“Hey mommas! I am weeks from my due date, and getting ready to pack my hospital bag! What were your must-haves? What did you bring and not even use? TIA!”
This post, or a variation of it, showed up in my Facebook feed weekly during my childless years. As we trudged through home studies and background checks on our path to become adoptive parents, others packed hospital bags. I assumed this would not be something I ever needed to think about. I breathed a little sigh of relief as I watched conversation devolve into mesh underpants and giant maxi pads. That was not my path, I thought.
Yet, despite never giving birth, I have stayed in the hospital with all three of my children when they were born and then joined our family through adoption. This is unusual in adoption, and I count my lucky stars that we had this experience to “room in” with our babies.
So, what did I pack in my bag leading up to the impending birth of the tiny humans who eventually became my kids? What do you pack to travel to another city, to possibly stay at a hotel, or maybe a hospital, to possibly come home with a child, or without one?
Domestic adoption, where a mother chooses to place her child with an adoptive couple, is a complicated journey.
We met our kids’ first moms before they were born, and they made plans to place their children into our care. However, we were always fully cognizant and respectful of the fact that these were not yet our children when they were born. The life-altering decision their moms made for them was not something to be rushed or taken lightly. So, we knew, as we packed those bags, that we had zero input, control, or idea about what the outcome would be. We gladly offered to stay at a hotel, and give them space and alone time, but their moms were adamant we be at the hospital.
Driving home with someone else’s baby is an unusual experience that only other adoptive moms seem to understand. It feels exciting and wrong, hopeful and heartbreaking, all at once.
When we were waiting for our oldest to be born, I didn’t want to buy him anything. I didn’t want to make presumptions about what his mom would decide. I packed a bag for me. A book, some magazines, toiletries, my favorite knitted, long cardigan. It's as warm as a blanket, as forgiving as an old college hoodie, and yet somehow still has the magical powers to make me look “dressed.” I packed my pillow and blanket.
Finally, I purchased and packed an outfit for this child. I put it in a gift bag: If he came home with us, he would wear it home. If his mom changed her mind and he went home with her, I could give it as a gift for the beginning of their life together. I chose an outfit with puppies because she loved them. I wrapped it up and shoved it in the bottom of the bag. It hurt to hope, it hurt to think about my greatest joy being the same thing that would break another woman’s heart. To this day, I can’t fully wrap my mind around that.
We ended up dressing that sweet child into his puppy outfit on a cold November day, then popping him into a car seat in our car, and driving home together. I sat in the back with him, wrapped in my comfort cardigan, which covered my spit-up stained shirt and calmed my shaking nerves as I crossed it over my front as tightly as I could. Driving home with someone else’s baby is an unusual experience that only other adoptive moms seem to understand. It feels exciting and wrong, hopeful and heartbreaking, all at once.
Ten months later, we stood in court as a judge declared that baby our son. And a year later, we sat in a conference room, meeting with another mom. She was expecting twins, and she wanted our little family — myself, my husband, and our 21-month old — to become a part of their family.
In the whirlwind of the next few weeks, I packed and unpacked that same bag. Sometimes they were to be born that day, then a few hours later the labor would be stalled. I added more pieces this time — emotionally in a place where I could rely on Target’s return policy if the twins' birth mom’s plans changed, I filled my bag with blue and pink preemie outfits, swaddle blankets, and hats and bows. The October air turned crisp and reminded me of the chilly hospital when our oldest was born, so I grabbed my favorite cardigan. Much more worn now, much less presentable... it had survived nearly two years of parenting all-nighters, standing on a cold porch with a croupy infant at 2 a.m. letting the cold air do its magic, and continued in its role as a great spit-up camouflager. If this fuzzy old thing had helped me survive my first foray into parenthood, certainly I would need it as we embarked on becoming parents of three.
In the soft, calm middle-of-the-night hours, when no one could watch me fumble, I practiced holding one baby in each crooked elbow, tucking my sweater around them for warmth.
When the call finally came, I didn’t have my bag anywhere near me. I was in the pool with our oldest at the YMCA, and returned to the locker room to see frantic missed calls and texts. Rushing home to grab my travel bag, tuck a tired toddler into bed. Wondering if this would be the last moments of him being my only child. My mom helped me load my bag into the car, and we made the four-hour journey to the city where the twins had just been born.
The next two weeks were a whirlwind — we spent five days in the hospital roomed in with these two little miracles. My carefully organized bag exploded all over the hospital room from corner to corner as we rotated through outfits for me and for the babies amid an exorcist-type reflux. I spot-washed my comfort cardigan as best I could... and then just wore it anyways.
In the soft, calm middle-of-the-night hours, when no one could watch me fumble, I practiced holding one baby in each crooked elbow, tucking my sweater around them for warmth. Nearly two weeks later when we were cleared to go home, I had mastered that skill. Now, they are too big to both fit on my lap. At one point they both fit on my chest.
Six months later, a judge declared us a family of five, and four years later I am still waiting for the sleepless nights to end. I sit here writing this, in my sweater, which is now far past the days of presentable. It makes a public appearance at school pickup if I am having a forgetful day, but when I am up with a sick preschooler, it is still where they tuck their head as they snuggle in.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.