A Savage Heart

I was less than half a year into a new relationship, one that I sheepishly admit was born out of infidelity on my part. A had just asked me to be his official girlfriend, to my unbridled delight. This was a guy I’d had a crush on since I was a high school freshman. The same guy who weaved in and out of my life every two years like clockwork after we parted ways (I went to New Jersey for half a semester; he’d transferred schools by the time I returned). The guy I left my previous boyfriend—my first long-term one, a whole year—to date. And now we were an item? I was over the moon.

Two teenagers, boy and girl, embrace shooting deadpan stares.
Can’t you tell?

We were young and infatuated, and we weren’t afraid to, ahem, demonstrate it. With my 19th birthday barely in the rearview, I realized that my period was late. Holy shit.

Three positive pregnancy tests later, my boyfriend and I were still in flat-out denial. Nothing short of a positive blood test in an ER convinced us of what we ought to have known to be true: I was pregnant.

Teenaged brunette stands arms lifted, in sweatpants and sports bra, sporting her baby bump.

Abortion was absolutely not an option for me, and A knew that. One way or another, our baby was coming into this world. At our tender age, this kind of situation could break a relationship beyond repair. It was a good thing that I had found a good guy, one who made it clear from the start that we were in this together.

We went straight to my house from the ER. I lived with my parents, and when Mama came home from work I didn’t waste any time in telling her. I stood in the doorway, blurted out “I’m pregnant,” and then turned and walked away with A and his friend, D, who was visiting from out of town and, by proxy, witnessed that day’s entire snafu. I can’t even remember where we were going. All I know is that I could and should have handled the situation so much more delicately. But again, I was 19 and probably in legitimate shock.

Just as she always has, Mama took charge of the situation and shepherded me through it. She arranged Medicaid coverage for me, found an ObGyn in-network, and got me in immediately for a first ultrasound.

Ultrasound of baby in first trimester.

A ghostly jellybean appeared on the black screen. Mama burst into tears; I didn’t. Because in my mind my intentions were crystal clear from that very first “doodle that can’t be undid.” I knew I couldn’t be this child’s mother. I knew that I would find someone not only better equipped for the task but also longing to embrace it.

And I won’t lie: my decision was not selfless. Selfishness played a much larger role in my choice than I cared to admit. That very selfishness is one of the many reasons why I have never had and will never have another child. But I digress.

My intention to adopt out my baby drove a painful, awkward wedge between Mama and me. Such an action was simply unheard of in our culture; if a mother was unable to fulfill her duties, a grandmother readily stepped up to the plate. Mama wanted to assume that role wholeheartedly, so much so that we fought over it constantly. But there were too many factors working against us, something I understood even at my young age. Mama worked a demanding full-time job in the legal field; there would be precious little time or energy left for a squalling newborn at the end of the day. Never mind the precarious financial situation we found ourselves in as the recession loomed.

So I stood firm, even as my most treasured relationship frayed under the strain. Ultimately, mama decided it was best that I go live with my boyfriend, so I moved into the 2/1 he shared with his brother and a roommate. With my portion of the expenses covered, I joined A in sleeping on the floor on nothing but a mattress pad. We upgraded to an actual mattress when we found one someone had disposed of on the property. Mama gifted us with a bed frame soon after.

I did my best to be responsible throughout the pregnancy. I took prenatal vitamins and modified my diet. I stopped eating raw sushi, my most favorite of the food groups. I attended all of my ObGyn appointments diligently, even though it meant a long bus-train-bus ride there and back. I adopted an uncomfortably colorful maternity wardrobe—uncomfortable because I had yet to relinquish my goth personal style at the time. I attended childbirth classes and even read the pregnancy bible, What To Expect When You’re Expecting.

Brunette shoots from high angle, hand on her growing pregnant belly.

But the fact was that I was scared witless. No amount of reading in the world can prepare you for those nine months of growing another human in your body. The fact that unplanned pregnancy was a hot topic in film that year didn’t help either. Knocked Up left me bawling in terror at the thought of giving actual birth. Juno struck way too close to home—still does to this day.

