Wednesday, August 9, 2017


“How’s It Gonna Be?

“Now tell how it is with us.”
“We got a future.”
“Because…because I got you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that’s why.”
From a conversation between George and Lennie in “Of Mice and Men,” by John Steinbeck, 1936

My favorite character in literature has always been Jo from Louisa May Alcott’s children’s book, Little Men.  Jo was strong and independent and knew what she wanted from life.  More than that, she was a devoted mother and a teacher.  In the months before Leon and I were engaged, I shared with him my dream of someday having my own Plumfield, modeled after the school Jo created with her husband, Professor Bhaer.  In the book, set shortly after the Civil War, the couple housed and educated about a dozen boys and two girls, most of whom would not have had a home had it not been for the generosity of the Bhaers.
We spoke of my dream often over the years and Leon understood how important it was to me.  One afternoon shortly before we were engaged, we were standing under the apple tree in my backyard when I said again how I wanted nothing so much as to be a mother and a teacher.  His response was to take me in his arms and say, “If it ever turns out we can’t have children of our own, we’ll adopt them.  You shall have your Plumfield.”  Leon said this because he knew I’d been a sickly child and might have difficulty conceiving.  Sensitive to the fact that this worried me, he said nothing would prevent me from attaining my dream.  Like George in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Leon promised  he’d look after me and everything would be okay.
When we later discovered that Leon couldn’t father children, it didn’t occur to us to try adopting.  That had been our plan if I couldn’t conceive, not if it was Leon who was sterile.  In our shock, we forgot about our earlier discussion and buried ourselves in our daily routine, Leon at the medical school and I in my job with my father and learning to run a household.
Before we did that, however, Leon called both families to let them know what had happened.  Concerned that his parents would assume the medical trouble was mine and make life difficult for me, he made a point of telling them it was he who had the problem.  In an era when men were slow to admit such things, viewing it as a negative reflection on their masculinity, Leon didn’t hesitate.  He’d always been a progressive thinker and believed in equality for women.  I’ll never forget how he stood by me in that difficult time, doing all he could to shield me.
In the same way, Leon’s mother wanted to shield him from the pain.  She tried to make Leon feel better about the situation, saying it was actually a good thing we couldn’t have children so Leon could devote his life to humanity, rather than focusing on his own family.
I tried not to show how much I was grieving because I didn’t want Leon to be upset about a medical condition over which he had no control.  My Pollyanna persona was truly tested.  Perhaps if I hadn’t hidden my feelings so successfully, Leon would have realized how depressed I was and offered more support.  Instead, he became absorbed in his classes in the daytime and his studies at night, leaving me to develop a new definition of myself, one that wouldn’t include being a mother.
I turned to my cat, Mittens, for comfort.   I kept busy when I could, working, babysitting my nephew, and visiting with family and friends.  Then I’d come home to my childless house and lie on the couch with Mittens curled up against me and pour out my despair to the cat.  Mittens it was who knew how empty I felt.  Mittens it was who knew my love for Leon was all that kept me going.  It was Mittens alone who knew I was riding an emotional roller coaster.
One day I was chatting with my mother on the phone and she was asking me how everything was going.  Every time I gave her an answer, she’d ask about something else.  When it was clear she was finished with her questions, I said, “You haven’t asked about Mittens.”
My mother answered somewhat sharply, “You have the strangest relationship with that cat.”  With her uncanny intuition, Mother sensed something unusual in my attachment to Mittens.  Perhaps she was concerned that I treated the cat as if she were a person, pouring out maternal feelings on her since I couldn’t have a baby.  When I think about it now, I realize this wasn’t the case.  Mittens had become my confidante at a time when I believed I had nowhere else to turn. 
After a couple of months, the shock began to wear off and our thoughts shifted to that day under the apple tree when Leon first suggested we could adopt.  One evening at dinner, we broached the subject to my parents and Dad’s initial reaction was negative.  “Why would you want to burden yourself with raising a child that’s not your own?  How could you possibly love that child?”
I asked Dad if he loved his dog Blackie.  He said, “Of course I do,” and then laughed as he saw my point.  If he could have such strong feelings for an animal, then Leon and I could certainly love an adopted baby.  The rest of the family was supportive, with Mother, Karyl, and Herb encouraging us to go ahead.    
