Friday, September 2, 2011

68 Hours

(The following written on the afternoon of September 2, 2011, en route from Providence, RI, to Orlando, FL)

I'm less than 2 hours from meeting my daughter.

The jet is cruising at 36,000 feet and in a shocking turn of events, I have the entire exit row (aka "first class" on Southwest Airlines) to myself. This has never happened before and while not superstitious, I wonder if it's just another bit of the good fortune that appears to have been flowing through my life over the last two weeks.

Well, except for the hurricane and losing power, phone, and Internet for 4 days. Yet even there, we suffered no damage, no flooding, and everyone we know came through it safe and sound.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Eight days ago I accept a great job offer following an almost 3-month interview process. It offers tremendous opportunities and won't require us to relocate. Yes, it means ending my 13-year tenure with my current employer but it's time for a new challenge. I am thrilled to get the position, especially knowing how competitive the job market is right now. I give two and a half weeks notice and began to prepare for the transition.

Then Hurricane Irene hits and much of Rhode Island, including our town, goes dark. But our damage is minimal and the neighborhood gets together to help clean up the fallen trees and debris in all the yards on Monday. Still, we are cut off even via cell phones unless we leave the house and go elsewhere (not quite sure why but neither AT&T nor Verizon can deliver reliable service to our house). But my office is open for business on Tuesday and I head off to work frantically on the projects required to make my transition out as smooth as possible for my friends and co-workers.

Jennifer stays home, doing some cleanup from the storm and trying to put things to right. Unlike a normal day during which at least a few text messages will zip back and forth just to say "hi" and "I miss you", there's radio silence. My messages are going out but she's not receiving them.

Late that day, a friend in the office comes by to say hi. He's been on vacation and only just heard that I was departing. The topic of families comes up as he and his wife are due to have their first child in October. He knows how long we've been waiting and the devastation we felt when our previous adoption placement collapsed when the birth mother changed her mind four days before her due date.

"Don't worry," he says. "It will happen for you."

Ten minutes later, my cell phone rings.

"Hello," I say.

"Chris? It's T, from Adoption Network. I've been trying to reach you all day."

"We've been out of contact due to the hurricane," I say. "No phone, no power, no Internet. What's up?"

"I'm calling about a placement opportunity but it's an unusual situation and I'll need your feedback right away."

I stand up, close the door to my office, and then sit back down again, pen and paper in hand.

"What is it?"

"There's a young woman in Orlando, Florida. She came to us last week, pretty late in her pregnancy. She'd thought about abortion but decided against it because she knows there are families who want to adopt. Her due date was September 10th."

"Ok," I say, swallowing hard.

"Well, she had the baby today and we need to identify the adoptive parents tonight because the baby will be discharged from the hospital on Thursday."

I'm baffled. Can she really be saying what I'm hearing? And now of all times?

T fills the gap left by my silence. "I know how long you and Jennifer have been waiting and how hard it was back in March. K, the young woman, has already seen your profile and those of two other families as she's been completing the paperwork before going to the hospital today."

"I need to know if you want me to show her your profile again. If she chooses you, you or Jennifer will have to get to Florida tomorrow."

She rattles off some more details that I dutifully scribble down on a piece of scrap paper, the information washing over me. Key phrases stick...

"The baby is healthy."

"It's a little girl."

"Oh wow," I breathe. "T, I need to talk to Jennifer but she's at home and I can't reach her by phone or cell. However, I'm meeting her in 15 minutes for dinner. Can I call you back in half an hour?"

"Yes, of course."

And with that, I'm shutting down my computer, cramming materials into my briefcase, digging out my keys, and fleeing the building with butterflies in my stomach.

The drive to our favorite restaurant feels interminable as I get caught at stoplights, and stuck behind a succession of pokey little econoboxes and trucks.

I pull up to the restaurant and run toward the door, slowing as I see Jennifer sitting on the bench outside, phone to her ear, notepad in her lap.

