I watched David and Carol go through the emotional rollercoaster of trying to adopt with one agency and my heart softened, even though I could tell the girls were nervous about the possibilities of such massive, looming change. I witnessed Carol and David's intense heartbreak from afar when their efforts fell through; growing in sympathy, but also feeling that familiar guilt at my pangs of relief. I did my best to surf the bumpy waves; pulling back a little, making my friendship with Carol more superficial so it'd be easier to be a bitch, if I needed to be. I'd let some time pass between attempts at reconnecting, trying to create some space and formality.
Then, feeling remiss and out of sync, I'd bend back the other way to make up for less than friendly behavior. It was scary to think of losing control; bricks for my wall; the buffer that emotional distance provides when it's time to put up your dukes and defend your territory.
Many times, I just tried to bury my head in the sand, wishing it could just all be over so things could "get back to normal". But life wasn't heading that way anytime soon, and sometimes, life shows you: you have a lot more choices than you think you have.
Time passed as Carol and David regrouped, and they tried again with another agency. This round we were all more used to the idea. When a young couple picked them out, the girls were ecstatic, and I was surprised to find that I was truly excited too.
The clouds finally parted over a new day in my head: hmmm... maybe this wasn't such a win/lose situation?
Now the waiting game began. The birth mother still had two months to go until she delivered. Would she change her mind at the end? David and Carol befriended the birth parents— had them over for dinner, talked names, potential personalities, introduced them to the girls. We were all beside ourselves with anticipation and curiosity. In fact, we could talk of nothing else!
Finally, the baby was born.
David and Carol spent most of the weekend at the hospital, wanting to spend as much time as possible with the baby. We were all on pins and needles, wondering if the birth mother would finally sign the papers during the 72 hours she had to change her mind. Handing over her new, scrunchy-faced, beautiful baby boy to Carol and David, who wanted him so much, and to M. and S., who would gain an instant baby brother.
I was asked to bring the girls to the hospital only hours after Jacob was born so they could see him. There, I met the birth mother, a wonderful, young woman; her kind mother, and the baby's quiet father. A bittersweet sadness tinged the bright euphoria in the air. It was a bit disorienting in the crowded room. I felt like a clumsy, obtrusive invader – surely, I was imposing. And yet, when I hastily mentioned leaving, I was warmly asked by all to stay.
I looked into Carol's eyes with humbled awe as she handed me the baby to hold in the rocking chair, fighting hard to blink back tears.
Can you imagine?
I was deeply touched by everyone's generosity, especially Carol's, but still, part of me felt intensely uncomfortable. This was their experience, Carol's experience.
The last thing she needed was "the mother" sticking herself into her life again, inserting her presence out of logistical necessity, when it was least convenient or desired. I tried to merge into the background. There was the feeling of walking on a tightrope and I didn't want to fall off. Or make anyone else fall off theirs.
It was done. Jacob came home on his second day in this world to live with his new family.
I still wasn’t sure how I fit into this picture, and honestly, now that Carol and I had so strongly connected in a way that even I didn't understand, was hesitant to step on her toes at all.
I hung back and let her take the lead.
As she explained later, when she started thinking of the baby as not just hers, but as “M. and S.’s” too, then her feelings about “sharing” him with me started to change. It became easier and easier for her to invite me into a sense of a larger family as we shared stories of sleepless nights, the art of deciphering different cries, the irresistible cuteness of baby butts.
I began to love this spunky, outgoing, little boy; I began to feel connected, to look forward to seeing him. I even began to miss him if I went too long without seeing him. He would squeal with delight when I came over and make my day.
Who would have thought?
Looking back, I can see that widening a net that included me could not have been forced. It was an evolutionary process that was slowly and sometimes painstakingly (emphasis on pain)built upon forgiveness, mutual understanding, and wanting to build a bigger sense of family for the girls and now, for Jacob. We had three very good reasons to try so hard.
The last thing any of them needed was another broken family unit and as we all know, the odds aren't in favor of many marriages, especially remarriages.
We worked on creating warmth and peace, and eventually, even love between our households. Small presents went both ways between the adults; burned CD's, desserts, birthday cards, a nice shirt the other person might like that was just hanging in our closet.
And somewhere during those first few seasons of Jacob's life, one of the greatest honors in the world was bestowed upon me: I was made his honorary aunt. It is one of my proudest titles and most treasured, unusual gifts. I am acutely aware of its rarity, and that makes it even more special.
And so, when I was asked to babysit the "first boy in the family" — of course, I jumped at the chance. I took directions about what to do just like a regular babysitter, knowing I needed to do it their way, instead of mine.
With Jacob tucked in my lap, growing drowsy with sleep, I rang with such mixed emotions — a bit of sadness at the permanent duality of our families, but delight at the delicious joy of holding an infant again, thanking the powers that be for helping us all get to this point in such a typically fragile and acrimonious situation.
Jacob recently celebrated his third birthday and indeed, he feels just exactly like my nephew. I look forward to watching his life unfold and hope it's a long, rich and happy one. Unlike previous "official" parties, this one was just a small, but typically raucous family get-together at their house. We watched him stare in amazement as he unwrapped real-life versions of Woody and Buzz Lightyear (ToyStory is his favorite movie) with a whispered "Whoa….", then burst into laughter.
Little did I know, years ago, how much this little person would come to mean to me, or how powerfully he would pull us all closer together.
Quite an achievement for such a sweet and growing boy.
© 2008 Jennifer Newcomb Marine All Rights Reserved