Allow me to vent for a moment:
Today I received a gift for Dylan at work…and it was from Ryan’s parents (mother and stepfather). Under normal circumstances, this would be a fine thing. I mean, grandparents give gifts to their grandchildren. My parents spoil Dylan to a ridiculous extent (think DISNEY CRUISES and lavish American Girl gift assortments), but it only seems to make sense (even if I don’t always approve of it).
So why I am I upset about this gift? Well, let’s rewind to more than seven years ago, when Dylan was just a little Sea Monkey swimming around my uterus.
I had been feeling weird (for lack of better adjective) for weeks. I called my doctor. “I think I need to change the kind of birth control pill I am taking, because I feel really strange. The side effects are overwhelming me.” I listed all of my symptoms for her. She never asked, “Is there a chance you might be pregnant?” Instead she wrote me a new prescription. I could pick it up at the Walgreen’s in Wicker Park on my way home from work. Sweet.
A few days later, it suddenly occurred to me that I hadn’t had my period in a while. Like, two months. Then again, I had been under a ridiculous amount of stress. My boyfriend was crazy (later it turned out that he was secretly more wrapped up in heroin than ever before) and my workplace was filled with unnecessary drama. Furthermore, Nate had decided to move out of our apartment, which meant I had to either move out or find a replacement for him (which seemed unlikely). And the newest resident of the third (cursed) bedroom was turning into an alcoholic.
I pondered all of this while I sat at my desk at work. I continued to think about it while I pedaled home. And I was still thinking about it around midnight, when I decided that maybe I should just go to Jewel-Osco for a pregnancy test, just to set my mind at ease.
I took the test the next morning…the two lines indicating a major life decision appeared instantly (despite the box’s promise that results would take up to 3 minutes). I furiously consulted the instructions, assuming that it was actually ONE line that I wanted to avoid. My head was really hot and the pounding of my heart was all I could hear. I closed my eyes…and when I opened them again, I was lying on the floor. And I could feel a lump forming on my head from a run-in with the toilet paper holder.
I had always assumed that I would never have children. The chemotherapy and radiation I had received as a young cancer patient had pretty much guaranteed that my eggs were fried. At least, that’s what every doctor had told me. I took birth control pills for other reasons (ovarian cyst drama).
I was totally cool with a childless future. I had no interest in all of that marriage/kids/house stuff.
But now…with this opportunity thrown into my lap, I didn’t even have to think twice. I knew that I wanted this. I didn’t care that my boyfriend was drug-addled and inconsistent. I didn’t need him. I could do this myself.
I called my mom first. I knew that as soon as I told her, I wouldn’t be able to change my mind.
“Mom…you have to promise you are not going to be mad at me…do you swear…okay, remember that you swore to not be mad…”
Of course, she wasn’t mad at all. “It’s not like you are a teenager. I thought you were going to tell me you were in jail!” She laughed and cried. And then she put my grandma on the phone. Their enthusiasm was exactly what I needed.
And then…I called Ryan. Maybe because I was afraid (yes…no maybe about it), I left a message saying essentially, “Well, I’m pregnant. But it’s cool and I’m really excited…and I don’t care if you want to be involved. It’s my thing.”
He called me back in a rage. “What the fuck? Are you trying to be funny? I guess you’ve lost your mind…” And so on.
Eventually he calmed down. I was able to lay it our for him. “Look, I never thought I would have children. So this is an amazing thing…I really want to go with it. And you can decide if you want to be a part of it. And if you don’t want to be a parent, that’s fine, too. Take your time and think about it.”
The summer before–after months of awfulness–I spent a week in the hospital recovering from an overdose. And it really changed everything about me. I know it sounds cliché, but I truly did feel as if I was receiving a second chance at life…and an opportunity to get my act together and start living my life proactively. The only thing holding me back was Ryan. We fought constantly–he didn’t like this new Amanda…he had no control over this version of me. And furthermore, my refusal to continue using hard drugs drove a wedge between us. Secrets and lies began to multiply.
I had no interest in pushing him into fatherhood. My job had amazing benefits (including free health insurance, paid maternity leave, and subsidized daycare)…I could work this out on my own.
Ryan called me several times in the next two days, but I did not return his calls. I really wanted him to make an objective decision. Talking to me could only sway him.
And then I received a phone call from my mother that enraged me. Somehow, Ryan’s mother (referred to as RM from now on) called my mom and told her to TELL ME to get an abortion. What the fuck?! My mom was crazy with anger. Harsh words were exchanged.
This forced me to call Ryan. “Look, if you want me to get an abortion, why don’t you just tell me? Instead of having your mother call my mother? We’re adults, after all. You’re 27 years old!” Of course, he denied it. He swore that she had gotten my mom’s number by calling 411. I was skeptical.
