Life-Changing Lunch in Late December

Wendy Rhein

By: Wendy Rhein

Late December means many things to many people. School vacations. Christmas. Hanukkah. I add my birthday to that list of late December milestones. It is such a hectic and time-blazing time of year that sometimes the very idea of ONE MORE THING is enough to set us into an all out family bickerfest or a tearful jag of Lifetime movies and an entire Tuesday spent on the couch.

But two years ago I added that ONE MORE THING to the December milestones that forever changed my life.

Two years ago this week I met my son’s birth mother.

I learned of Sam because of Facebook. It’s true. It is an urban myth of adoption but I can honestly say a friend posted a prayer request for a friend of hers who had a sister in need of an adoption plan for a child to be born a few short weeks later. I “happened” to be online at the time of the posting and contacted her immediately. By this time in my life, I had been trying for a second child by most means I could explore: failed IUIs with donor sperm, international adoption and then just weeks before this fateful day, finally getting my approval to adopt from the foster care system. I had my mind wrapped around the idea of an older child, a child much in need of support and a forever family. A girl child, maybe around 10. But then there was this post. This post about an African American yet-to-be-born boy.

The night M, my son’s birth mother, called me I was trying to not think about the possibilities of becoming a mom to a newborn. It was too much to hope for. I had put Nathan to bed, and was sitting at my kitchen table when she called. I didn’t know what she wanted to know about me and I don’t think she really knew what to ask. We chatted for a few minutes, I told her about myself, what I did for a living, how much I wanted another child. She told me what she wanted out of her life and what she wanted for her 2-year-old daughter who lived with her and her mother. After about 20 minutes of mindless chatter and dancing around a gigantic baby elephant in the room she said to me, “So, are you ready for a baby in 6 weeks? Because I’m not bringing him home.”

And I said yes.

Our first meet was 2 weeks later. I drove to her apartment and met M, her daughter, and her mother. She was tall and graceful, even when 8 months pregnant. She could still carry her 2-year-old on her hip. She had a bright smile. For a 27-year-old, she was emotionally very young, coming across more like a teenager. I was terrified to meet her. In our phone calls she had assured me she was healthy, drug and alcohol free, and going to all her medical appointments. But I had heard so many horror stories about domestic adoptions that I knew to not believe everything I heard. As I walked into their apartment, I looked for tell tale signs of alarm and found none. The alarm would come much later.

We had planned on lunch, just the two of us. Once I was there, M asked if I could drop her mother at the mall where we would eat, and could we take her daughter along for lunch. Of course I agreed. It was like a first date – I really wanted to impress these people with my maturity, my manners, my sense of self. But how do you convince someone over a TGI Fridays lunch special that you will be the best parent for their child?

M’s mother didn’t like me. She refused to speak to me, but did accept the ride to the mall. I tried to engage her in conversation, but she just glared at me. I later learned that she did not agree with the adoption plan and could not fathom how her daughter could “give up” her child, her first son. She was angry and ashamed of her daughter. It had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with this unquenchable loss she was experiencing.

We, M, her daughter, and me, sat in TGI Fridays and had a strangely honest lunch. Her daughter sat on my lap and sucked away at a sippy cup and chicken fingers. M was grateful for the chance to eat with both hands, something I could understand as a fellow single mother to a young child. She told me about her family, her siblings, the father she had lost. She told me how she dreamed of going to college but she was blocked by the need to get a GED first. I told her about my family, about my life as a single mom and what steps I had gone through to add another child to my life. We talked about the lawyer and the process and what the next steps would be. I didn’t know how to convey how wildly I wanted this baby. I didn’t want to sway so far on that pendulum to seem so nonchalant that the whole thing felt like a business transaction either. I didn’t know what chord to strike.

After lunch I watched her wedge her body out of the booth and waddle to the car. I knew that feeling. I knew that physical exhaustion of just moving in those last weeks of pregnancy. I envied her, envied that she was experiencing it when I had so deeply longed for that. One more time. Just one more time.

I drove her to the grocery store and waited in the car with the little girl, who had fallen asleep in my son’s car seat and was snoring. (Under local laws, I could not buy her groceries, pay rent, or offer any other kind of financial support or it could be viewed as coercion.)

At their apartment, I carried her daughter inside as she slept and drooled on my shoulder. M was tired and ready for a nap herself and bid me a quick goodbye. I walked away not knowing if I had passed the test. Was it even a test? Did she like me? Did she need to like me? Was M having similar lunches with similarly desperate couples or singles that wanted to open their hearts to her unborn child? I went home, thinking of it like a job interview. If she likes me, she will call. If I’m the right one, there will be a second meeting. Don’t get invested, it is too soon.

The next day she texted me with the date and time of her next doctor’s appointment, an ultrasound. I should come, she said, to see my son.

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