 Grandma Lena took me aside one day and said, “Aura, if you end up with a little girl, name her for me and she will always have good luck and be greatly loved.”  Her comment took me by surprise because in the Jewish religion, children are named to honor the dead, never the living.  Her willingness to have us depart from that tradition showed me how much she wanted Leon and me to have a baby.
Since Leon was still busy with school, I looked into the adoption process.  At my physician’s suggestion, I scheduled an appointment with the Florence Crittenton Home, a facility that housed unwed pregnant girls until their babies arrived, after which the girls would return to their families and leave the children to be adopted or sent to an orphanage.  Crittenton Homes were established in most major cities throughout the country and provided a needed sanctuary for young women who would otherwise have no place to go.
My heart pounded as I introduced myself to the matron in charge, a pleasant, soft-spoken woman sitting behind a desk, pencil in hand.  She asked what our preferences were.  Did we want a boy or a girl, blue eyes or brown, blonde or brown hair?  I told her none of that was important to us.  We just wanted a baby and would love the child no matter how the baby looked or whether it was a boy or a girl.
Then the matron asked what turned out to be the most significant question of all:  were we Catholic or Protestant?  When I said we were Jewish, she put her pencil down and closed her notebook.  “I’m so sorry,” she said.  “We get a Jewish child maybe once in twenty years.”
I pleaded with her.  I said it didn't matter if the baby wasn’t Jewish and we would raise the child in whatever religion necessary.  She shook her head and said her hands were tied.  In Massachusetts at that time, the law said you could adopt only in your own religion.  There was no way she could give a Christian child to a Jewish couple.  She couldn’t even place a Catholic baby with a Protestant couple.  The state would rather see a child raised in an orphanage than brought up outside the religion of the birth mother.
I returned home crestfallen.  That night, when Leon arrived, I told him my news casually, not wanting him to know how disappointed I was, for fear he would blame himself.  I tried to be cheerful, saying that although I’d run into a brick wall, we could pursue other options.  The Crittenton Home didn’t have a Jewish baby, but perhaps another organization would.
I asked around and was told to try the Jewish Family Service. I phoned to make an appointment and was asked my age.  I said I was 25, and the woman told me there was no point in my coming in to see them.  They had a 10-year waiting list and by then, they would consider me too old. .
With only Mittens for comfort, I felt there was not much more I could do, as one of the most difficult times in my life commenced.  For 20 years I’d been working toward my goal of being a mother.  What was to become of me?  I had to face the truth that I would never have children.  I could be a wife, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a friend, but I would never hold a baby of my own.  I would never know the joy of gazing with love at a sleeping infant, knowing we were inextricably bound together for life.
As the months wore on, I tried to put my dreams of getting pregnant or adopting a baby out of my mind.  Yet I remained depressed.  I had simply traded one type of despair for another.  Before learning of Leon’s problem, I’d waited for my period each month, hoping it wouldn’t come, crying into my pillow when it did.  Once we knew Leon’s sperm were not viable, however, my periods lost their significance.  There were no monthly ups and downs. Something else took the place of those emotions, something far more devastating.  After every sexual experience, I felt dead inside, knowing our lovemaking could never create a child.
Gradually I was able to turn my attention from feeling sorry for myself to figuring out what I would do with my life, now that children were not an option.  My mother had taught me to become well-educated, strong, and as interesting as possible, since I was the platform from which my husband and children would fly.  The higher the platform, the easier it would be for my family to soar.  There would be no children, but I could still be a platform for Leon.
This thought gave me a renewed sense of purpose.  I launched myself on a self-improvement program, attending book club meetings, delving into classical literature, joining a discussion group on religion, and an exercise class.  I enlarged our circle of friends and tried to make life interesting and exciting for Leon.
All these activities helped me pass the time.  I tried to be the perfect wife, the perfect daughter, the perfect daughter-in-law.  I was a chameleon, changing myself into whatever anyone else wanted, and I lost something of myself in the process.  Grandma Lena was my only anchor in the storm, loving me for who I was and not for what I did.  Every time I saw her, she would hug me and say how proud she was of me.  She alone seemed to understand I was still grieving inside. .
