By Rebecca Gold
Sometimes it takes going halfway around the world to find a baby in your own back yard.
A baby was not the reason we moved to South America, but in the back of our minds we thought that’s what we’d find. We sure weren’t having any luck in our own continent.
When my husband and I got married, the first thing on our agenda was for me to get pregnant. I had a 6-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, and so we thought, why wait? But month after month, my body swelled with hope, then bled with despair. We went through test after test, but nothing was discovered, and we were told simply that if we “relax and not think about it,” I would become pregnant.
Then two years into our marriage, my husband had the opportunity to start a company in his native country of Uruguay. We thought that would be exactly the thing to get our minds off of making a baby and the “relax and not think about it” theory may work. What we thought would be one year in South America, turned out to be nearly four. Threaded throughout the entire time, we traveled back and forth from fertility specialists in Argentina to clinics in the United States. We were now five years into baby making, and still nothing.
The word “adoption” came up a few times, and each time we agreed that we were open to the idea, but that’s as far as we got. Coincidentally, at the same time we were going through all of this, my husband’s brother and his wife were dealing with the same issues back in California. My sister-in-law and I spent long hours talking about the fertility nightmare, and I listened as she recounted everything she was learning about adoption, but I was still unsure if my husband and I were ready for that road.
And then came the turning point for us. New Years Eve, 1996. We were celebrating at a restaurant in Uruguay and while everyone around us was dancing and singing and happily bringing in the New Year, I was outside on the balcony, in tears. I wasn’t crying because I couldn’t get pregnant. I was crying because I wanted to have a baby. It suddenly became clear to me that those two things did not go hand in hand. My husband joined me and we cried together, mourning the pregnancy that would never be. And at that moment, we decided we would begin our adoption journey.
A few days later, we took a midnight bus ride from Montevideo to a very small town on the border of Uruguay and Brazil where we were to meet with an adoption consultant named Nelda. When we arrived the next morning, we saw a couple waving frantically as if we were long lost relatives. They welcomed us into their home, gave us cookies and coffee and told us all about what the day would hold. Nelda’s husband drove us around, and we met the judge, the social worker and nearly everyone else in town. As the day went on, my husband and I knew that this was our journey to parenthood. Somewhere near this little barrio of Rivera, Uruguay, there would be a baby born to join our family. We were told it could be anywhere from two weeks to two months.
Every Tuesday night we called Nelda for an update. She was on the lookout, going from the judge’s office to the hospital to the orphanage. I was consumed with getting our apartment ready for a baby. We bought a crib, car seat, diapers and formula. But two weeks passed, then two months, then six months. We kept saying to each other “any day now” and every time the phone rang, we jumped. We kept calling every Tuesday, and Nelda kept telling us our paperwork was fine, we were next in line, but we had to keep waiting.
And then the final blow came. After nearly four years, my husband’s company was negotiating a deal that would bring our family back to California. The thought of leaving South America without a baby in my arms was devastating. We explained to Nelda what was going on, and she told us that if we willing to turn around and come back immediately when she called, she would keep it quiet that we had moved out of South America (so we wouldn’t have to do an international adoption– which was far more paperwork!) as long as I agreed to stay in Uruguay with the baby until everything was legal, which could be up to three months. We agreed.
We began the motions to move back to the United States. Our good-byes were long and sad. We learned to love the Latin people and culture and my daughter and I had become fluent in Spanish. The people, culture, and language had all become a part of us, and we vowed to never let it go.
We arrived to Los Angeles on August 1st and moved into a temporary apartment. A week later, an organization I am involved with held its annual conference, which put me to work from early morning until night for five consecutive days. The conference was fantastic, and I was happy to be reunited with many of my writer fiends. However, after five days, I was POOPED! The last day (August 14) was reserved for a breakfast for the staff, but I woke up so tired I could hardly crawl to the telephone to say that I simply couldn’t muster up the energy to go. It was precisely in the middle of that call, when my phone beeped with a call waiting, and I made my apology to get the other call. “Hello….” I croaked.
The voice on the other end began yelling at me to stop whatever I was doing and get ready to go to Simi Valley AT THAT INSTANT! After a few minutes of confusion, I realized it was my sister-in-law on the phone telling me she had just received a call from an adoption attorney looking for parents for a baby girl born two days prior. Since my sister in law now had a 3-month old baby, she told the attorney they couldn’t take her, but she knew the perfect couple who could! I still wasn’t sure what she was telling me, or why, and I half listened and half wondered if I remembered to say good-bye to my other call. Then, suddenly, a thought came to mind. Is this it? Is this the baby call we’ve been waiting for? Was she telling me all of this because this may be our baby? My hands were shaking as I took down the attorney’s phone number, and immediately called my husband.