I hear her ask a question and realize she must be talking to T. The voicemail that never reached my wife's cell phone at home has emerged from the void to spring upon her in front of El Parque. I realize that I'm seeing a mirror of how I must have looked at my desk a short time before, scribbling notes frantically as T relays the details. Finally, she signs off with the promise that we'll be calling back very soon.

She looks up at me.

"When it rains it pours, huh?" I ask.

And we both burst into laughter.

"Holy crap."

"What do we do?"

"I don't know. I guess we need to talk about it."

"Out here or are you ok talking in the restaurant?"

"Oh, I think I need to sit down and have something to drink."

And so we go inside. The small bowl of chips and homemade salsa are emptied rapidly, mostly by me in a fit of nervous hunger.

"I don't think I can eat," Jennifer says.

In truth, that's about all I can remember of the conversation at the table. I know we talk about the challenges that would arise due to travel (one of us would have to be in Florida for one to two weeks for the paperwork to clear) and me leaving one job and starting another (well, there goes my plan to take few weeks off to be with the baby). We have no way to do any of the things we'd need to do from home, given the current stone age situation.

And in the end, none of it matters.

We can't turn down the opportunity. Besides, K might not even pick us so all of these issues will be non-factors.

I step out and call T.

"Ok, show her our profile again."

Back at the table, my stomach is twisting and nagging sense of doubt creeps in. Are we nuts? Can we actually do this? What sane person would do this in the midst of every other change and challenge in our lives? Did we make the right decision.

"We could call her back," Jennifer says, a questioning note in her voice. But we don't.

Fifteen minutes later, the phone rings.

"Congratulations," says T.


The next few hours are a frenzy. After leaving the restaurant and hugging and laughing and sitting by the side of the road sobbing in terror and joy and relief together, we head for my mother's house, where power, Internet, and a reliable phone line are available.

A plane ticket is purchased for Jennifer (yay Southwest!). I will follow a day or two later to give me a chance to meet some commitments and deadlines at work.

A hotel suite is reserved for the next two weeks (yay inexpensive hotels in Orlando!).

E-mails are sent to and from T.

Documents are printed.

My mother and stepfather are informed when they come home, walking into their kitchen asking, "Hey, what's going on?"

Calls are made to a few other family members but no other messages go out. We've been disrupted before and we're not going to jinx it by letting everyone know yet.

Finally, exhausted, Jennifer and I head home at 11 PM to get her packed up for her morning flight. Conveniently, when the Universe crashed in on us in March, we'd been all packed and ready to head to Arizona as soon as we got word that the birth mom was in labor. We never unpacked the "baby duffle." I just wasn't able to bear it and so it sat, zipped and ready to go for five months. Until the night of August 30th.

There isn't much sleep to be had that night. We are both too keyed up.

Finally, I head off to work, giving Jennifer a kiss and hug. Sitting at my desk, I devour the occasional text messages from my wife as she surmounts a few unexpected challenges (I think I'll leave it to her to tell that part of the story sometime) and touches down in Florida.

And then I receive the first photo of a lovely, tiny person held in Jennifer's hands. My heart stops. More photos trickle in along with updates on her conversations with K, the adoption case worker, and the nurses. Phone calls from a few family members come in asking for updates.

Finally, I leave work and head home, planning to go to my mom's house to show her pictures and provide an update, even if I had power at the house. Jennifer and I speak again and I soak up every detail. K still seems willing and ready to proceed with the adoption. The paperwork process will begin at 10 AM the next day. And despite my entreaties, Jennifer holds off on sending me a picture of her with the baby.

"I don't feel right doing that," she explains. "She's still K's baby, I'm in the room with her and it would feel presumptuous. After the paperwork is done and we're her parents."


There isn't much sleep to be had on Wednesday night either. By the time I go to bed, we are just over 24 hours from the initial call from T and our lives are totally upended.

