Our visit was fast approaching. The comfort of knowing the birth family had met with their attorney was tempered by the news that our attorney would not be granted a meeting with them before our visit. When you’re new to adoption, you rely on those advisors you surround yourself with, hoping you made the right choice. That is oddly parallel to what the birth mom goes through, isn’t it?
The birth family’s attorney questioned why such a meeting would even be requested in the first place, and stipulated that if one were to occur, it would only be in her presence. Seemingly, as evidence of her not being completely contrary, she agreed to attempt to meet with her clients to complete social and medical history forms before Friday, the day prior to our visit. That never happened. Another glaring red flag, always more obvious in the rear view mirror, was that she wanted budget figures from us for realistic living expenses. The birth family would then accept our budget, or propose one of their own.
What the what? What does a couple in Chicago know about living expenses for a very small town in a completely separate state? Yeah, it made no sense to our attorney either.
Despite the red flags, glowing brighter each day, there was a baby. A tiny girl baby in her mother’s womb. A mother who continued to identify us as the parents she wanted for that baby. We chose hope and finalized plans to make the visit.
The day before we were to leave, I got another plaintive text. Birth mom was stressed beyond her limits. She needed space and separation. Would I arrange for a hotel room for her? Ugh. These texts always sent me. I knew Mary Tyler Dad would balk, I knew they required consultation with our attorney, I knew I would have to respond. Given that we had already agreed to subsidizing a short term apartment for the remainder of the pregnancy, the hotel request made sense. With approval from our attorney, we were to provide a room through the weekend and present a budget for review Monday morning.
I asked birth mom if she had a hotel preference, as there are about half a dozen in town. She did. I arranged for the room and texted her the confirmation number.
Within an hour, birth grandmother called to clarify — which hotel had I selected? Did it have a pool? Did it provide food? Was it too late to switch the reservation? Yes, I said, it was too late. “Oh,” she said, “I would have preferred the Comfort Inn.”
Just let the weight of that sink in for a moment.
Suddenly, I was tired of this family. And angry. And tense. I felt the anxiety of the past weeks in my jaw, my shoulders, my back. But tomorrow was the visit. No backing out now.
After uneventful travel, we arrived at the hotel. A meth head opened the door with a smile on his sore and scab covered face, revealing two rows of decaying, black teeth. This man, rail thin, the birth father, was clearly engaged in the active use of methamphetamines. Watching four seasons of Breaking Bad had paid off, teaching us how to recognize the signs of meth addiction. Fuck.
We made nice, despite our initial alarm. We met the toddler son who was the brightest light in the hotel rooom. His eyes shown beautifully. He was active and healthy and seemed perfectly intact. Unscathed. We met birth grandmother, who looked rough, to put it kindly. Her eyes were puffy and damp. She mumbled a lot. They all did. Birth grandmother was much less social than she had been on the phone conversations we had shared. She asked for a ride to a town ninety minutes away, that Mary Tyler Dad and I had just driven through, except she said it was forty-five minutes at most. She wanted to see her two children that had been removed from her care. She thought it would be good if we met the whole family. Mind you, we had not yet met birth mom.
A few minutes later, there she was: birth mom. She was fresh from the shower and had chosen a floral sun dress. She was pretty and looked healthy. It was good to see her. She seemed nervous, eyes darting, was preoccupied with fixing her hair. It was odd, but not too odd considering she was a young 20 year old girl. We shared the gifts we had carried from Chicago — a pound of Frango Mints and Chicago sports team t-shirts for the room! Ugh, there we were in a dark motel room eating mints with a meth addict.
Because there was no space for Jeremy and I to communicate, to acknowledge our fear, concern, confusion, well, we simply put on our smiles and chatted. Small talk as the great equalizer. The toddler was getting a little antsy, so birth dad offered to take him outside for a bit. He tried to put his shoes on. Repeatedly. Over and over, never figuring out that they were both too small and on the wrong foot. He just kept trying and trying. Mary Tyler Dad saw that as a sign of bad things to come. The significance of a dad who does not know how to put shoes on his toddler son hit him hard.
