My children are adopted. Not because I’m the benevolent sort who goes around picking up street urchins in order to give them a good home, but because I totally sucked at getting pregnant.
It started with an ectopic pregnancy that almost ended me and caused so much damage that I ended up getting fertility treatments for years, some of which involved my husband shooting me up with hormones. He was a dentist. Great with needles in the mouth, not so much in the ass. It was miserable, taking my temperature every day, sex according to a calendar, the drugs. There was a point back in 1982 when I was hopped up on enough follicle-stimulating hormone to make a stud horse in Kentucky hard. Problem was I lived in Chicago.
Eventually I got lucky—not pregnant—but lucky. My son Matthew was born. A former roommate of my husband, an OB-GYN in Wisconsin called in the middle of the night saying, “Sure is nice waking somebody else up at four in the morning. Congratulations, you have a baby boy!” Matthew was perfect. We were ecstatic. Everybody was thrilled. We had a baby shower, the grandparents flew in, I reveled at getting up for two o’clock feedings. Everybody said the sweetest things—except now and then there’d be some blue haired bitty who would shake her head while looking at my beautiful little boy and say, “If his mother only knew what she was missing.”
Well, I can promise you I didn’t miss a thing when I was sitting on the edge of the tub last night in a fog of steam while this little guy struggled with croup! I would think, but of course never say. And then there was the woman who asked me once if I knew everything I needed to know about his “real mother.” His real mother has real baby shit under her fingernails. And it smells real, bitch! But again, I would just smile and change the subject.
Most of the time people were lovely when they found out my son was adopted. But it began to bother me that I felt so compelled to offer up the fact so freely. Someone would say, “Jesus, he’s huge and you’re so tiny. Is your husband a linebacker for the Bears?” I’d laugh and say, no, no, no. Matt’s adopted. Or someone would comment on his beautiful green eyes and I’d easily volunteer that he was adopted. When he was about two and a half, I vowed to stop this unsolicited practice. After all, why did total strangers need to know my son was born in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin before he came home to his parents?
I had taken Matt to Lincoln Park one day. I was sitting on a bench with a woman whose little boy, not much younger than Matt, was being breastfed. The full-figured mom was also a full exposure breastfeeder. You know the type, the ones who silently shout to the world that it is my right, goddamn it, to whip out the only natural and scientifically proven delivery system of powerhouse nutrition for the human child— wherever and whenever I please. AND just try to stop me!
When the little boy was done, he hopped off her knee and began playing with my son in the sandbox. But Matt was far more taken with the woman’s breast than the buckets and shovels. He kept staring and eventually went up to the woman and reached out a finger to touch the thing. She scowled at my son, pulled away and covered herself, saying, “My God, you’d think he’d never seen a breast.”
Well, not one the size of a hot air balloon, I thought, but of course did not say.
“He looks just past weaning himself,” she said. Matt was two and a half. He hadn’t used a bottle for over a year.
“He is weaned, isn’t he?” the woman looked at me with a hint of admiration. I thought about it for a moment. After all, this was my cue. But my answer shocked even myself.
“Actually, I didn’t breastfeed him.”
Shock and downright incredulity overtook the woman’s face. “Oh, my God,” she said. “The immunities he’s missing! You must be worried sick.”
And the truth was she had me. It did bother me. It tugged at my heart and hurt like hell that I wasn’t able to carry this beautiful little boy inside me, experience his birth, and have him feed at my breast passing along my supermom immunities in the process.
But, let’s face it, the woman was a bitch. Around this time her son hopped up on her lap again and asked for more “nummy.” Once again she whipped it out and he latched on like a magnet. I have to say, if a kid can hop up on your knee, grab the thing with both hands and tilt his head back like he’s draining a long neck Budweiser, it’s time to get the kid his own bottle—with some good ole fashioned USDA inspected, Vitamin D milk in the thing.
Then I did it. “Actually,” I looked at the woman. “He’s adopted.” I said it this one last time because I wanted to make her feel bad. She didn’t.
“I have a niece who’s adopted,” she said, not missing a beat.
“Oh, how old?” I gathered my son’s things and reached for his hand signaling it was time to head home.
“Fourteen,” she said.
“They live around here?” I clicked Matt into the stroller.
“Well, the parents are in Evanston,” she fiddled with the button of her blouse. “But the kid’s in rehab. You know how it is when you adopt, you never really know what you’re getting.”
I had vowed that I wouldn’t use bad language around my son. They’re parrots at two and a half. I must have broken my vow leaving the park, because sure enough later that day when he was playing with a couple of stuffed animals in his room I heard the giraffe call the elephant a “fucking bitch.”
A month later, my daughter was born. Beautiful, perfect Emma was born on a Friday and home on Monday. She was tiny, with eyes like big black buttons. Our house was a very, very, very fine house. A boy and girl and two cats in the yard.
Emma was just weeks old when I ran out to the grocery store one horrid raining night in October. She was cradled in the top of the cart all swaddled in fleecy pink blankets. As I was making my way through the checkout when a cart hit me from behind. Just a slight tap on the ass, still, I turned and the man behind me apologized.
