My daughter sends me a text-message of her sonogram. I could be looking at a black and white peanut, or a shrimp, or a tiny alien, if I didn't know better. I cup my grandchild in the palm of my hand. And I start sniffling. The woman behind me on the train taps me on the shoulder, offers me a tissue and asks if I’m all right. I assure her my tears are happy
I just learned my grandchild is a girl. "Oh, how exciting," she says. "How old is your daughter? When is she due?" Then comes the inevitable question as the train lunges forward from its last stop: "How many children do you have?"
This question has made me squirm for nearly a quarter of a century
Memories of almost giving up my only child for adoption scratch at my mind like a rake against a leafless dusty ground. I never saw my daughter at this stage of creation. I never knew the sex of my baby because I never went for tests. I can’t tell this well-meaning stranger that when I was pregnant, my marriage was its own Third World country – unstable, violent, abusive, toppling
and that I froze in the middle of that turmoil. I didn’t make a doctor’s appointment until I was almost due to deliver. I ripped out the Yellow Page listings for adoption agencies and hid them under my bed, just in case I couldn't raise the baby. I didn’t talk about it. I bought bigger clothes while my family, friends and co-workers, aware of my history of yo-yo dieting, assumed I was in a fatter phase.
My daughter was born healthy by an emergency Caesarean, lifted calmly from her womb-spa. She looked Yoda-old and wise, as if she sensed she belonged even though I had kept her existence hidden. Alone at night in a bare white room smelling of baby wipes, I placed her in the valley of bedsheets between my knees. I studied her belly with the black knot of the umbilical cord that once tethered her to me. When the social worker from the adoption agency visited me, I couldn't give up this eight-pound-four-ounce bundled mummy
I didn’t know how I would find the strength to raise her, and feared I wouldn't be good at it, considering the landmine my marriage had become. But I had spent enough nights at Al-Anon meetings to have memorized the "one day at a time" mantra. I couldn’t imagine the next 24 years, but I could manage the next 24 hours. My baby spent her first night home in my underwear drawer while I dialed my parents and close friends to tell them the news and ask them to forgive me for not revealing it sooner. Although my husband and I soon divorced, my little girl and I were a team, and nothing would separate us.
Fifteen years later, remarried, life in harmony like a barbershop quartet, my second husband and I tried to adopt a child. We settled on a name long before we knew the outcome of the process: A boy would be Jesse and a girl would be Jennifer, both with a first initial J
that looked as sturdy as a soccer player or as graceful as a ballerina. Yet each time a birthmother chose us, she decided against it when the baby was born. One woman said she couldn't face her other children without keeping their baby brother. Another said her parents offered to help her raise her daughter so she wouldn't be alone.
This happened repeatedly until we could no longer endure the emotional ups and downs and took our names off the adoption waiting list. l grieved for the loss of Jesse and Jennifer, but I understood their mothers' decisions
I flashed back to my own despair – needing to know during my pregnancy that there was an escape hatch if I couldn’t take care of my baby – then knowing when the baby was born that this child was mine. For years, I felt guilty about having considered giving up my daughter for adoption
and thought maybe I didn’t deserve another child. I wondered if I was being punished for asking other women for their babies when I almost didn't keep my own.
The cheerful passenger in the seat behind me is distracted for a moment by the announcement that our train will be delayed, but she quickly turns back to hear my answer to how many children I have. For a moment I consider telling her I have one child, and it was a close call.
Or that I wanted a second child, but was too old to get pregnant again and adoption didn’t work out. Instead, I simply smile back at this curious stranger, because none of that history matters now. Today, my guilt is gone, erased by a text message telling me that
a new baby is on her way into my life –
a text message telling me that my fear of the unknown years ago was not the same as rejecting the unknown – a text message telling me that not only did I turn out to be a good mother, I am worthy enough to wear the title of grandmother.
"One child," I say, without flinching, to the woman on the train. "I have one child, a daughter."
Gloria Barone is a writer and former newspaper reporter and editor who recently published a children's book based on her daughter. She blogs for skirt.com and her essays have appeared in Philadelphia Magazine and on More.com.