She was beautiful. She peered over her black framed lenses as we entered the room. A magazine was opened on her lap and she quietly closed it to greet us. I remember thinking that she looked like a secretary in a hospital gown. She looked so well kept and fresh. Her dark soft hair was pinned up on top of her head and her clear complexion required no cosmetics. I peered into her eyes and introduced myself and wondered, where was the woman the hospital told me about?
I began softly as I always do, speaking first about the call we received and what we have been told so far and asking how we can best help. She spoke clearly confirming what we have learned so far was true. She did indeed wish to place her baby for adoption. She has thought about it. She was sure. She knows it’s a permanent decision. She does not want more time to think about.
Referrals after birth, such as this one, are challenging for many reasons. To enter a hospital room and meet as strangers during this awesome time after birth is overwhelming for both patient and staff. The patient is asked to trust the “social workers” and the staff is required to meet, greet, and be prepared to plan for a child in such a short time. While much of my experience is with these types of situations, I find myself in awe every time. Janice stands out because like every birth mother, she did not remind me of anyone else.
I told her how beautiful she was while asking her so many questions. She accepted the compliment. She answered the easy questions without blinking, such as height, weight, eye color, hair color, nationality. She did not answer the hard questions. What are your reasons for considering adoption? Who have you shared your plans with? Why did you choose not to receive prenatal care? What were the circumstances of the conception?
It’s not that she didn’t answer, she never answered in full sentences. She would begin, and trail off. “What are your reasons for considering adoption?” “The conception… I would look at the baby and think…” No more words came. No tears came. Just silence. So we sat in silence. After some time, I tried to help develop her response, finally receiving, “I would probably not treat the child like my others.” Knowing before hand that this was a probable rape victim, I recalled many women choosing some of the same words, making some of the same choices Janice has made. Not holding or seeing your baby for fear the child resembles the perpetrator. Not making a plan for the baby. Not telling anyone.
Janice did not hide her pregnancy, she would have if she could, but it was too obvious to her live-in boyfriend.
Janice and her boyfriend raise three daughters together, the youngest just shy of her first birthday. When asked about the rape, Janice responded with simple answers. “He is biracial.” “Yes, I know him.” “It was against my will.” “I did not report it.”
Arriving at the hospital in active labor, Janice told the nurses that she did not wish to see the baby, nor does she desire to know the baby’s sex. This made my involvement particularly difficult for two reasons. First, my philosophy has always been that a birth mother should see and hold her baby. I heard a phrase many years ago that I have repeated many times to women in Janice’s place, “How can you say goodbye to someone you have never met?” Secondly, I couldn’t help wondering how could I spend the day with someone without accidentally referring to the baby as a she?
It should go without saying that we asked Janice many times if she wanted to see the baby, hold the baby, have us bring her a photo of the baby, tell her the gender of the baby. We even dared to ask Janice to help select an adoptive family. She would not. Only after several requests, she answered minimally what her preferences might be for an adoptive family.
The clock ticked on while we carefully explained her rights and responsibilities and ours to her We asked her more questions and learned a bit more about this quiet and calm appearing woman. She was a nurse at a large local hospital. She enjoyed being a mother and loves child oriented activities. She values education. She loves her mother but feels unable to share this part of her life with her.
We spoke at length about open adoption. After many times rejecting the idea of the open adoption concept, at time of surrender signing she finally spoke requesting that she may one day like photos or a meeting with the adoptive family. Relieved, we hand wrote her desires into the legal paperwork.
When everything was done…the questions ending and the papers signed, we began our goodbyes. I repeat often when I leave a woman in the hospital to call any time; and to schedule a counseling session and I ask permission if I don’t hear from her if I can call just to check in. Surprisingly, she consented to receiving phone calls from me as long as they are non-identifying. Satisfied, I leaned over to hug her.
As we reached for the door, she asked, “Can you tell me the sex of the baby?” After going to great lengths to respect her original wish not to know, I laughed out loud and praised her for asking and said, “Girl.” She smiled and said she just knew it. “That’s all,” she added, fearful that we may now push her to ask or know more.
We left to take the elevator one floor up to see the baby that Janice chose not to see. It was striking how closely the infant resembled her birth mother. I certainly could not see an evil presence depicting rape. I told the baby we would see her tomorrow and bring her to meet her forever family.
The nursery staff greeted us cheerfully as we have been frequent visitors. Though we were acquainted so well with the nurses, the usual formal questions were asked of us and we promptly and professionally answered as we planned for the discharge of the baby.
A few days later, Janice called me. I was so happy to speak with her. Finallym her tears arrived. I spoke to her gently about the grief and loss she could barely imagine while being in the hospital. When I asked Janice if she wanted to know about the adoptive family she said it didn’t matter. I responded by saying, “I am going to take that as a yes because I am one that believes that it always matters.” I told her that the couple was married, Christian, and that her gift made them parents. I told her about the tears at time of placement, particularly from the adoptive father. She thanked me and finally asked, “What did they name her?”. She ended with, “I like that name.” Turning me down for a counseling session and a lunch date, I reminded her to feel comfortable continually calling me. We said goodbye.
Though I haven’t heard from her, even though we reached out many times, I know she remembers the day we met. And, I know she silently dreams of the baby she did not meet, but nonetheless cared for.