Jennifer Gay Summers
Mothers Come First
My husband and I stood in a hospital corridor, dressed in pink surgical scrubs, waiting to see our baby born. After six long years of miscarriages, in-vitro procedures, an adoption agency, and private attorneys, our time had come. To get this far was like grabbing a balloon the second it floated by. Down the hall, I heard a baby cry in the nursery, and my breath caught in my throat.
Just yesterday, Ron and I had accompanied Christy, our baby’s birthmother, to her pre-op exam, and she’d left us waiting in the lobby. Restless, we took the elevator up to the nursery where we stood, hands clasped, looking through the glass at the newborns. It was as if we were standing on the edge of a precipice gathering the strength to jump off.
I turned to Ron and said, “We can do this, right?” He pressed me to him, his body seeking reassurance in our familiar curves as much as mine.
A nurse came out of the delivery room and glanced at our pink scrubs. “Are you Jennifer and Ron?”
We nodded, big smiles on our faces.
“Doctor’s call. Y’all can’t go in…Christy’s in too much pain. Mothers come first.”
It was a sucker punch to my gut. For God’s sake, I was the mother, too! For so long, I’d dreamed of the moment when my baby emerged into this world with soft, crinkly skin, teensy fingers and toes, and little eyes looking into ours, entrusted to us forever. Patience. She’s on her way to us.
The nurse’s voice softened. “I’m sorry you couldn’t see your baby being born.”
We turned to go back through the double doors.
“What happened? Why aren’t you in there?” We spun around to face Dan, Christy’s dad, a surgeon in the same hospital. Outspoken and direct, he’d let us know he fully supported the adoption.
The nurse explained, and Dan left for the delivery room with brisk, decisive steps. We waited, hoping against hope for what felt like an eternity. He emerged with the nurse following, holding a scrunched-up crimson, wailing baby.
Dan pointed at me. “This is the mother.” His words echoed off the white, cavernous walls, lodging in my head with a thrilling resonance.
I stood still, barely breathing. How could a newborn, this tiny, cry so loud my ears rang? If I held her, would I drop her? What had made me think I could magically become a mother? The nurse approached me, and my arms stretched out in slow motion. She placed the baby in them, a solid little weight swaddled in a blanket. My hand cupped her head, and I spotted an adorable curly wisp of red hair. Doubt faded, and love that had waited for so long poured out. Ron moved into my side, tears in his eyes, and gave us a hug.
Our baby stopped crying and her deep blue eyes looked to mine, as if for reassurance. I hugged her close to my chest. “Mommy’s here,” I whispered, “…and I’m never letting go.”
Christy had three days to make a final decision to sign the termination papers. Time slowed to a halt as we camped out in the hospital, sharing the baby. As much as it scared me to see her hold the baby, my gut told me it was important for Christy to say goodbye.
On the third day, Christy’s mother told us she had signed, motioning us to her room. Christy lay, crumpled and hurting in her hospital gown, and opened her arms. We crawled onto the bed, falling into her embrace. I said, “We will do our best as parents. Love her every day of our lives.”
“With all of my heart.”
More days went by as we waited for the interstate compact laws to be approved before we could legally take our baby, Lee, across Texas state lines and back home to California. I paced in our cramped hotel quarters in the dark hotel, a tiger in a cage. Lee cried endlessly, working up with a velocity at dark that I was sure would get us kicked out. At my wit’s end, I called the hospital nursery.
“She probably has colic. Grit your teeth. It won’t go away anytime soon,” a nurse said.
On the tenth day, while feeding Lee, I looked into a mirror on the wall across from us. I wore a poop-stained shirt I’d just caught thirty winks in, had navy blue circles under my eyes and puffy bags with new wrinkles etched deeply into my forehead. Ten pounds had melted off me.
The phone rang. I picked it up and heard our social worker say, “Congratulations. You’re free to come home.” A sob ripped through me and an explosion of happy tears fell on Lee’s pink cheeks. She stopped sucking her bottle and looked at me, a whisper of a smile lighting up her eyes. We’d make it. Together, we’d make it through anything.
Jennifer Gay Summers‘s articles and essays have appeared in ADDitude, Adoptive Families, Whole Life Times, and Chicken Soup anthologies, among other publications. She is the co-author of Any Way I Can; 50 Years in Show Business, written in collaboration with her father, screenwriter, John Gay. She is currently writing a memoir about parenting a neurodivergent child based on her long-running blog for ADDitude. You can follow her at www.jennifergaysummers.com.