The elevator bell rang many times in that hour: but I knew when it was them. I knew. All the air went out of the room and a terrible heaviness worked its way down from my stiff frozen face to my tightly contracted stomach. I had no fear. My eyes were dry as old bone. I had no room for anything but the incredible weight of what was coming. It was time to sign the papers that would terminate my natural rights as a mother. I was 17. I was alone. Every cell in my body was screaming, where's the baby? My breasts leaked milk for him. I had not been allowed to touch him him since the moment he was born. And now it was time to do what I had waited these 9 long months for. It was time to do right by my boy.
I knew I would have to wait until 24 hours after his birth, so that I could not later claim that I had been influenced by medications and cause any upheaval in my son's new life. My son's new life: I had given him life by birth, but now it was time for me to really give him life. My parents had offered to help me raise him, but frankly I would have sold my ass on every street corner in hell rather than let them get near my child. They were NOT going to have a chance to hurt him in any of the ways that they had hurt me. I knew I could do better for him than that.
I had watched the clock, and I called the nuns when it had been exactly 23 hours since his birth. I asked them to bring the papers. I added one request: please, hurry.
Sister Janice came promptly, in her habit and her sensible shoes. For the first time since I had met her, she did not make any of her trademark bad jokes. She gently asked me if I wanted to talk, and laid her hand on mine: I said no, please, let's just get this over with, and moved my hand. I could not bear to be comforted. She had to read page after page of legal documents to me, and I tried not to listen but I heard every word. They needed to make sure that I understood exactly what I was giving up. And in spite of the legalese, the words hammered home over and over again what signing these papers would mean. Everything I was giving up. Everything I would never have. Everything. I did not cry. I did not fidget. I nodded when required. I could barely breathe. I listened for almost an hour, and then finally, it was done. I had listened to all the words and signed all the things. I had given my son up for all time.
She asked me if I wanted her to stay, and I said no, I need to be alone for now. She hugged me briefly and she walked away. I heard the elevator bell again, and I knew that she was gone. So I got up and went to the nursery. And there he was, the one with no name on his tag. I had always thought of him as Ian Andrew, but his parents would be the ones to name him. Not me. I watched at the nursery window, and he started crying. The nurses were busy tending to other babies, so I tapped on the glass to get their attention because my baby was crying and I could not touch him. They didn't hear me. I started knocking on the glass and they still couldn't hear me. I started banging on the glass. MY BABY WAS CRYING AND I COULD NOT TOUCH HIM.
They still couldn't hear me.
Finally, I stopped.
I walked back to my room somehow. I could not cry. I could barely breathe. And the true weight of what I had done began to dawn on me, in waves of pain too great to allow for tears. I sat on the bed and just kept breathing. There was no escape, there was no relief. All I had was the knowledge that I had done my best for him. It was small comfort at that moment. I don't know how long I sat there, hours maybe, until they brought me more drugs and I slept. I did not feel 17 anymore. I never felt 17 again.
The pain and the loss were with me every waking minute for so, so long: but as in all things, even pain changes with time, gets made smoother as does any rock tumbling through the turbulent waters of life. 32 years later, there is no pain left, but there will always be something missing, an empty space deep in me that calls quietly for him. Maybe I will meet him one day. The odds are frankly against it, but I choose to believe that I will see him one day, that I will hold him close in a bone-crushing hug and smell his skin and have a chance to tell him how very much I loved him. I have never regretted my decision, but until I can touch him again, I will never be complete. And so I hope. Fuck the odds. I will hope.