In order to protect the families involved, Avery prefers to remain anonymous. She now lives a happily domestic life with her husband and children, but she has never forgotten the baby she chose to give up. This is her story.
As I watched her wheeled out of the room, she cried—for the first time, she cried. I think she knew.
I was twenty years old when I became pregnant with my daughter. At the time, I was in a relationship layered with lies and mistrust, and I didn’t even know it. I was just pregnant, in love, and ready to start my life.
Even though it was three states away, I was excited when my boyfriend told me he’d lined up a job for me in his hometown and that he wanted me to join him there. We would be working together. I thought my life was starting. I thought I was going to get married and have a happy ending: my own little happily ever after.
When I arrived, he told me he had arranged an interview to rent an apartment around the corner from his house. It was the house where his children lived, along with the woman I thought he would soon be divorcing. I signed the papers, paid the rent, and started unpacking. Within hours, I was nesting.
Then, he dropped the bomb on me.
He wasn’t, in fact, separated at all. He was still married and living in his house. He was staying with his wife for his children. He looked pained as he told me he wouldn’t claim our child openly because his wife would take his kids far, far away. He told me what I chose to do would either ruin his family or not – that the power was in my hands. His fate, as he put it. “Please don’t ruin my family.”
I was destroyed. I was setting up a nursery for my daughter, our daughter. I thought I was going to have a partner and that we would be a family.
I had flashbacks to my childhood: raised by a single mother in a run down apartment, Spaghettios for dinner every night. We were poor. We were damaged. My mother resented me. She blamed me for all the bad things she went through. I realized my deepest fear was going to come true. I was going to be my mother. I was going to be poor and alone, raising a child.
“Please don’t ruin my family.”
I grew up wondering if my mother loved me. If when she looked at me she could see past all the shit and turmoil to just see me, her daughter. I spent 20 years wondering that. As I thought about my daughter, I was terrified. I saw my life in a flash-forward. I saw my daughter questioning my love for her. I didn’t know if I was strong enough to break the cycle. I didn’t see a way out.
I spent the next month in an apartment with a half finished nursery. I would come home from work, where I spent the day with my married boyfriend, and I would sit in that incomplete nursery and just stare at the walls. I had no one. My family had no idea I was even pregnant. I didn’t want to face that shame. My friends back home thought I just took off to follow love. It was a very me thing to do; I was such a free spirit back then. I was alone.
When I was 7 months pregnant, I made the choice. I flipped open the yellow pages and skimmed the names. “Adoptions of Love.” “Caring Adoptions.” “Loving Care Adoptions.” The list was daunting. They made it sound like a dating show. As I called “Loving Care,” my voice was weak and jumpy, but I made my appointment for the following day.
I was an hour late. I turned around twice. When I finally got there, I sat in the car for another 45 minutes outside the building. As I walked in, the smell of vanilla and a floral—gardenia I think—hit me. It felt as though I had just walked into my grandmother’s house, and that felt like home.
The agent’s name was Pam. She talked to me, she held me, she wiped my tears and consoled me. In the end, she sent me home with three blue folders. Inside each was a possible future for my daughter.
I skipped over the first one almost immediately. I don’t know why, but I didn’t want a family who already had children. The second family was a nice couple – young, just starting out. They were sweet, but they were the same age I was, and that felt wrong. If I am being completely honest, I was jealous of them. They had what I’d wanted.
The third family was a slightly older couple. They had tried to have a child for six years, and they seemed as nice as I could hope for. As I glanced at their personal info, I saw that I shared a birthday with the wife. I look for signs everywhere, and for me, in this fragile state, this was my sign.
I walked into the office the next morning and put their folder down on Pam’s desk. Then I said the words I had been far too afraid to say out loud.
“This is the family I want to adopt my daughter.”
The next three months are a blur. I met the couple a few times. They invited me to dinner. They would ask me questions and check in with me. They were always nice. I learned a lot about them and their struggles. They told me about the failed adoptions before me. Once they’d been at the hospital, and the mom changed her mind at the last minute. I was heartbroken for them.
At the last meeting they asked me some more serious questions. What was I hoping to get out of this open adoption? What would I want from them? From them? I didn’t want anything from them. I just wanted them to take care of my daughter. To love her the way I never had been.
