21 March 2012

She comes home...part 7

"I don't know how you did that! Taking care of a newborn all by yourself in a hotel room! I couldn't have done it."

Numerous people express these sentiments to me upon our return home with Esme.

"Well...I didn't really have a choice," I reply.

I'm sure before all of this craziness happened if someone had told me that I'd be spending 10 days with an infant in a hotel room, the majority of those ten days alone with her, I probably would have fainted at the prospect.

Fainted dead away.

But the truth is that once we get to the hotel and it's just Esme and me...I'm more relaxed than I have been in almost three years.

After the insanity of our failed adoption in March, getting the news of Esme's birth on the heels of Hurricane Irene and the mad rush of getting myself to Florida, after the agonizing and waiting, making the final pact with K, nasty Nurse Stink Eye, the signing of the papers, the clueless attorney, and finally (painfully) saying goodbye to K...being alone with Esme in a clean, quiet hotel room seems comparatively easy.

Even relaxing.

"I didn't have a choice," I reply to the folks amazed by my ability to take care of a newborn alone in a hotel room. "But honestly, compared to the two and a half years of waiting and everything else that happened on our adoption journey...taking care of her turned out to be the easy part."

Esme is a quiet baby.

She sleeps most of the time wrapped up like a burrito. Over the course of two days at the hospital I have become adept at swaddling. She cries when she wets her diaper and when she's hungry. However, I am extremely grateful that she is apparently one of those babies who, when a need is addressed, immediately stops crying. She isn't one of those babies who gets herself all worked up.

Our room is spacious with two queen sized beds, a decent sized sitting area and a tiny kitchenette. Because we're in Orlando - Land of the Evil Empire Disney - hotel rooms are plentiful and cheap. A room this size and quality near where we live would be in the hundreds for just one  night. But here it's affordable. And conveniently the hotel is right across the street from Target. Anything I need is just one minute away.

Our first night together as mother and daughter is relatively quiet. Upon our arrival in our temporary home she sleeps in the portable bed-top sleeper while I get all of the various baby stuff set up in little stations around the room. Once that's done I sit next to her on the bed to watch her sleep. Wrapped up burrito-style she is very still, although from time to time she moves her little head in a circle and her mouth opens wide in a silent cry. And then she settles back down into deep sleep.

Do newborns dream?
"Hello, my little burrito," I whisper to her.

Some part of my brain thinks that I should be panicked about being here on my own with her, but I'm not. She's quiet and content. I'm quiet and content.

I send text messages and photos to Chris and our families. She sleeps, eats, makes wet diapers, and occasionally opens her dark-brown-almost-black eyes. I'd like to think she can see me, but I know from my reading that she sees virtually nothing at this point in her life. Her world is made up of sound, taste and other physical sensations. Like most newborns, she isn't crazy about being naked. Her skinny legs and arms flap manically when I change her. Her way of saying, "Holy crap it's cold in here!!!"

"I'm sorry, my little burrito," I say and try to dress her quickly. The teeny tiny newborn clothes are simply gigantic on her. Every time I change her I can't help but be delighted by her big feet. Well, giant for her...they are tiny little feet, but look ginormous on her pencil skinny legs. She has long, slender toes.

When she is awake, I lay her the length of my thighs and just gaze at her. Every little movement is adorable. She makes soft smacking sounds. And sometimes she sighs deeply.

I touch her face, her hair, her hands and feet. I am certain that she is the most perfect baby ever and tell her so, "You are the most perfect baby. Ever."

She doesn't reply, but looks in my direction with wide unseeing eyes. And sighs deeply.

I'd like to think she understands that already after just a few days I adore her with every fiber of my being.

No matter how tightly I wrap her into her burrito blanket cocoon, her left hand inevitably makes its way up and out of the top of her swaddling blanket. She sleeps with her fingers pressed to her cheek. This just kills me it's so sweet.

"I think we should call her Houdini," I say to Chris. "Her left hand will not be contained. She gets it out of the swaddling every time I do her up!"

He laughs, but it is obvious that he is incredibly sad to be missing her first day away from the hospital. Her first day as part of our family.

"You'll be here tomorrow," I say trying to ease the ache, knowing it doesn't help.

07 March 2012

She comes home...part 6

My stomach is doing uncomfortable flip flops.

