November is National Adoption Month. It seems as if this would be a logical time to tell our story, and yet I am always a little hesitant to do so. There are multiple reasons for this, but the biggest is, I am not sure it is my story to tell.
One of the challenges and gifts of adoption is I am only one in a triad of this story. The time before my children’s births belongs to the young women who nurtured and loved them while they grew, and the time after belongs to my children themselves. My role was to wait and hope, then to witness.
Each adoption story is as unique as the child itself. In honor of my daughter’s upcoming birthday, this is her story.
It begins with the roller coaster of infertility. From the breathless excitement of deciding it was time to let nature take it’s course to the crashing fall into endless doctor’s appointments, countless ultrasounds and needles, and a rock bottom miscarriage – adoption gave us hope.
It was never easy. At each stage, there was a new fork in the road, a new peril to face. First there was the search for an agency, the decision between domestic and international, and whether we were willing to have contact with the birth family after placement. The questions got harder – what if the child had special needs? What if the birthparents used drugs or alcohol? Smoked? What about a history of mental illness? Did it matter what race the child was?
From a place of absolute emotional and physical exhaustion, we answered questions about our mental health, our physical health, our family background, parenting style, and if we really felt that we were ready to move on. It was our trial, and the social workers were our jury.
When we were deemed “fit” and “ready”, we set out to create our portfolio. We were allowed one page, both sides, to sell ourselves to prospective birthparents. “Find pictures of yourself with children,” we were advised. “Birthparents want to be able to picture you as parents.” After spending three years avoiding babies at all costs, we found every baby we could and took pictures looking happy and comfortable. We reconnected with our friends who were already parents so that we would have a “network of support”.
We saved the crying for when we were home and alone. We didn’t talk about how terrified we were – terrified that there would never be a baby, and equally terrified that there would.
We were encouraged to tell everyone that we knew that we were adopting. We endured countless insensitive comments from well-meaning family and friends, as well as an unbelievable ignorance.
“Huh – You’re taking the easy way out. No birth!”
“Well, maybe it just isn’t meant to be for you guys… you can always love your nieces and nephews!”
“I can’t imagine adopting. You just never know what you are going to get!”
“You mean you are going to let the birth mom see the baby after you adopt it? What if she takes it back?”
“My brother-sister-niece-nephew-cousin adopted. It was awful. Their son/daughter has had all kinds of problems…”
“I can’t imagine loving a baby that wasn’t mine.”
We came up with all kinds of flippant responses, but each comment tore down a little more of our already fragile foundation.
And then the first call came, followed by adoption’s worst-case scenario.
Two weeks after we lost our first baby, another call came. “My name is Diane. I know your aunt. My daughter is pregnant, and we want you to adopt the baby.”
My heart stopped. This was the call that we had been waiting for, and yet my first reaction was to wonder if I had finally had the nervous breakdown I had been fighting off for months. We were still raw from our last placement, and very skeptical.
She gave me the details – a baby girl was due December 10th. They were local and had checked us out, and we passed the test. They had been considering us for quite some time, but then heard we had another placement. Then they wanted to give us some time to recover after that fell through. Mom was healthy, committed to adoption, and in her senior year of high school. Dad was local and committed to supporting mom. Baby girl was healthy too.
I put her in touch with our social worker, then waited for the other shoe to drop. If there was one thing I had learned through this process, it was there was always a monster in the closet.
We received the all clear from the social worker a few weeks later, and set up a time to meet Birth Mom in late November. We decided if she still wanted to go through with it by then, we would start shopping for some very basic necessities over the Thanksgiving Holiday. In my heart of hearts, I knew there was no way this was actually going to happen.
November 10 – my 29th birthday – we booked a much needed mini vacation. As we were loading the car, the phone rang. It was my mom calling to tell me that my brother and sister-in-law were expecting their first baby. I spent the entire weekend in a hotel room sobbing. It was the last straw.
We came home and back to our empty house a few days later. I can honestly say those days were my absolute rock bottom. I was sick, numb, and black to the core. I could barely drag myself out of bed, and I couldn’t wait to get back in it at the end of every day.
November 15, 2001. 6:15 am. Another call. This time I didn’t even bother to answer it. No good news comes at that hour.
“This is Diane. Teresa is presently in labor. You can call me when you get this message.” I have never bolted out of my bed so quickly. I grabbed the phone before she hung up. “She’s OK. She was sick last night, and we when we took her up to ER, her blood pressure was really high. She went into labor. We will stay in touch.”
I held back the question – it would do me no good to ask if a scared sick 18 year old was still sure about her decision. I soothed myself with the knowledge that they called.
The social worker was called, clothing and diapers were purchased, and my baby girl was born at 8:30 that evening. Even though she was almost a month early, she was a healthy and robust 9 ½ pounds. We took back the preemie clothes and tiny diapers, bought a crib, and waited.
And this is where the story becomes not mine alone anymore. I don’t know what happened in the first few hours of my daughter’s life because those belong to her and her first mother. I know she was held, fed, bathed, and loved. That her fingers and toes were counted, and she was baptized in her mother’s tears. That she was held tight and named. That she heard the same heartbeat that had comforted her for the previous nine months.
We didn’t meet her until the next day. I shook in the elevator. I cried at the nurses station. And I almost threw up when they said “She’s in with her mom. Do you want to go in the room and meet them both?”
And so we went. We didn’t know that we would meet her birth mom that night for the first time, so there was no time not to be genuine. There are no words for the tremendous rush of emotion when we walked into that tiny hospital room and saw our daughter for the first time.
Her birth mom was holding her, beginning her process of saying good-bye. She looked up at us, eyes red and rimmed with tears. “Do you want to hold her?” And that was when I had to ask. Because if she wasn’t sure in that moment, I knew I could not touch that baby. I knew I would not be able to let go.
“I am sure” she said, as she held out our daughter to us. It was the moment I became a mother.
Adoption is a gut-wrenching journey. Like all mothers, I never celebrate my daughter’s birthday without thinking of the day we brought her home from the hospital. Ours is tinged with the knowledge that the day which brought us unimaginable joy, is also the day another woman who we have grown to love over the years is facing the deepest chasm of grief that she will ever experience.
I am aware always that in those first precious hours of my baby’s life, she was loved and comforted by another mother. I am infinitely grateful to Bella’s birth mom for loving her with her whole heart, and to the women who stood beside her to give her strength to face the empty days after placement.
Adoption is not the path for everyone, but when it works, it is an immeasurable gift of family bonds which last for a lifetime.