Thursday morning. 36 hours into the event. I savor a brief phone call with an exhausted Jennifer who stayed at the hospital well into the night. We make the final determination of the baby's name should we be so lucky as to become her parents. I make the drive into Providence to get an updated criminal background check to prove I'm not a psycho. And then I am on my way to work, fretting as I drive, caught in traffic and knowing it's after 10 and the process is supposed to be underway.

The text messages begin their steady crawl on my iPhone.

10:36 AM (Jennifer): Give me a call when you can. I have to fill out the long form and need your social security number and some other info.

10:50 AM (Jennifer): I signed all the papers. The attorney now in with K having her sign everything. OMG. This is really happening.

11:01 AM (me): I'm at my desk. Having a bit of trouble breathing.

11:01 AM (Jennifer): me too

11:20 AM (me): Anything?

11:20 AM (Jennifer): Still waiting

11:21 AM (me): This is nerve-wracking.

11:21 AM (Jennifer): What about this entire experience hasn't been nerve-wracking???

11:22 AM (me) Bonus wracks for being so close to it happening. I'm sorry I'm not there with you.

11:22 AM (me) I'm sorry too. But you'll be here tomorrow and we will just get to hang out without anyone else around!

(In the midst of all this, other text messages from family members are arriving, wanting to know what's going on.)

11:41 AM. A text message arrives from Jennifer containing just this:

I begin to weep at my desk.


And now my flight to Orlando is beginning its descent. I'm 30-40 minutes from seeing my wife and meeting my daughter for the first time.

It still feels unreal.

My daughter.

I have a daughter.

Jennifer is a mom.

I'm a dad.

After two and a half years of dreaming, of crying, of frustration, of excitement, and of anticipation, it's actually happened.

Family and friends are flooding us with calls and e-mails and comments on Facebook. Things are being ordered from our Amazon baby registry. I'm getting congratulations from people I've worked with for years and I'm glad this happened before I departed for the new job so I can share it with them.

But all of that pales in light of what's about to happen to me and to my family.

It's 68 hours since the call from T.

I'm about to meet my daughter.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Oh wow!

Massive hurricane? Check. No light, power, phone, Internet or electricity for four days? Check. Switching to a new job? Check. Adopting a baby in the space of 48 hours? Sure! Why the hell not! Clearly, the Universe has a twisted sense of humor.

More details coming soon but the adoption journey is over and the journey as parents and a family begins today.

Welcome to the world and to our family, Esme Louisa!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Another Op'nin', Another Show

Another op'nin', another show
In Philly, Boston or Baltimo',
A chance for stage folks to say hello,
Another op'nin' of another show.
Another job that you hope, at last,
Will make your future forget your past,
Another pain where the ulcers grow,
Another op'nin' of another show.
Four weeks, you rehearse and rehearse,
Three weeks and it couldn't be worse,
One week, will it ever be right?
Then out o' the hat, it's that big first night!
The overture is about to start, 
You cross your fingers and hold your heart,
It's curtain time and away we go!

When it comes to the adoption process, I'm feeling like the stagehands and extras in Kiss Me, Kate faced with performance after performance of one show after another in city after city, hoping to finally reach the promised land of a big hit and the bright lights of Broadway.

I haven't written much in the last few months because, honestly, there hasn't been much to write about since the disruption and there's only so often that I can write (or anyone can read) about a lack of progress.

We biked into town today for the big July 4th parade and we were both thinking "another holiday, another month" without a baby. This is our third Independence Day since deciding to embark on this journey and it's feeling like it will never end, like there will never be a kid to clap and cheer with us for the marching bands, to cover her ears with her mom when the guys in Revolutionary War outfits fire their muskets, to run out into the parade route to hug the poor people walking in 95 degree weather while dressed as Elmo or Cookie Monster.

