Adam the bitterest sea

In the past few days, my concentration has been on events from my teenage years when I was a new mother of a premature, disabled child, my son Adam. When I got pregnant, my parents couldn’t have been more supportive. My parents even built an addition to their business to serve as a “daycare” for my child yet to be born, so that I could go to school and have somewhat of a normal life for myself and my son. I remembered my mother saying, after Adam’s father abandoned us, that there were good men in the world who would marry a woman with a child not their own. My mother and father wanted me to have a future, an education, and a good life.

Every morning, when I was pregnant, my Daddy would bring me breakfast in bed. He wanted me to have good nutrition for my unborn child.


Those old threats of “If you get pregnant, you’ll be kicked out” were never true in my family. Everyone came together to help me and I was never shamed.

When Adam was born prematurely, we went into crisis mode. For the four months that he was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, we would get nightly calls that his heart had stopped beating or that he wasn’t breathing. This intense period of crisis embedded deep trauma in me that caused a lifetime of PTSD and other mental health issues. On many nights that we’d get those calls, my mother and I would jump in her van and drive to the hospital to be at Adam’s incubator to hold his little hand or if it was possible, hold him in our arms. None of my friends knew this, except one very close girlfriend.

My parents emancipated me and took guardianship of Adam to legally manage his care, which I was incapable of doing. I continued to live in my parents’ house until the day I got married in 1989. My parents paid for me to go to college for six years. They didn’t pressure me at any time to take more responsibility for Adam’s care. They knew I was deeply traumatized and knew that I blamed myself (I was not to blame) for his prematurity and disability. They never guilted me about not being more hands-on. They gave me money to go out with friends, they paid for my clothing, gas, and provided me with a car. They had no restrictions on my life. They wanted me to have a normal young life, even though my life was anything but normal compared to my peers. I’ll say now that my growth and maturity kicked in when I met my now husband. He accepted Adam with no reservations. He fit into our family perfectly and helped me to learn how to mother my son until the day Adam died.

What has haunted me these past few days is how I was mistreated by my peers who knew something of my life but only fringes and gossip. I had people tell me that I should have had an abortion, that instead of going out to hear bands I should be home taking care of my “retarded baby,” and that I was probably on drugs while pregnant which was why they thought he was how he was. I felt like a freak because I couldn’t defend myself against this horrible treatment because deep down I felt immense guilt for Adam’s condition although nothing I did had contributed to his prematurity and his diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy.

The recollection of the night Adam was born is clear to me. That afternoon, I had been feeling unwell while visiting with my sister-in-law. I went to the bathroom and my water broke. I went home and my mother told me to lie down. She came to the room and lay with me. I started feeling contractions and she calmed me. Secretly, she was timing them. When she realized I was indeed in labor, she called my OBGYN and we went to Women’s and Children’s Hospital. In the examination room, the nurse checked the baby’s heartbeat. He was in distress, so they put me in the labor and delivery room immediately. I had a ruptured placenta and it was all happening so fast. Adam was delivered at 7:26 p.m. weighing 2 lbs. 2.5 oz.

When the nurse held him to show him to me I was again traumatized. I was happy to have a child in a delirious way, but he looked so alien and scary. They did an assessment of him and then rushed him to the NICU. Someone asked me his name. I had been so early in my pregnancy I hadn’t thought of one, but clearly and intently, I said, “Adam Christopher.”

My son died on March 15, 2004. Two weeks after his funeral, I wrote the first poem that would become part of Eating the Heart First (Press 53, 2012), called “Ice to Water” about his death from septicemia due to multiple bouts of viral pneumonia. Adam has been memorialized in many poems but this one is my favorite because it was written when he was alive and when I came to honor myself as his mother in the God-given grace that was to be.