I sit on one of the couches in the airy third floor hospital lounge, but it's impossible to get comfortable. From time to time I get up and walk around just to be doing something. When I'm not walking or glancing at the door, I'm sending text messages to Chris.

10:50 AM [ME]: I signed all the papers. The attorney now in with K having her sign everything. OMG. This is really happening.

11:01 AM [CHRIS]: I'm at my desk. Having a bit of trouble breathing.

11:01 AM [ME]: me too

11:20 AM [CHRIS]: Anything?

11:20 AM [ME]: Still waiting

11:21 AM [CHRIS]: This is nerve-wracking.

11:21 AM [ME]: What about this entire experience hasn't been nerve-wracking???

11:22 AM [CHRIS]: Bonus wracks for being so close to it happening. I'm sorry I'm not there with you.

11:22 AM [ME] I'm sorry too. But you'll be here tomorrow and we will just get to hang out without anyone else around!

Two hours earlier I arrive at the hospital to find K watching television and the baby laying next to her asleep.

"You just missed her being awake," says K.

"That's OK," I reply. "I'm sure she'll be awake again soon."

K nods.

"Do you want to hold her?"

I nod as K hands her to me. The baby doesn't even stir during the hand-off. One little hand peeks out of the top of the swaddling blanket.

"How are you?" I ask K.

"I'm OK," she says looking at me and then back at the tv. "I'm OK."

Again, I wonder if she is trying to convince me or herself that she truly is OK.

"Are you sure?"

She nods her head.

I try one last time. One last time I'll say it and then there's no going back for either of us.

"There's still time to change your mind," I say.

The statement...a question really...hangs in the air between us for a minute before K says, "No. I'm OK. I'm OK."

She looks back at the tv. I look down at K's baby in my lap. Sleeping. Content. Unaware of the pact being made and confirmed by the two women who love her more than anyone else in the world will ever love her.

Finally the attorney arrives. A pretty woman with dark hair in her mid-thirties. She smiles broadly as she introduces herself to K and to me. She coos over the baby announcing that she has a 5 month-old at home. After a few minutes of chit-chat she turns to me and says, "So, have you and your husband chosen a name?"

"Esme Louisa," I reply.

'That's beautiful," says the attorney with another big smile.

"Unless you changed your mind and there's a name that you like," I say turning to K hoping, even though I love the name we've chosen, that K will tell me that she's changed her mind and would like to have a part in naming her baby.

She shakes her head, "No. I'm OK. That's pretty."

Esme Louisa it is.

And then the attorney is leading me out of the room explaining that I have to be in a different part of the hospital while K signs the papers. She leads me to the lounge, pulls out a huge packet of papers and proceeds to go over each one with me. I'm sure that I'm supposed to read each one thoroughly, but I can't seem to focus properly because I'm so nervous. So, I nod a lot. Finally, the attorney announces that she needs to go review all of the documents with K, which will take a while. I try my best to read everything per the attorney's instructions, but just end up locating all of the places I'm supposed to sign and, with shaking hand, do just that.

The lounge is empty but for me. People come and go from the maternity ward, but no one stops here.

The minutes drag by.

Then at 11:32 the doors open and there is the attorney with a big smile on her face.

K signed the papers.

The attorney gives me a quick hug. I hand her my signed papers. We return to K's room. The moment I see K is so terribly, horribly bittersweet. She is crying. Big tears. I want to hold her, to tell her that it's all going to be OK. I want to adopt K along with her baby. She is so young and scared. She needs someone to take care of her. Seeing her cry and knowing what we've done...I am so heartbroken for her. So happy for me and Chris, but so heartbroken for her.

Part of me just wants to take it all back. To un-sign everything and go back in time to before we even knew about K and her baby.

I walk to her thinking that I will put my arms around her, but she thrusts Esme Louisa in my direction and turns away.

I can't blame her. I'd probably turn away from me, too, if I was her.

The attorney, oblivious to K's pain and only interested in my joy,  jumps in front of me with a camera and says, "Smile!'

So, I do. Then the attorney says, "Give me your phone and I'll take some pictures for you."

So, I do and she does.

"How about a picture with K?" says the oblivious attorney.

"Well, I think that's really up to K. I don't want to intrude on her privacy," I respond.

