Sunday, December 12, 2021

You Belong With Me

Only eight hours after signing the adoption placement papers, my depression reached the deepest and darkest depths ever. Sitting at the dinner table, surrounded my beloved family, it felt like someone was missing. It felt as if someone had died. My heart had a gaping hole in it. The sadness was all-consuming.

What started as a silent cry as I pushed food around my plate grew into an animalistic wail. My emotional state was scary. I hated myself for even introducing the idea of adoption into the narrative of my life. I was angry at my husband for being unwilling to make parenting another kid work. I was jealous of the adoptive parents, who were surely doting over the baby at this very moment.

There was nowhere I could go in my home that didn’t remind me of the baby. The triggers were ubiquitous, from the positive pregnancy test pinned to my bedroom wall and the framed ultrasound photo on my dresser to the unopened box of newborn diapers in the closet and the infant car seat that remained in my backseat. I simultaneously wanted to purge all of it but also wanted to store it in a safe location, just in case...

I was even still wearing the hospital ID bands on my wrists on the off chance that the adoptive couple hadn't picked up the baby from the hospital. Maybe, just maybe, I would get a call from the postpartum floor asking me to go back and retrieve her…

After weeping until I was breathless and bereft of tears, I found my way to bed and fell asleep. But I woke up in the middle of the night, distraught and twisting over the decision to place the baby for adoption. I thought I was willing to sacrifice the baby to save my marriage, but now I realized that wasn’t true.

My priorities, for once, were irrefutably clear:

1) the baby

2) my toddler and teens

3) my mental health

4) my marriage

I tiptoed downstairs to the couch and woke my sleeping husband.

“I’m sorry I got us into this situation,” I said. “Getting pregnant without you being fully on board was a mistake. But the baby isn’t a mistake. I need to get her back. If you are able and willing to help me raise her, great. If not, then I will figure it out on my own.”

We had a surprisingly calm and rational discussion, in which he acknowledged how heartbreaking this was for me and how he couldn’t stand to see me so sad. I recognized that I needed to be less bitchy and more loving so that our home felt like a haven, rather than a torture chamber. 

And so, it was decided: in the morning, I would tell the pregnancy counselor that I needed to bring the baby home. For once, it felt like my husband and I were on the same side again.

The pregnancy counselor, however, was not so easily convinced.

“Yesterday, you were listing all the reasons why bringing the baby home wasn’t feasible,” she said. “What’s changed in the last 24 hours?”

I told her that I hadn’t been willing to accept help with childcare before, but now I was. I was going to take my mom up on her babysitting offer. My older teen had agreed to move back home temporarily to help out. The nanny search was underway again. And, of course, my husband had pledged his support.

The pregnancy counselor hemmed and hawed. She seemed reluctant to indulge my insistence that I wanted the baby back. I was confused because she was so insistent that the baby belonged with me the day prior; now she was reluctant to return the baby to me.

But legally, she didn’t have any right to stand in the way. The baby was still mine.

She said she would call the adoptive couple and break the news to them, but that it would be up to them to determine a timeline for returning the baby. It might be today; it might be tomorrow. They got to decide how much time they wanted with her. That’s when the mama bear in me riled up. Though I said I would sit back and patiently wait for word on when the reunion would happen, the truth was that I wanted my baby in my arms as soon as possible.

As it turned out, the couple didn’t want to prolong the process, either. They arranged to have the pregnancy counselor pick up the baby that morning. By mid-day, she arrived at my door with my bundle of joy dressed in Winnie-the-Pooh pajamas that were already too snug for her long legs.

The adoptive couple had sent a bag of newborn clothes and a care basket for me that had been assembled before I’d changed my mind about the adoption. I felt terrible accepting these gifts. Didn’t they want the newborn clothes for when they finally did adopt a baby? Didn’t they need the care basket – filled with DoorDash gift certificates, tea, and organic toiletries – now more than I did?

Maybe this makes me heartless, but I decided not to dwell on the adoptive couple’s emotional state. Handling mine was difficult enough. I knew I had hurt them – how deeply I could only imagine – but I also felt like I had been honest about my ambivalence from the very beginning.

Now, my focus was on tending to the two little people who were meeting each other for the first time. My toddler didn’t quite know what to make of the sleeping, swaddled being in my arms. At times, she would lean in and give the baby a kiss; at other times, she’d swipe the baby’s bottle, bonk her on the head with a toy, or throw a jealous tantrum if I held the baby too long.

My therapist Shania told me that no matter what decision I made, there would be regrets, and she was right. Only a day into parenting two kids under 2 years old, I started to doubt my decision (again!) and wondered aloud if the baby deserved the undivided attention of the adoptive parents instead.

“Give it a minute,” my husband said.

So I did. And my husband, surprisingly, was the one who seemed to adjust most easily to the new family member. He bonded with her instantly. He was literally happy to help, picking up the slack when I became weary and weepy, tending to the baby all night long, and making sure I had time to decompress every day.

But it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. When my milk came in, my breasts turned heavy and hard. I had to stuff cabbage in my bra and strap ice packs to my chest to dry up my supply. I apparently sprained my SI joint while giving birth, but it took a few days for the pain to ramp up, and when it did, I landed in Urgent Care because I couldn’t put weight on my right leg. (Postpartum recovery was literally a pain the butt.)

The baby didn’t stay as sleepy as she was in the hospital, and as she became more alert, her fussiness increased. The sleepless nights made my husband irritable and revived his fears that he wasn’t up for raising another kid. We both felt like we were losing our minds, misplacing keys and cellphones, forgetting basic facts like birthdates and addresses, and making silly mistakes like pouring apple juice instead of milk into coffee (which we drank in copious amounts).

We are now four weeks in and it's been exactly as hard as I anticipated. The days are a logistical nightmare. There is never enough time, energy, or help. There are nights when no one sleeps, everyone cries, and we all feel like a bomb has been detonated in the middle of our already-messy lives.

I am always amazed when we make it out the door as a foursome – me, my husband, toddler, and baby – and even more impressed when I take the two little ones anywhere, even just on a walk around the neighborhood, by myself.

But slowly, painstakingly, we establish routines. We divide and conquer. I try to be less bitchy and more appreciative (some days I’m more successful than others). I practice patience (whether I like it or not).

I came to understand that this whole experience was a trauma – a self-inflicted one, perhaps, but a necessary one, too. Was the adoption drama a manifestation of my depression? My attachment issues? Something else? I don’t know. But Shania thinks it served a purpose. “You had to go through what you went through to get here,” she said (in perhaps the most therapy-ish statement ever). That horrific grief I felt after giving up the baby? It serves as a reminder of how badly I wanted her and of how grateful I am that she is here, with our family.

I was right when I predicted that I would say, “I don’t know if I can do this” every single day if the baby came home. I still don’t know if I can do it, but somehow, every day, we make it through. I am exhausted and overwhelmed. I am often anxious and afraid. Depression still threatens to swallow me sometimes. But here we are. We keep going. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

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