[EXCERPT] Those Three Words

Christine Bauer’s revealing memoir begins when she hears those three words (“You are pregnant”) and faces an unplanned pregnancy, and takes readers through her open adoption decision, and the ensuing three decades as a birth mother and mother. In this excerpt, Bauer relates the complicated emotions that accompanied her second pregnancy, 11 years after placing her daughter for adoption, and the birth of her oldest son.

Christine Bauer, author of a memoir of her story as a birth mother, with her children
(Pictured above) Author Christine Bauer with her birth daughter, Katie, and her two sons, Dylan and Jared, when the children were 20, 8, and 5.

Journal Entry—May 30, 1996

I dreamt last night that I woke up and wasn’t pregnant anymore. I was very sad and confused. I’m sure that I dreamt it because yesterday was Katie’s birthday. She’s eleven years old. Unbelievable.

I just glanced through my journal from when I had her. How did I do it? I was so down on myself then; it was such a difficult time. But it’s so different this time, of course. I love and hate being pregnant all at the same time. I still have nineteen weeks to go.

* * *

June 1996

When I felt the baby kick, it was like being knocked backward down a long, dark stairway through time. Though they were soft, fluttery kicks—like little butterflies—they packed a crushing emotional blow.

Because this was my second pregnancy, I recognized those little kicks right away—and I envisioned those tiny feet and little toes rubbing up against my uterus. But the joy and excitement that I felt for this new life inside me were pushed back by feelings of sorrow and loss for my firstborn.

I was on my way into work on a beautiful summer morning when these feelings all came rushing back to me with those tiny kicks. The soft flutters were like an electrical shock to my emotional system—the sensation jump-started my battery of despair.

Blinded by my tears and dizzy with anguish, I pulled my car over to the side of the road and gasped for air. As soon as I stopped the car and put it into park, it all came out—the grief, the anxiety, the fear, the joy, the pain. All of it. It came tumbling out of me in tears and sobs. I had given up my firstborn; eleven years later I was still grieving for her as the new little life was forming inside me, taking over the room in my belly that had once belonged to Katie.

When I could finally catch my breath, I called Joe from my cell phone. “Hi,” is all I could muster with my wounded voice between breaths.

“Are you okay? What’s going on?” Joe asked, with alarm in his voice ringing.

“Well, not really,” I said with a deep sigh. “It’s hard to explain, but I feel really, really sad. Like physically, I’m going through my pregnancy with Katie again, and I miss her then, and I don’t know. It’s just all messed up. This is supposed to be a happy time. We’re having a baby.”

It seemed like the right time to have a baby. We had been married for nearly five years and it felt right to start a family. There was also the fact that my clock had started ticking; I could hear it ringing loudly and clearly.

The closer I got to age thirty, the thought of having a baby became more than a want. It became a desire, a burning, innate desire to have a baby. It was primal, like the need to eat or drink or sleep. Physically, I craved a baby. After just a month of officially “trying,” the need was filled.

“Do you need to come home? Want me to come get you?” I could tell Joe was ready to walk out the door to rescue me. He always liked the opportunity to be a rescuer—he liked to be a knight in shining armor.

The thought of him coming to get me and then going home and crawling into my bed was tempting. It would be so nice to lie in bed all day, weep when I felt like it, and sleep when I felt like it. But I wasn’t one to lie around, certainly not one to miss work, unless I was very ill. My dad—who never missed a day of work in thirty years until he had his first heart attack—had instilled a strong work ethic in me.

“No, I think I’ll be okay in a few minutes.” I pulled the lever under the seat and tilted it back into a reclining position. I tried to relax while we talked. I had to pull it together.

We talked a while longer and agreed I should see a counselor to work through these complicated feelings. Just making that decision to seek counseling made me feel better; a sense of calm began to wash over me, at least enough to be able to go into work.

Within a week I was at my first counseling appointment at Children’s Home Society, where they provided a range of services related to adoption. They were people who knew what I was going through. Over the next few meetings, the counselor and I talked about many of the delicate aspects of being a birth mother. Things like the awkwardness of the question I kept getting: “Is this your first?”

It came from people I knew and people I didn’t, people at work or people in line at the grocery store, because being pregnant automatically means that you and the baby inside you are fodder for conversation.

We also discussed the fact that I hadn’t ever talked much to my dad or my brothers about Katie. That bothered me. I tried a few times over the years to walk down that path, but they never wanted to go there. It was awkward with them. It awkward for me.

