Yesterday I was given a rare opportunity. I was asked to be a witness for an adoption relinquishment. I was not at all prepared for the emotional roller coaster that was to come.
One of the first things that stuck me as I waited outside the birthing room was the stark door, as particularly accentuated by the neighboring door vomiting baby blue. I could hear the administrator talking with the family and everyone seemed to be in good spirits. Upon entering I wasn’t sure who I would encounter. This time it was a young couple; a girl of 18 and her “husband”, 34, who have been homeless most of their lives.
I’m not sure which was more shocking, the smell or their appearance. It was already hot and raining which amplified the smell of ‘hospital’ but mixed in was the undeniable smell of body odor and filth that can only come from living on the streets. If you’ve ever lived in a large city, you know this smell, acutely. It’s the smell of a crowded, broken down subway car on a hot, rainy day. This scent almost overwhelmed my senses as much as their appearance. Their clothes — army green, too big, layered and tattered were hardly noticeable compared to the multiple facial piercings and facial tattoos. It’s hard to not stare. Where exactly should I look? More importantly, what exactly do I say at this point?
The introductions were made and most surprisingly the father stood upon our greeting, smiled brightly and shook my hand. I was struck by how intuitively polite and well mannered he was. The young mother smiled awkwardly, reached for my hand and squirmed a little in her bed.
The administrator didn’t want to drag out anything longer than necessary and the paper work that was to follow represented a small rain forest. She pulled out a small portable video camera and said warmly, “O.K. Let’s get started.”
Introductions were made again for the camera: The administrator, the mother, the father, a notary, and myself — the witness. The surrealism set in from the start as the administrator noted the current time and the exact time of birth, less than one hour ago. It’s like I had forgotten that this young lady — sitting up in bed fully clothed — had just given birth to a baby boy less than an hour ago! It’s like I had forgotten that’s why I was there. I had forgotten that there was an actual human, a tiny, tiny person, at the heart of what we were doing. Then I was jerked back into reality by a series of questions to the parents. “Do you understand what you’re doing?” “Has anyone coerced you?” “Have you read all the papers?” Etc., Etc. This seemed to go on and on. Then the signing and initialing began. Each page must be initialed. Signatures are to go on the appropriate pages and then each document is in triplicate (one for the courts, one for the agency, one for the family.) And then finally the documents must be notarized. There was a raising of the right hands and everything.
Towards the end there was a knock at the door, it was a nurse bringing in the baby. I was quite shocked on several levels. Number one, I didn’t think they would bring the baby back in, and number two there was the actual baby. A beautiful, healthy baby boy. (And I don’t ever think newborns are pretty, but this one was unbelievable.) The mother then got excited and asked if she could feed him again one more time. I really thought I was going to turn into waterworks now. (The administrator later told me that they were not supposed to bring the baby back in, but that it was o.k. that they did, especially since everyone was so calm and in good spirits.)
Because the baby was there with the parents they decided to take a few pictures – for his file. The young mother awkwardly held her new creation and the father looked proudly down at his son. I was so awestruck when the mother, commenting on the impromptu photo shoot said, “We don’t look mean or anything do we?” It wasn’t until later that I started to process that a little. I of course immediately thought of their outward appearance – piercings, tats, a grimace passing as a smile. But I wonder if she even knew what she was asking. We don’t look mean, do we? As if to say, is this meanto give you up for adoption?
I remember thinking, why isn’t the mother crying? I’m doing everything I can to not completely lose it! But both the mother and father, although nervous, were obviously confident in their decision. And seemed almost, dare I say, happy — oohing and aahing over their little boy. Just like any other new parent. Yet another emotion snuck up on me and although it could have seemed a bit pejorative, I felt really proud of them. Proud and so glad that they were choosing to do right and good by this little boy. I don’t care who you are or what you think, a decision like this is never entered into lightly. And I can only imagine that every ounce of your physical being is screaming out to keep your baby. But this couple knew that the life they wanted to live – the life they are choosing to live – was not the life for their baby.
They were in fact so confident that they put together a ‘scrapbook’ of memorabilia of their lives to go into their son’s file should he ever want to know more about them. And I got the sense that they would love it if he did. They also chose to not only meet the adoptive family, but they wanted to physically hand the baby over. They asked genuine and sweet questions about the care and welfare of their baby.
God bless the people that deal with this every day because I was a wreck at the end of it all.
I’ve known several people who have adopted. I’ve seen and shared in their joy. But to witness this side, the giving up, was quite an experience. It is a part of life that so few see. I felt privileged to share such a deeply intimate moment with strangers. Despite our obvious differences, I felt connected to them on a very human level. There are, after all, two elements that connect us all: life and death.
I just found out that the mother had not ‘just given birth one hour prior’ but rather 48 hrs before. Texas has a 48 hr requirement. Although the immediacy was not there, the moment was no less surreal and continues to confound my mind that I was with this young family during this crucial moment.