In the meantime, Karyl and Herb gave birth to a second son.  I visited the hospital and held David when he was less than an hour old.  I felt no jealousy for my sister. Now she had two children for me to love.  On Leon’s side of the family, Helen and Henry were there, having moved back to Boston bringing Toby and Bennett and their new baby, Susan.  I loved them dearly, treasuring the role of Auntie Aura.  Leon’s brother, Everett, was in the throes of a divorce, and I gave extra love and attention to their 6-year-old Judy.  I couldn’t be a mother, but I found an outlet in nurturing my little nieces and nephews.
The school year came to an end and Leon started his summer vacation, working for my father in the restaurant business.  The passing of time rendered my grief more tolerable and thoughts of motherhood came less often.  Everything changed the evening of July second.  The  telephone rang and our lives were forever altered.  It was Herb’s stepmother, Dora, calling from a Friday night dinner party at a friend’s home in North Salem, New York, about 2 hours north of New York City.
The party was in full swing, with about 10 couples from the city, all of whom had country estates where they could escape the heat of the city.  A guest had arrived late, saying he’d been delayed by a very difficult situation.  He was an obstetrician and had recently delivered a baby girl, whose mother he had delivered 18 years earlier.  The young woman was unwed, but right up until the baby’s birth, believed her boyfriend would marry her.  She was so certain of this that she’d had the nurse complete the baby’s birth certificate to read Bernstein, the father’s name, not Sommers, her name.
Dora and her friends moved in the same circles with the Bernsteins and were aware that the family opposed a marriage.  Eli was a wealthy pre-med student with great expectations, while Phyllis was a poor girl from the Bronx.  The Bernsteins believed Eli could do better in a match and threatened to cut him off financially if he went through with marrying Phyllis.  In the end, his family won out and he walked away from mother and baby.
Dr. Shiffman, knowing of the situation, was trying to convince Phyllis she should give up the baby for adoption.  He felt thwarted, however, by the laws of the state of New York that required a birth mother to bring her baby to an adoption agency and state that she wanted to give up the child.  Dr. Shiffman viewed this as barbaric and wished to spare Phyllis that traumatic experience.  He ended his discourse by saying, “If I could just find a Jewish couple willing to take the baby, I could arrange the adoption independently and spare Phyllis the heartache of dealing with an agency.”
Dora stood up and said, “Stop the party!  I know the perfect couple.  My husband’s son’s sister- and brother-in-law desperately want a child, and they would be wonderful parents.  I’ll call them right away.”
While everyone stood about listening, excited to be part of this joyous occasion, she called Leon and me.  I could hear Dr. Shiffman in the background, giving her the details about where and when we should meet him.  Because he was vacationing in the country through the rest of the weekend, we’d have to wait until the following Monday morning.  I didn’t know how I could last that long.  I could already feel my little girl in my arms.
Once all the logistics were settled with the doctor, Dora suggested we not wait until Monday to drive to New York.  She said, “It’s the July 4th weekend.  You and Leon should drive down first thing in the morning and stay at our apartment.  Enjoy the weekend in the city and you’ll be well rested and ready on Monday morning.”
Leon and I couldn’t believe our good fortune.  The moment we hung up the phone, we drove to my parents’ home to share with them the wonderful news.  We also had to ask them for financial assistance, which they were happy to provide.  While there, we phoned Grandma Lena to tell her what had happened.  When we got home, we called Leon’s parents.  They were pleased for us, especially Leon’s father.  By this time, he was completely bedridden, terminally ill.  He knew of the heartache we’d suffered these last few months and was delighted that he would live to see us have our baby after all.
While we were on the phone with Leon’s mother, his brother-in-law Henry, who was living there along with Helen and the children, overheard the conversation and picked up the phone.  After confirming we were going to meet with the doctor and pick up the baby on Monday, he advised us to have the baby seen by a pediatrician in New York before returning to Boston.  He’d interned there years earlier and knew several physicians in the area.  He gave us the name of one he respected and called his friend to arrange for an appointment on Monday afternoon.  It was reassuring to have Henry helping us out.
I tried hard to remain calm that night, but it was impossible.  I was bubbling over with joy and excitement.  I loved that baby to distraction already.  In the early morning hours on Saturday, it became clear we could stay in bed no longer, and we decided to hit the road for New York City.
During the 8-hour drive, we discussed names for the baby.  Leon and I had already decided to name her for Grandma Lena, touched by her request when we first decided to adopt. Lena was short for Carolina, or Kressel in Yiddish.  The tradition didn’t require that we choose the name Carolina, just one that started with the same initial sound.  We made a list including Kristin, Caroline, Constance, and Kaye.  We avoided Christina, feeling uncomfortable with any name that had the word Christ in it.
