The Bat Phone

My bat phone is tucked away in my underwear drawer. There it sits, the service turned off. For a time, though, that phone was like another limb, always with me.

When I walked into a dark theater or a restaurant, the first thing I did was check to see if I got service. I received quizzical looks on the subway as I held my iPhone in one hand, and the bat phone in the other. I did not have my bat phone — more commonly known as a burner phone — to make drug deals or to get the scoop for some breaking news story. This burner was how I communicated with our son’s birth mom, who I call M.

My husband and I were matched with a birth mom three months before she was due with a baby boy. She decided to make an adoption plan. She chose us to parent her unborn child. It sounds so simple.

We were advised to use a separate number to communicate with M during her final trimester. She knew this. It felt a little funny that we could have her personal number, but she was not privy to ours. It felt funny, yes, but I welcomed a bit of protection and distance. I could, in theory, put the bat phone away and try to go on with a sense of normalcy.

As Rory’s due date drew closer, that phone became like a drug. I was addicted. The tiny red light that would light up when we received a text from M was intoxicating. It was all we had. There was no kicking baby, no swollen ankles, and no maternity clothes. My “pregnancy” was measured in those texts.

At my lowest moments, I would find myself awake all night convinced that M had given birth and changed her mind. The terror, panic, and sadness would usually dissipate by morning and my rational self would take over. My rational self knew this was utterly unfair to M, who had given us no indication whatsoever that this was happening, but adoption is its own emotional beast with heart-wrenching twists and turns.

During the first few days in a hotel with our newborn son, Rory, it was nice to (finally) put the phone away.

I needed a break from M. It pains me to admit that, but I did.

I needed it to be my husband, Rory, and me.

I needed, for a little while, for us to be just us.

I needed to pretend there was no mother before me; I needed to pretend I was the only one.

The bat phone was left on for one month after Rory’s birth. It was a hard transition from before Rory was born to after. How much did M want to know? How much did I want to share? I wanted to text so she knew what this incredible being she gave birth to was doing, but maybe she didn’t want to know. Maybe it was too hard.

I remember the day we stopped texting. I was nervous to tell M we would now have to communicate through our lawyer. I felt terrible even though she knew this was coming. This was the plan from the beginning. I texted to tell her our service contract was up and the phone was going to be turned off. She knew. She said okay.

It didn’t feel okay to me.

The last thing I told her was that she is an amazing mother to her children. I know this because she allowed us to meet her babies and spend a little time with them. As she recovered in the hospital we heard her on the phone with them, mothering them the best she could from a hospital bed as she spent time getting to know Rory, and simultaneously preparing to say goodbye to him.

I transcribed every text exchange between us before the phone was turned off. The texts are filled with love, anger, excitement, manipulation, joy, nerves, trust, sadness, and faith from both of us. Some of them are awkward and uncomfortable as we learned to navigate a relationship that was intimate and foreign all at once.

I want Rory to know it all. I want to remember it all.

I have not stopped thinking about Rory’s birth mom since the bat phone was turned off. I wish for some idealistic relationship where we could share information about Rory with no feelings being hurt, no hard questions being asked, or roles being questioned (who is mom?).

I miss her. As I get to know Rory more and more, a part of my heart breaks thinking about what she will miss because she decided to place her child for adoption, while another part of my heart overflows with joy as my darling boy greets me. How is it possible to feel both things? I don’t know. I just do.

There would be no Rory as we know him if she decided to raise him. He’s my son, but without her choice, he wouldn’t be. He’s her son, too. Deep in my bones, I feel both things to be true.

For an outsider looking in, “sharing” a child may seem awful. It’s not. It’s what I know. It’s what I asked for. There is immense gratitude and love for her. It’s a new love, a different love, and a complex love. I grieve for her, too. I am still grieving for her loss and my immeasurable gain.

She is my Batman. My superhero. She made me a mother.

After the bat phone was turned off, we wrote letters and sent pictures through our lawyer per our post-adoption agreement. We never heard back from M.

When we prepared to send Rory’s nine-month update, my husband and I decided we wanted M to have a way to reach us other than through the lawyer. So we secretly included my phone number in our letter.

We came to this decision the same way we make most decisions as they relate to the openness of our adoption: We always try to do right by our son. I thought, what if one day Rory asks why M couldn’t call or text us? The answers I came up with were always selfish. They were about me.

I didn’t want to share you. I was scared of her. I was nervous she wouldn’t think I was doing a good job.

But my son deserves to know his whole story. Where he came from, who he came from, and how he became my son.

And so, M has our number, and she has texted. Like only Batman can, she has swooped in at exactly the right moment and rescued me from my insecurities as a new mother; as the second mother. She told me how handsome my son was. She asked how I was adjusting to motherhood, reassuring me that she was secure in our two roles in Rory’s life. It may not always be so perfect, but it’s a start. We can communicate now. We can continue to build our relationship for us and for Rory.

The relationship between a birth mother and adoptive mother is rare and unique and full of uncharted territory. One thing is for certain: we’re all in this together. Me, my husband, Rory, and M, our Batman superhero.