Where were you when you heard the news of the Twin Towers attack?
Most will be able to describe the exact moment that their daily activities stopped, their eyes glued to the television. The horror of what was thought to be an accident, the towers falling, the sickening realization that we were actually under attack.
That day marks another anniversary for me.
Many of you know that my children came to my family through adoption. The adoption path is rarely the first choice toward parenthood, but we were ready to walk away from the ruins of infertility into a place of hope.
We got “the call” the Tuesday after Labor Day. It was one of the first full days of school. I was busy settling crying Kindergarteners and encouraging clinging parents. The phones were ringing off the hook, and it was probably the first day since we had filed our paperwork with the agency that my heart didn’t catch at the sound of it. Amid the chaos, I heard my name paged.
Breathlessly I expressed a clipped “Hello…” and then an official sounding voice introduced herself as one of the social workers from our agency. “Cher is out of town, and I am covering her cases this week. We have a baby for you.”
As any adoptive parent can tell you, any information after that is secondary. I dutifully wrote down birthweight, length, and location of the hospital. I barely heard her say that birthmom was committed to the adoption, but that birthdad was in prison and not totally convinced yet. Or that his family was pressuring him not to sign the papers. Or that they couldn’t reach our social worker, so they decided to handle this one without her.
It also didn’t matter that we were effectively homeless at that point – we were in the process of moving with one foot in each house – or that it was the first week of school – or that we had nothing by way of baby things. We were getting a baby. He was healthy, three days old, and ready for home.
In hindsight, there were a lot of red flags with the situation. Desperation and hope can make you blind sometimes.
We called in the troops to pick up a crib, some essentials, and to get at least one of the houses in some sort of order. We apologized to the buyers of our old house for the confusion and mess – and then we drove away.
The next four days were a blur. Our family expanded exponentially overnight, and we accommodated. Friends brought us boxes, painted the kitchen, and mowed the lawn. Food appeared at mealtimes, as did diapers, tiny little outfits with matching socks and hats, hand knit blankets, and baby necessities. Again, the phone rang constantly.
Sometimes I think that we should have a special warning system for bad news when it comes. A different ring tone, a blinking light – something that says take a breath before you pick up the phone. Sit down before you speak a hello.
This time, it was our social worker – and she didn’t greet us with her usual “Everything is OK.” It was the worst news possible. They wanted the baby back.
We knew that it was theoretically possible – In Michigan, a birthmom has until the court appearance where her rights are terminated to decide to parent rather than place her child. This process usually takes about 6 weeks. But it is like knowing that a car accident is “possible” – you don’t pull out of the Wal-Mart parking lot expecting it every time. Until it happens. Then you never pull out again without thinking about it.
Originally, they wanted us to drive the baby back to the Detroit hospital where we picked him up. We negotiated, which bought us a couple more days with him. They finally agreed to come and pick him up at our house. September 8, 2001. The anniversary of my Grandmother’s death, a year after my only pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, and 3 days before September 11.
We survived – barely. I don’t remember much about that day or the ones that followed, other than the terrible ripping sensation when they took him from my arms, and the hollow numbness that followed. We packed up the baby items, donated them to Goodwill, and moved a couch into the nursery so it wouldn’t be so empty. Then on September 11, we went back to work.
The rest is history, as they say. An hour into my day, the towers fell. I watched the horrific images of family members searching for their loved ones, listened to their pleas, and then their war cries.
And I privately did the same. No one noticed our pain in the grand scale public tragedy. Life went on. And eventually, so did we.
Our daughter was born 2 months later, and our adoption process went smoothly. We added our son to our family 2 years later – on September 14. And yet, every year, about this time I start to feel inexplicably sad. My body remembers first – I get more headaches, don’t sleep well, and am just generally grumpy.
A quick look at the calendar and I know – it is grief. Acknowledged, it is manageable. Ignored, it takes over.
I imagine him celebrating his birthday and hope that he is happy and safe. I wonder a little if he ever senses his other parents who loved him in his first hours. I hope that he is still loved that much.
And when I have the opportunity to have a moment of silence for the victims of September 11, I include him in my prayers for those who were lost. I don’t think anyone would mind.