“I don’t want you to think this is weird, Anna, but I know of a baby who needs a home. Is that something you and Tim would be interested in doing? my friend Brenda asks. “My sister was in the shower praying about a family for a baby that will be born in March and needs a home, and your family kept coming to mind. She called me first to see if it would be too freaky to ask you.”
My two best friends from childhood sit on the couch in the living room. It has been just one year since we lost Jack. They both look at me, wondering if they have crossed into forbidden grieving mom territory by mentioning a new baby. After all, they know that suggesting that Jack can somehow be replaced is ludicrous.
I answer immediately, “Of course we’re interested!” I talk to Tim the next day as we walk down the sidewalk, Margaret a few steps ahead of us, “Absolutely.” He says, without hesitation. Considering it takes us longer to by a new humidifier than it takes some people we know to marry, divorce, and remarry, it’s astounding that he and I are immediately on the same page.
“What are you two whispering about? I know you’re talking about me!” Margaret interrupts, turning around. I say, “Actually, there’s a teenager who is pregnant and is not married. We’re talking about possibly adopting her baby. Is that something you think our family should consider?” “Consider? Let’s do it!” she answers.
Tim and I always assumed we’d have more than two kids. We are each the youngest of three, so if our moms had stopped at two, well, where would this world be? But then life and babyhood came around it was a lot harder and more tiring than it seemed like it would be. Tim worked long hours first in graduate school and then at work and only saw the kids on weekends for the first few years. When he was home, he was absolutely “on” as a daddy, but he wasn’t home all that often. I didn’t have a mom around to help me make it through the weeds or give me a break. Even at the time I knew I was on holy ground, pouring myself into Jack and Margaret day after day, but it was so hard to imagine being able to add one more to the mix.
So they grew. And things got so much easier. And it got increasingly more difficult to want to disrupt the tender dynamic our family formed. One thing Tim and I noticed was that kids do not necessarily add strength to a marriage. At least not ours. They were huge balls of need in baby and toddler packages. They accentuated our already big differences, they sucked our extra money away, and they robbed us of any precious sleep that could serve as a balm for misunderstandings and hurt feelings.
We would come close. Once, during a period of rampant baby discussion, we took a trip to the beach with friends. “What are you guys talking about?” Tim asked as he approached my two friends and me. “Well, I was explaining how Baby Fever has hit our house yet again,” I replied. “Baby Fever? I don’t know what you’re talking about,” was his response. I was pissed and embarrassed. I didn’t like the implication that I was just making stuff up to entertain my friends.
Later, in our bedroom, I told Tim how hurt and unsupported I felt when he denied knowing what I was talking about. “Oh, you mean how we’ve been talking about having a baby? I was thrown off by the words ‘Baby Fever.” Sheesh. He’s analyzing my words? Any desire I had to procreate with him shriveled up on the spot. I didn’t care if we were in a nice rented beach house with a king sized bed!
And so it went for years. First it was the lack of time together. Then the weeds of baby and toddlerhood. Then we had a glimpse of freedom as Jack and Margaret became more independent. We just never had another.
Jack would ask during snuggle time, “When are you having another baby? Please. Please. Please.” “Jack, I think I’m too old.” “You aren’t too old, mom!” Just think. You thought you were too old when you were 35. If’ you had had one then, you could have a 2 year old by now. Don’t make the same mistake again.”
Then,“Mom, what if you had had one when you were 38?”
And, “Mom, what if you had had one when you were 40?”
On and on it went. The last time Jack asked me I had just turned 41, and he wasn’t with us much longer after that.
I wasn’t sure what my big issue was. I’d ask myself, if we accidentally became pregnant would I be happy? Yes. Always yes. But we couldn’t seem to take the plunge. Standing in the bathroom of a Florida bar, celebrating the 40th birthdays of my college girlfriends, I tried to explain how I felt to my friend Kathy as we washed our hands. “I’ve always wanted another one, Kathy.” My eyes got teary. “I guess I’m just afraid. Afraid that I’m asking too much.” Jack and Margaret were such a blessing, and I was afraid that maybe I’d hit my limit on blessings.
Maybe another child would either be the straw that would break the back of our marriage, or would break me of the patience and love I’d been able to give my kids for more than a decade. Or maybe we'd be given a baby with needs so great that it would be too much for me. I didn't feel strong enough. It just felt like asking for one more was pushing things. I think, as I had done my whole life, I was trying to stay under the radar. Not flying too high. Not asking for too much. Hoping that I could somehow get the life I wanted by being agreeable and not making a fuss.
And then I wonder. Was Jack’s begging for another sibling his way of trying to make sure that Margaret would not be alone? I don’t know.
But I do know that Tim, Margaret, and I each answered without a second’s hesitation, that we would gladly adopt a baby who needed a home. And this baby was practically falling in our laps! I was surprised it felt so good to think about this baby. To reach outside of our grief.
A week later we got the phone call. The girl’s family had picked someone else, before they had even heard of our family. We were very, very disappointed but not devastated. There was something so positive in the “Yes” -- in the opening ourselves up to the future. To having enough confidence in ourselves as a family, despite the shame and horror of losing Jack, to think that even in our depleted state we could make a difference in someone else’s life. There was hope there.