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Priscille Sibley: Precious and Wanted

A mother's journey through adoption, and then giving birth.

The following is an essay by Priscille Sibley, author of The Promise of Stardust

I love babies, which is a good thing since I’m a neonatal intensive care nurse. One day, many years ago, I was working in our step down. I admit, I don’t remember the specifics. I think the baby was abandoned – or maybe he was being placed for an adoption under ordinary circumstances. What I do remember clearly is that the nurse holding the infant said, “It’s so sad that no one wants you.”

I took stern exception to her words. I said, “Of course someone wants this baby. Don’t you know how many couples are waiting for a baby to adopt? Someone wants this child.”

I knew first hand. I was in the middle of infertility treatments, and I would have taken that child home in a heartbeat if it were legally within my power. I would have loved him. For years my husband and I did the infertility dance. I had surgeries. I took shots. I never made it to IVF because my eggs didn’t want to ripen no matter how many drugs were shot into me. Then we played the adoption waltz. Anyone who has said to an infertile friend, “Why don’t you just adopt?” reconsider that please. Adoption is not easy. Not at all.

First there are home studies and agencies and lawyers, and all of that costs a lot of money. Birth mothers often change their minds. At least that was our experience. Two times we traveled across the country to get babies. Two times we came home without a child because the birthmother saw her baby and had a change of heart. And I’m certain that adoption is probably even more difficult now than it was twenty years ago when we were trying to become parents.

We gave up, surrendering to the emptiness of the room down the hall. Our hearts were broken, and it about killed us. At least it almost killed me. My husband put on a brave face and did what men do so well; he played the protector, worrying more about me than about himself. Then our adoption attorney provided us with a miracle; he called and said he had information about a birthmother who wanted a good home for her baby. Were we still interested? Yes. Oh, God, yes! So we made one more trip across the country. We entered another hospital. And this time a baby was placed in our arms.

I was immediately smitten with our son. We first held him when he was twenty-two hours old. We did all the things new parents do, some of which surprised me. I cried (I mean big whelping sobs.) I rushed to uncover his hands and feet. I counted his fingers and his toes. I wasn’t inspecting him for perfection. I just wanted to know him. I was in love, you see, truly and absolutely in love. I could no longer be angry at anyone about anything. I mended relationships. I forgave people who’d wronged me. Nothing mattered but my child, and I was too happy for anything else. Even now as I write this I can’t help but cry tears of joy. Life was good. Life was great. No, really, life was perfect. Nothing could mar the joy we were experiencing.

Fast-forward two years. Our baby grew into a toddler and then into a preschooler. He was a little mischief-maker, and we were devoted to him. We took walks. We went to the park. If he cried out at night I felt that umbilical cord pull me out of my bed to his side, even if there’d never been a real one connecting us in the first place. We hoped we would have another child. Neither of us were only children. My husband is one of eight, and I have two sisters. We didn’t want our boy to be alone – an only child. We prepared ourselves to go through the whole adoption process again, but first, we needed money. We needed to pay lawyers and adoption agencies and possibly a birth mother’s medical expenses again. Because our priority was family building, we sold our house for the equity in it. Four months later the strangest thing happened. I found out I was pregnant.

Yes, I know, everyone has heard one of these stories. Someone adopts and then they get pregnant. It’s a great story. People spread it around. But the truth is that whether you adopt or don’t adopt, the odds are after infertility treatments stop, about five percent of couples will go on to get pregnant. But really? In our case? The news was stunning. I did three pregnancy tests before I believed it was true. I figured I must be having a psychotic break with reality.

I made an appointment with an obstetrician expecting a head shake, or some kind of bad news. When the doctor did the ultrasound, he said. “Well, here’s the heartbeat. And there’s the other one.” The other one? I was pregnant with twins – as it turned out, with identical twins. In my whole reproductive life, I had one very good egg.

Fast-forward another eight months. (I’ll skip the morning sickness and all the preterm miseries.) My labor was a non-event. I went to the hospital, and there were some concerns about baby number two. He was in a transverse lie (sideways) and his heart rate was slowing down. The doctor planned to turn him after the first one came out. It didn’t quite work out that way. Things got a little scary. He was born breech, and then he didn’t breathe right away on his own. Fortunately, the neonatal intensive care team attended all high-risk deliveries, and within a few minutes, my little guy was fine, and I was holding my newborn sons. Yet, I was thinking about my first boy.

My internal dialogue went something like this as the baby was put into my arms: Oh my God, he’s okay. Oh my God, he looks just like me. They both look like me. Like me? Oh my God, Bobby (our older son) might need to see his resemblance to his birth family. Someday. And I will need to understand that. I think I do understand that.

Bobby is our first-born. I did not give birth to my eldest son, but he is still my first-born. He is my son. I am his mother. My husband is his father. And yet, I realize that someday he may need connections we cannot give him. There will be things we can’t give any of our children. We cannot be their whole world.

I don’t think I can ever express my gratitude to my oldest son’s birthmother. She gave us the most precious gift that anyone could ever give. All she asked was that from time to time we send letters and pictures. We said yes, of course. How could we not reassure her he was safe and healthy?

Over the years, letters have gone back and forth between our families. Our adoption was not open, nor was it completely closed. If our son wants to connect with his birth family, it will really only be a matter of a few phone calls. So far, he has not chosen to. Now that he’s an adult, it is his choice. We will be there for him if he wants to. Will I feel threatened? I used to think I would be. I used to think that I would still put a brave face on for his sake. I’d probably be nervous. Nevertheless, I think I’d like to meet her if given the opportunity.

You see, I know this much for certain, a child who is adopted is not a child no one wants. It doesn’t mean he isn’t loved. Oftentimes, that birthmother wants her child desperately. Sometimes, despite her plan, once she sees the baby, she cannot put the child up for adoption. If she still does, it is an act of great courage and selflessness. It is an act of love for the child, whatever she chooses.

I will forever be grateful to my son’s birthmother. I will understand if he needs to reach out to her. And if he does and if I am welcomed into the circle, I will hug her with all the gratitude and love in my heart. She gave us the most precious gift in the world.

Priscille Sibley is the author of The Promise of Stardust (William Morrow, 2013). Priscille grew up loving the rocky coast of Maine, her family, and babies. Now a neonatal intensive care nurse, she has the privilege of taking care of infants so small that they fit in her hand. She lives with her husband, three tall teenage sons, and their Wheaten terrier.