Waiting for a Girl Like You

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I am very excited to say that I recently had an essay published in Adoptive Families, a national adoption magazine and an adoption information source for families before, during, and after adoption.  The original, full-length essay, which discusses the grueling waiting portion of the adoption process, is below.  The published essay is a shortened version, which you can read here.

A little background info –  In non-agency domestic adoption (the adoption of children from the US), which is the way we adopted Rosemarie, hopeful adoptive parents advertise themselves in newspapers, magazines, and online.  They set up adoption phone lines with toll-free numbers and feature those numbers in their ads so that expectant mothers who are considering adoption can contact them.  That is how matches are made between expectant mother and prospective adoptive parents.  Thus, once the hopefuls are done with the certification process, much of their time is spent waiting for and receiving phone calls from possible birthmothers.

Waiting for a Girl Like You

*Names have been changed

I’m in my kitchen standing by the almond porcelain sink, the hot water warming my hands as I wash the dishes from dinner.  The TV talks in the background and I try my best to pay attention.  My Blackberry idly sits a foot away from me, lying on the counter next to my apple green mixer.  I know I will hear it ding this close, but I can’t help but take a sidewise glance to check for the flashing red light of a new message.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have emailed again,” I think.  “I’m coming on too strong.”

The phone starts to buzz and I pause, a half-soaped dish in my left hand and listen intently for the chime.  It is only my calendar reminding me to bring my textbook to work tomorrow.  I push a sigh through my lips and continue to swipe the sponge across the surface of the dish in my hands.

“First I call and leave a voicemail and then I email.  What was I thinking?”

During the many months in which my husband and I waited for the call, my mind was often filled with thoughts like these.  Thoughts that questioned whether I was being too clingy and moving too fast.  Thoughts that reminded me so much of a younger me, of the twenty-something-year-old woman I used to be before I found my life with my husband, our modest home, and our fluffy, white dog.

For most of my early twenties, I was a single woman.  My girlfriends and I spent our Saturday nights at various bars and clubs, laughing, dancing and perpetually searching for someone.  Someone to meet, someone to date, someone with whom we could share our lives.

Now that we’re older and settled down, we often sit around remembering those years squealing with laughter as we share our memories of the men we met, our favorite outfits, and the mini disasters that occur when girls are young and carefree.  It was during these years my simple friendships with these women blossomed into deep relationships and during which I had many of the most fun experiences of my life.

   

But the truth is these years were also filled with feelings of uncertainty, insecurity, and powerlessness.  Those are the feelings many women experience, of course, in the world of dating.   One summer I was seeing a friend of a friend, John*.  He had kissed me against the door of my white Mercedes a few weeks earlier.  In days following, he took me to dinner at a local Italian restaurant, brought me to see Mr. and Mrs. Smith, smiling when I asked for peanut M&Ms to mix with my popcorn, and sat on the couch in my mother’s basement while we laughed at Adam Sandler in 50 First Dates.

Despite the steady attention he was giving me, however, I didn’t know how he felt.  How could I?  Guys I dated always had ulterior motives.  They may have texted, called, and asked to spend time with me, but all too often their intentions were very different than mine.   And, of course, as many single men do, some chose to use the “fade-out method” as a means of ending our relationship.  In general, as their calls and texts became less and less frequent, the lines of communication slowly thinned into nothingness until we no longer spoke at all.

As an inexperienced, twenty-three-year old woman, then, I thought I had no choice but to deal with this constant uncertainty and, with my girlfriends’ help, to over examine every last detail of my interaction with a guy to try and determine his feelings.

One day, my friend Patricia and I sat on the beach of the Jersey Shore.  Her polka dot bandeau top stretched perfectly across her chest as she lay back on the taut canvas of her beach chair.  Beside her, I wore my over-sized white sunglasses, my newly bleached blonde highlights slick in a ponytail.  We dug our heels into the sand and sipped our iced coffee as we discussed my last conversation with John.

“If he called you last, why can’t you just text him?” she said.

“Because I’d rather him think I don’t care.”

“You’re crazy.  Just text him!  It’s one text in three weeks.”

After twenty minutes of this, she finally convinced me.  I cupped my hand over the screen of my phone and found his number in my contacts list.

“Hey, you coming down the shore tonight?”

I hit “Send” and the nerves began.  My knee bounced up and down repeatedly as I drummed my fingers on the arm of my chair.  As Patricia spoke about the outfit she’d wear that night and the patient who had bothered her at work the other day, my mind drifted elsewhere.

“Would he text back?  If he did, what would he say?” 

“Maybe he was coming down the shore, but didn’t want to hang out with me.”

