We adopted our daughter K ten years ago. At that time, my online presence was basically nonexistent, with the exception of email. I did not use text messaging. I did not have a Facebook account. I had no clue what the phrase “social media” meant, nor did I know what a blog was. My phone couldn’t do much beyond make and receive calls. The only websites I knew were cnn.com and adoption.com.
During the months that baby K was in foster care in another state, my husband and I would visit her each weekend. Every Friday night, we headed straight to O’Hare, caught a plane to her state, rented a car, drove two hours to her town, and anxiously awaited the morning when we could finally see her.
We carried our camera with us and snapped roll after roll of film, capturing K’s yawns and sleepy smiles. When we gave K back to the social worker at the end of visiting hours, my arms felt empty. I stalled a bit, chatting with her good-natured foster mother about when she last ate and napped. And suddenly K was gone, rumbling away in the giant truck that the foster family drove. My husband and I always responded to our sadness by going to the local WalMart, where we dropped off our film for one-hour processing, and we ordered doubles of our prints. We devoured the photos, making piles to give to K’s birthmother and my grandmother and our families. On Saturday nights, K’s birthmom M went out to dinner with us. It may sound strange to outsiders that the three of us met up each weekend, but it was a great comfort.
Time seemed to stop during those weekend visits with baby K. Without smart phones or laptops, we had no distractions pulling at our attention. My husband and I pushed K’s stroller for miles down dusty trails. We sat outside, holding her close and enjoying the late fall sunshine that drenched everything with light. We whispered our plans for her future into her tiny ears. We spent hours just being together, cocooned into our own alternate reality.
During those weekends, it felt like we were playing house. We were Mommy and Daddy, but they were tenuous titles without the certainty of legality. Perhaps the courts would make a different plan for K. Only time would tell. We played at being parents, yet it wasn’t real. We didn’t have any of the stresses of regular life pulling at us alongside our parenting. Miles from home, we didn’t have to balance dirty dishes and piles of laundry with nap schedules and trips to the grocery store. There was nothing else, no responsibility for us except to spend time with K.
If I had known then what I know now—that K would eventually come home to us, that we would maintain a lovely relationship with her birth family, that we would all forge a new way of going forward—then I would have found those visits to be pure and gorgeous. Couldn’t every new parent benefit from hours and hours with no responsibilities other than to hold the baby? But the joy of being with K was tinged with the desperate fear of uncertainty. Looking back now, I see the sweetness of that time. I see it as a gift, a time to stare all day at my daughter’s face without the rest of the world closing in.
We were offline. The Internet is a hungry beast, and it would have demanded news and posts. Thank God I didn’t know what a status update was, because mine would have changed by the hour. One minute I was blissed out with hope, the next I was filled with terror at our bizarre and fragile family. I’m so glad I felt no need to take a public pulse of my situation. Blog free, smart phone free, I was spared the self-examination that might have been my undoing. My thoughts turned outward more than inward, a healthy response to internal stress.
At the same time, we missed out on the bright side of the constant connection offered by the Internet. My husband and I were so very alone. I didn’t have a single friend who was also going through the adoption process. There were no online groups or pages that I joined where I could ask questions and seek solidarity. K’s birthmother M felt the same way, and we formed our own support group of two. She and I spoke for hours on the phone in between regular weekend visits.
But as anyone who goes through adoption knows, there is an inherent conflict of interest that exists between the birth and adoptive mothers. In a better world, K’s birthmom would not have lost her kids to foster care, and we would not have lost our baby to a lethal gene. So whereas we both wanted K to come home with my husband and me, M only wanted that because DFS wasn’t giving her another option. Our joy, should we adopt K, would be built upon the house of chaos and loss that M inhabited.
I have no doubt that M would have found other birthmothers online who could have provided her with the comfort of saying, I know your pain, because it is mine too. Like adoption, the Internet is complicated and nuanced. Yes, we adopted offline. But in a few short years, our adoption would go online.
To be continued here.