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Greetings from Poland, Ohio

Greetings from Poland, Ohio

Robin Bakay
Greetings from Poland, Ohio, Raise Magazine

Writer Robin Bakay's raw portrait of disrupted adoption.

We met in the adoption lawyer’s office earlier that afternoon. It’s a science lab of sorts where prospective adoptive parents are dropped into a petri dish with a pregnant stranger who has medical proof that she is three months along and who wants to place/sell her baby.

Filling an awkward void I asked, “Did you graduate high school?”

“Nah. Ah dropped outta ha school,” she said.

“Me too,” said her friend, Cyndi.

“Do you girls have GEDs?”

“Nah.”

“Why did you drop out? Nicole?

“I dunno. Hated it, ah guess.”

Cyndi had followed suit. They laughed over the lengthier party time dropping out provided. Nicole got serious and said, “Ah’m gonna study to be a mixologist. Y’know, like a bartender but flipping bottles around and shit. It’s pretty cool.”

Her fingernails were pointy and decaled. Her hair, DIY Bottled Sunshine. Her teeth were crooked. Otherwise, she wasn’t bad looking. She appeared to be generally lazy, but had no obvious or known drug, alcohol or medical issues.

Nicole was in L.A. on a road game. Home was a village of twenty-five hundred people in southern Ohio called Poland. It had a main drag, a TGI Fridays, a diabetic shoe store, and Harley Davidson headstones. Not a lot of hope came out of Poland.

I have no doubt that she picked our Adoptive Parent Bio because my husband was the voice of the cat, Salem, on Sabrina The Teenage Witch and because we lived in Los Angeles. She probably aimed higher on the Hollywood hog. Angie. Charlize. Salem had a different kind of street cred, but it was street cred nonetheless. As they say in Hollywood, we sold it in the room. She chose us to adopt her kid.

I didn’t like her and it shocked and awed me.

At the end of the long paperwork-filled afternoon, we left the lawyer’s office and drove Nicole and Cyndi ten miles west to a tourist-fried restaurant on the beach with spectacular sunsets and headachy drinks. Nicole had taken the mic in the car and ran the captive audience for the rest of the evening.

If Cyndi started speaking, Nicole hijacked her stories like a rogue understudy. She ran the dinner conversation/monologue with a loud voice that drowned out the ocean’s roar.

We learned of her four-year-old son named Preston, after Britney Spears’ son. She spoke of her angry, truck driving, part-time boyfriend and baby daddy. Mostly she talked about her mother and the pain of being a disappointment.

“She’s mean and she hates me. She don’t even send me no birthday cards!”

She mentioned that she loved her grandmother and that Grandma was the only person in the whole world who loved her.

I asked,  “What about Preston?”

She said, “Yeah and him too.”

And I wondered, did he?

I’ve never been a people person. I waver between shy, shyer and agoraphobic. I had hoped Nicole would be a “I’ll call you when I’m in labor” person. Instead, she was a very gregarious gal who siphoned gallons of my daily attention.

I didn’t like her and it shocked and awed me. It was a city mouse versus country mouse thing to a degree, but more like a country mouse who only spoke of herself and said, “Ah don’t care for that,” so often that one might think she was unimpressible and cared for nothing. To me, she fit the profile of someone in need of mothering and a shrink. Her needle pointed toward emotionless. No remorse, no empathy. She didn’t talk about the baby or its future, or about Preston’s.  I considered the possibility that she was jealous because the baby would come home with us and she wouldn’t. She’d be dropped back to earth like a rocket booster. Her ultra-snotty attitude could have been a twentysomething’s protective layer against her pain — whatever it may have been.

Even so, I still wanted her baby.

The lawyer opened a trust that we funded for three months of expenses at a time — rent, legal fees, bus fare to neonatal appointments, maternity clothing, pickles, ice cream, etc.

It’s illegal under adoption laws to send gifts because they can be seen as bribes, since both parties can back out at any time, regardless of the fact that they are contractually bound. I wasn’t supposed to do it. Not the room fans, or the books, or the makeup, or the five-day Santa Monica getaway — our company included — or the Palm Pilot, which was a disaster.

She claimed, during her SoCal getaway, that she had no phone. No cell, no landline, no village switchboard. She said she wanted to communicate with us. We bought her the Palm Pilot and set up a simple Verizon plan at the Santa Monica store.

