She was 19 when she drank a little too much and ended up going home with a guy she would never see again, having sex for the first time and getting pregnant. It was a week before my wedding when she finally realized what was causing her to throw up all the time and instead of planning my bachelorette I found her hugging a teddy bear in the basement fighting back tears.
She was going to keep him. In her heart she wanted him. In her heart she loved him. But she had no idea what she was doing. We promised to be there for her when he was born. We moved countries for the third time that year in order to be with her. But it was as though she was gone. She was not ready for this, emotionally, or in any other way. She was blanking out and going through the motions but her heart was absent.
We knew that she needed help. She needed to decide what she was going to do rather than let life happen to her. She needed to act in a way consistent with her heart or it didn't matter what her heart would say. "We will support you in any way you want. You can live with us if you like. We will help you tak care of this baby but you have to decide that you are going to be his mother. You have to be ready to give up everything to take care of him if need be. Can you do that? You must ask yourself and decide."
We gave her 24 hours to think and decide. (She was due in less than 3 weeks and had already had many months to think it over.)
I lay awake that night praying that she would choose her baby. Just as I had lain awake many nights since the days of my bachelorette hoping that she loved her baby at least as much as I loved him.
She did love him. When she took a long honest look at herself she realized she had some growing up to do. She loved him enough to decide to give him to someone else who was better equipped to take care of him. We all cried when she said the word adoption out loud.
We wondered if we should adopt him, pregnant as we were with our first child and inexperienced in the ways of parenting. I know it was the nights laying awake thinking of him that was partly responsible for the change of schedule on my part and getting pregnant so quickly. But those we consulted who knew about such things said it would likely cause strain on our relationship to raise her child. I decided my sister needed me more than he did, because there were people waiting for a baby, but we were the only family she had.
But it wasn't just me that he changed before he was ever born. Our whole family made a place for him in their hearts. I found out later that my brother started to make plans to buy a house and settle down to help her raise him. He told me once that he started to think for the first time about marriage and children because of her baby.
In the end he went to a lovely couple who were unable to have children of their own. We took pictures at the hospital of her handing him to them. Then we took her someplace quiet for a week and cuddled on the couch and cried as her body recovered and there was no baby to take away the ache in her.
I asked, she had 10 days to reverse her decision, if we should go get him back and raise him for her for a few years until she was ready. She said, "no".
He will be 10 next month. Every time the Boy wishes out loud that he had a brother his age to play with I wonder what he looks like, and if giving him up was the right thing to do.
Today I am going to meet him for the first time in almost a decade. the kids will meet him too. I hope my heart can bear the sight of them playing together, the air heavy with what ifs and could have beens.
I am confident that his life is a good one. He is happy and well cared for. But I can't help thinking that we are all a good deal poorer for having let him go, after letting him carve such a space in our hearts.