 “Maybe he was seeing another girl and talking to her right now.”

For ten minutes, these thoughts flew through my head until my cell phone chimed in my hand.

“Not sure yet.  Maybe.”

And the conversation began again.  We discussed his use of the word maybe.  Was he being vague because he really didn’t want to see me?  Or did he add the maybe to be flirtatious and tease me? Eventually, we decided on a response.  I told him to let me know his plans.  His answer?  “K.”  It is simply amazing the amount of time two single girls can spend analyzing a single letter.

This was how we spent much of our time back then.  Talking, questioning, wondering, and deciphering.

And that is why we were all so happy to meet the men we would marry in time.  When I met Anthony on a crisp October night, the constant analysis ceased.  My phone rang before I went to sleep that night as I knew it would.  I didn’t have to wonder what his texts meant.  They were clear and their meanings were obvious.  I didn’t have to tap my foot while I waited for his call.  His call simply came; it always did.  That constant insecurity, that unyielding sense of anxious doubt, and the never-ending feeling of helplessness were long gone.  I knew he liked me and, eventually, I knew he loved me.

What I did not expect, however, was the return of those insecure feelings years into our marriage.  I never expected to feel once more like a vulnerable, doubtful single woman with my husband by my side.  But as we got deeper into the adoption journey, as we met more and more expectant mothers in our quest, that is exactly what I became.

I waited for our adoption line to ring much like I waited as a single twenty-something several years earlier.  I felt that same jolt of excitement when the jingle began and the same drop of disappointment when I saw an unwanted number on the screen.  During singlehood, as I sat on the phone with a guy I liked, I constructed my answers to be ones he would find attractive and appealing.  When speaking to expectant mothers, I tried to make every word as likable as possible.

When dating I often wondered about the other women who were in the life of the guy I was seeing.  While waiting, I speculated the exclusivity of my relationship with expectant mothers.

“Is she talking to other couples?”

“Does she like them better than she likes us?

“What do they have that we don’t?

In 2005, I sat on the beach with Patricia deciphering every detail of my last conversation with John.  In the winter of 2011, I sat in my classroom grading a pile of tests.  My cell phone began to hum against the wooden grain of the desk.  The screen glowed with the name of our adoption attorney, Robin Fleischner; I lifted the phone to my ear and answered.  We greeted each other casually as we had spoken so often lately.

“Okay, tell me what happened with Jaclyn,” she said.

I sat back in my wobbly wooden chair, crossed one leg underneath me, and began to relay the exact conversation I had with Jaclyn two days earlier, every last detail.

“Okay, so when you brought up the social and medical history packet I sent her, she changed the subject?”

“Right, so that’s why I don’t think she’ll send it back.”

There I was again, an insecure twenty-two year old, helplessly analyzing, with my new girlfriend by my side, to figure out a person who held all the power.

In so many ways I had become my single, uncertain self once more, and I’d dragged my poor husband down with me.  The adoption process is inevitably filled with insecurity.  You cannot help but doubt yourself and question whether or not you are the type of person a woman would want to raise her child.  You wonder if you are smart enough, wealthy enough, and even attractive enough!

For Anthony and me, uncertainty was a leach on our skin.   It attached itself to us and with every failed situation we faced, it drained a bit more of our blood, a little bit more of our hope for success.

Expectant mothers called who seemed very interested in us and excited about adoption.  But time and time again, those mothers’ feelings changed, and like some single men of my past, they simply faded away.

Just before Christmas of 2010, we were contacted by a birthmother named Stephanie*. Stephanie’s medical history was not the exact type we had been hoping for, but we refused to walk away without making a well-informed decision.  So we researched in every way possible.  We read scholarly articles and every website we could find.  We spoke to other adoptive parents on Internet forums and over email. We called our pediatricians, our friends’ pediatricians, all the OBGYNs in our area, and every nurse we know.   With every piece of information we gathered, we learned that our initial beliefs had been wrong, and Stephanie’s unique history was not a reason to keep us from adopting this baby.

And Stephanie kept in touch with us all the while.  She emailed us just to say hello and expressed how happy she felt when she saw our website.  She stayed on the phone for forty-five minutes or more and texted us paragraphs that covered three messages in length.  This one felt right.  As long as our research continued to give us positive feedback, this was our baby.  This would be our son.  After a few weeks, though, it was always I who was emailing first or I who sent the first text message of the day.  The fade out had begun.

On a Saturday afternoon, I texted Stephanie asking how she was feeling.  I expected to receive a long, wordy response, the kind she always sent.  When my phone whistled just after I stepped out of the shower, I smiled at myself in the steamy mirror.  I quickly rubbed my hands on a towel and flipped open the phone.

