After nine months of paperwork, classes and intense interviews that turned a microscopic lens to every detail of their lives, my friend Shannon and her husband Jerry have been approved as adoptive parents. That means the little one they’ve been yearning for could arrive at any moment. It’s been more than three years since they began their heartbreaking, life-changing journey through infertility, and now their dreams of parenthood are about to be fulfilled.
One might think this would be a celebratory time, that the hope that’s lurched and sputtered through every passage of grief and defeat and hard-earned resurrection would flare to a beacon flame. But there is no relief in being approved, no magical shift that seeds the unknowable with a sturdier, certain faith.
Instead, Shannon has admitted to being more terrified than she’s ever been. Never has a new beginning felt so close and still so far away. You see, yes, the call could come tomorrow that would change everything, that could have the soft cries and gurgling sounds spilling from the nursery that for the last year has been merely a canvas for the painting of her dreams. The ushering in of her forever family could happen that instantaneously.
But in Pennsylvania, a birth mother has up to 30 days to change her mind after consenting to the adoption of her child. And so even with a new reality in their grasp, Shannon and Jerry must also brace for fresh anguish, must hold their breaths and totter on tenterhooks while falling more in love every day with the little one placed in their arms.
It sounds too cruel to bear, this soldering of love and loss, this tempering of anticipation with a valid and crushing fear.
And yet, I cannot help thinking this is the path of love: we open our hearts to know its riches — and risk, too, the pain of loss. As unsettling and precarious as it may seem, the two are inexorably clasped.
Shannon and Jerry’s journey is unique. After years of fighting her body, her fate, the tragic flaw in a plan that upended newlywed bliss for the constant excavating and reconfiguring of their lives, it seems only fair that the struggle should end here: with the assurance of forever. With their child just a phone call away, the waiting is agony enough without having to worry about being asked to give back a baby with whom they have forged a bond.
But love doesn’t guarantee protection against broken dreams or hearts. Whether we are becoming parents or choosing a partner, no matter the relationship, there is the inherent possibility that those ties may be swept away. Plans change. People leave. Death stakes a claim where it will.
Choosing to love another is one of the most vulnerable things we can do. We open our hearts, our lives, our homes, we give deeply of ourselves — and always there is the potential for pain, for suffering, for a sorrow that defines our humanness as much as the joys and hopes to which we cling.
I think of my cousin who late last year lost the baby she and her husband had been so eagerly waiting to meet, of all the plans they’d made, the life they’d already been building around this little soul.
I remember her radiant face when she’d told us she was pregnant last summer; even then, in those early stages, she’d been giddy and wildly in love.
And I think of my mom giving her bruised and aching heart to a man who would hold it tenderly for 18 years, helping her to believe in love again, before passing from this Earth. Of course, there is my father, whom I struggled to love unconditionally for so long only to have him slip away just as I’d begun to feel the thick, potent surge of all I’d ever held back.
Life robs and blesses us all this way.
Still I wish for Shannon and Jerry to know only the wonder and joy of love. They’ve had it hard enough these last few years. Yet I also know, no matter what, she will go on. She will look fear in the face, hold the promise of imperfection and hurt in the hands that cradle her newborn star and choose to love anyway. This is what she has always done, how her own heart has learned the courage and resilience that’s steered her through these dark and churning years.
And if this is all she can give to that new baby, a bone-deep memory of pure and total love, it may just be enough — to launch its tiny life and ferry her own toward the one who will call her mom, the sweetest song of belonging, a simple and perfect prayer.
– Life in LaLa Land, published in The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times