The Box That Wouldn't Fit

"The car won't go into reverse as long as that thing is inside," I mumbled to myself, glaring at the oversized carton jammed against the gear shift. My daughter had packed most of her belongings to return home from college. Finally, I placed the box outside the car, then hurried around to replace the unwieldy package in its place inside the driver's seat then headed for the post office.

Sometimes it seems like years since I wrestled with that packing crate, trying to squeeze it into the compaq car. Yet as I struggle with the remnants of Clinical Depression, I remember my frustration in dealing with the box that wouldn't fit.

My youngest daughter, Mary was date raped. From this traumatic event, she became pregnant. Denial is strong when a person in victimized like this and at first she refused to accept it. When she was able to confront what had occurred, she consulted with a doctor then called home to tell us.

While the ensuing months were Mary's story, they also became mine as I gradually fell into the grip of despair know to those who have also suffered through Depression.

While Mary struggled with the decision of whether or not to place her baby for adoption, a decision which would change her life no matter which way she chose, I struggled with it also. For several years, I had become so involved with Mary's emotions that my own mirrored hers in what psychologists call "enmeshment."

The crisis took me beyond normal motherly concerns. I careened up and down on an emotional roller coaster that reflected Mary's tumultuous moods. I cried when she cried, worried when she worried, agonized when she agonized. Telephone calls to and from her college home became traumatic events for us both.

My life spun around until the only aspect of my life that I could control was my weight which slipped slowly as I flirted with anorexic behaviors.

Days became endless forays into black nothingness. I slept compulsively, escaping my pain in a thunderous sleep which I slipped into again and again, rising only to accomplish the absolute necessities of life.

At my annual physical, I wept, no longer able to maintain the facade. At my physician's insistence, I accepted the necessity of medication and therapy.

Even as despair lifted and hope floated like a gauzy veil barely within my reach, I engaged in my emotional battles like a warrior without weapons. Ever before me loomed a trip to Montana for the baby's birth to give support to my eighteen-year old daughter who, without her consent, edged closer toward motherhood and who had decided that adoption was the best alternative.

Seeing Mary during the March spring break overwhelmed me. Ten days of Mary's tears, of hearing her discuss which was the best possible couple to raise her child, of trying to ease her pain while hiding mine brought little serenity into our lives. Finally Mary selected the family who would adopt her baby.

I flew to Montana in April when Mary had her baby, a girl.

"I can't go through with this," Mary finally sobbed, looking down at her child with a love I'd never before seen in her eyes.

I searched my mind and heart for the right words, the appropriate reactions, and came up with only tears. "I know this is the hardest thing you'll ever have to do," I tried, holding both of them in my arms. At length, I slipped under the bedcovers of the cot beside Mary's hospital bed, prayerful and desperate for some answers.

In the morning, she again decided that giving the baby up was the best option for the child. The adoptive parents visited her, bringing little pink dresses for the baby to show us. Bev gave Mary a gentle kiss and hug as she glimpsed Mary's tears.

That evening after dinner, Bev and Charles and their three-year old son arrived. Mary's baby was placed in their arms, and the excited little boy rejoiced in wonder at this miracle of life that would soon come to live with them.

I watched the tenderness of the couple toward the baby they were adopting and toward the son who now stroked the infant who would soon be "his sister." How wonderful that she would enjoy life with this family, I thought. This was a family who genuinely wanted another child. A family which welcomed Mary's participation to whatever extent she desired.

And then the moment came for Mary to sign the papers. Paralyzed, she remained slumped in pathetic despair, unable to look at the papers or pick up the pen.

The clock remained set at "Never" as the occupants of the room stirred in unease. A nurse walked over and hugged Mary. "It's perfectly normal for you to feel this way. It's a very difficult thing to do."

Mary's face mirrored a thousand emotions.

"Why don't we go down to the conference hall?" Bev suggested. They left with a concerned glance at the mother and child.

The nurse placed her hands on Mary's shoulders. "Are you having trouble saying good-bye or with your decision?"

"I don't know."

"Would you like to talk with the social worker?"


When Linda, the hospital social worker, arrived, embraced Mary and professionally and compassionately assessed the situation, I knew that she was not only competent, but that Mary was comfortable talking with her.

I listened to the dialogue, feeling involved yet distant. What if she keeps the baby, I wondered. And the adoptive family--how will they cope? I wanted to rock myself into one of those event--crushing sleeps from which I would only emerge when life was once again peaceful and springlike.

"You aren't in an emotional state to make any decision," Linda finally told Mary who was struggling to find an answer. "Would you like us to arrange for care for the baby while you reassess the situation? There's a world of difference in confronting this decision when the baby is in your arms as opposed to in utereo."

Mary looked up in gratitude. "Yes," she whispered, "but what will I tell Bev and Charles?"

Linda promised to explain the situation to everyone involved.

Slowly, we packed Mary's belongings to leave the hospital. We wheeled the baby to the nursery and stared in silence at her-tiny peaceful and unaware of the drama surrounding her future.

As the mother of four children, I knew what It felt like to hold your newborn baby in your arms for the first time. I knew that the previous nine months had already provided bonding. At first glance, you know your own baby well. You love her deeply, you experience innate protective instincts. You're aware of wanting only the finest things for this wonderful little person. And you're convinced that your are the best possible mother to provide the important things like love and devotion.

Fighting that concept was my view from years of experience. Motherhood is difficult as well as joyful, best for mature individuals who choose it rather than for a teen for whom it was chosen.

Visions of Mary arriving at college, an excited young co-ed with dreams and expectations of the future flooded my mind. I could hear her words of enthusiasm at the beginning of the school year, and I could hear her wretched tears shed over the past months. I struggled to return to the present.

Linda emphasized to Mary that she must make a decision based on what she believed to be best for the baby and for her. Guilt and sadness about the adoptive family and her own family had to be put aside.

We left the baby at a foster home while Mary struggled through the next days. Although Mary had named the baby Anna Christine at the time of birth, she had only called her "the baby." Now she called her Anna, and I knew what the decision would be.

Many details had to be worked out in order for Anna to leave the foster care home and remain with Mary on campus. Barriers of all kinds stood in the way.

But I knew then that I couldn't be one of them. I understood for the first time what disentangling myself from Mary's emotions and life's decisions meant. Emotionally, I took a step in the opposite direction. It was one of the most difficult steps of my life. "Whatever your decision is going to be, Mary, I'll be with you," I promised and I meant it.

Arrangements with the college authorities made, we brought Anna to the dormitory, experiencing an outflow of love and support from all Mary's friends,. some of who had spent the night in the labor and delivery room with her and who knew Anna from the first moment of her birth.

Mary made the painful telephone call to Bev and Charles who remained supportive and loving toward Mary despite their own grief. They even sent a Mother's Day card, reassuring her that they were doing find and wishing her a happy first Mother's Day with Anna. Even now the thought of them is bittersweet.

At the end of the week, I left Mary and Anna at the airport with mixed feelings-concern, anxiety, sadness, happiness. Mary would finish the year at college with Anna by her side. I felt closer to her in a positive way, relieved that the unhealthy enmeshment which had plagued me was now relegated to the past.

Now I think of that box of Mary's belongings that she would need when she and Anna came home to live with us and of the adjustments I had to make before it would fit. The only direction I couldn't move in with that box was reverse. Emotionally, for me, whatever the unknown future holds, I know that it is best that I can only go forward.

Marnie Parnell

Magic Stream Journal

Copyright © 1996 Magic Stream
All Rights Remain With Author

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