Charlie and I always knew that we wanted to be parents, and from early in our relationship, we also discussed adoption as a way to build a family. We both liked the idea of providing a family to a child who needed one, and we both recognize that a family is often made of more than just blood relatives. In our view, it is formed, often unexpectedly, from the people we choose to love and care for at any given point in our lives.
Our perfect plan was to have a biological child or two of our own and then apply for adoption when we had some shiny, happy, chubby-cheeked children as evidence that we were ideal parents. (Look! Unlike my plants, this kid is still alive! May we have another?) However, life doesn’t always follow the original plan.
After more than a year of trying to get pregnant, a miscarriage, and four IUIs (boy gees, that was fun…), we came to the realization that we may never be able to have any biological children. Therefore, we decided to go ahead and start building our family through adoption.
THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED
For our home study, we chose Hannah’s Hope, a small agency with offices housed in a local church. We met with the director, Trina, in June 2010, and we were immediately drawn to her warm and comforting personality. She spent several hours just answering our questions and explaining how the agency and process worked. As the agency is small and only handles a limited number of adoptions per year, we weren’t sure we’d use them to actually find a child at that point, but we knew the study would be recognized by other agencies.
Admittedly, we took a long time to finish our paperwork. The home study process requires a copious amount of reading, and the reading brings up a host of issues requiring discussion. How did we feel about birthmothers? Could we parent a disabled child? A transracial child? Were we comfortable with an open arrangement? We didn’t want to rush into anything, and I think, looking back, I was still in the process of resolving some infertility issues. Submitting the packet was a concrete, irreversible statement; “I’m not going to get pregnant. I’m giving up hope of that dream. I’m choosing for my life to go in a different direction than I had planned.” There’s a lot of mourning involved in saying goodbye to your reproductive abilities, but we eventually realized that more than being pregnant, we wanted some chubby baby toes to kiss.
So, we got background checks, drug screenings, and medical exams. (Important Note: Do NOT eat a large poppyseed bagel on the morning of your drug test. “Hey Ellie, did we ever tell you about the time they thought your Daddy was on opiates because he has a thing for poppyseeds? Fun times.”) We gathered reference letters, proofs of insurance, and financial documentation. And, after writing more or less, a novel, that explored our innermost personal lives and every thought ever to cross our minds, we finished the home study requirements and submitted our packet just before Christmas 2010.
Again, we had a plan. (You think we’d have learned by this point.) The home study requires four visits. We expected to finish the visits by the end of January 2011 and begin working on our portfolio once we were approved. The portfolio is a complicated grouping of pictures and text that basically “sells” us to potential birthmothers, and some people pay $1,000 or more to have professionals create the document. We planned to take a few months, working a few hours on the weekends, and submit our own portfolio in a couple of months. The agency told us that once we submitted the portfolio, we should expect, on average, a wait of six months to a year before we would meet a mother. I planned to gracefully leave the teaching profession, organize every square inch of my house in a “nesting”- induced mania, meticulously decorate a nursery, research and purchase the best baby equipment, and learn to knit…or take up some motherly hobby, anyway.
And this is where our adoption experience, um….diverges from the average.
On our second home study visit, on January 19, our social worker, Susan, told us Charlie they thought we’d be a perfect match for a mother they’d had come in the week before. Could we get a portfolio together within the next 48 hours so they could show it to her?
We sat down and stared at each other for a considerable while. We laughed. We cried. We panicked. We discussed every reason that it wasn’t the right time, and then we realized, one of the first steps in parenthood is accepting that your life isn’t your own anymore. Babies don’t follow time-lines, and rarely are they convenient. So, we prayed (which we should have done first, of course), and jumped IN! After all, we’d been asking God for a baby for years, and less than a month after we submitted our home study, He delivered. (Why are we always so surprised when God answers our prayers? He is, after all…master of the universe.) It felt like He said, “Finally! You found the right path. Gees, you two are kinda slow. I’ve had a baby for you all this time….just waiting on you to trust me a little. Silly humans….”
We purchased scrap-booking software on a Thursday, Jan. 20, and learned how to use it that night. All Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday, Charlie arranged pictures and backgrounds while I typed the story of us. (Thank GOD for a snow day on Friday!) On Sunday afternoon, we gave it to Trina, and Ellie’s first mom, C., received our packet on Monday. On Wednesday, Jan. 26, I met with Susan for my individual appointment, and an hour after our meeting, she called me to let me know that C. had texted her to say, “They’re the ones.” I was in Bed, Bath, and Beyond when she called, so the first person I told about officially “expecting” Ellie was the check-out girl…after calling Charlie, of course! First reaction…YAY! Second reaction…”Oh. Dear. God. Can we do this?!?!”
