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I STOOD in an airport, not an English printed word or a Caucasian face in sight. Old Chinese women swarmed me like an angry colony of bees. They shook their fingers in my face. They looked me up and down, jerking their heads in disdain. I could not understand a single word they said. Finally, one tiny, shrunken lady shoved her face close to mine and in broken English shouted, " Missy, you forgot baby! No lucky baby for you!"
Another Chinese lady whipped a black telephone that looked straight out of the 1940s from behind her back. The force of the phone's rings made the handset vibrate.
And, then, consciousness seeped in. The phone's ringing was a digital buzz, not the t-ling t-ling of the old heavy clunkers. My phone. My cordless. In my bedroom, not a Chinese airport.
It had to be Ma, probably drunk again, maybe even in jail. I groped for the phone, dropped it and retrieved it from the jumbled-up covers.
"Hello?, I squinted at the clock.
"Sara? It's Joe."
I sat up, pushed a hand through my mussed hair. "What is it?And what happened to the alarm? It's eight o'clock."
"I turned it off. You said you weren't going in this morning. I thought you could do with the extra sleep."
He sounded a little wounded at my lack of appreciation. "Um, thanks. Did you need something? Forget your lunch? I'll take it by."
"No, I just wanted to let you know I could meet you at the doctor's office. Things here are under control, and the trusses are going up faster"
"Joe, it's just a routine Pap smear, okay?, I interrupted him. "Relax."
Joe sucked in a breath, apparently not believing what I said. "You always used to get so down when you had to go to the ob-gynwhat with the pregnant women.And I'm worried, anyway. Damn, Sara. With all you've been through, nothing's routine about a visit to your ob-gyn."
"Joe." I thought for a moment about how to proceed. My stomach had already tensed from being reminded about today's appointment, but I ordered my nerves to calm down. "I'm a big girl, and I want to go by myself. We talked about how important it is for me to do this on my own."
"I know. I know." He sighed. "Well, call me when you get through. I may be on the roof of this house, trying to get trusses in, so if I don't hear the phone ring, just leave me a message, okay?"
"Sure. The minute I get out. I'll see you tonight. And, heythanks for offering. I love you."
"Back atcha," he said before hanging up. I replaced the handset and swung my feet to the floor, my heart still racing from the unpleasant task ahead and the dream. Stress. Good old-fashioned stress. I'd had this nightmare before, and I knew stress had woven it.
Of course I wouldn't forget my baby in some airport. I'd waited too long for her. I'd stumbled through a dozen years of dashed hopes and dreams before discovering China, before knowing Meredith Alicia whatever-her-Chinese-name-was Tennyson could be my daughter. I'd know her second middle name when they finally told me the name they'd given her. When I could finally see my daughter's face.
As I fumbled for my bedroom slippers, my toe stubbed a stack of books: Toddler Adoption, Lost Daughters of China, A Passage to the Heart, What to Expect the ToddlerYears. The ache in my heart replaced the ache in my toe. What was Meredith doing today? Was she getting enough to eat? Did she have adequate clothes? And, the famous question, what on earth did she look like?
I rubbed my eyes and stacked the books on my night-stand. Reconsidering, I shoved them on the shelf. No point in hearing Joe grouse about me staying up all night reading again.
In the shower, after scrubbing all the nooks and crannies with an extra dose of elbow grease, I let my finger run over the thin scar on my belly. You had to look hard this many years afterward to see the surgeon's neat handiwork, a souvenir from when I'd lost my ovary. At the time, he had saved my life but ripped out my heart.
Joe had left a note on the fridge and azalea blooms stuck in a mason jar on the kitchen island. I smiled and went to read the note. he'd scrawled, " Good luck! If you change your mind, I'll go with you," and signed it with his customary X's and O's. On the end he'd written, " PS, I put Cocoa out. She was on the couch again."
The missive made me stick out my tongue at the paper it was scrawled on. Sure enough, Cocoa, our chocolate Lab, had heard me moving around in the kitchen. She gazed through the French door with soulful brown eyes.
I let in our wayward girl, scolding her. "You know he doesn't like you on the couch."
She answered with a couple of cheerful thumps of her tail.
"Oh, all right, I forgive you." The couch didn't seem like such a biggie to me. After all, it was leather, and Cocoa had been treated for fleas and ticks. But Joe was adamant about that rule. I shook my finger at her, trying to recapture some of my will to discipline. "But be smart. Make sure you get off the couch before he gets out of the shower."
Cocoa had a way of easing the tension in me. I headed for the fridge again, this time to get started on breakfast. When I caught sight of my Wait Calendar, it caused a badly needed smile and restored some of my usual optimism. I grabbed a marker and X'd out another day. Maybe by Father's Day we'd get The Call from our adoption agency telling us the CCAA had matched us with our baby girl.
CCAA. DTC. APC. That's the alphabet soup I lived in these days. Joe and I had sent paperwork off to our adoption agency in late November. Our agency had forwarded the thick dossier to the CCAA, the Chinese government agency in charge of foreign adoptions, in the middle of December. That meant our Dossier to China dateour DTC datewas December. It was April now, four months into the wait. With wait times hovering at around six months, we could have our baby home in time for the Fourth of July.