“So sorry,” he said, then saw my baby. “Jeez, she’s beautiful. How old?”
“Two and a half weeks,” I said, beaming.
“Wow. Two and a half weeks! God, you look great.” He blushed. “Sorry, but you do. Two and a half weeks? Jeez.” He was a nice looking man, slender, suit, tie, around my age.
I just smiled and began lifting the Pampers, baby wipes and formula onto the belt. Lightning flashed outside and torrents of rain fell.
“Two and a half weeks?” He said it again. “You know, I have a kid at home, little boy, almost two and my wife is really struggling to lose those last few pounds. She swears that breastfeeding does the trick, but I see you’re using formula.”
What an intrusive asshole. I gave the man a wan smile and got out my wallet.
“Two and a half weeks.” I couldn’t believe he said it again. “You do yoga?”
I tuned to the man, lifting the hood of my raincoat over my head. “Yeah, yoga,” I said. “Works miracles—in just two and a half weeks.” What a jerk.
I left the store, draping my coat over my baby who snoozed away oblivious of the storm. As I dodged puddles I began to think maybe I should go back and tell the guy. I mean, maybe he was a real asshole. Maybe he was going to go home and yell at his wife: Hey, I just saw this woman in the grocery store. Had a two and a half week old kid. Looks damn good. I think it’s time you hit the gym, babe!
No! Not my problem. If they have marital issues, it’s not my concern. I do not have to tell every Tom, Dick and Harry I meet at the park, or in the grocery store that my kids are adopted.
I got to the car, got Emma buckled into her car seat, piled the groceries in the back and just as I was about to put the key in the ignition I thought: Shit, maybe he’s a real bad guy. I mean, you hear about horrible things. You watch the news, for Christ’s sake, and see stuff that makes you clutch your heart. A perfectly normal looking guy could go in the house, slam the door and say, Hey, bitch! I’ve had it with the fat ass and the roll around the middle. I just saw a chick at the store, has a two and a half week old kid. Looks like a million bucks. Cut the shit and get your ass back into shape—or I’m outa here! Maybe a whack across the chops just to make sure she heard him.
Just then, I heard the hatch of the car next to me slam. Through the rain I could see it was the guy. Ok, I said to myself. This is the last time. I swear to God I will never tell another stranger that my kids are adopted. But this guy’s wife deserves a break. I had tons of friends who had C-sections and really struggled to get their bodies back.
I get out of my car and hurry around to the driver’s side of the car next to me. I can’t see a thing. It’s dark and pouring, my hair is plastered to my face and in my eyes. I bang on the window. As soon as it opens I say, “Hey, listen, mister, about what went on in there between us, there’s something I have to tell you…” All the sudden the interior lights in the car go on and I see that the guy is sitting on the passenger side of the car—and I’m talking to his wife.
“Oh, really?” The woman’s head bobs. “Exactly what went on in there between you two that you gotta tell my husband?” She looked at him, then back to me. “What is it you forgot to say?” And then it clicks. She doesn’t recognize me, but I’ll never forget the bitch from the park, and there’s no way in hell I’m going to remind her. It occurs to me—they deserve each other. I look over at the guy and he’s dying. He’s giving me this look that says, please, lady, don’t, please. Again the woman asks me what I want to tell her husband. And I got nothing. I’m as blank as a sheet of paper. Then I look back at the grocery store and I see a sign—a real sign.
“Jeez,” I said. “What was is now? Oh, yes. Whole Milk,” I look at the husband. “You mentioned your wife was weaning your little boy. They have whole milk on sale. A dollar ninety-nine a gallon.” I tapped a goodbye on the roof of the car and ran. I ran like hell to my car, scare to death she’d come after me. Yoga or no yoga, I was not match for an angry fat woman who couldn’t tell whether she wanted to beat the shit out of her husband or the messenger.
But I didn’t get in the front seat. I opened the back door and slid into the back seat. I unbuckled my baby and pulled her into my arms. And I sobbed. Oh, God, remember that feeling of bliss when their little heads smelled like Johnson’s baby shampoo and angel wings? While my little Emma sucked at her fist I sobbed. I cried until I finally realized that all that sadness and pain I had carried about not being to carry my own babies within me, about not knowing the pain and miracles of their births, not being able to give them my supermom immunities—that was all about me. My kids were fine. They were perfect and loved and happy. I kissed my sweetie’s head and realized that if either one of them ever got some horrid illness that my immunities could possibly have protected them from, I would move fucking heaven and hell to make them well. Because that’s the kind of mother I am.
Mary Dean Cason is a cofounder of Indigan Storytellers, a traveling workshop and performance venue that has journeyed as far as The International Storytelling Festival in San Miguel, Mexico. She is a featured writer/performer at a number of story telling venues, including Story Club, Michigan’s Acorn Theater, and Story Sessions. Her first book, What Solomon Saw and Other Stories is available through Amazon. Cason’s awards include the University of Memphis Pinch Award, The University of Chicago Writer’s Studio Prize for Fiction. She was a finalist in Chicago Public Radio’s Stories on Stage. Learn more at marydeancason.com.