I sat with Joanna in the bustle of the department store restaurant, at a table for two My stomach churned with anxiety, so I'd refused food, ordering only a black coffee. Joanna toyed with a mushroom and bacon all-day breakfast. She was uncomfortable, and kept shushing me as I tried to talk. Our table for two was mere centimetres away from another table at which sat two middle-aged women in co-ordinated shopping-clothes, enthusiastically talking about surfing the Internet.
Finally I leaned over and said pointedly:"No-one is going to hear us!"
"Do you have to bring it up now? Cant we discuss it at home?"she said quickly.
"Whose home, yours or mine?" I was determined to talk. "With Jamie or Jessica or both under our feet? Interrupted by hungry husbands and window salesmen, Mum on the phone? Oh no, I want to talk about it now. Or I might never talk about it at all. I want to talk about Jessica."
"But I thought everything was all right. We havent mentioned it, were both happy. Why rock the boat?" Joanna was pleading.
"You think Im going to rock the boat? We havent talked about Jessica since she was born, and now I bring the subject up, you think Im going to cause trouble? Whatever makes you think that?"I tried to stop myself raising my voice.
"We have talked about Jessica -- lots of times."
"Yes, and we've talked about Jamie. We have talked lots about the CHILDREN. But we have not talked for two years about how Jessica was born -- came to be. We havent discussed it."
"Theres nothing to discuss! We went through all that before..." Joanna lowered her voice to the wisp of a whisper, "...you got pregnant."
"We discussed the mechanics, yes. But like every couple planning pregnancy, we didnt think too much about what it would be like afterwards."
"Keep your voice down, please!"
I was past being embarrassed. It had taken me several months to get to this point. "Since I handed Jessica over, we havent once discussed how we FEEL!"
"I feel fine. Paula, Im so happy. Jessica is wonderful. There arent any problems. We discussed the adoption in detail with the social worker, and it's all gone through fine! Im so very grateful to you. Id do anything to pay you back, you know that."
"Well pay me back by not trying to squirm out of this conversation." I was furious now.
I took a deep breath. "I know you dont want to discuss it. Youre terrified I might ask for Jessica back."
"No " She wouldn't meet my eyes.
"Yes you are," I persisted. "Dont worry, I wont. She loves you, you love her. Im not going to spoil it for her. Admit it!"
"It's never occurred to me. Really! Why would you want her back? You had her for me! And we're all fine. Me and Tim and Jessica, and you and Leo and Jamie. Two happy families."
"We cant forget what happened."
"No, and I don't want to. But I don't want to tell Jessica or Jamie. You agreed with that."
"I know. But they made us promise we would tell her eventually."
"You promised to leave it to me about when to tell her!"
"I know. Its only now, it's not going to qwork, just ignoring the fact I'm her mother!"
"I'm her mother!"
"I'm her birth mother -- genetically she's mine!"
"And I'm her life mother." Joanna sighed. "I thought we'd been through all this. Why bring it up now Paula? Its been over two years!"
"I cant ignore it. Ive told you Im not going to spoil Jessicas life, or yours. I stand by our agreement." I had to tell her. "But its tearing me apart."
"Oh, Paula!" She was genuinely shocked.
"I -- I wanted to do it for you. I wanted you to have a baby. It was easy for me. But I didnt know, I didnt realise "
"Didn't realise what?"
"That I'd -- miss her -- oh it's more than that -- it's like a physical thing..."
"I thought wed got over all this when she was born. You seemed to take it really well. I thought how brave you were!"
"You were delirious with joy, Joanna. You had your baby. You never really thought about my feelings."
"Yes I did, I did!"
I sighed, and stirred the sugar on the bowl on the table. "You couldnt know how I felt, how I feel, how Ive been feeling for two years! I gave up my baby!"
"It was never your baby! You knew that! Its what you wanted to do. You cant change your mind now!" Her voice was wobbling.
"I'm sorry Joanna, I don't want to upset you -- I told you, I dont want to spoil things. But I cant go on. You should know how Im feeling. You wanted a baby long enough. You must know those desperate feelings, longings. Well its the same for me. Im longing I for Jessica, and I cant have her!"
"Well, the truth has to come out sooner or later. I wish your daughter were mine, and Ive been trying for a daughter of my own -- or at least a second child -- ever since, but we havent been lucky."
"Oh Paula, not you, too!"
"Oh, I expect Ill have another child eventually. I havent been trying THAT hard. Leo doesnt realise . But another child, even a girl, wouldnt replace Jessica. Joanna, I cant stop loving her, thinking about her, wanting to be involved in her life."
"But you are youre her aunt. You know I consult you on everything!"
"Yes, and that just makes it worse."
"Have you thought about getting counselling?"
to be continued..
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Last amended on 10th September1998 / copyright H. M. Whitehead