Their journey started with—of all things—a scream. It was not a scream of excitement. It was not a scream of joy. It was not a scream of glee. It was a shriek of pure terror.
Matt dropped the remote and raced to the epicenter, his master bathroom.
“Liz?” He called up the steps. “Elizabeth, are you okay?” She came racing out of the bedroom and nearly crashed into him. He took her by the arms. “Liz what’s wrong?”
“I—I’m bleeding.” She stammered. “I think it’s the baby.”
“Let’s go. Should we go to the hospital, or Dr. Shea’s?”
She swallowed. “Dr. Shea’s.” She stepped into her shoes and they rushed off.
Matt knew he was breaking the speed limit big time, but he hoped and prayed he wouldn’t get pulled over. He knew it was horribly hypocritical for a cop to speed. For once, his rush was honestly urgent. Liz was on the phone with their OB.
“She’s there, she pushed her appointment aside and she can take us when we get there.” She sighed and brushed her eyes with one hand, the other resting on her stomach. She was feeling a little weak. “Matt,” she began, and looked over at her husband. He gripped the wheel so hard his knuckles turned white. His face was hard, his blonde hair shaggy. “Did—did I wake you up?”
He shook his head. “I wasn’t asleep, don’t worry about it.” He took her hand. “Let’s get you taken care of.”
They were called back right away and greeted by Dr. Shea who ushered them into an exam room.
“Now, why are we here? You said you were having some bleeding, right?”
Liz nodded. “I was sick to my stomach this morning, but I have been all week…But I really wasn’t feeling well, so I decided to lay down. I started having some cramps in my stomach, like period cramps, but I ignored it. Then I—I got up to go to the restroom, and I was bleeding…it’s—it’s pretty heavy.”
“Okay, let’s go across the hall honey and do an ultrasound.”
Liz carefully got down and followed the doctor on shaky legs and gripping Matt’s hand for dear life. She slipped her pants off and climbed on the table. Doctor Shea put a blanket over her knees, grabbed the wand and turned the screen to face away from the couple. Matt pressed his lips to Liz’s temple. “I love you,” he whispered in her ear. Liz squeezed his hand. They knew from the doctor’s face it wasn’t good news.
“Elizabeth,” Doctor Shea said. “I’m so sorry. You’ve lost the baby.”
“No,” she choked out, the tears already coming. “No, no.” She dropped her head and sobbed. The tears ran down her neck; she felt Matt’s arms wrap around her shaking shoulders. No one could say anything. Loss is a thick silence that falls in every empty space and covers like a fog. It’s a kind of pain all its own—few experiences can leave a person in such deep physical and emotional pain. The doctor peeled off her gloves and quietly put the ultrasound wand back in its holder.
“What—What happened?” Liz finally asked. Her nose was runny from crying and her eyes were red. What did I do wrong?
“You have what’s called an inevitable miscarriage.” The doctor explained. “The baby died and… you’re delivering it as we speak. That’s what the bleeding is.”
Liz swallowed hard.
“It’s nothing either of you did or didn’t do. I’m afraid it’s fairly common. The good news is most women who have a miscarriage like yours can go on to have a healthy pregnancy in the future. What I’d like to do in your case is what’s called a D and C. We’ll do it under general anesthesia, since it’s uncomfortable.” She explained how she would clear away the excess tissue.
“That excess tissue…” Liz choked out. “Is that the baby?” The tears kept flowing and she shook. She couldn’t bear the idea…she would be asleep, while a doctor scraped her dead baby out of her. I’ve killed my own child. She thought.
“No. But there is scaring and tissues. You’ve already…passed the baby. It might not have formed at all.” She stumbled over her words. She’d been through this with patients many times before…but that didn’t desensitize her to heartbreak.
“Our baby’s in Heaven, Liz.” Matt added, wiping his puffy eyes. “There’s a plan for all of us, you know that. God needed to…to take he…or she home with Him.” A lone tear wiggled down his face and he didn’t wipe it away.
She squeezed his hand. “I know…” she cried. “I just finally thought I was gonna be a Mom. We…we’ve tried for two years.” And then she felt selfish, complaining about herself when it was the baby.