I asked for updates and photos—not all the time, just a few times a year. I wanted no visits, no calls, no other communication. Just photos and a few lines on paper. They verbally agreed. They launched into a proclamation of devotion, telling me I would never be a secret, and that my daughter would always know about me. I was changing their life, and they would be forever grateful.
I felt safe, loved, and whole again.
My water broke in the middle of the night. My first call was to 911, and my second call was to Pam. She met me at the hospital. After a few short hours of labor, my daughter arrived. She was small. She had a full head of dark brown hair and an adorable button nose. I stared at her for hours that first night. I didn’t sleep at all. I just sat and watched her. I was only going to have three days with her. Sleeping felt like a silly waste of time.
I was moved to a special wing of the hospital. I had my own room. All of the nurses knew my situation, and they handled me with extra care. It was comforting to not have to explain my story or why I wouldn’t need to see the lactation consultant or the pediatrician. It was a bubble of bliss, just my daughter and me.
On the second day, the adoptive parents came to visit. I thought they would come to my room, but they requested a private visit with my daughter. I agreed, but I felt panicked as soon as the words left my lips. That moment changed everything. It hit me that I would be saying goodbye to her soon. That this was happening. I called my ex-boyfriend. I told him to come see her. To say goodbye. He said he would.
On the third day, I felt sick. I had a pit in my stomach, and a splitting headache. I knew that today was the day. I held her for an extra long time that day. I didn’t take my eyes off of her. I didn’t want to miss a minute.
That afternoon, everyone shuffled into my room. The couple and their lawyer, who was also their sister, Pam, and my nurse. They handed me a stack of papers, and I think they were talking to me, but I was back in the bubble. I sat there holding my daughter. When I looked up, I could see their mouths moving but their words sounded muffled. They didn’t look the same. They didn’t look kind anymore. I felt territorial. I looked at the nurse, and she must have seen my panic, that possessive look. She touched my wrist and asked if I needed a minute. I must have said yes or nodded, because she promptly shuffled everyone out. I looked up at the couple, and I saw shock, betrayal and disappointment. I remembered they had been in this situation before. They were scared I was going to take their baby away from them. They were worried I was going to hurt them.
The nurse sat on my bed. She was fifty-something. She had gray curly hair and heavy make up. Her scrubs were a pretty blue color, and she wore a cross around her neck. “You know you don’t have to do this,” she whispered.
I cried with her. I told her all about my mom, my issues, my fears. I told her about the couple’s failed adoptions. She cut me off and gently scolded me. “You don’t need to be concerned with their past. This is about you and her.” She looked down at my daughter, and pressed her close to me. We sat there on the bed for over an hour.
She told me to think about it and that she would be back.
I talked to my baby. I told her how much I loved her. How I wished her father was there. How I wished I could be her mother. That I needed to give her the best possible future I could, and being broken the way I was, I would just ruin her. I didn’t want to ruin her.
I wrote her a letter while she was tucked in my arm. I took the pen and put it to the papers. I didn’t read them. I knew what they said. They said she wasn’t mine anymore. She was theirs. I started to sign, tears flowing from my eyes as I tried to stay on the line. I laid the pen down and pushed the rolling tray away from us. I cuddled my daughter for the last time and stepped outside the bubble.
Three hours later, I rang for my nurse. She came in, and I told her I had signed the papers. She asked me one more time if I was sure. I told her I had to do what was right for my daughter. She hugged me one more time and left the room. When she returned, Pam was with her. The nurse came to my bedside and held out her hands as Pam rested her hand on my shoulder. I looked down at my daughter one final time. I studied her face, her closed eyes, her rosy cheeks and button nose. I gently kissed her and whispered into her ear, “I’m sorry, I love you.”
My hands were shaking as I placed her in my nurse’s arms. She laid her in the rolling cart and started to leave the room. It was in slow motion. As I watched her wheeled out of the room, she cried—for the first time, she cried. I think she knew.
It was, and still is, the worst moment of my life. Her cry felt primal. I was raw.
Pam left my room, promising to return, but I didn’t care if she did or not. I called my married ex-boyfriend. I told him in a voicemail—the 8th voicemail I’d left him—that our daughter was gone. He had missed her. Pam took me home. He was supposed to pick me up, but he didn’t. I walked into my tiny apartment with the half-finished nursery. I spent that first night on the floor. I cried. I don’t even know if you can call it crying. It was a bellowing, a strangled moaning. Whatever it was, it was far deeper than a cry.