“I’m doing well.  Thanks.”

There it was.  John’s “K” all over again.  I continued to text her and crossed my fingers each time I hit Send waiting for lengthier, more enthusiastic answers, but the longest text was only five words.  I felt her fading away from us, and though I stretched my hand as far as I could and tried to hold on, there was nothing left to touch.  My last text was unanswered.  I called the following day and left a voicemail trying to sound normal, but she never returned my call.  She was gone.

How, then, as hopeful adoptive parents, can you ever be certain, for even when an expectant mother seems completely serious and committed, she may walk away.

Well, just as I finally found a truly committed partner in Anthony, I did eventually find a birthmother who did not change her mind.

In the end, our adoption was more like an elopement in Vegas than a prolonged relationship.  Rosemarie was born at three am and three hours later, we received our first call from her birthmother, Marissa*.  After calls to our lawyer and pediatrician, we booked a flight, packed our bags, and took custody of our daughter 36 hours later.

        

Although we did not have much time to doubt ourselves, although something had felt right from the moment I picked up the phone on Thursday morning, we needed to feel apprehensive.  We needed to doubt this adoption for fear that what we were feeling was a trick.

The moment we walked into the Labor and Delivery Ward of the hospital, the nurses exclaimed, “Mommy and Daddy are here!”  And even though those titles sounded right, we couldn’t admit that to ourselves just yet.  When we met Marissa, she sat down next to us asking us questions about us and showing us tons of pictures of her blue-eyed extended family.  She seemed so confident, so settled on her decision, but we just couldn’t believe that yet.

When the nurses led us to our own room in the maternity wing and rolled Rosemarie’s bassinet in behind us, it was too scary to realize that this could be our family.  And when I held Rosie in my arms for first time, when I placed the miniature bottle to her lips, and changed and dressed her tiny body, I couldn’t admit how naturally my hands moved, how it felt as though they’d been waiting to care for this baby my whole life.

The following day the baby was discharged from the hospital and we took her to a nearby hotel.  The hearing to terminate Marissa’s parental rights was scheduled for 2:00 pm and in the hours that passed while we waited to hear from our lawyer, I experienced the most insecurity and helplessness I had felt through the entire process.  Once 2:00 hit, I paced back and forth across the rust-colored carpet.  Rosemarie lay sleeping surrounded by pillows on our king-sized bed, but I found it too frightening to even look at her.  At one point, I lay down with my back on the floor, my knees bent toward the ceiling, swaying my legs back and forth and tapping my palm on the stiff carpet.   Eventually, we got word from our attorney; Marissa had signed.   Anthony wrapped his arms around me and we sobbed on each other’s shoulders, releasing all the tension that had lived in our bodies for the past year and half.

So, despite all that fear, when Marissa formed our family with the stroke of her pen in an Oklahoma courtroom, my constant anxiety came to an end.  Then, as Rosemarie lay in my lap and I stared into her dark blue eyes, I was finally able to feel the same relief I felt upon meeting Anthony.  I could finally think the thought that I’d been holding back since that first phone call.  The thought that just as I knew he would someday be my husband, I knew that she was meant to be mine and that we were meant to live our lives as mother and daughter.

This time, it was my doubts that faded away only to be replaced by the purest gratitude and truest love.


Mommy’s Bruised Ego

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It’s been hard to find something to blog about the past couple of weeks.  It’s not that I have nothing to say, but that my ideas seem unimportant when I think of all that has gone on recently.  How can I write about Rosie acting defiant when a mother recently lost her two babies to Sandy’s force? How can I talk about holiday ideas for her when other families won’t be able to give their children a Christmas this year?

I spoke to my friends and family about how I’ve been feeling.  The other night, a friend said something that made me stop and think.  “Sometimes [people] need to read happy things to take [them] away for a moment,” she said. I am not sure that anyone truly affected by the hurricane will or is able to read these posts.  I am not sure that anyone will find them entertaining enough to use as a distraction, but with my friend’s comment in mind, I’ve decided to post as I normally would.

If my words are able to provide a distraction for those suffering, than I’ve very happy to help.  If people are not interested in reading my blog right now because too many other things are filling up their thoughts, I understand completely.

Either way, here it goes.

Mommy’s Bruised Ego

I found out that I was Rosemarie’s mother while sitting cross-legged on the brown and beige carpet of our Towneplace hotel room.  The hours that followed were filled with tears, smiles, phone calls, kisses, and pictures.  I was elated; I was relieved.  But 12 hours later, that pure elation had turned to extreme panic.  I sobbed on the phone with my mother and sisters, questioning whether or not I had done the right thing in becoming a mother.  What if I wasn’t good at at? What if I screwed up?

