Most of you know, but not all of you, that we are an adoptive family. Though she is not genetically related to us, Angela and I were present, bedside, when Mara was born, and she has known us as her parents from the moment she first drew breath. We heard her first cry and changed her first diapers, the scary ones with meconium in them that somehow no one ever tells new parents about. We chose to go about finding our baby independent of agencies (not legal in all states) and we wanted an open adoption, which can mean a lot of things but at the minimum it means that the adoptive parents meet one or both of the birthparents.
Mara knows her story and has known it since before she could speak. She is now five years old, a happy kid who knows she is loved unconditionally by her mom and dad and also knows that there is another woman who loves her whom we call her birthmother, who gave her life. At this point, Mara does not find her story troublesome or strange, and in fact we all celebrate the beautiful way in which our family was made a family. I would love to tell that story, but it is Mara’s story now, and because it is so personal I must leave it to her to tell or not tell, as she chooses, as time goes by.
It has always been our wish that Mara have a sibling to grow up with. We were hoping that we might have adopted another child by the time Mara was two or three, but whereas the process of finding Mara took only a few months and was free of complications, it has taken a lot longer this second time. We encountered several bad situations. We drove once to a hospital in Aberdeen to find a young woman in withdrawal from recent heavy drug use, unable to wake up long enough to talk with us. There we discovered that her baby had been flown to Tacoma and was in the care of CPS or some other agency. We had been called and invited down by someone claiming to be the young woman’s mother, but this turned out to be untrue. The nurses eventually tracked down the proper agency spokespeople for us, whereupon we learned that the child was not and had not at any time been available, from the state’s point of view, for adoption. We drove home disappointed, but also wounded on behalf of everyone involved, especially the mother.
Another situation became a nightmare of mixed signals and misinformation before we decided that there were too many people giving different stories of what was going on and bailed out. One young woman, a girl of twenty, chose us to adopt her baby but changed her mind when the baby was born, a contingency we must always be ready for, and one that hurts a lot, but one that Angela and I believe represents the best thing for the child. We were contacted by one woman, in her late thirties at least, who was not pregnant at all and has preyed upon the vulnerability and trust of many infertile couples in many states, including two friends of ours who were so crushed by being swindled out of thousands of dollars in housing and other assistance they gave her that they have never resumed their effort to adopt.
The road to adoption can be frought with frustration and sadness, especially if you go the open and independent route as we have, doing our own networking and advertising, retaining a lawyer and finding a social worker, and meeting birthparents who express interest in us. The frustrations you can sort of prepare for, even if the encounters with swindlers feels like a punch in the gut. But the particular shade of sadness that attends an open adoption is one that took us by surprise the first time, doesn’t get easier to deal with the second time, and is difficult, I believe, to perceive from outside the situation. Children do not become placed with adoptive parents because the world is rosy and light, but because things have gone wrong, sometimes horribly wrong. Friends and family of a couple adopting a child probably will feel joy and relief when it happens, but unless they have been intimately involved in the process they will be to a large extent unaware of the strange emotional space that the adoptive couple occupies with the birthmother. It’s an uncomfortable space, so people tend not to feel free to ask about it, or they don’t know how.
It’s also a space that’s difficult to articulate, but it’s about the converging of the joy that an infertile couple feels in becoming parents with the grief that the birthmother feels in severing the close maternal bond with her baby. You don’t expect to feel such intense sorrow when you are coming closer to your goal of adopting a baby. But that sorrow envelops you and makes you feel kind of quiet and small, and grateful for everything. Life suddenly scintillates in a weird way. For Angela and myself, it works best if we focus on trying to become “servants”, in the Christian sense, of the birthmother, who is often alone and afraid, and has no one else who can even begin to appreciate the emotional strain she is subject to. And the sadness never really leaves, it just turns in time to sweet. Today when we embrace our daughter we embrace too the memory of a courageous woman, and remember that by her unflinching mother’s love we were able to know the great joy of having this little girl look up at us with such affection.
And yet in a very real way, the birthmother needs to see our joy in order to carry on. She needs to see that her baby is going to a happy place, not a somber place. She needs the encourangement of our expectation, the new paint in the nursery, the wee outfits folded and waiting on the changing table – even though everybody knows that the disappointment and grief and sorrow may suddenly turn around and become fully and only ours if the birthmother changes her mind, which (in Washington State) she has up until 48 hours after the birth — or the signing of papers, whichever is later — to do. And so for the good of all we put on the cheery face of expectant parents, even though part of us is afraid to do so, to get our hopes up. We enter this bizarro world with the birthmother where motives and fears are all opposites, and yet we have to all stand in that hall of mirrors together. It’s like an emotional storm for three.
Or four, in our case, for it is also difficult for Mara, who does not understand the complexity of the world, does not understand why people change their minds or what it means when we don’t want to meet again with the lady we met with before (after the fraud situation we decided that only Angela and I would attend “first meetings”). You might ask why we need to even tell Mara about situations that may (and most likely) fall through, but we have determined that the disappointment is easier for her to deal with than the shock of having to share her world suddenly with a new sibling without any preparation or warning. Because she has been a part of each hope and defeat, she is learning valuable lessons about what life can throw at you, and seeing how her parents handle it.
I am happy to report, however, that in a matter of…oh…hours now really…a baby girl is due to arrive in this world, and if all goes according to plan she will be our second daughter. Because of the very intimate nature of this process, I am unable to tell this story the way I’d like to, but it’s a beautiful story. I thought I should write at least these few paragraphs, because in a little while our lives are going to become very different again, and you’ll be hearing a lot about it. I promise not to turn my blog into a cute-baby chronicle, but I’m certain that the new life will afford me many occasions to do what I’ve been trying to do all along here, and that is to draw connections between the physical world and the spiritual world.
I’ll continue to do that. There may just be a lot of upchuck around for a while.