.

 

The fall semester passed without Claire and me exchanging another letter. I didn’t forget about her, but she wasn’t exactly on my mind now that I had college classes, parties, and guys to obsess over.  One afternoon I was summoned to the dorm’s hallway phone. Over the past few months, my phone calls with Mom had become increasingly scarce. I felt annoyed at having to leave the dorm room full of laughing co-eds. I answered the phone with an exaggerated sigh, but it wasn’t Mom calling to ask if I was using my food plan and getting enough sleep. It was a woman from Catholic Charities.

“Would you like to meet your biological mother?” the woman asked.

Adrenaline shot through me. My ears started to buzz. “Yes, I want to meet her! What happens next? Have you already talked to my parents?”

 “Honey, you’re a legal adult. You can decide for yourself.”

I forgot. I wasn’t in high school with permission slips jammed into my backpack. I didn’t need to ask Mom before doing something.

“When do I meet her?” I asked; the words were surreal.

Without my ever having spoken with my biological mother on the phone, Catholic Charities acted as the mediator, planning a reunion at Riley’s, a local restaurant in Wayne. I felt like I was about to win a major writing prize or a state track medal (Other than a sixth grade Young Authors Award, I hadn’t won either).

At my request, Mom drove three hours to be with me, to meet the other mother and hold my hand. She picked me up at my dorm room. We drove in silence. My withdrawal into college life was hurting her feelings, yet here she was beside me, humming to an easy-listening radio station.

I stared at the fast food restaurants and the college kids bundled in their winter coats. I hoped meeting Claire would live up to my expectations. I felt a little guilty for so badly wanting another mother, in addition to the perfectly good one I already had. I pictured Mom plugging giant headphones—my sister and I called them her earmuffs—into her Sony stereo and sitting cross-legged on the floor, singing off key to Lionel Richie and Barry Manilow when she thought she was alone in the house, her hair matted down by the band of her earphones. Eyes closed, she swayed and cried when the music really moved her. Watching from the doorway, I muffled my laughter with my hand, but these stolen moments also made me feel safe. Mom would never hurt me. But the other mother might.

Riley’s moonlighted as a dance club on weekends. I had been there with my friends, usually after we drank bottles of Bud Light in my best friend’s dorm room or at one of the known party houses. By the time we arrived at Riley’s on those nights, hoping for someone to ask us to dance, the floor was packed with bodies swaying and grinding. Mom and I were meeting Claire in the restaurant, which was separated from the dance floor, but it was hard for me to dismiss the images of college students, dancing hip to hip, from my mind. I wondered if Claire and my biological father had ever danced, full of a yearning for each other that would produce a love child.  In my mind, a relationship was not worth having unless it was first full of pain. I cried hardest at the movie love stories where the couple had to overcome some self-inflicted misery in order to be together, like in Urban Cowboy when Sissy and Bud tried to make each other jealous because they weren’t mature enough to admit how they truly felt. Couples who made juvenile, passionate mistakes and risked losing each other understood my heart. I wondered if my biological father still loved Claire. How could he not?

Mom parked the car and looked at me. “Are you ready to see who’s behind the door?”

 “I’m ready,” I said. We got out of the car. I grabbed Mom’s arm before she could open the restaurant door.

“I can’t,” I said.  I started to cry.

“You’ve waited so long for this, Jody.” Mom wore one of her work outfits, a navy vest and matching slacks, navy flats. She wore a strand of pearls around her neck; she had even put on mascara and lipstick for the occasion, flare she only wore for funerals or weddings. Her hair had turned from its natural “frosted” look to all-white years ago. Mom suddenly looked older and frail, though I knew she and Dad were in the midst of a remodeling project, and she would carry two-by-fours and aim a nail gun. Mom was tough when she needed to be.

I pulled my winter coat up to my chin and withdrew my hands into my coat sleeves, though I had read in an article on body language that this gesture showed insecurity.

“I’m scared,” I said. What if she didn’t like me? I wanted Claire to be impressed. Didn’t she regret letting me go? Hadn’t I turned out well? I wanted her to think so, even though I felt nerdy. I was more comfortable with books than with college boys.

“We don’t have to go in,” Mom said. She was unusually calm and unemotional.

“No. I’m okay.” I wiped my nose on my coat sleeve. “I want this.”

I stood in the entrance and let my mother enter ahead of me. I could see empty tables. “This is a special meeting,” Mom had said when she called to make reservations. “Can we arrive a little before the restaurant opens?”

Mom saw her first, inhaled and turned to me. “She doesn’t look very much like you,” she said. It was a comment I would think about later, considering how much we looked alike. I felt as nervous as I used to at the start line during a high school track meet, when for a millisecond, I thought how much easier it would be to flee to the school bus. I took a deep breath and pushed past Mom into the restaurant where all of the tables sat empty except for one, where a fair-haired woman sat with a man. I knew who she was immediately. She stood. We were the exact same height. I walked over to her and hugged her stiffly without really looking at her. I didn’t want to cry again, so I went numb inside, a trick I learned to use when my first cat died.

Mom hugged Claire. Even though Claire was only a few years younger than Mom, she seemed like a child in her embrace. Mom patted Claire’s back before she sat down. I sat down between them.

“It’s so nice to finally meet you,” Mom said when no one else spoke.

I first stole glimpses of Claire’s face while Mom talked about the drive to Wayne. Just the tip of her nose. Then her eyelash, her eyebrow, the curve of her lips. I stared at her hands, which were visibly shaking. Her hair was reddish blonde. Claire wore city attire, a long form-fitting dress, black knee-high boots, hand-crafted jewelry. I was used to seeing my Mom and other Nebraska Moms in Midwestern mom attire: jeans with elastic waistband, oversized T-shirts with pictures of furry animals or a Huskers football logo, and dirty tennis shoes. Claire was an eccentric sort of pretty, more exotic than Mom and more attractive than me. I suddenly felt frumpy in my oversized sweater and jeans. The tanning salon near the campus sold dollar tans, and my face was unnaturally orange. With my inch-high hair sprayed bangs and winter fake-bake, I looked like every other college girl in Wayne. Ordinary. I was sure Claire would know it.

“This is Rick. My friend,” Claire said. “He’s here for moral support. I don’t know that I would have come without him.” Her voice surprised me. Unlike her shaky hands, it was sturdy and low, the way I imagined the matriarchs of my British Literature novels sounding.