With birth dad out of the room, we were left with birth mom and grandmom. We talked a little more about grandmom’s wish to drive to see her other kids, she mumbled something about relapse, but I don’t honestly know who she was referring to –herself? the kids? their own father? I’m a Cancer Mom and for me, relapse means something else entirely. I had to keep reminding myself of that.
We talked a bit and tried to get to know one another. We asked some questions, encouraged her to ask us anything. We wondered what birth mom was looking for in a family for her daughter. Most important to her was the ability to see her as she grew up. Birth mom wanted an open adoption. We want that, too, and talked about some of our friends and family that have successful open adoptions. There was a significant lack of curiosity about us. I felt the Catholic in me rise up and want to confess our parenting sins: Is it okay that we live in a big city? Is it okay that we have a condo without a yard? Does it matter that we already have a child? We’re not religious — is that a problem? Ugh. I can’t remember if we talked about this together, or if it was just an internal conversation I had with myself. The only emotion over this decision we saw was in some of birth mom’s tears. She had already lost her first daughter — a three year old being raised by her paternal grandparents — and she did not wish to lose another. I understood.
I offered to show the photos of our life in Chicago. The day before, in between making hotel arrangments, I had photographed the rooms in our home. I had also selected some more family photos to supplement the ones we had already sent. Birth grandmother, not very communicative since we had arrived, fell asleep while looking at them. Passed out is honestly more accurate. Right there in front of us, there went birth grandmother down for the count. I was worried she was going to fall over. I asked birth mom if her mom was okay. I shook her just lightly and encouraged her to lie down. She roused enough to look at a few more photos. Within seconds, she had passed out again. I lightly touched her shoulder again, asked her to lie down, and told her we would take birth mom out shopping for a few things. She agreed and off we went.
You know when you’re in the middle of a couple’s squabble, but they’re trying hard to be civil with one another? Well, leaving the room, we ran into birth dad and his son right outside. We mentioned that we were going to shop for a few things — some food and clothing. Clearly, birth mom wanted to go alone, but birth dad handed her the baby. She handed him right back. He kept trying to hand the child to her, but she walked away towards our car. That alone broke my heart. I felt like we were intruding, witnessing a couple in conflict that needed some space to figure it out. Except there was no space. He wanted one thing, she wanted another. In the end, birth dad was left behind with his boy.
So where do you go when you want to shop for your birth mom? WAL-MART! Well done, Walton Family — bringing adoptions together! Ugh. Birth mom and I ditched Mary Tyler Dad to shop for clothing while he went to go look at cell phones for her. I wanted to give her some space to talk and shop and breathe. With that little bit of space, I learned some important things. Birth mom was on disability, SSI, for ADHD. Who knew that was even possible? The State had cut her benefits when she reported that birth grandmother was stealing her monthly checks. Now that explained A LOT. Birth mom was hoping to move out on her own with her boyfriend and son and that we would make that possible. She described birth dad as jealous and possessive, but you know what? She loved him! And she knew him better than anyone. I am certain she does.
Over socks and undies, a picture started to present itself: birth mom was caught in the middle of her two alpha family members. There she was, powerless and weak, caught between two opposing forces, each harming her in their own way. Grandmom stole from her and birth dad was an addict. Neither of those were healthy for her, her son, or the baby growing in her belly. And yet, there they remained in her life. Not going anywhere.
Wal-mart was good for chatting. I learned that birth grandmother was currently on Klonopin and Vicodin and that she tended to take too much. The passing out suddenly made a lot more sense. After loaning birth mom my phone, I learned that right after we left, birth grandmother accused birth dad of stealing her meds. Oy. Birth mom did not seem phased by this in the least. In. The. Least.
I needed some space, so went to go check on Mary Tyler Dad. Poor guy had mistakenly purchased the phone he thought was best. Oops. It was not the model birth mom had requested. Never mind, it was just good to hold his hand in the midst of this crazy. Right there in the middle of Wal-Mart.