They ask me if I want to hold her. Sometimes, the birth mother doesn’t want to. The first year, there is no letter, only legal documents.
She is perfect and round, with a kewpie swirl of hair on her forehead.
She wears a beautiful pink collared dress with embroidered cherries, but it looks uncomfortable, a clawing at the neck that I can feel. She sits on a red-and-white checkered picnic blanket beneath a willow; the letter details their move to a house in the suburbs.
Another baby’s chubby elbow is nearly-but-not-quite cropped out of the edge of the photo. They have expanded their family. I know what it is like to feel that echo, a ghost limb just outside of my peripheral vision.
I am living in an apartment in Brooklyn with two other girls I don’t know very well. I watch the calendar with an invisible circle around her birthday, worrying that my mail forwarding will fail somehow. My roommates wonder why I’m sad for a few days, chalking it up to PMS or some man.
I don’t tell them that after the baby, I spent the next semester drifting through my classes like a cloud. When my GPA tanked, I took a semester off to lick my wounds, curled up in my childhood bed at home, before finishing the remaining years at the state school in my parents’ town before making my way out only now to re-start my “real” life.
It’s a kindergarten picture. Her pale-blue uniform shirt is perfectly pressed, her hair immaculately braided. Now every time there is a school shooting, I will hold my breath and hope they haven’t moved again without my knowing.
In the bedroom of our little rented cottage in Bronxville, the grad student who will eventually become my husband listens to my hushed whispers in the dark, punctuated by sobs. He claims he understands, but how could he? To have lost something he held within him, to feel that connection across distance. We both put it away until the next year’s annual update arrives.
A gap-toothed smile. So charming.
A too-short, awkward haircut. I send wedding pictures in my return letter.
My new daughter is 6 weeks old, her wispy hair swirling into a hurricane on her grapefruit head. I pet and pet it. People congratulate us; when they use the word “firstborn” I wince. I show her the picture, her eyes too hazy and unfocused to register the same hazel eyes, the same dimple when she smiles.
Another school picture with an unfortunate haircut.
I have just discovered I am pregnant again. I guess that was easy, says my husband, who has always wanted only two children. Sorry, he says, when he sees my face.
A teenage scowl and skull jewelry. I remember what it was like; how worried my parents were that I would “turn out wrong” when I started listening to music that tested their commitment to never yelling at their kids to turn it down. I guess they were right, since the guy who got me pregnant took me to a Mastodon/Dillinger Escape Plan show that summer, thankfully not the night she was conceived.
I hope the parents aren’t being too hard on her.
Less jewelry, more eyeliner. They worry because her grades have slipped and she is asking a lot of questions. What kind of questions I can only wonder, since they don’t get specific. They have moved again, an impressive expanse of yard in the background. She hates the new house, I can tell by the set of her shoulders, her angle away from it.
The letter arrives, the address written in a looping, girlish hand, and I know. I know before I even open it that it is written by her. I hope this is okay. I’d like to meet you. And my heart is whole enough that it is able to answer yes, yes, yes.