K is not crying anymore, but is still obviously shaken by what has just happened here.

"Oh, I guess I always think that everyone wants their pictures taken. It's such a happy occasion!"

Not for K.

This attorney really is clueless.

I look at K who says quietly, "I don't think I want my picture taken."

"I understand," I reply. "That's totally fine."

The attorney looks confused and disappointed. She puts her camera away. Finally, she announces that it's time for her to go. She congratulates me again, makes some vague noises in K's direction and leaves us.

I am wrung out and have no words left to text my husband so I simply send him this photo:

And then I sit on the low pink couch with my daughter and her mother. One of us is sleeping soundly while the other two contemplate the enormity of what we've just done.

05 March 2012

She comes home...part 5

"I can't get her to wake up to eat," I say quietly to the night nurse, B. "She is sleeping so deeply. I've tried everything, but she just won't wake up."

I'm very worried about this because the baby hasn't eaten in more than two hours. Nurse Stink Eye, upon returning the baby earlier in the evening after her tests are complete, looks at K and reminds her that because the baby is so small she needs to eat every two hours. No exceptions. She looks at me with the evil Stink Eye and says nothing before leaving the room to sign off from the day shift. I don't know if it's me personally that has her so up in arms or adoptive moms in general. Regardless, I'm relieved knowing that she won't be back this evening.

"Ahhh, give her to me," says Nurse B with a big smile. It's obvious that she loves babies.

It's late. 11 p.m. or so. K is sound asleep after taking a sleeping pill and I've been sitting with the baby for several hours now after a quick trip to my hotel room to freshen up and have a quick bite to eat (a frozen lean cuisine from the hotel snack shop. Yum. Not.)

Since arriving at the hospital five hours ago I've exchanged numerous texts and phone calls with Chris, who is kindly keeping everyone else in the family updated about events down here. It's too much for me to reach out to everyone. I'm pretty exhausted.

Every conversation I have with Chris involves me saying, "I wish you were here" and him replying, "I wish I was there, too" and both of us still uttering things like, "I can't believe this is happening" and "what if she won't sign the papers?" Still, we try to remain optimistic.

"I wish you'd send a picture of you and the baby together," Chris tells me.

"No, not yet. It wouldn't be right. Not until the papers are signed and she's ours."

"Mmm," he replies, "yeah, you're right."

We also spend time reviewing our list of names and narrowing them down to our final choice. If we're to sign papers tomorrow then the baby is going to need a name for the birth certificate. It doesn't take long, thankfully. It's a good choice. A sweet lovely name.

Earlier, long before my conversation with Chris, I ask K if she has a name picked out, "Is there a name that you like? Have you picked one out?"

"Ohhh, nooo," K replies, "no you should choose."

"Are you sure? If there's a name that's special to you, we'd certainly like to consider it."

"No," she says in her breathy voice, "there is no name."

I can't help wondering if there is, but don't pry any further. Her mind seems made up to let Chris and I name the baby. Part of me is relieved, but part of me is also sad because I had been hoping that K might want to participate in naming her little girl.

There have also been several calls with the FL adoption agency throughout the evening. The ladies there seem to be all at once excited for me to be spending time with the baby, but also nervous about me spending time with K (they encourage me to try to take the baby to another room, but I don't feel right about that and even if I did want to it certainly didn't feel like Nurse Stink Eye would let that happen.) I keep receiving warnings from the adoption agency folks to not share any personal information with K: "don't give her your phone number" and "under no circumstances let her know where you live" and my favorite (NOT) "And for God's sake don't give her or offer her any money." It's unnerving to have the adoption agency people display so much distrust for K. And it's the one completely sour note (aside from Nurse Stink Eye) in this whole experience.

"Newborns sleep a lot and sleep heavily. Sometimes it's hard to wake them up," Nurse B explains.

Nurse B is young - maybe 30. She is pretty with long, long brown and a friendly open smile. Additionally, it is obvious that she is confident with her little charges as she easily handles the baby. There is also the added bonus that Nurse B, unlike Nurse Stink Eye who looked at me as if I were some sort of mutant from another planet, acts kindly toward me. Even though I'm not the woman who gave birth to this baby, I am the adoptive mother and Nurse B treats me like she would any new mother.

