One of the most frequent statements I hear after telling people my story is how brave I am. I’m told how strong I am and, often, how they could NEVER do what I did by choosing open adoption for my second daughter. While I know it’s usually meant with the best of intentions, it strikes a chord with me nonetheless. “Brave” is not how I would describe myself four years ago when I made the toughest decision of my life. I was a complete and total mess from the moment I found out I was pregnant, and that emotional roller coaster continued for at least the whole first year after placement.

The birth of my daughter is a blur to me. I remember bits and pieces here and there, but things are out of context and very fuzzy. It was the complete opposite of my first birth, which I can still recall every detail of. It’s as though I was physically there but mentally I was somewhere else entirely. I think this is the only way my brain could deal with the enormity of what was happening to me. I tried to separate myself entirely from this beautiful little being I already loved with all my heart. I think that was the hardest conflict for me: Half of me wanted to smother her with kisses and never let her go while the other half of me wanted to make this transition as easy as possible for the baby. It was very important to me that Karen was the first person she bonded with.

The first time I held my daughter was a few hours later, after they discovered Sarah wasn’t breathing well enough on her own. She had an oxygen mask taped on her little nose, (or MY little nose) and there were two nurses in the nursery with us watching every move. I felt I had to be very careful of showing that I loved her. I could hear the nurses talking behind me, and I wasn’t able to sing to her like I wanted. In retrospect, I was terrified of holding her too long and then not being able to let her go.

I was released from the hospital the next day, but they kept Sarah for a few reasons. Although I was recovered enough to go home, she was still having issues breathing. Secondly, we were in a bit of a limbo. I couldn’t sign away my parental rights for a full three days after giving birth, and until the papers were signed, Rob and Karen had no legal right to her.

Just a few hours after being home, I received devastating news–Sarah had an episode of apnea and had stopped breathing, and she was being transferred to a special neonatal unit. Instantly, I became a sobbing mess of emotions, but I told Rob I would be right there. As I asked my brother for a ride, he questioned my motives at getting involved, and asked if I was getting attached. I simply said that we were already attached. She grew under my heart. Also, it was very important to me to be there if the worst happened. I had brought her into this world, and I would be there on her way out…

After arriving at the hospital and seeing our baby hooked up to so many tubes and machines, poor Rob had two hysterical women on his hands. We had to calm down quickly though, as the hospital we transferred to seemed to have a problem with our adoption right off the bat. We had to fight as a team to get things done our way, and this laid the foundation for the amazing relationship we have today. Rob calmed both of us down and then proceeded to use that magic touch on Sarah, who instantly fell in love with her daddy, and she proved to be a total fighter. Being able to see them parent helped quiet a lot of my fears and made me even more certain that this was the path my life was supposed to take–even if it meant we’d be apart for now.

I was not brave then, but my daughter taught me how to be strong. She gave me a quiet dignity that was lacking before, and she showed me that the love between a mother and daughter is eternal and unshakable, no matter how far apart we may be. Like the phoenix rising from the ashes of her sorrow, I will strive to live my life in a way that will make her proud of me.