We conversed about how I hadn’t personally worked through all of my grief; I hadn’t fully gone through all the stages. I know I had definitely gone through denial and anger, bargaining and depression. It was that final stage—the stage of acceptance—that kept eluding me. I’d gotten close to the acceptance stage, but instead of working through it and making that final big step eleven years ago, I buried it. I buried it deeply in the busyness of school, then the busyness of working at the newspaper, then the busyness of my career and Joe.

Keeping busy with school, a career, marriage, and a home was how I had coped with my feelings of loss and sadness. But the feelings wouldn’t stay buried anymore. They kept crawling and digging their way back up to the surface, and now it was time to unearth them. It was time to dig them up, to bring them to the top, to see them and feel them and touch them and clean them up and set them free.

Among many other things, my counselor told me that when I started crying, I shouldn’t hold it in. I shouldn’t try to stop it. Instead, I needed to let it out and breathe. Cry and breathe. Let go of the guilt. Let it go. I’d done nothing wrong. I’d done everything right. I’d done something good. I was a birth mom and had made someone else a mom. I was good.

In order to get ready to have my second baby, I would need to deal with those intimate and intense feelings that stemmed from the first.


September 9, 1996

Dear Chrisy,

First things first: CONGRATULATIONS to you and Joe on your upcoming little bundle of joy. We’re so happy for you both. I hope all your thoughts on pregnancy are positive and that your memories of your past pregnancy can transfer now, eleven years later, as all positive. It’s wonderful.

Our son Jake’s birth mom lives in California now, and she kept in touch with us for about two years after Jake was born. She did not contact us for many years, and then, about four years ago, we got a phone call from her just to talk. She had gotten married and had a ten-month-old daughter. She was very excited about motherhood, but there was also a part of her that was nostalgic over what she had missed out on with Jacob. We got her updated on Jacob—she felt much better after that and said she could now go on without “Jake’s ghost” hanging around, as she put it. We got a Christmas card with pictures from her that year and haven’t heard from her since.

I’m only telling you this to let you know how another birth mom handled getting married and having a baby. How it brought back all kinds of feelings and emotions. Please always know that any letters or calls are welcome. If there is anything we can help you with, please let us know . . .

Lots of love,

Cindy and Dennis and Katie (good luck!)


 

October 10, 1996

“She’s in the bathroom?!” the nurse asked in disbelief. I could hear the alarm in her voice through the bathroom door as she talked to Joe out in the hallway. “She shouldn’t be in the bathroom when her contractions are a minute apart.”

As soon as I emerged, the nurse pushed the wheelchair up behind me and ordered me to sit down. “I don’t mind walking,” I responded casually—it was all seeming so easy—but she made me take the ride.

She quickly wheeled me into a room that was rather plain, not like the nice labor and delivery rooms they had shown us on the hospital tour months earlier. It seemed like a regular old room, and it was. They were busy and needed to get me in a room now, she explained, and then instructed me to get into my hospital gown and into bed pronto so she could check me.

“What do you mean no time for an epidural?” I said incredulously when she told me I was dilated to seven centimeters already and there was no time for that. “But it’s in my birth plan, and I’ve talked to my doctor about it. I want one. I’ve had one before.”

I thought so much that it would be like it was before—at least the physical part. That I would go to the hospital, get comfy in my deluxe room, have an epidural, and kick back until it was time to push. I was wrong.

“It won’t be long until you’re ready to start pushing. There is absolutely no time for an epidural. That would have had to take place a few hours ago.”

“But I’ve only been having contractions for a few hours,” I explained.

Luckily, I had listened to Joe, who insisted on us leaving for the hospital when we did. I’d wanted to stay home, take a bath, and maybe watch a little more must-see Thursday night TV—my contractions started during Seinfeld. I’d even started running the bathwater when Joe insisted I gather my things and get in the car.

“You’re lucky it’s so fast,” said the nurse. I was indeed lucky. Labor and delivery were easy, relatively speaking, if you consider it’s like pushing a watermelon out of your vagina.

Less than an hour after getting to the hospital, it was time for me to push. I’d never seen the doctor before and would never see him again. He was simply the guy who happened to be on duty. He came in to essentially catch the baby and get the glory. “Okay, time for you to push,” he said simply after a very brief introduction.

With only a few painful pushes—truly less than a handful—I felt the baby slide out of me, and then a tremendous sense of relief as this precious being made its debut into the world.

“It’s a boy!” the doctor said. With those three words, he held up our tiny, perfect 6.8-ounce little boy in his hands and turned him toward me.