Only fifteen months later, I already know the answers to those two questions.  I have years of work ahead of me, but I think so far I am a good mother.  I spend my days with her watching Barney and Friends and Mickey Mouse Playhouse; I sit on the floor and build towers of wooden blocks.  I keep her diapers fresh, her face clean, and her belly full.

But I’ve also learned that I will and do screw up.  I make mistakes, probably more often than I’d like.  We don’t need to go into detail about the time she ate a hair clip.  Yes, ate, swallowed, and digested a hair clip.  I wish I had a picture of the X-ray to share: the gray silhouette of Rosie’s little spine, the top of her tiny pelvic bone and, then, clear as day, the bright, crisp shape of a metal snap clip.  I will feel too guilty if I relay the entire story of the time I left the stroller open, knowing full well she liked to climb into it, and then heard a loud thump, ran into the room and found my poor baby bleeding from her gums.

I will, however, tell you the whole story of the Cascade incident, which occurred only days after Hurricane Sandy right after we had returned home.

I was cleaning up Rosie’s room, putting her books back in the their trunk and fixing the bedding in her crib, while she played in the kitchen.  There is one drawer in which she is allowed to play; she opens it, removes the dish towels inside, and amuses herself by laying them over her head and piling them on top of each other.

I made my way into the kitchen to check on her and noticed she had just spit up a large amount.  Confused, I bent down to pick her up and that’s when my eyes met the Cascade packet.  Its massacred body lay sprawled on the kitchen floor, its blue powdered insides spread out on the creamy tile.  I looked down at Rosie and saw powder residue on her chin and clothing, and I knew what the packet’s fate had been:  Rosie had eaten it to death.  And the reason she was able to get to the packets is because I, her careless mother, failed to fully close the cabinet under the kitchen sink.  The baby-proof locks are useless if you don’t actually close the door.

I grabbed a washcloth, wet it, and washed out Rosie’s mouth as I called Anthony who wisely suggested reading the Cascade container.  This is what I found:

 

Swell.  I ripped open the package of water we had bought for Hurricane Sandy and attempted to pour sips into her mouth.  I mostly succeeded in soaking her pajama top and onesie, which I then had to remove as I dialed Poison Control.

“If she threw up, you must take her to an emergency room.  Get there as quickly as you possibly can.”

Alrighty.  Keep in mind, this was only two days after Sandy had hit.  I had not yet been on the roads, but I had heard Hylan Boulevard was moving like a parking lot.  My only option, then, was to call 911.

I wasn’t entirely comfortable doing this; I knew other people needed emergency service and I hated to take man power away from them, but what could I do?

Now, remember, that I have a heart condition and I sometimes need to call 911 for myself.  Usually, even though at these times I need to be seen in the ER immediately, I am not unconscious or anything like that.  In the two years that we have lived on our block, I have probably called an ambulance at least five times and usually return home soon after looking perfectly healthy.

So, imagine you are one of my neighbors, who has repeatedly scene the red flashing lights stop in front of our paved driveway.  Now, two days after an unspeakable disaster has struck Staten Island, you see not only the ambulance arrive at my door, but also a giant, green and black camouflaged army tank, with two fully uniformed soldiers inside.

Then, my mother (who had arrived by then), walks outside holding a laughing baby only to be followed by me, rushing out to the street snugly holding a container of Cascade dishwasher packets.

Needless to say, I was humiliated.

Rosie was seen quite quickly when we arrived at the ER.  She slept on my lap as two doctors examined her and assured us that if she had been harmed by the soap she ingested, there would be some sort of symptoms telling us so.  They researched the ingredients of the Cascade to be sure, but since they didn’t find anything, she was soon discharged and we made our way back home.

My point of telling this long and embarrassing story is simply to say that I do make mistakes.  No matter how careful we are, all of us moms will mess up.  It doesn’t mean we’re not good mothers or don’t love our children.  So, if you are an expectant mom, a new mom, or even a seasoned one, remember that you’re not alone in this.  Just when you think you’re the worst mother in the world, you’ll hear about a mom who let her daughter eat dishwasher soap.

 

What about you? What embarrassing mommy mistakes can you share?  Don’t leave me out here alone, people.


Proud to be a Staten Islander

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Born and Raised

Anthony and I both grew up in Staten Island.  That’s a large reason why I like living here.  Our history is here: the houses in which we turned from children into adults, the schools where we got the foundations of our education, and those at which I received my post secondary degrees.