When we weren't trying out baby names, we said, “How’s it gonna be, George?” quoting a favorite line from Of Mice and Men, and then we talked about what it would be like to have a baby of our own.  We spoke of the first few days and how we’d have to scramble to arrange a nursery for her.  We pictured how we’d bring her to our parents’ homes and introduce the grandparents to our newest family member. 
We arrived in the late afternoon at the Kramers’ apartment on 12th Street in the heart of downtown New York, within walking distance of restaurants and tourist attractions.  It seems odd, but despite my usually powerful memory of details, I don’t know what we did to pass the time the rest of the weekend.  I must have been so focused on the baby that everything else faded into the background.  I do remember, however, how delightful it was to have someone come each morning to make breakfast for us and straighten up the bedroom.  Dora had arranged to have her maid take care of us in the same way she took care of Dora and Charles.  She set an elegant table each morning, preparing scrambled eggs, toast and jam, and hot coffee.  We’d never experienced such luxury before.
Monday morning arrived at last, and we drove to Lefferts Hospital in the Bronx.  We parked in the visitors’ lot, walked up a flight of stairs into a large, brightly lit lobby, and were directed to Dr. Shiffman’s office.  His door was open and we could see him sitting at his desk, waiting for us.  Despite the heat of the summer day, I was shivering with nervousness.
Expecting a warm welcome from the doctor, I was surprised when he seemed annoyed by our presence.  He never stood up to shake our hands, but simply called his nurse to bring in the baby.  While we waited for her arrival, he said brusquely, “The baby is quite ill and running a high fever.  We’ll talk when you return from the pediatrician.”
Before I had a chance to analyze why Dr. Shiffman seemed so different in person than we had expected, based on the phone call with Dora, the nurse walked in holding a child wrapped in so many blankets that her tiny face was barely visible.  I took her gingerly in my arms and Leon and I walked back to the car.  I couldn’t take my eyes off my precious girl, barely looking up often enough to avoid stumbling.
 When we got to the parking lot, I handed her to Leon while I climbed into the car, but couldn’t wait to take her back again and gaze into her face.  As we made our way to the pediatrician’s office on Park Avenue, she whimpered every time we stopped for a red light.  Leon tried to time the lights so he’d never have to come to a full stop.
We arrived at the pediatrician’s office and introduced ourselves.  The doctor sat behind the desk, took out a folder and pen and asked for our names, address, and phone number.  When he asked for the baby’s name, I started to say we had not decided yet, when Leon spoke up saying, “Constance Ellen.”  Sometime between our conversation driving to New York and the moment the doctor asked for the baby’s name, Leon had chosen one.  I loved the sound of his selection. Constance Ellen was the best name in the whole world.
The pediatrician asked me to undress Constance and place her on her tummy, which I did carefully while he and Leon made small talk.  As the doctor started to examine her, she began to scoot off the end of the table.  I quickly grabbed her, so she was never in danger, but we were all astonished by the sight of a 2-week old infant displaying so much agility.  The doctor declared her hyperkinetic.
He finished his exam and told me to dress the baby again, using only one of the many blankets so she would be cooler.  Then he began to talk.  Constance had a temperature of over 104 degrees, a middle ear infection, a spastic leg, and she spit up constantly. He said she should be returned to the hospital immediately under his care if Dr. Shiffman would agree.  He ended by saying, “This baby is seriously ill and adoption is out of the question at this time.  Go home to Boston for a week, and then we’ll evaluate her progress.”
How could this be happening?  Ever since that first phone call with Dora, I had viewed this little girl as mine.  We had waited so long for a baby and now, just when we’d found the perfect one, the doctor was putting up roadblocks.  Leon and I turned to practical matters.  Having a pediatrician take care of Constance was going to cost money we didn’t have.
We called my parents to ask for help, explaining that  they might spend a lot of money for our baby's care, only to find out we couldn’t adopt her.  
As soon as I told my mother the story, she began to cry. “My little granddaughter is sick.  Of course your father and I will handle all the costs.  You do everything you can to make sure Constance gets better as quickly as possible.”