Joy, relief, and amazement washed over me. I had done it again. I’d brought a healthy new life into the world. I stared at my little boy, and I thanked God for him. I told myself to seal this image in my mind. I wanted to hold forever this instant of my baby boy being presented to me and the world for the very first time, just like I can remember so vividly the feeling of holding Katie for the first time. It is etched in my arms and mind and heart forever. It had worried me that once I had my second baby, I wouldn’t remember my first experience as well or would somehow forget it altogether. But my counselor assured me that I would not forget. Instead I would create a new, special memory when I had my next baby, and I did. Right then and there, I did. I would embrace and treasure each one.

“We have our Dylan, honey,” Joe said, beaming with pride over his baby boy, whose name we first happened upon in a TV show. We liked it not only because of how it sounded but because it meant “son of the sea,” which seemed both powerful and gentle. And there was the cool factor that came from literary and edgy namesakes Dylan Thomas and Bob Dylan.

“Oh, yes we do,” I replied as I reached out to touch him. “Oh, he’s amazing; he’s so beautiful,” I whispered.

Joe gladly accepted the offer from the doctor to cut the cord. Then they laid this beautiful little babe on my tummy. Joe came to my side and we gazed down at him together. Dylan whimpered ever so slightly and then was quiet and calm, serene.

“We have a little boy,” I repeated in wonder as I touched his tiny hands and peered into his dark, blinking eyes, eyes that were staring and me and struggling to adjust to the brightness of the world. He looked directly into my eyes for just a minute and stole my heart forever.

Two days later, on my thirty-first birthday, we brought Dylan home. We were released from the hospital on a glorious, sunny October day, and I took it all in—the warmth and the sunshine, this bundle of love in my arms, and my mom and Joe at my sides. What an incredible birthday gift I had in my hands and all around me.

When I looked at my mother, I remembered my birthday twelve years earlier—my nineteenth birthday—when I’d told my mom I was pregnant. When I wasn’t ready to be a mom and thought maybe I never would be ready. I thought then that I’d never be happy again. So much had happened since then. So many good things had happened.

Baby Dylan made being a new mom fairly easy for me. Easy is a relative term. You can read all the pregnancy and baby books that you want, but nothing can totally prepare you for the all-consuming nature of this job and the sheer exhaustion that comes with it. He was an uncomplicated, mellow baby, which was increasingly evident as the hours, days, and weeks went by. At just five days old, he slept five hours straight, and he hardly ever cried, other than when he was hungry or just waking up. He was a dream baby.

Dylan’s demeanor was a huge relief, since I had worried so much during my pregnancy that all of my tears and sadness might impact him. I’d worried that he would be emotionally traumatized from hearing and sensing all that crying when he was in the womb. I’d worried about that with Katie, too.

But that wasn’t the case at all. It seemed the opposite had happened. Dylan was an incredibly happy and easygoing baby. From what Cindy told me, Katie had been too. Maybe it was because I’d done enough crying for all of us before; now it was time for everyone to be happy.

* * *

Journal Entry—October 30, 1996

I’m looking at my beautiful son Dylan, watching him sleep. His innocence and peacefulness amaze me now as they do every day. So do his beauty and perfection and the way he looks at me. It’s all such a miracle.

Dylan Bauer Schmelz will be three weeks old tomorrow evening at 11:24 p.m. The whole labor and delivery are still kind of a blur since things happened so fast. It was really a breeze in comparison to others I hear about. Three hours from start to finish. I can’t really vividly remember him being on my tummy right away after he was born, although I vividly remember seeing him when they held him up; I said, “He’s got his daddy’s nose” and thought he was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

I had thought about how I’d feel that first instant so much because I remember what it was like to hold Katie in my arms—so warm in her blanker. I worried too that I might feel sadness when Dylan came, but I didn’t. I just felt total joy and amazement. I love little Dylan with every fiber and cell of my body. I’ve cried quite a few times when I’ve held him, afraid that something might happen to him. I’ve cried too for Katie, hoping that life is being good to my little girl and praying that nothing bad will ever happen to her. Dylan is awake now, his huge, blue eyes looking at me.


cover of Those Three Words: A Birth Mother's Story of Choice, Chance, & MotherhoodChristine Bauer is a proud mother and grandmother—of both humans and canines. (Truth be told, there were moments along her motherhood journey when she preferred those canines.) She is also a writer and marketing professional living in Minneapolis. She has loved books, reading, and writing for as long as she can remember. Those Three Words, from which this excerpt was reprinted with permission, is her first book. Visit authorcbauer.com for more information.
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