My first pregnancy, which resulted in my first son’s birth followed by a subsequent surrender to adoption, occurred when I was 17 years old. Many years later, at the age of 29, I was pregnant again. This second pregnancy experience was quite different than the first. For starters, it was now culturally sanctioned – I was married, considered “old enough”, and my husband and I had an established home and means to care for our child. People were excited for me. There were baby showers and conversations about baby names and baby “stuff”. My husband was experiencing this pregnancy with great excitement and anticipation and his joy was evident in his late night milkshake making and Taco Bell runs for me.
What was it like for me? Most of the time, I too was overjoyed. I had been waiting impatiently for years to become a mother again and I relished all the preparatory reading and doctor appointments and dreamed of holding this new baby. In the midst of this joy, I was also weepy and nervous. I can recall many days alone in my house, with tears streaming down my cheeks in the back bedroom as I carefully went through the box of keepsakes from my first baby – the pictures, the cards, the hospital bracelet and hat and crib cards. I would look at the pictures I had received from the agency and watch this baby grow older on photo paper yet regret all that I had missed in real time. I would hold the sleeper and baby blanket to my nose, deeply inhale and try to will his glorious new baby scent to be restored. I would silently plead with myself to “get it together” so that my husband wouldn’t see my sadness. I knew the sadness was mine alone as he wasn’t missing a child. I felt guilty for being sad – what right did I have to be sad when my dream of finally being allowed to mother someone was coming true? I struggled with looking forward and “getting stuck” in looking back.
I also felt like a fraud at times. By my mid twenties, I had stopped telling new people about my son and his adoption. It had become too painful to go through the story time and time again, particularly since I usually didn’t know how he was and certainly had no clue where he was. Due to my reticence to talk about my adoption loss, most people assumed this was my first pregnancy. They would give me advice and I would have to smile and nod my head as if this were my first experience. I felt guilty, like I was denying my son’s existence. In retrospect, I realize that I was simply preserving myself and allowing my grief to be compartmentalized until I was alone, where it was safe to let some of it out.
Pondering the upcoming birth itself also worried me. The first time around, some staff had been quite nurturing and kind but there were just as many who were not. I remember being yelled at by a nurse because I didn’t have a pediatrician for my baby. I didn’t know I had to have one. I’m having a baby in a teaching hospital where my labor progress was checked multiple times by different med students, yet it’s unreasonable for me to expect a well qualified pediatrics resident and attending could follow my baby? I can no longer see the nurses’ faces, but I can still see their stern eyebrows, feel their disapproving looks, and hear their sharp tones. I was just another one of “those stupid girls” to them. I also remember the kindness of the young on-call OB who delivered my boy – he congratulated me on how perfect he was and that I had done a great job growing him and bringing him forth and how proud his father must be of him. He treated me like a real mama.
During my second pregnancy, I feared I would have a hard time nurturing this new baby upon arrival if he or she looked too much like his or her big brother. Would I even be triggered if I had another son? Mostly I worried that I wouldn’t know what to do….that I wouldn’t be good enough. At 17, everyone said I wasn’t good enough. Did 12 years, two degrees, and a wedding ring magically change all that? What I should have reminded myself is that a “mother” is born right alongside her baby. Even at 17, I had mothering instincts. My first son knew me from long before he was born and was easily comforted by my voice and my touch. He knew my heartbeat. He and this new baby were forever linked as the only two people at that time that knew my heart from the inside.