I approached the hotel room door with my stomach in knots. I almost couldn’t bring myself to knock. This was real and I was beside myself.
I was about to meet my son for the first time since his birth. The perfect golden-haired baby boy I had given up for adoption 18 years prior. The precious being that I carried for 42 1/2 weeks and held in my arms for 3 days, before sending him off into the world with more love than I had ever felt before; leaving an ocean of tears between us. And now, a small lifetime later, He was standing on the other side of that door.
I took a deep breath, lifted my hand up to knock, and in the moment just before my knuckles landed the last 18 years flashed before my mind.
Knowing what was about to happen was as incandescently brilliant as it was terrifying. I wasn’t sure this day would ever come and had just come to terms with the possibility that it wouldn’t. But here it was.
The copious amounts of joy it brought weren’t enough to outshine the anxiety and questions of self-doubt. The one that stood out glaringly among them all was… Would I be enough?
Being in Labor
When the word adoption comes up, it often makes people uncomfortable. I feel that today. Just as much as during my pregnancy when people caught wind of my “situation”. As much as the day I gave birth.
Every nurse in the hospital avoided eye contact and either greeted me with flippant apathy, or formal niceties delivered with judgmental undertones. To them I was just some punk kid who was ‘throwing her baby away’. They didn’t want to touch the situation with a 10 foot pole.
I spent an entire day waiting for the Pitocin to induce labor. Stuck in a bed. Waiting out awkward, judgy glances from the same people probing and poking me all day. I watched them shift uncomfortably from any conversation that might come close to facilitate a chance for them to get to know me. They had already made up their minds.
They weren’t aware that the finish line here wasn’t going to be some huge relief for me. Or that it was quite possibly going to break me. They didn’t know how badly I didn’t want to say goodbye to him. How much I had wrestled with my decision. They weren’t there for the months’ worth of arguments I’d had with my father, through tears, as I begged for his blessing and support to raise this baby. They hadn’t met the child’s father or the company of undesirable friends that he kept. Hadn’t seen the number of dangers my situation posed that I was trying to protect him from.
Creating a Book for Isaac
But then, halfway through the 2 days I spent laboring in that delivery room, things took an unexpected turn. Shifting as people began to realize that the man and woman in the room with us were the baby’s new parents. I had invited them to the birth in hopes that welcoming their baby into the world would help them all bond right off the bat.
The hospital staff caught wind of that and found out that the thick binder his soon-to-be mother was reading was a book I had spent the last month of my pregnancy carefully creating. Pouring my soul into. Filling it with pictures, stories, artwork, and poetry….Biographies on every member of my family.
Crammed with as much information as it could hold, it featured every insight into my life that might help my child know where he came from. So that the moment he was old enough to receive it, he would have answers to questions, understand why I made this choice, and know just how hard it was to make.
After his new mom finished the book, one of the nurses asked if she could look at it. Next thing you know, every nurse on the floor of the Cleveland Clinic Maternity wing was standing in the hallway, passing around page after page of his book. Devouring my story. Crying empathetic tears of sadness for me and tears of joy for his new family.
Suddenly they realized the truth in the situation and their avoidant behavior transformed into support and love. The judgmental glances became gazes of admiration and understanding. Formal niceties became genuine shows of compassion.
Choosing Isaac’s Adoptive Family
They realized this was not just some case of abandonment when they saw my heart. And they began to hold me in the stark realization that once this baby left my body, I would have to part ways with him.
They understood that I would’ve stayed pregnant forever just to keep him by my side. They read about how I had told my Dad I wouldn’t even consider adoption unless I felt unequivocally certain that my baby would be loved, stable and cared for.
I had hand-picked his new parents out of a stack of potential candidates, and the qualifications I was looking for were so specific I was certain I wasn’t going to find it.
At first, I was just humoring my father. Showing him that I was willing to consider another option, but promising him that unless fate intervened it wasn’t happening. Every single letter I read was a hard pass…until I came across theirs. I fell in love with her. His new mom.
She was sweet and genuine, deep and spiritual. She was loving and nurturing, kind and compassionate. She was unable to have her own children due to a childhood illness, and had been hanging on for years, yearning for the one that would call her mom. She was perfect.
The moment I met her, I felt overcome with peace about releasing my little boy into her care. I knew she was deserving of this gift and my bleeding, empathetic heart could not help but want to give it to her.
She sat by my side those 2 days. Coaching and cheering me on, cooling my forehead with a cold compress, holding my hand, and reminding me to breathe. She was there to cut the umbilical cord, and hear him cry for the first time.
He came into this world surrounded by love. Word had spread throughout the hospital wing and everyone wanted to meet the families that they had read about in the hallway. A crowd of doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists, and interns stood around me by the end. Overcome with joy and tears, they cheered as he emerged from my womb. They felt the beauty, rejoiced for the new parents, and held me in the pain that was to come.