Back in Poland, Nicole immediately went to another Verizon store and charmed someone into changing the cell phone plan that she wasn’t authorized to change. Her Verizon bills were seven-hundred dollars a month.

How was I to treat someone I knew was exploiting our business arrangement, someone with whom I disagreed morally, ethically and on the definition of humane, but whose baby I wanted?

The deeper into her pregnancy and the more I got to know her, the less I liked her. I saw no redeeming qualities, no soft spots or vulnerabilities. I spent many hours thinking about my obligations to toxic people. It wasn’t a new subject for me. I grew up in a houseful of them. But I didn’t want their babies. How was I to treat someone I knew was exploiting our business arrangement, someone with whom I disagreed morally, ethically and on the definition of humane, but whose baby I wanted?

I sensed it was over the day she told me the baby was a girl. The hairs on my arms stood up. My stomach dropped. Nicole’s voice was slightly off, almost imperceptibly different than normal, but I heard it.

From that point on I felt we were just subsidizing the last four months of her pregnancy. I tried to ready myself. I tried to rid myself of hope. But I couldn’t keep from naming her in my mind. Delany Jane. Or Keira. I’d thought it would be a boy (Ilya) but I was delighted. She’d be a Libra, like her daddy. I was a little disappointed she wasn’t a boy. Instead of having a kid who’d adore me, I was in for, “I hate you, mother.”

“I know, darling. It will pass. I hope.”

Flying to Cleveland, Ohio from LAX was four and half fucking hours for us to wonder and reel about having a baby thirteen years into a marriage. Did we really want one? Were we grown up and selfless enough? We were forty-eight and fifty, I in the lead. We put our collective faith in believing that we had to have grown up by now, right?

Cleveland had a variety of hotels. We could have booked one, but Poland was two hours south, and we were due there for a 6am breakfast. Nicole was being induced at 7am, but she made us agree to breakfast with her mother at Denny’s before she checked in at the hospital. Throwing back a French Slam and inducing in the same hour seemed a little shit-risky for me, but I’ve never birthed a baby.

We drove through the dark to Denny’s. We were exhausted, excited and under-slept. My cell phone rang. I fumbled for it in my large purse and accidently pressed “Accept Call” without knowing it.

Now what does she want,” I grumbled out loud. Putting the phone to my ear, I lied with friendly gusto, “Hello?”

“Breakfast is definitely cancelt! See you at the hospital.”

She’d heard it.

She was terse and icy all day. It was the 3rd of October, 2007. Nicole put a parade of people through her paces that day. Preston played unsupervised on the linoleum floor under the chrome machinery tables with their wire tails attached to the walls. Cyndi dropped by. We met Baby Daddy. He was no angry truck driver but rather, a small boned, shy guy with a pothead grin. I didn’t dislike him. Just his taste in women.

Her apple-puppet mother visited briefly. She didn’t care for us “Californyuns come take away her granchal.” Nicole had spent six months telling us that her mother hated her for making another dingo baby, but here she was wanting the grandkid. She ended her visit with a curt bleat: “Baah.”

Everything about Nicole repulsed me. But I was kind, present, and I kept my eye on the prize.

“Ahm havin’ natchurl chaldbirth!”

She was very proud of that, but she’d had a numbing epidural which accounted for her not feeling her own labor. There was neither a twist nor a groan nor doubling in pain because she felt none. All she’d feel was a sensation to push.

Hours later when the sensation was heading into the station, time seemed to slow down. Nicole told us that she wanted me to cut the cord and Nick to “be with her and hold her hand” at her head. Then four nurses entered. One of them was black. Nicole’s eyes grew huge and she growled that she didn’t care for n*****s.

My job got harder with her unfathomable racism on the table. The nurse didn’t seem as horrified as I was. Maybe she’d become inured to it in a place like Poland, Ohio. I’d never seen anything like it, and it left a lifetime scar.

We knew we were watching the whole thing disintegrate, but our brains couldn’t absorb it. Whether or not it was about the mobile moment or her wanting to keep a baby girl, it didn’t matter. All I knew was my dream baby was in distress.

