The first time I met Wendy, I got whiplash. She talked a mile a minute with a smile and an energy that could fill up a room. I'd found her through The Doula Project, which I'd found through my adoption agency, which I'd found through Planned Parenthood. She was the perfect doula for me for several reasons: She was my age (26). She was a med student and a nurse. And, like me, my doula was a birth mother.
I was overwhelmed by her tiny whirlwind of wonderful. Her words spilled out on top of each other: “Oh yeah, I cried for like a week but you’ll be fine! I see my baby all the time, his mom’s basically like the big sister I never had — do you want to see a picture? How cute is that face?! Yeah, I got a C-section ‘cause I wanted to be able to plan when it happened, I wanted control of the situation — and you’re so brave for putting yourself out there with all this, I could never do that, my family still doesn’t know about mine. How are you feeling today? Text me anytime, girl!" I even got check-in texts from her every few days: "Hey lady! Hope you're having a good weekend!" When she'd ask how I was doing, I'd tell her, "not bad," and wonder why she was so concerned. I was pretty calm at that point, just a few weeks before my son's due date; I had no idea what kind of storm was coming later.
She squeezed my hand through all three hours of pushing; she saw my son before I did. "He's perfect," she told me, tears in her eyes, while I waited for the nurses to clean him up before placing him in my arms.
Our experiences of placing our sons in open adoptions were already vastly different, despite my son not even being born yet. I'd "come out" on Facebook with my adoption plan months before and had performed a letter to my unborn son as a burlesque routine; she'd gone to live with a family in Westchester during her pregnancy so as to avoid anyone finding out. Still, she was the only person in my life at that point with even a remote idea of how I felt. Placing a baby for adoption is such a rare event these days that it can be isolating AF.
Wendy connected me with a friend who could teach me lamaze, but the doctor induced me before the class could happen. On the morning of my birth, she and five of my friends descended upon the hospital, tagging in and out from the lobby since my room could only host two people at a time. She squeezed my hand through all three hours of pushing; she saw my son before I did. "He's perfect," she told me, tears in her eyes, while I waited for the nurses to clean him up before placing him in my arms. (He was perfect, by the way. I was instantly and forever smitten.) She called and texted all the people who couldn't be there, telling them that mama and baby were well.
When my son and I left the hospital separately, I cried so hard I couldn't stand upright or talk.
Later that night, after my other friends had all gone home, Wendy was strategizing as to how we could get the hospital to let her spend the night with me. "OK, so, how about you play the, 'I'm placing my baby for adoption and I'm so scared' card? And tell them you just need someone to stay with you tonight?" I decided I was OK to take this one alone, and sent her home.
The next two days were a blur of friends and paperwork and baby. My little boy didn't understand breastfeeding, so Wendy got the hospital to bring me some formula. We passed him around and cooed over him. I was surrounded by love and happy; the enormity of what was about to happen hadn't sunk in yet.
Then, sh*t got real. When my son and I left the hospital separately, I cried so hard I couldn't stand upright or talk. He wasn't with his new family yet; I'd opted for Cradle Care, a program where a volunteer took care of the baby after childbirth so I could be of sound mind before signing anything. Wendy wasn't with me, but two of my best friends were, and they caught me when I collapsed with tears and accompanied me home. Wendy and I spent a lot of the next day texting:
Wendy: "Morning! How are you today?"
Wendy: "I have a few mins before class. Wanna text?"
Me: "Just crying a lot. Called sis, cried. Gonna call my shrink and cry some more."
Wendy: "It's OK to cry. I remember in the middle of crying saying out loud, 'Ohh, please stop crying,' then I got upset because I couldn't stop crying."
Me: "Yeah, I'm not even bothering even trying to hold back bc I know it's useless haha"
Wendy: "You might not think of it now, and it's hard to see, but you have so many things to look forward to. Getting back to doing what you love. Playwriting. This makes you become a better and different person. Getting to know Leo and his family. It's a lot to look forward to."
She kept going: "I'm proud of you, but I hurt for you at the same time. Also, I'm excited for you because this is such a powerful moment in your life and it will make you a stronger person than you can ever think of being. It's kinda cool too, because you start to see things differently than you ever did before."
She was right. Everyday, through all the crying and anxiety, the idea of adoption sat a little bit easier with me. I got to see my son once a week during cradle care, and after the second visit she texted me:
Wendy: "How was today?"
Me: "It was perfect. Wendy... I think I'm ready to let him go."
Wendy: "I know that feeling. Only you know when the right time is."
Me: "It was just... perfect. And I think the goodbye I needed."
Wendy: "I had a day like that too, and it was when I knew it was time. Isn't it wild how different he looks in two weeks? You know there isn't a day that I don't think about you. It's this weird feeling because I know all the feelings you're feeling right now." (Can I tell you how much it meant to me that she knew what I was going through? Can I possibly convey how seen and heard and validated I felt?)
She kept going:
I'm proud of you, but I hurt for you at the same time. And I'm excited for you because this is such a powerful moment in your life and it will make you a stronger person than you can ever think of being. It's kinda cool too, because you start to see things differently than you ever did before.
Me: "Yeah. It's huge and crazy and nothing will ever be the same. It's an ache I didn't know I could have. And also freeing. It was a joyful feeling when I first realized it. And then it became big and scary and sad, but still peaceful and joyful. I can't believe how much he already looks like a little person."
Wendy: "It's this love and ache. Now you have so much love you don't know what to do with it." (Jesus, yes, she was right.) "It's peaceful because you've been counting down all these weeks for this moment, and for awhile you probably didn't think it would ever come. But here it is, and it's scary and exciting because it's finally your time to take it day by day and get back into the swing of things."
I told her,
Yeah. That. I was waiting for something to click that finally did. I realized, even amidst this perfect visit, that in my mind I was assuming that I would let him go. I realized that I already knew what I was going to do and there was no decision to make because I'd already made it. And God, do I love him. Oh God, do I love him. And it will never go away.
I think I cried writing this part:
But it's OK because I get to still love him no matter what. But the ache. The love I don't know what to do with. I mean, I do know what to do with it. I have to love him so much I let him go.
Wendy: "It's this wild, weird, strong loving bond. The ache will get better as time goes on."
Me: "I realized today that I was going to be OK."
Wendy: "You're going to be better than OK :)"
She got it. She gave me strength. She showed me that a happy ending was possible even as my heart was breaking.
Over the years, as our sons have grown, we've spent a lot of time comparing notes and heartaches. She's raising a daughter now; I'm raising a cat and writing a novel. Wendy was so much more than a doula; she was the one who helped me realize that I was not only going to survive this, but thrive. And I'll never be able to thank her enough for that.