The Longest Mile
Waiting from referral to arrivalby Deborah Regan
It's been almost five months and my husband and I are still in labor. The pregnancy was even longer-twelve months. When will this baby come, we ask ourselves. In fact, we've been waiting even longer. Almost nine years ago, my husband Peter and I decided to start a family. After two unsuccessful years, infertility testing and an unsuccessful medical intervention, we despaired. We tried not to focus on getting pregnant, despite monthly reminders, then were amazed and delighted to become pregnant several months later.
Since I was thirty-six at the time, I underwent amniocentesis which ruptured the amniotic sac. Despite three weeks of bed rest, at just five months of pregnancy, I went into labor and the baby was stillborn. We were told that only one half of one percent of the women who undergo amniocentesis experience complications. Those statistics were no comfort as we buried our baby in our small town cemetery.
For several years we felt a mix of anger, grief and confusion about why this had happened to us and how we would or if we would create a family. We continued to try to get pregnant to no avail, and at times, feared getting pregnant and losing another baby.
Adoption became the logical choice. We decided to adopt internationally and chose Korea due to their excellent health and foster care. We applied to an adoption agency, filled out many forms, met with a social worker for a home study, and then began the long wait.
After filing our application, we focused on organizing our house and going out a lot to concerts, movies and dinner. We knew that once our baby came home, our lifestyle would change.
One year later, we received our referral the first week in December. We had been hoping for a referral before Christmas, but had been warned against such a hope. The social worker's phone call to us was a blur through my tears, especially when she told us that the baby was the girl I had hoped for. We called our families and friends, enjoying their excitement as much as ours.
On the way to the adoption agency, I was afraid that I would cry when we were given a picture of our baby. But I didn't cry. I looked at the picture of her almost as dispassionately as I would look at the picture of a stranger's baby to whom I had no connection. Then I remembered that this was a stranger's baby. A stranger whom we would probably never know, but to whom we would be forever connected.
We make copies of the baby's picture, place them on our desks at work, on the kitchen table at home, send them to family, put them inside our Christmas cards. The more we look at the picture, the more she becomes our baby. Now the wait becomes more difficult.
If only we had a specific date for her arrival, so that we would not hope week after week. The average wait is three to five months from the referral, we had been told. She will come home to us between early March and early May.
Soon after the referral, I decide that I will spend this waiting time productively. I write on an index card that I post on my desk-read parenting books, work on my own writing, do yoga and walk. I am old to be a new mother at 42 and I want to prepare myself physically and mentally. Get a lot of sleep our parent friends tell us. I wish I could stockpile sleep.
I begin to organize everything that I can get my hands on. In early March, we set up the nursery. Our baby could come any day and we want to be ready. We walk into the nursery often and gaze at the crib covered with a quilt made by a friend. It depicts children from all over the world dressed in native costume, including a girl dressed in a Korean costume. Peter enlarges the photo of our daughter into a poster and it now lies in the crib with the quilt up to her chin.
The nursery closet is filling up with baby clothes. We have finally allowed ourselves to enter the previously forbidden territory of the baby department in stores. We caution ourselves that we don't know how big she will be or in what season she will arrive. As we get monthly medical reports from the adoption agency, I return clothes that she has already outgrown.
The medical reports are our only way of maintaining contact with her and, as such, are mixed blessings. We fret over comments about a heart murmur that is absent in later reports. We worry about why she was given a Hepatitis B shot later than normal and about a reference to poor weight bearing. One report states that she smiles and coos now and Peter says that he wants her to be smiling and cooing at him.
We attend classes on infant CPR, First Aid, and parenting skills. I read about how to help your dog adjust to a new baby and walk him while pushing an empty baby stroller to get him used to it. One time, a neighbor holds up traffic when he sees me with the stroller. I have to open the stroller hood to convince him that I don't have the baby yet, that we're just practicing. He drives away, laughing and shaking his head.
I attend a mother and infant group that meets twice a month at the local hospital. I am the only woman in a group of twelve without a baby. I can't believe that I am subjecting myself to this after the pain of feeling like the only woman on the planet without a baby, but everyone is welcoming to me and the information that they share is helpful.
Two friends present me with a traditional Korean outfit, called a hanbok, for a baby's first birthday. First and 60th birthdays are the most important ones in Korea. The outfit is a dress of hot pink, canary yellow and lime green with hand painted flowers adorning it. I am very touched that they have fulfilled our wish of having a hanbok for her first birthday.
I stall about reading books on baby development and parenting. It's the old protection mechanism rearing its ugly head. Don't lull yourself into thinking that you will get a baby, you've thought that too many times and been disappointed. Several times Peter states emphatically that this is the day that we will get the call, the call that gives us a date when our baby is coming home. Each time the day passes with no call. I have decided that she will be home in late March, in time for Easter. That date too passes. I try to get Peter to bet with me on another date, but whenever I ask him to pick a day, he says "today". If I pester him to pick another day, he says "tomorrow".
The agency tells us that we will be called as soon as they know when our baby is coming. We can't help ourselves and call every few days. We each feel like our skin is so tight that we will pop through it. Peter has a hard time concentrating at work. I no longer have the distraction of work since I have recently been laid off. I create my own distractions: a long novel, movies and lots of yard work.
Two weeks away from the four-month mark, the average length of wait, I lose my composure. I can't concentrate on anything and spend several days going from project to project around the house, not finishing anything. Just being proactive, I tell the workshop facilitator during the introductions. We are asked to prepare a list of 10 things that we enjoy doing but don't have time to do anymore. When the 15 other women read their lists, I panic. Shave their legs, take a long shower, finish a cup of coffee, go to the bathroom with the door closed are the things on their lists. I worry when I read my list aloud which contains activities that take hours, not minutes to complete. The other women, all mothers of young children, shake their heads and laugh at and with me.
The magical four-month mark comes in early April and passes with no news. Each day we try to balance optimism that this is the day that we will get the call with patience when it clearly is not. We feel like runners at the starting line, poised to spring, with seconds until the starter's gun, only to find out that the race has been postponed. Each new day we come back, ready to race.
Spring is dropping hints now and I declare that she will come when the daffodils bloom. Then they bloom and she is not here.
We call the agency once or twice a week now and they are still nice to us, even though we suspect they think we are pests. I worry that she will not be home in time for Mother's Day and another year will pass in which I will not be a mother.
One Monday we call and are told that our baby will not be coming that week and we prepare ourselves for another week of waiting. The next morning our social worker calls to say that she will arrive in Boston tomorrow afternoon. We scream, we cry. The waiting is finally over. She is five and a half months old. The daffodils are still in bloom, so I feel vindicated.
An entourage of family accompanies us to the airport, my father and sister-in-law videotaping every step of the way. There are three babies coming from Korea on this flight, and we are introduced to the other adoptive parents who have had their own wait. We pace and watch the arrival monitor. Thankfully, the flight is on time. A representative from the adoption agency who acts as a greeter, tells us that the babies will be brought off the plane last.
We wait and watch as all of the passengers leave the plane, our faces scanning the Korean faces. Then we see the greeter walking toward us with a baby girl, our baby. She places her in my arms. She is beautiful, a bit overwhelmed, but curious about us. We cover her face with kisses. The long wait for her now seems as distant a memory as last winter's frost.
Deborah Regan lives with her husband and daughter in Hampton Falls, NH.
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