“Jody, you can’t possibly imagine how happy Claire is to see you,” Rick said, “Or how much she has thought about you.” Rick’s voice was full of saliva. He spoke each word slowly. I stared at his thinning hair and his wide forehead. His glasses slipped down his greasy nose.

I had thought of meeting my other mother for years, rehearsing reunions in my head where years of experiences would finally be shared. I was unable to say any of those things. Unwilling to face possible rejection, I went mute. Mom filled our silence by presenting the best version of me, how I wrote for The Wayne Stater, my high GPA, the time I placed third in a cross-country meet, my braces in junior high and perfect teeth now. She left out the recent arguments we had been having about my college partying (in my freshman photo album, I held a beer in every picture). I was glad Mom was there to take the pressure off of me. While Mom talked, Claire remained silent and aloof. It surprised me that her demeanor seemed restrained, unlike the warmth of Mom’s.

“The two of you,” Rick said looking at Claire and then me, “just need to snuggle.” Rick reminded me of a salesman in a New Age Store. Everything out of his mouth was sappy and intrusive. I wondered if he had read my letters to Claire. I felt pathetic and needy. I hated him. Rick leaned across the table and put Claire’s hand on top of mine. We all looked at each other. Claire’s hand was cold and rigid. I slowly slid my hand out from under hers and fiddled with my napkin.

“I didn’t want to give you up,” Claire said. Mom looked surprised that Claire was addressing me. “My parents are Catholic. My mother, well, she thought it was so shameful for me to find myself with child. Out of wedlock.” She looked at Mom when she said this, and at Rick, who was smiling and nodding. Then she turned to me. “I didn’t know what else to do. Or how I would take care of you.”

I didn’t know anything about taking care of babies. I didn’t have a boyfriend. Having a child seemed like decades away.  I couldn’t relate to what Claire was telling me even though it was about me. So far the evening had been a conversation between my two mothers. I wanted to say something, but my words really needed to matter when I finally opened my mouth. Did Claire think I was insecure? When I looked at Rick, he winked.

“You and Claire need to spend time alone together,” Rick said. “In order to have those feelings, to really unearth them.” He leaned in towards me. The pores on his nose were enormous.

Mom shifted uncomfortably in her seat and cleared her throat.

“Did she have brown hair?” Claire asked.

“What?” The waiter had brought our salads and my mother had a speared baby carrot on her fork.

“The nurses wouldn’t let me see her. They didn’t even let me hold her.” I thought Claire might cry, but she sat straight up and regained her composure. “When I went down to the nursery, I saw this baby, with this beautiful brown hair. I felt something. I felt like it was my baby.”

Mom winced at Claire’s words: my baby.

“Was it her?” Claire asked.

“Yes.” Mom started whimpering. It amazed me she had lasted so long. “She had a head of brown hair. All of this hair.”

 “Our hands look exactly alike,” I blurted. I’d often thought my hands looked like my father’s. It was a small way I looked like my adoptive family, but now I could see it wasn’t true.

Claire’s eyes met mine. “You remind me of your biological father. You look so much like him.” She placed her hand next to mine on the white linen tablecloth. I looked at our identical hands together. My pinky touched her thumb.

“It’s hard for me to look at you,” Claire said.

 

I knew Claire even less after meeting her. She wasn’t anything like I had imagined. We were still strangers, and it surprised me. I had expected we would have some instant, intuitive connection like a couple who fall in love at first sight. I wanted to see my friends so we could scrutinize everything Claire had said, like we did after first dates. Will she want to see me again?  Did she think I was smart? Pretty? What will she tell her friends about me? Why didn’t I talk more? My English professors could never shut me up, but tonight when it really counted, I just froze. I wanted to look at my hair sprayed bangs in a mirror to see if they looked stupid.

“It’s a lot to take in,” I said to Mom. We sat in her car outside of my dorm.

“If you want, call me tomorrow. We’ll talk about it.” Mom leaned across the car and hugged me. She was still belted in. When she pulled away from me, her face dissolved in tears.  “It’s just…” She rummaged in her purse for a wadded tissue. “I just think of you as my own.” Mom was driving back to Omaha, a total of six hours in the car for two hours of dinner. Her mascara was smeared from crying, and her lipstick had worn off during dinner.

It had hurt her to meet Claire. Claire was intriguing, and I wanted to know everything about her because I wanted insight into myself. I liked to imagine a fantasy mother and Mom liked to imagine she had given birth to me. Claire had ended both of our fantasies.

“I guess I’m Claire’s daughter now, too,” I said, but I didn’t really feel like anyone else’s daughter. I got out of the car.

“Yes, I guess so,” Mom said.

Mom lifted up a hand, wiped her eyes with a tissue and waved her signature wave. Debbie and I called it her ‘tootles’ wave: index finger, middle finger, ring finger. She left for home.

That night I lay awake in my twin bed, my roommate snoring in her twin bed across the room. I thought of all the clever things I didn’t say when I had met Claire. I replayed the night in my head with Wynonna Ryder as myself in the starring role of a sophisticated, beautiful, long-lost daughter and Claire as the gracious, loving long-lost mother. In my edited version, we hugged and cried and spoke years of emotions with our eyes.  We were a Lifetime movie. Mom was merely backdrop, the unremarkable but sturdy character who sets up the key lines. I had great hopes for how things might turn out for me and Claire. The next morning I called Mom to tell her all about them. She was in the middle of mixing a dish of dried cat food and milk for her newest drifter. I could hear the persistent “mew, mew, mew” in the background. Mom had named the fluffy white cat Snowball, a sign that she had opened her home to the small traveler and probably her lap.

Other than me, the longest living Keisner-stray—a mixed-breed dog with soulful brown eyes—was nearly ten years-old. None of the others, though, had made it longer than a handful of years.

 “Don’t get too attached to Snowball,” I teased Mom. “We both know your track record.”

 “I know,” Mom said. “I just can’t help myself. What if she doesn’t have anyone else to care for her?”

“She might have a family somewhere, wondering where she is,” I said. When Mom didn’t say anything, I added: “Maybe she’s been abandoned.”

“It just breaks my heart. That someone would abandon such a little thing.”

“I’m glad she has you,” I said.

“Me, too,” Mom said with a sniffle.

I couldn’t predict how the story would end: Snowball might wander off the next week and find the family she last lived with, she might meet an odd and early death, or she might stay with my mother until old cat-age. I was hoping for the latter. We were lucky to have my mother, the other strays and I, however we came to her, however long we stayed. 

