By Natalie Sullivan
Our child is crying and she’s holding him the wrong way. He’s only two weeks old, but already we know that he doesn’t like to be held on his back like a baby. This is the first time she has had the chance to hold him, and she’s holding him the way she can only guess he might want to be held. For my husband and me, it’s our last time visiting with our son’s birth mother before we leave the state with our newborn son to head home many long miles away. It’s the last item on our “to do” list and her first and only precious time with her son.
Sitting in the Santa-Fe inspired lobby of our agency, I realize it’s the most uncomfortable couch I’ve ever sat on. My arms, filled for the past two weeks with our seven-pound child, now sit uselessly in my lap, with my hands neatly folded in front of me like I’m at my first job interview. My urge to reach out to my son is overwhelming, but it wouldn’t be right. We feel so awkward at this moment, even though we’re so intimately linked. My husband and I smile like proud parents as we tell his mother what our child has been doing in the past two weeks. Our child -hers and ours.
She pats him so differently than I do and bounces him faster than I do to try and soothe him, but I can’t bring myself to tell her what he’s used to. We don’t know how long we’ll be here, but my husband and I agree, with a wordless glance, that it’s not our place to end her only visit with her son. At a moment where mother and son stare deeply into each other’s eyes, I snap a picture to help him remember, and so that she- and I- will never forget.
I call her his mama, and she calls me the same as she finally passes him back to me. I lean over in her direction, using my voice for his, the way people do with babies and pets. “Tell Mama you love her,” I say, meaning her and not me. We fail to escape the brand of awkwardness as we pose for a group shot- me holding our son and his mother leaning in to the two relative strangers who will share a lifetime with her child.
As we sit in the desert-themed room, I want nothing more than to scoop up my child and head for home. Now, when it is time to leave, my heart starts to ache and the idea of her never holding her child again becomes too much to bear. We hug her. We tell her we will take care of him. We love you, we say. You are our family now. And then we leave, carrying this beloved child into our eagerly awaited future together and out of her life forever.