“Dear Carolina” by Kristy Woodson Harvey
A moving debut novel about two mothers—one biological and one adoptive—from a compelling new voice in Southern women’s fiction.
One baby girl.
Two strong Southern women.
And the most difficult decision they’ll ever make.
Frances “Khaki” Mason has it all: a thriving interior design career, a loving husband and son, homes in North Carolina and Manhattan—everything except the second child she has always wanted. Jodi, her husband’s nineteen-year-old cousin, is fresh out of rehab, pregnant, and alone. Although the two women couldn’t seem more different, they forge a lifelong connection as Khaki reaches out to Jodi, encouraging her to have her baby. But as Jodi struggles to be the mother she knows her daughter deserves, she will ask Khaki the ultimate favor…
Written to baby Carolina, by both her birth mother and her adoptive one, this is a story that proves that life circumstances shape us but don’t define us—and that families aren’t born, they’re made…
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I designed a special scrapbook for each of my children. A custom-made blue or pink album with white polka dots and a fat bow tied down the side, the front center proudly displaying a monogram that was given to each of you. I take those books out every now and then. Sometimes I add a new photo or memento. Other times I gaze at the pictures and marvel at how quickly the eyes-closed-to-the-world phase of infancy morphs into the headfirst-plunging alacrity of toddlerhood.
Other times, like tonight, with your book in particular, my sweet Carolina, I sit on the floor of our family room overlooking my favorite field of corn and simply stare at the cover, running my finger across the scrolling monogram. It’s only a name, we have been reminded since middle school in what has now become perhaps the most cliché of Shakespeare’s musings. But, in what is certainly not the first exception to a Shakespearean rule, that name means more than the house your daddy built in this field where we spent so much time falling in love or the sterling silver service that has been in our family for generations.
It means more because that name wasn’t always yours. And you weren’t always ours.
I was, just like a mother should be, the first person to hold you when you were born. Your birth mother, after thirty hours of labor, fainted when she saw you, perfect and round and red as a fresh-picked apple. I felt like holding you first would be like stealing money from the offering plate. But as soon as the misty-eyed nurse placed you in the nest of my arms, you quit crying, opened your eyes, and locked your gaze with mine. That instant of serendipity was fleeting because it wasn’t more than a few seconds that your birth mother was out.
When she came to, and I was there, cuddling this lighter-than-air you that she had grown inside herself for nine long months, I begged for forgiveness. But she said, “I’m glad you got to hold her first. You’ve been here this whole dern time too.”
I had given birth myself before, and that teary first introduction to a new life after a forty-week hormone roller coaster was fresh in my mind, still damp like the coat of paint on the wall in your nursery. But I’d never been on my feet, outside the bed, when four were breathing the air and then, with one tiny cry, there were five. To experience that kind of wonder is like being born again.
Even in that resurrection moment, I couldn’t have known that one day, I would get to hold you, swaddled and warm, all the time. But I did swear that I would do everything in my power to protect you, love you, and make sure you grew up good and slow as salad greens.
And so, my love, if you ever look at your book and think maybe it’s a little thicker than your sister’s and your brother’s, it’s only because instead of having one mother to save snapshots and write letters and remind you how much she loves you, you have two: the one who brought you into the world and the one who brought you up in it. And if you ever start feeling like maybe you got dealt a bad hand, that having a mother who raised you and a mother who birthed you is too tough, just remember this: You can never have too many people who love you.
Jam Left on Too Long
Some things in life, they don’t even seem right. Like how you can preserve something grown right there in your own backyard and have it sitting on your pantry shelf ’til your kids have kids. And how them women down at the flea mall can write a whole Bible verse on one of them little grains of rice. And then there’s the thing I know right good: how ripping-your-finger-off-in-the-combine awful it is for a momma to have to give up her baby.
I think you already got to realizing, looking at me right now, messin’ in your momma and daddy’s white, shiny kitchen, that I ain’t just your daddy’s cousin. ’Course, you’re still so little now, you cain’t know how I grew you in me, how I birthed you, how I loved you and still do. But you give me that same crooked smile my daddy had and squeeze my finger real tight—and it’s like you know it all. Whenever I say that to your momma, she says back, “Of course she knows. Babies know everything.”
It’s a right simple thing to say. And simple is who I am and what I’ve been knowing my whole life. I cain’t say a lot of fancy things, and I don’t believe in making excuses as to why I’m not doing your raisin’. So here’s the boiled-down-lower-than-jam-left-on-too-long truth: I gave you up ’cause I loved you more than me. I gave you up ’cause I wanted you to have more. I gave you up ’cause, in some, murky way, like that river that runs right through town, my heart knew that it’d take giving you up for us to really be family. I used to tell your momma I was scared that being in your life was gonna hurt you. But then she’d tell me, right simple: You can never have too many people who love you.
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**Contact author, Kristy Woodson Harvey