 

 

Jody Keisner is a full-time writing instructor of the University of Nebraska-Omaha, a weight-lifter, and a Real Housewives junkie (the latter for academic reasons, of course). She lives with her husband and young daughter, Lily. She has publications in SNReview, Left Hand Waving, Women’s Studies, Third Coast, Studies in the Humanities, Modern English Teacher, and NEBRASKAland. She is busy on her first memoir, The Runaway Daughter.

 

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10mg ambien tripPoet Antoinette Voûte Roeder

We are proud to celebrate with former poetry contributor Antoinette Voûte Roeder; Antoinette’s second volume of poetry, Still Breathing, is currently available through Amazon. “Whether it is writing about rain, kisses, a cup of tea, birds, God, prayer, Thomas Merton, the sea, clouds, hoarfrost, a beanpot, or aging, Roeder will captivate,” promises Reviews Editor Pegge Erkeneff Bernecker of Spiritual Directors International.

We hope you’ll take a moment to peruse the 100 mg ambien overdose. We featured Antoinette’s poem buy zolpidem ukin November 2010 on the Fertile Source. Roeder’s first volume of poetry, Weaving the Wind, came out in 2006.

Poet Janina Karpinska

Former contributor Janina Karpinska (Fertile Source published her poem can you buy zolpidem in mexico also in November 2010) went on to make a radio show based on her vision of the ideal holistic health center. Karpinska writes she created “a memorial for babies lost in early miscarriage, which I’d like to think was a way of writing a kind of creative birth certificate for the real thing to happen and ‘catch up’ at some point.”

Karpinska also related that the day she came to record the program, someone had disturbed the recording equipment. Karpinska writes, “I felt like I’d carefully developed and carried my ‘baby’ all week and then turned up with no techie ‘nurses’ on hand to help me deliver – and Then – the first attempt to record the show and put it on my memory stick failed! I couldn’t believe it – I thought it was an awful mirror of nearly losing my baby.” She forged on and managed to record her show. We hope you’ll take a moment to give a listen to ambien 10mg side effects.

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Fiction by Scott Eubanks

AS DANNY USHERED HER through the narrow entryway, Helen considered how her life had always felt like a succession of giving up what she needed, and accepting what she had never wanted.  They entered a cluttered living room with a vaulted ceiling and mismatched furniture. 

            Danny was a short, broad man with a peninsula of curly hair on top of his head.  He wore a new polo shirt that still had the XL of plastic tape on the left sleeve.  She wondered if his wife, Mrs. Falkenstein had bought him the shirt specifically for this occasion.  Deciding not to point out the tape, she sat on a faded black pleather couch in the center of the room and smiled politely to the social worker, Ms. Allen.  On the far side of the coffee table, a moon-faced little girl with lime green barrettes in her hair sang in a low voice and played with a toy cuckoo bird. 

            “Marie will be back in a second,” he said.  “She just went to check on Willy.”

            “His name’s William,” Helen said.  Nervously smoothing the fabric of her slacks, she added, “He’s named after my father.”  Helen had never known a grown man who referred to himself as Danny.  It reminded her of an aging mouseketeer who could no longer act that happy without looking ridiculous, and had been relegated to taking care of other people’s children.   

            Pausing at the threshold of the kitchen, Danny managed a smile and said, “Would you like something to drink?”

            “No, thank you,” she said. “I really don’t anticipate staying very long.”  She looked over the assortment of magazines spread in an arc on the coffee table.  The new Time Magazine had a picture of the Shah of Iran on the cover and the caption read, Iran vs. the world.   

            Ms. Allen was arranging a stack of forms on her clipboard.     

            “That’s fine.  I hope you like cheese and crackers, mademoiselle.”  His attempt at a French accent sounded more like an Austrian one as he ducked into the kitchen, slamming doors and rattling silverware.

            “Actually, the adoptive parents can change the child’s name to whatever they want,” Ms. Allen said in a low voice.            

            “I haven’t changed my mind about this,” Helen said.  She remembered the cast of nannies, au pares, and other professional help who had raised her in her parents absence.  In high school, she had promised herself that she would never let that happen to her own children. 

            “I was just hoping that you’d put some thought into it,” Ms. Allen said.  They both watched the little girl on the floor play with her doll.  “Is your father, by any chance, Judge Marr?”  

            Helen nodded.  She winced as she rearranged the thin strap of her purse that had slid across her chest.  Her breasts were still swollen.  When they weren’t leaking, they vacillated between just being tender and aching like abscessed teeth.  

            “After we spoke in the hospital, your name sounded so familiar to me,” she said.  “It’s kind of funny because I just voted for your dad, and well, here we are.”

            “I didn’t vote for him.”

            There was a long and awkward pause before Ms. Allen perked up and said, “Did you have any trouble finding the place?”

            “No,” she said.  She glanced around the room, noting the tragedy of the suburbs, of money surpassing taste.  The walls were covered with tacky photographs in mismatched frames, and she thought of her own living room where an entire wall was arranged with a pristine collection of rare mounted insects that ranged from a protracted morpho Adonis butterfly to a golden silk orb-weaver spider with its legs held to the cloth with droplets of glue.

            She was familiar with Lancaster.  Even though she lived in L.A., Helen had driven right by the Falkenstein’s neighborhood once a week for the last three years to play alone at the golf course.  She looked forward to the long drive and didn’t know anyone in the area, which guaranteed nearly six hours of silence.  There was a man about her age with horn-rimmed glasses and spiked hair who brought his son every Sunday afternoon.  The boy would never be any good, but his father was patient with him and ruffled his hair playfully when he smacked the ball into the bushes.  She often delayed her tee time so that she could watch the two of them.  Her father taught her how to golf.

            “Do you have any questions about this?” Ms. Allen said.

            Taking a ballpoint pen out of her purse, Helen shook her head and said flatly, “You can give me what I need to sign to take my son home.”  She was used to saying what people didn’t like to hear.  She was a financial advisor for one of the largest pharmaceutical firms in Los Angeles.  The rhythmic sounds of Danny closing the cupboards and drawers in the kitchen had stopped.

            Ms. Allen nodded and looked down at the little girl playing on the floor with her cuckoo doll. 

            Helen hadn’t noticed it before, but the little girl was oddly proportioned with stubby arms and legs and mottled flesh.  The epicanthic folds of skin on her inner eyelids were thickly formed and her ears were too low on her head.

