Well, things fell apart.
The sweetest, most wonderful baby girl was born. We received a phone call telling us so just hours after she entered the world. The social worker said on the phone that the baby's mother was doing well. Incarcerated, she had given birth quickly and alone, with no one but the hospital staff and a prison guard at her side, as is mandated by the law. We had not been allowed to be present at the hospital or even know that the birth had happened until we received the social worker's call. When she finally called, we were instructed that, although we had permission to come to the hospital and spend time with the baby, we could not visit, talk to, or even see her mother. And all of this, with heavy hearts, we did already know.
We had met the baby's mother back in August, when a reader of this blog sent me an email and told me that a friend of hers who is an adoptive mother had received a letter from her daughter's birthmother that day. Her daughter's birthmother, who was in prison, was writing to say (among other things) that she had met a young woman there who was six months prgenant and looking for a loving home for her baby. The adoptive mother did not know of anyone personally, but that day she asked my blog reader, her good friend, whether she knew of anyone who was hoping to adopt, and the blog reader said yes, well . . . no . . . well, it's weird, I kind of know them: Andy and Alicia. I read their blog.
We wrote to the baby's mother immediately. A week later we received from her the most poignant and beautiful letter I have ever seen, full of her hopes and dreams for her daughter. We wrote back and told her ours. The fit was perfect. Within weeks we were headed to the prison to meet her. In the gray visitors' room at the correctional center, she walked toward us with a shy smile. We fell in love with her immediately. I believe the feeling was mutual. We stayed for hours and hours. She didn't want us to leave. We didn't want to go.
Not allowed internet, email, or phone access, she corresponded with us on paper throughout the fall. The three of us wrote long letters that often crossed in the mail, each describing ourselves, our lives, and our ideas for the brightest possible future for this baby. She met with the social worker from the adoption agency as well as our attorney and formalized arrangements for us to adopt the baby at birth. She was studying constantly for her GED and had made careful plans for her own immediate future after her release, all aimed at helping her gain control of her life. Everyone who met her was deeply impressed with her. Her story was painful to hear. Her beauty, courage, and love for the baby brought me to tears daily. Throughout September and October, as I shipped ornament kits, shopped for cradle mattresses, and knit onesies, I cried almost every day. I vowed to her and to God that I would spend every day of the rest of my life being the kind of mother the babygirl, as we called her, deserved. I wanted to make every one of her birthmother's dreams for her come true, and I believed I could. Her dreams were simple, and broke my heart: Please read her bedtime stories. Please do her hair for her. Please let her go to sleep with a full tummy and happy thoughts at night, and when she wakes up I want her to know what kind of day she is going to have. I never had those things, and always wanted them, she said. She will have all of them, we said, she will have every one of those things. All of those things, and so many, millions, more.
That was how we came to be at the hospital the afternoon of the baby's birth, where we cried when we met her, held her in our arms for hours, then convinced a nurse with sweet-talk to hold the door to the baby's mother's room open while we walked by so that we could see her from the hallway on our way out for the night. The nurses had already heard all about us from her. "She says you're amazing people!" the nurse who was taking care of the baby's mother told us as we blushed happily. "I'm so, so happy for all of you!" She indicated that we should wait while she took the baby back into her mother's room for the evening. In one motion the nurse opened the door and signaled for us to walk past just then. The baby's mother sat up in bed to see us: Andy gave her a double-thumbs-up and a huge Andy-smile; I blew her kisses heavy with all the words I wasn't allowed to say. Her long hair fell down her back as she sat up, and she waved. The room was dark; only the light from the television flickered blue. I saw the prison guard sitting next to the bed. The huge door swung closed, and she was gone. We walked on, dazed. We texted the nurse, who had given us her personal cell-phone number, and asked her to tell the baby's mother that we loved her. She said she would, and asked us how to spell the name we had chosen for the baby so that her mother could put it on the birth certificate. She had wanted us to choose it ourselves. Her name is Maisie Alice, we said. And thank you. Thank her. Thank you thank you.
What we didn't realize was that unbeknownst to the baby's mother and to us, someone had been quietly working on a plan to derail this adoption. Our attorney called us the next morning as we were about to leave for the hospital and gave us the news that a putative birthfather had surfaced just hours before. As I listened to her voice come out of the speaker-phone, explaining, I felt as if I were falling backwards down a hole.
That same morning, the baby's mother was also getting ready to be discharged from the hospital. Though standard procedure dictates that the baby stay for forty-eight hours, incarcerated women are allowed to stay only one day. Twenty-four hours after giving birth, she was to be taken back to the correctional center and finish recovering there. An hour before she was about to leave, the social worker rushed in to give her the news that a putative father had come forward; if he was found to be the biological father, she explained, the adoption would not happen. The nurses and the social worker later reported to us that she became extremely upset. For several hours past the time she was supposed to leave, they worked to calm her. She changed the baby's name. She left the hospital. And the next morning we arrived to take the baby home. Well, first we took her to a shabby little drug-testing facility to have her cheek swabbed. And then we took her home.
