“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” – The Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King
Years ago, I visited a prison as a newspaper reporter to write a story about female inmates convicted of non-violent offenses who assisted the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection during wildfires.
The inmates considered the sentence a gift – a chance to get outside and be productive during their time. One of the girls I met looked to be about 20-years-old with the eyes of a much older, broken woman. Her crimes: drugs, petty theft and prostitution.
I asked what she missed most from home.
“My baby,” she said.
Years later, I found myself in prison.
I committed no crime except the one of expecting life to magically fall in line, and fulfill all my hopes and dreams of motherhood. When it failed to deliver, I played right into the hands of doubt, fear and cripling ego that dealt me a dreadful blow.
After more than a year of riding emotional tidalwaves between feeling fine about being childless and utterly consumed with despair – I hit a significant crossroads: my mother.
As a Christmas gift, I offered to pay for half of my parents plane tickets to come visit with us for a couple weeks. I missed my parents dearly and the time apart during such a miserable life experience left me missing them more than ever.
By that point, I had grown rather accostomed to pretending all was well. Projecting a put-together and well-adjusted career woman as no Meryl Streep performance could measure against and fooling most anyone into either believing the facade or being given reason enough not to ask.
Though I did underestimate my most devoted fan.
My mom saw through the garbage straight into me for who I was. She saw me as a child who allowed time and life experiences to pile a lot of nasty gunk on top of my true self. All those emotional, physical and material changes which may distract, but can never truly alter who we are at our deepest roots.
One day while the house was empty, she pulled me outside to the porch and pointed me to a chair at the patio table. She yanked a cigarette from her pack, tapped it lightly against the back of her hand, put it to her mouth and said: “We’re going to talk.”
She possessed the most unmistakeable and famous of “mom tones.” Even as a child playing as far away as possible from the house in our neighborhood, she would yell for us to come home for dinner. Despite the volume and distance, I could distinguish between “normal mom yell” and “you’re in trouble.”
“What is going on?” she asked. “Do you know what you’re all about?”
Frankly, I didn’t. My emotional state led me to become a work-a-holic prone to superficial distractions. It drained me so that I hardly recalled myself not under deress or strain.
All I could manage in response: “I don’t know. I’m lonely.”
She puffed out smoke and said: “I believe that you are. You need to find yourself and learn what you’re all about again. You need hope.”
Powerful, gigantic word when you feel so small; like a field mouse lifting a boulder.
Her direction: Stop listening to all the outside noise.
Seemed outside noise rang in my ears daily. I let my ear be bent by every person on the street who would instantly deem themselves fertility specialists by beginning: “My cousin did this …” or “You should do that …”
“What do you want?” she asked. “You have all the answers to your problems, but you have to love and trust yourself.”
Hard to find it when you feel isolated; trapped by the misery of your own design. The silence and shame hung around my neck and chained me down for a death sentence.
“You’re my most put-together child,” she said. “You’ve gone through a Hell of a lot to get where you are. Don’t let this stop you.”
I explained that I did not want to nor could I emotionally handle the trial-and-error process of fertility treatments right now. Perhaps it could be a later option.
“OK,” she said. “That’s a start. What about adoption?”
Adoption. It started an argument earlier in the process when I contacted the county for information. Brian didn’t want to “raise someone else’s kid” and thought I should “make more of an effort to exhaust all other options.”
My mom squashed out a cigarette and began a new one.
“I’ve seen you with kids, Erica,” she said. “A child from you or someone else will be your baby. Talk to him again.”
But what if he still rejects the notion? Where do we go from there?
“You have to be brave – life requires it,” she said. “Darlin’, I didn’t think I’d be divorced from my first husband with two young kids. Shit happens. And as hard as it was going through all that, I don’t regret a day because I would have missed out on your dad. Hell, keep trying doors until one opens.”
Mom knew best: I could give up or I could get up.
After our talk, she made me a lunch that provided solace as only a mom could. We sat at my dining room table talking about other sunnier topics.
I felt the chains loosen and grow lighter, a knot in my chest disappeared and my heart opened.
I felt free.
That night, I told Brian that I could be a better “me,” but I needed him to meet in the middle. He did not object; the conversation had begun.
Two days laters, I took the whole family to a drive-in movie to watch a double feature of “Sherlock Holmes” and “The Blind Side.” The winter air forced us all to stay in our cars – Whitney with me and Brian during “Sherlock” and then she switched to sit with my parents during “Blind Side.”
The second film was based on the true story of a white Southern family who adopts a teenage African American future professional football player. On the way home, Brian said: “That was better than I was expecting. Sort of changed my mind about adoption.”
A lock released. A door opened.
Over the next few months, my hope grew greater and stronger daily. I spoke to a friend, Barry, about the adoption of his daughter a decade ago through Adoption Center of San Diego and tomorrow, I’ll speak to another friend, Mindy, who went through the same nonprofit for her adoption.
Our orientation on May 13 – once a months away appointment – now happens in just over a week.
Today, its hard to remember the sad inmate my mother spoke with at Christmas. I hope to never meet her again. I hope to never lose sight of my true self. I hope to be a mom this time next year. I hope my baby’s laugh sounds a wonderful as it has in my dreams.