We expressed out gratitude, got back in the car, and returned to Leffert’s Hospital.  It was sheer misery.  I hugged Constance as tightly as I dared, willing her to get better so we could take her home.  When we got to the hospital, Dr. Shiffman agreed to let the pediatrician take over the case, saying he thought it was an excellent idea.  Then he called in the nurse to take the baby back.  I had no trouble handing Constance over to her, for I was afraid she might die in my arms.  It was a relief to give her to a professional who would be able to care for her better than I.
After the nurse left, Dr. Shiffman apologized for his earlier behavior, saying he thought when he saw me walking toward his office that I was the birth mother returning to take the baby.  He said she and I looked amazingly alike with our petite stature, dark hair, and dark eyes.  He had become upset, knowing that Leon and I were scheduled to arrive any minute to pick up the baby, and aware that the birth mother could prevent that from occurring.  He realized his mistake as Leon followed me into his office, but was so thrown that he was unable to recover graciously.
We thanked him for his kindness, having forgotten about his earlier brusqueness in our concerns over Constance’s health.  Then we went back to our car and drove forlornly home to Newton.
A horrible week followed, at the end of which the pediatrician phoned to say the baby was worse and would die if left in the maternity hospital.  He suggested she be transferred to the pediatric unit of Mount Sinai Hospital where he could provide closer supervision.  The bills were mounting, but my parents never wavered in their willingness to spend whatever necessary to ensure the baby’s health.
Another week went by.  The pediatrician said the baby had improved slightly, but still needed another week of observation and care.  At the end of that time we should return to New York for a consultation, and if we were going to take the baby – which at this time, he wouldn’t advise – we should be prepared to fly back to Boston.  He didn’t think she could survive a long car trip.
We boarded a train for New York City a week later, hoping that 5-week-old Constance would be well enough to bring home.  Arriving in the city, we took a taxi to the hospital and tried to prepare ourselves to deal with the disappointment should everything not work out.  The pediatrician was not encouraging.  Although the infection had cleared up and the spastic movements of her leg had subsided, the baby continued to spit up two or three times an hour and thus couldn’t get adequate nourishment.  He’d performed tests and experimented with different formulas, but nothing worked.  Under these circumstances, he said he could not, in good faith, recommend adoption.
When he finished speaking, I asked what would happen if we didn’t take the child.  He said she’d be placed in an orphanage.  My stomach turned over at the thought of this precious infant facing that kind of environment.  I wanted to adopt her despite the medical difficulties but had to find out if Leon felt the same way.  He and I needed to do some serious talking.  Together we decided that since he was studying to be a physician and my parents had enough money to cover medical expenses, we’d make the ideal parents for this sick baby girl.
When we told the doctor of our decision, he said there was a technical problem.  We couldn’t legally take a baby across state lines before final adoption papers were filed. Distressed, I phoned my paternal grandmother in Brooklyn.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about," she said.  "That baby’s address is 496 Lincoln Avenue, Brooklyn, New York.  You tell the hospital staff that there are no state lines to cross.”  
Bless her heart.  I get choked up today, over 50 years later, when I think of the support we received from a loving grandmother.
With that problem behind us, the doctor called for a nurse to bring the baby.  He handed Leon a couple of diapers and some formula and said, “Fly home.  Put this baby in her room directly and don’t take her out for a week, not even to go to the doctor.  She’s been shuffled about from hospital to hospital with multiple caregivers and needs the security of having things stay the same for a while.  Once she's acclimated, take her to your pediatrician.”  With those words, he placed Constance Ellen in my arms.  It was July 26, 1948, my 26th birthday.
I was a wreck on the plane back to Boston, afraid my baby would get sick and I wouldn’t know what to do.  Not long after we took off, she appeared hungry and I asked the flight attendant to heat a bottle.  For the first time, I felt the pleasure of holding Connie in my arms while she accepted nourishment.  Connie.  Leon and I both loved the name Constance, but this tiny, fragile baby in my arms could not be called by such a strong appellation.  Maybe someday.  But for now, we called her Connie.  Years later when our strong, beautiful daughter was in her teens, I tried calling her Constance, but she objected, saying I only called her that when I was angry.  So Connie she was and is to this day.
After finishing her bottle, Connie fell asleep.  Leon, who until this time hadn’t held his daughter, reached out for her and kept her in his arms the rest of the way home. I adored seeing him with Connie snuggled up against his chest.  I knew he was going to be a wonderful father.
