I noticed the woman by my desk immediately when I entered the news room. She wasn’t sitting in my side chair, waiting; she was pacing back and forth, playing with her hands. When the secretary told me she wanted my help to write a classified ad, I was doubly intrigued. Our paper is small, but I’m a features writer; I don’t usually sell ad space. And people who place ads to sell things like houses, cars or pianos usually do it over the phone. But as I was about to find out, people who place ads to sell themselves do it in person.
The ad that the woman wanted to place was to adopt a baby. It was very important to her that the wording be just right, so she had asked to speak to a writer. Of course, I’d seen ads in the big newspapers like the one she wanted to place, but our newspaper had not, as far as I knew, ever run one. Still, there are standard grab lines for these ads. I suggested several to her: wanted, Baby to Love; Please Give Us Hope; or Dean Birth Mother, Let Us Help You. The ad would contain information about her and her husband – that they were stable, could afford to raise a child, and that they had a lot of love to give. We included a toll-free number that a birth mother could use at any hour of the day or night to contact the couple. What I tried to keep out of the copy was the desperation I could hear in this woman’s voice.
I spent a lot of time with her. I could see how difficult this was for her. She looked to be about my age-in her early forties-and she kept twisting her wedding band nervously. When her eyes rested for a moment on the photo on my desk of my four daughters, she said, “You are so fortunate.”
“I know,” I answered. And then, because I didn’t know what else to say. I said, “Maybe you will be, too.” But then something occurred to me: The major newspapers carried ads like these often, and their circulations were hundreds of times what ours was. Why. I wondered, didn’t this woman try those papers?
“I already have,” she said. “In fact, we’ve advertised everywhere and tried every imaginable avenue. My husband and I have really decided to stop trying. But I work close to here, and I decided on my way in this morning that one more ad wouldn’t hurt. And who knows?” She smiled weakly, handed me a check to run the ad for the three weeks and left.
I felt so sad for this woman. The news stories were always filled with adoption heartaches: People would go to foreign countries in search of adoptable children, only to meet with bureaucratic red tape. They would incur huge expenses, only to be duped by unscrupulous lawyers or baby brokers. Even if an adaptation went well, through proper channels, there were court cases where the adoptive parents had to give up the baby when the birth parent changes his or her mind.
Yes, I was lucky. I glanced at the photo of my kids and went back to work.
A week later, the woman called. ‘Please don’t run the ad again,” she said. Something in her tone of voice made me dare to ask if she had good news.
“Yes,” she said. “We’ve connected with a birth mother. The baby. Due in a month!”
“That’s great news!” I said. “I hope it all goes well.” Then, because I’m a features writer, I asked her if she would keep in touch if her adoption experience turned out to have a happy ending. She agreed.
A month later, the woman called to tell me that she and her husband had a son. All had gone smoothly, but the adoption would not be final for six months. At the end of that time, she would feel comfortable giving me the story.
I thought about that woman many times over the next six months, particularly when a news story came across my desk that had anything to do with a child. And there were plenty of stories during that time period: The world’s first set of living septuplets was born in Iowa. A Wisconsin couple was indicted on child abuse charges; they had kept their seven-year-old daughter in an animal cage in a dark, cold basement. A newborn was kidnapped from the nursery of a country hospital but found unharmed and returned to his mother.
All of these stories evoked strong emotion in me. But I had a personal involvement in the drama of this woman’s adoption experience. I think I identified with her in some way. I couldn’t imagine what my life would be like if I had been childless. I didn’t want to try.
One winter afternoon, as I was bundling up to leave for the day, my mind on carpools and dinner, and my phone rang. I recognized her voice immediately.
“The adoption is final!” she said. “I knew he was ours from the moment he was put into my arms, but now it’s all legal and finished! Would you like to come and meet him?”
I was so happy to hear good news. I made an appointment with her for the next day. I also told her that I would bring a photographer with me and the newspaper would love to give her a free portrait.
When we arrived at her home, the baby was sleeping. The woman ushered us in and offered us refreshments. Everything in the house was lovely. The smell of cinnamon added to the coffee and the atmosphere. The fire crackled in the fireplace.
“His name is Ben,” she said, as I started to take notes, “He slept through the night right from the start. Now he’s smiling and starting to turn over. Of course, I’m not rushing him. I waited so long for this baby. If he’s a little slow, it’s okay with me.” She paused. “Oh, I should tell you – Ben has Down’s syndrome.”
I stopped writing. I wasn’t sure how to react. But the new mother smiled. ”Ben was meant for us, don’t you see? I’ve got plenty of time to help him, and he needs me even more than a normally developing child would.”
At that moment, the baby monitor on the coffee table told us that Ben was up. His mother went to get him. I could hear her crooning softly to him as she picked him up and changed him. And I could hear his contented cooing in response.
She sat on the sofa, holding her son. Both of them smiled as the photographer took the picture, “You wanted a story with a happy ending.” Said, my new friend.” You got it.”
As I put on my coat, took a last look around that house and watched her kiss the top of her son’s head softly, I knew, without a doubt, she was right.
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