For Part One of this story, click here.
After checking into a sterile airport hotel with no definite departure date, we navigated our way to the downtown hospital, rose to the 9th floor, and knocked on Lydia’s partially closed door.
She perched on the edge of the bed, makeup applied, jeans loosely on under a hospital gown. Her smile was shy and pretty. We talked about her family life, why we wanted to be parents, and our coming out stories. She became warmer, even radiant. We probably did too, thinking how lucky we might be to have such a promising connection to the mother of our kid.
“Do you want to meet him?” She asked and then walked us slowly down the hall.
Tiny, wrinkled creatures in transparent boxes greeted us in the NICU. Lydia’s baby was the big one, the healthy-looking one. The one not in a fully enclosed box. He had chubby cheeks that overwhelmed his face, dark spiraling hair, caramel skin, and a high, furrowed brow.
Lydia had chosen not to see him since giving birth. Now she asked to see him in our arms.
His small, vulnerable body curled into mine.
As agreed, we called Lydia the next morning. She was scheduled to go home later that day, the Fourth of July.
Full of jaw-clenching anxiety about whether we’d ever hear from her again, I’d found sleep only with the help of Tylenol PM. Still, my dreams were overwhelmed by projections of our situation in Baltimore onto the post-apocalyptic landscape of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, which I’d brilliantly chosen to start reading the day before.
I paced furiously back and forth, hunched over with stomach cramps and wet pits, as I dialed the hospital number. Miraculously, her voice didn’t waver when she told us to come back.
We stayed for a couple of hours alone with Jude in the cramped corner of the NICU, then met Lydia in her room. She agreed to make a recording so her baby could always hear her voice, speaking to him at the beginning. She seemed to enjoy it, smiling as she talked into the small recorder.
“Listen to your daddies…work hard in school…don’t wear your hair long. I will always love you very much.” I tried to blink away my tears and bit my trembling lip; she appeared to be composed.
She gave us a few things for him, including a worn, stuffed animal–a little lion–that had been hers as a child.
It was so utterly strange, in those moments, to feel intensely close to her and see a glimmer of what this choice meant for her, yet know that we were about to have a child precisely because of her loss. It filled me with a deep, abiding sadness, and I didn’t know what to do with it. I began to fully comprehend, viscerally not just intellectually, that adoption isn’t a story about tidy, happy endings.
Late in the afternoon, Lydia slipped out of the hospital, insisting to the social worker that she did not need help and did not want further counseling.
The doctors said Jude would likely need to remain in their care for at least a week. With Lydia gone, we felt less self-conscious about spending every minute possible with him. But still it was awkward to be there, not really his parents yet the only people acting as his parents. We fed him, got peed on by him, and learned to bathe him. He screamed whenever we changed his diapers and slept peacefully only when held.
I watched Travis hold Jude. At times, he was stiff and awkward (a gregarious nurse hollered, from across the room, “You gotta relax your shoulders!”), but he also looked tender in a completely new way. It didn’t take long for the hours of physical closeness with Jude to accumulate into something different and stronger than I’d ever felt before. Being with him was already starting to change me.
Throughout the night as we took turns holding him in the NICU, we could hear the rumble of the downtown fireworks show in the humid sky outside. When at last we left him to get some sleep, we got trapped in the traffic of thousands of people trying to go home.
I pictured Jude, back at the hospital, all alone in his NICU cart and us, also alone and peering out at the city from behind the smudged windows of our rental car.