For six days, as we waited for the results of the DNA test, we loved her with our whole hearts. We held her and kissed her and fed her and got up at night with her and changed her and stared at her and rocked her and laughed at all the funny things she did and sang to her and gave her everything we had to give in those moments. We almost never put her down. She curled into our bodies as if she meant to stay. She didn't cry unless her diaper was being changed, and sometimes not even then. She loved to be swaddled with her right arm out. She loved to be held. She loved to gnaw on her fingers. She laid on the bed and kicked her little legs and stared calmly up at the two bright windows. She played with the nipple of the bottle as she drank, flickering milk on her butterfly tongue just for fun, and looked into my eyes as if she thought it was all quite funny, this world outside the womb. Andy visited the baby's mother in prison. He stayed with her for several hours. We all continued to hold out hope that the adoption plan would be realized. Through each long day, we tried to distract ourselves by just loving the baby, and praying that we would get to be her parents.
But it was not to be. A week after her birth day, the DNA test finally came back and said no, she was not to be ours. When Andy read the results, I fell to the floor, sobbing. I had thought my heart was a fleshy, pulpy thing; I didn't know it was actually made out of blown glass. It shattered into a million pieces. I hoped that a tiny, painless shard flew into the babygirl's heart, and would be lodged there forever. I hoped that someday she would love snow, or horses, or mountains and not know why. I prayed for her to have a good life, filled with happiness, filled with love, filled with every thing, filled with every single good thing. We kissed her warm cheeks, and let her hold our big fingers in her tiny hands, and told her goodbye. Goodbye.
At our request, our attorney called the father first thing the next day, and asked him if he would be willing to surrender rights to the baby and place her into an open adoption with us. He said absolutely not. The social worker came to pick her up later that evening. I was shaking as Andy put her in the car. We watched them drive away, the social worker squinting in the darkness at her directions, and prayed for their safety on the road, prayed for her safety forever. We made immediate plans to leave Chicago, and took the Wednesday train back to Oregon. The trip is two days long. We got home Friday, where our warm house and our patient animals waited with worried eyes. We are home, we told them, we are here. We are here. It's okay. We are here.
I've been writing this post for two days now. I think about the baby and her mother all the time, almost every moment, still. I don't know exactly where the baby is right now, or where she will end up; we don't really have a right to know, anymore. She's in the system after all, just as her mother tried so desperately to avoid. There are many answers that I don't have; there are many complicated and private details that I've glossed over or left out of my telling of this story here. Some of them don't flatter the people who will now be in this baby's life, and I am choosing to think the best of them and their motivations in spite of everything.
With baited breath and so much hope our closest friends and family have waited out these long weeks with us, and they are here for us now, bringing flowers and food, kind notes, warm hugs and warm arms, words of hope and encouragement, and prayers for the baby and her mother. We are so blessed to have these people and the life we have. As we sat together in the lounge car of the train one more time, rolling across the snow-covered angelfields of North Dakota, we held hands and counted our own blessings, one by one by one. One of the great privileges of my life was getting to watch this person that I love more than anything on earth get to be a father for those eight days. If fatherhood were merit based, this guy would have a dozen kids. We got to be parents, and see each other as parents, and be seen by each other as parents, and we decided we were great at it. So now we know. It was a privilege to spend eight days with this exquisite baby girl; as soon as I saw her, I knew and loved her. To have finally gotten to meet her, to have been there on the day of her arrival on the planet after such a long, hard wait — that, too, has been one of the greatest gifts I've ever received. I also made her smile four times in a row on Saturday afternoon, just with the sound of my voice. We sat in the golden sunshine, alone in the house while Andy was at the prison, and she smiled at me four times. It was the most beautiful thing in the world. No one will ever be able to take that from me, or from her. I will never forget her, and she will be in my prayers every night, forever.
There were so many signs all along that this adoption was meant to be, things I rarely mentioned or even acknowledged, except to my secret heart. Each one that revealed itself pulled us further and further down this unlikely road, and made us feel like someone up there really wanted us to be this baby girl's parents in this world. We were outside of our adoption agency, outside of our familiar spaces, stretched beyond all certainties, and still, through all the risks and speculations and worries, we felt protected by a sense that it must all be happening for a reason. Now I wonder what that was all about. I can only decide that we were brought together for some reason, and perhaps that reason is to stay in the baby's mother's life, if she will have us. That remains to be seen. But there was so much friendship that lay ahead for us, I was sure of it. We love her, and of all of us I think I feel most broken-hearted for her: She doesn't get anything the way she wanted it. Alone she carried this baby, and alone she loved her enough to want a better life for her than the one she herself had, than the ones she could see unfolding around her. We did everything we could to try to make that happen, but neither she nor we can change things now. I will write to her tomorrow. I will wait for a letter from her.