I’d like to say I’m not sure why I keep this picture that I took of Harold Ramis taped to my desk, but I am sure. He volunteered for the Possible Dreams Auction on Martha’s Vineyard and so did I. He quietly worked the crowd and I quietly took pictures. He had a constant, gentle smile and he seemed to really love his wife, who always sat in the sea of people and waited for him. He was one-of-a-kind.
The decision was made with both the discipline of careful calculation and the snap of emotion. My husband and I had two children, one by birth and one by adoption, and yet we grappled; did we want to try our hand at adoption again? Even though accomplishing one adoption was overwhelming, the experience that we gained surely would make the next time around less daunting. The real question was, “Did we want a third child?” Our logical selves debated with our emotional selves. After going round and round, we decided to take two weeks with the question in our heads separately and then come back together to meld our thoughts. After one week I said to him, “I can’t wait to hear which way you’re leaning.” He shrugged and said something about the decision being an easy one. All I could do was smile.
Feeling the confidence that an already full house can bring, we boldly put a letter in our Christmas card that year and sent it out to everyone we knew. We encouraged them to give the letter to everyone they knew. The letter was short and sweet and included lots of pictures of our two little boys and all of us together. The pictures even showed our adorable dog and cat, both of which were brought into our family while we waited for our first adoption to materialize. Unlike our first adoption, which was a rollercoaster of starts and stops (“they picked you” … “oh, sorry, no they didn’t” … “a baby is being born this weekend” … “the baby went to relatives”) our Christmas card letter easily found its way into the hands of a very young and pregnant woman in Iowa. She was interested in an open adoption, as were we. Since we were coming into 1994 and openness was a little rare, we easily became a match made in heaven.
Her name was Melissa and her baby would be born in Iowa, four months hence. The waiting period this time was much more comfortable. I didn’t bring home a cat from a shelter or a dog from a parking lot. I painted our extra room a pretty shade of blue and wrote letters to Melissa, sending her lots of pictures. I talked to the birth mother of our first adopted son, to see if she would be willing to send Melissa a letter to reassure her that we firmly believed in openness. I sent her books on prenatal nutrition and childbirth as well as some other books that I had read myself at her young age. I told my little boys that I was going to have to take a trip and we got a room set up for them at their Grandma’s house. I worked hard at holding my emotions, yet at times I danced around the house and sang out loud, “There’s an angel floating round my house ..” I wrote letters to Melissa with big letters saying, “I CAN’T WAIT TO MEET OUR BABY!”
When she called one evening and said, “I hope you still want to adopt my baby,” I held back tears and assured her that she could count on us forever. When she called the next day and told us the time had come, we became a well-oiled machine. We dropped the boys off and drove the truck faster than ever. Stopping only once for gas we were a little rude to the nice attendant who wanted to check our oil.
Even though it was February in Iowa, I rolled down the windows and stared at all of those stars that seemed to twinkle for us. I had never seen the beauty of Iowa. We drove through a tiny town with the tiny name of “Nora” and I unilaterally decided that we would name the baby Nora. After all, we were due for a girl in the house.
Arriving in the quiet-of-the-night parking lot in the-middle-of-nowhere Iowa we left our prepacked bags in the truck and ran through the entrance doors. We found our way to the maternity waiting room where Melissa’s father and brothers waited for us. They quietly shook our hands and seemed relieved at our arrival. Melissa’s mother was with Melissa and I immediately joined them, leaving my husband with her family. She looked older than her years and her mother seemed nervous and shaken. My confidence vaporized and the enormity of the situation made me tremble inside. The doctor and nurses had been prepped on the story and their kindness welcomed me. I drank in the scene, which to this day is incredible in my mind … her fingers were long and beautiful, her hair was thick and straight, her face was long and her nose was perfect … her mother wore jeans and she wore a flannel nightgown … they were in sync with each other.
When the baby was imminent they sent word for my husband. He and his presence seemed awkward but soon the room was full of more nurses and the only thing I remember was the doctor saying, “You have another beautiful boy.” At that moment, and in some ways, Melissa had become a child of mine. I hugged her and kissed her and assured her that her own childhood could continue on course, that I would always have her back and that we had one common goal; the beautiful life of this beautiful baby. This baby who was born with long fingers, a long face and a perfect nose.
Unlike the big, suburban, new age hospital where our other boys had been born, the little hospital in Iowa was perfectly comfortable with an open adoption. In fact, they gave me a hospital room close to Melissa’s and we “shared” our baby. Waves of aunts and uncles and grandma’s visited both rooms. Some challenged me to confirm my intentions and some sensed that everything was going to be all right. One scene that I’ll always remember was when my new baby’s great grandmother held him and told him that he was extraordinarily special and that he would have a wonderful life. Melissa’s family was strong and proud, and one of their recurring observations emanated from that; this baby would be the first person in their family for generations who would be leaving Iowa.
About 24 hours after our baby was born Melissa brought up the issue of naming him. I had some traditional names in my mind (though I realized that “Nora” was out) and she had her mind set on trendy ones. She went through her list and when she said, “What about Alex?” I jumped. Alex is the name of a favorite cousin, so it represented an ideal opportunity to welcome this little boy into our family in a unique way. Perfect.
Two nights after Alex was born we left the hospital. We had already said our goodbyes to Melissa and her family. My husband and I were alone with our new baby for the first time; walking out to the same quiet-of-the-night parking lot where we left the car when we arrived. We nestled him into his car seat and left the state of Iowa with a newly defined sense of hurriedness. We couldn’t wait for him to meet his brothers. “Three boys,” I remember thinking as I rolled down the window once more to say goodbye to those still twinkling stars of Iowa.
When we got home, I was immediately struck with the notion that my house was finally as full as my wildest dreams. The dog and cat were smelling everything new. When night fell again, my husband and I struggled to get three little boys, which added up to two very excited toddlers and a newborn, down to sleep. I felt more alive than ever, and I couldn’t wait to write a letter to Melissa. I picked out my prettiest stationery, pulled out a pen and began to write. Without thinking I set down the pen and picked up the phone. Melissa answered before the end of the first ring and we talked into the night.