(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.
"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.
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.