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.


18 Responses to “Who we are and who we are about to be”

  1. 1 Kip June 21, 2010 at 14:50

    Oh Matt and Angela and Mara, we wish you all the luck and good will available from our humble home! Please keep us in “THe Loop”, and we will keep you in our hearts and prayers! I can hardly wait!

  2. 2 Marni June 21, 2010 at 16:09

    Hooray- the day is here! She didn’t quite make it happen last Tuesday, but she’s close to this Tuesday. Wishing you all of the love and success- can’t wait to see pictures!

  3. 3 jstwndrng June 21, 2010 at 18:38

    Thanks Kip and Marni!
    It’s actually pretty quiet right now, which is tough to endure since she was “due” the day before yesterday. Everyone is tired of the pregnancy portion of the journey — except the baby, apparently. We’ll definitely keep you in the loop.

  4. 4 Kiwidutch June 21, 2010 at 20:46

    We tried for a baby for more than 6 years, lost two to miscarriage and finally, just a weekand a half before our first IVF appointment we suddenly had a pregnancy that the Dr’s said “looked viable”
    It seemed almost too good to be true and we ossolated between the sheer joy of it being real and the terror that it could go wrong at any moment.
    There were other medical factors, but you can’t imagine… well I think maybe you CAN imagine, the sense of gratitude and grace once our daughter was born and the tears welled up and flowed like rivers when the nurse came in and didn’t addess me by my full name, but rather said “Oh, you must be (daughter’s name) Mama….”
    Wow, finially, after hopeing against hope, I was a Mama and Himself was a Papa.
    Little Miss’s first weeks were not plain sailing, there were a multitude of complications but after a shakey start she fought back and we all survived the process.
    It took us almost four years to repeat the miracle and after a pregnancy that involved 6 months bedrest, Little Mr was delivered in a rush of chaos and stress, but turned out to be a calm, relaxed baby with a ready smile on his face and cuddles for all.
    I wished they could have fallen from heaven too…it would have been so much easier than all the looks, nudges and even bluntly direct questions of people telling us it was high time that we were getting “down to business on the family front”. We made light and laughed them off as best we could but these comments were deeply hurtful as we choose keep our constant lack of success and losses private.
    People who “decide” to start a family one moment and manage to get pregnant almost literally the next, have no CLUE the journey that others must endure in their efforts to build a family… or just how more precious and grateful we are for the two little lives that we have been blessed with.
    We were complete as a couple? Yes. Are we even more complete as a family? in our case at least… also Yes.
    I send wonderful thoughts, good wishes, strength and hugs to all three of you as you become four…
    The miracle of life, and the building of a family is so very extra special then the journey to achieve it has been so filled with obsticles… but the price paid means that they are treasures worth more than gold.
    I’m delighted that this little treasure is coming your way…wonderful!!!

    • 5 jstwndrng June 21, 2010 at 21:04

      Thanks, KD
      I’m sorry you had to travel such a hard road to parenthood, and twice!! But I hear your affirmation that it is all worth it. We’ve tried not to burden everyone with every up and down on this rollercoaster, but at the same time, we need our friends’ and family’s support and the journey, despite the pitfalls, is one of beauty and grace that can be a great thing to share. The balance is hard to find.

      I’m glad your family finally came about, and thanks for the good wishes!

      • 6 kiwidutch June 22, 2010 at 13:31

        Sometimes the hard road makes you very sure indeed of what your heart yearns for, and the sacrifices you will need to make in your life once your treasure arrives.
        Even on the hardest days, with smallest amount of sleep, and the kids at their most difficult, we are reminded that our lives would be so very different without them and that there would be a kid-shaped gap in our hearts that would be very difficult to fill.
        Looking back it’s more like we had two miracles twice, but yes it was hard. Our specialists advised that not telling family and friends we were trying etc WAS probably best and in the end I agree, I don’t think I could have handled 6+ years of well meaning people asking painful personal questions like “any success this month Dear?” when the answer was almost always negative.(and none of their darned business anyway)
        Our grief at our losses were private as it’s how we preferred it and it only felt right to discuss them after we had had our successes, had completed our family and when the pain of it all was lessened by time. I found it far easier to lay the “what might have beens” to rest later, it was too painful to do at the time it happened.
        I know couples together for a long time and they never mention children, but specifically they never mention wanting to be childless… That tells me that asking when they might be starting a family is a definite no-no, they seem very relieved that we don’t pester them so who knows what they are going though too?
        I’m delighted that you have the opportunity to adopt, and that your wonderful little family can be extended… Can I package up Sleep and post it to you to use later? LOL … if only LOL, THAT would be a very popular new baby gift indeed.
        Great that Mara has been part of the process too… it will be a big but very positive change in her life. (one tip that worked wonders for us: our daughter got to choose a little gift to give the new baby, and we secretly arranged a larger gift for our daughter that was *from* the new baby to her… it went down very well indeed)