I named him Isaac. Partly because I love the name but also because it means “laughter”. I thought it perfectly captured what I wanted for my son. A life filled with laughter and joy. Happiness that I did not feel I could provide for him. He was given his own name by his parents, as I knew he would be. But still, I wanted to leave him with a name from me. As a sort of tangible wish for the things I wanted for him.
Our 3 Days Together
The days that followed his birth were the most beautiful and painful of my life. In the state of Ohio, you could not legally sign your rights over until 72 hours after giving birth. I could have temporarily placed him in their care sooner, but I wanted that time with him. So I kept him.
For 3 days.
I took him home with me after a 2 day hospital stay. Our last night together is the most vivid memory I have with him. A memory that is as haunting as it is beautiful, hitting me like a scene from a movie every time I think of it.
I sat in the dark…in the bedroom of a young girl…looking at him through her eyes, sitting up for hours watching him sleep.
I remember his breathing…the new baby grunts…the blue and yellow onesie I bought him…the moonlight shining in the window, illuminating the darkness just enough for me to see his perfectly round head, covered in golden fuzz.
I can still hear the hum of the white noise in the corner and the warmth of the heater in that room despite the cold, snow frosted window. We were warm. Safe. Together.
I was exhausted but I stayed awake because I didn’t want to waste even one second of the time I had with him on sleep.
That was the only night where I had him all to myself. Away from the hospital. In my bedroom. Just he and I. No nurses. No guests. No family. No visitors. They had all come and gone. For that one brief night he belonged only to me. He was mine and I was soaking it in. Trying to absorb every ounce of his presence, how it felt to be his mom, and hoping desperately that he would absorb every ounce of the love I was pouring into him.
Fiercely wishing it would help him connect with me on a soul level…in a way that might stick around. Romanticizing that maybe it would help him remember me somewhere in his subconscious. Maybe that would be enough for him to grow up knowing how intensely his birth mother loved him and didn’t want him to go.
It took every ounce of me to exist only in that love-space. Ignoring the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach…
The sense of foreboding over the inevitable heartbreak that would rise with the fast approaching sun. I knew it was coming but I didn’t want it to ruin this moment. I could wallow later.
This was my only chance to love him in person. In less than 24 hours, he would be gone, it would be over, and that precious memory would be all I had left.
That night is etched into my brain forever. I always wondered if it still exists somewhere in his dream world, perhaps becoming a fond memory of me hidden away…floating around somewhere deep in his subconscious.
The Next 18 Years
The 18 years that followed were sometimes painful, carrying the trauma of such a tremendous loss. I had a lot of growing up to do, and post-traumatic growing is a complicated and difficult road. It seemed to take forever for me to find myself but I finally did. The guilt of having given him up was somehow outweighed by the joy of knowing that he was loved and cared for.
Being privy to little bits and pieces of his life and personality, helped. It delighted me to at least get to watch him grow up from afar. Every update brought me solace. It was torture, yet perfect peace. Regret, yet complete acceptance.
Isaac Turns 18
Every year around his birthday was rough, but 18…
18 was different because of what it always represented to me. I had romanticized the idea that I would hear from him the moment he turned 18, because he’d be legally able to access my information. I held onto the hope that he would rush to find me, and a sweet reunion would follow. 18 years stood for the end of the sadness. The end of the suffering. “It’s only for 18 years” I would tell myself.
But his 18th birthday came and went.
And I suddenly realized the romanticized daydreams of a young girl—the ones that saw her through that tragic event and helped her cope with the grief—probably weren’t going to play out that way.
I had so many questions and realized they may never be answered. I did everything I could to leave HIM with answers but it finally hit me that he may not understand. Those answers may not be enough, or may feel foreign to him. He may be content for me to forever remain a ghost.
Letting Go and Working through the Sorrow
My correspondence with his mother had eventually slowed down from a couple times per year to once every few years and I hadn’t heard from her in a while. I came to terms with the fact that perhaps she was done sharing, and perhaps he would not want to meet me.
I finally fully let go of the situation and truly grieved his loss for the first time ever. I resided myself to finding peace. To lay the long sought-after daydream to rest and send it out into the universe with love, just like I did his sweet face, the day I kissed it goodbye.
Sometimes letting go is necessary.
When the sorrow that surrounds it is too heavy to carry around anymore, and even the silver linings start to hurt. Sometimes sending that situation/relationship/unfulfilled dream out into the universe with love is the best decision you could possibly make. Sometimes you make it just so you can survive another day.
And you gently loosen your grip, lean into the grief one last time and send the thing you want the most, off into the unknown. With love. Honoring how much it means to you but conjuring up the strength necessary to allow it to just be whatever it is supposed to be.
Sometimes in that letting go, you find just enough peace to comfort your broken heart. You find the freedom to finally move forward and embark on the next phase in your healing process, acclimating to the new normal that “never having answers” might hold. Sometimes (perhaps even most of the time) the story ends there…..
This is the first part of a two part article. The second article is about meeting the son she gave up for adoption. The article is called “I Named Him Isaac.”