My parents came to the airport to meet the plane.  As we stepped off, they ran towards us, my mother with her arms outstretched.  Leon placed Connie her in her grandmother’s arms.  My mother and father already loved this tiny little bundle. Dad had completely forgotten his reaction that one couldn’t love an adopted child as much as a biological one.
On the drive home, we passed close to Leon’s parents’ house and were tempted to stop for a few minutes, knowing how eager they were to see Connie.  But we remembered the pediatrician’s admonition that it was critical to settle the baby in her new room as quickly as possible.  Not wanting to risk harming our baby, we decided to wait.
When we got home, the neighbors were standing in our front yard to welcome us.  Mary Gillin, our next-door neighbor and dear friend, asked to hold the baby.  My mother, only a little reluctantly, gave up her granddaughter. When Connie fussed a moment later, we all paraded inside and Mary sat down to give her a bottle.
I had been looking forward to giving Connie her first bottle at home, but I couldn’t object.  After all, my mother wanted to hold Connie just as much as I did, yet had willingly relinquished her to Mary.  Years later, my mother told me how much it had meant to her when Leon gave Connie to her to hold in those first few moments at the airport.  She said my brother-in-law had jealously guarded his two baby sons and never alowed her take care of them.  She’d say to my father, “It’s all right, Sam.  When Aura and Leon have children, they’ll be more willing to share their babies.  We’ll get our chance.”  All those years while I had suffered in silence, longing to become a mother, my parents in their own way were suffering as well.
During the weeks that Connie had been in the hospital, we had done nothing to prepare our home for a baby, not wanting to face an empty nursery had we been unable to bring her home.  When it was time to put Connie to bed for the night, we looked for something we could use as a crib and decided on our wicker laundry basket.  Cushioned with blankets, it made a perfect little bed.  Our neighbors took one last look at the sleeping baby and said goodnight.
A few minutes later, Helen and Leon’s mother arrived to meet Connie.  Too sick to move, Leon’s father stayed home with Henry looking after him.  He’d been told of our safe arrival home and wanted to join the others but didn’t have the strength. We promised we’d bring her over to see him as soon as she regained her health.
Helen and Nannie stayed only a few minutes.  The moment they walked in, we took them into Connie’s room, tiptoeing so as not to wake her.  Despite our efforts to be quiet, however, Connie sensed our presence and woke up for a few seconds.  Upon seeing those great big, brown eyes, Helen said, “She looks like me.  There’s no getting around it.”  I had noticed the resemblance when I first saw Connie in the hospital.  I suppose it wasn’t surprising, given that I looked like Helen and the birth mother looked like me.
Finally, Leon and I were alone with our little daughter.  We lay in bed murmuring to each other about the events of the day, but were so exhausted we fell asleep almost immediately.  I felt as if I had just closed my eyes when I heard Connie whimpering and I went in to give her a midnight bottle.  As I sat in the rocking chair by the window in Connie’s room, I couldn’t help but think how blessed I was to have this little baby in my arms.  I was finally a mother.
I could hear Leon breathing in the other room, sleeping soundly through everything.  He didn’t try to wake up, aware that I wanted to give Connie her bottles myself.  I would have shared the task with him, knowing how much pleasure I derived from it, but he never asked.  Leon bathed her, dressed her, played with her, held her for hours, but somehow understood how important it was to me to feed her.  Holding Connie in my arms while she drank her formula was as close as I could come to nursing my little daughter.  It was our bonding time.
I fell asleep quickly.  It seemed as if my head had just hit the pillow when she awoke again.  Four o’clock in the morning and time for another bottle.  As I took the last one from the refrigerator, I realized I’d have to send Leon out first thing in the morning to get supplies.  I sleepily changed and fed the baby and went back to bed.
At 6;30, the phone rang and Leon answered it.  It was Helen, telling him his father had passed away during the night.  When she and their mother had returned home the night before, Nannie sat on the edge of Izzy’s bed and told him all about the baby.  Then she left a glass of milk on the nightstand, as she did every evening.  When she checked on him in the morning, the milk was still there.  Apparently, after she said goodnight, he fell asleep and never woke again.  He’d been holding onto each day, waiting for our baby.  Now that she was safely home with us, he could let go.
