Losing a baby who was never really ours, Part 4

This is the final segment of the story about our first adoption match. It was 2007, and my partner and I had been officially waiting to adopt for only three months before we got our first call. I’ve used a pseudonym to protect the prospective birth mom’s privacy. Click here to start at the beginning.

The next day, Saturday, we drove to a beach, hoping the sun would soothe us. It didn’t. The air was unseasonably cold, and the wind whipped sand all around. On Sunday, we passed the long day at the hotel with “The Devil Wears Prada”; it managed to make us laugh.

Time had stopped. I could temporarily forget what had happened, but when I remembered, it was awful all over again. I had never known grief like this before, and nothing had prepared me for the way it takes on a life of its own, like a small wild animal living inside of me. I cried a lot, intermittently, not knowing when it would creep up and sucker punch me again.

On Monday morning, the social worker called with the official final word. Lydia had decided to keep her baby. She didn’t want the birth father to take him, and her mother had agreed to help raise him.

Another heavy wave of grief rolled on top of me. But at least now we could go home. Before we could make our flight, we had to return the baby things to Target. There was no sense in lugging them back to Wisconsin.

We didn’t talk much in those hours, just got through.

For days and months afterward, the scent of Jude’s soft, little head lingered on my fingers. The imprint of his weight and warmth remained on my arms and chest.

It was brutal to re-enter the routine of work and home. On any given day, my thoughts careened wildly from whatever was going on at work to memories of Jude and the flood of emotions that followed. Sometimes I was able to retell the story without emotion, but sometimes a lump would unexpectedly rise in my throat and threaten a fresh breakdown.

Was this mourning? It felt like it, yet no one had died.

We had lost a baby who was never really ours. There is no template or ritual available to make sense of what happened. No body or ashes to dispose of. No ceremony to bring people together and start the process of healing.

It’s still largely ineffable to me—the entire experience of putting our lives on hold so suddenly, feeling closer to Lydia then I expected, spending all of those hours with Jude in a sterile hospital ward, imagining possible futures with him, and then losing him.


We didn’t hear a word from Lydia until two years later when she friended us on Facebook. She was happy to see pictures of our son Miles who came home to us on Christmas Day 2007. I told her that it had been hard for us, but that I was glad she could make the right decision, one that she wouldn’t regret.

It’s difficult to tell what her life is like now, but Lydia looks happy, even radiant, like the day we first met. I expected it to be upsetting to look at pictures of her son, but it wasn’t. He seems healthy, strong, and cheerful. There is no sign there of his father.

When I look at him I see another child—not Jude. He has a different name, and I have no doubt that he is a different person than the one who would have spent days and years growing with us as our son.

Jude didn’t die exactly, but in a way, he did disappear that day in Baltimore when I pressed my cheek against his and said goodbye.

 <— Part 3  –  –  –  Part 1—>


23 thoughts on “Losing a baby who was never really ours, Part 4

  1. Pingback: Losing a baby who was never really ours, Part 3 | Regular Midwesterners

  2. I can’t even imagine the pain of losing Jude. Even though you say he wasn’t “yours” the loss is still very painful and something that takes time to overcome. You planned for him, you readied your lives for him, you celebrated him. I’m happy that his mother is caring for him, and that he seems to be doing well. Thank you for sharing this story.

    • When everything started unfolding in Baltimore, I had to remind myself that he wasn’t mine….it was a way not to feel entitled to him at a time when that would be have horribly wrong. But he was starting to become a part of me, and I a part of him. What struck me was how bodily the connection was…made me start to understand the intimacy of parenting, the way you start to lose your autonomy and individual self a bit.

    • I appreciate your comment about Lydia’s role. It’s something I wrestled with a lot–what our responsibility was to her, how to navigate the waters of wanting a child without ever treating her as a means to an end. It was a tremendous loss for us, but lately I’ve been thinking about the role we played in caring for Lydia’s baby before she was ready to parent…and how giving her that time helped her in some way. The experience certainly taught me a lot about the complexity of adoption and what the choice to place can mean.

      • This is true. You helped to give the baby a better start. Babies need human touch and love to thrive, especially in those first days. You were able to step in and be the parents he needed for that crucial time in his life. It is a sad story, but thinking of a baby in the NICU who wants to be touched, comforted, and held only to have no one there who truly loves him to do it, that’s heartbreaking. You were able to bring him warmth and comfort and that is a beautiful thing.

