Got You

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It was not the usual way. There was not nine months to prepare, but rather three days.

When the adoption agency called and told me there was a baby girl, born, in the PICU, and did we want to be her parents?, that was the moment I became Sierra’s mom. Not later, after we saw her for the first time at the hospital. Not even after that when we had to give the adoption agency our final decision — were we willing to adopt this tiny baby whose life had started off with so many challenges? This baby girl who got pneumonia the day she was born, who couldn’t suck on a bottle without choking, who had received no prenatal care, whose birth mother was developmentally challenged, who the very-experienced-PICU-nurse told us had something seriously wrong with her even though tests were not yet identifying any major health issues, whose birth family had a history of significant medical and developmental challenges, whose birth father and ethnicity was listed as unknown.

I became a mom the moment I heard that voice on the phone say, “It’s a girl. She was born about two weeks ago.” Everything after that didn’t matter. Everything after that was just what happened next to our family. Yes, we agonized, in a way, over the decision for the first few days before we were allowed to sign the official paperwork and take Sierra home from the hospital. We were fearful, like any new parents, about the health and well-being of our newborn. But never once did I ever feel any desire to walk away from something I could have walked away from. We were not legally obligated at these early points to parent this child, certainly not at the inquiry call, or the follow up call once our pediatrician talked to the doctors caring for Sierra, or even once we first saw her and realized much of the information we’d been told on the phone was not accurate (such as the baby weighed 7 lbs at full-term birth; she was barely 7 lbs at three weeks when we first met her. She weighed 5 lbs when born). Yet, it didn’t matter. None of it mattered. She was my daughter from the moment I heard the words, “She’s born.” I loved this nameless, faceless, genetically unrelated, and still unknown baby fiercely, before I ever saw her hazel eyes and auburn hair.

I felt it. I felt motherhood. I felt it in the stillness that folded around me in my busy, noisy office where I took the call from the adoption agency that told me she was born. I knew it by the way my breath left my body and I didn’t need to draw more oxygen into my lungs for days – not until I finally got to see my baby and lift her up in my rock-steady hands and rest her sweet head on my shoulder. These hands knew preemies well, having helped my sister care for her preemie twins when I was a teenager. I saw my daughter, held my daughter, for the first time two days after I became her mother; took her home from the hospital three days after we met.

My husband and I had just three days and two nights to transition our lives and our home from childless to child-centered. We’d drive from Baltimore to Prince George’s Hospital every day to visit Sierra for as long as staff would let us stay — and stop at Babies R Us on the way home to buy as much infant gear as we could stuff into our car each trip: a crib, changing table, glider rocker and ottoman, onesies, rattles, bottles, diapers, booties, sleepers, stroller, sheets, pacifiers, diaper genie, car seat…

When we’d arrive home with the bounty each night, we’d spend the rest of the evening assembling everything and setting up the nursery. It was just us. We had no family in the state, no church home, and few available friends as we were relatively recent transplants to the area.

As we’d build the furniture, we’d turn over every medical opinion and report we’d heard that day about the health of our daughter. We’d spin it around and around like screws into misfitting pilot holes. The information was confusing and troubling, flat out frightening at times. This baby had yet to pass through our front door or rest her body on these newly-purchased giraffe-speckled crib sheets, but she couldn’t have been more our own. We agonized over her potential future, like any new parent who had been told their newborn may be at risk for… What? Some vaguely awful uncertainty. We worried for her, but I sought to adopt, in addition to my baby girl, my Grandma Jo’s advice to ‘not borrow trouble.’ So began this parenting journey of dealing with whatever this particular moment offered, reveling it or reviling it accordingly, but keeping the focus on right here, right now. (…there is no other place I’d rather be :))

My baby girl made me her mother the minute I knew she existed. Later, when I gave birth to a son, it was clear to me that love arrived no differently. Not with adoption. Not with birth. I’d always suspected that and claimed as much, but how could I really know, until I had experienced becoming a parent both ways? How your child comes into your life is irrelevant. That they do, is all that truly matters.

As to the rest, what happens, happens. Parents dream of bringing a healthy child into their home. Dream of the best possible outcome for the baby. Want the world for their child, and hope that the world will always be kind and generous and gracious to their offspring. Some get mostly that, others don’t. We are all fragile, imperfect beings. Babies arrive DNA already spun and as dads and moms we do your best to help them achieve the most they possibly can with that glorious, preset double helix.

We love them. We love them strand for astounding strand, regardless of how or when or why they arrived in the shelter of our arms and homes and hearts.

I love my daughter, who grows older and yet doesn’t grow up the same way most other children do. Happy 21st Gotcha Day to my remarkable Sierra Jule. Thank you for confirming for me love is love is love is love. That we eventually found each other is what matters. That I get the honor of being your mother…is everything.

