The Depth of the Wanting

Wendy Rhein

By: Wendy Rhein

I never had a baby shower for Sam. In the few short weeks leading up to his birth, it felt like a jinx to even consider it. I shook with restraint as I unpacked Nathan’s old baby clothes and washed a handful of receiving blankets. I covertly read up on formula and daydreamed about names. Each of the pre-birth preparations that should have, could have, been filled with such joyful expectation had to be put into check. He wasn’t my baby yet. Anything could still happen. The birth mother could change her mind. It was impossible to not be excited, but I had to remind myself daily that while the pregnancy was ending for her, my journey to becoming Sam’s mother was far from over.

Sam’s birthmother and I spoke every few days during those last 4 weeks of her pregnancy, just a few short weeks after first learning of the possibility of him. We texted and chatted on the phone in sometimes easy, almost sisterly conversations about pregnancy pains, hopes for our existing children, what we were making for dinner that night. Sometimes I checked in after a few quiet days, a breezy “hey how are things” chat to reassure myself that she still wanted to move forward with the adoption plan. The underlying current of those more stilted conversations: do you still like me? Still want me to raise your child? Because I really, really want to.

There are the things that people don’t tell you about open adoption. It takes you back to that awkward dance in middle school when you so badly want to be the one chosen, so badly want to be liked enough to be picked as the favored partner. You create a veneer of calm and nonchalance. You know you can’t show your true self, terrified that if you do, the depth of the abyss of your want will scare the other person off. Open adoption is like that. Please like me. Please give me the biggest gift that anyone can ever give me. Please.

In the weeks leading up to Sam’s birth, his birthmother invited me to an ultrasound appointment. I picked her up at her apartment and drove her to the doctor. When I arrived, I had obviously walked into an argument between her and her mother. She vented during the 20-minute ride to the office about her mother being against the adoption, against me. I was a single woman with a child. She was a single woman with a child. If I could take on raising a second child, why couldn’t she? I was a white woman who was going to raise her black grandson, what was her daughter thinking?

At the time, I remember driving and trying to not panic. What is my role here? She was speaking to me like a friend but speaking of me at the same time. What can I say, what should I say, without sounding like I would say anything to ensure that in the end I am the one to walk out of the hospital with this little baby? But in reality that was exactly the cornerstone of our whole relationship and we both knew it. I genuinely felt for her, as she sat railing and crying, in my car already equipped with 2 car seats. She wanted so much more for her life at 28 than what she had. She had thought she would be more like me, she said. She had thought that she would be a fashion designer by now, would have finished college, and high school. She wouldn’t be supporting herself, her daughter, and her mother on the child support she received for her first child and public assistance. She had dreamed of such a different life. Like yours, she said. But with a man around.

Yes, I said, I wanted that too. It just hasn’t worked out that way yet.

She wanted to get her GED and raise her daughter in their own apartment. She had even scoped out some daycare options. After the pregnancy, she believed, things would be different. She’d have her life back. After the pregnancy, she would get back what she had put on hold for the last 9 months.

I hope you’re ready, she said, because I’m not buying a single diaper. I’m not taking him home. I need my life back and I know I can’t raise two children, not now. I hope you’re ready, she said as we walked into the ultrasound appointment, her composure regained, her head held high.

I’m ready, I said. Let’s go.

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