Moreover, I was stressed out half the time because A‘s brother and I didn’t get along. Like at all. We had horrific arguments both face-to-face and over text—don’t ask me why the hell we even had each other’s phone numbers—with A often caught in the middle. A and I had the occasional overblown tiff as well because, again, we were young and temperamental. At the end of the day, we were all just a bunch of kids trapped in an adult situation that none of us were equipped for.

The months marched on, closer and closer to my due date. My second ultrasound revealed that I was most likely having a girl; the final ultrasound in the third trimester confirmed it. A and I went back and forth on a name as if the very fate of humanity depended on it. We were surfing a very similar brainwave as far as a first-name so that part was easy enough, but the middle name was a nightmare. Eventually we came to a consensus. All the while, our search for a family to adopt our baby yielded nothing and time was running out.

Ghostly ultrasound of Baby A in S's womb for second trimester.

Ghostly ultrasound of Baby A in S's womb for second trimester.

Brunette stands in parking lots, thumbs hooked in jeans pockets, belly swollen to capacity.
This was snapped shortly before I went into labor.

I was spending the day at my great-aunt’s house when my contractions started. Just as the book and classes had taught me to do, I tracked the timing, frequency, and duration in a cute striped notebook. For two entire days I tracked, and in the dead of night, the time finally came. I called my mom and she picked A and me up at our apartment to drive us to the hospital. My regular ObGyn was unavailable for some reason, so a substitute met me at intake. I think I was induced. I’d grown a lot less fearful of needles due to their constant use throughout my pregnancy, but I still stared transfixed when a nurse inserted and secured an IV in my hand.

I forget how many hours I was in labor. Seven or eight, maybe? They sent A and Mama out of the room when the anesthesiologist administered my epidural. They told me I’d still be able to feel my contractions; I couldn’t. And all of the pressure in my uterus still hurt despite the anesthesia. I lost my head at one point and a nurse told me to keep my cool; in hindsight, I should have chewed her head off.

My best friend, Sissy, arrived at some point. She and A stood at either side of me holding my legs back when the time came to deliver the payload. Mama remained in the room but kept her distance, fretting all the while. A nice nurse crouched between my legs and urged me to “push-push-push-push-push.” The baby must have been crowning when I stopped, beyond exhausted, because the nurse gently prompted “don’t lose her.” So I mustered up what little energy I didn’t have and pushed for all I was worth.

The doctor asked me to stop for a moment so that he could turn the baby. I tried, but it was too little too late. The way I remember it, she flew up into the air and the doctor caught her like a football. I was probably delirious.

Newborn girl lays on blanket, squinting shiny tincture from her eyes.

And just like that, Baby A was born. Everything was a rush and a blur after that. The doctor stitched up my torn perineum, despite that at that point I didn’t want anyone to even talk to me, let alone touch me. Meanwhile, the nurses whisked away Baby A to clean her up and pass her around between Sissy and Mama and A. And then my turn finally came. Circumstances notwithstanding, I was happy to meet her.

Tousled brunette gazes somberly down at swaddled newborn girl in her arms.
Again, can’t you tell?

For months, Mama had beseeched and cajoled me to keep Baby A. As I gazed down at my daughter cradled in my arms, I finally caved to the pressure. In spite of everything, myself included, I decided I would try to be a mother. Even though deep down in the pit of my soul I knew I couldn’t be. Or at least not the mother Baby A deserved.

Ultimately, we spent three weeks together; it felt thrice as long.

The nurses escorted everyone from the room and took Baby A to the nursery. I got antsy when she was gone for too long and wandered on stiff legs into the hallway to find her, much to the nurses’ chagrin. One of them guided me back to bed with the assurance that I would be reunited with the baby soon enough.

It wasn’t soon; it was hours. By the time they returned my daughter to me, I had already been transferred to a different room for recovery. I can’t remember much from those days in the hospital. Being unable to breastfeed. Pressing the call button for a nurse, clutching Baby A in my arms and crying wretchedly because I couldn’t get her diaper on. Rolling the baby down with a procession of other newborns to the cardiology unit for an EKG.

I don’t remember much from our time at home together either. Everything I do remember is, I regret to say, heartbreaking. Mama made sure someone was always with me and Baby A because she could see just how much I was struggling.

