In Loving Memory of Gwendolyn Archard

On August 26, 2016 I heard the news that a dear first mom friend of mine was no longer with us. The previous day, beautiful Gwen had decided that the pain was too much and bowed out of this circus called life. Just before her decision, she deleted dozens of her first mom friends. I am assuming she did not want us to know what had happened. We found out anyway.

Shock, sadness, and despair ripped through our online communities. We searched frantically for an obituary, in the days to come, but none was to be found.

A few days ago, Gwen’s brother, the only family that Gwen really felt she could rely on, posted publicly of her passing. He didn’t indicate any formal funeral, but it was clear other non-traditional arrangements to honor her memory had been made.

Today I write to honor Gwen and her life inside our private world, the world of first moms. Gwen was an activist, a warrior, she dedicated her life to fighting injustices. Gwen had Cerbral Palsy but she didn’t let that stop her. As a practicing criminal defense attorney and disability rights champion, Gwen was thrust into another arena, unexpectedly. And she fought there, too. Side by side, with other first moms, she fought against the injustices and coercion in the world of adoption.

You see, Gwen wanted her son. A beautiful little boy she named Atticus. However, upon his birth, Gwen was threatened with foster care and CPS if she did not relinquish her rights to her child. One particular nurse made it abundantly clear to Gwen that her disability would mean her child being forcibly removed and lingering from foster home to foster home while she fought for her right to parent him.

Because Gwen loved Atticus more than life itself, she was coerced into believing this nurse, and others, and relinquished Atticus for adoption after his birth to spare him the perceived pain of living in foster care.

Gwen believed fighting for her son was not in his best interests because she was not good enough for her son. She was made to believe this.

While Gwen’s case is an extreme, it is the same concept of almost all domestic infant adoptions. It was easy to target Gwen because she had a disability to use against her as an excuse for why she wasn’t good enough. Almost every woman considering adoption has to be made to believe the same thing for a successful adoption to ensue. Maybe they don’t have a visible disability. Maybe they are poor. Maybe they have an anxiety disorder. Maybe they aren’t married. It’s all the same, the message that’s received. You aren’t good enough for your child, they deserve better.

Gwen would have made a fantastic parenting mother. Like everything she did in her life, I imagine she would rock at it. She was an amazing person and the world has suffered a huge loss with her passing. Atticus, her son, has suffered the most tremulous loss.

People say that adoption isn’t trauma. They say it’s a beautiful thing. They don’t recognize the aftermath that can follow for first moms and many adoptees. When presented with stories like Gwen they will say, “See, it’s better her son was adopted. Look what happened. His mom was mentally ill.” To which I say, NO. Nothing in Gwen’s life, prior to the loss of her son, indicates any mental illness. Instead, Gwen’s death can be blamed solely on adoption. She lost her son. A mother LOST HER SON. It’s enough to make anyone not want to live anymore, to throw in the towel, to give up. The pain can be so suffocating, at times, that death seems like the only reprieve.

Atticus last saw his mother as a newborn in the hosptial. Gwen did not get her “open adoption.” She was left to use non-traditional means to get glimpses into his life. I am happy to have been a part of that, to have given her a little bit of comfort in her too short life as a first mom. The pictures brought her great joy, but they also brought her great pain. To see her son, her baby, not living the life she wanted for him, with her. Such is the life of a first mom.

I’m hoping that one day Atticus can find this post and know how much his mother loved him, how hard she fought for him, and how devastated she was without him. I hope he knows how much he was WANTED and loved.

In closing, I will share with you some private thoughts from Gwen that she posted, over the last year or so, in our private group. The admins agreed that Gwen would want this. No one can hurt her anymore so there’s nothing left to lose.

We will be your voice now, Gwen. We will watch over Atticus and make sure he knows your story.

We miss you. We love you. Sleep peacefully and free from the pain of this world.

-Your first mom sisters

“Atticus is 2 today.