This is where we made friends, went to our proms, and played sports.  It was here that we both began our careers.  We met here; we fell in love here.  This island is where we had our first date.  It contains the steps on which we shared our first kiss, the church in which we were married, and the home where we began our life together.

And, yet, since I became a mother, I sometimes doubt our plan of raising our daughter here.  I will not go into the details about this because I refuse to kick Staten Island while she’s down.

Instead, I’d like to talk about the reasons that keep me here.  The reasons that have become even more apparent since Hurricane Sandy tore through our community on Monday night.

Family Ties

It is not only our history that lives on this island, but our families as well:  our mothers, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins, the friends who have turned into family in the past 20 years.

During a time of crisis like this, what’s more important than that?

We were all extremely lucky.  With only a fallen fence and loss of power, we have no complaints and know how blessed we are to be so unharmed.

But, still, we leaned on each other during this entire week.  Since Anthony needed to work, I chose not to stay home alone during the storm.  Since family is so close, it was that easy.  I decided not to stay alone, so I didn’t have to.

I went instead to stay with my mother, sister, and nephew.  Before losing power, we entertained each other.  We watched scary movies and painted Halloween crafts.

Once the power was gone, we stayed together around the candles and lanterns.  At bedtime, we made a train of flashlights as we walked upstairs.  My mother and sister helped me prepare Rosie’s crib while my nephew held a lantern overhead.

The next night once darkness fell, my mother cooked and we shared a candlelit meal.  We played cards and passed the time.  (We did not yet know the devastation that was happening mere minutes from us.)

 

 

On Halloween, my cousin’s power was restored, so we brought all the children to her house in their costumes.  We did not disrespect the families whose lives had been ravaged by this storm.  We spent most of the day talking about their suffering, discussing what we had that would be useful to donate and whether or not we could volunteer.  But the kids were able to celebrate the holiday together with smiles, candy, and pictures.  And we were able to share our thoughts of fear and sympathy with each other.

As I said, we were lucky.  We weren’t truly affected by this storm.  But I imagine for those that were, who lost homes, cars, and most tragically love ones, family was indescribably important.  I needed my family during this storm, but if I were really hit by Sandy and her aftermath, I would have needed them so much more.  For me, that is a reason to stay on Staten Island with my husband and daughter: to be where our families are, to know that when we really need them, they are only a few minutes away.

Love Thy Neighbor

People say a lot of negative things about Staten Island.  Supposedly everyone here is materialistic with poor manners, bad mouths, and misplaced arrogance.  I’m not going to say none of these things are true or that no one on Staten Island fits that description.

But you know what else the people of Staten Island are? Determined, resilient, loyal, generous, and kind.  I know this is true because of the two life-changing events that have devastated this island in the past twelve years.

The first was 9/11.  Staten Island lost more people than any other community; my father was one of them.  My family and I were completely overwhelmed by the community support we received after that day.  It may seem cliche to use the word overwhelmed, but that’s exactly what we were.  Strangers arrived at our doorstep with hot meals, enough each time to feed the thirty or more people at my house each day.  Neighbors sent cards with kind words of encouragement.  Store owners hung my father’s picture in their windows and praised him to anyone who would listen.  When we held candle vigils on our front lawn, passing drivers pulled their cars over, forgetting their destinations and joining us in prayer instead.  Angels’ Circle was started by Wendy Pellegrino, a woman who I believe had no direct ties to 9/11.  She and other Staten Islanders have donated their time and money in keeping the memorial standing and beautiful for the past 12 years.  As a “victim” of 9/11, I saw firsthand how incredible the people of Staten Island can be.

And, now, on the other side of the fence, I see the same thing happening for those in need after Hurricane Sandy.  Staten Islanders immediately responded to their neighbors’ needs in the aftermath of this storm.  By Thursday, some shelters needed to turn donations away because they were already at capacity on certain items.  Droves of people showed up at these shelters in the two days following Sandy with bags of clothes, boxes of food, cases of water, and more.  My Facebook stream has been filled with people’s questions about what and where to donate.  Beyond that, volunteers have shown up at those communities most damaged by the storm ready and willing to help clean out others’ destroyed homes.  Some set up tables on these same streets to give out fresh-cooked meals and warming drinks of coffee and hot chocolate.

Every single person to whom I have spoken since the storm has done something to help out and plans to do more.  My family and I are doing our best to repay the kindness that was given to us twelve years ago by helping as much as we can during this crisis.

At the end of the day, the point is that there is so much good on this island and at a time like this, I want to raise Rosemarie here and let her grow up around people who are so giving and generous.  I don’t know what the future will bring but, today, I’m proud to be a Staten Islander and proud that my daughter is one as well.