This is the fourteenth post of "30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days," a series designed to give a voice to people with widely varying experiences, including birthparents, adoptees, adoptive parents, foster parents, waiting adoptive parents and others touched by adoption.
We Were Told To Leave Nina In The Playroom, All By Herself,
Written by Jiyer for Portrait of an Adoption
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
-Kahlil Gibran, “On Children”
It started as a cavalier thought, “it” being the entry of children into our lives. Cavalier, indeed. How naïve and foolish we were, my husband Dyl and I.
In early 2002, our flourishing careers and fulfilling lives were topped off by my “pregnancy-on-command.” It seemed as if a casual curiosity about children got me pregnant, unexpectedly easily, reinforcing a notion that we could sail through parenting as we had everything else in our marriage partnership.
And then, just as unexpectedly, 21 weeks into my pregnancy, our little boy died. No explanation, no reason, his heart simply stopped beating. Ironically, that stilled heartbeat triggered my mother instinct. I grieved and grieved and grieved the loss of my son and I was wracked with guilt over taking his life for granted.
After many months of licking our wounds, Dyl and I, now actively seeking the elusive joy of parenthood, started trying to conceive again. Several failed attempts and procedures later, a chance conversation with a colleague, Mary, made me aware of our local county-sponsored foster care.
Mary adopted a little girl through foster care after her mother, despite rehabilitation services, could not overcome a heroin addiction. The idea of caring for and loving a child at a time when he or she needed it the most, appealed to me. It took my husband another year to buy into the idea. Mother’s Day 2006 was when we finally began our foster-adopt training.
On August 1, 2007, we brought our first foster child, 9-month-old Nina, into our home. It began with a meeting with Nina’s social worker: “Nina’s mother Rayna is suffering from mental illness,” she explained. “The going thus far has been rough, very rough. I doubt she can make it, but she is early in this journey. Can you take care of Nina and bring her to her mother for regular visits? And, if Rayna is unable to recover, are you willing to adopt Nina? We have explored options for placement within her biological family, but there are none.”
I had had some exposure, through family and friends, to the struggles of mental illness. The medications used to treat it often stop working and have to be changed or dosages adjusted, and the side effects can be terrible. I could see how it might be a long road ahead for Rayna and for us. “Remember what they told us in our classes? Saving one child at a time?” Dyl said as we discussed what to do. “Nina needs us right now.” So, after five minutes, a little anxious about the unknown but never more sure, our answer to the social worker was: Yes.
When we brought beautiful, alert little Nina home, I didn’t realize how amazing it would feel to finally have a baby in my arms. True, we had our first frustrating surprise: diaper packages do not come with instructions and neither one of us knew which side was which!
But we also had a delightful gift, feeling a love so intense that I allowed myself to revel in a fantasy of motherhood as I held her in my arms. That lasted a few minutes, interrupted by the ring of my cell phone: “Hello? Is this J?” said a polite voice, “I am Rayna, Nina’s mother. Is Nina with you?” “Yes,” I said, “We just brought her to our home. You have a beautiful girl.” “Thank you. I am working very hard to get better, and I will get her back.” With that, we discussed a visiting schedule and ended our first conversation.
“Who was that?” my husband asked. “Nina’s mother Rayna,” I replied.
“It was fine. She seemed nice,” I said. Actually, she sounded very nice. I did not enjoy a very real Rayna shattering my “mother fantasy.” I realized I subconsciously had hoped not to like her. I was forced to admit quite the opposite after that first phone conversation.
The first time we took Nina to visit her mother, we liked Rayna even more. I had a stereotypical vision of what someone who had her baby taken into state custody would look like –- unkempt, indifferent. Instead we saw a gentle, respectful and well-dressed woman. Rayna did absolutely everything that was asked of her in her rehabilitation program -– and she was prompt, down to the second, for every single visit with Nina. A few weeks into the visits, Rayna asked that we arrange visits with Nina’s half-siblings as well. And so we did.
As the months went by, I surprised myself by looking forward to the regular meetings with Rayna. I was eager to share updates with her, new Nina stories, laugh about some silly thing Nina had done, gush together with amazement over each new developmental milestone. Before each visit, I would hope that Rayna got to experience some of the milestone moments during her time with Nina. Once, Rayna said to me, “You know in all this time, I have not had a chance to change a poopy diaper. Funny, some of the things you miss when your daughter is not with you.” I tried to set up Nina’s feeding schedule so we could time a “poop” to coincide with a visit. As I recall, with the often constipated Ms. Nina, I was not successful at accomplishing that.
But I was also torn. I was rooting for Rayna, yet I was growing so attached to Nina -– little Nina, the first child we got to hold and love, the child who came to us during peak bonding months in her life and who bonded so closely with us. During these months, my mother paid us a visit and laid out two skirts on the bed. “One for you and one for Rayna,” she said. “For Rayna?” I asked. “She seems like part of our family now,” she replied. And so I wrapped the skirt, beautifully, and handed the package rather awkwardly to Rayna on our next “Nina visit.” I was uncomfortable thinking of Rayna as family, even though my mother had used that word to describe her. I had grown fond of Rayna, no doubt, but she also had the daughter I desired: Nina, whom I had grown to love so much.
“A gift? For me?” said a delighted Rayna. “Yes, it’s from my mother,” I replied, feeling guilty about not sharing in her happiness.
“Thank you,” she said as she opened the package and gave me a close, strong hug.
Next: 'We were told to leave Nina in the playroom, all by herself, and depart.'