One memory remains especially sharp: I spent a harrowing sleepless night holding Baby A, desperately trying to keep her from crying and waking her daddy and uncle who had to work the following day. The effort was obviously futile. In the wee hours, she started to cry, so I started to cry. A came out of the room bleary-eyed, nose running with a cold. I apologized, scared he’d be angry that I couldn’t keep her quiet. He wasn’t. He led me to our bedroom and took Baby A from me. I fretted, afraid she’d catch his cold, but said nothing. After holding her for a few minutes, he put both her and me to bed, the both of us still crying.

My step-aunt came to the apartment the following morning. I lifted Baby A out of her cot, mortified to find the sheets wet with urine. I felt so guilty; I apologized and laid her down to change her diaper. The remains of her umbilical cord poked out from her belly button, brown and dry. By pure accident, I plucked the excess off as I was changing her. I started hyperventilating, horrified that I might have hurt her. My step-aunt brought me back to my senses, made me see that Baby A was lying on the changing table unfazed. I looked down at her, uncertain, and murmured, “I’m so sorry.”

I cried a lot and lost a lot of sleep throughout those three weeks. I felt the most inadequate I’ve ever felt in my entire life. I probably had PPD but how the hell could I have known about that? How the hell could I have known that my daughter was lactose intolerant and that her formula was probably giving her colic? How the hell could I have known that her heart condition was so much worse than a murmur, as the cardiologist had led me to believe? I was floundering, clueless, useless. I wasn’t fit to be anyone’s mother, least of all Baby A.

I will say one thing that no one could deny: I was fiercely protective of my baby. Maybe a little too much. I remember visiting a family with a little girl, no older than five. She got a little too excited and jittery around Baby A, dancing around her and making grabby hands at her. So help me I wanted to smite that child because I was afraid she might accidentally hurt my daughter. I didn’t, of course, but the fact that it even crossed my mind spoke volumes.

One good thing came out of those three weeks. It provided the buffer necessary for me to find the perfect mother for my daughter. My aunt introduced me to her long-time friend, H, who had spent years searching and longing for a baby girl. We only needed to meet once for me to know that it was a perfect match. H was warm and kind, still is. And she understood and respected my wish that the adoption be open so that I might still see Baby A from time to time. Because I never intended to drop off the face of the Earth. I always intended to remain some tiny part of my daughter’s life so that she would never ever doubt.

I loved her. I love her. She would and will always be a part of my family, a part of me.

Brunette smiles, holds sleeping infant girl close to her heart.

The day came for Baby A and I to part ways. An attorney met us at my aunt’s house. I clutched my daughter close and cried at the thought of signing the adoption papers. Just because I knew it was the right thing to do didn’t mean it was easy. Not by any stretch of the imagination. The attorney laid a hand on my arm, looked me in the eyes, and told me this was a brave and amazing thing that I was doing. That she wished her own mother had found the courage to let her go. And as much as it tore me up inside, that’s exactly what I did.

I let Baby A go. To a much better life than one I could ever hope to give her. And though I find myself missing her a little more often these days, I’ve never once regretted my decision. There’s no room for regret when you know you’ve done right by someone who mattered so much.

Today is Mothers’ Day, and I’m a birth mom. So Happy Mothers’ Day: to me, to Mama, to you, to all of the mothers out there.

Brunette grins holding infant girl on her lap.

Three generations of brunettes —mother, daughter, infant granddaughter —smile together.

Brunette smiles, holds one-year-old birthday girl wearing a frilly pink dress.

Bonus: An actual hand-written journal entry I transcribed from that time.

2 Replies to “Happy Mother’s Day”

  1. This was so good you made me cry!!! Thanks for telling your story!! Happy Mother’s Day to you Sakura! You are strong and selfless that you were able to give your daughter a really good life! The pictures were so cute too! So many women suffer from PPD it’s so sad! So very happy you were able to talk about this and so happy for the woman you have become!!

    Like

    1. Thank you so much! ❤😭 It’s not an easy story to share, but I always want to be open about the big issues so that others out there might feel less alone if they’re going through something similar.

      Like

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