I have eight daughters.
Yes, you read that correctly—eight daughters. They entered my life in non-traditional ways.
The first one, Kellini, came very easily in April of 1992. Only forty-six hours of hard labor. That’s the span of time between the phone call we received from the obstetrician an hour after he delivered her, and the minute I first held her in the adoption attorney’s parking garage.
The first forty hours after notification, her dad and I tried not to get too excited. We’d been down the road before with babies who had been promised to us, but never delivered.
We had a nursery filled with new furniture that we’d purchased when I’d convinced myself (and almost convinced Allen) that the woman we talked to during a freak snow storm in October 1991, was going to give us the twins she was carrying.
Twenty years ago, when Kellini came into our lives, adoption was very different than it is now. Consider that statement to be my assumption because I haven’t been part of anyone’s adoption journey for the last thirteen years. One thing is certain; there was no internet, no email, and no Facebook available to us.
Back then, we told everyone we knew that we were looking to adopt a baby. Allen worked at a hospital and diligently networked with the doctors there. Not only did we advertise in the Omaha World-Herald, but also in strategic newspapers nationwide. I tried to write a clever ad that would tug at a pregnant woman’s heartstrings. It started something like “Teddy Bear wallpaper lines the nursery, but the crib is empty…”
It didn’t seem cheesy at the time. The ad was one of three columns of similar appeals in our local newspaper. Every Sunday, the classified page started with column after column of notices from couples looking to adopt.
Do You Want Fries With That?
We even worked up the nerve to pull aside the pregnant teenager who cashiered for us at a fast food restaurant. Based on the evidence—no wedding ring, her distressed look—we took a calculated risk that we wouldn’t get tossed out the door by the police.
Sure, it was a hopeful act of two desperate people. We convinced ourselves it was in the baby’s best interest. Many people do crazy things in the name of love.
I’ll never forget the conversation. The teen was amazingly open with us, telling us that she had considered giving up her child for adoption. Until her brother was murdered the previous month. Swallowing hard, she said she couldn’t give up her parents’ first grandchild after they had just lost their own son.
Even as I write this, I can still see the pain and grief on the woman’s face. The burden of her loss and her decision to keep a baby she was unprepared to raise was apparent in her slumped shoulders.
Allen and I NEVER again stalked a pregnant woman. And we never gave up hope we would eventually become parents.
My Baby Hope Chest
Some of you might remember a time when girls received cedar-lined hope chests upon high school graduation. My mother had one. The idea was simple. A young woman would place family heirlooms along with bargain household goods she might buy to use in her first apartment. I inherited my grandmother’s cedar chest and stuffed it with linens and dishes—just in case I moved out before marriage.
The nursery became my baby hope chest. Some of the dresser drawers held cute, unisex outfits I’d collected in the ten months we’d been searching for a child to adopt.
I’d picked up a tiny T-shirt on a weekend adventure with my two girlfriends to San Diego. It was primary blue with a dolphin on the front. Appropriate for a girl or a boy. That same weekend, my friends and I visited Psychic Melinda who had an office across the street from the restaurant where we dined. She charged me twenty dollars and told me I’d never have a child. I paid an extra twenty buck to argue the point with her.
That’s when I bought the dolphin T-shirt.
Occasionally, I’d run across a sale on baby paraphernalia and I’d pick up a bib, blanket, or a sleeper. I washed them and arranged them in the drawer in preparation. I KNEW I’d be a mother someday, some way.
Allen tried to dissuade me from getting too far ahead of myself. I don’t know if he thought it would jinx us or whether he didn’t want to see the day when I’d become discouraged by looking at the loot in my “baby hope chest.”
The call did come and it was from a reputable source—a doctor. He said the birth mother would contact an adoption attorney who would notify Allen. The steps proceeded as planned.
Kellini was born on a Tuesday. The birth mother wanted to meet with us at the attorney’s office on Thursday morning. If she approved of us, we could have a baby sleeping in our home on Thursday evening.
The possibility was as scary as it was exhilarating.
What if the young birth mother didn’t like us? Conceivably, she could march out of the attorney’s office, return to the hospital to collect her baby, and we’d never hear from her again.
The meeting with Kellini’s birth mom went well, albeit there were many emotional and strained moments. We felt confident enough that she would sign the papers relinquishing custody that we dashed to the store to buy a car seat, a battery-powered baby swing, and bumper pads for the crib. (I said it was a different era.)
As nervous, expectant parents, we also purchased a high chair. (Don’t roll your eyes. We didn’t know any better.)
Neither Allen nor I had an appetite as we ordered lunch at the Flakey Jakes (now Fuddruckers) next to the USA Baby store. A cooler head prevailed as Allen refused my appeals for him to call the attorney, Larry Batt, to see if the mother signed the papers.
An eternity passed before the call came from Mr. Batt. We had many papers to sign at his downtown office before he would leave us to pick up Kellini from the hospital.
During his absence, we phoned our employers to notify them. We called my mom and asked if we could drop by her house later to visit. We surprised her with Kellini at the door. She cried. We phoned Allen’s parents from my mom’s house. His mom cried, too.
A Friend’s Wisdom
My daughters came to me in non-traditional ways—through adoption and by marriage. I believe most mothers would tell you the mother-child bond grows in the heart, not in the womb.
I worked with Paula Hansen for five years before I left the corporate world to become a full-time mother upon Kellini’s birth. Paula is one of those perfect friends. She’s warm, funny, compassionate, and wise. She’s one of those eternal friends I’m blessed to have. Even if we haven’t seen each other for years, we can pick up a conversation as though we had started it yesterday.
For a while, Paula and I swapped updates on our struggles with infertility. We cheered each other on as only women will do. She dropped out of the race when she and her husband became pregnant. Upon returning from maternity leave, Paula shared with me a profound truth. In a hushed voice, as if telling a secret, she explained that falling in love with your child doesn’t happen all at once; it’s a process.
My maternal love started with a desire to be a parent when I married for the first time in my twenties. That desire didn’t end with my divorce three years later. On the contrary, the yearning grew until at age thirty-two and still single, I discussed artificial insemination with my OB/GYN. I dumped the doctor after he advised me to lose fifteen pounds, find a husband, and go about parenthood the natural way.
I took a practice run at motherhood when I adopted my dog, Tavi. As many young people do, I called her my baby. Even shared my angst with my colleagues at a Department Managers’ meeting the day Tavi was in surgery to be spayed. Unprovoked by me, that story got recorded in the meeting minutes as the entry, “We wish the best for Terry’s daughter after her recent surgery.” I thought it was funny until the company President pulled me aside to offer his condolences.
At the risk of alienating my dog-loving friends, I have to confess. Owning a dog is NOTHING like being a mother. Believe me when I say I never cried when Tavi got her rabies shot. Yet, the first time the pediatrician poked Kellini’s chubby thigh with a needle, her cries stabbed straight through to my heart.
HAPPY 20TH BIRTHDAY, KELLINI. I LOVE YOU.
To Be Continued…
In future essays, I’ll explain how our other daughter, McKenna, came to Allen and me. That was a bumpier labor and delivery, but then don’t all babies come to their families in their own, unique ways?
I’ll explain how my six step-daughters came into my life. Full-grown, lovely, and competent women, my love for them continues to grow. The love is not based on biology nor was it built during their childhoods. Nevertheless, my love for them is a cherished part of me. It nourishes and enhances the love I have for their father, my husband, Alden Lee.