Intellectually I know it will eventually happen. Emotionally, I have trouble staying optimistic and so, instead, I'm just trying to ignore it now. I compartmentalize it. I don't think about it. The crib and the changing table, the glider and the baby clothes that we bought in February and March -- they are just background noise now and don't really register when I walk by our former guest room/future nursery. I get up, I go to work, I ride my bike. We read, we write, we go to museums, we visit with friends and family, we make plans for future events and we really don't take into account that we might have a baby at some point in the future. It's become an abstraction, which feels both like a loss as well as a necessary step to allow us to continue moving on.

Yes, it will happen in the future. It has, too. I need to believe it will. But until then, I just need to keep hoofin' it, making the trek to Philly, Boston, and Baltimo'. Eventually we'll get the Call again and the curtain will finally, finally go up on the next act.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Dummies Guide to Adoption

In Jennifer's touching post today about moving forward, I was struck by this observation:

It's easier to wait now that just about everyone in our lives knows that our adoption placement fell through at the last minute. No more having to explain. No more saying "Chris and I will just move forward" or "I'm doing OK"  or "well, obviously the Universe has other plans for us" or "It is what it is" or any other hope-filled re-frame that I can think of to make others feel better about my pain. So many people have expressed their sympathy and asked their questions (for which I am really, truly, deeply grateful - even if I didn't sounds terribly grateful in that last sentence...) and heard the explanations. So, now it's a relief that I don't have to keep talking about it.

It struck me, as I read it, that there's an opportunity for us to find some small bit of humor and a bit of adoption education amidst our disappointment and our hopes for the future. 

I think I might begin sketching out an Adoption 101 guide for real people from someone who is going through the process. I remember in college that we joked about the fact that if we really wanted to leave college with marketable skills, they should teach a Life 101 class to help us understand how to deal with credit cards and health insurance and the myriad niggling details that make up our daily lives. I think we could create something like that with questions we wished we'd asked and thing we should have considered to help other people on similar journeys.

Of course, it won't all be dry text. I'm seriously considering an adoption-specific version of the scene on the bus in Bull Durham where Crash is teaching Nuke the most effective baseball cliches.

"The Universe has other plans for us."

"It's going to happen. It's just going to take a bit more time."

"It is what it is."

See what I mean? We'll be fine. We're moving forward and the Good Lord willing, it will all work out.

Thanks, Crash.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Supposed to be

It wasn't until late tonight, as I was making a salad to bring for lunch tomorrow, that either of us said it.

"How are you doing?" Jennifer asks me.

"Fine, I guess," I reply in a subdued tone. "Just trying not to think about what we were supposed to be doing today."

"Yeah," my wife replies. "Me too."

March 13th.

The due date.

I hope L had her baby today and that mother, daughter, siblings, and family are all happy. I wish them well and am keeping my fingers crossed that L made the right decision for all of them.

I'm just tremendously sorry that we weren't in a hospital in Glendale, AZ, today experiencing that same joy.

It will happen. I do believe that. But until it does, I won't look at March 13th the same way for a long time.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Square One

Our profiles are posted again on the adoption agency's websites. When our profiles originally went live, I remember a sense of anticipation, of imminent success, and the excitement that came with taking such a big step. Today, seeing them posted again makes me feel tired and worn out.

It feels like we're back to Square One.

When we first decided to adopt, we spent lots of time answering questions, explaining the process to friends and family. Now, we're explaining what happened and where we go from here. Returning from the gym this morning, I was standing outside and our neighbor across the street stepped outside and called over, "Hi Chris! You guys must be getting so excited!"

I expect that this will continue to happen as we see friends and colleagues over the coming weeks who might not have heard the news. They ask because they care and they're excited for us and I have to answer them because they're grieving a bit for us now, too. We are part of a wonderful community that was there for us when we made the decision to adopt and is going to be there for us when we finally do become parents.

I suppose the answers and explanations will get easier with time but right now, they just bring the reality back, front and center for me along with the realization that our profiles are now live again and we're back to waiting for someone to choose us.

Back to Square One.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Writing while Numb

It's been a while since I've written. It wasn't from a lack of interest in writing but rather a conscious decision not to do so as events unfolded here at home.

