Twenty-two years ago, the 18-year-old mother of my eldest son gave my husband and me a gift that could never be repaid and will forever remain priceless.
After nurturing a nearly nine-month, long-distance relationship with this incredible person, I found myself madly in love — with her and the little boy growing inside her belly, who would soon be my son.
She had agreed to let us adopt her baby early on in her pregnancy after we flew her to New York City from Joplin, Missouri, and spent a lovely day sightseeing at the South Street Seaport.
For the next few months, we continued to talk and write and cry, but mainly, we waited. Until one day, when she called with the news — she was going into labor. I boarded the first flight out of New York on Jan. 5 (my husband planned to join me soon after) and flew directly into the teeth of one of those infamous midwestern ice storms. A direct flight to Joplin that was supposed to take three hours turned into a 12-hour rerouted nightmare to Springfield, which took me two and half hours farther away from her and my baby.
Labor pains and all, she traveled in a blizzard of snow and ice with her mom and her mom's boyfriend to pick me up at the airport, and then drove me to my hotel. January 6 turned into the 7th and then the 8th. I was staying nearby her mom's trailer home, so I was able to visit every day. And then, just as suddenly, her labor came to a halt. It turned out to be a false alarm, and I was immediately faced with a dilemma — should I go back to New York and wait for her to call again, or stay put with my beautiful young friend and continue to share our days together?
The choice was easy. It had been so difficult getting there that it didn't seem to make any sense to turn around and go back home. Besides, she liked having me around, and to be honest, I didn't ever want to leave her side.
So we fell into a comfortable routine. I went to the hotel gym in the morning and then we'd take a walk around the mall in town. After that, I'd read or watch TV and then we'd go for lunch and just hang out. We both loved it when I rubbed her belly.
We talked about her future and her dreams and how we would handle our relationship after "my" baby was born. It was always "my" baby. She would refer to him as "your baby." She became the center of my universe and I wanted so badly for her to be happy and at peace with her life in the future. I marveled at how strong she was at such a young age, and was in awe at her ability to make such a giant decision for herself and her unborn child. I loved her for giving me this amazing gift, and for filling my heart with joy where there had long been a gaping hole.
And then came the moment — Jan. 18, 1991, at midnight — when real, true labor began. Robbie James was born soon after. My husband arrived a few hours later, and neither one of us could believe that we were now parents.
The next few days were among the happiest and saddest in my life. After a legal transfer of parental rights, it was finally time to say goodbye, for our new family to return to New York. But how do you say goodbye to the one person who matters more to you than anyone else in the world?
We had mutually agreed early on in the adoption process that we'd go our separate ways once Robbie was born. We got together in the hospital one last time and cried and hugged and cried some more. Robbie was zipped up tight in a snowsuit — a literal bundle of joy. That would be the last time I ever saw her, and all I remember afterward is that I couldn't stop crying.
What I had been clueless about beforehand (among many, many things) was that along with the arrival and adoption of a new baby came another special delivery — a broken heart. I just couldn't get her out of my head. How was she doing? Did she like the flowers we sent? Did she regret her decision? And why was I now feeling so sad when I finally had the only thing I had wanted for the past five years?
Although my body wasn't bloated with milk or riddled with hormones, and my arms were filled with a bouncing baby boy, my heart was conflicted with feelings of love, emptiness and guilt.
If you google "postpartum depression," the first thing that comes up is "a moderate to severe depression in a woman after she has given birth." In my opinion, they should revise that to read, "after she becomes a mother."
I was blue for many months after, and now when I think about the incredible girl who is a 40-year-old woman today, I begin to cry. And I'm not sure if these are tears of joy or sadness, or both.