Rationally, it made sense. Our six-year-old son Michael’s severe food allergies and asthma absolutely ruled out a safe trip for him. We decided it was best for Michael to stay home with me and meet his new sister on his home turf. My husband, Jim, and our niece would travel to adopt the 10-month-old girl who was waiting for us. Still, the disappointment took the wind out of me. After years of language tapes, and reading about the history, literature, and culture of my daughter’s birth country, I was not going there to meet her.
Isn’t the mommy the one who gets to hold the baby first? Would my daughter, Maura, one day feel that I loved her brother more because I’d stayed home with him instead of going to get her? I was amazed to find how jealous I was of my husband.
Still, I decided not to let disappointment overwhelm me. There was packing to be done, maps to be printed, multiple copies of our dossier to be sorted and labeled, and lists of keepsakes for Jim to buy (yes, dear, something for Maura’s wedding day!) that had to be drawn up. Amid the flurry of preparations, I was at least reassured that my somewhat absentminded spouse wouldn’t have to travel alone.
Two days after dropping off my husband at the airport, the phone rang at 2 a.m. “I’ve got our daughter and she’s beautiful. Wear something with lots of buttons when you come to get us—she’s fascinated with them.” Plbbbt, plbbt. I heard a little girl blowing raspberries into the phone. “We had a daughter!”
Jim’s e-mails were loving, yet terse and painfully lacking in detail. The newsy e-mails I got from our niece, on the other hand, helped immensely. In one, she wrote about visiting my daughter’s orphanage: “When I told them I was going to be Maura’s cousin, the women all smiled, and made a chorus of happy sounds. The caretakers proudly showed off Maura’s first crib, but seeing all the babies was heartwrenching. It was hard to think about Maura living there, but I felt OK about it. If she had to be in an orphanage, this wasn’t a bad one.” I cried as I read this e-mail, wishing it had been me thanking the nannies and seeing the place where my baby girl spent her first months. I was grateful to my niece for describing the scene so vividly.
After that first phone call, in the wee hours of the morning, our lives fell into a regular schedule. My techie husband had convinced me to try talking over the computer before he left, so we now began chatting at breakfast and again after dinner, 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., via FaceTime. This was a great way to stay in touch, and we didn’t have to count cell-phone minutes. The video link wasn’t perfect, but I reveled in watching my new daughter explore the hotel room. On their last day, Jim arranged for members of our travel group to stop by and say hello over the video link. I’d become close to these people during the wait, and tears of joy were shed on both sides of the world that night.
Meanwhile, as I continued to slog through chores, at work and at home, my fears about bonding grew. One day, I broke down sobbing in a children’s store, where I’d gone to buy Maura a doll. My jealousy suddenly made me worry that she would never bond with me. A friend rescued me and took me to lunch, and I realized I needed a break. I was overwhelmed with end-of-semester work as a college professor, last-minute baby-proofing, caring for Michael, plus all the household stuff—everything but my own needs. I scheduled a day off to relax, taking time to admire the tiny clothes we’d bought and to finish decorating the nursery.
Home at Last
On the morning of homecoming day—at 3:30 a.m., to be exact—I headed to the airport with my sleepy son (still in his jammies) to meet Jim’s flight. Finally, I spotted my tall husband weaving through a crowd of passengers. Before I could even ask to hold the baby, Jim thrust her into my arms, saying, “Take her, I haven’t been to the bathroom in hours.” At last, I snuggled with my new daughter, and she began to play with the buttons on my shirt.
Late that night, long after Jim had fallen into a sound sleep, Maura was still awake from jet lag. I held her and rocked her by the glow of the nightlight. Suddenly she reared back, stared into my face as if to say, “So, you’re my Mommy, then snuggled onto my chest and went to sleep.” It took four nights for her to adjust to U.S. time, and the hours I spent in the near-darkness with Maura washed away all my fears about bonding.
Now, a year later, as my children tussle over who gets to sit in my lap or hold my hand, that anxiety is a distant memory. Maura and Michael are close, and both orbit me like little planets. As for me, I’ve already resolved to take a family trip to see my daughter’s birth country, when Maura is old enough.