It has been ten years since we began our adoption journey. In honor of the passing of time, I will be publishing one post each month in 2013 that reflects on our lives in 2003.
It is a Thursday night, which means my best friend Debby is hanging out with me at our apartment. We eat our usual dinner at The Bagel (the only people there under age 75), and then we walk back to my place to watch ER. Our must-see TV night in 2003.
I am weary. We are cycling through opportunities to adopt and watching them disintegrate at an astonishing pace. The extreme high of meeting a birthmother slammed against the leaden woe when it doesn’t pan out. Recover and repeat. Recover and repeat.
The baby phone rings. Honestly, my heart isn’t into it when I answer. My usual openness and warmth is tempered by a growing measure of self-protection. The experience with Kirsten last month has left me scarred. I say a hesitant hello, and when the caller identifies herself as a woman named M, I launch an uncharacteristic barrage of questions at her, questioning if she is who she says she is, wondering if she minds that we are Jewish, putting all our worries and insecurities out there in the first minutes of the call.
M is very quiet and answers my questions, but the conversation doesn’t last long, and I don’t expect to ever hear from her again when we hang up.
“I think I just scared one off,” I tell Andrew, instantly regretting my abrupt manner on the phone. It’s so unlike me to let my own sadness and frustration affect my interaction with a birthmother. I continue to feel badly about it, and, on the off chance that M doesn’t think I was completely insane, I dash out to FedEx and overnight one of our profile booklets to her.
(It turns out that M’s aunt S was also on the phone during the call, listening to the whole conversation. When we hung up, she told M, “That girl is crazy. Do not give the baby to them.”)
The next afternoon, to my utter shock, I get another call. M has received our profile and LOVES it. I am at work when she calls, and I duck into a conference room. The call lasts an hour. M is a totally different person than she was the day before – she is animated and chatty. I feel a connection with her, and I pace around the tiny conference room as I listen to her story.
Almost every birthmother with whom I’ve spoken has a sad story, as is often the nature of adoption. Women who become pregnant in healthy, stable, supportive situations do not often place babies for adoption. Something has gone awry in order for a woman to consider placement, whether it is extreme youth, financial distress, chronic health concerns, abusive relationships, or some other hardship.
M is no different from many struggling birthmothers. Her story is horrible. She has two young children ages three and seven who were removed from her custody nine months earlier by DFS. Although M is NOT the one harming the children, DFS took them from her on the grounds that she “failed to keep them safe” from another member of the household.
Now M is close to giving birth to a third child, and DFS has informed her that the new baby will also go immediately into protective custody. There are other complicating factors that will make it very difficult for M to regain custody of her older children should she try to regain custody of the baby. M has chosen adoption for the baby, but new issues have arisen that will make it difficult for an outside party to adopt the baby. It is a f*ckin mess filled with conflicting positions and nothing but uncertainty awaiting the baby. Many have said our foster system is broken; I can assure you that this is true.
To protect the privacy and dignity of all involved, especially M’s baby, I will provide no additional details about M’s very complicated situation, not now or ever. That part is not my story to tell.
Suffice it to say, up until talking with M, Andrew and I had been planning a traditional private domestic adoption. This adoption would be a whole different ballgame. I tell M that I will speak with my husband about everything and we will call her back.
Andrew and I call our lawyer and our adoption agency, and the agency says they will not be able to handle this for us. The lawyer informs us that it is uncertain whether we will be able to adopt the baby or not, due to legal complications. We search our hearts and ask dozens of questions. The one answer that keeps emerging is this:
If we don’t fight for this baby, she will spend an indefinite amount of time in foster care. As she grows older, it will be more difficult to find a permanent placement for her. Her best chance at forming healthy attachments from a young age is to find a loving home as soon as possible after birth.
We want her. We are willing to jump into the fray of uncertainty, even knowing that a possible outcome is that we are unable to adopt her. We have no children at home, so our attentions need not be diverted from other little ones as we travel to and from M’s town. We are both working professionals, and we have the resources to wade through the system.
“We are still interested,” I tell M, when I call her in the morning. She says she will mull it all over and pray about it and get back to me.
The next day is Fourth of July. I have no memories of the day up until 11:30 pm. We are walking back to Andrew’s parents’ house after watching the fireworks, when the baby phone rings. It is M.
“I know it is so late!” she exclaims. “But my Aunt S said I should call you because this is a phone call that will change your lives. I’ve decided I absolutely want you guys to adopt my baby! I really think it was meant to be for us to find each other. Your life fell apart last November when you lost Matthew, and my life fell apart at the same time when I lost custody of my children. We met each other because we all need each other to heal.”
Joy spreads throughout me. For now, I put aside the knowledge that this adoption will be difficult to achieve. I just celebrate the fact that we and a birthmother have matched and that we both want the same thing. It is an incredible feeling.
Andrew and I make plans to visit M for the first time. She is 7 months pregnant. We fly to St. Louis and drive two hours to M’s town. We meet M and her Aunt S at a restaurant for lunch. We all talk and talk and talk for hours. M shows us pictures of her two older children, who are gorgeous. We show them pictures from our wedding and my sister’s wedding. Aunt S laughs as she shares how she was on the phone that first night and she thought I was crazy. Now she is one of my biggest cheerleaders and openly tells me that she believes we are the right ones to be the baby’s parents.
We spend the weekend together, as M shows us around her town. We find a children’s clothing store and look at tiny baby clothes together. I feel an emotion that has eluded me for months: exuberance. It pinks my cheeks and lightens my step. It quickens my heartbeat and makes shallow my breaths. Can it be true? Can it happen for us? A baby! It seems almost too amazing to envision a live, healthy baby in my arms.
M is likeable beyond belief. She is funny and smart. She is a good listener – compassionate and interested – and she totally embraces how different we are from her. When Andrew and I nudge each other to point out bales of hay beside the road, M laughs at having “city folk” as visitors. She doesn’t mind that we are Jewish, even though she is a very religious Christian. “What matters to me is that the baby goes to a family that has faith, regardless of what that faith is,” she explains.
We all meet together with an attorney who is very optimistic. Best case scenario, the baby may only stay on foster care for five or six DAYS while we deal with the legal stuff after the birth!!!! Worst case scenario, closer to two or three weeks. This is far more hopeful than things had sounded and I can barely sit still for excitement.
M is joyful, too, and I comment to Andrew later that night that I am worried about her. She seems too emotionally stable about the adoption. There is no sign of grief or angst, and I am afraid that the situation will hit her very hard after the baby is born. My fears are later proven heartbreakingly true.
But for now, we are all living in a bubble of hope. Andrew and I are counting on bringing home a baby within 5 days to two weeks after the September birth. M is certain that the placement will be quick and easy for her and is counting on regaining custody of her kids shortly after the birth. We are all walking on air. A fun place to be after dragging heavy-footed on the ground. We all blissfully ignore the fragility of a bubble's membrane, the inevitability of the pop.
Here are the previous entries in the retrospective:
Portrait of an Adoption is written by Carrie Goldman, the award-winning author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear.
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