It happens more often than one would think. I could be enjoying a play date at the park with friends, a night out with girlfriends, or a dinner party for couples when inescapably the conversation turns to labor and delivery stories. Here we go again, I think to myself as I roll my eyes to no one in particular. There are varying stories of pain, long hours of pushing, well–meaning but clueless husbands, and finally the immense joy of holding baby for the first time.
Then “flash, snap,” a picture is captured forever. That first family hospital picture is posted to social media and will get more likes and comments than any other post this year. It is that particular picture of an exhausted mom in the hospital bed smiling ear to ear, holding the freshly wrapped newborn that triggers my reoccurring grief.
Every. Single. Time.
You see, although I am a proud mom of two, our first family picture doesn't quite look the same. As an adoptive family, our first family picture includes another exhausted woman smiling ear to ear and holding the baby while my husband and I stand proudly at her bedside. We were also exhausted and smiling ear to ear.
The other exhausted woman in our picture was Tanya, our daughter’s birthmother. At just seventeen weeks pregnant, Tanya started to make an adoption plan for her baby girl. During the weeks we waited together for baby girl to be born, Tanya and I formed a unique relationship. We attended doctor’s appointments followed by long leisurely lunches. She shared with me every pregnancy craving and every prenatal pain she experienced. She discussed her current fears and her future dreams. And near the end of her pregnancy, Tanya invited my husband and I to join her in the delivery room for the birth of the baby. We were elated to be part of this process and we accepted right away.
At the park or dinner table, when others are sharing their labor and delivery stories, We too have a birth story to tell. I usually start our oldest daughter’s birth story by telling people how she arrived so suddenly that there wasn’t a doctor in the room and the nurses delivered her. After all, twenty four hours into our hospital stay it seemed like nothing was happening. But then everything started to happen. I was curled up on the hospital furniture listening to Tanya’s snore when she abruptly sat up and declared she was ready to push. I quickly alerted the hospital staff and my husband and in mere minutes baby girl was born.
While the nurses moved at rapid speed tending to the baby and Tanya, time slowed to a crawl for me. Although I was aware the baby was in the room, my attention was focused on the beauty and joy of the woman who just gave birth. Her cheeks were the loveliest color of rose and her skin was glistening. Her dark brown hair was glowing and her eyes were shining. She looked tremendously relieved that the birth was over and terrifically proud of her accomplishment. She was smiling with every part of her being and she was the calmest person in the room.
In the blur of days that followed, we all moved through several different emotions. There were fearful moments for the baby’s health as she was admitted to the NICU. There were painful and awkward moments while we spent time with the birth family. There were uncertain moments while waiting for adoption paperwork to be signed. But most of all there was simultaneous grief for what we knew Tanya was losing and joy for what we knew we were gaining.
And although there are still many emotions to be felt and processed in the years to come, in the delivery room there was joy and beauty. We were able to stand by with admiration while a mother gave birth to a baby who became our first child. We were allowed to experience the relief of her first breath and the sound of her first cries.
And although I am not the exhausted woman in the hospital bed holding the freshly birthed baby in the picture, I wouldn’t pray for it to be any other way.
*The names in this story are changed for privacy purposes
**Infertility Awareness Week was April 18-24th.