Posts Tagged 'open adoption'

Adoption Day

You’ll fly away
but take my hand until that day
So when they ask how far love goes
When my job’s done, you’ll be the one who knows”

– Dar Williams

This morning on the third floor of the King County Courthouse on Third and James, the State of Washington recognized and established Emilia Jane as a member of our family and Mara officially became a big sister. Now when the cyclops eye of the state looks out upon the world, it sees, as all states do, only one truth without any gray areas or previous realities or multiple intertwining existential perspectives. As far as the state is concerned, it is as though Emilia was born of Angela’s and my loins, and there is no other condition of affairs as regards this family. We, on the other hand, carry with us the complexities of our situation, in particular the future questions to be answered about “why” and “what if” and the present questions of how to forge an ongoing relationship with Emilia’s birthparents in a very open adoption.

Waiting to be called before the judge. Some of our support team.

And yet…And yet, the fact that we have adopted both of our daughters is in our minds the least interesting thing about them. They are simply our children. When I call the house as I walk home from the bus stop at the end of the day and tell Mara that I’m getting near our street and she hangs up and runs outside and rushes down the sidewalk with her hair flapping and her bare feet slapping the pavement until she hits me with her arms wide open and I lift her up into the arc of her momentum and hold her in my arms, I never think “this is my adopted daughter Mara”. I stopped thinking of her as something other than my child about three seconds after she was born, and it is the same with Emilia. The decree of the state is a nice thing — it feels good to have the Big Wheel Turning acknowledge us as a family — but it is only the acknowledgement of what is already true. We have been on the job for eleven weeks in Emilia’s life, actually much longer. 

We consider ourselves blessed. Because of two women’s courageous decisions, made in love, we are the family we dreamed of being. And we joyfully accept the added difficulties that present themselves now and will emerge later. 

and yes we said yes we will yes...

Those difficulties, real as they are, were far from our minds this day as we approached the bench of Judge Carlos V– with our adoption attorney Albert. Uncle Albert, as we call him, was our lawyer all through Mara’s adoption process, and we are particularly fond of him. He talks fast and is always right, and he begins most of his statements with “Listen…”, which took me a little getting used to, but he is really an old softy and is very good at what he does. He has worked miracles on our behalf, cutting through red tape and o’erleaping bureaucratic hurdles to get the proper motions and pleas in place at the proper times in very hectic situations with very narrow margins for delay.

Albert introduced us to hizzoner the judge, noting that we were “veterans” of this process, and then asked Angela and myself each our names, then whether we were married, then whether it was our desire to adopt this baby, and then whether we were “in a position financially, emotionally, physically and in all other ways to care for her and provide for her needs”, and then what the baby’s name was to be. After saying our names, we said yes, yes, yes and Emilia Jane F—.

Judges like this sort of thing on a Friday.

I got tears in my eyes. The judge, who I’m pretty sure was the same judge as in Mara’s case, did not study our faces while Albert asked us these questions, did not seem that interested in us. I don’t think that he even looked up from the papers (or crossword puzzle?) he was working on, though I can’t be sure because I was looking mainly at Albert. You might surmise from his demeanor that he considered all this to be a dreary routine, but Albert once told us that judges in this kind of court love to preside over adoptions, because families come in all bubbling over with joy, which is a rare thing in the courtroom. The rest of their cases are divorces and custody battles and usually involve parties in bitter opposition.

Albert then turned to ask members of our family who had come to share in the event with us whether they were in favor, and my mother, sister and brother-in-law and our friend Bethany behind us all said yes (I think Randy said “aye”), and then Albert told the judge that in light of all this testimony he recommended that the judge sign our adoption decree. Then in the same tone that one might mutter “hmmm, I seem to have left my car keys on the counter at the hotel” the judge told us he was going to go ahead and sign our papers. And that was that. He invited us to come up behind the bench with him so we could get some photos of us with him.

The party in question. The dress is the same one big sis Mara wore for her finalization hearing five years ago.

