Welcome to 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days, hosted by Portrait of an Adoption. This series will feature guest posts by people with widely varying adoption experiences and perspectives.
By Rachel Garlinghouse
“I’m ready to adopt again,” I told my husband, plopping beside him on the couch one spring evening.
“I’m happy with our family as it is,” he replied. He was used to my “big dreams” promptings, usually announced in the evenings after we settled our children in their beds. We already had two daughters and a son, all of whom joined our family by domestic, infant, transracial, open adoption. “Our hands are full,” he added.
“I know. But I was one of three kids, and it was always two of us against the other. I really think we need to adopt a fourth child. I feel the need to create balance,” I shared, realizing the rationale sounded a bit silly as I spoke my thoughts aloud.
We repeated this conversation about once a week in the evenings for months on end. I wanted to adopt again, feeling the familiar tug of desire and urgency, while my husband, the practical one, provided reality-based reasoning why our family was complete.
Adopting again after four years of being just a family and not a “waiting family” meant starting over with the exhausting newborn phase. It meant a homestudy process that involved fingerprinting, background checks, home visits, interviews, and filling out stacks and stacks of paperwork. It meant creating a profile book. What it really meant was putting our hearts on the proverbial line.
Yet I couldn’t let the desire go. And eventually, as my husband often does, he agreed to wait for another baby, for one year. If there was no baby in a year, he wanted to be done. I said okay and told him we’d keep it as easy as possible: an in-state placement, a short match. Ideal stipulations to superficially comfort us in an otherwise roller-coaster journey.
Of course, adoption doesn’t adhere to stipulations or ideals. Adoption is a mysterious being, complicated, bittersweet, complex, interesting. Adopting a fourth time proved to be predictably unpredictable.
We joined an agency in a neighboring state that needed families open to children of color. Very shortly after we signed on, our profile was shown to a couple considering adoption for their unborn baby. A few days later we were chosen.
The wait for our daughter was hardly the “quick and easy” adoption I had longed for and built up in my mind. (As a writer, I have an overactive and elaborate imagination.) We had four-and-a-half months between the time we were matched and the baby’s due date: our longest match, by far. The adoption was also not in our home state, which meant if the placement happened, we’d deal with the dreaded ICPC process.
Perhaps the most difficult part of adopting a fourth time was knowing that it wasn’t just our adults hearts on the line, but the hearts of our three children, all of whom were old enough to grasp love and potential loss. We knew that a match wasn’t a guarantee, that “the baby” wasn’t “our baby” if and until TPR was signed. So we taught our children about their possible future sibling, trying to balance between hope and reality. We cautiously prepared for our maybe-baby.
I thought we had adoption “down pat.” I mean, it wasn’t our first rodeo with ten years of experienced under our belts. I considered ourselves “been there, done that.” But every adoption journey is different, with this one being no exception.
This adoption was our first in many regards. The first time we had a long match. The first time we were invited to be present at the hospital. The first time I was invited to attend the birth. The first time we had such intimate and frequent contact with the expectant parents prior to birth. The first time I fell in love with a baby who wasn’t mine. The first time I fully prepared a nursery for a baby we were matched with.
This adoption required loving big while facing fear, uncertainty, and hope. Vulnerability was nearly palpable. I was a nervous wreck for an entire summer, dancing with both peace and doubt.
The day our daughter was born, I was invited in to a sacred space. I heard the first cries, fed the first bottle, changed the first diaper. I snugged and swaddled. I took dozens of pictures. It was altogether terrifying and beautiful.
We waited a week to see if “the baby” would become “our baby.” I remember arriving at our home-away-from-home with the baby and settling in, letting each child take a turn holding her. After a few days, my oldest daughter looked up at me and said, “Mommy, is she going to be my sister?” And all I could say to her was the truth: “I don’t know. But we’re going to love her no matter what.”
On the afternoon we learned she was officially our daughter, I could hardly believe it. Truly, it took months for the reality to sink in, that we were now a family of six and that the newborn baby was ours, forever.
Adoption is so puzzling. None of us ever have it fully figured out. And it’s probably best that we do not. The mysterious parts of adoption keep us yearning for more: more education, more empathy, more love. And that makes us better parents.
What our fourth adoption taught me is that challenges can often lead to greater appreciation of the journey. Love runs a little deeper, hope is stronger, and arms are opened wider. The day “the baby” became ours, life got a lot sweeter.
Bio: Rachel Garlinghouse is the author of six books, including the newly-released The Hopeful Mom’s Guide to Adoption: The Wit and Wisdom You Need for the Journey. Rachel is a mother of four, Christian, cheese-fry and dance-party fan, Black Lives Matter advocate, type 1 diabetic, and breast cancer survivor. Learn more about her family’s adventures and connect at her blog White Sugar, Brown Sugar.
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Carrie Goldman is the host of Portrait of an Adoption. She is an award-winning author, speaker, and bullying prevention educator. Follow Carrie's blog Portrait of an Adoption on Facebook and Twitter
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