That baby?

August 8

I finished Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell, on Sunday, and it was great. Read it. Don’t let the first section, which is the diary of this 19th century notary aboard a ship sailing from New South Wales, I think, to San Francisco, stop you. It gets better. Much better. Took forever to read, but it was worth it.

Then I whipped through Joan Didion’s new book, Blue Nights, which was good, although not as good as The Year of Magical Thinking, which is one of those books I read and wished I had written, it was so beautiful. But Blue Nights was interesting, and I love Didion, and it was, in part, about adoption and motherhood.

In Blue Nights, Didion tells the story that she and John Gregory Dunne told their adopted daughter, Quintana Roo, about her adoption:

She was born in the first hour of the third day of March, 1966, at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica. We were told we could adopt her late the afternoon of the same day, March third, when Blake Watson, the obstetrician who delivered her, called the house at Portuguese Bend in which we then lived, forty-some miles down the coast from Santa Monica. I was taking a shower and burst into tears when John came into the bathroom to report what Blake Watson had said. “I have a beautiful baby girl at St. John’s,” is what he had said. “I need to know if you want her.” The baby’s mother, he had said, was from Tucson. She had been staying with relatives in California for the birth of the baby. An hour later we stood outside the window of the nursery at St. John’s looking at an infant with fierce dark hair and rosebud features. The beads on her wrist spelled out not her name but “N.I.,” for “No Information,” which was the hospital’s response to any questions that might be asked about a baby being placed for adoption. One of the nurses had tied a pink ribbon in the fierce dark hair. “Not that baby,” John would repeat to her again and again in the years that followed, reenacting the nursery scene, the recommended “choice” narrative, the moment when, of all the babies in the nursery, we picked her. “Not that baby . . . that baby. The baby with the ribbon.”

This is the story Rosemary and Frank Cone told Elizabeth Cone, about her adoption.

One day in June, the phone rang, and when I answered it, it was the nun from Angel Guardian. She said, “We have a baby girl named Elizabeth for you.” I burst into tears, and the nun said, “Oh, no! You can change her name if you want to!” But I was crying because I’d always dreamed of having a baby girl named Elizabeth. So I quit my job teaching even though there was only a week of school left and Dad and I went down to Angel Guardian to get you. And when the nun brought you into the room, you sat right up, all by yourself, on the desk, and Dad picked you up and said to the nun, “You’re never going to get her back,” and we left and took you home.

Didion tells us that  Quintana Roo asked these questions as she was growing up:

What if you hadn’t answered the phone when Dr. Watson called, she would suddenly say. What if you hadn’t been home, what if you couldn’t meet him at the hospital, what if there’d been an accident on the freeway, what would happen to me then?

Elizabeth didn’t ask any questions. She couldn’t imagine it happening any other way.

You see, Elizabeth conveniently forgot about the page in The Chosen Baby where the mom and the dad are shown a baby, and they say, “This is a beautiful child, but we know it is not our baby.” And then they are taken to see the next child.

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