I didn’t know it would feel this way.
At one point between contractions, I joked, “Can I get a beer?” Joking felt easier than pushing, felt lighter than the tension in the room. I wanted everyone to feel at ease; it felt like my job. I needed everyone to be okay.
Even though I wasn’t okay.
I continued pushing for over two hours. They say that’s normal with your first baby, but nothing felt normal in that room; my best friend holding one leg, my mom holding the other, and my daughter’s soon-to- be parents in the corner behind my right shoulder. As her mom-to-be tried not to hyperventilate, I reassured her everything was just fine.
Even though I wasn’t fine.
One moment, shoulders stuck, my daughter firmly held her place within me, and the next, with a push, she slipped out of me, through my fingers—no longer mine.
I watched as the nurse cleaned her up. Exhausted from a nine-month journey which almost killed me twice, I rested my head on the pillow and watched as my daughter—not my daughter? not yet their daughter? whose?—was handed to the woman I met a few months ago.
I fell in love with her on paper, their profile FedExed to my damp, basement apartment which I referred to as my prison seeing as how I’d been placed on Level III bed rest. When I compared my current state of life to theirs, I felt less than; I felt embarrassed.
We “matched,” the term used when a mother considering adoption chooses a potential adoptive couple. Over the next few months, we formed a relationship. They visited me, stood next to me in the darkened ultrasound room as the technician told us the baby was a girl. They drove six hours in the middle of the night to be present at the birth of my, our, their baby.
The adoption facilitator encouraged openness, yet behind my back, they told the family that birth parents normally disappear after the first year. The facilitator told me I could go on to live my life, get married, have my own babies.
But no one told me how it would feel.
How it would feel to watch her body slip from my own and then be handed to another mother. How it would feel to finally hold her—after everyone else in the room. How it would feel to sleep that first night with my baby in her nursery, the adoptive family in their hotel room, and myself—the most alone I had ever felt in my life. How it would feel when a nurse came in the next morning to harass me about the baby’s father not coming in to sign the birth certificate; I yelled, “This is an adoption! Look at my records!” How it would feel when another nurse came in, sat gently on the side of my bed, and said, “You know you can request to have your baby with you whenever you want, even at night.”
How it would feel when I fed her a bottle; they told me not to breastfeed, it would only encourage bonding. As if bonding was a bad thing. How it would feel to watch my best friend give the adoptive parents a gift as I sat in the bed, stomach deflated, biting back tears.
How it would feel the last night in the hospital. I held her and told her everything she needed to know. How much I loved her. Wanted her. Needed her to know these things. How it would feel when she looked back at me with my own eyes, intent on my face, as if she knew she needed to absorb these words, this moment. As if she knew.
How it would feel to walk out of that hospital alone.
How it would feel to walk this life as a birth mother for the rest of my days, forever without my daughter.
I didn’t know it would feel this way.
Note: This is the piece I read for Listen to Your Mother Pittsburgh on May 6, 2016. The video will be published on the LTYM YouTube channel this summer. I will share it here then. I want to thank all my friends, those who came and those who sent love and support in their absence. This has been a life-changing experience. More on that Monday.