I was making chili and cornbread in preparation for our annual "New Year's Eve Eve" party on December 30th. My wife walked in at 2:30 after a short day at her office. Her cell phone rang. No one ever calls her cell phone but me and I certainly wasn't the one on the phone. She answered, looked shocked, said "you'll need to call us back on the land line so my husband can be on the phone, too."

It was The Call. The adoption agency had a placement for us, a little girl due on March 13th in Arizona. The birth mom, L, wanted a closed adoption, was asking the agency to select a good family and a good home. It was us. After a Christmas tinged with a hint of sadness that there was no child in our home yet, we were about to enter the new year with the prospect of actually becoming parents ahead of us.


I'm not a superstitious person by nature and neither is my wife. Still, we decided that it might be best to stay quiet about this to avoid tempting fate, angering the gods, or jinxing the whole thing. And so, there's been silence here on the blog for quite some time.


Of course we told family. There were calls to siblings and the parents we weren't going to see that night. At the party that evening, we told my mother and stepfather that we had a belated Christmas gift for them -- tickets to see Paula Poundstone in Boston in mid-March. I'd bought them as a Christmas present for my wife but we wanted them to have the tickets as we didn't think we'd be able to use them.

"Why not?" my mother asked.

"Because it looks like we'll be in Arizona bringing home our daughter," I replied.

Needless to say, chaos reigned for a while in our house. It felt very very good.

We told some people at work because we wanted to be sure that things were prepared. Due to state regulations, we were going to need to stay in Arizona for two weeks with the baby before we could retrn home. Then my wife was going to go on maternity leave. There was a lot to be done.


As we moved from late December into January and February, I really wanted to write about the experience -- shopping for a glider, clearing out the guest room and turning it into a nursery, checking Consumer Reports for car seat reviews, and all of the other activities that go into preparing for a baby. But I still decided to hold off. No sense announcing to the world until it was done and we were home.


L, the birth mom, was in her mid-20s, already a mom to two children, unmarried and trying to complete college, and strongly of the opinion that she wouldn't be able to parent this new child properly. Our adoption contacts in Arizona met her several times and reiterated L's commitment to the adoption. The copies of her medical records all included "adoption" written prominently on all of the pages.

The process progressed. The legal wheels in Arizona and here at home started to spin. We continued to collect items for the baby's room, for life with a child. More people entered the circle of "in the know". We politely put a stop to an initial offer to host a shower for my wife. "If there's going to be a party, it's going to be for me, too!" I said with a laugh in response. "But please, we don't want to do anything until after we're home with this little girl. We really appreciate the thought but not right now."


The first thing I actually wrote about this anticipated change was a Facebook post after unpacking some stuff we'd ordered:

"OK, so here's a joke. Let me see if I got this right. A priest, a rabbi, and a nun walk into a, that's not it. Ummm, a blonde, a brunette, and and a redhead walk into a hotel...nope, that's not right either. Oh yeah! A crib, a stroller, and a car seat walk into what used to be our guest room. Oh crap...I'm not sure if there's actually a punchline but we'll hopefully find out in about 5 weeks."

"No," a friend and parent wrote back. "There's no punchline."


The plane tickets were booked. My lovely wife found a furnished apartment that we'd be able to rent for the two weeks we expected to be in Phoenix. We began to check e-mail and home voice mail more frequently than normal, waiting for the message that said it was time to head west.

Exactly two weeks before her due date, a very sweet plan to have a surprise party at my office was stopped after e-mail invitations had been sent out. "Chris really doesn't want to have a party beforehand in case anything happens with the adoption before it's complete," explained one of my coworkers who knew how my wife and I felt. But the word was out. A few people came by to extend their preliminary congratulations or to tell me about their own experiences adopting (it's surprising how many people we've known for years are also adoptive parents).

With 10 days to go, I was sitting in the office of a colleague when my phone rang. It was my wife and she never calls me on my cell phone when I'm at work.