I spent the next night in the bathtub. I kept draining and refilling the water. I just sat in the silence of it. I was in lonely, heart-breaking isolation.
My ex-boyfriend showed up at my house on the second night. At first, I screamed at him. I yelled and cursed at him. I’m pretty sure I spit in his face at one point. He just stood there, taking it all in. I realized he was broken, too. I fell to my knees, and he scooped me up and laid me in bed. He wrapped his arms around me. I remember falling asleep saying, “You didn’t come, you said you would come, you didn’t even see her…”
I want to say it got better from there, but I can’t. I spent the next few months in the bottom of any bottle I could find. I moved into a hotel. Going back to my apartment with its empty nursery was too much. I tried making friends. I tried making connections, period, but they all felt fake. I still felt empty. Would that ever go away?
Six months passed. I woke up one day and realized that a half-year of my life had passed. I was lost and broken. I realized, too, that a half-year had passed, and I’d missed something else. I didn’t have a single update on my daughter. Not a letter, or a picture, not even a postcard. Nothing.
I called the adoption office. A woman answered. She informed me in a very cold manner that Pam no longer worked there, and according to my file, the parents had sent one packet containing 5 photos and a letter. She also informed me that they – the couple – had decided not to communicate further. I felt the breath leave my body. What did she mean, I asked. How can they do that? Why? She told me it was all in my contract. I argued. “It was an open adoption. They asked me what I wanted, they agreed to it.” She paused, and quietly asked, “But was it in the contract?” Anger flushed through my system. I didn’t know if it was or not. I hadn’t read it.
The woman got my address and promised to send the packet. Before hanging up, she sighed and said, “Avery, I am really sorry.” Afterward, I wasn’t sure if she had really said it or not.
A few days later, I received the packet. I stared at it for a long time.
When I finally opened the envelope, the photos fell out. One of her in the hospital. One of her in a swing. One of her at a photo place. One of her eating. One of her in her Christmas dress. There was a letter – a small note, really. It was one paragraph long, telling me she had her days and nights mixed up but was adapting. I realized the letter was from when they first got home. It hit me slowly, like a wave. I realized they had no intention of keeping in touch. They had no intention of sending me anything more. I want to believe they changed their mind, that it wasn’t a decision they made from the start. That I wasn’t duped.
I packed my bags that weekend. I left my married ex-boyfriend, my job, and my fake friends, and I went home. I couldn’t be there anymore. I couldn’t be close to my baby and not know her. It hurt too much.
I spent the next few years not thinking about her. I pushed her out of my mind. I grew up. Rather, I grew older. I fell in love and started a family. When my second daughter was born, I finally understood. I understood that feeling I’d had that day in the hospital. I understood why I felt so strange. I was feeling something I didn’t think I had. It was my maternal instinct kicking in and telling me it was all wrong.
I realized I had made a mistake. My self-doubt had caused me to make a terrible mistake.
It was crushing. There was no hiding from that knowledge.
As my children grew, I began to come to terms with what had happened. I couldn’t take it in all at once. I recalled every second of every minute and accepted each one. I came to terms with other things, too.
I did the best with what I had.
I gave her all I could give at the moment.
I gave her the best chance I could at happiness.
I have been asked why I don’t contact a lawyer, why I don’t at least fight for more photos or letters. Why I don’t do something. The reason is simple. It wouldn’t be fair to her. Now that I have my own children, I know what it means to protect them. I know how fragile they are, and how innocent. So, I choose not to call a lawyer. I stay positive. I raise my children and watch them flourish.
I think of my first baby, though. I think of her, always. I have dreams for her, hopes for her. I will think of her, always.
I wait for the day when she comes to find me. I pray for the day when she asks me to explain myself. I will tell her I am sorry and that she was loved. I will tell her all the things I wrote in the letter she may or may not have received. I will open the wound and bleed all the fear, doubt ,and sadness for her. I will wait for her, and hope she will forgive me.
I know there is a good chance she doesn’t even know I exist, but I can’t live my life like that. I have to live in hope.
The alternative is crippling.
I have forgiven myself for what happened. I have forgiven her parents, too. I know what they were doing. I know now they were doing exactly what I wanted. They were protecting my daughter. They were being her parents. I asked them to do that, and they did.
They had asked me what I wanted from them. I said to take care of my daughter.
So they did.
Photo credit: “Holding Hands With A Newborn Baby” by Bridget Coila is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.