As I rocked Mari before bed on the eve of Beth's visit, I told her a story about her birth and her time together with Beth at the hospital. I talked her about Beth as a mother who was loving her and taking care of her before I even knew she existed. Words I had spoken over her and to her since she was mere days old, but ones that felt right to revisit on that night. When I had finished she asked to hear it again. And again a third time.
Not too long after we had put Mari to bed that night, Beth called with a traveling problem of the logistical sort--something small and easily solved but which felt insurmountable to her. Todd offered a solution all seemed well.
Maybe an hour later the phone rang again. It was Beth. She was feeling overwhelmed by the thought of seeing Mari. There were two things making it especially hard, both that had come up at our last visit in the late summer. One, how hard it was to see Mari coming to me as a the everyday/primary/known/comforting mommy and know she would never have that with her. And, two, feeling like Mari didn't really know who she was or want to be with her so why bother? (At our last visit Beth really wanted us all to spend time with another family who is important to her. It was nice to see them, but when faced with a group of strangers like that Mari goes into shut-down, only-talk-to-mommy-and-daddy mode. So it wasn't the best interaction between her and Beth.) Thinking about those two things, she wasn't sure she was up to coming.
Beth has been through some incredibly scary things this past year. Things I've only faced in nightmares. She's found support and strength and love in the midst of it all, but it's left her with little in the way of emotional reserves. I think the challenge that open adoption can sometimes be just felt like too much to handle.
She and Todd talked for a long time (he was the one who had picked up the phone), Todd listening a lot and sometimes sharing. I heard him tell her about Mari asking to hear her birth story three times that night. He shared about the twinge he sometimes feels when he sees Eddie's first dad with Eddie and acknowledged that it must be one thousandfold harder for her. They talked about how different Mari would probably be in the safe space of her own home and how these early visits are all building blocks of her and Beth's future relationship. And that of course we'd understand if taking care of herself right now meant she couldn't come.
By the phone call's end Beth said her fears had quieted. So the next day I stood in front of the bus station with an expectant child on each side clutching a hand. The big bus pulled up and a group of passengers trailed out, some greeting other waiting folks. No Beth. The other passengers grabbed their luggage before trickling into the parking lot, until there was no one left but the people waiting to board. Still no Beth. The waiting passengers began to board.
My heart didn't sink. But it did start to teeter.
To be continued...