“Do you wanna pray with me, honey?” Matt whispered. “Will you pray with me?”
“I’ll leave you alone a moment.” Doctor Shea said quietly. “I’m going to go write you a prescription…something for pain.”
Elizabeth nodded. “Thank you.” She murmured and put her hands in Matt’s.
“God,” he began and cleared his throat. “Watch over our little baby. We know you have a reason for taking him or her to Heaven with you and…we trust you. Help us heal through this time of sorrow and...and…” Dare he say it now? “If the time is right, Lord, give us another baby someday.”
“Amen.” Liz whispered.
State puts more budget cuts into local schools.
Matt had been reading the same headline for the last five minutes. It didn’t apply to him…he didn’t have kids. He didn’t have any attachment to the school. But just last week, as they were holding hands over her belly, they watched a group of neighbor kids heading off to catch the bus. About six years. Liz had said. And that’ll be our kid.
He snapped the paper shut and laid it down. Life changes so quickly…Children grow up in the blink of an eye. But just as quickly the future can be whipped out from under you.
Even though her stomach no longer hurt, Elizabeth sat curled in a chair with her arms wrapped tightly around her waist. It was as though she wanted to protect herself from another loss. She reached for the cup of tea Matt had fixed her. She took a sip—it was cold. She looked at the clock and realized it’d been sitting for an hour. With a heavy sigh, she stood up to go fix another cup.
And what would odds have it, that right next to her favorite coffee mug, would be the prenatal vitamins she took so faithfully. The little pill she popped each morning for six weeks, with so much confidence it would keep her baby happy and healthy. Elizabeth shook her head and knocked the bottle to the floor, pills shaking inside like a maraca, or a rattle. She sunk to the floor and buried her face in her knees.
Matt came rushing in. He didn’t talk. He didn’t pull her hands from her face. He just sat down next to her and rubbed her shoulders.
“Oh, Matt,” she cried. “Why did it have to be us?”
Even Matt, strong of faith as he was, could not come up with the reason she wanted. He wanted to promise her everything happens for a reason, but he thought Liz might slap him for that. “I—I don’t know,” he admitted tearfully, rubbing slow circles into her back. “Have we told the family yet?”
She shook her head. “No…” she gulped back another round of tears. “It’s been two days…I haven’t done anything. I’ve barely slept. I’ve barely moved…I can’t do anything Matt.”
“I know.” He murmured. “I’m the same way.” But still…he wondered how his dear wife must feel…knowing she had carried a little baby inside of her and now it was gone.
“But, Matt,” she swiped at her eyes. “I—I just want to be a mom. That’s all I’ve ever wanted…you know that. I know—I know you want kids too and…and I’m just being so self centered.” Her hands fluttered, she ran them through her hair.
“Hey, no,” He said. “No, you’re not being self-centered. Everyone has their own way, honey. And we’re gonna get through this together.” He promised and kissed her head. “We’re gonna get through this and we’re gonna have the family we’ve always wanted. Okay?”
But heartbreak wouldn’t spare the couple anymore…a year later, they miscarried at seven weeks. Another child joined their first baby in Heaven.
“I’m done trying, Matt.” Elizabeth announced from the closet, throwing a pair of shoes onto the bed.
He pushed the bathroom door open with his foot. “Trying what?” he mumbled and spit out a mouthful of toothpaste.
“Trying to have a baby, Matthew. I was up all night thinking about it. I…I want a family. But I just can’t take another miscarriage. I can’t lose another baby.”
He ran a hand through his damp hair. “This is a big decision to make right now, Liz.” He sat down next to her on the bed, clad in just boxers and a tee-shirt. “Are you sure? Do you want to talk about it?”
“I’m sorry…I can’t do this anymore. I—I just can’t bear to lose another baby.”
He pulled her in. “It’s only been a couple weeks. We’re both still grieving. We can’t give up. There is a plan for us, honey. God will give us a baby when it’s right.”
She shook her head. “I’ve always believed, Matt. I went to church with my parents when I was little. I wore my little dresses and went to Sunday School. We would pray and even in college, I prayed. You know that! I thought I was doing the right thing. But I don’t feel like I can believe it anymore…I don’t know why such a God would take two innocent babies away from us.”
