Thursday, August 24, 2006

Sixteen Candles

Sixteen years ago tonight, I first learned of my daughter's existence. Yesterday (about 10:30 pm EDT) was her birthday, but it was today (about 7 pm EDT) when I got a call from our adoption lawyer telling me that a beautiful bi-racial child had been born at the local university hospital. The birth mother had made no pre-natal plans for adoption, but had called our attorney that morning.
Were we interested?
The question came at a busy and difficult time in our lives. We were both in school -- I was working on my master's degree and teaching undergraduates, my wife was working on her bachelor's degree. That evening, my wife had left for a weekend visit to her mother, about 100 miles south of where we were living and going to school.
Although we had signed up with an adoption attorney, six weeks earlier, our expectation was that it would be a year or two before we got the chance to adopt -- we'd be finished school and ready to embark on our next adventure.
We didn't have a name, a bottle, a diaper, or a crib. But here was our opportunity to become parents. I called my mother-in-law, and asked her to have my wife call me as soon as she arrived at the parental homestead. She did, and turned right around and came home, so that we could see if this would work out.
We didn't see our daughter that night, of course. The next day was an insanely busy one. Friends of ours came up to help us shop. The birth mother asked to meet us, so we went to the hospital, where she had our baby in the room with her. We were supposed to be escorted by a hospital social worker, but shortly before we arrived, a young boy drowned and the social worker was with the family, offering consolation. Could we go up to the room ourselves and make our own introduction?
We did, and spent a couple of hours talking with the young mother, and holding, feeding and changing the baby that we knew immediately was ours.
The mother was 19, unmarried, and the mother of a 3-year-old. Her fiance was in jail, and was not the father of our child. The father was a corrections officer at the jail, with whom our child's birth mother had had a brief affair. The birth mother had successfully hidden her pregnancy from her fiance, and needed to move on with her life.
It's hard to describe the bond that began forming as soon as I laid eyes on my daughter, but I know that I fell quickly and completely in love with that child that afternoon. We spent the evening shopping for baby necessities with our friends, setting up the nursery, and phoning family members with our news.
There was some skepticism in the family. A bi-racial child? We were lily-white on both sides of the family, although my wife's family included some mixed marriages and bi-racial children.
But we had no doubts -- at least I didn't. I know my wife was somewhat frightened by the entire prospect of parenthood, but knew how important it was to me. She knew she could handle the obvious responsibilities, but I know she felt unsure about the challenge. Still, she was ready to dive in and take it on.
How did that difference in enthusiasm affect our marriage? I know that I took on primary responsibilities for many aspects of parenthood -- making bottles, getting up at night for feedings, etc. We shared many others. But I remember a comment my wife made -- her fear that I didn't need her anymore now that I had the baby I wanted.
I told her I never signed up for single parenthood, and that we needed to be in this together.
But I know something did begin to change when our daughter entered our lives.