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Letters from the Heart

Writing about the little things often tells a bigger, warmer story in the end.   by Karen Hindhede

by Karen Hindhede

On the cover of our adoption portfolio, my husband, Jim, and I pasted a card showing two human figures twirling together above the caption, “Two hearts dancing, waiting to be joined by another…”

Nine months later our wait was over, and we drove to Texas for Abby’s birth. Jim and I were pleased that Abby’s birthparents both wanted to stay in contact with us through letters, and we were determined to make the writing of our letters a meaningful process.

Forging a Connection
Jim and I were used to short e-mails and long phone calls, so at first, writing the monthly snail-mail letter was a challenge for us. Reflecting on the news of the past month required energy that was difficult to muster after work, daily chores, and tending to a newborn’s needs. To save time, Jim and I alternated writing the letter each month. This is a perfect solution for several reasons. Because each of us writes the letter only once every other month, we look forward to our turn as scribe. We’ve also come to realize that our different tones and perspectives on Abby’s development make for more interesting letters.

Here’s a snippet from our first letter, which Jim wrote:

Abby slept last night from 1 a.m. to 6:30 a.m.—not bad! Speaking of which, I had a theological insight during one of my late-night-into-early-morning “parties” with Abby. I concluded that God gave parents infants to challenge them, but that God also gave parents caffeine to help them meet the challenge. Praise God!

In the second letter, I focused on how Abby looks and acts:

Abby waves her arms and wiggles her body; she is fascinated by patterns and moves her head at the sound of a rattle. She is the noisiest little baby. She gulps, slurps, and smacks her way though eating, and, when she sleeps, she whizzes, snorts, hiccups, and squeaks. Jim and I joke that she needs an oil can.

We decided that the letters could be a way of connecting Abby to all those who love her. Each month we send separate copies of one letter to her birthmother and birthfather, then mail customized versions to extended-family members (both by adoption and by birth). They all love the updates. As Abby’s grandmother told us, “I think it’s important that we all share in Abby’s life. The letters help develop a sense of family.”

A Book of Memories
Our letters capture moments and details for us, as well as for extended family and birthparents. We save a copy of each letter in a three-ring binder, along with the correspondence from Abby’s birth family. Beyond the log of our communication, the letters also contain the details and dates of her milestones. We love this way of recording Abby’s “firsts” (bath, laugh, smile, sleeping through the night, and so on) better than using a traditional baby book.

Friends have asked how we think of what to talk about in each letter. Some months are more interesting than others. We try for at least one page a month, hoping to have several pages the next. Abby’s birthfather told me that everything about her interests him. “I’m just happy,” he said, “that you care enough to let me be a part of Abby’s life.”

Giving It Life
Using dialogue and sense memory help scenes come alive. Instead of writing that we went to the park, we might describe how Abby sniffed at the freshly cut grass or reached for the orange tiger lily. We describe the other children’s laughter and the sound of Abby’s cooing. Abby’s birthgrandmother paid us the highest compliment: “You make me feel like I’m there.” Here’s an excerpt from an early letter about a surprise baby shower.

Last night I got a phone call from our friend, Lucia. “You are coming, aren’t you?” she demanded. I had forgotten about our monthly meeting. I hesitated, but she wheedled until we agreed to come. Our friends cheered at our arrival and led us to a table decorated with streamers and colorful balloons hanging over a large cheesecake topped with bright red cherries. Abby squealed with delight.

In a few years we expect that Abby will add some scribbles or sentences to the letters. Later on, she’ll be able to revisit her early development by looking through the book. If we were creating another portfolio today, we’d make a cover with a picture of many figures twirling together along with a caption that reads, “Many hearts dancing—for and because of Abby.”

Karen Hindhede is an English professor at Central Arizona College in Coolidge, Arizona.


 

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