He wanted to offer all the words of comfort. But he just shut his mouth. “I’m sorry Liz…I—I didn’t really know you felt that way. I…I just have to trust.”
She shook her head, tears stinging her throat. “I’m sorry Matt,” she said. “I shouldn’t have said anything. I—I need…I’m gonna be late.”
“Do you wanna just take a day off?” he asked. “Really, we could both just hang around. Talk.”
She turned back to him, her green eyes twinkling. For a moment, her sad face softened. She took a breath. Matt was sure she would agree…a day that they could talk and pray and figure out what to do next. But she shook her head. “I can’t miss anymore work.” She said. Elizabeth was a urgent care nurse…occasionally she worked with children. And she wanted to adopt every single one of them. “I’ll be home later.”
Matt sighed and sat down at his computer. It’d been a particularly slow day at work, and he was let off an hour early. His crew knew he needed it. Crazy how close they’d all become.
Liz had left her screen open…about…adoption. Adoption? Was that her plan? The page was a blog from success stories of families who had adopted babies from China, Romania and Africa. He scrolled through. She was four months old and four pounds…came into our home six months later…now 3, and thriving. … I never thought I could love another child like I love my own, Chloe proved me wrong.
He saw pictures…mothers and fathers and siblings holding these children. A couple who adopted two children from China, and one from Romania, as well as one from the US. We were unable to have children…we wanted to give these lost hearts a home and we couldn’t be happier.
I want that to be us. Matt thought, staring at the smiling kids and parents. A happy family…what makes a family anyways?
That evening, he sat down with Liz. “I saw this open.” He pointed at the page he’d printed up.
“I-I was just curious.” She said, looking down at her hands.
“No.” He blurted out. “No, it’s a great idea. I love it. I read the some of the stories today. It’s a really great idea…But, it’s expensive…we have quite a bit of money saved up, but I’m not sure if it will be enough. I wanted to talk to you first.”
She leaned her head on his shoulder and looked at the information he’d found. “You did your homework.” She said, impressed. “You really want this?”
“Yes,” he said. “Yes I do. I…I have a feeling Liz. I think we have to do this.”
“I’m sorry about what I said this morning.” She whispered. “I just want this…” She pointed at a white mother holding her Chinese daughter for the first time. Her finger moved to a couple with their arms around their boy/girl twins from Romania. The pictures covered the page: Families who chose to reach out and extend their hearts and houses. Couples who wanted multi-colored children. “These should be us, Matt.”
“You really think so? Are you sure?” He asked. “Because…I’ve been thinking about it all afternoon and I’m ready.”
She nodded. “I’m so sure. When can we get started?”
“Right now. Pick a country.” He handed her a list, with a description of the places this agency worked through.
“Ethiopia.” She pointed.
“You’re not the only one who’s had this on your mind.” She smiled, her first real smile in so long. He leaned in and kissed her.
The next two months passed so slowly for the couple. They did all their normal things…they got up, went to work, cooked dinner. They talked to friends and went to restaurants and church and the grocery store. Liz got six inches cut off her hair. But 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, their hearts bounced in their chests with nervous excitement as their request was processed by the adoption agency to hear what lonely boy or girl they’d been matched with. Every night now they prayed for a child and for their babies in Heaven.
Liz pulled the blanket over her knees, Will Smith shot an alien and Matt hunted the kitchen for his favorite chips. It was just a lazy Saturday, and the couple was content with doing nothing. The doorbell rang, startling them.
“I got it.” Matt said and a moment later, he came back grinning ear to ear.
“What was it?” His wife asked with a yawn.
“Are you ready to meet our kid?” He asked, holding up the thick envelope in his hand.
She snapped her head to face him. “It came? It came?” She turned off the TV and jumped up to sit at the table with him. The file was over an inch thick; Elizabeth slowly ran her finger under the flap to open it. She pulled out a stack of paperwork and photos. There was all kinds of information…the little girl they’d been matched with based on the information they sent in.