            “Does she have Down’s?” she asked.

            Ms. Allen nodded.  The little girl on the floor began to sing Jingle Bells as she played with her doll but substituted all of the original lyrics with the word “birds” with a heavy lisp. 

            Helen didn’t really see what all the fuss was about.  The little girl playing at her feet was adorable.  She wasn’t anything like what the doctor had described.  She imagined Down’s would turn her son into a drooling monster that would ultimately force her to quit her job so that she could wipe his ass until he was old enough to be shipped off to an institution.  As he spoke to her, all she could see in her mind was herself holding a handful of crap in her cupped hand—the inevitable conclusion to her life.  She had nine months of baby books, doctor’s visits, and cappuccino cravings to dream up who her son would be only to have it all discarded on the whim of a chromosome.

BY THE OBSTETRICIAN’S EXPRESSION in the delivery room, Helen knew something was wrong.  Shaking his head, he whispered something to the nurse.  Taking the baby from the doctor, the nurse glanced at her on the way out of the room, the same look that passing motorists had when they cruised by fatal car accidents with the windows rolled up, suddenly thankful for their own lives. 

            Helen was delirious with a mixture of agony and drugs from forty hours of labor.  Still smeared with blood and iodine, she felt as hollow as a punctured balloon and didn’t remember falling asleep. 

            When she woke up, she was in a hospital room with a muted TV mounted on a steel frame above her.  Her mother sat next to the adjustable bed clutching her purse in her lap, wearing two-carat diamond earrings, and high heels.  She could hear the vent by the window humming as it exhaled dry air that stunk like an autoclave.  Everything was pale blue, the curtains, sheets, her gown, even the doctor’s smock.  The doctor stood next to the bed and managed a smile.  Next to him, a short, middle-aged woman with blunt features and a box of tissues in her lap patted Helen’s hand above her IV and said, “How are you feeling?” 

            Before she could ask what the tissues were for, the doctor said, “I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, Ms. Marr, but your son has Down’s syndrome.” 

            The social worker, Ms. Allen, explained that her son would never be normal and that there was no cure for Down’s syndrome.  He would never go to college, get married, or live anything that even approached a full life.  There was a test they could do to know for sure, but the doctor was positive that her son, William, had it.  Her mother stood up, and without a word left the room.

            Helen felt light and numb like she had been stuffed full of cotton.  She couldn’t really pick out the context of what the social worker said.  She wanted to scream that they had the wrong room.  As Ms. Allan struggled to maintain a soft, even tone in her voice, Helen looked up at the television.  A nature program was on.  One of the larger eggs in a birds nest had hatched and the first thing the fledgling did was push out the other eggs.  They shattered at the base of the tree, exposing the translucent skeletons of unborn birds with dark smudges for eyes and squared heads that reminded her of her first ultrasound.  All that the technician said was that she had a boy and that he had a healthy heartbeat. 

            She told them both to get out.

            The doctor looked relieved and apologized again as he hurried out of the room.

            Ms. Allen said, “I know you’ve been through a lot, but you suffered a serious hemorrhage during the delivery and the doctor’s worried about infection.  He’s recommended that you stay here for at least the rest of the week.”

            “I said get out,” she said.

            “You’re lucky to be alive.  I don’t mean to rush you, but what are your long term plans for your son?” she said, setting the box of tissues on the bed.

            Helen hadn’t realized she was crying.  “I was going to take some time off work, but there’s an au pair that I can call,” she said.

            “Your son may need more care than that,” she said, “With Down’s, there’s a higher incidence of everything like leukemia, heart deformities, epilepsy…”

            “…I didn’t plan on this, okay.  I did everything I was supposed to do,” she said.  She felt like she was cleaving apart like an iceberg, dissolving into an indiscriminate sea.  

            “This was out of your hands.  Women like you in their mid-thirties are ten times more likely to have a child with Down’s,” she said.  Clicking her pen and scribbling something on her clipboard, she added, “Do you think your family would take him for a while?  Maybe give you some time to get better?”

            “My mother didn’t just leave to get us some drinks.  She’s probably left the hospital, and my father didn’t even bother showing up because ‘he didn’t raise an unwed mother,’” she said.  She winced and held her stomach as she leaned forward to sit up straight in the bed. 

            Picking up her clipboard, Ms. Allen let out a sterile sigh and said, “You do have options, you know.”  Looking up from her forms, she added, “Have you considered placing your son with a foster family?”

            “What?”

            “While you recover, and get the rest of your life back on track, we can place your son with a family who specializes in taking care of children with disabilities,” she said. “Just until things become manageable.  It would only be temporary.”       

            She listened to Ms. Allen rattle off her proposal.  The way she talked seemed almost electronic, as she’d done it a thousand times that week. Helen was exhausted.  Not remembering much else, she signed the packet of forms that agreed to a temporary placement. 

THE MOON-FACED LITTLE GIRL set her cuckoo doll down and crawled around the coffee table.  Stopping at Helen’s feet, she looked up at her.  When she smiled, her puffy eyes nearly closed and she held out both of her arms for Helen to pick her up.    

            Helen wasn’t sure how she should act, and smiled.  She thought of how her secretary, Jenni, played with her son when she brought him to work, causing him to squeal every time she lifted him off his feet.  Helen put her index fingers in the little girl’s hands.  Her tiny fingers curled tightly around Helen’s fingers, and as she lifted her off her feet, Ms. Allen said, “You really shouldn’t do that.”

            Quickly setting her back down, Helen said, “I’m sorry.  I just thought…”

            “It’s okay.  You didn’t know.  Children with Down’s have low muscle tone.  It makes their muscles so loose that picking them up like that can cause their shoulders to dislocate,” she said.   

            It occurred to her how little experience she had had with children, even normal children.  Growing up, she never had to baby-sit like the teenagers she’d seen on sitcoms because she didn’t need the money, and her parent’s friends all had nannies.

            “It sounds like you’ve already made up your mind about this,” she said.  The little girl let go of the coffee table and stumbled to Ms. Allen, holding her arms out.   

            Helen felt like she had a knot of wood in her throat when she said, “What kind of person gives up their child?”

            “You’d be surprised.  They’re people who realize that their child has special needs that they might not be equipped to handle,” she said.  When Ms. Allen picked the little girl up, she looked surprised and hung limp like a chubby cat between her hands.    

            Helen asked, “Is she their daughter?”

