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? Can’t 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 haven’t mentioned it, we’re both happy. Why rock the boat?" Joanna was pleading.

"You think I’m going to rock the boat? We haven’t talked about Jessica since she was born, and now I bring the subject up, you think I’m 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 haven’t discussed it."

"There’s nothing to discuss! We went through all that before..." Joanna lowered her voice to the wisp of a whisper, " got pregnant."

"We discussed the mechanics, yes. But like every couple planning pregnancy, we didn’t 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 haven’t once discussed how we FEEL!"

"I feel fine. Paula, I’m so happy. Jessica is wonderful. There aren’t any problems. We discussed the adoption in detail with the social worker, and it's all gone through fine! I’m so very grateful to you. I’d 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 don’t want to discuss it. You’re terrified I might ask for Jessica back."

"No…" She wouldn't meet my eyes.

"Yes you are," I persisted. "Don’t worry, I won’t. She loves you, you love her. I’m 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 can’t 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. It’s 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? It’s been over two years!"

"I can’t ignore it. I’ve told you I’m not going to spoil Jessica’s life, or yours. I stand by our agreement." I had to tell her. "But it’s 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 didn’t know, I didn’t realise…"

"Didn't realise what?"

"That I'd -- miss her -- oh it's more than that -- it's like a physical thing..."

"I thought we’d 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 couldn’t know how I felt, how I feel, how I’ve been feeling for two years! I gave up my baby!"

"It was never your baby! You knew that! It’s what you wanted to do. You can’t change your mind now!" Her voice was wobbling.

"I'm sorry Joanna, I don't want to upset you -- I told you, I don’t want to spoil things. But I can’t go on. You should know how I’m feeling. You wanted a baby long enough. You must know those desperate feelings, longings. Well it’s the same for me. I’m longing I for Jessica, and I can’t have her!"

"SSSH! Paula!"

"Well, the truth has to come out sooner or later. I wish your daughter were mine, and I’ve been trying for a daughter of my own -- or at least a second child -- ever since, but we haven’t been lucky."

"Oh Paula, not you, too!"

"Oh, I expect I’ll have another child eventually. I haven’t been trying THAT hard. Leo doesn’t realise…. But another child, even a girl, wouldn’t replace Jessica. Joanna, I can’t stop loving her, thinking about her, wanting to be involved in her life."

"But you are… you’re 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..

.curly rule

Helen Whitehead

Dissertation for
MA in Writing

Nottingham Trent University

To continue, follow the theme


Last amended on 10th September1998 / copyright H. M. Whitehead