Four years ago, when Anthony and I began to really discuss having children, the big question that needed to be answered was whether or not my heart would be strong enough to withstand the stress of a pregnancy. Although many women with congenital heart disease successfully carry babies, we spoke to my cardiologist to weigh the risks, which were the same for me as they are for others like me:
- During pregnancy, the heart must beat faster and stronger to support the fetus growing below it, which puts an extra strain on the heart. For a person with congenital heart disease, this strain could mean damage to a heart that is already not entirely healthy. Any surgery the patient may have needed in the future may be needed sooner.
- Because of hormone changes and other factors of pregnancy, the likelihood of the heart entering an arrhythmia (irregular heartbeats) becomes higher for any woman. The probability increases more if one has a history of arrhythmia, which is a common occurrence in congenital heart disease patients.
- Many women with congenital heart disease take medications that can be harmful to a fetus. Before becoming pregnant, then, one must come off these medications and her body must adjust to new ones.
These were just some of the risks explained to me and Anthony. The way we saw it: my heart may have been strong enough to endure a pregnancy, but we didn’t want that pregnancy to mean any further health issues for me that would keep me from caring for and raising the baby that came out of it.
So we would adopt. But even though I knew my heart wouldn’t be put under physical strain this way, I still worried about its capabilities. As many hopeful adoptive mothers wonder, I asked myself, “Could I love a baby that wasn’t biologically mine?”
During the fourteen months in which we waited to find our baby, I tested myself whenever I could. When my best friend gave birth to her daughter, I stood at the hospital window studying the sleeping bundles behind the glass: one boy with messy reddish hair and chubby cheeks, a tiny mocha-skinned girl with long eyelashes. I looked at each of their brand new faces, and asked “Could I love him? Or her? What about that one over there?” Although I thought the answer was yes, I still wasn’t sure.
When we flew to Georgia to meet a prospective birthmother, whose child we did not ultimately adopt, we met her other children. The youngest was a one-and-half-year-old girl with white blonde hair, tiny teeth, and blue eyes. We took a picture; I stood next Anthony as he held her on his hip. Once we were home, I stared at the picture daily. “What if this was our baby?” I thought. “Would I love her enough?”
I read adoption magazines, forums, and books during those fourteen months too. When they each assured me that I would indeed love my baby, I sighed deeply and closed my eyes in relief. But I still wasn’t sure.
I still wasn’t sure when the phone rang hours after Rosemarie was born. I wasn’t sure as our plane landed and during the drive to the hospital.
Even when we entered the Labor and Delivery Ward and the nurses yelled, “Mommy and Daddy are here!”, I still wasn’t sure. I wasn’t even sure the first time I laid eyes on her, on her tiny 5 lb. body in a pink stretchy covered in elephants. I felt warmth, relief, excitement, but did I feel love?
A half hour later, the nurses led us to our own hospital room and wheeled Rosemarie’s bassinet in behind us. For the next few hours, we were alone with her. We changed her diapers; we fed her a tiny bottle of formula. We tapped her back gently after each 1/2 ounce. When darkness fell, we put her in the bassinet to wheel her back to the nursery.
My socked feet soundlessly stepped forward with my hands on the rim of her clear bassinet. I pushed her through the door of our room and entered the hallway. And there it was. Suddenly and overwhelmingly. I couldn’t be more sure. I loved her.
My heart, the one I had doubted, ached with the thought of leaving her, not knowing if she was definitely going to be mine. It ached with the love I didn’t know I could feel.
Did I have the heart? The answer was a resounding YES! A yes that should be screamed from a mountaintop while trumpets blow, and confetti falls, and maybe even some angels sing.
My heart could love her. I could love her. I do love her and I always will.