Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Luke's Garden

April 1, 1997, first thing in the morning and the phone is ringing. "Hello?" I answered. "Are you sitting down?" asked our adoption coordinator. "You've been chosen for a baby." Missing a heartbeat, I sunk to the floor. "You better not be kidding me - this isn't an April Fool's joke, is it?" I asked pathetically. "Absolutely not!" he reassured me warmly. "She's having a boy in 5 days."

FIVE DAYS! There was so much to do: get a nursery organized, orchestrate leave from work, prepare our 3-year old daughter, find a place to stay in D.C., get kitty-care...

And we did. We had baby in arms by April 7, nestled into a Marriott, and began the task of phoning family to make our incredible announcement. Pencils in hand, multiple lists later, we agreed on a name: Lucas Matthew. Piles of legal paperwork had to be rushed here and there in the city before we could go home. Hold ups, snafus, road blocks, obstacles, delays, confusion - days passed and the hotel bill was mounting. We sought aide from our Bishop, who contacted a local member of our church: we could stay in their home 'till the paperwork cleared!

One large bed was available, giving us the perfect excuse for the hip practice of a family bed. "A perfect way to increase bonding," we thought. Our daughter slept holding Luke in her arms until feeding time. It was sleepless, beautiful, and made-up as we went along.

Once home, life fell into place. Daddy went back to work. Days were simultaneously busy and quiet, not doing much of anything except caring for Lucas, our daughter, and with energy leftover, each other. Friends flocked in with gifts, casseroles, homemade rolls. We continued the family bed.

A day before finalization, the phone rang. On the other end was my husband, weeping. "The agency called - the birthmother wants the baby back!" he choked. My grip on Lucas tightened as I descended into a tunnel-like darkness. Frantic calls to attorneys and our adoption counselor later, I learned she was perfectly within her legal rights. In the District of Columbia birthparents are allowed 30 days to rescind once the baby is placed. And so she did - on day 29. A hysterical sickness settled in when we were told it was our responsibility to drive the baby back. Once again we pleaded with our Bishop for help: he found a couple willing to drive the baby back to D.C. The birthmother would be flying in from the Midwest to pick him up - on Mother's Day.

It was early spring, bright and sunny, but I couldn't move. Anger, bewilderment, and an unending well of grief overtook me. I couldn't play with my daughter. I couldn't prepare dinner, do the laundry, pay bills, talk with friends. I'd been hit by a truck and left for dead.

One day my little girl begged me to watch her dance outdoors. She dressed up elaborately, as if to get my attention. Weakly slumped on a lawn chair, my mind wandered as my eyes tried to focus: oh, she's dancing - look at those horrible yews - God, the sun feels good - why is she singing so loudly - I hate being alive - maybe I could plant a garden. There it was. The smallest breath of life surging up in the form of wanting to do something.

The rest of spring and summer she and I were together, outside: she dancing, me shoveling limestone rocks out of the earth, cathartically flinging them into heaps, preparing the soil, and contemplating the perfect balance of color, form, and texture in every perennial. Perennials, not annuals. Something I could count on being there again and again, every year.

It was my daughter's idea to name it "Luke's Garden." She said it would be something beautiful to look forward to year after year - life springing up from a wintry earth. It was then I realized teachers come in many forms. This time it was my 3-year old.


  1. You know, I've never really heard your account of this wrenching event. I can't even imagine how hard it must have been for your family. You capture the grief of that experience very well.

  2. I am so glad you have written this. It is heart wrenching - as Kip says. Oh little Luke. I remember hearing the good news and then the bad news. The garden is a lovely remembrance.

  3. Wow...now I know why that garden is so amazing!!! And how wise Micaela has always been... And how you can find hope and life in the midst of grief and despair...

    But now what I want to know is...what were the "horrible ewes"???

  4. My mistake! I misspelled it - yews are an ugly bush that look wicked when overgrown. They overtook the space in the backyard before I put in the perennial garden.