My worst adoption nightmare: "I want my daughter back"

I was thrilled to adopt a girl after years of trying to conceive. Then her mom asked for her back

Published March 24, 2015 10:15AM (EDT)

  (<a href=''>Nadezhda1906</a> via <a href=''>Shutterstock</a>)
(Nadezhda1906 via Shutterstock)

After every appointment at the fertility clinic, I would have a nightmare. It didn't matter if the appointment had gone well (New medicine to try! Your ovaries are huge!) or if the appointment had been torturous (Internal ultrasound! Ooops! The doctor was just called out to deliver a baby. You'll have to come back). The dreams that followed that night were never good.

I would toss and turn, trying all my tricks to get to sleep. I laid my hands flat, open, underneath my pillow. I smoothed my hair behind my ears, I bent my legs slightly, and I swept my foot back and forth, caressing the sheet. I stilled my breathing, then matched it to the motion of my foot. I willed myself to breathe deeper, to let go ...

- - - - - - - -

I wasn't surprised, but clearly everyone else was. I looked again at the bundle in my arms. I felt joyful and tender as I rearranged the tiny blanket around her. I cooed to her, my little sweetheart. She didn't stir, still exhausted from the delivery.

I said quietly to the room, "You could be happy for me."

The nurse said, "It's a kitten. You delivered a kitten."

"She's beautiful," I said. Then more firmly, "We're going to be fine."

I heard clucking tongues, spilling pity. Two nurses stood by me, trying to take her from me. I petted her cheek, turning over names in my mind. Could I call her the same name I had chosen for a human baby -- Emily? Maybe just Emmy. I whispered it, and she sighed softly. "Then Emmy it is," I said. I looked up, ready to confront them,"I want you to treat her like any other baby on this unit, or you will hear from my lawyer. She's my baby, and I love her."

"But she's not a real baby," the charge nurse said.

"This isn't right, honey," said the plump nurse. "Let us take her, and you can try again."

"I have been trying for seven years!" I screamed. "This is my baby. She's beautiful, and she's mine, and I will not give her back. "

When I woke up, I had a sore throat.

- - - - - - - -

When we first met Daria, the birth mother, at Big Boy's, I thought she looked like Mariah Carey. She had blond, streaked hair, big, aqua-colored eyes (they had to be contact-enhanced), and high cheekbones. She smiled at us as though she knew us. Well, of course she did. We had sent her our adoption portfolio, full of pictures and personal history. She knew the colleges we attended, the size of our home, our family history, our medical history, even our dog's name, for Christ's sake. We knew only her first name, a few vital statistics, and that she was pregnant.

"There she is," I whispered, and we both rose to greet her. I noted the slight drag of her right foot, but I tried not to look at it. I remembered that on her medical sheet, she said she had had a slight stroke after her last pregnancy.

I smiled at her and extended my hand. "I'm Lydia," I said, and then shoved Sean forward, eager for him to take the lead for me. He shook her hand and looked at me. He never had accepted responsibility easily. What was I thinking?

I grabbed the flowers we had bought on the way up, trying to cover my embarrassment for him. "These are for you."

Daria looked surprised.

"You said your favorite color was purple," I said, pointing to the delphinium and iris.

"And you remembered that?" Daria asked, referring to our previous phone conversations, where we had asked everything from, "What's your favorite color?" to "Do you have any communicable diseases?" I had remembered every answer; obviously, she had not even remembered the phone call.

"Thank you. They're pretty," she said. I had been hoping for more.

She was pretty too. Sean pulled out a chair for her, and Daria sat down, oblivious to my stares. She was wearing a tan sundress that ballooned away from her. She wore heavy '80s makeup, foundation that had been carefully tinted, blue eyeliner that matched her stunning eyes, blush striped to her hairline, and lipstick with a glossy finish. It wasn't garish, but it was practiced and perfect. She wore little jewelry, except for a blue topaz ring that was boldly expensive. I hoped the father of the baby had given it to her. I wanted the baby to have been conceived in love.

- - - - - - - -

On the day that we were to give Emma back, James and I went down to the lake. It was about 85 degrees, and the sun was just starting to warm up. I took care to shield Emma from the sun, making a tent of sorts with her blankets. James was playing in the sand, "Making tracks" he called it, cutting tributaries down to the water. He asked me to play with him, but I said no rather sharply, and he got the message.

I looked down at Emma and at the lake. Both were still. I knew I should pray. I knew I should cry. I knew I should clasp her to me and rock and cherish her and memorize her every bone. I couldn't do any of it.

I felt movement before I heard it, and turned to the swamp to my left. Seven blue heron rose from the reeds, perfectly spaced. They called and crackled; I know of no other word for it, maybe it was their wings beating or maybe it was the wind vibrating, but as they rose, the weather, the wind, the cloud, the bird, and my hope gathered as one, and flew.

James was already staring, and I lifted Emma's blankets, and this I swear: She opened her eyes and saw her first miracle. It was the first of many in her young life. Fortunately, I was there to see them all. For I was, eventually, legally named her mother, although it took an 18-month court case and all our life savings to be so. But that is a nightmare that deserves its own story.

To mark Salon’s 20th anniversary, we’re republishing memorable pieces from our archives; this piece originally appeared in summer 2011.

By Kristina Lakes

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Adoption Life Stories