Nicole’s doctor appeared because of the kerfuffle. She was an all business, take charge pro and I, for one, was happy to see her. I needed the exhaustion and the excitement to be over. I needed a meal. I get hangry a lot.

The doctor handed me a surgical scissors and said, “When you cut the cord, cut it with authority.”

The baby was out. The glistening cord was longer than I thought. The doctor showed me where to place the scissors and I easily sliced through it. She looked at me with a smirk in her eyes.

“Nice job,” she said. “Done this before?”

“No. Beginner’s luck, I guess.”

Delany Jane was responsive and healthy, pink, sea-shell nailed and much quieter than her mother, who was still carrying on now that the show was over.

I spent some time with my newborn in my lap, trying to wrap my brain around her being my daughter. Nicole didn’t give us a moment to ourselves with Delany. She was nonchalant about bonding with the baby or letting me. Everything she said was couched. She skirted topics.

We knew we were watching the whole thing disintegrate, but our brains couldn’t absorb it. Whether or not it was about the mobile moment or her wanting to keep a baby girl, it didn’t matter. All I knew was my dream baby was in distress.

We called our lawyers, to no avail. We called the Los Angeles Department of Child and Family Services. Closed. The hospital’s Social Services Department was also closed for the weekend.

Nicole had induced labor a week early on a Saturday so she could attend a party Sunday night.

We returned to our depressing, shoebox motel with a feeling of being beaten up and bruised before the fight has begun.

The following morning, we went to the hospital because Nicole wanted to talk to us. She had her tubes tied and made sure we saw the round bandage on the surgical site. Her mother was also present.

Nicole said, “Ah want visitation rats.”

“No. There’s no visitation, no co-parenting. You agreed to that.”

“Ah want to see her fave tams a month.”

“That’s not going to happen.”

Either she was blackmailing us, or she wanted to keep the baby. It’s possible that she wanted to stay in our lives that frequently. But she was untrustworthy and not a five times a month person. Changing the rules after the baby was born felt like a cruel land grab. Rules are why you need the fucking lawyers.

We felt scammed.  We had no one left to call, no advocates. The hospital was duty bound to her. We went to a local watering hole and tried to drink away the pain, but later I wept and sobbed to the universe, “Where’s my baby?”

My husband was beside himself, wanting to comfort me, grieving about the baby, feeling guilty that we waited as long as we did. Six months is a long time to prep and grow attached to a parental idea.

We confirmed over breakfast that we couldn’t/wouldn’t/shouldn’t accept her offer. Cut and run.

Nicole’s lawyer, who was working that Sunday on our dime, called us later that morning.

“Nicole has decided to parent the child herself.”

Nicole couldn’t parent a hamster. Nicole is and will always be her own favorite subject.

We swore off having kids. We were sofa bound for a couple of weeks. Mourning, grieving. Some said, “The universe sometimes urges a baby on to make room for your baby.”

 

“Really? Shut the fuck up. Go save a manatee.”

The last time I saw Nicole, she was hyperventilating into a paper bag in her hospital room. The baby was still in a Lucite bin on the other side of the room. The nurse present was flummoxed over whose side to take. I appeared street rat crazy and demanded Nicole hand over the Palm Pilot before I left.

“I’m keepin’ mah sim card!”

“If you’re keeping your bai-by I assume you’re keepin’ your sim card.”

She picked out the card and pushed the cell toward me. I grabbed it from her hand and exploded in a burst of rage.

“You can’t afford the kid you have now!” I screeched. “How can you handle two? These aren’t children to you — they’re charms on your Hello Kitty/Baby Daddy bracelet. Did you fleece another couple during Preston’s pregnancy?”

I was out of my mind. I stomped down two floors of stairs and ran out of the hospital. Outside the air smelled fresher, more invigorating, more hopeful. My tears were endless. Snot dripped from my nose. I picked up a big, white landscaping rock and flattened the Palm Pilot on the curb until it rode the friction straight into a water drain.

We swore off having kids. We were sofa bound for a couple of weeks. Mourning, grieving. People were kind. They offered to break down the nursery. They brought us groceries. Some said, “The universe sometimes urges a baby on to make room for your baby.”

“Really? Shut the fuck up. Go save a manatee.”

Three months later, a different lawyer called about a New Jersey woman in labor who chose us to adopt her baby.

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