While Bill tells our story so eloquently, I wanted to express our experiences in my own words as part of my own healing process.
On January 5, we were matched with a local birthmom. On January 13, we met her. On January 19, her son was born. I held birthmom's hand for the c-section. I was the first to hold him. I was the first to feed him. We named him together: Stephen Chanon Walker Murray. Stephen is my father's name, Bill's middle name, and the middle name of two preceding generations of Murrays. Chanon is the name that birthmom chose. She is Thai and it means "thirst for knowledge" in Thai. Walker is my mom's maiden name. He was born at a healthy 8 lbs. and 20.5 inches.
We spent every day, all day, at the hospital with birthmom and Stephen. While her friends and family came and went, we were there to care for her and to care for baby. To get her water when she was thirsty. To make a McDonald's run when she was hungry for non-hospital food. To comfort her when she was in pain or feeling sad. She was reassuring, wanting us to know that she wasn't changing her mind. She had been working with the agency for about seven months, and was confident in her decision to make an adoption plan.
She chose us because she wanted an open adoption. She wanted to visit Stephen and we wanted that, too. We wanted an involved birthmom. One who would help our child to understand the unique story that brought him to us. One who would help connect our child to his cultural heritage and biological family history. One who would be an extended part of our family -- "the new American family" as I joked in the hospital. We all laughed.
Because of DC paperwork, Stephen had to go with one of our agency's foster families before he could be in our custody. Marilyn and Chris and their niece Colleen took exceptional care of Stephen. He was loved, held, fed, washed and kissed. And we visited him nearly every day. It was more than an hour for us to go to the Virginia town where they live (and much more in traffic), but no distance was too far. When we were there, we fed and diapered him. We held him while he slept. We played with him and cooed with him when he was awake. We fell madly, wildly, head-over-heels in love with him. We may have been separated by genes, but we he was as much our child as if I had given birth to him myself.
I sent photos of him to birthmom and we exchanged texts often. We were setting up her first visit to see him since his birth. She was preparing to go back to work.
My friends threw me the most amazing, joyous baby shower. Friends sent boxes of their own children's clothing. We set up Stephen's nursery: crib, changing table, book cases. We renewed our Costco membership and bought wipes and formula. Bill installed the car seat. We reorganized our kitchen cabinets for all the bottles. We were ready to bring Stephen home.
And then, the call.
Birthmom changed her mind. She wants to parent the baby. An outcome that was so wildly beyond our imaginations, given the "perfect" situation and relationship that we had with her. With assurance from the agency that she was "doing well" and "looking forward to going back to work." Which may have been exactly what she was telling them, but clearly what wasn't going on in her mind.
Having never been able to make it beyond seven weeks of pregnancy myself, I can't imagine the onslaught of post-pregnancy hormones. And as someone who has done everything in her power to try and become a mother for the better part of the last five years, I can't imagine having to make the decision that the best option is for another person to raise your child. So I can only pretend to know birthmom's anguish. Her vulnerability. Her emotional pain, resonated in the physical pain from her c-section.
That pain was powerful. And timely. At her most vulnerable moment, she was influenced by family that it was best to keep him in the family. A changed financial situation gave her options that she hadn't had before.
I have a million questions. What happens to us? How will I ever move beyond this grief? Will he be okay? Will his mother, who shares an apartment with two other women, make sure that he has male role models? Will she end up raising him or will she feel (as she originally felt) that being a parent is too much? How long will it be before her financial support dries up? What will become of him then? Will any other child ever be so beautiful to us? Will we be able to keep our hearts open for another child after all we have been through? Why does the world hate us so much, preventing us from being parents at every turn? How do I forgive her for stealing our family name – the only boy’s name we ever chose, with connections to my family and to Bill’s?
Last Wednesday, at 12:00 noon, we said goodbye to Stephen Chanon Walker Murray. Our almost son, who will be in our hearts forever. I wish for you a life of joy, opportunity and meaning. Wherever you are, know that you are deeply loved.