I remember the very first class that Sarah attended…she sat quietly most of the class, not saying much, and cried till the end of class. My heart broke for Sarah…It was one of those times when you just want to wrap her in your arms and tell her that she is not alone. It wasn’t long after that when she shared with us that the father of her baby, her boyfriend, was in the jail as well, and she was considering surrendering her baby for adoption. She did not want to share this with the other inmates. She didn’t want them to think badly of her.
Janice told her that we had a woman whom we worked with and who had also worked with other inmates, and we could send her to talk to Sarah if she would like. Although this brought more tears, Sarah agreed to see her.
The next time I saw Sarah she had met with the adoption agency and felt much more informed about her choices. She confided in me again at the end of class that she needed some time to think about what she was going to do. By this time, I knew that I would be the one to attend Sarah’s birth, and I shared this with her. Through tears, she told me how much she appreciated us and knowing that we would be there for her no matter what. I cried as I left the jail that day.
At the next class, Sarah seemed more at ease and asked to speak with me privately after the class. I called her over while the others were waiting by the door, and with yet more tears, she shared with me that she had made the decision to surrender her baby girl and had an appointment with the adoption agency in 2 weeks. I wanted to cry with Sarah this time; my heart breaking for her and so proud of her at the same time. The sacrifice that she was making for her child to have a better life had me in awe. Could I ever make such a brave decision if I had to?
Two weeks later, as Sydnie and I were walking into the jail, we ran into the woman from the agency. She had just met with Sarah, and she was hoping to run into me. Sarah had talked about me and how she was so happy that I would be with her at her birth…that she really felt a bond with me. She wanted to show me something, a picture of the family that Sarah chose to give her baby girl to. Sarah had wanted me to see them. I had goose bumps, and it was everything that I could do to not break down in tears in the lobby of the jail. I wasn’t sure how I was going to keep it together when I saw Sarah in class. Amazingly, when I saw Sarah, she was smiling for the first time in months. She was so excited to tell us that she had chosen a family, and was even more excited to know that we had seen the picture of them. She was so at peace…
As the date for Sarah’s birth approached, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I was going to support her through this. I had never been with a surrendering mother before and had no idea what to expect, what emotions would be involved for Sarah, and for me. The morning of her birth, I arrived at the hospital before Sarah did and was waiting in her room for her when she arrived with the deputy. She smiled when she saw me and thanked me for being there. I hugged her and assured her that there was nowhere I would rather be than there for her. (This was my first time to have contact with her since you are not allowed to touch the inmates at the jail.)
As the medical staff prepped her for her surgery, we talked and laughed together, keeping the mood light, avoiding what was ahead of her. Before they took us back to the OR, we prayed safe surgery, a healthy mom and baby girl, and for strength for Sarah for the days to come.
In the OR the anesthesiologist told me that I could hold her hand if I wanted, and as soon as I put my hand out, Sarah grabbed onto it and held on tight. I squeezed her hand and assured her that everything was fine. She looked into my eyes, those eyes I had looked into a dozen times, and I saw the fear and the uncertainty that she was feeling. I promised her that I was there, wasn’t going anywhere, and we would get through this together…I was, at the same time, reassuring myself.
The surgery went very quickly. As soon as they baby cried for the first time, Sarah cried. She squeezed my hand and looked at me with her eyes full of tears, shaking her head no. It was then that she said, “I don’t want them to take my baby.” I told her that they weren’t taking her right now, that she could have her in just a bit. “I want to keep her forever…” she cried out to me. What could I possibly say to her? I knew what she meant and could only imagine what she was feeling…her heart being ripped out. I leaned in and held her, wiped her tears, told her she was amazing, and that her baby was beautiful. Did any of that matter to her then? Was I saying the right things?
The nurse brought the baby over to see her. The tears continued as Sarah caressed her baby girl’s cheek. The nurse said, “Here’s your Mommy.” To which Sarah responded, “…I’m not her Mommy.” It was almost in unison that the nurse and I replied that she was her Mommy and always would be, no matter where she was.
When the nursery nurse went to take the baby, Sarah wanted to be sure that she would see her again, wanted to know when and for how long. I told her that she would be in her room with her for as long as Sarah was in the hospital. Sarah still cried every time they left the room with her baby.
Sarah kept calling the baby Rebecca. I asked about the name. She told me that was the name that the adoptive family chose, and that she liked the name Faith. But, she respected their wishes and always called her Rebecca. The next few hours were filled with highs and lows. She was, understandably, having doubts about surrendering her baby. We talked about her reasons for making the decision in the first place, how none of those reasons had changed or improved. We talked about how beautiful her baby was and what a blessed life she was going to have…sometimes this made her smile, sometimes this made her cry. Sarah held her baby often, and then would ask me to take her, like it was too painful to hold her knowing that she would eventually have to give her away. I held Rebecca and stayed near Sarah when she was awake. We talked about her nose, and her lips, and about how much she looked like her sister, Sarah’s other girl. When Sarah felt strong enough to hold her I would give Rebecca to her, and when it hurt too much, I would take her.
We spent the rest of the day this way. I just made sure that I stayed close by and tried to say the right words to Sarah. I took pictures, of the two of them together, of baby Rebecca alone…so many pictures. It was hard to imagine that this is all that Sarah would have left of her baby girl. I wanted to make sure that they were perfect for her.
I didn’t want to leave, but knew I would have to soon. I had children of my own that I needed to take care of, and I needed to be with them and hug them close to me…
When Janice arrived in the afternoon, we spent some time all together, smoothing the transition for Sarah. I knew that I was leaving her in good hands, but that didn’t make it any easier for me to leave. I hugged Sarah good-bye, not sure when I would see her again, and kissed baby Rebecca, knowing that I would probably never see her again, and walked out of the room. I was thankful for the long ride home alone, to think, to cry, and to pray for all that had happened that day and would happen in the days to come.