The birth announcement I never got to make:

Atticus Kitwana Mulupi, Born July 9, 2013 at 2:51 pm.  4 lb 1 oz, 17′ long.  I love you, baby boy.”

“Happy 3rd birthday, Atticus Kitwana Mulupi.  I love you more than you will ever know.  I am more proud of you every day.”

“I think my issue is that my son’s adoption was very coercive.  I “picked” the AP’s, but only because I was told he would risk being taken into foster care if I didn’t have a family for him when I left the hospital.  I’ve always sensed that they look down on me because I have a physical disability.”

“I had been threatened with foster care right after birth, simply because I have cerebral palsy.  That is the ONLY reason why I got involved with the adoption lawyers in the first place.”

“Been feeling isolated lately.  Dealing with crap about how my disability made me feel like I had no right to ask for any help with Atticus….I’ve been to like 4 different counselors since relinquishment and none of them really understand that aspect.  I just want to be told I have the same rights as others and that nobody’s judging me for what I can and cannot do.  I don’t want to burden anybody but a counselor with this crap.  Not sure who else to talk to.”

-Gwendolyn Archard

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The Adoption Rollercoaster: Reunion?

As my relinquished daughter gets older it’s become more difficult to keep up with personal updates in regards to my adoption story. The older she gets, the more I realize that it isn’t just my story to tell and I have become conflicted about just what to share and what to keep private.

I see so many birthmom blogs of mothers early into the adoption journey blogging all the details of their great open adoption story. I see the same thing with adoptive parents as well. I’m guilty of putting things out there without thinking as well. I’d just like to remind everyone to be cautious when publicly sharing your story. The way you see things may not (probably isn’t) exactly how your child does.

Even so, I would like to share some things that have transpired. I’ll keep things simple out of respect for IKL’s privacy. I won’t imply that I know how she feels. This is just my side of the story and I’ll stick with facts and how I feel.

I learned that some decisions had been made for my daughter, by her adoptive parents, that I did not agree with. I felt there were some definite issues going on and could reasonably correlate adoption to some of them – again, my opinion. As you already know, I had an open adoption, with direct communication with my daughter (phone calls, visits, etc) until she was almost 2 years old. Direct communication, and visits, were cut off at this time. I still received periodic updates from her adoptive parents, sometimes sporadically, through email and there were a few photo albums mailed over a decade. I saw things through their eyes and while my daughter was becoming old enough to express herself and how she feels, I was not privy to what that may be. I’m going to assume it was the same for her as well.

Where were we? Some decisions were made to address “behavioral problems” and I didn’t agree with those decisions. I felt that the decisions made would reinforce any feelings of rejection or abandonment and wouldn’t really get down to the root of the problem which, I believed, adoption played at least some part in. I do believe her adoptive parents felt they were doing what is best, even if I didn’t agree – and it still didn’t mean it was right or the appropriate course of action. Of course I never expressed this to them for fear of risking communication being cut off altogether.

This started 2 years of emotional hell and the realization that I may have made a huge mistake. My fog began to lift and I found my voice.

At the beginning of that 2 year period, I went out on a limb and asked permission to write to my daughter for the first time. My request was received well and with much enthusiasm. I was hopeful that maybe the door to openness would begin to unlock. Previous attempts and open invitations to Skype, connect via social media, and visit were unanswered. Well, the open invitations to visit (and some even included that my daughter not need to be present if they were uncomfortable with that) were always answered with, “if we’re ever in that state.” So, the warm welcome to write a letter directly to her gave me hope and was something I viewed as promising. After all, regardless of any hard feelings, what’s truly best for my daughter would be for her to NOT be put into a position of Us vs. Them. She should never have to “choose.”

My first letter, written 2 years ago, came about 6 months after I learned of the decisions made as a desperate attempt to help heal any wounds caused by adoption that may not be being acknowledged. Carefully I composed an email, written to her, for her adoptive mom to print out and pass on, explaining, to the best of my ability, why she was relinquished and a little bit of information about what me and her father were like. I had to choose my words carefully as it would be first read by her adoptive mother and father. But I wanted to be honest. Quite the conundrum.