"L has gone to the hospital and may be in labor," she reported. "But the agency says that she is having doubts, that her family is pressuring her to call it off."


I'm a writer by trade. My wife is a fantastic writer as anyone who has read her adoption and health blogs will attest. Before this placement, we'd even gone so far as to create a dedicated website to help tell our story to women who sought a loving family for their unborn child. I like to think that we can tell a good story, that we can make a compelling case, and that we can entertain or influence or guide when we write. 

But suddenly, with L wavering, we felt helpless. It was a closed adoption. We'd had no contact with L and she didn't want any with us. We couldn't talk to her, write to her, let her know that we were so ready to provide this child with a loving home, that she could trust us. Instead, we were bystanders and all of the words that we might have used rested unsaid.


After that shocking Thursday, the next 48 hours were a blur of e-mails and phone calls with the agency and our contacts in Arizona. Finally, we got the word -- L was having contractions but was not in labor; she was home resting; she realized that despite the pressure from her family, including her father who was crying at the hospital, going ahead with the adoption was the right thing for her and her baby. She wanted to know if we could be there to take the baby when she was discharged from the hospital.

Everything was going to be fine.

We continued packing our bags so that we'd be ready to go at a moment's notice, all the while telling ourselves that, yes, L could still change her mind. But the word from Arizona over the following week was still positive -- Yes, L is still committed to this; she realizes it's her decision to make, not her family's; she is convinced this is the right thing.

But there was still that niggling sense of doubt.


The news came this morning in writing, an e-mail sent from the west coast offices of our adoption agency at midnight our time last night. I fired up my computer for a quick check of the headlines after getting home from spin class. "Unfortunately, I have some bad news..."


Throughout this entire journey, we have said that until the birth mother tells us "please raise this child" and the paperwork is complete, it is absolutely, without a doubt her right to change her mind and say "no, I'm sorry, but I can't do this. I realize that I need to raise this baby."

I do believe that. I truly do. But damn it, does it have to hurt so much to have to actually prove that they aren't just some trite words on the screen or tossed off in conversation? Is this some cosmic test? Did I really piss the Universe off my with my "priest, rabbi, and a nun" joke?


disrupt |disˈrəpt| verb [ trans. ] interrupt (an event, activity, or process) by causing a disturbance or problem; drastically alter or destroy the structure of (something)


The term in the adoption world for what we've just gone through is "disruption." I can't tell if that's intended to be diplomatic, polite, or brutally honest. All I know is that it's true for everyone involved.

I can't begin to imagine how disrupted L's life is right now as she approaches the birth of a child she was prepared to give up until her family weighed in at the hospital and in the days after. I fervently hope she is making the right decision and wish L and her family happiness. This little girl, whom we'll never meet but who had started to take on such a central role in our lives despite our best efforts to stay detached until the adoption was complete, will grow up with her siblings, her mother, and a family that fought to keep her. I hope that passion and love endures. A child should have those things.

For us, we're now 16 hours post-disruption, 16 hours after I read the e-mail and bolted upstairs to my wife who was preparing for work, 16 hours after being told that the plans we'd been making with such joy needed to be shelved for an as-yet-undetermined amount of time, 16 hours during which a numb feeling has settled through us both.

We keep telling ourselves that this is just a bump and that we'll be parents someday. Our friends and family tell us the same thing. I have to believe that because to waver, to doubt the inevitability of becoming parents is just too devastating to contemplate. These things happen. Friends of ours experienced a disruption during their first adoption attempt and they now have two wonderful, lovely daughters.

We aren't the first people to go through this but it's the first time we've gone through this so it's new and raw. It's going to take a while for the numb sensation to wear off, to not walk by the new nursery in our house and wonder about the little girl who is expected to be born on March 13th and what she would have been like to hold in our arms. Instead my wife and I have just been holding on to each other today, a hug or a touch, a kiss, or a small smile to know that we're still here, that we're still together, and that the end result will be a daughter and a wonderful future.

It's just going to take time. I wonder if writing will help.