Leon quietly left the house, saying he would call later in the day.  I looked in on Connie, still sleeping in the laundry basket, and thought about feeding her.  I remembered taking the last bottle the night before and I realized that with Leon gone, I had no way of getting supplies I would need for more formula.  I couldn’t take Connie with me to the store, given the doctor’s orders to keep her at home.  Despite the early hour, I called my parents to tell them what had happened and ask for help.  Herb, who was staying there with Karyl and the children for a few days, answered the phone and said not to worry.  He’d handle everything and would be over within the hour.
I sat in the living room, hoping the baby would not wake up before her Uncle Herbie arrived.  Herb  called the Stearns department store warehouse and told the staff of the situation.  He said he couldn’t wait for the store to open, but needed to have a crib, bottles, formula, sterilizing equipment, diapers, and some clothes delivered immediately.  The staff was sympathetic and promised to load everything onto a truck right away.  Herb expressed his appreciation, charged everything to my parents, and arranged to meet the truck at a major intersection, saying he’d lead the way to our house from there.  In less than an hour, truck and car arrived at my front door.
Herb and the Stearns driver not only unloaded the truck, they set up the nursery for me as well, first moving Leon’s and my desks into the master bedroom.  After the driver left, Herb took me into the kitchen and showed me how to sterilize bottles and make formula.  Then he said, “Aura, you need to spend the day with Leon and his family.  You leave everything here to me.  I’ll take care of Connie and bring her to your folks’ house.”  With that, he shooed me out the door.  I looked back and saw him standing in the entryway, holding Connie in his arms, moving her tiny hand to wave goodbye.  He was a godsend, my angel.
He later told me he was delayed going to my parents’ home because moments after I left, the baby spit up all over his suit.  In the late 1940s, we didn’t have the washable clothing we do today.  Many men wore suits in the most casual of circumstances,  and Herb’s suit was now covered with Connie’s breakfast.  An old hand at taking care of infants, Herb went to our bedroom closet and helped himself to one of Leon’s suits, leaving his own dirty one in a pile on the floor.  Then he placed Connie in her basket in the passenger seat of his car, and drove to Mother and Dad’s.
When he got there, my mother was eager to take care of Connie, freeing Herb to focus on his own two children.  He sat with baby David in his lap, telling my folks the story of his suit.  Soon David’s diaper began to leak and Herb was once again covered with a mess.  He laughed, saying, “Serves Leon right.  Connie threw up on my suit, so David pooped all over his.” 
Herb, Karyl, and my parents were wonderful during those early weeks.  We spent almost all our time with them as they taught us how to care for little Connie.  It was a joy when all went well and painful when she cried and I couldn’t make her happy.  Whenever that happened, I thought, “Poor baby.  If only I had carried her through the pregnancy, I would know how to be a better mother.”
It was Karyl who helped me move beyond my insecurity.  She said, “Aura, pregnancy is one thing, maternity another.”  She assured me any difficult moments with Connie had nothing to do with not being the biological mother.
“Once a child comes into the world, she’s her own person, an individual in her own right.”
I would have to get to know the person who was Connie, just as a biological parent would.  Through the generations, older women have traditionally helped younger ones learn to care for children.  In my case, it was my older sister who provided the support.
I treasured my time with Karyl, but at the end of the summer, she moved to California.  Herb had received his doctorate degree and landed a position with the University of Santa Barbara.  Just before the school year began, Karyl, Herb and the children moved three thousand miles away.  No longer could I call on my sister for advice and sympathy.
In very little time, I became proficient at caring for Connie, just as I had learned to run a household during World War II and handle all the paper work for my father’s business when we first returned to BostonLeon was stretched to the limit with medical school and could help with Connie only a couple of hours a day, but my parents and grandmother were a constant source of support.  Twice a week my father picked up our laundry, which Mother washed and dried.  Then, while she folded the clothes, I ironed all of Connie’s little dresses.
With each stroke of the iron, I thought about how fortunate I was to have Connie in my life.  I even viewed changing diapers as a privilege, having nearly missed out on the experience.  So many times those first few weeks I thought of Phyllis, Connie’s birth mother, and I ached for her, knowing how difficult it must have been for her to allow Connie to be adopted.  I thanked her with all my heart.
As the months went by, Connie developed beautifully, except that she spit up three or four times an hour.  I couldn’t hold her over my shoulder to burp her because if I did, she’d lose her whole meal.  Instead, I sat her on my lap and talked to her until she burped on her own, and even then, something would come up.  At her monthly check-ups, I’d tell Dr. Ganz how concerned I was.  He would weigh her and say, “She isn’t losing, so we won’t fret.”