After hitting “send” I waited. A few hours later I received a message back saying that it was “beautifully prophetic” (whatever that means) and would be printed, placed in an envelope, and given to her.

Time went by. A few months later I decided to take a bolder step and send a photo book of our family and another, more casual, letter. I asked if the attorney’s address I had, from all those years prior, was still okay to send things. I didn’t get a response right away so I sent the package anyway. A few days later an email arrived with a PO Box address I could send anything in the future. This, again, gave me more hope. More openness. They were now allowing me to know the town they lived in, even if not their address.

About every 3 months me and the kids would send letters. Sometimes we’d include other things. Pictures, a life book, a handmade pillow, etc. Each time IKL’s adoptive mother would email that she was receiving these things but was not yet ready to respond or have contact but that she was hopeful that one day she would. Part of me would be devastated each time but the other part of me understood and didn’t want to push too hard. I felt that if she didn’t wish to receive communication, at all, I would be informed.

Things went on this way for a while and then, almost a year ago, we got a package in the mail. You can read about that here: https://musingsofabirthmom.com/2015/01/12/the-letter/

4 months after that, I learned that my older parented daughter had received communication from IKL via social media. I won’t go into the details as that is their story to tell, but, suffice to say, I learned a few things that my parented daughter felt was important to share.

IKL had written me a letter, before my husband’s letter, and was under the assumption it had been mailed to me. I never received any letter.

IKL thought I had received her letter and was ignoring her since I never wrote back. (I had been writing every 3 months – this leads me to believe not all – maybe not any – of my letters or packages had been given to her)

IKL was more than ready, excited even, to have a relationship with her first family – again, my perception.

IKL did not want her adoptive parents, at first, knowing she was talking to her sister.

It was very hard not to jump in and tell her the truth. I don’t have all the facts and do not want to put her in the Us vs. Them game. I encouraged my parented daughter to encourage IKL to be forthcoming with her parents and removed myself from the situation altogether. I was not going to be the one to “tattle” on her for talking to her sister and betray any small amount of trust she might have for me. Nothing she was doing was dangerous and I made an executive decision, as her mother, to let the relationship unfold while guiding and educating my parented daughter about reunion. I thought she needed this contact and that it was good for both girls.

A few months later, I received an odd email from IKL’s adoptive mother stating that IKL had told her she was talking to my parented daughter. Just that line. Nothing more. I responded that I had never spoken to IKL and that I was glad she had told her. I asked how she felt about it. Her response what that she thought it was great and that I could talk to her if I wanted, too…she’d ask IKL how she felt about it.

I waited a few days, to see if I’d get an email back, and heard nothing. Since IKL had liked a few of my photos on one social media site, I decided I would initiate a hello message. I’d been given permission to talk to her, so I did. It went well. Short, awkward, and beautiful.

As it stands now, a few more months in, my parented daughter and IKL continue to grow closer thanks to social media. I’m more cautious about contact as I don’t want to overwhelm her. I want her to know I’m here, but I don’t want to be pushy. 15 is a difficult age for any kid without throwing in the added bonus of being bombarded by a whole other family eager to get to know you.

She’s always receptive and kind when I do message her. I see, in her, a tenacity, a love for life, pain, ambivalence, passion, stubbornness and a huge heart. It amazes me just how much like myself and my husband she is.

So, for now, we are okay. Baby steps. I’m not foolish enough to think this will be a happy ending to a reunion. I know it takes work and I’m not even at the tip of the iceberg for all to come in the future. I am hopeful, though. Hopeful that maybe one day we can build a relationship and make up for lost time. (is there really ever any making up for it, though?) 

For now I am happy that my children get to have some sort of relationship with each other, on their own terms, and that I still have the possibility of one with her. Far too many of my dear friends have crossed that bridge into “no hope” and it breaks my heart.

