I gently eased out of the embrace Sam and I were savoring that evening, standing in the street, leaning against the trunk of the rental car. It was our last hug as a childless couple and we knew it, so we'd stolen one extra, eternal moment before jumping into the next phase in our lives.
Sam kissed me once on the forehead before we peeled apart and then watched the social worker round the corner at the end of the block. Hand in hand, we stepped together to the sidewalk, and I moved toward her, trying to shorten my naturally long strides so as not to appear overly eager. I felt like I'd left my body and was hovering over the scene as an observer, rather than actually experiencing my feet on pavement scorched by the Chicago sun for the length of an early-summer day.
'I think this belongs to you,' she said as she reached her hand toward mine.
She was resplendent in the setting sun on that first day of July. She had a radiant smile, shimmering eyes that smiled, too, and thick dreadlocks just brushing the tops of her muscular brown shoulders. Her name was Angel, and though we'd spoken on the phone several times, I remember thinking how well the name fit her physical presence. She was fairly gliding down the sidewalk, floating toward us with a diaper bag slung over one shoulder and a car seat in her opposite hand-a blanket-covered car seat holding our child. My daughter.
Angel handed me the bucket as our eyes met. We may have hugged-knowing me, we probably did-but I can't remember now. I'm certain I had to catch my breath. Perhaps I blushed, giggled or shrugged in nervous anticipation. I may have even faltered a bit in my confident step despite the sureness of my conviction, not entirely grasping the fact that I was becoming a mother.
I let go of Sam's hand and reached both of mine toward Angel's outstretched one to receive the car seat, unprepared for the near weightlessness of it. I took it with such force that it nearly flew up over my head. I overcorrected quickly as I imagined my first faux pas as a mother, picturing my child, the car seat and the blanket hurling through the air, a blur against the summer sky. That would be so like me, I thought: A parent for no more than 12 seconds and screwing the kid up already.
With my first real-time disaster averted, I walked with Angel and Sam toward the apartment carrying the child I hadn't yet seen, chatting nervously, excitedly about what was happening. Two years later, I have no specific recollection of that discussion.
We entered through a purple door heading toward a third-floor apartment that would be our home for an unknown period of time while waiting out the bureaucratic i-dotting and t-crossing. I stopped at the foot of the stairs, planting one foot solidly on the ground and the other on the second step. I balanced the car seat carefully on my right knee, using my left hand to steady it. And with my right hand I slowly lifted the white cotton receiving blanket to reveal the tiny face of a sleeping baby cocooned inside, swaddled tight in yet another receiving blanket of yellow and white gingham, strapped securely with buckles.
She was a ruddy shade of pale brown with full, yet angular lips, no eyelashes and lots of slick black hair that had me humming Cab Calloway for weeks. She was so small as to be barely there, much smaller than I'd envisioned. I was startled by her fragileness and her complete dependence on me. Even more, I was stunned that she was mine and I was hers and that the irrevocable had just transpired in no more time than it takes to inhale the thick air of an overheated brownstone, to lift a thin blanket and to exhale a warm breath of instant and unconditional love. She was beautiful. She was miraculous.
I did not labor to bring my daughter into this world. Another woman, a brave woman, did that hard work. She nurtured and cared for and loved my daughter-her daughter, our daughter-for nine months before enduring the rite of passage most women yearn to experience. She suffered physical, emotional and, I imagine, spiritual pain before choosing Sam and me to be parents to her lovely, precious, amazing little girl, who we would call Ruby. She loved and struggled before making the most selfless choice any human being can possibly make. Her sacrifice is Ruby's birth story, certainly. But part of it is also mine, and for that I am terribly grateful.
That warm summer night on a busy Midwestern street was how I became a mother, and it's the story I share with Ruby as she grows. I tell her how that night was the night my priorities shifted, that my pulse slowed and permanently reversed direction. I tell her it was the night my heart changed shape because a baby had grown there.
Much of the adoption community recognizes this family unification as 'Gotcha Day,' a phrase I find demeaning and which has the same effect as Celine Dion's voice on my ear canals. The word gotcha should be reserved for practical jokes, bad mid-'80s films and computer programming. It hardly encapsulates what it means to become a family. It diminishes the magnitude, marginalizes the emotion and belittles the significance of the event.
We prefer to call this occasion, simply, Our Day. All adoptive families have one, whether it's the same day as the birth of their child or a separate day altogether. But whatever they choose to call it, it's marked by ritual and celebration as unique as the families who celebrate it.
It's been almost two years since Our Day in Chicago when we kissed our childless life goodbye. With one leap of faith and the fearlessness of a hard choice, I enjoy the ultimate and most difficult privilege of raising a child. As we celebrate this anniversary, I'm filled with a gratitude that defies description. I am thankful to a woman named Angel. But most of all, most of all, I am thankful to the angel who is Ruby's birthmother.