            “No.  The Falkensteins’ adopted Sarah when she was only ten days old,” she said. “She might as well be, though.”

            A woman with wide set hips came down the stairs holding a tiny baby wrapped in blue cloth against her shoulder.  She gave her a placid smile and whispered, “You must be Helen.  I’m Marie.”  She sat down on the couch next to her.  Everything about her radiated with maternal warmth.  She even seemed to glow like a new mother, and suddenly thinking of her own sore tits and flabby stomach, Helen wanted to hate her, but it was the first time that she had seen her son.  She realized she was holding her breath and it seemed like every cell in her body was polarized towards the edge of the baby’s face that poked out of the flannel blanket.  Her son’s eyes were closed and his tiny features looked as fragile and smooth as marzipan.    

            “He isn’t exactly awake yet, but would you like to hold him?” Marie said.

            Helen unwound her purse from her shoulder and gently set it on the coffee table.  She held out her hands and gingerly took him in her arms.  After some direction from Marie, she cradled his head in her palm.  He was surprisingly warm.  She held him in front of her face and pored over his features, searching for the telltale imperfections that had already doomed him.  Aside from a dark wisp of hair on top of his head, he looked nothing like her. 

            Balancing a ceramic sombrero platter covered with slices of cheese, salami, and crackers, Danny set it on the coffee table and said, “I hope you guys are hungry because I think I got a little carried away.”  When Helen looked up at him, he didn’t meet her eyes.  Instead, looking more than a little uncomfortable, he thrust his hands into his pockets and smiled at Ms. Allen.

            “Danny is a biology teacher at the high school, you know,” Ms. Allen said. 

            “Is that where the cuckoo came from?” Helen said, pointing at the doll.

            “I thought it was more than a little ironic,” he said.  When nobody said anything, he laughed nervously and added, “I thought it was funny that Sarah liked it because cuckoos lay their eggs in other bird’s nests, and well…”  He looked at Marie and shrugged helplessly.

            “Willy’s a very good baby, you know,” Marie said.  “He sleeps through most of the night.”    

            “His name is William,” she said.  She thought the name, Willy, sounded like some pothead carpet installer from the Valley.  It had been a tradition in her family to name all of the firstborn son’s after her great grandfather, William.  She hadn’t spoken to her father since she told him that she was pregnant and hoped he would appreciate the gesture.  A part of her also secretly enjoyed the irony of it.  After she was released from the hospital, her mother had called to smooth things over and asked to meet for lunch.   

HELEN SPOTTED HER MOTHER from across the crowded restaurant, sitting in the corner by the window, watching the swallows pluck dead stems out of the hanging flowerpots that overflowed with corn marigolds and California poppies. 

            Slinging her purse across the back of her chair, Helen said, “Is dad in the bathroom?”

            “Your father’s not coming,” her mother said, taking her eyes off the swallows long enough to finish her wine.

            “Why?” Helen didn’t sit down.  She pushed her chair back in and picked up her purse.

            Standing up, her mother said, “Please.”

           The people at the adjacent tables had stopped talking and turned and see what was going on.  

           “Then why did you call me?” she said as she sat down.  

           “Just so that we can talk.”  Her mother gave the other diners a reassuring smile as she rearranged the starched napkin in her lap.

           “About what?  Having a baby?” she said.  “Let’s talk about when you left me and my son at the hospital.” 

           “I’m sorry,” her mother said.  “I didn’t know what to do.  I couldn’t think of anything to say to the doctor, so I went outside to get some fresh air.  After I calmed down, I was so ashamed that I’d left you alone.”  With a plaintive look, she placed the tips of her fingers against her sternum and took a series of deep breaths.

            Helen waited until she was finished.  “This isn’t about you, mom,” she said.  In a tone she usually reserved for overwrought clients, she added, “It’s about William.” 

            “I really wish you wouldn’t call him that,” her mother said.    

           “You can’t make me do anything,” Helen said.  She was suddenly aware that they had dredged up a variation of the same argument that they’d had since she was thirteen.  She was tempted to say something hurtful, a combination of words that would impale her mother on her own hypocrisy, but reminded herself that she had outgrown this. 

           Up until a few months ago, they had lunch every other Saturday.  It had always been awkward, and Helen spent the majority of their time together jabbing croutons in half with a fork, trying to remember all the subjects that weren’t appropriate to discuss.  Her mother had stopped asking about men after she got out of college and one time even alluded to her acceptance of her being gay.  She always reminded her to use the correct fork, and cross her legs, despite the fact that she wore slacks, a trend her mother vehemently opposed. 

           She ordered them both tiny dishes that were rich in fiber and ate practically nothing on her plate.  Helen was forced to listen to her mother’s stories of running into one of Helen’s old classmates at the market.  She laughed when she was supposed to, when she heard how much weight they had gained since high school.  She thought of what her old friends must have said about her mother behind her back. 

           Her mother had attended an all girls’ school until she got pregnant in her first year of college and married her father in a quiet ceremony.  She had majored in art and could talk about renaissance sculpture for hours, but she had never driven a car and over drafted her checking account once a month, despite their substantial savings.  She had lived a harmless and decorative existence that was consumed with a fifty-year-old concept of etiquette.      

           “I’m sorry,” her mother said again.  She nodded to the waiter and raised her wine glass.  “What are your plans?  Are you still taking him home?”  

           “Of course,” she said.

           “What could I possibly say that would convince you that this is a bad idea,” her mother said with a smile.  “Your father and I at least had each other to raise a family you know.”  She set her wineglass on the napkin in front of her so that the waiter could refill it.

           “I never wanted your life,” she said. 

           “I’m not saying you should be anything like me, Helen.  I gave up everything for you and your brother,” she said.  “What about your life?  Your job?”

           “I don’t know.  Maybe I’ll quit,” she said.

           Her mother laughed and put her hand against the waiters sleeve as she nodded politely.  “How would you make your house payment, or your credit card payments for that matter?  I couldn’t possibly imagine you living anywhere else than that beautiful house of yours.”

           Standing up, Helen put her hand on her mother’s and said, “I got to go, mom.”

           Her mother nodded and stepped around the table and gave her a hug.  “You don’t have to call him William you know.  My father’s name was Charles, and you could always call him Chuck,” she whispered.

           Helen rolled her lower lip into her mouth as she bit back the urge to cry, and said, “I got to go, mom.”