I’m letting IKL take the lead, make the choices, decide for herself. No one else has, thus far. She’s earned it. Hopefully she’ll decide to take the lead with a place in my life. If she doesn’t, I’d be heartbroken, but understanding.

I was never supposed to be in a “reunion.” I was promised my daughter would grow up knowing us. That’s what’s most infuriating. But, there’s nothing I can do about that now except look forward.

As of right now, I’ll continue to ride the adoption roller coaster and enjoy the plateau for a while.

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A Reflection For New Years

This New Year’s Eve I have taken some time to contemplate where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going. A new year is upon us, and that usually comes with resolutions we make with all the best intentions, but somehow fail to follow through with. I don’t even bother anymore. This year, so many things have transpired in my life that I can’t help but look back on not just 2015, but all of my previous years and the trials and triumphs that came with them.

Almost 11 years ago, during a very trying time in my life (both financially and emotionally) I left everything I knew and that was familiar, with my kids, and moved to a different state. I had no job, no home, and relied on the kindness of family to help me on my feet. It was one of the scariest experiences as an adult that I can remember. No real stability and structure, I was left wondering if we’d ever be okay. All I knew is that we were on a sinking ship and this move was the only life raft I had. There was no choice but to make it work.

I was almost 4 years post-relinquishment and almost 2 years post-“no more direct contact,” even though I wasn’t aware of this quite yet. My financial struggles had been devastating during my pregnancy and while improved slightly, things were starting to go down hill again. Almost immediately after relinquishment I began a descent into panic disorder (something I had battled with previously and seemingly overcome) and that led to a slow climb down to agoraphobia. I wasn’t completely house bound, but going further than the local grocery store, 2 miles away, triggered panic attacks so severe I thought I would die. Going outside an area of about 200 feet, surrounding my house, triggered anxiety attacks, but they were manageable. Everyday was also a battle, even if I never left the house, with racing thoughts of having every medical disease known to man and being quite sure I was dying from it. Thank God I didn’t have the Internet back then. Who knows how much of a frenzy I could have worked myself into.

Those 4 years after relinquishment were probably the hardest on my mental health. I didn’t recognize it as that, however. It never even crossed my mind. I believed that what I had done was healthy, heroic, and the best thing for my daughter and myself. How could the two things correlate with one another if that was true? Looking back, I realize those things started to gear up during my pregnancy. With the anticipation of having a baby and the inner thoughts that I would have to let this baby go, it was decided that to manage my mental health, I would be put on Paxil. Yes, during pregnancy and before doctors were really aware of the hazards to the baby. Thankfully my baby didn’t suffer any of the horrible things other babies did, but it still speaks volumes as to what I was going through. After relinquishment, things really started to kick into high gear and the panic attack express seemed unstoppable.

Understanding that a change was needed, and refusing to let my disease get the best of me, I braved a 5 hour car ride, to another state, with my mother in the driver’s seat, in hopes of a new life, a fresh start. I ran away from my demons, my past, my sins, my tragedy, my old life.

The car ride was interesting, to say the least. I will compare it to being trapped in a fragile bubble, adrift at sea, with sharks swarming all around. There were frequent stops, frequent tears, frequent hyperventilating. But, I made it…almost in one piece.

I had also left behind the father of my children, the father of my relinquished daughter. Our relationship had taken a huge blow, thanks to my mental health and insecurities, so I thought it best to go – and go I did.

The first few months were okay. I stayed with my brother for about a month, found a job at a fast food place, got my own little duplex, and pretended that this was what life had been like all along. I missed my significant other tremendously and every time one of our kids would ask for him I would retreat to my bedroom, the bathroom, for just a moment to weep about all we had lost. About 3 months after the big move, he came to visit for Christmas. The kids were thrilled and it was nice to have him there for those few days. It also brought the new realization that we were not ready to throw in the towel and weeks later he also relocated to attempt to fix what had been broken.