I'm surprised to see her removing the swaddling blanket, the tiny onesie, the baby's hat and even her itty-bitty diaper (it's SO tiny...it looks like it should be for a baby doll!) The baby stirs in the chilly air, but sleeps on. I am startled to see just how teeny tiny she is out of the swaddling blanket. Her arms and legs are skinny and she has surprisingly huge feet. Nurse B and I both laugh at the sight of those huge feet on such a little person.

Nurse B flips the now naked baby over, pats her bottom hard, and then tickles her feet...also hard.

"Ummm," I say, "should you be doing that? She's so tiny."

Nurse B laughs.

"Oh, ya gotta be kind of mean to them at this age," she says with a happy grin, "or they won't wake up."

Finally after more bottom patting, tickling and flipping over the baby lets out a loud cry.

"Quick," says Nurse B with a chuckle, "stick the bottle in!"

I stick the nipple in the baby's mouth. She immediately starts to suck. Nurse B hands her to me. Feeding her for the first time makes my mouth go a little dry and throat tighten up, but in a good way. I can hardly breathe I am so happy.

The baby makes surprisingly quick work of one of the two ounces.

And promptly gets the hiccups.

I must look a little panicked because Nurse B says, "This is really normal. Newborns get hiccups a lot. Their tummies are not even the size of your thumb. They eat too fast and - boom! - hiccups. Just put her on your shoulder and pat her on the bum. She'll burp and eventually the hiccups will go away."

I carefully place the baby on my shoulder and gently pat her little behind.

"Oh, you can be a little more firm than that," says Nurse B, "she won't break."

So, I pat a little harder.

"That's it," says Nurse B. "You can go even a little harder. You're doing great."


And then she's sound asleep again.

Nurse B very kindly walks me through diapering and swaddling. The she gets up to leave saying, "I'm here all night and I'll be back in to check in on you."

'Thank you so much," I reply, "you've been really kind."

It's dim in K's room. I stretch out on the couch with the baby in my arms. I'd take more photos of her, but don't want to risk waking her with the flash. I've sent quite a few pictures already - a few even show her with her eyes open on those rare occasions when she would wake up. Her irises are so dark they appear black. She can't focus on anything when they're open.

"Yeah," I say to her the first time she opens her eyes, "this is kind of a big confusing world isn't it, huh?"

Throughout the evening K watches me with her baby. We talk a bit, but not as much as I though we would. At one point K says, "She's a good baby, just like my older daughter. She was quiet like this. Happy."

"How old is she now?"

"She's 4 years old."

"Omigosh," I reply. "That's such a fun age."

K doesn't respond with anything more than a sweet smile. I know from the adoption ladies that K's daughter is living in St. --- with K's mother. I don't know how long it's been since K has seen her daughter, but I don't have the nerve to ask nor do I think it's my place to ask if she isn't going to volunteer the information.

As K watches me hold her baby earlier in the evening, I wonder what she must be thinking and feeling. Her face appears placid and reveals nothing of her thoughts or emotions.

And now K is sleeping deeply while I get to know the little person who she brought into the world. The maternity ward is finally quiet. I'm exhausted, but not quiet ready to leave this little one to the care of the nurses for the night.

I touch her tiny face and feet and hands, marvelling at how perfect she is.

04 March 2012

She comes home...part 4

"Wow..." I say softly to the bundle in my lap, "you are a very tiny little person,"

The very first thing I ever say to my daughter.

I'm sitting on the low, pink couch next to K's bed. The baby lays along the length of my thighs. One of my hands gently cups the back of her head (her little head barely filling the palm of my hand at all) while my other hand rests gently on her tummy. My hand covers her entire body she is so little (I learn later that she is 5 pounds 9 ounces...pretty much the smallest a newborn baby can be without needing to spend some time in the NICU.)

A teeny face peeks out from between a pale blue/pink striped hat and the swaddling blanket. The face has dark skin (I'm surprised that her skin is more pale than I had expected) no discernible eyebrows yet, barely visible eyelashes, a broad-ish nose, and a sweet heart-shaped mouth.

She is sound asleep.

I look up to see K watching me with her daughter. Her face is unreadable. I have no idea what she must be thinking as she watches me hold her baby. Of what she thinks of me. Of knowing that tomorrow may be the day that she gives her daughter to me forever.

