As I walked through the baby aisles of Target, pricing strollers and formula and getting a sense of what had changed in the baby landscape over four years, I couldn't help but notice the bellies. Big bellies, pregnant bellies, happy bellies. How can you not love a pregnant belly-so much potential, so much promise, so much hope-all hidden under a maternity shirt stretched to capacity?
I was missing a belly (well, a pregnant belly-does a soda belly count?), but still was expecting a baby. My baby was growing in another woman's belly, our Birth Mother. I capitalize that intentionally, as Birth Moms demand our respect and gratitude. Birth Moms make a wrenching choice out of love to provide for their child the best they can-just like all good parents do, only harder and with less return.
There was an odd sensation browsing in the baby aisles that day. The other expectant moms were carrying electronic guns, pointing at the things they hoped to have for the little one growing inside them. There would be showers and sonograms and nurseries to set up. There would be none of that for me, as my pregnancy was invisible.
Probably no one noticed me that day. I might have been the auntie shopping for a new little one, or a colleague dispatched to buy the office gift for an expecting co-worker, or simply invisible. But I was none of those things, as I, too, was expecting. More accurately, I was hoping. Not an expectant mom, but a hopeful mom.
And as a hopeful mom instead of an expectant mom, I took precautions. That meant no crib, no stroller, no diaper bag, no big ticket baby items. Those precautions were for my heart. If the baby we hoped for would not be ours, the last thing I wanted to do was return to a home full of baby things. I was there at the Target that day shopping for the bare essentials-a few of the tiniest onesies, a burp cloth or two, a blanket in case of chill (plus, it was black and white chevron and demanded to be purchased).
When you adopt, it's not over 'til the fate lady sings. Not the fat lady, people, the fate lady. Only time would tell for us. Specifically, only 48 hours after birth would I know if I would be lucky enough to mother another little one. That is a tense 48 hours, let me tell you. For me, much of it was spent in the presence of Birth Mom, who so amazingly had asked for me to be with her in the delivery room. And only by grace of good weather and no traffic was I able to travel cross-country and do that, with two hours to spare, after she went into early labor.
When Baby was born, I suddenly knew, in rich and vibrant colors, what it must have been like for my husband at the birth of our two oldest children. I clasped Birth Mom's knees, just as my husband had clasped mine. I held Birth Mom's hand as she pushed, just as my husband had mine. I held the camera that would take the first photo of baby, just as my husband had done.
My hope and awe had never been more potent.
Those two days in the hospital Birth Mom was simply Mom. Doctors and nurses tended to her, asked her questions, requested her signature. I was there, always there, not exactly certain what my role was. I watched Baby in his mother's arms, such a beautiful baby. My heart did a little flip with every diaper I got to change or bottle I got to offer. I hoped, but didn't know if this beautiful baby would be mine, if I would be his Mom.
Those 48 hours were my labor pains, minus the epidural.
Today, we are home, our family grown by one beautiful new baby boy. We are blessed beyond measure. My pregnancy was invisible and unacknowledged, spread out over four months between our first contact with Birth Mom and the moment she placed her beautiful son, now ours, in my arms.
There will be no showers, no registry, no diaper cake, but there will be a lifetime of love and joy and sacrifice and hope and support.
Welcome, Baby. May you only know love every day of your life. May you know the love your Birth Mom holds for you and always will. May you know that while you didn't grow in my belly, I love you just the same. May you know the love that brought you to us. May you only ever know love.
Sheila Quirke is the Chicago mom behind the very popular blog, Mary Tyler Mom.