Sorority Sister

Tuesday night just as the youth choir sang the first few bars of the Star Spangled Banner, after I’d drunk down an inch of my Miller Lite, and before the Milwaukee Brewers took the field to lose what would be a 14-inning game to the Minnesota Twins, I read a text from my son-in-law telling me my twin grandsons had been born.

We knew it would be that night. Before we’d left the house for the game, a text had told us that my daughter’s preeclampsia had morphed into a more dangerous version. The babies were to be delivered right away. I was ecstatic. Not to have the babies born. To have my daughter out of her terrible, long ordeal of being pregnant with twins and suffering every symptom in the encyclopedia of multiple pregnancies. If a pregnancy-related problem, especially the more painful and disabling conditions, had ever been invented, dreamt, or dreaded, my daughter had had it. She was flypaper for every rotten problem floating by. I hated it. Watching her suffer was awful.

I’d watched in person for a while when she was hospitalized with early contractions. I flew to California, walked in to her dark hospital room and spent the next twelve days trying to convince her to play Scrabble. I helped her make it to the bathroom and looked at Facebook on my phone. In the mornings, I walked her daughter to school and after school took her shopping for deli meat loaf and wine. We slept in the same room, my granddaughter and me. She’d roll over on her cot and look at me in the middle of the night while I tried to hide the light of my Kindle.

After I saw that the lamp had left scorch marks on the spare pillowcase I’d used to douse the light a bit, I’d gone all dark, relying only on my phone for light. Messages would come at night from my son-in-law at the hospital. Sometimes happy. Sometimes very scary. The message that she had preeclampsia came at 12:30 one night. In the dark, I Googled preeclampsia and my mouth went dry. My God, I thought, she has what killed Lady Sybil on Downton Abbey.

Why is this happening? Why is this happening to her? I couldn’t stand it. She was grown, my girl, a big accomplished adult. When she was sick, she looked like my 9-year old. Pale and tired and fragile.

I kept doing what I knew how to do – going to the hospital for my day shift, sitting by her bedside cracking lame jokes, and going on special missions to Target. My triumph was finding three Vera Wang nightgown at Kohl’s Department Store so she could get out of the hospital gown and into something cute. I bought a robe and slippers and felt like mother of the year.

And then I came home. Her father was coming for a week and having both of us there would have certainly confused the sleeping arrangements (since we’ve been divorced for thirty years) and produced layers of parenting that no adult could tolerate. Better to take my leave.

So I did. Then after her father left, her mother-in-law came. Now my daughter had been discharged from the hospital and put on strict bed rest at home.

“How do you like having her there?” thinking maybe it was a little irritating having one’s mother-in-law around. I’m not suggesting anything, just thinking about my own mothers-in-law and wondering how long I’d be ok with them being in my house. So I was thinking, let’s give the poor girl a chance to vent about her mother-in-law.

“It’s great. She’s been cooking. Her plan is to make double of everything and fill our freezer.” My son-in-law’s mother, which makes her what to me? I don’t know, is Italian and her husband is Greek and they used to have a restaurant and she brought her recipe book, or so my daughter told me.

I’m wondering if they got rid of the rest of the deli meatloaf.

After another few days in the hospital instigated by a spike in her blood pressure, doctors released my daughter back to bed rest at home, knowing that her mother-in-law, an LPN, would take her blood pressure three times a day.

I’ve had my blood pressure taken a million times. I know it involves pumping the arm thing up, fiddling with a dial, watching a gauge and tracking time on a watch. I could only do one of those things at once. I could never have taken her blood pressure. I could, however, put my hand on her forehead and know if she has a fever. I’ve done this for four kids ever since we lost our family thermometer.

When my daughter sent me the picture of the stuffed artichokes, I cracked. This woman is really beating my time. How do you even stuff an artichoke? My husband and I Googled it and found out where the stuffing actually goes. We resolved to stuff artichokes the next weekend. I suffered with the artichoke picture. “I’m going to try to develop more things that I can do,” I said to my husband. “I want to be more accomplished, more competent.” He said that stuffing the artichokes could be our start.

And then it occurred to me. It’s not a competition.

I was glad my daughter’s mother-in-law was there. I was grateful. I was grateful that this person whom I have never met in person was mothering my sick child. Grateful that she was cooking and taking her blood pressure and fussing over her. Like we were secret sorority sisters, I knew she was doing what needed to be done. I knew there was some serious mothering going on and I was glad for it.

I sent her a message the night our twin grandsons were born. “Congratulations, Grandma,” I said.

“Congratulations, Grandma Jan,” she messaged back and told me about how one grandson, moments after he was born, had pulled the oxygen tube out of his nose. She saw them first. She did.

And that was fine with me. Very fine.

Soldier Through: The Adoption Home Study

Adoption social workers will tell you otherwise but few things are as daunting as the adoption home study. I personally think that the spectre of it deters a lot of people from going down the adoption road.  Guys especially are put off by the idea of a social worker asking a lot of questions.  Women? They’re kind of used to over-sharing and are likely to figure that if answering a bunch of intrusive questions about one’s life, marriage, finances, relatives, attitudes, beliefs, and child-raising philosophy is the price of getting a child, so be it.

Most of us have things in our pasts that don’t look so wholesome in the light of day.  Poor Newt Gingrich might have something to say about that.  But believe me, presidential politics and the muckraking it involves come nowhere near the water-boarding that is the adoption home study. 

My husband and I have been home-studied three times – once for each adopted kid.  The first time was by far the worst since we had been married only a short time and didn’t actually know much about each other.  Alot of the stuff he said in our interviews was a complete surprise to me.  Like, huh?  The social worker, an overly plump, officious woman who spent a lot of time complaining about her own 16-year old adopted daughter, set him off right away.  Each question just made it worse.  “How did he feel about my biological daughter?”  (He was still figuring that out.)  “Would the children be Christians or Jews?” (We had no idea. They ended up being Jews who celebrate Christmas.) He threatened to bail after every interview.

The kicking under the table became the steady beat that accompanied all of our visits with this lady who, mysteriously, changed her name — her FIRST NAME — between home study #1 and #2.  So odd.

Then there was the fingerprinting and the background checks and asking people to be references for us.  Yuck!  The only people we knew who would do this were people who would have to lie about us.

We got through it.  To me, the home study was the conversational equivalent of labor and childbirth.  Painful, intrusive and then over with.  The home study process is comprehensive and lengthy and there are no decent drugs or epidurals.  There’s also no sympathy or nice people waiting in the corridor.  No one strokes your forehead and tells you that you’re being strong and it’s almost over. 

You just feel really, really exposed when it’s done. Sort of like having your legs up in the stirrups. Ladies, you’re with me here?

My advice? Hold your husband’s hand or your partner’s hand or your own hand and soldier through it.  Strap on your backpack.  Lace up your boots. And just plow through it.

We’re waiting for you over here on the other side.


Another good resource is The Adoption Guide.