Baby Jenn’s birth mother had been addicted to heroin for six years when Jenn was conceived. Halfway through the pregnancy Mary* finally told her parents. Her dad gave her five hundred dollars to abort the baby, but Mary used the money for drugs and hid her pregnancy from her parents until she was in labor.
Jenn was born full term with thirteen different illegal substances in her system. She was addicted to heroin and began to scream and shake within hours of birth. The doctors immediately transferred her to a hospital with a newborn intensive care unit. Mary tried to make an adoption plan for her baby. She signed all the appropriate papers with an adoption agency, but with no birth father sign off, Jenn went into foster care.
I was called in when Jenn had been in the hospital for two weeks.
“I have another baby for you,” our licensing worker told me over the phone. My sister, who was helping me clean the attic at the time, began jumping up and down.
“Say yes, say yes!” she whisper-yelled.
“We’ve just been hit with so many newborns this month,” the licensing worker went on. “We’ve run out of homes for them. But I thought of you for this one because you’re willing to adopt. …
Betty: So fill me in on all these kids I see around here.
Me: Well, the one in the mismatched shoes is mine; so is the one trying to write on the wall. The kid on the table is mine, and I left a few at home. Those four are my sister Jane’s. This one belongs to my sister Terry.
Betty: Okay, now which one of these is Jane’s real kid?”
I knew immediately what she meant; Jane adopted three of her children and had one by birth, but I didn't like Betty's phrasing.
Me: Real kid? They all look pretty real to me. Jane hasn’t played with dolls in years.
We both laugh like what I said was quite witty. I look pleadingly at Terry to rescue me, but she is redirecting the wall draw-er.
Betty: What I mean is that she had one of them the normal way…
Me: There are lots of normal ways to have a child.
Betty: But, which one is hers?
Me: All of them.
She must have decided at this point that I was really dense because she finally spit out what we both knew she was getting at all along.
Betty: Which one is her birth child?
I would have just told her, because it’s no secret who is adopted and who was born into the family; it’s a nonissue, but I was a little irritated by the long lead in.