           Stepping back, her mother grabbed both of her hands and squeezed them.  They felt as smooth and soft as cabbage leaves.  “Your father and I are not going to help you,” she said.  “I’ll see you next Saturday.”   

           As Helen left the restaurant, her mother looked back at the birds out the window as they disappeared over the rooftops across the street.

WILLIAM OPENED HIS EYES and struggled, letting out a high-pitched groan before he settled back against Helen’s shoulder.  She knew that she was supposed to feel something as she looked into the face of her son, but instead she felt like she could have been holding anyone’s baby. 

           “He looks hungry,” Danny whispered. 

           “I’ll get it,” Marie said, going into the kitchen.  After a few moments, she walked into the living room with a bottle of formula, pinching the nipple, and shaking it until the cloudy contents resembled milk.

           “I think it’s time for us to discuss William’s future,” Ms. Allen said.  “From speaking with Ms. Marr on the phone…”

           “…We don’t have to do that now,” said Marie.  Crouching down in front of Helen, she said, “Would you like to see his bedroom and feed him?” 

           “Sure,” she said, feeling foolish for being so grateful.  She followed Marie upstairs and into a modest bedroom with a faded blue recliner positioned next to a white crib and changing table.  The walls had balloons stenciled on them, and a large bay window with a bench looked out on mountains that were covered with dusty chaparral and boulders that had been polished in the sea.  Helen thought of how much nicer the baby room in her condominium was, with handmade mahogany furniture and toys she had ordered from Paris.     

           Marie patted the arm of the recliner and handed her the bottle.  “When he’s done, you’ll know,” she said, “And take your time.”  Holding the door handle to close it behind her, she paused and said, “We’ll keep Ms. Allen entertained.”

           She wanted to thank her as she sat down in the chair.  “Do you have any children of your own?”  She felt her face flush as she realized how insulting the question was.

           “No,” she said.   “Danny and I can’t have children.”  She looked past Helen out the window at the blue jays nesting in an oak tree in the backyard.  Her face looked much older in the harsh light when she wasn’t smiling. 

           “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean for it to sound so bitchy,” she said.     

           “It’s fine,” she said, stepping back into the room.  She lingered over them for a moment, and ran her fingers through William’s hair.  “I love those birds.  Sometimes I just sit in the window and watch them,” she said.  “You know, Danny thought that it was kind of crazy when I brought up the idea of adopting a child for the first time.  I just thought that we were wasting this big house in a good neighborhood.  I’m home all day anyway, so why not?”  She crouched down in front of Helen and almost whispered, “If I were you, I’d take my son home too.”  She stood up and left the bedroom, closing the door behind her.   

           Helen wanted to thank her, but instead she stared at the door.  William started fussing again.  She balanced his head on the crook of her elbow and he willingly took the nipple into his mouth and drank the formula.  His body felt so fragile against hers.  She reminded herself that this was the most natural thing she could do.  She shifted her body in the overstuffed armchair because it was already hurting her back and she wished she was home in William’s room. 

           She had purchased a specially made ergonomic chair and ottoman that rocked gently with the slightest movement.  The sales clerk said it was perfect for breastfeeding.  At the beginning of her third trimester, Helen found herself unable to sleep for more than a few minutes at a time.  At first, she just attributed it to stress.  Three days later without sleep, the doctor refused to prescribe any sleeping pills because they would harm the baby.  By the end of the week, she couldn’t go to work anymore and took to drifting through her condo like a ghost late at night.  She tried sleeping everywhere; the couch, the spare bedroom, the bathtub, even the living room floor, but she was still too uncomfortable to stay asleep for more than a few moments.  She ordered takeout and sobbed helplessly as she ate, watching inane programs on TV.  She didn’t want the baby anymore.  It had become appallingly clear to her that it was ruining every aspect of her life.  On the same night she purchased a box of sleeping pills from the pharmacy, she discovered the power of the rocker.  She had wandered into the baby’s room to take another inventory of what she might need.  Sitting down for only a moment and setting the pills on the changing table, she woke up to the sound of birds chirping in the predawn sky, having slept nearly six hours.  For the rest of her pregnancy, she slept in the chair every night, dreaming about what it would be like to breastfeed her baby as she listened to the Santa Anas carry the sound of the shushing waves from Santa Monica.

           Turning pink and grimacing, William spat out the bottle and sucked in a shuddering breath before he began to wail.  It sounded thin and metallic like an old tin noisemaker.  Setting the bottle on the floor, she laid him against her chest and rubbed his back to burp him.  As if in pain, William’s cries rose into jagged shrieks that hurt her head.  His tiny, fat limbs strained against the flannel blanket he was wrapped in, and from the weight of his body on her chest, Helen’s breasts began to throb. 

           Holding him in front of her, she tried quieting him, but he continued to scream.  She started thinking about how long it would take before Ms. Allen came through the door to declare her an unfit mother.  He spit the bottle out a second time and screamed louder when she tried rocking him in her arms.  A terrible thought occurred to her as she paced around the room. What if it was her?  She set him in his crib and watched his knotted up face continue to bellow.  It would be worse if Marie came to the door.  They were both shaking uncontrollably, and tears were already dripping off her chin.  The front of her blouse was wet with what she thought to be pee, but she realized that her breasts had leaked through her bra. 

           It was a sense of inevitability that guided her movements as she stood over the crib, unbuttoning her blouse.  It was the only thing that she could do that Marie couldn’t.  She undid her bra, and slid the strap off one of her shoulders and picked him back up.  Sitting in the recliner, she cupped her swollen breast in her hand and used her other hand to hold the baby’s head against her engorged nipple.  Leaning back in the chair and looking at the ceiling, she took a deep breath as she waited for the feeling of his little mouth to tug at her breast hungrily. 

           He gagged and struggled, spitting up formula on her, howling angrily.

           Setting him in his crib, Helen understood that he was only partially her son.  As she wiped herself off with some baby wipes, she looked out the window at the thick-limbed oak tree that shaded the yard.  She buttoned up her blouse and carried William over to the window.  In the light, she could see the strange shape of his eyes.  He squinted in the sunlight and quieted down a bit. 

           She thought about the sacrifices she had made for her parents and her job as she watched the blue jays flit among the shaded boughs of the tree, under leaves that hooked like talons.  They carried bits of string and dried stems for their nests.  She knew why cuckoos left their young behind.  Like her, they had been doomed by heredity to a self-imposed loneliness, a necessary act that was in itself the only grace she was ever permitted.  Looking over the sleepy, pastel neighborhood, Helen considered, for only a moment, what it would have been like to have kept her son.  She would ask them to keep his name though, her family’s name.