 

October 23, 2016
Julie Ayers

Twenty One Days

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You had a different name
penned on the card
affixed to your bassinet

I missed the first three weeks
when your life,
a fine thread, barely held

Those absent days
plagued
seemed endless as space

Impossibly small you
untethered by family love
adrift in vast wards

I didn’t hear your first cry
wrap you in my arms
and nuzzle you close

When your wet, weak lungs
made them intubate
I didn’t know there was a you

Those twenty one days

before we met
before I took my place
before I became your witness

before I acted as your voice
before I first saw and loved you
before I was your mother

Seemed an enormous failure
on my part
to find and protect you

A love feed irrationality
that’s finally begun to ebb slightly
after twenty one years

your mother

 

October 2016
Julie Ayers

Street Theater

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there were voices

she stood on the sidewalk
brown-eyed, haired, skinned, clothed, shoed
answering them

animated

lighting a stub of a cigarette
she’d picked off the ground
her mouth rounded
inhaling
yelling

thin as rolling paper
she wavered in the Light Rail’s breeze
nearly toppled
but righted
raised her fist
and howled

she cursed the train
commuters
the pathetic nub of nicotine
a world long gone to mud
with its muck of formless voices
dogging her unsteady step
her own Sophocratic chorus
for a Greek tragedy of a life

awake, asleep, sober, stoned, adrift
a cacophony only she can hear

all these words
enough to drown in

her rounded mouth
inhaling
yelling
as we watched
and wished the curtain would fall

 

August 2016
Julie Ayers

How A Mother Makes Her Morning Cup Of Tea

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As the sun rises orange fire
she walks barefoot to the kitchen
in a simple, summer nightgown
washed by years to softness
a faded brown
spotted with small dots
that for some reason make her smile

She sees the dishes
left in the sink by small hands and large
a cereal bag, half full
resting against the empty box
glasses on the counter
next to an empty milk jug

Their curly-mammoth of dog
trailing her
she opens the porch door
to let him out in the lushness of dewy grass
fills his bowl with food
and opens the window overlooking the garden

She moves about the kitchen
rinses, repackages, tidies, seals, recycles
loads everyone’s dishes in the dishwasher
wipes the counter
and goes to the basement
to the extra fridge to get a carton of skim
notes it is the last one
and writes “Milk” on the grocery list
when she returns to the kitchen
before pouring some into the steamer

As she puts the milk away
she realizes her daughter has used the last of the chai
goes back to the basement in search of more
remembers the laundry is in the dryer from last night
beach towels from the pool
she pulls them from the machine
folds them
and places them in the waiting beach bag on the floor
scoops the rest of the clothes into the laundry basket
and heads upstairs with the tea
“CHAI” is written emphatically on the list

As she sets down the pen
her mind engages in an unbidden inventory
spotting a gap in open-fridge-image in her head
she picks the pen up again
“Cider,” for her son
she smiles

The box of tea finally in hand
finally open
twenty minutes after her insouciant entrance
into the morning light of the kitchen
she pours the dark liquid
into an ordinary cup and puts it in the microwave
adds a splash of heavy cream to the skim in the steamer
pushes the button until it glows red
the white mass begins its swirl

Chai box placed into the fridge
she stands on tiptoes and reaches
pulls her favorite cup down
from where she’s hidden it
placed high on a shelf
tucked inside of a stack of deep bowls
out of her diminutive daughter’s reach

Something she’s set aside
just for herself
an item that holds
adorned with rich, soft color
tiny, raised dots like Braille

Once filled by tea and milk
the feel of the warmed surface against her palm
like a long-awaited caress

An oasis
sometimes as ethereal as a mirage
her moment to sit
and sip alone
with thoughts of nothing less
than sunrise and birdsong

She can’t bear to think of it dropped
one more piece potentially lost
to the demands and confusing chaos of family

In her mothering world of limitless care
and constant nurture
which she embraces and willfully chooses daily
she holds this
unbroken

 

July 3, 2016
Julie Ayers

finalization

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her foot bounced in time
to the music
as she laid in her stroller
earlier that day
we’d finalized her adoption
a judge in black robe
telling us our family was legal
and final
Baltimore ArtScape 1996
Robert Cray sang and played
and she was happy
as were we
now she dances
on the steps of the courthouse
where our family
first became a family
my musical child
now a woman
and I wonder
how two decades have passed
since I first held her
and knew what it was like
to love someone
so hard
that you forget
you need to breathe

 

Julie Ayers
NaPoWriMo Day 30

Found Poem: One Text Today From My Daughter

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The. You. I love.

Sierra.
You are the best of all the Mom.

The new one
and only a small group in

The. You.
I love it

and I have no clue who they really are
the same thing over and over
a month or two
and three of us who we are

the only one of my friends to play the game is on my iPhone
is so much better now than ever before

I go back in time and money to get my money

on the way you can do
go home.

Sierra the best thing about it

but it doesn’t work on my iPhone

to be able
too many people have to be

 

Julie Ayers (& Sierra)
NaPoWriMo Day 29

When Social Workers Weep

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She’d dream of Crock-Pot pepper steak when the going got tough
Angel food cake propped upside down to cool on a Coke bottle
She’d read reports that stress morphed your cells
Slowed your metabolism and thickened arteries
Decades in, her fingers remained pink
And her body tumor free

What she dreaded most
Was the look of dumbfounded horror
In the eyes of professionals
She wondered if they went home
Climbed into bed next to their partners
And spooled out her story

She should be an alcoholic
Obese or a secret cutter
Gray and sloven
Rage-fully bitter
Morose
Cold

Instead she was
Obscenely ordinary

 

Julie Ayers
NaPoWriMo Day 28