The ride into Boston felt long. My stomach kept me fairly distracted with its flips and nose dives. Not to be outdone, my head took its turn spinning the little information I had about him on its side, looking for any angle I hadn’t yet imagined on how our leap of faith might play out this time. I arrived at Mass General with an empty car seat and found my way to the elevator. As I waited for the doors to open, my stomach treated me to one more roller coaster ride and I quickly made a bee line for the gift shop. Refuge. Time to regroup. I hid behind the baby gifts. What could I pretend I still needed? The clock in the aisle next to me ticked too loudly and I made peace with my nerves and headed back toward the elevators. I could have taken my pulse from the echo of my heartbeat in my ears. I tried to busy myself with scripting what I would say to the nurses in a few moments. Somehow I needed to convince them that this wasn’t a mistake; that I really was a stranger here to take this tiny baby home with me after meeting him for the first time.
The elevator stopped and the door opened. I nervously scanned the hallway for the social workers I was meeting there. No one was in sight. Now what? I found the nurse’s station and swallowed hard to find a voice that could be heard above the sound of my beating heart. I asked for him by name, feeling an instant sense of maternal protection as I said his name out loud for the first time.
“I’m here for Kolby.”
A nurse gave me the once over and led me to the door of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. She instructed me to put the protective scrubs on over my street clothes. Once I was ready, she opened the door and led me into the NICU. It was hard to focus on what she was saying to me as I made my way through the maze of incubators and tubes and machines. Each corner of the unit was home to a new little life, too small for this world, and too fragile. Most of the babies had a mother beside them; loving them, touching them, worrying for them.
And then all at once he was in front of me. All alone, he lay there waiting. He was quiet and calm, almost expectant. The nurse encouraged me to hold him. Every ounce of nervousness left my body as I reached for him. As I held his tiny body to my chest, it was suddenly as if it was just the two of us alone in the NICU. The beeping and alarms went silent. Time seemed to stand still. He was nothing short of extraordinary.
I pulled myself out of my trance, and looked around the NICU with new eyes. With Kolby now in my arms, I felt overwhelmed once more, but this time with a genuine relief that every precious baby inside those walls now had someone in their corner to care for them. Kolby was no longer alone, nor untethered.
In the hours after having my three biological children, I experienced a euphoria of pure love and bliss, my body’s physiological response to giving birth. It is a transformative kind of magic that up until that afternoon in the NICU, I believed to be unparalleled. But the moment I first saw and then held Kolby, I was right back there, in the dreamy haze of falling in love with a baby that may forever depend on my heart for his to beat rhythmically.
Unfortunately, those feelings of euphoria could not live in isolation this time around. Kolby was not my child. So as quickly as those feelings surfaced, so too did the feelings of concern I felt for his birth mother. He was a part of her just weeks ago, and thoughts of their severed connection challenged my sense of relief. Sadness for her rose and fell with Kolby’s chest as I watched him breathe, and I marveled at how miraculous his strength was.
When I received the placement call about Kolby a few days earlier, I was already the mother of four. As was she. I listened carefully to the few details the social worker had about him. I imagined the pain his birth mother must feel losing her fifth child. I imagined this tiny baby in a big hospital all alone. And then I said yes.
“He was born at 31 weeks. He’s only four pounds at a month old. Are you comfortable caring for a preemie?”
“We don’t know how extensive his medical needs will be. Are you….”
“But what if….”
Yes. Yes. YES.
Yes, we will take him. Yes, we understand there are risks. Yes, we will love him, even if that means we may have to someday say goodbye to this child who we will undoubtedly grow to need us as much as he needs us. Because yes, no matter the cost on our hearts, he is worth it.
Back in the NICU, I listened to the details of Kolby’s care. The social workers arrived and I assured them I that was ready to be his foster mother. Nervous, a little intimidated (more by the immediate sense of love I felt for him, than by the bells and whistles involved in caring for him), but ready nonetheless. I buckled his tiny body into the infant seat, thanked the nurses profusely with hugs for their own broken hearts, and got back onto the elevator with my plus-one.
Outside of the hospital, alone with Kolby for the first time, it occurred to me how many firsts we had already experienced together. Kolby’s life was so new, and he was at last breathing in fresh air, away from the intubation and the controlled climate of the NICU that he had depended upon for a month. He was experiencing this life event with me, a substitute mother he’d known only for hours. The profound sadness I felt in this moment rivaled my joy, and I made my way over to my car with a heavy heart.
As fate would have it and time would tell, it was here in this moment that the two of us settled in for the long ride back to my house as strangers, but arrived home as family.
Our willingness to hold onto one another during the tumultuous first couple of years of Kolby’s life, led to his adoption at the age of two. Kolby will turn nine amazing years old this winter. He is the sparkle in our every day and he fills our lives with a magnetic energy that leaves everyone who crosses his path enamored. That same connection I felt in the first few moments of meeting him has only grown, and the love I feel for him has continued to intensify. I live my life in awe of this child, wholly and completely in awe.
We have not forgotten where he came from or how grateful we are that we were courageous enough to say yes. Every year on his birthday, we light an extra candle for his birth mother, who gave him life, his spectacular blue eyes, and the selfless gift of a second mama and family to be in his corner.
And over and over and over as I count our blessings, I repeat to myself: We could have missed this.
About the Family
Deborah Sweet is a biological, adoptive and foster mama who believes parenting is best played as a team sport. She works hard as a foster parent ambassador and harder at raising community awareness for kids who come from difficult places. Deborah is a teacher by trade but now spends her time advocating for school districts to become trauma sensitive and provide wrap-around services for children who are challenged by developmental trauma and attachment disorders. She lives in the Boston area with her husband and six(ish) kids, plus a couple of amazing animals that add to the calm of the house, not the chaos. You can read more of Deborah’s writing at Because I Stay.