Adoptive parents who embrace open adoption learn quickly to share their children. Whether we are sharing pictures or information with their birth families, visiting our children’s relatives, attending adoption-related support groups, or communicating with teachers or other professionals, we master opening up ourselves and our families to a wider audience.
When my unmarried teenage daughter became pregnant, I didn’t hesitate to seek advice and counsel from our children’s birth family members, church friends, counselors and others. This wasn’t so much a special circumstance that warranted my reaching out as it was my usual operating procedure: “Here’s the latest about what’s going on in the Falco family…”
A few days ago, my daughter gave birth to a healthy baby girl. The last few months had dragged on forever. We had given up trying to convince Skye to finish her high school education, to seek employment, and to go to counseling before her baby was born. All of our admonitions to prepare for the future fell on deaf ears. John and I reminded ourselves over and over again that we had made this choice to keep Skye safe and healthy in our home even if she ignored our advice or rules. When the baby arrived, we surmised, there would be different decisions to make about what was and was not acceptable behavior from Skye. In the meantime, we waited.
As the time approached and Skye’s bags were packed for the hospital, I began to worry anew how my daughter would respond to the pain of childbirth and if she would, indeed, embrace parenthood with the kind of love I felt for her and my other children from the moment I laid eyes on them.
Skye had said all along that she could handle whatever came with childbirth, and low and behold – she did! At 3 a.m. on September 4, 2016, Skye began having contractions. At 5:36 a.m., she woke me to take her to the hospital. When we arrived, she was 3 cm. dilated. She hurt and wanted medicine, but continued to labor, reaching 6 cm. before the doctor broke her water. Soon after, she received an epidural. After only eight hours, she was ready to push. Thirty minutes later, baby Kinsley was born with Sherry and me on either side of Skye.
Time stopped in that moment that Kinsley emerged – beautiful and whole. The miracle of new life is just that – a miracle.
The baby was put directly on Skye’s chest for skin-to-skin contact. No measurements or assessments were done. Time continued to move slowly as the baby regulated herself against Skye’s heartbeat and breathing. It was a time of “stillness” between the laboring and the tasks or work ahead. I wondered if something shifted in Skye – if she was discovering that deep connection we share with others even in our isolation. Did it open something in her that had been closed and fearful of connection? Was this truly a new beginning for her in terms of the way she related to others?
Soon after skin-to-skin, phone camera in hand, Skye began recording Kinsley’s life. In fact, she rarely put the phone down, even when breastfeeding. A parade of visitors began arriving – family members and friends. Skye was content to hand the baby off to others while she looked at her phone or posted comments, pictures, and video. “Was this normal behavior?” we adults asked each other. Why wasn’t Skye stealing every minute with the newborn for herself? Is she bonding with the baby the way a new mother is supposed to bond?
That first night in the hospital, Skye said I didn’t need to stay. She would be fine. And so I left.
About 12:45 a.m., the desperate text messages from Skye began. She wrote: “I don’t know what to do. I’m not going to get any sleep. I don’t like being stuck here with no help” and “I’ve fed her so much and she won’t stop crying. She only stops when I’m holding her but I can’t sleep while I’m holding her” and “I’m miserable and she’s miserable. I’m not good at this.”
I was torn. My heart broke for her. I wanted it to be easier. Of course, this was hard. Hadn’t I tried to warn her? But “I told you so” was a ridiculous and particularly unhelpful response. She needed help, and I ought to be the one to help her or guide her toward the help she needed. Skye could learn, and she would learn how to do this.
I arrived back at the hospital around 6 a.m. and took Kinsley on walks in her bassinet (as required by the hospital) so her mother could sleep. I talked to the nurses who expressed willingness to help Skye. I was somewhat relieved to discover that they concurred with Skye’s assessment that it had been a rough night. I made a mental note to continue to encourage Skye to ask for help from the professionals – something she has always had a hard time doing.
After a few hours sleep and a shower, Skye was ready to entertain the next parade of visitors, and Kinsley was passed from person to person while more pictures were taken and posted. Again the questions ran through my mind: Is this normal? Is she bonding with her baby? Does choosing picture taking over holding Kinsley mean she’s not? Does deciding to change Kinsley into one of her cute new outfits while she screams rather than burp or comfort her mean Skye doesn’t care?
The second night, Skye wanted me to stay. I was prepared for a sleepless night, but this second night was very different from the first. I slept. At least, I slept as best I could on an uncomfortable sofa with the TV on, dim lighting, and a crying baby. But the crying wasn’t constant. And when I woke, from time to time, Kinsley was cuddled next to her mother or in her arms. There were no desperate pleas from Skye for assistance. On occasion, I even heard her whispering sweet nothings to her baby. Only once was I asked to help – when Skye needed to attend to her own recovery. Skye was calm, in control, and optimistic.
When morning arrived, I revisited and reevaluated my concerns. All young people of her generation are attached to their phones. Perhaps, Skye’s inclination to document and photograph this momentous occasion did not rise to the level of concern I had assumed.
And what of handing the baby off to whomever came to visit? Well, let’s consider my own entry into parenthood. As an adoptive mother in open adoptions, I shared my babies with lots of other people in those first days. Indeed, I didn’t even hold K.J. until his second day because he needed to meet and greet dozens of biological relatives before we took him home to begin life as a Falco. And once we got home with our newly adopted babies, I didn’t stay there recovering from the process of giving birth. I was out and about showing off the new Falco to anyone who cared to see or hear my story. If Skye was over-sharing, perhaps she had learned that particular skill from me. Children are to be celebrated and rejoiced over (barring any medical complication that requires isolation) – had been the way I moved and breathed. Had I been less of a mother because I shared as freely as Skye?
Kinsley will teach Skye the importance of burping her after feeding. Skye has given no indication that she is unwilling to learn. Indeed, Skye has been friendlier, more conversant, and more centered since Kinsley arrived. That’s a good sign. This is only the beginning of a long journey, but Skye’s first steps on the path have been steady and sure.
As I observe Skye’s new maturity, I am reminded of a sign I read the day before she went into labor. We had been walking around the Decatur Book Festival and wandered into a few stores as well. One sign in a store was a quotation from Thomas Merton. It read, in part, “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy… and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy, if anything can.”
Kinsley’s love for her mother and Skye’s love for Kinsley are transforming them, just as my love for Skye and hers for me once made anything possible. I have spent way too much time judging worthiness, and I need to remember that my main “job” is to love.