I have carried Nathaniel for nine months. His feather light hair rests in the nook of my left elbow and he breathes softly through his tracheotomy tube. He sleeps deep in my arms. His body wraps around mine; his right hand resting on my chest, his feet extending to my right hip. We are stomach to stomach and he feels as much a part of me as if I once held him inside. In these quiet intimate moments I think of the woman who carried him in her womb for nine months.
His little Huggies bottom fits perfectly in my right hand, and I pat in a rhythm to match the rocking chair. Did she rest her hands on her swelling abdomen and in doing so cup his bottom just under her skin? The chair creaks and his toes curl in response. He bends a knee, pulls up his foot, and pushes hard against my ribs. Surely those same toes kicked her ribs.
I know very little about Nathaniel’s birth mom. Profile pictures on Facebook. One status update with liberal privacy settings posted a few months before he was born, “I am having a boy,” she proudly proclaimed to the world.
His doctors told me she loved him. I read bits about her visits with him in their daily neonatal intensive care unit reports. I read their final reference to her: “Our entire staff is grieved to learn that Nathaniel’s mother passed away last night.”
For years I stayed away from participating in foster care or adoption because as a birth mom I could not reconcile taking a child from his mother. The idea of it pained me despite knowing that sometimes the step is necessary. It pains me still.
But he had no mother. No one to bare her breast and rock him skin against skin. My age, my master’s degree half finished, my four remaining years until the nest was empty were reinterpreted the moment I learned there was no mother to bare her heart and love his brokenness.
Nathaniel’s mother’s death was the beginning of our birth story. Life from death is not a new concept to me as a Christian. I recently celebrated Good Friday with my faith community, and the reflection that death precipitates our adoption as sons and daughters of God is fresh on my heart. I can say with confidence that if Nathaniel’s mother had not died, I would not be his mother. Even if he had come into foster care and needed a forever family. It was his story of loss that broke my heart.
In the quiet moments in the rocking chair, I grieve the death of a woman I never met. We have both carried Nathaniel for nine months. Even as I rejoice over his little smile that tells me he knows me as momma, I grieve. Tears of joy and sorrow mingle hot until some nights I do not know which I cry. Someday, when the time is right, we will visit her grave together. Mom and son and mom.
Originally posted at A Thing With Feathers: A Writer's Collective.
Photos taken by Julie Joggerst on Nathaniel's first birthday, November 2013.