"She is so beautiful."

"Yeah," K replies in her deep yet breathy voice.

I look back down at the tiniest person I have ever held. She sleeps deeply. I imagine coming into the world is a fairly exhausting process.

"Is it OK if I take a picture of her?" I ask K.

She nods.

And so I pull out my phone, click one picture and send it to Chris. And then one more as the little bundle stirs.

I finally notice that the social worker is taking her leave of us, but not before she introduces me ("And this is the adoptive mother") to the day nurse who has come to check on K and the baby.

The day nurse nods at me, but says nothing seeing me holding the baby. She, in fact, looks at me with an expression like she smells something bad. If I weren't so mesmerized by the baby, I'd probably be really upset by this woman's obvious dislike of me or perhaps her discomfort, but at the moment I can't let myself get upset. The social worker and K don't seem to notice me getting The Stink Eye from the nurse.

Soon the social worker makes her escape and Nurse Stink Eye makes several more visits over the next 30 minutes to check on her patients and, no doubt, to make sure I haven't dropped her little charge. Before she signs off from her shift, Nurse Stink Eye announces that they have some tests to run on the baby, transfers her from my arms into a waiting hospital bassinet, and whisks her from the room.

I look at K.

Now is the time.

I have to talk to her and say what's been in my head since the moment I found out that I was coming to Florida to meet her and the baby.  So I get up and sit on the edge of her bed.

'This is weird, isn't it?" I ask her.

"Yeah," she answers solemnly.

We look at each other for a minute saying nothing and then I hear myself saying the thing that I've been dreading saying, but knowing that I can never move forward with any of this if I don't, "You know...you can still change your mind. We haven't signed any papers."

She stares at me for half a minute.

"No, I wouldn't do that," she says in her strangely deep yet breathy voice. "I wouldn't ask you to come all the way down here and then back out. I'm not that kind of person."

I look away, not able to speak. This is so hard. I can't even imagine how hard it must be for K. What she must be thinking or feeling.

Finally, I look back and say, "I know. But you can still change your mind. Chris and I will be OK if you do. We'll be fine."

"No," she says, "I'm OK. I'm OK."

But I don't know if she's saying it to convince me or to convince herself.

"OK," I nod, echoing her. "OK."

And again we look at each other in the awkward silence following what is the real agreement between us. No adoption agency people, no papers, no attorney, no social worker.

Just the two of us. Here in this room together.

Making a pact that she will give her baby to me and I will take care of her baby for the rest of my life.

We are OK.

"So," I say breaking the silence, "do you have any questions for me? Anything you want to know?"

"No, not really," she says, "they told me a lot about you."

I nod.

But before I can say anything else, Nurse Stink Eye returns with the baby and hands her to K giving me another withering stink eye look, which I choose to ignore. Instead, I look at mother and daughter. They look perfect together. She looks right holding this little baby.

This is so hard.

03 March 2012

She comes home...part 3

I don't understand how airplanes work.

Or how skyscrapers don't fall down (I generally do not go into tall buildings.) Or how parking garages can safely hold hundreds of thousands of pounds of vehicles and not collapse (this completely freaks me out and I attempt to park on the street whenever possible.) Or how bridges remain standing year after year after year so that drivers can get from Point A to Point B over large bodies of water (these I cannot avoid as I live in a state riddled with bridges that I must frequently drive across. Usually I turn up the music really loud. I don't know why I think that this will prevent the bridge from collapsing beneath my car as I drive over it, but somehow it soothes me.)

But mostly it's the airplanes that terrify me. I just don't understand how they stay aloft.

At all.

Unlike some people who get over their fears as they get older, my terror of flying has only grown exponentially. However, I don't let it stop me from traveling. I won't let myself not visit places because of my irrational fear. I get on planes when I have to.

And I sleep.

Sleep is my coping mechanism.

I always grab a window seat, roll up my favorite fleece jacket to use as a pillow and force myself to fall asleep for the duration of the flight.

But not on August 31, 2011.

On this day on my way to Orlando to meet the baby who might become part of our family, I am too keyed up to sleep. And too anxious up to read, to play a game on my phone, to make chit chat with the woman sharing the row with me, to eat, to do anything more than breathe shallow breaths.

