Don’t Forget to Grab Milk, Bread and a Baby

milkbreadbaby-milkbreadbaby2My son and I raced to 15-items-or-less-line with the small container of pomegranate seeds. It was shortly after 6 p.m. on December 23, 2008, and Wegmans was packed with holiday shoppers. “Are you sure we need this?” he pleaded, as I watched him count the number of warm bodies ahead of us. “Yup,” I replied. “It’s the best part of the salad.” We headed out to the car, weaving our way past the impatient elves in the parking lot, when my cell phone rang. “Oh no, someone forgot something else,” I sighed. Justin sat quietly in the front passenger seat and watched the expression on my face change. I was listening intently to the words of the caller. We spoke for maybe five minutes, and then I called my husband. “Are you sitting down?” I asked him. “You know I hate when you say that,” he said. “Sit down,” I repeated. Then I explained. “She was born on October 26 in a toilet at a drugstore not far from our house. The mom didn’t know she was pregnant until maybe a week before. She has bipolar disorder with psychotic outbreaks. The baby was really early, maybe only 25 or 26 weeks. She weighed just over a pound. She has been in the NICU since then, and they need a foster home for her. They want me to pick her up tomorrow morning.” He didn’t hesitate. “Well, go get her.”

My kids were 9, 11, and 13 at the time, and we had given away all of our baby items long before. No crib, no blankets, no bottles, no binkies, no baby powder, and no diapers. We went to Babies “R” Us that same evening and picked up a few basics. We raced back home to finish preparing food for the Christmas Eve dinner planned for the very next day. I tucked the kids in that night and told them that Christmas would be very exciting this year. We were receiving an unexpected gift, and it would change us all.

We needed to be at the hospital early, and I recall leaving three very anxious children at home to wait for our return. Although I was an experienced mom, I was quickly overwhelmed by the medical equipment and training required to take care of this precious package. After two months in the hospital, she weighed only four and a half pounds and had a tremendous number of health concerns. I left the hospital with her five hours later with a pack of oxygen slung over my shoulder, a tube taped to her cheek extending into her tiny nose, a heart monitor strapped over my other shoulder, and a medical bag filled with supplies. The nurses who had so diligently cared for this sick baby peered from the waiting room windows as I placed this delicate child safely inside a car seat. They told me that they desperately wanted her to be “home” on Christmas. I looked back at them and smiled, trying to reassure them – and myself – that everything was going to be ok.

As a family, we took a risk that Christmas Eve to open our lives and our hearts to this baby. We didn’t take the time to think about all of the what-ifs. What if we fell in love with her and then social services took her back? What if she was too sick to survive the entire trauma she had been through? What if she didn’t love us as much as we loved her? What if we didn’t know enough about how to take care of all of her medical issues? None of these things came to fruition, but I guess they could have. Certainly we had stumbles along the way, but nothing, absolutely nothing, slowed down the amount of love we had for this child.

Looking back at it almost six years later, I marvel at the progress she has made. I remember certain details of that first Christmas together when she was this tiny fragile angel in my arms. Her eyes looking up at me, full and open with expression; the rawness of her pink cheeks where the oxygen tube had been taped and re-taped over and over again; and the warmth of her swaddled body against mine. I didn’t know then that her birth mother and I would become close as we worked on reunification and that we would ultimately decide that adoption was the best choice for this child. I didn’t know that this baby would become my daughter or that I would grow to love her so utterly and completely that I feel as if she has always been a part of me. I didn’t have to know any of those things, because I knew that something special was happening as we all worked together to care for her. I knew that she was an absolute gift.

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