Scott Eubanks lives in Spokane, Washington, with his girlfriend, four-month-old daughter and 200 lbs. of dogs. He grew up in a foster home for children with developmental disabilities and his family ended up adopting five kids with Down’s syndrome. Until he was about five, he thought he was a genius because he could walk and dress himself. He received his MFA in nonfiction from Eastern Washington University where he was the nonfiction editor for Willow Springs Literary Magazine. His work has appeared in Memoir(and), the Yellow Medicine Review and the Whitefish Review.

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by Daniel Ruefman

When I sign the adoption papers
I linger in the black December
dying in decimeters.

I feel him lay curl bottomed
ear against my chest

I soothe, I coo, I kiss.
his Lilliputian digits

curl around my own and
soon our time is spent

and I leave this moment,
the father to son.

I’m sorry
I’m not sorry

as forever drops
the bottom of the mail bin.

When I stop hating myself
I hear a man
rattle his racket against

a chain link enclosure of the tennis courts;
I smell the perfume of charcoal

and fresh burst hotdogs;
I feel the earth beneath me,

the sour grass,
knotted between my fingers,

and I see him,
toddling down the path

at the water’s edge,
beneath the willows

idling by soccer pitch
rolling in the crab grass

chortling, screaming,
rising, waiting, falling

living
with the father I gave him.

When I graduate
I drink in this moment,
that moment

and taste a hundred thousand
this and that moments that led me

through the mean and the mild,
and I give thanks

for the season’s drink
for the dying moments

for the life I have
for the life I have given—

for the purpose loving
and letting go.

Daniel Ruefman is a Lecturer in the Writing and Linguistics Department at Georgia Southern University and has recently completed his Ph.D. in Composition and TESOL at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. His poetry has appeared in several journals, but most recently in The Tonopah Review, SLAB, and Temenos.

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zolpidem tabletas 10 mgBirth mothers are often the forgotten or ignored part of the adoption triad.  100 mg zolpidem is a collection of personal stories by birth mothers, adoptive mothers, and adoptees. The stories cover a range of topics about adoption, open adoption, birth parent connections, and unification with children after closed adoption, focusing on the relationship with birth mothers. Here, editor of Fertile Source how much does ambien 10 mg cost on the streettalks to mother-daughter duo Ann & Amanda Angel, the book’s editors. Ann Angel is an adoptive mother of four. Amanda is an adoptee and also a birth mother. She placed her daughter in an open adoption in 2000.


1. Tell me a little bit about the impetus behind this book. Why did you decide to do it? Why do you think it’s important and what do you hope it achieves?

AMANDA: A few years ago, I was preparing to visit my birth daughter. Previous to that, I had been exchanging letters and pictures, so this was going to be a new experience. She was seven years old and full of questions, according to her mom. So, I wanted to see what resources were out there for birth mothers to help them prepare for such events. As I scoured the internet and library, I realized there was a real deficit of materials for birth mothers. I wanted to know what I could say, could I hug her, how do I answer questions appropriately, was I feeling the way most birth mothers feel in this situation; none of the materials out there even touched upon the birth mother’s perspective. So, I went forward with no rules in place, mentioning to my mom along the way that birth mothers need help too. They need a voice and to be recognized for the experiences they encounter as a birth mother. And from there, the seed had been planted.

ANN: When Amanda mentioned that a book of essays for birth parents would help start the conversation on how to open adoptions in healthy ways, I mentioned that I’d just completed an essay for Catalyst Book Press for a collection of birth stories. This seemed like the ideal press to play an activist role. I also thought the book could help birth mothers connect with adoptive parents because it seems emotionally healthier and more connected in open adoptions if the adoptive parents are supportive enough to step up and be part of the relationships.

   
2. What was it like working with birth mothers, adoptive mothers, and adoptees to produce a book like this? How did you balance artistic talent with unique voices and the importance of the message?

AMANDA:  I thought it was a beautiful discovery of the complexity of the roles in adoption. Each essay had its unique purpose, all of which helped me continue to shape my view of adoption, both as an adoptee and a birth mother. It made me proud to hold the title of birth mother, among the ranks of such amazing women.

ANN: I find myself humbled whenever I hear their stories because these writers spoke of connection and loss, finding one another in ways that sometimes work and sometimes don’t. Some of the stories were so sad and loss-filled they made me cry. Others made me laugh with the joy of connection. I found almost all of the stories were stories of redemption and they lifted my own spirit. I wish we could have included all the stories we received because it is important that we give all the members of adoption the chance to tell their stories.

3. How do you think American society characterizes birth mothers today? How has this perception developed/grown/changed over time and why is it what it is?

AMANDA:  I think our culture, at times, glamorizes adoption, especially when it comes to Hollywood stars adopting. However, I think we still forget that it is a process that involves more than just the adoptive parents and adopted child. The birth parents are often shuffled aside, whether in Hollywood or not, as just a vehicle to the end result. From personal experience, the stigma is still there. In some cases, people assume that if you are a birth mother, there must be something wrong with you if you don’t want to keep your child. In the past, it was difficult to explain that it’s BECAUSE I love my child that I couldn’t keep her. To give your child a healthy, stable environment in which to live, is a bigger gift than to subject them to an unhealthy, chaotic life. I can say, however, that in the last few years, as I’ve started to share my role, I have received more positive reactions than negative ones. My hope is that this book will “pay it forward.” The stories will help others get the word out that this is an act of true love.

ANN: While our culture encourages open adoption to help ease the adoption issues that can hurt adoptees in adult relationships, I think our culture still places a stigma on birth parents. This book helps birth parents share the truth of their individual stories in a way that I hope encourages other birth parents to come forward in ways that will help their adopted children know their origins. 

zolpidem real 10 mg4. What is it like to make the decision to place a child for adoption? Why do you think pregnant women make that choice, as opposed to abortion or raising the child themselves? What’s at stake for a birth mother (in the whole adoption process)? For the adoptee? For the adoptive parent?

