Our Adoption Tale on this, National Adoption Day
As I was doing dishes yesterday morning, a poignant song from the musical “Annie” titled “Maybe” floated out of my iPod nearby.
Maybe far away
Or maybe real nearby
He may be pouring her coffee
She may be straightnin’ his tie.
Maybe in a house
All hidden by a hill
She’s sitting playing piano
He’s sitting paying a bill!
Betcha they’re young
Betcha they’re smart
Bet they collect things
Like ashtrays, and art.
Betcha they’re good
Why shouldn’t they be?
Their one mistake
Was giving up me.
So maybe now it’s time,
And maybe when I wake
They’ll be there calling me baby
No matter how many times I hear this song, I get a lump in my throat the size of a peach pit since the meaning behind the words is so very near and dear to our little family.
You see, my husband, Jame, and I were blessed to have received both of our boys through adoption. And in the spirit of National Adoption Day, I’m going to take a few minutes and tell you our story.
We were very happy as a couple before we adopted our boys. For almost ten wonderful years we focused on each other, our careers, traveled, and went out on a whim whenever, wherever. But, for us at least, there was always a niggling sensation that something was missing. That our family truly wasn’t complete.
After two failed pregnancies and years of the-crack-of-dawn doctors visits, self-administered shots, pills, and continual dashed hopes, I turned to Jame and said, “Remind again me why we’re doing this to ourselves? Let’s get off of this infertility roller coaster, and adopt.” And so we did, and haven’t looked back ever since. All we wanted was to be parents. Whether or not our child carried our DNA meant, and still means, absolutely nothing to us.
I understand that adoption isn’t right for everyone, but it has been oh so right for us. As a matter of fact, I remember lying on my bed as a girl, dreaming of adopting a family of five kids who were in desperate need of love and care. So, it’s almost as if our inability to have children biologically was preordained.
We waited through two and a half years of the ups and downs of the adoption process before we brought our oldest son, Logan, home. We were interviewed and finger-printed and lectured to and inspected and passed-over until our nerves were absolutely frayed and our hope was waning. And then, finally, our personal profile, a sort of autobiographical marketing booklet we had put together, was selected by a prospective birth mother. I’ll never forget the euphoria we felt that day.
A few weeks later, we drove down to central Illinois to meet with Logan’s birth mother in a tiny, ramshackle house. The front plate glass window was held together with a jagged strip of duct tape, the living room floor was smothered by layers of shag carpeting and randomly placed throw rugs, perhaps to cover the areas where the antique shag had bitten the dust, and the spineless couch wedged between the wall and a rickety coffee table swallowed its occupants up whole – any hope of ergonomic correctness having gone by the wayside years prior.
Logan’s birth mom had greeted us with a cautious smile and an 8th-month distended baby belly.
We plopped ourselves down, let the couch consume us, and then we began to talk. And as we did, she opened up little by little like the petals of a poppy slowly unfurling to reveal its inner radiance. She relayed how she had been extra careful about her diet and exercise since she’d become pregnant, her gray eyes beseeching us to understand how hard she was trying to honor the baby that grew inside of her. She told us about her love of Gaelic art, and music, and reading, about her innate musicality, and how she and her siblings always scored at the very top of standardized tests. She spoke in a wry tone about her mischievous dog named Son of Satan, and about her childhood, rife with abuse and neglect and weighty responsibilities way beyond those appropriate for a child. And, at the end of our visit, despite the fact that she was only 12 years my junior, I was ready to adopt her as well: her need for love and acceptance perhaps even exceeding our intense desire to parent the child growing in her womb.
The next time we saw her was the day after she had given birth to Logan. She was back in her home, and we had arrived, the greenest of green parents, to take her baby home with us. Her mother was there as well, the would-be grandmother: the same woman who had turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the atrocities Logan’s birth mother had endured in her home as a child.
I shook as I bent down and picked up our infant son for the first time, overwhelmed by a tidal wave of emotions, handicapped by inexperience, blinded by instant, unconditional love.
And then the would-be grandmother turned to the birth mom and asked in a worried tone, “Gosh, do you think this is the right thing to do? Will they be okay parents for him?” as if Jame and I didn’t exist. As if we weren’t both standing mere inches away from her.
Without skipping a beat, Logan’s birth mom turned from her own mother, looked me straight in the eye, and replied, “They’ll be the best parents he could ever ask for.”
Moments later, we buckled him up in his miniature car seat, secured it in the backseat of our car, and took off for home, Jame going 45 miles an hour down the right lane of the highway, with a death grip on the steering wheel in the “10 and 2 position”, while I sat hovering over the car seat, our precious cargo and our promise to fulfill Logan’s birth mom’s final statement weighing heavily on our minds and in our hearts.