As far as the adoption itself then, we’re finally done, but the journey of raising baby Emilia, and her officially recognized big sister Mara, continues. We’ll keep you posted, naturally.

Over the moon

Her name is Emilia. She was born last Friday, the 25th June 2010, at 4:31 post meridian. Neither Angela or I were allowed to be in the room for her birth, which we initially thought would be hard, since we were present at Mara’s birth. But we joined the young mother’s parents, brother and best friends in taking over the entire lobby of the childbirth center, and so we had a wonderful day of bonding within the very unusual community that we embodied, and we played Hearts and Bananagrams. In the end, the only person the baby’s mother wanted in the room with her besides the nurse and doctor was her boyfriend, the baby’s father. He, I must say — an eighteen-year-old boy not particularly beloved of the birthmother’s family — really stepped up and saw the journey through.   

Emilia getting an early dose of sister love, and Mara suddenly looking very grown up. The shirt says "Big Sister".

For reasons touched on in my last post, it was a very difficult time for Angela and myself, but it was a difficult time for everyone involved. And the two days after the birth, during which the birthmother stayed in the hospital to recover and the baby stayed with her, felt like very sad days. We watched the birthmother and birthfather holding and weeping over the life they had brought into the world together and were about to entrust to our care forever. We felt mixed, a little like thieves or crows waiting, but we kept telling ourselves, as they also told us, that we were the answer to their prayers as they were to ours, and that they wanted us there, even to witness their grief. It was actually pretty damned awfully hard. But it was beautiful too in a way that we will never be able to forget, nor describe adequately.

We brought Emilia home Sunday afternoon, and after a hard, sleepless first night we spent yesterday doing only what was necessary. Laundry, a grocery run, lots of dishes, quick naps. My parents visited. Mara has been waiting a long time to be a big sister and is a tireless “Holder of the Baby”. I wrote this to some friends and family last night:

Mara held Emilia in her lap for three solid hours today and wants to whenever she can, gets petulent when one of us gets a ‘longer turn’ than she does. Mara’s main problem is that we did almost nothing today and so she didn’t get the physical playtime she needs, so she was a little pent up and ornery by day’s end. Otherwise, she was a peach.”

Today was park day, a day when homeschool families gather at one of the local parks so kids can meet up and run around, climb stuff, and turn the volume up to eleven. Angela and Mara have been going for several months. Mara needed this today. I am off work for two weeks, so I went too, and met a few of the other parents — there were perhaps fifty, mostly the women – for the first time. Angela had Emilia in a Moby Wrap, which is a very very long cloth that you wrap around your torso several times in such a way that it creates a nifty seat and cover for the baby and holds her against your chest.

Blessing.

A number of the moms gathered around to congratulate us and admire Emilia, who is lovely. One of them said to me, “You must be over the moon!”

I thought about it for a second and said, “Yes, that’s a great way to put it. That’s exactly it.”

I know she meant the phrase the way it is classically used — giddy with joy to the point of leaping like the storied cow. And we are. Giddy with the silly, bubbly kind of giggling that comes of being anuzzle with a newborn. But to me the phrase also sounded like a place where the emotional poles and currents are all alien and unintuitive and you retain your bearing only by looking back at a world so tiny and fragile and in need of compassion.

As we said to the birthmother’s mother, a dear woman who understood that we were not able to celebrate this event the way people normally celebrate a child entering their family, “We’ll get there. There will be a lifetime for celebration.”

And we ARE getting there, very quickly. Tonight while I was writing this the birthmother called us, and it was great to hear her asking how Baby Emilia-pants is doing (“pants” is an endearing suffix in our home). It was healing to hear her laughter and know that she is going to be alright, that she can handle being in this bizarre relationship. Her phone call felt like permission to finally start leaping for joy.

Who we are and who we are about to be

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.

Our little Mara-bean, nine days old.

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. 

It would be easier if they just fell out of Heaven into our arms.

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.

August 3, 2005, the day Mara became recognized by the state as our daughter.

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.

Eager to be a big sister.

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.


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