And to wring my hands.

Yep, for the entire flight I wring my hands like a character out of some Regency period novel. I'm so filled with anxiety about what's going to happen or not happen and wondering if this adoption is going to fall through that it's all I can do.

Finally the pilot announces our arrival. What seems like a small eternity later the passengers deplane. Could they go any slower? Dear God! Don't they know that I have to get to the hospital???

Once on the ground, as instructed by E at the Florida adoption agency, I call the social worker who's waiting for me at the hospital. Despite being informed of my needing to catch a later flight, the social worker sounds incredibly perturbed that I am only just now at the airport. In a snippy tone she says, "You need to get here right away. It's the end of my day. I want to get out of here by 6:00."

Not kidding. She really says that to me. I've just hauled my ass more than 1,200 miles to get to Florida not knowing whether this adoption is going to happen...and she tells me to hurry it up because it's the end of her day?

Ummmm...aren't social workers supposed to be kind of compassionate and caring? Because, quite frankly, this one seems to be a major bitch.

I assure Ms. It's-The-End-of-My-Day that I am making every effort to get there ASAP. She reiterates that she's done and needs to leave. I try to politely sign off.

Thanks to the help of a nice sky cap, I am able dash off to rent a car while behind me he lugs my huge purple duffel bag, my big suitcase and the car seat.

I must look frantic because the young woman at the rental car counter asks, "Ma'am, are you OK?"

"Yes. Um. Well, no. It's just that -" and out tumbles a mess of words that include "adoption" and "not sure it's going to happen" and "social worker really upset" and "later flight" and ending with "I'm feeling a little overwhelmed."

The young woman gives me a very kind smile. And she also gives me an upgrade. Without asking all of those "would you like...?" and "can we offer you...?" questions car rental people usually ask. It appears that noting my frazzled state she just gets me set up with a car...no hassle and no fuss. I thank her profusely and then turn to dash to the garage, the sky cap huffing and puffing to keep up while pushing my huge luggage on a cart.

Finally I am in the car on the highway and that much closer to the pissed off social worker, to the young woman (K) who just gave birth yesterday, and to the baby girl who may or may not be coming home with me in a few short weeks.

Even though the air conditioning is blasting away, I am sweating.

At last, the hospital is in sight. Then I'm parked. And finally I'm standing in the hallway just outside the locked maternity ward waiting for the social worker to come to the door to let me in. I'm surprised when she actually greets me with a smile. I was expecting her to continue in It's-the-end-of-my-day bitch mode, but instead she chats amiably with me as we walk down the hall. Guess she's happy that I'm here. I hope that I am returning her amiable chat because all I can focus on is the fact that my stomach seems to have fallen uncomfortably to my feet. There is a distinct possibility that I might throw up I'm so nervous.

"What?" I hear myself asking.

"I'm going to take you to meet K and the baby."

"But, I um...isn't there papers and stuff for me to sign?" I stutter.

"No, not tonight. The attorney will come tomorrow. C'mon, let's go meet K."

And before I can object she walks toward one of the rooms. I follow. Hardly able to breathe.

K is in bed. Her hair is pulled back into a high pony tail. No makeup, in a hospital gown and just a day after being in labor and giving birth yet she is absolutely beautiful. Dark chocolaty skin, almond shaped eyes, high cheek bones, small pointy chin, a small gap between her two front teeth. I knew she was pretty from the grainy photo we had received from the adoption agency. But the photo doesn't do her justice at all.

"Hi," I say.

"Hi," she says, sounding a little sleepy.

The social worker is introducing us and I'm sure she must be saying something important, but I'm not hearing any of it. I can't take my eyes off of K. And then I notice a tiny little bundle in white laying next to her on the bed.

A tiny little baby-shaped bundle. With a teeny blue and pink striped hat covering her little head. I can't see her face.

K, seeing my eyes stray says, "Do you want to hold her?"

Her voice is deep-ish, but very soft. Her speech lightly accented.

"Are you sure?" I ask, not reaching out for the little bundle. "Really?" I feel frozen to my spot.

"Yeah, it's OK," she says picking up the bundle and holding it out to me. I don't move. "It's OK," she says again.

And suddenly I am holding the baby.