His birth mom knew that she wasn’t able to provide Logan with the type of love and care and financial support that a baby needs. Her ability to make such a selfless, rational decision humbles me to this very day, eighteen and a half years later. I don’t know her, not really anyway, and yet I love her fiercely for her display of courage, wisdom, and unwavering faith at such a young age. I love her for the tremendous gift she gave us in our son. In my way of thinking, there are two types of phenomenal parents: the type who raises a child with love and care, and the type that loves deeply enough to let go.
Because of the arduous adoption process we had experienced, we waited six years to adopt our second child, Spencer. We also thought that a six-year gap would create a healthy spread between our two children, and eliminate sibling rivalry. . . We thought incorrectly.
Spencer, a mocha-skinned, black-eyed, black-haired, beautiful bundle of wailing passion, arrived on a gentle spring day.
A month prior, we had sat at a diner in Chicago waiting over an hour for his birth parents to materialize, anxiously scanning each face that entered the joint before we eventually threw in the towel and headed home, thinking they had obviously changed their minds. Miraculously, however, several weeks later we received a phone call from our agency saying that our baby had been born and could we please hurry up and come get him?
When you’re pregnant with a child, you have nine long months to prepare yourself for this monumental occasion. When you adopt, sometimes you have less than one day.
As Jame, Logan and I waited in the hospital lobby to be shown up to Spencer’s birth mom’s room, a strikingly handsome young man skateboarded up to the revolving glass doors, dreadlocks swaying, bass notes thumping out of the boom box he balanced on his shoulder.
I nudged Jame and said, “That’s the birth father. I know it.”
“That guy? The young guy with the skateboard? No way,” was his response.
And yet, it was.
When it was time, we took the elevator to the appropriate floor, stepped into Spencer’s birth mother’s room, and there he was, handsome skateboarding guy, standing beside the bed, sweetly holding her hand. The whole time we were there, she hardly spoke a word to us, but it was apparent that she was taking it all in: evaluating the situation, no doubt wondering how this family of strangers would treat the baby she had delivered only hours before, yet had refused to cradle in her arms for fear of not being able to then let go.
Spencer’s birth mom was only 19, and had come from a broken, angst-filled upbringing. His birth father was 20, and had lived in a volatile home full of anger and substance abuse. Together, they were determined that the baby they had created would have a healthier, happier home. That he would have hope.
Unfortunately, their families didn’t agree with their plans. Both sides wanted to parent Spencer against his birth parents’ wishes, and were furious that the two of them were sending their child off with strangers. As a result, Jame, Logan, and I ended up carrying Spencer out to our van with an armed security guard as our companion. How’s that for an inauspicious start?
The domestic adoption process often doesn’t stop after welcoming your new infant into your home. Some families have open adoptions where the birth parents know their full identity and are often frequent visitors in their home. For us, our semi-open adoptions allowed us to meet the birth parents, but contact after the birth was limited. We were required to send written updates and photos several times a year to the birth parents for the first few years, but always through our agency in order to maintain our anonymity. Everyone has varied ideas of what’s comfortable for them. This was our comfort zone. It’s wonderful to be able to share our memories of their birth parents with our kids to give them some insight about those who brought them into this world. We didn’t, however, feel it would be quite so wonderful to have to invite them into our daily lives.
Now, let me just say, we love our kids to death and truly think the world of them, but, like all other young children, they had both ups and downs. So, when penning a letter to a birth parent who has just made the most heart-breaking, life-altering decision by choosing an adoption plan, what tone is best to use? Do you attempt to soothe her by only discussing the angelic times when Little Johnny looked adorable curled up in his crib wearing his Cookie Monster pjs and sucking his tiny thumb, or do you go the full disclosure route and also include the story about how he projectile vomited on your boss’s new Armani suit during his first and last office visit, or the times when his demonic two-year-old self, deep in the throes of a tornadic meltdown, would spin around on the kitchen floor with such vim and vigor that he made the Tasmanian Devil look utterly reserved in comparison? Honestly, I never quite knew which way to go, so I picked bits from here, pieces from there, and the rest from the safe but mundane temperate zone.
It’s been a long time since we brought our boys home: 18 years for Logan, and 12 years for Spencer. I absolutely can’t imagine our lives without them. They’ve filled our hearts, and our dirty laundry hampers to the brim. They’ve loved us dearly, and have given us award-winning stink eyes. They’ve made us laugh and cry and burst with pride as they’ve grown into the magnificent beings that they are today.
Adoption is wonderful.
Adoption is not for the faint of heart, whether you’re the birth or the adoptive parents.
Adoption is waiting, not giving up, enduring, and at long last celebrating the wonders of parenthood.
Adoption is a priceless gift of love.
Happy National Adoption Day!