With breakfast in me, I drove through Dublin's light morning traffic to Dr. Kaska's office. I said a little prayer for luck as I parked, switched off the engine and tried to settle my nerves.
Six years. you're cured. They've looked. you're cured. It had been my mantra all morning long, all week long, actually. I hated to admit it, but I was shaking in my boots. Gynecologists had found few good things to say about my body over the years.
You could have had Joe or Maggie come with you. You turned down your husband and your best friend, so this is self-inflicted agony.
My scolding had its intended effect, moving me out of the car and across to the front door. Here, I took a deep breath again.
The only vacant seat was between two abundantly pregnant women who had struck up a conversation about babies. They moved their magazines and purses, and I took the seat. I listened to their debate over natural versus epidural, breastfeeding over formula, cloth over disposable.
Amazing, I thought. A year ago, I would have run crying to the restroom.
A year ago, I'd thought I'd lost all chance of having my own child.A year ago, I hadn't known about Meredith.
Okay, so it still hurts a little. A lot even. But I'll get my baby. I'll get Meredith.
"Oh, my gracious," said the woman on my left, dressed in a pink-flowered shirt stretched tautly over her rounded belly. "Here we are, jabbering all around you."
"Would you like me to switch places with you?, I offered. "Sounds like you two have a lot of notes to compare. Is it your first baby?"
"Oh, yeah," the lady on my right said, " and it's not gonna come a moment too soon. I want to see my feet again. I'm wondering now if I have feet."
I couldn't help but glance down at her lime-green flip-flops and her very swollen feet and ankles. She definitely possessed feet, but whether she would like them if she saw them was another story.
"I know what you mean. Nobody ever warned me being pregnant could be so miserable. But I wouldn't trade it for anything," the pink-flowered-shirt lady said.
"You have kids?"
The question didn't contain the power to knife me like it had. I hesitated for a moment, worrying the inquiry like a loose tooth, just to check. A little twinge. But not the big one. "No kids yet," I said.
"Oh, but you're not that old. You still have time. you're what? Thirty-two? Thirty-three?, the flip-flop-shod woman asked.
"Thanks. I'm actually thirty-six. And my husband and I are adopting." Just saying the words banished the ache inside me.
"Oh, wow. That's such a great thing to do. Wow! I'm impressed. A boy or a girl or do you know?"
"A little girl. We're adopting a baby from China." Pink Flowers" eyes went round. "Don't they kill off all their girls over there? They want boys, right?"
In a delicate, split-second assessment, I decided she wasn't ready for a lecture on China's population explosion or why girls were more frequently adopted than boys. "Oh, they love their little girls. We just requested a baby girl."
The other woman smoothed a hand over her rounded abdomen. "Well, that baby's gonna be a lucky little girl, what with you and your husband rescuing her. She's gonna be so blessed."
I'd encountered this remark before, too. You don't negotiate five months of the Paperchase From Hell and four months of The Wait without hearing some variation of the "you're such a hero" speech. I offered up another smile and said, " We'll be the lucky ones."
"So why'd you decide to adopt from China? I mean, couldn't you have any real kids?, Pink Flowers asked.
That question, which would have tormented me a year ago, still possessed a sharp edge. I considered her use of the word, real, as if I'd get a beautiful China doll instead of a flesh-and-blood baby. "No. We couldn't have biological children."
She gasped, popping a hand over her mouth. Her eyes welled up with tears, and she laid a hand on my arm. "Oh, I justthat's awful. How long have you guys been trying? I just can't imagine not being able to have a baby."
The redhead in the flip-flops joined in, her eyes pained as well. "Was it endometriosis? I have endometriosis. I had to have surgery, and that fixed me right up. Did you try the surgery?"
Ann Landers would have recommended responding with, " Why do you need to know?, But I found I couldn't do this to these ladies. They meant well in their clumsy way. I shook my head. "No. I had cancer."
"Cancer!" both of them breathed in unison. I could see them busily counting their blessings: they were cancer-free and could conceiveand would hold their babies within a few weeks.
"Yes. Ovarian cancer."
The mention of the big C had a way of killing conversation. The two women fell as silent as a pair of bookends. I swung shut mental gates to hem in the memories. The day the biopsy had come back positive, the surgery, the chemo. I'd made it through. And here I was, in my sixth cancer-free year, hoping for a routine ob-gyn exam. Just let it be normal.
To distract myself, I let my eyes wander over the waiting room.
On this Thursday morning, Dr. Kaska's Queen Anne armchairs were crammed with expectant mothers. The only other flat-bellied women in the room were a sullen mother-daughter pair, the girl dressed in tight blue jeans and a barely-there crop top that showed off her belly button ring. Her over-mascaraed eyes brimmed with suppressed rage at being with her mother in an ob-gyn's office.
Another Cherie, I thought to myself. I know how the mom feels. I caught the woman's eye and gave her an encouraging smile. She smiled back, her face lighter and not so drawn.