      • “It’s something I wrestled with a lot–what our responsibility was to her, how to navigate the waters of wanting a child without ever treating her as a means to an end. It was a tremendous loss for us, but lately I’ve been thinking about the role we played in caring for Lydia’s baby before she was ready to parent…and how giving her that time helped her in some way.” Wow. Just, wow. Such a powerful way to love.

  3. Josh, you are an amazing writer. I’m so glad to have (belatedly, thanks to Travis) found this blog and get to hear/read more about your life. I miss you!
    – Daniel

  4. Wow, thank you for sharing this. Maybe it’s just where my head is, but this kind of loss feels similar to miscarriage. They both involve grieving the life you had imagined with this baby. In both cases I think it’s hard for people who haven’t had that kind of experience to understand it. And, as you mentioned, there aren’t rituals in our culture to help honor and process the loss. Though we queer folks are good at creating our own rituals, when the ones available don’t suit. Hmm, leaves me with something to think about–thanks!

    • As I’ve shared the experience, more than a few people have made comparisons to the loss they experienced with miscarriage. I’ve been reluctant to make the comparison myself because I just don’t know what it’s like, but I’ve certainly welcomed the sense of connection….and now even more connection through people like you and others in this blogworld. Thanks!

  5. Thank you for sharing your experience with us. Your words are both beautiful and heartbreaking, and I can only begin to imagine the pain you’ve experienced. I think, in general, people have a lot of misconceptions about adoption. It is complicated and heartbreaking and wonderful all at the same time.

    • Thanks so much. Yes, when I think about how I understood adoption before this experience, I seem so naive and immature. I don’t know that I would go so far as to say I would do it all the same over again, but I gained valuable insight that has helped me on our parenting journey with our son….and with a second unsuccessful match we experienced last spring. I look forward to checking out your blog now….

      • Starting the adoption process is much like your first days as a parent, I think. You look back now in wonder at how unprepared you actually were, despite your best research and planning. There’s nothing that really prepares you for the reality of it, and until you’ve been through it, you don’t really understand that your joy comes at the expense of someone else, a point which becomes even more clear if you’re in an open adoption. I am so glad you’ve found your son and are a family. It makes all the heartache worthwhile.

        I’ve only just started blogging, but on today’s menu is a post about our adoption experience, which should be up later in the day. I would be honored if you checked it out!

  6. I can not begin to tell you what a beautiful piece this is. I want to see it in the back of the NYT magazine and more. The ending is so REAL and then some. (Facebook man. I mean really. It just stuck me what a crazy thing it is. It seems that in your case a really important closure of sorts–but so intense too. Without it, you’d never know perhaps about Jude’s journey elsewhere?) What a gift this piece is. Thank you.

    • Wow, this means a lot coming from you. I love following your blog because of the content and your ability to convey so much with beautiful language.

      The Facebook connection was pretty wild. It was shocking when the friend requests popped up out of nowhere. At first it felt like I wasn’t ready for it, but of course, I was utterly fascinated to know how things had turned out for Lydia and her son.

      Thanks so much for your words.

  7. Wow. That was so painful and heartbreaking to read. I can only imagine how it felt to live through it. I’m so glad you found my blog and that now, I’ve found yours. You’re an amazing writer, and I’m sure you’re a great dad, too. Can’t wait to read more.

  8. I have to say this has been really hard to read – especially since we’re in the process of adopting now. But it’s an important story to tell because it’s the reality of adoption in some situations. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason though (I’m a walking cliche).

    I just hate that you had to go through this and feel that sort of anguish.

  9. I wanted to thank you for putting into words the desperate way I feel right now. This Tuesday, our Isaac was born. He was ours for only four hours — if you don’t count the months of preparation we put into his coming. On Thursday, he went home to live with his mother. We are heartbroken.

    This weekend, we reconnected in our little family. One daughter had to cheer in our city’s big football game, one daughter had a tae kwon do tournament; we spent one evening listening to the songs from the musical, “13,” which the local school is considering performing.

    This is an unusual kind of pain, there is no real mourning as the baby is still alive and, I hope, well. There is only our pain to get through.

    Thank you.

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