It was a simple dress, yet it meant so much. It symbolized happiness while also reminding me of a time of mourning. It was only when I let it go that I was truly able to heal.
Life Parenting

My Little Black Dress: A Story of Adoption and Heartbreak

It was a simple dress, yet it meant so much. It symbolized happiness while also reminding me of a time of mourning. It was only when I let it go that I was truly able to heal.

by Danielle Helzer of Roots

My husband always wanted to be a dad, and I wanted to be the person who would give him that desire. But after years of trying to conceive and then an eventual medical diagnosis of infertility–one that loomed like an ironic scarlet letter–we decided to pursue infant adoption. We waited for a year before we got the call–the one that every potential adoptive parent hopes for each time his/her phone rings. There was a birth mom. She picked us. Baby boy was due in three months. There were three potential fathers. Legal risk. Could she meet us? We were hesitant and thrilled at the same time; of course we didn’t say no to meeting her.

Over the course of the next three months, we spent time with this birth mom building a relationship. We took her out for meals, answered every text message and email she ever sent, ignored every quirk, honored her seemingly bizarre requests (like what we would wear to the hospital to see the baby for the first time), prayed like crazy that this would work out, and even began building relationships with her grandparents and her aunt (who all raised her). My husband and I and the birth mom picked the baby’s name–Micah Aaron. We got a call sometime during the week of Father’s Day letting us know that Micah had been born and a father had been identified. During the month we had to wait for the birth father’s rights to be terminated, Micah was placed in temporary foster care. One week after he was born, we met him for the first time.

I don’t normally wear dresses, but I bought a dress specifically for the occasion.

It was a plain black dress. A sleeveless cotton number with a cinch around the waist and pockets–a practical dress for a new mom. Dressy enough to wear to a nice dinner but casual enough to wear to all the farmer’s markets I’d obviously be taking my new baby to. Remaining guarded, my husband snapped a single photo of me in my plain black dress holding Micah for the first and only time.

Off her medication for too long, our birth mom ended up in jail. She retaliated by refusing to sign the relinquishment papers. The caseworkers tried to reason with her, her family tried to to talk with her–but nothing changed her mind. She stayed in jail, Micah stayed in foster care, and we were left with nothing but grief, broken dreams, and a stupid, black sleeveless cotton dress.

I don’t want to get into how numb I felt for a good year, how it took me two years before I felt strong enough to hold another baby, how many times in that first month I cried myself to vomiting (5), or how many Google searches I have done (4) since then to try and track down our birth mom or her son. Slowly and painfully, we picked ourselves up. It took me about a month to delete the picture I had of him with me. Strangely, though, deleting the picture wasn’t as difficult as getting rid of my dress. I couldn’t give it up. The dress was appropriately colored and became a symbol of mourning for me. I wore it several times in the months following our failed adoption, and each time I put it on, I cried and prayed that God would protect little Micah.

Nine months after I wore it for the first time and held the baby who was almost ours, the dress had become so faded that I had to give it up. It was the last remaining connection I had to Micah, but one night, determined to move on, I dropped off the plain and black sleeveless cotton dress at a Goodwill. I expected to cry but was surprised at my sudden display of strength as I dropped my dress in the donation bin. I walked away empty handed–a feeling I knew well. Only this time…this time, I was empty handed on my own terms.

This post was originally published on Roots.


About Danielle Helzer

A former high school English teacher, Danielle now splits her time as a stay at home mom and a Writing Coach at a local community college and she is a regular contributor to Her View From Home. She is a wife and a new mother of two hilarious and resilient first-graders who she and her husband adopted from foster care. Danielle enjoys writing, listening to NPR, running, reading, music, sipping on coffee, making lists, and diversifying her collection of cat tchotchkes. Follow Danielle’s journey on her blog Roots.