AMANDA: The decision to place my daughter for adoption will forever be one of the hardest, if not the hardest, choice I will ever have faced. I was 22 years old and ready to be a mom; circumstances had a different plan for me. In being an adoptee, I think I was lucky in seeing firsthand how wonderful the results of placing a baby could be. Even though I knew that this was the best option for my child, there were still times I doubted I could cope.
     A lot of ‘what ifs’ creep up over time. I can say that I’ve noticed an increase in what ifs now that I am surrounded by friends my age who have children and I do not. I never doubt my decision as my daughter is healthy, happy, and has amazing parents. However, I do wonder what life would be like if she were with me.
     I can’t answer why women make the choice for adoption. It’s such a personal decision that each situation is different. My best estimation would be that some women find themselves pregnant and know that this precious life they are carrying can bring so much joy and love to people who have tried and were unable to conceive. It’s a realistic and honest outlook-these birth mothers know they are not capable, at that particular time in their life, to care for their child the way in which a stable family could.
     The birth mother deals with the grief and loss that over time subsides but never completely vanishes. This has become more and more evident as more birth mothers come forward with their stories. Women who feel incomplete even though they may go on to have a family of their own. Reputation is another high stake; being a birth mother, especially in an open adoption, can be confusing to outsiders.
      Personally, I know that in the beginning of a few romantic relationships, it has been something I have shared as it is a part of my life and future. I have been told, in fact, that it is a “deal breaker.” When asked why, the responses I’ve received were usually a big sigh and an uncomfortable stumble over “It’s just different” or “It just makes things more complicated.” In addition to my personal life, I worry it may affect my career. I work as a teacher and sometimes fear that if our school community becomes more aware of my situation, some members may not be comfortable having their students in my classroom because of the “pregnancy before marriage” aspect. Although I understand how that could cause some initial trepidation, I also wish people could recognize that I made a decision that afforded my daughter a great amount of opportunity and happiness.
      For the adoptee, I think not having information of their lineage is at risk. Wondering where certain health conditions, mannerisms, or tendencies come from can be hard for adoptees to cope with. At times, there are identity issues that cannot be resolved if there is no relationship with one of the birthparents. 

ANN: From my perspective, the birth mother will go through life with the knowledge that her child is in the world. She might fear letting others know that she has a child she couldn’t take care of. She might fear how the world perceives her. But women become mothers the minute they conceive. Whether a woman aborts a child, places a child for adoption or raises a child either in a marriage or as a single parent, she lives with the knowledge of her motherhood every day of her life. I’m not saying society judges the mother, I’m saying the mother either lives with grief of loss or raises the child-either way, it’s just always with her. 

5. How can birth mothers recover from the loss? How can adoptive mothers play a role in the grieving process?

AMANDA: Time can heal a lot of the grief. Having an open adoption helped me confirm that I had made the best choice possible for my daughter. For those women that do not have an open adoption with their child’s family, support groups could be another way to work through the emotions they may feel. Our hope is that this book will become a resource of sorts for women who need to know they are not alone.

ANN: Adoptive mothers can help birth mothers through the grieving process by sharing information even in a semi-closed adoption. If the adoption has been opened, I think the adoptive parents can serve as a bridge between the birth mothers and adoptees. In my own experience, sharing photos and connecting on occasion is especially important when an adoptee might back off and need time and space to work relationships out. The relationship is extremely complex and all involved need to be patient and sensitive to one another. I also think adoptive mothers can be supportive if they know an adoptee is searching for birth parents. In those cases, when a birth parent refuses contact, the adoptee will need to heal from loss once again. I can’t imagine being in a position where you feel you have to do that alone while an adoptive parent remains unaware. Given that, it’s also important that the adoptive mom provide a safe environment where an adoptee feels he or she can talk about searching.  


6. What role do you think art & literature can play in the grieving process for all members of the adoption triad (since all parties have usually experienced a loss)? What role has this book played in your understanding(s) of birth, adoption, and motherhood?

 AMANDA: Art and Literature offer a different perspective on our stories. As artists, we have a certain idea on how our work will be perceived; however, people’s interpretations vary based on their own personal experiences. Through this book, I’ve realized that I am not alone in my role as  birth mother. There are many women in the world that share a similar experience and have now put their story into words to help others. This book helped me appreciate my relationship with my birth daughter and her parents even more than I already did. I have been so fortunate to know how my decisions impacted their lives in such a positive way. It’s also given me the confidence to become more public with my role as a birth mother, in hopes of helping others.

 ANN: When we share our stories through art and literature, we share ideas and experiences that can lead to healing. These stories can also lead us to open our hearts to nontraditional ideas of family that enrich the lives of all involved. Working on this book has made me realize even more how important it is for me to encourage open expression of loss and grief and joy. It’s taught me how generous birth parents can be and I think it’s made me communicate more openly about adoption with my adult kids and their non-traditional families.  

7. What are the best resources out there for birth mothers, adoptive parents, and adoptees? What resources are there in particular for adoptees and birth mothers going through the reunification process?

 ANN: In most cases, contemporary adoption agencies encourage open adoption for the sake of the adoptee. Many counselors are trained to work with all in the adoption. But I think it’s imperative, if a family member wants to work through adoption issues with a therapist or counselor, that they make sure to seek help from someone experienced or trained in the complexities of adoption, perhaps touched by the experience themselves.   
  There are resources to help families create open adoptions such as Lois Ruskai Melina’s The Open Adoption Experience – A Complete Guide for Adoptive and Birth Families. David Brodzinsky has also written a landmark book, Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self, that discusses the psychological and educational implications of adoption on a child through adulthood. 

  Our book, Silent Embrace, Perspectives on Birth and Adoption, fills a resource need because it addresses the complex emotional responses of all in adoption. I think it would be especially valuable for those who find their adoption records will remain closed. But the book serves all in an adoption triad because the essays reflect such a broad, intensely personal and honest response to the issue of parents and origins in adoption. Each story can help readers consider what a healthy relationship is and how we can navigate that relationship over time. 

Ann Angel is a professor of writing at Mount Mary College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The editor of Such a Pretty Face: Short Stories about Beauty (Abrams/Amulet 2007), she is also the author of several biographies for teenagers, including the forthcoming Janis Joplin, Rise Up Singing (Abrams/Amulet 2010). Ann is the adoptive mother of four children, including her daughter Amanda, with whom she edited her most recent collection, buy zolpidem tartrate online. Please visit her website at www.annangelwriter.com.

Amanda Angel is an elementary school teacher in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 2000, she placed her daughter in an open adoption. Since then, she has become an advocate for both birth mothers and adoption. Although she has written plays including Three Rocking Pigs, a children’s musical produced for Marquette University, buy zolpidem tartrate online is Amanda’s first book.




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