I then called the attorney, who asked if I was willing to drop everything and come to Simi Valley, about 15 miles away from where we lived. I told her we were prepared to drop everything and go to Uruguay for a baby! But first, she said, I had to send a fax to the birth mother in the hospital, and ask if we could meet her for an interview. She wanted to choose the adoptive family and she had already reviewed 22 applications and interviewed 8 couples. Her request for adoptive parents was that at least one of the two be Hispanic, and the family be familiar with the Latin culture and speak Spanish in the home. I would say we certainly qualified!
You would think after a five-day writing conference, jotting down a few paragraphs would be a cinch, right? WRONG!! I could barely get the words “Dear Birthmother” out without second guessing every word. I wrote, deleted, rewrote, again and again, all the while with the attorney and my sister-in-law playing musical phone calls asking me if I faxed the letter yet. My husband walked in, stood over my shoulder while I was trying to write this letter on my computer, and watched me type, delete, and type again. He handed me a piece of paper and a pen. “Let’s do this together, honey,” he said. “Put the computer away.”
Together we wrote the final Dear Birthmother letter on the back of a fax we had received the day before–the only piece of paper we could find in the house. My daughter then handed me a picture of the three of us together to fax along with the letter, and within minutes our letter was on its way to the hospital.
Finally, at 2:00 in the afternoon the phone rang. It was our attorney. We were to be at her office for a meeting with the birth mother in one hour. The three of us looked at each other and said “Okay, this is it. Let’s go see if this is our baby!”
When we got to the attorney’s office, the birth mother (I’ll call her Rosa) had not yet arrived so our attorney prepared us for the interview. She told us that she was 19 years old, from a Mexican family, and had kept the entire pregnancy a secret from her family and the baby’s father. She also told us she quite “tough” on the outside, so we should let her take charge of the meeting. “Let her do the asking,” the attorney said. “The Man upstairs will do what is right for everyone.”
We sat in the conference room and waited for the Rosa’s arrival. In my mind’s eye, I was picturing some kind of Harley Davidson momma to walk in and order us to get our ass out of the chair and turn around so she could take a look at us. But instead, in walked a beautiful young woman with long straight jet black hair, dark eyes, and a warm smile. At the very moment she was walking towards us, and she and I made eye contact, woman to woman, mother to mother, my trembling heart suddenly became still and I knew this was the moment I had been waiting for. This beautiful young woman had just given birth to my daughter. And in that one split second, we both knew that about each other.
She didn’t have much to say at first, just looked at us with a quiet smile. I asked her how her labor and delivery had been, and she immediately warmed up and told us all about her entire pregnancy. She told us she had not told her mother about the pregnancy because she was afraid that she may want to keep the baby, and that is not what she wanted. She said she could not keep the baby because she could not give it what it deserved, and she wanted the very best for her. We then got off into a very nice, very long, conversation about everything from her childhood, her future plans, her relationship with her parents, and her future goals. We compared notes about trivial things and was pleasantly surprised to find out that she and my husband shared the same birthday. She asked my daughter how she felt about having a little sister, and about how our family works, how we discipline her, and if she liked living in South America.
After about two hours, she left the room to speak with the attorney. We waited for her, silent in the empty conference room. It seemed like eternity, though it was probably five minutes, when she came back in and said, “I want you to be my baby’s parents.” My heart suddenly jumped to my throat, as it still does each time I think about that moment. My daughter gasped out loud, my husband started to cry, and I reached over the table and took her hands in mine. “Thank you,” was all I could say.
My daughter gasped, my husband cried, and I reached over the table and took her hands in mine.
The next few hours were general craziness and excitement. We went to the market to buy diapers and formula and then to the home where Rosa and the baby were waiting for us. We walked into the house, and Rosa was sitting on the couch next to an infant car seat in which two long pink feet were sticking out. I stepped closer to see the most beautiful, little bundle of baby with lots of jet black hair (with a pink bow stuck to it!) My motherly instincts immediately went out, although not to this precious little infant, but to this 19-year-old girl lovingly stroking the baby’s feet. All I kept thinking was how incredibly brave she was and how difficult this must be for her- a child herself!! My husband asked “Can I hold her?” “We had a bet,” Rosa laughed, “that you would be the first one to ask.”
Osvaldo cradled the baby in his arms and sang to her in Spanish. I touched her face, her feet, her hands, her mouth. I was in shock. Truly in shock. My emotions were jumping from this precious baby to her teenage mother to my own teenage daughter. I was torn into so many pieces that I couldn’t quite believe I was holding my baby. My baby. MY BABY!!!!
After a little while, Rosa asked us to leave. I walked over to her sitting stone faced on the chair and bent down to kiss her. She looked at me and with a tear in her eye said “take good care of her,” I looked directly into her eyes, mother to mother, and responded “You know I will.” I squeezed her hand, until she looked away, and I went outside to begin the next chapter of my life.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, but while my husband and I were crying on the balcony of that South American restaurant on New Year’s Eve, our daughter was being conceived. And the entire time I was nesting and getting things ready for a baby to be brought into my home in Uruguay, our baby was growing inside this beautiful woman’s womb in our back yard here in California. And finally, 7 years later, I became a mommy once again.
A Happy New Year indeed.