I trusted him so completely that if he said it was okay, then it was okay.  In every other way, Connie was fine.  She even began walking at only nine months.  The hyperkinetic activity the New York pediatrician had observed when Connie was a few weeks old continued throughout her childhood.  She took to sports with enthusiasm, quickly mastering whatever athletic activity she tried.
When she was eleven months old, however, she still was gaining little weight and having difficulty holding anything down.  Dr. Ganz suggested we give her a change of scenery for a few days.  He was convinced that the insecurities of Connie’s first few weeks of life might be causing her problems, and that a vacation during which she could be the focus of all my attention might cure her.
My father was incensed at the diagnosis, saying Dr. Ganz was irresponsible in telling a poor couple to spend money on a trip.  Mother, on the other hand, thought it sounded like a wonderful idea and treated Connie and me to a whole week at the Mayflower Hotel in Plymouth, Massachusetts.   We had a two-bedroom cottage on the beach.  Mother and I shared one bedroom and used the second one as a nursery.  At night, we lay in our beds, reading ourselves to sleep.  It was peaceful and charming and I felt more rested than I had in months.  Every day we walked on the sand and lounged about on the porch of the main building with our fellow vacationers.  They were entranced with Connie. Because she was tiny and walking and talking early, she made an impression.
Whether the doctor’s advice was sound or whether Connie just happened to outgrow her stomach problems that same week, we’ll never know.  In any case, on our second day at the beach, Connie stopped spitting up.  With her illness behind her, Connie began to put on weight and became the picture of good health.  Leon finished his second year of medical school and had more time to spend with his toddler and me.  Life was good.  Our only concern was that for some reason, Connie’s adoption was not going through.  Her first birthday came and went.  The welfare department visited our home and declared it satisfactory.  A doctor for the state examined Connie and said not only was she doing well, but she also was very bright, which of course we already knew.  What was wrong?  Every time I tried to get answers, I was met with  silence.
Finally, after 17 months, my father hired a lawyer to investigate.  It turned out that because adoption laws were different in New York and Massachusetts, the individual handling the paperwork was unsure how to proceed.  Rather than seeking an answer, he put the case on a back burner, waiting for someone to tell him what to do.  Our lawyer was able to provide answers for the hapless paper pusher.  We received an official looking letter in the mail and I opened it, eager to see the words telling me the adoption was final.  Instead, it said that Phyllis had written a letter stating she had changed her mind and would contest the adoption.  
When the court date arrived, Leon and I left Connie with my distraught parents.  As we hugged her goodbye, we were aware that the next time we saw her, it might be with a court order stating she was no longer ours.  We drove to the courthouse without speaking.  I knew if I tried to talk, I’d burst into tears.  When we arrived, we sat down and looked around, scanning the faces of all the young women.  Any one of them could be Phyllis.
Ours was the third case called.  “Will the parties involved in the Kruger adoption please step forward?”  Holding hands, Leon and I approached the bench accompanied by our lawyer.  I was afraid to look behind me.  Was Phyllis there?  Was she gathering her strength, preparing herself to tell the judge she wanted her baby back?  If she did, what would be his decision?
The judge shuffled the papers in front of him, asked our lawyer a couple of questions, and then said, “Is there anyone here today opposed to this adoption?”  Leon and I stood absolutely still, straining to hear the slightest sound.  We heard none.  The courtroom was silent.  Apparently, Phyllis had decided not to contest the adoption after all. The judge hammered his gavel on the table, looked at me and said, “Congratulations, you are now a mother.”
           I ran from the courtroom with Leon and our lawyer trailing behind.  As soon as I reached the lobby, I phoned my parents.  My mother began to cry, overcome with relief that Connie was finally totally and completely ours.  When Leon and I got to my parents’ home, we found Connie dressed all in white, with a beautiful new dress, socks with lace on them, and brand new shoes.  Mother had bought the clothes a few weeks earlier in anticipation of outfitting Connie to celebrate the final adoption.  I swooped her up in my arms, kissing her all over, thrilled at the sound of her laughter.  For the first time since we’d gotten that call from Dora so many months earlier, we could relax and enjoy our little girl.

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