With him, I learned to utilize the public transportation system, had some more self confidence, and extra help with the kids, as well as an additional income. Things were far from perfect – we struggled and struggled good. Walking a sick 2 year old to the doctors in the snow, bringing shopping carts home from Walmart filled with groceries and then walking them back, because who steals a shopping cart? Struggling to pay bills, amongst other things.

There was one particular bus stop. It was grand central for transferring to the other lines that enabled me to expand my world a little bit at a time. It was also central to removing the boundaries of my life that had been self-imposed yet involuntary.

Years went by, things improved, slowly but surely. We worked hard, we screwed up, we loved, we fought. We were together and I slowly began a path of healing. 7 years ago we moved away from that first town we had lived in here. We went further north, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, to a place with corn fields, neighbors you knew, and small schools.

Recently, I began working in that same town from 7 years ago. The one we got our new start in. The job requires parking in a city lot a few blocks away from work and walking the rest of the way. It’s a nice walk, through downtown, passing all the small shops and wonderful smells of the restaurants that reside there. Every week day, in my business casual, I take those 5 minutes to take in the day, reflect on the things I need to get done, and look through the shop windows, making mental notes of places I want to shop later.

One week, while waiting for the crosswalk to give me the okay to cross the street, I glanced to my right and saw a city bus. It was at that one bus stop, years ago, that became cathartic in my healing. I saw women with babies, who looked tired and defeated. I saw young men in shoes with holes waiting to get on that magical bus of mine. As I glanced down at my leather heeled boots, I was reminded that where I used to be is not where I was. In the moment, it seemed that’s all there ever was or would ever be. It seemed hopeless and sad. It felt as if my life would forever be riding buses and wondering where the next meal would come from.

I came to a sudden realization – I didn’t even realize how much my life circumstances had truly improved over these past 11 years. It came on so subtly, so slowly, I didn’t truly understand the stark contrast. I knew I was better off than I had been, but truly didn’t realize just how much. Then a sadness crept over me as I thought, “if I would have just trusted in myself, she would be here, too.” I made it with my parented kids. I made it. I made it. I’m not rich or famous, but I made it. I’m living the dream. This crazy, fantastic, beautiful dream. The messy house, the staying up too late, the homework, the coffee in the morning paired with Visine for over-tired eyes, the shoveling snow in the driveway, the mowing the lawn, DREAM. This is it. My kids are happy and healthy, and turned out pretty damn good if I do say so myself. I have my husband, and he has his wife. It would all be absolute perfection except there is one missing. She didn’t need to be missing, but she is and that shatters everything. It will always be the shadow that keeps me from believing the sincerity of this dream.

If I had a TARDIS (you thought I’d say time machine but get with the times) it could be different. I could film this beautiful life and show that scared young woman, that was my former self, how it all would turn out. But, I can’t, and nothing could be more tragic.

While I reflect on my 2015, I can’t help but remember all the years before it. I wish I could show all those that will come after me what this beautiful life looks like and how tainted it will always be because of that missing piece. I don’t have a TARDIS. Maybe this will be enough, though.

Happy New Year.

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Dear Hoping to Adopt

I’m sure, by now, I’m loathed by most who have found themselves in my corner of the world wide Web via an innocent Google search about how to adopt a baby. That’s okay. I get it. My writing is blunt and I don’t mince words. I’d like to take some time, however, to speak directly to the aforementioned.

Dear Hoping to Adopt,

For you, achieving motherhood is not an easy row to hoe. For you, perhaps, attaining motherhood, in the traditional sense, is quite literally impossible. I can only imagine the heartbreak of learning that all of your dreams, that were most likely fostered from the time you were able to snuggle with your first baby doll, are now slipping from your grasp and there is absolutely nothing you can do to stop it.

The countless negative pregnancy tests, maybe the loss of your children before they even had a chance to be a part of this world, the fertility treatments, the worry, the hope, the anxiety, the tears – I understand. I get it. I’m not heartless. I empathize, maybe sometimes too much, with the millions of hardships that we, as human beings, must face.