“Her name is Tamandani-Rose. She’ s from Dabat, Ethiopia.” Liz stumbled over the foreign words as she picked up the paper. “She was born on March 8th 2011—she’s just seven months old, Matt! On July 16th, she was found living with her father, maternal grandmother and six year old brother Buru. She weighed only 7 pounds—oh my gosh, she was tiny! Her father was very ill with malaria and died on July 19th. Her brother was caring for both their grandmother and four month old Tamandani. On August 6th, their grandmother decided she was unable to care for a small child and an infant and she relinquished her rights. They were brought to Good Samaritan Children’s Home, where they are both currently being cared for.”
And it went on with a bunch of legal junk, that the couple would soon learn was the key to getting their baby girl. “What do you think, Matt?” She asked. “Is this our baby?”
Tears in his eyes, he nodded. “Did I ever tell you about when I went to Africa?” He choked out. He held out his arms; Liz moved into his lap. “I was nineteen. I went with my church, because I thought it’d be fun. But it was incredible. It was life-changing. There was immense, heart-breaking poverty…but there was also such rich beauty. I fell in love with the culture and the people. To see people…especially kids…who just have nothing, making the most of family and love and what little things they have…it was…” He shook his head. “I can’t describe it,” he kissed her cheek. “I’m so glad we decided on Ethiopia.”
Words cannot describe the feeling a mother gets when she holds her child in the first time. In that one moment, the months of exhaustion and pain and struggling is all worth it. You breathe in that sweet baby smell and you count and re-count fingers and toes. You can’t believe that she’s real. You can’t believe you made it happen. For one blissfully slow, magical moment it is simply mother and child as they learn about the most important person in each other’s lives.
Adoptive parents are no different. It took seven months, lots of paperwork, and lots of money until Elizabeth and Matt could finally take Tamandani-Rose in their arms. Elizabeth was overcome by a tidal wave of emotion…tears of relief poured down her face—it was almost over and in just a few weeks this beautiful baby would be officially hers. Oh my goodness…she’s so beautiful. I love her eyes…but she’s so thin, I can feel her bones. But she’s beautiful. Let go of my hair, honey. She just held her and kissed her…and she knew it would be her most treasured moment for the rest of her life.
“Cinderella, Cinderella.” Lucie sang, splashing bubbles at her dad. She picked up a handful. “Look Mommy, I have a beard!” She giggled. The foam was already dissolving, dripping down her bare chest.
“I see honey.” The pregnant woman sighed. She didn’t mean to be impatient; she was so tired.
“Come on Cinderella.” Her dad said, lifting her up. “It’s bed time. Say goodnight to Mommy, and I’ll put you to bed.” He wrapped her in a towel. She toddled to the doorway and hugged her mother around the knees. She knew the baby made it hard for her to pick her up. She kissed her mother’s swollen belly. “Good night baby bwother.”
“Night honey.” She said. “Night daddy.” She pecked her husband on the lips and headed off to bed.
The father slid a Pull-Up on her bare bottom and handed the little girl her favorite nightgown: Disney Princesses and pink. She slipped it over her head, took her father’s hand and led him to her room.
“Can we read a story?” She asked, holding up her favorite book.
He sat down next to her. “Sorry, Luce. It’s a little late for a book. Let’s just say our prayers. You have gymnastics tomorrow and a princess needs her beauty sleep.”
She nodded and knelt down, pulling the blankets to the floor with her. “Do you want me to get you started?” Her dad asked, but she shook her head.
“I want to pray all by myself.” Her little brown eyes flapped closed.
"Dear God,” she said in her sweet little voice. “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep healthy and happy in every way, with love and laughter filling each day. Please fill our hearts with compassion, tolerance and patience.” One would expect a four year old to stumble over such a string of large words, but Lucie had said this same prayer every night since she came home. It just flowed out of her. “Please look over all of our friends and family and all the children of the world tonight. Thank you for Mommy and Daddy. Thank you for my baby brother. Help him grow inside Mommy and be happy and healthy. Amen."
Her father smiled. “That was a great prayer, Lucie. God appreciates it.” He picked her up, and tucked her in. “Good night, Lucie Tamandani Rose.”
“Am I a princess?” she asked.
He nodded and kissed her forehead. “Even better,” he whispered. “You’re an African princess.”