Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Welcome to the Island, Part I

a story about situational anxiety in adoption

Once there were two moms. One lived in Alaska. The other lived in Iceland. They were both pros at things like covering exposed skin against the bitter winter cold and turning on headlights to drive in the mid-morning winter darkness. Neither woman realized she did these things. They just did as everyone did at that latitude on the globe.

Both moms wanted to adopt a child. Each had Internet access, Amazon delivery and friends who had adopted. Each did her homework and came away assured that adoption was a wonderful way to build her family. Living on separate continents, of course, the two moms used different home study agencies. But each completed her agency's pre-adoption preparation requirements and passed the home study with flying colors. Each receive a referral almost immediately. Now the real fun was about to begin: the wait to travel to bring home the child.

According to their home studies, both moms were as ready as they could be for the "journey" --to use the word professionals used to describe the adoption process. But neither one guessed that "journey" wasn't a metaphor.

One day, several months into her wait to travel, the mom from Alaska woke up suddenly at 5:00 AM to the uncomfortable sight of too much sun streaming into her room. Sunlight so bright she had to shade her eyes against the glare. Sunlight so warm she felt hot in her winter pajamas. When she got up to pull the shade, her feet hit a title floor warmed by the sun. That was her second clue she wasn't at home any more. The third clue was the view she saw through the floor to ceiling windows: sugar white sand and turquoise blue water framed by palm trees.

"Wow," she thought to herself. "They said we should expect the unexpected. I never expected the adoption journey would take me to a place like this. But I really want to adopt and I don't think I have a lot of choice. So I'll try to make the best of it while I'm here."


Later that morning, strolling on the beach, the mom from Alaska met the mom from Iceland. It turned out that the Icelander had also been surprised to fall asleep at home in deep winter and wake up this morning in the tropics. They laughed out loud as they traded stories, finding out how much they had in common.

"I have no idea how the people who live on this island manage," the mom from Iceland said, rubbing her hands up and down her bare arms. "It feels so strange to have the wind on my skin, you know? It is warm wind and I guess I should feel grateful. But it is irritating. It makes me want to grab a sweater to keep the wind off. But then I'd be way too hot!"

"I know," the mom from Alaska agreed. "And what's with these huge bottles of sun screen? At home I only use it on my nose and have to throw away a small tube half-full because it always expires before I use it all. Here they must go through liters of sunscreen every year. There's so much exposed skin to cover! It took me longer to put it on than it took me to take my shower! No wonder time runs so slow on this island:  it has to because it takes so long just to get out the door!"

The two moms walked the beach together daily sharing stories. But as the months wore on, the mom from Alaska found herself laughing less and less. Things she could joke about in the beginning were really wearing on her now. But she tried to nod and smile a lot and bear up as well as her friend from Iceland.

"And what about having to wash the sand off before you step inside?" the Icelander complained one morning. "There is sand everywhere. It was novel the first day or two. But now I'm just sick and tired of tracking sand wherever I go. I mean at home we just pop off our boots at the door, step into our slippers and we're good to go in the house. Here, I bring the outdoors inside all the time."

The mom from Alaska stopped walking and lowered her voice. "There is even sand in my bed," she confided. First we have to wait until 10:00 PM for the sun to go down. Then just when I'm hoping I can get a little sleep before the sun comes back up so bright and early, I find there's sand in my sheets. Again. I get up and shake the sheets out. But I never can get it all. I get up and shake the sheets again. But I just can't escape the sand. I can't sleep. I'm exhausted."

"I know," the other mom said, giving her a hug. "There is sand in my bed, too. I don't know how people get throught this journey, but they do. We just have to hang in there a little longer. Then it will be our turn to get our child and we'll be out of here. Just think of it: HOME! Except this winter we'll each have small snowsuit hanging by the door. And little tiny mittens drying in the rack by the fireplace..." She stopped dreaming aloud because she realized her friend was sobbing.

The Icelander hugged her friend closer. "It is going to be okay, you know. We are going to make it! I mean have you realized we've even started adapting to this climate?" She told a joke on herself. "It has been weeks since I killed the car battery leaving the headlights on during the day! And you haven't forgotten your sun hat in more than a month. We're getting good at this island thing! We'll get through it together!"

The mom from Alaska shook her head. When she lifted her eyes, her friend saw something deeply troubled there.

"Thanks for trying. Really," she said through her tears. "You'll make it. I know you will. But I'm never going to see my baby."

"Of course you'll..."

"No," the mom from Alaska cut her off. "I won't. I have skin cancer." The rest of her story spilled out. "There is a little more every day. The red patches are everywhere now: irregular, with spreading margins. The lesions bleed and scab. I have all the classic symptoms. It is why the sand hurts so much at night. I just can't keep sand out of the wounds... It's killing me. I can feel it in my bones. There's no hospital here so I can't do anything about it except lay awake all night worrying... How will my husband do without me? Will they even let him bring the baby home if I'm gone? And my poor baby... he didn't do anything to deserve losing his first mother and now he's losing me and I've never even met him... I figure if I can just hang on until my son comes home, maybe they'll let my husband keep him and our baby won't have to wait for a family all over again..."

The mom from Iceland was almost speechless. "I'm so sorry," she said, fighting back her own tears. "I had no idea you have cancer...all this time together and I never guessed. You've hid it so well. You've been so brave... So you had cancer before? It went away so they agreed you could adopt? But now you're afraid your cancer is back?"

The weeping mom shook her head. "No. I never had cancer before. I first noticed it after we got here...My husband is a doctor. I'm sure he could have helped me. But he doesn't even know... you know how isolated we are here..."

The Icelander started problem-solving on behalf of her distraught friend. "How about that special satellite phone they gave us? They said it was pre-programmed to call our social worker. My social worker has always been so helpful...well, I mean she was so helpful, during the home study and all. I haven't talked to her since we got here... But I bet your social worker can get you off the island, get you to a doctor..."

"I can't call my Social Worker!" Alaska Mom said, aghast that her friend from Iceland didn't get it. "That's exactly why I can't tell her! They'll take me off the island for sure! They'd never send a baby home to a mom who has cancer. My husband has wanted to be a daddy for so long.... And my baby would be stuck in bureaucratic limbo for another year at least while they tried to find him another family. And by then he'd be so old, would anyone want to adopt him? I am his only way out of the system...."

to be continued

1 comment:

Stephanie said...

Okay, you got me Carrie- I have no idea where this is headed:)and I can't wait to hear the rest!!