Four years ago, when people asked whether I was married or had children, my answers were easy: “Yes” to the first and “no” to the second, because my husband was alive and the newborn I had placed in adoption when I was a teenager hadn’t yet found me on Facebook.
Before the answers became complicated, my husband, Alberto, and I had spent the weekend in Connecticut celebrating my 34th birthday. There were no signs Alberto’s 40-year-old heart was about to give out, but one terrifying Sunday in March 2009, I awoke and he did not.
Alberto and I had discussed the possibility of children on our second date. Maybe someday, we agreed, but no rush. So during our three years of marriage we had placed a premium on spontaneity, passport stamps and sleep.
I was relieved I didn’t have to sublimate my grief for motherhood. And grieve I did: on Twitter, on Facebook, on Tumblr. What began as catharsis evolved into a public narrative, and among the strangers following my story was a teenage girl in North Carolina. In the summer of 2011, she exchanged her anonymity for a friend request.
When her profile page loaded I realized who Laurie was. She was older than the most recent photo her adoptive parents had sent. Her hair was my natural brown, which she wore long and straight as I had when I met her biological father in California.
He was in his early 20s when I was a high-school senior. Our relationship was torrid, tumultuous and lasted three months. Single motherhood and abortion seemed scarier than pregnancy, but adoption struck me as a fair trade-off: I’d give up nine months of my life, and better-qualified people would take over from there. My parents, urging me to take time and be certain of my choice, arranged a summer trip to Idaho, where my father had attended college.
In October, I spent a weekend at the home of a Boise couple who possessed what I did not: college degrees, a mortgage and a 14-year marriage. I admired their adopted toddler, who knew when to say “please” and “thank you.”
I could envision my child – a daughter, according to the ultrasound – having a lovely life with them. I wasn’t mistaken: not when I placed her in their arms at the hospital nor when I returned to my pre-pregnancy life.
A cure for grief
“Don’t you wonder what she’s like?” friends and relatives would ask.
Never had to wonder. Through 17 years of photos, I watched Laurie and her three adopted sisters grow up with matching Easter dresses, private schools, summer art classes and cooking lessons.
And now, six months before her 18th birthday, the postmark was virtual and from Laurie herself.
Through tears, I made ecstatic calls to my parents and girlfriends. I devoured all 793 of Laurie’s Facebook pictures, replied to her chat, and our digital dance began. I sensed where we were heading (phone calls, a reunion, Skype) and felt more than a twinge of anxiety. What did she expect from me? What kind of person did she hope to find?
Yet when our voices finally met, I heard my own teenage giggle and cadence in hers. And the voice wasn’t accusing me of motherhood issues or abandonment. Laurie wanted to hear about my wedding day, my job and what living in New York was like. She, in turn, described her best friends, her cross-country race times and what she loved about her boyfriend. A few giddy hours later, she popped the question: “Will you fly to North Carolina for a sleepover on my 18th birthday?”
The next morning I made a plan. I wanted to meet Laurie without tobacco-stained fingertips or the 10 pounds I had gained, which meant hello to Pilates and goodbye to cigarettes and beer.
How I looked or smelled was of little consequence when Laurie and I collided in a hug 18 years in the making; we became one silhouette of fabric, limbs, tears and giggles. Face to face, we were astonished by the similarities in our handwriting, gestures and sleep posture.
Sprawled out on her trundle bed the morning after our sleepover, I apologized for not being much of a grown-up. I admitted I had imagined myself far more grounded in life and love at this age. She interrupted to say how impressed she was by my foreign travel, sky diving and urban life. Her admiration melted my fear that I wasn’t the kind of mother she wanted me to be.
Was lost, now found
Back in New York, I became that annoying person showing everyone photos of her daughter. The lifestyle changes Laurie inspired actually stuck, and counteracted my grief triggers. Pilates and biking helped me sleep soundly. No smoking meant I drank less and had fewer wine-choked meltdowns. More significantly, the frequent texts I was exchanging with Laurie left me little reason to feel sad or get drunk.
Since the reunion, Laurie’s parents have welcomed me for her senior prom and graduation, and last summer the two of us flew to California for a week with my parents. During her first major heartbreak, she turned to me for advice. And as I re-enter the dating scene, I send her mirror selfies of my outfits and post-dinner debriefs.
Becoming a widow and then a mother, in that order, isn’t how I pictured my 30-something life unfolding. Yet losing my husband deepened my joy in finding my daughter. And embracing my narrative means I’m no longer daunted by those small-talk questions.
Yes, I was married; I lost him to a heart attack. And yes, I’m a new mom to an incredible 19-year-old named Laurie.
Tré Miller Rodríguez’s first book is “Splitting the Difference: A Heart-Shaped Memoir.”
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