I think about the hurt you must face every time a friend or relative announces they are expecting or the pain you must feel watching others care for their little ones. I do understand that it must be lonely feeling like the odd man out while others have, what feels like, an exclusive club that only women who are mothers can join. We are women. Most of us, not all, are wired with a natural instinct and yearning to be a mother. I truly understand and empathize.

When you read through my writing you may not think it’s possible for me to empathize with you. But I do. It’s not that hard because I know what it feels like.

I know how deeply it hurts to dream of a child that will never be yours. I know how gut-wrenching it is to grieve a lost child. I have felt lonely as well – lonely when no one else could understand how much pain I was in – lonely when they were praising me for how selfless I was – lonely when I was told that I had given someone a beautiful gift and that I did the right thing. And for the rest of my life I will feel as though I don’t belong with all the other mommies. I surrendered my motherhood to my child and that’s something most don’t truly understand and most are certainly way off base about what that ultimately means.

I empathize because my loss is huge. There was no one there to help me or support me. No one to tell me that I could do it. I was told that adoption was the right choice which, to me, meant I was not the right choice. I was not good for my baby is the message I received and I will forever belong to that lonely club.

Loss is subjective. Some may say the loss of a pregnancy is the same as the loss of a child through adoption. I will always disagree. The path I walk in life, as a first mother, has many layers. I’m sure those who have suffered a miscarriage know what it’s like to blame themselves. The fact is, though, that really there was nothing you willfully did to cause the loss of your unborn baby. As a first mom, however, a good portion of society, as I’m reminded of more and more often, continues to act as if surrendering my child, the loss of my child, was a willful act. Yes, I signed relinquishment papers but there was nothing willful about it. My circumstances forced that hand just as your physical circumstances have forced yours in your journey through infertility.

See, we aren’t all that much different, you and I. We’ve both suffered. We’ve both lost. We’ve both grieved and we’ve both gone through trauma and emotional anguish.

If you ever find yourself asking, “Why is she so angry and bitter?” please think back to everything you’ve gone though in your journey to achieve motherhood. Then ask yourself how you’d feel if the whole of society celebrated it and asked you to be grateful for it, asked you to accept others purposely facilitating it. This is what that feels like to me.

Yes, I have empathy for you, but my empathy stops where your willful ignorance begins. My empathy stops when there are hundreds and thousands of children truly in need of a family but you insist on getting a brand new baby. My empathy stops when I see you begging others for donations to take another mother’s child when the donations that you have rolling in would enable that mother to keep her baby. My empathy ends there. I simply cannot do it anymore. To me, it’s the equivalent of you asking for donations to assure the loss of pregnancy in another woman because, for some odd reason, that’s the only way to ensure your own motherhood.

Facilitating the loss of another’s motherhood so that you may attain your own is where my empathy ends.

It is only a few thousand dollars, usually, to give a home to a child genuinely in need of a family, to become a mother. You seem great at fundraising and that money could be used to help another mother be saved from this life of pain.

I empathize with your loss. Will you empathize with mine? Or will you refuse to because my loss stands in the way of your selfish desires? Look at yourself in the mirror. What does that make you?

The Sun and the Ghost

The following is a chapter from the book I am writing, “Whispers of Grace.”

The months following the relinquishment of IKL I had the same nightmare frequently. I still have this nightmare once in a great while. Most of the nightmares I have now are different but revolve around the same theme, saving my baby. This particular dream incorporates childhood trauma from abuse endured at the hands of my stepfather.

The Sun and the Ghost

I awaken on a table in the kitchen of my childhood home. The overhead light is swinging and the brightness radiating from it is making it difficult for me to orientate myself. I scramble off the table and squint my eyes to assess my surroundings. How did I get here? What is going on? Everything is stark and dusty as if life had not seen this place in many, many years. There are no pictures hanging on the walls, no rugs on the floor. There are no dishes in the sink or magnets on the refrigerator. There are no plants and this doesn’t surprise me as I cannot fathom how anything that is alive could sustain itself in this place. Everything is bare and the only furnishings are that of tables, chairs and a couch. Cobwebs hang in long strands from every corner. The walls look grey instead of the radiant cherry wood that I had remembered.