At this point, we started to let ourselves believe that we might actually be parents…within a month. (YIKES!!!) C. was due on Feb. 14. We went to Babies ‘R Us and ordered a crib, bought a Pack ‘N Play, and set up a registry. We didn’t want to go too crazy, since we hadn’t actually met C. yet and she could decide upon meeting us that we looked better on paper. But we also didn’t want to put an infant to sleep in the laundry basket. We told ourselves we had several weeks. We told ourselves to breathe, to not get too excited, and to just take it a day at a time.
Our final home study visit and home inspection was on Wednesday, Feb. 2. We met C. for the first time later that evening at Applebees. Trina, Susan, and C.’s sister, L., were also there. I was a nervous wreck…so afraid of saying the wrong thing or of not knowing what to say at all. Meeting C. and all the accompanying emotions really deserves a post all its own, but suffice it to say for now, that God blessed the meeting. C. was quiet and also unsure, but we all found the right words and left feeling secure about one another. Susan let us know the next day that she still wanted us…even after seeing Charlie’s pointy nose and my frizzy hair in person. Yay!
So, then the parent thing became that much more real. We had a face, a pregnant belly, and a LOT of preparation to do as we had no diapers, formula, bottles, etc. (Strangely enough, babies cannot live on frozen pizza as Charlie and I tend to do when the unexpected pops up.) We called friends in our AMAZING Sunday School class and arranged for them to come help paint the nursery on Saturday afternoon. We planned to spend the weekend buying the necessities and making a plan for all we would need. And, though it would be a struggle, I felt I could get my room at school ready for a sub within the following week. (There I go with those plans again…)
ELLIE GIVES MOMMY HER FIRST PANIC-ATTACK.
On Saturday morning, Feb. 5, I was headed to Brinkley, AR to help my sister look for a wedding gown at Lowe’s Bridal. Just before we exited the highway, around 9:00 a.m., Susan called to tell me that C. was four centimeters dilated. In labor. At the Med. Forget breathing, calm, or anything resembling reason….PANIC!!! (We you paying attention? Not due until the 14th at the earliest. We had just met C. three days before. Not ready!)
While trying to be supportive as my sister tried on dress after dress (sorry Hannah!), I texted like crazy to mobilize a troop of friends. Time to be a MOM…like in the next few hours. By the time we made it back to Tupelo, my dear friends were in action picking up donated baby clothes, buying formula and diapers, washing bottles and clothes, assembling Pack N’ Plays, painting the nursery, moving furniture to create a changing table…and reminding me to keep breathing.
As we’d only met C. once, we hadn’t yet had time to work out a plan for our involvement during the birth. While she’d originally said she wanted us at the hospital, labor hit her much more quickly and forcefully than she expected, and her family asked us to stay home. We wanted to respect her wishes, but it was nerve-wracking waiting on phone calls and texts to tell us how labor was progressing and if our baby was okay.
Since we couldn’t be at the hospital, we threw ourselves into transforming our house into baby central. We ordered pizza for everyone, and while Charlie painted, I tried to stop staring at the phone. Finally, around 6 p.m., Trina rang our doorbell. We held our breath as she came in and told us we had a healthy baby girl. All our friends cheered for us as Charlie crushed me in a hug, and we both cried.
HI, BABY GIRL
We went and met Ellie the next day, and the moment I saw her, it didn’t matter in the least that we weren’t “ready.” C. put her in my arms, and my heart swelled to bursting. Imagine the amazement of a mother the first time life moves inside her. The protective feelings as she cradles her growing abdomen. The love developed over nine months of waiting to meet someone. All of it–the amazing, beautiful, intense realization that I was a mother–it hit me full force in a moment, and I sobbed as I held my precious daughter for the first time. C., her mom, her two sisters, Trina, Susan, and Charlie all joined me, as it is not nice to let people cry alone. (Yes, I fully realize that legally, she wasn’t our daughter until the revocation period ended weeks later. C. had every right to change her mind, but I’d rather fully experience the joy in a moment rather than guard my heart and miss its wonder. This sweet baby girl deserved to be fully celebrated and loved by all of us…no mater what.)
We brought her home on Monday, Feb. 7.
All adoption stories are different, and ours is atypical in its brevity. Every moment felt completely out of our control, and I think, God planned it that way so we would realize just who was handling things. There were so many factors beyond our influence…so many places that things could have gone wrong. But they didn’t, and so we bow our heads and thank God for so perfectly orchestrating our little family. We know our path as adoptive parents (heck…just as parents) will face many obstacles as Ellie grows, but if we’ve learned one thing through all this, it’s that if you surrender your plans, God’s path always leads to the right place.