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 bar...no, 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.