I suddenly hear a newborn baby crying in the distance. It sounds far away but I immediately recognize the cry as Grace’s. In response to her cry I hear thundering footsteps pounding above my head. Someone or something was chasing her! I began to run to prevent whatever stood behind those footsteps from getting her. My first instinct was to head up the staircase. As I reached the top I dropped to my knees at the sight before my eyes. I was no longer in my childhood home but in a maze of stairs like that in M.C. Escher’s “Relativity.” I could not give up, though. I had to find my baby. She was scared and something was trying to get her. As I headed up another round of stairs I turned the corner and saw the back of my stepfather’s head. He did not see that I was looking at him. As he turned his head, I could see a look of malevolence finished off with a wicked grin that showcased how much pleasure he was getting from the hunt. I could feel my heart drop into my stomach as I realized that this was the monster chasing my baby. He intended to do her great harm and I had to stop him. For one moment I hesitated and the fear that had been instilled in me since a very young age tried to take hold. It only lasted for a second. I remembered that I was not a child anymore. This man had no power over me and I would die before I let him find Grace.

I charged him. The evil grin became one of a businessman who was about to close the sale. His eyes lightened and he said, “Julia! How have you been? I haven’t seen you in ages!” I knew it was best to pretend that I wasn’t onto him so I managed small talk while creeping around to the other side of him. This only worked for a few seconds. When he realized my intentions he took pursuit of me and I ran. Suddenly I was outside of my body and watching myself as if this was a movie. Everything was in slow motion. My dark curly hair was bouncing in time to every step I took. My mouth hung open and my brow furrowed as I looked back and realized he was getting closer. He just kept smiling as if he knew it was inevitable that he would catch me. And all the while the baby keeps crying. It’s getting louder so I know I must be getting closer. I take staircase upon staircase and finally I see a door. There is a radiant white light coming from the space underneath it. Somehow I know if I can open this door then the monster will have to go away. The light is too dangerous for him to be in.

I grab the doorknob and pull. I immediately feel the warmth of the sun and hear the crashing of ocean waves. Grace’s crying is getting louder and as I look out into the distance I can see a tiny house floating hundreds of feet from the shore. I know that’s where she is and I know I have to save her. I run for the water and just as I submerge my head in my dive, I see sharks begin to tear the tiny house apart. I swim with all my might. The sharks are relentless and manage to turn the structure into a piece of driftwood and the only thing left is Grace on top of it. Instantaneously I am within arm’s reach of Grace and as I extend my hand she disappears. I panic and start screaming her name. As if in answer to this I can hear her crying from back on the shore. I look back and all I see is the beach, Grace and a door, standing alone. I think to myself, “That must be the door I came through.” Grace continues to wail as I make my way back to the shore. I have some peace in knowing she won’t drown but the urgency is still there. I just need to get to her as quick as possible. I keep swimming. It starts to get darker. As I look to the sky I see the beginning of a solar eclipse. Dread starts to build within me as I realize the only thing that kept my stepfather from going through that door was the sun. I quickly check the door and see it shaking. He is pounding on it and pretty soon he will be able to get through it. The sun is fading behind the moon. I swim faster. Saltwater goes inside my nose and burns. I cough, I swim. I made it back to shore just as the eclipse is complete and the door swings open. My stepfather’s eyes are now glowing red. We both run for Grace. I make it to her first. As soon as I swoop her up my stepfather turns to dust. The relief was immediate and I begin to move her blanket around searching for her face. I cannot seem to find any of her body within this nursery blanket. A new panic sets in as I realize she has also stopped crying. In desperation I start to flail the blanket about and then I realize that Grace is gone. I drop to my knees and sob.