Snapshots – A Birth Grandmother’s Story
written by Casey Mulligan Walsh
All around us there were picture-perfect people. I knew I had no idea what their lives were really like, but through this lens they all appeared so normal. My husband, my daughter, Kate, and I looked no different from the rest. Still, I struggled to maintain balance, presenting as outwardly calm while inside I was anything but. I couldn’t seem to stop the persistent voice in my head: We may look like them, but they don’t know who we really are. I wonder what they’d think if they knew why we’re here.
Here it comes, I thought, another one of those snapshot moments. You’ll remember this day always.
Ever since I was little, I’ve had a keen eye for spotting these scenes. Over and over, I’d paused at the oddest times to silently pledge, I’ll freeze this moment and keep it with me forever. It’s no wonder I’d grown up obsessed with photography, intent on capturing what refused to hold still. As a young mother, I’d gazed out the kitchen window, watching my boys bounce down the sidewalk, their baby sister beside me. Take a mental picture…before you know it, they’ll be gone and you’ll say you’d give anything to see this again.
Now I tell the hostess, “Three, but we’re expecting two more.” Kevin and I order a beverage – beer for him, wine for me. No sense in starting out with the pretense that we’re anyone other than ourselves. Kate asks for iced tea. We wait.
Soon a couple hurries in and joins us at our table. I like them right away. Later, I learn we all do. After the introductions, there is, incredibly, no awkward silence. The men talk – nonstop! The women do, too, our heads tipped together, conspiring. This feels right, I reassure myself. Meant to be. It’s a snapshot, a keeper – the mother (that’s me), my pregnant daughter, and the woman who will become the mother of the child she carries.
Adoption. The word itself conjures up a world of emotions. I’d always had great empathy for the anguished decision to relinquish a baby. I’d rejoiced with new parents, grateful to finally have a child to love. But now my own daughter is that birth mother, and this couple wants to be the parents of her child, my granddaughter. They’d like to give her my daughter’s name, Kate. I look for these signs everywhere, seeking confirmation that they are indeed the ones, that we’ve chosen well. I glance at my Kate and see her smiling now, no sign of nerves, connections already developing.
They’d asked at the agency if there were any preferences.
“Some birth mothers want the adoptive family to be of a certain religion or ethnicity. Sometimes we even get requests for fans of a particular sport, or people who love music.”
Kate shook her head. “No, none of that really matters to me.”
I think for a moment and weigh my words carefully.
“There is one thing.”
“They need to be people who will like my daughter, who will care about her, too.”
I bristle at the adoption lexicon so thoughtlessly tossed about. “She gave her up for adoption” especially rankles. Kate gave up nothing. As it happened, she lovingly placed her precious baby girl in the arms of parents who would do so much more than simply provide the things she was unable to give. She chose a family who would not only love her child, but one with a wide-angle view, eager to embrace us all.
Here in the restaurant, I wait for the wave of loss to crest and come crashing down on my daughter, and on us. Not yet, I think. Later it will come. Be ready. But in the hospital, when together we all bond – with the baby we’ve already grown to love, and with each other – a new perspective comes into focus, filling us with hope and a surprising sense of peace. We make plans to gather, and do – soon, and again, and then again, until our gatherings become a part of the new rhythm of our family’s life. Our new normal.
Always, there are the chaotic group shots. We pass the babies around, rearrange the older kids, and corral the dog. Various parents chide various children, not necessarily their own. In the middle of it all stands Kate, surrounded by strong bonds of blood, and of love. At the last moment, the photographer dashes out from behind the tripod, takes her place amid her family, catches her breath, and smiles.