The epic battle of Amanda vs. RM began then.
Obviously Ryan decided to get on board the baby train. Of course, in the midst of this, he was struggling with a massive drug problem…which ultimately defeated him, just a few months before Dylan was born.
Within hours of Dylan’s birth, RM called me. Not to congratulate me. And she didn’t have any questions about her new grandchild like, “How much does she weigh?” and “What does she look like?” As soon as I picked up the phone, she said “We’re going to have to have a DNA test. I just can’t assume this is Ryan’s child.”
This was the last thing I need to hear after days of pain and tears…and months of grieving. I was surprised by the steadiness of my voice. “Of course. Obviously I know that Ryan is her father. And so did he. But I can understand your apprehension. I have nothing to hide. More than anything, I want to put everyone’s mind at ease, so Dylan can be a part of her father’s family.”
And I really meant that. This was all that she had left of him! It was very, very important to me that she had a strong relationship with all of Ryan’s family.
I explained that I could not afford a test (since I was now an unemployed single parent). She offered to pay for it. “Great! Just make the arrangements and let me know where I have to go. Or if you would prefer, my mom and I can set it up.” No, no, she would handle it.
And then it was never mentioned again…until I tried to file for Social Security benefits for Dylan (all children with a deceased parent are qualified). The caseworker assured me that no DNA evidence was required. One of Ryan’s relatives simply had to sign an affidavit saying that before he died he had told them that he was having a child with me. Easy. I handed over RM’s telephone number with no hesitation.
A few days later, the caseworker called me. “I’m going to play you a tape of her statement.” Oh no.
My favorite line was “There’s really no telling who that baby’s father is since Amanda is so promiscuous. My son told me that!”
So now a DNA test was required. The good news was that now the government would pay for it. No need to even get RM involved. Oh, except that the only sample of Ryan’s DNA remaining above ground was at the coroner’s office in Chicago. RM would have to sign a document releasing it to the genetic testing company. And there was a time limit: one year after his death, the sample would be destroyed. This was standard procedure.
And then the true battle began. RM wouldn’t sign the release, despite numerous calls and pleas from me, my mom…even my grandmother. Months and months passed…at this point I only cared about proving Dylan’s paternity. The possibility of financial assistance was unimportant. FINALLY the Social Security Administration put some legal pressure on RM…and she signed the release the a WEEK before the sample was scheduled for disposal….more than EIGHT MONTHS after Dylan’s birth.
I was spending the summer in Portland (and slowly deciding to move there) when the results were delivered to me via Fed Ex. I cried when I opened the envelope, even though I already knew the results. And then I smiled, knowing that at that moment, RM was probably opening her own copy of the results–I had paid $15 for this.
So Dylan began receiving Social Security benefits…about $300 each month. This was nothing in comparison to our regular monthly expenses (daycare, diapers, our apartment, food), but we were SO poor that it only helped. Sure, we lived in a studio apartment and our only form of transportation was a bicycle, but we were able to squeak by. Certainly we could not afford an luxury items. Yet any time RM called me, she would bring up “all that money” I was receiving. Um, not really. Daycare was costing more than $300.
Sure, Ryan’s family has never offered any help. And they rarely send gifts. This doesn’t bother me. My parents more than spoil Dylan. And I’m way too stubborn to accept financial assistance from anyone.
But I am so, so angry because his family barely attempts any relationship with her. They have seen her ONE time in seven years. They never call. They are strangers to her. And of course, they know nothing about her. This INFURIATES me! She is the only remaining evidence of her father’s existence. Shouldn’t they want to know her? It defies all logic to me.
And moreover, it just hurts me. Maybe it’s because my father’s family essentially forgot about me as soon as the ink dried on my parents’ divorce decree. I’m still sad about this. And now my daughter gets to experience the same rejection? I know that Ryan’s family somewhat blames me for his death. For years, I blamed myself, too. Couldn’t I have done something to help him? How was I so blind to his decline? Why didn’t I call his parents and get them to send him to rehab? Why didn’t I save him? But one day I realized that nothing was my fault. I’m not going to try to convince RM or anyone else of this. Still, I wish that she would stop punishing Dylan for my shortcomings.
So back to the gift. I won’t say what it was…but it was definitely the kind of blank present one gives to a stranger. How am I supposed to give this to her? “Oh this is from your father’s parents. Yeah, you don’t know them and they don’t know you, but they sent it anyway.” I know that we will have to confront this issue at some point, but I don’t know how to go about it. She’s just a little girl! I don’t want to confuse her.
Someday she will understand everything that has happened–as well as all of the repercussions. And I am dreading the moment she fully sees it all.