'Instant' Parents Get Crash Course in How to Take Care of a Newborn

Leopold is a Chicago free - lance writer

Sunday I will celebrate my fifth Mother's Day. Like other veteran mothers, on the surface at least I am blase. I have come to expect the roses and photos and the cards with crayon scribbles that indicate I am the best of mothers.

In 1988 in early May, I was anything but blase. Then my motto was "A mother by Mother's Day!"

There was little to cheer on my motherhood front. Forays into the world of infertility medicine had proven fruitless. Several adoption scenarios had led to hopes raised high and suddenly dashed.

Then on the Monday five days before Mother's Day, right after I'd finished a job interview, a secretary pressed a pink message slip into my hand.

"Urgent! Call your husband," the communique commanded.

Our adoption lawyer had called to say a newborn boy was almost ready for adoption.

My husband, Lee, and I met at a waterfront restaurant in Chicago. We tried, unsuccessfully, to swallow food and subdue our excitement, hope and nervousness.

That afternoon we met with the lawyer at his request, which we interpreted as a very positive sign. Normally, getting a minute of his attention by telephone required persistent calls.

We met the next day with social services people, another first, and in our minds a concrete, signal that parenthood might be within our grasp.

Wednesday, we hovered expectantly by the phone waiting to hear that the papers clearing the adoption had been signed. Finally, we got the good news.

Our joy would be someone else's sadness. Adoption is, after all, an emotionally mixed bag. But, hallelujah, I was to be a mother on Mother's Day after all.

Then, things moved quickly. Head for Toys R Us, our lawyer advised, and buy a blanket, two sleepers and a car seat. Dutifully, we obeyed.

Inside what I, in my childless innocence, had assumed was a small children's shop, we stared in amazement at the cavernous store with its shopping carts, miles of aisles and floor-to-ceiling merchandise.

We had less than an hour before we were due in court.

After consulting with each other in front of the crayons and markers, Lee and I concluded there was no way we could navigate Toys R Us alone. We nabbed a shopper and foolishly asked her if she was a mother. Who else but parents and a few brave grandparents venture into such a place?

We explained to this startled woman that we would be parents in a matter of hours. We rattled off our lawyer's list. Car seat, sleepers, receiver blankets ("receiving," she corrected).

Amazed that we were doing in minutes what others prepare for in nine months, she left her own cart behind, grabbed ours, and started filling it with assorted items: diapers, formula, tiny sleeping bags, pacifiers and other things that in her motherly wisdom she deemed essential.

One hundred something dollars later, we whisked through the cashier lines, packed the car with our purchases, and headed downtown to the county courts.

We had 10 minutes to spare, so we ate our last meal as a childless couple at a nearby MacDonald's. (How could we appreciate the irony? We only learned three years later of the lure this fast-food chain casts on preschoolers--and that our son would drag us back there again and again.)

We headed for the courtroom where we raised our hands, said "I do" a lot, and signed a paper or two. The presiding judge gave us a poem about adoption.

From the court, we headed for the hospital where the baby waited.

Traveling on an expressway on a sunny sky day always takes me back to that long trip to the hospital. We were so nervous we didn't speak. The National Public Radio station sounded the news, and we were lost in private thoughts.

Were we out of our minds? Was this the biggest mistake we'd ever make? In retrospect, it is the only big decision we've made that we have never, ever regretted.

At the hospital, we met with a social worker, donned operating gowns and made our way to the nursery. The nurse there--a mother of six adopted children, we learned--sat me down in a rocking chair, disappeared and returned with the tiniest, most perfect baby and placed him in my arms.

I felt sweet tears of joy wash my cheeks. My husband--who I'd seen cry only once in eight years--also wept.

Our son Cary, now 4, calls this the 'dopted story and relishes that detail--that mommy and daddy cried.

"I cried, too," he adds knowingly. "I wanted a bottle."

Because our "gestation" occurred in fewer than three days, we were materially ill-prepared for our baby's arrival. But friends with children came through for us by the bagful. Giant garbage bags filled with tiny clothes, dozens of receiving blankets--now we knew what they were--and the odd bag-like contraptions in which babies are transported littered our living room floor.

In short order, Lee and I developed the ability to get a diaper on an infant without assistance. More finely tuned child-rearing skills followed.

And, over the years, we have--on the surface, at least--come to take it for granted that we are parents.

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