"Maternal Instincts"

I worried that my daughter's birth mother was more of a mom than I'd ever be. She was the one who helped me see otherwise.

A mom through domestic adoption describes her doubts about her maternal instinct.

A week after turning in our “Dear Expectant Mother” profile, I call our social worker. She says it looks great. “And by the way, there’s a birth mother due soon who’s interested in meeting you,” she adds casually. “Do you want to meet Crystal?” I shout YES! so loud I’m sure Crystal herself can hear me.

During the four days until the appointment at our agency, the what-ifs drive me crazy. What if she doesn’t like me? What if I don’t like her? What if I say something stupid?

My husband, Rob, and I arrive a few minutes early. I head to the bathroom, obsessing about the kind of impression I want to make. Suddenly, squeezing past me in the narrow hallway is a young woman with a big belly and an enormous smile. Crystal.

This isn’t how I planned it. I like her already. What does she think of me? Oh, my gosh, I almost knocked her over! We giggle at the awkwardness, and she squinches up her face in a gracious smile. How is it that she is the one putting me at ease? I’m relieved to find that I don’t have to worry about liking her. Now it’s will she like me?

Crystal is blonde and petite and beautiful. She will have an adorable baby. And this baby will look nothing like me. No judgments…just observations.

She tells us that staying with the birth father would not be good for her four-year-old son, the new baby, or for her. The birth father realizes this, too, and is willing to sign. She says she picked Rob and me because of the love we share, and because we seemed a bit goofy. And because Rob is handsome. I don’t argue.

There’s a pregnancy counselor to facilitate the meeting, but Crystal, Rob, and I talk as if we’ve known each other our entire lives. It’s Crystal’s mother who is the voice of caution. “You plan on having open contact, right?”

“We think it will be best for the baby to know where he (she?) came from,” we respond. “We know that our relationship is like a see-saw–first Crystal will have all the power, and we’ll have to trust her. Later, we’ll have all the power, and we’ll want to prove trustworthy.”

When the counselor brings up the birth, Crystal surprises us by saying, “I want you guys to be there with me. You are the parents.”

The Mother of all Wake-up Calls

A few days later, I step out of the shower to a ringing phone. “I think this baby is coming today,” Crystal cheerfully says. She’s been having contractions for several hours, even though the due date is two weeks from now. I tell her I’m heading over.

It’s still a bit awkward because Crystal and I hardly know each other. I try to make myself useful by timing her contractions. We’ve been advised to go to the hospital when they’re five minutes apart. We’ve got time.

By late morning, we’re watching soaps together on TV. We go for a few walks around the block, to move the contractions along. We share stories of old boyfriends and heartaches, and I tell her what a wonderful man Rob is, that he was so worth waiting for.

After eight hours, it’s finally time to head to the hospital. I’d wondered how the hospital staff would react to our situation, but they all seem unfazed by Rob’s and my presence.

It’s a Girl!

I have never seen a birth before, and am grateful that I can witness this miracle. Rob videotapes it, and, later, cuts the cord. With Crystal’s blessing, we name the baby Tessa. Crystal insists that we hold the baby first. After all, she says, we are the parents. It’s strange, because I still feel light years behind Crystal in the Mom Department. Rob and I are mesmerized by this teeny baby we hold in our arms, but we can’t bring ourselves to call her our daughter yet.

The next morning, as Rob and I head to the hospital, Crystal calls me. “You know,” she says calmly, “I’m going to cry today. A lot. It’s going to be unbelievably tough to leave the hospital without Tessa.”

“Of course,” I mumble, my throat tight.

“But I want you to know,” she continues, “that I’m not changing my mind. This is right; I just need to know I can cry in front of you.” Until now, I’d loved Crystal as my daughter’s birth mother. But this conversation deepens my respect for her as a person.

Sure enough, when we walk into the hospital room, Crystal and her mom begin crying. I join them, and we hug. Then, all at once, we notice the stink of a freshly soiled diaper.

Crystal wipes her tears and laughs as she shows me how to change Tessa’s tiny diaper. I marvel at how natural the action seems to her, and I again worry that I’ll be exposed for the fraud I am. Am I truly this baby’s mother? I doubt my maternal instinct.

Then Tessa starts to cry, and Crystal hands me the bottle. With a crying baby in my arms, my self-pity is gone. Crystal coos to Tessa: “See, Mommy has what you need.” And she smiles at me, telling me all is well. The glance also lets me know that it’s time for us to leave.

“You call whenever you’re ready. I love you and I’m thinking of you every single day,” I whisper to Crystal. I see sadness, but also love and trust, in her eyes. She says, “I know. I will.”

Then Rob and I head home. With our daughter.

Tessa is six now. Crystal’s family and ours share the joys, challenges, and milestones that extended families share, because that’s what we are.


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