  5. 7 ami June 22, 2010 at 11:00

    So exciting! You are such an amazing family, this new little one is only going to bring more and more blessings upon you! Our love, hope and prayers go out to you, Angela and Mara, and of course your very brave birth mother. You are all an inspiration to us!

    Much Love!

    “making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body”

    Elizabeth Stone

    • 8 jstwndrng June 22, 2010 at 11:56

      Thanks for the kind words and wishes, Ami. That’s tall coming from the “better half” of the most inspiring parental duo ever to open a pack of Babywipes in the West. We think of you two often and hope that you’re managing to keep up with the workout. I’ve heard different versions of that quote before and it sure feels true. The more I think about it, the more vulnerable I feel. I guess that’s part of the deal, eh?

  6. 9 jstwndrng June 22, 2010 at 13:58

    I ran out of reply levels above. Thanks again for your thoughts. I’ll take two packets of sleep and I’ll pay shipping from New Zealand! As for gifts to and from the newborn, we’re on it…I think your idea has become standard protocol around her for bringing in a younger sibling.

    • 11 jstwndrng June 23, 2010 at 18:49

      Hi LG,
      I was going to say something about this on your S.U.N.C. “invitational” — it seemed the perfect response — but I was unsure of the transferrability of the high. Maybe I needn’t have worried. Thanks for the cheery faces. I know how far you had to go today to “get there”.

  7. 12 Invisible Mikey June 24, 2010 at 08:21

    I loved this story, and the way you told it. I would have written you earlier, but I’m still in the “no WiFi Zone” most of the time.

    As one who wanted to be a parent but couldn’t be for a long list of reasons (only some of which I’ve written about), I will assert that intent will find a path of expression eventually. I couldn’t raise my child, then wasn’t with a partner and now am too old, yet I am in so many ways the father of nine today. If not in your own family circle, Mara will become sister to one in someone else’s.

    • 13 jstwndrng June 24, 2010 at 09:39

      I’m glad you’ve found a way to be a father, nine times over. I look forward to hearing more about that. You bring up an important point, that there are limits to how we can shape our own lives and those of our children. It is important to me that my daughter Mara have a “sibling experience”, but just because it is important to me doesn’t mean that that’s necessarily her destiny, or that she would not be whole and entire without that experience. I have to acknowledge where my efforts (in family-making and in all else) are driven less by a willingness to let God have sway in my life and more by my own fears, ego, and desire to control things. Thanks for the kind words, and I hope you get back in the zone soon.

  8. 14 Louis June 25, 2010 at 09:38

    Beautiful words and images, Matt. Thank you for enlightening me on the emotional ebb and flow that is adoption. I step away from the overblown hype of a bunch of guys kicking a ball, come to your blog and am duly rewarded. It is also nice to read the word “scintillate” outside of a sports context. Hope you and the family are well. abraços.

    • 15 jstwndrng June 25, 2010 at 20:30

      All well here, thanks. We saw some of that hyped up running and kicking today — watched Cote d’Ivoire score give the People’s Republic of Korea a shiner if I’m not mistaken — a long shot with an almost imperceptible corrective tip-in. It made me wish I had a television. Hope one of your teams wins!

  9. 16 Jana June 26, 2010 at 08:23

    Thank you for sharing your story. It’s obvious there is a lot of love in your family so I hope and pray you are super close to being able to share it with one more.

    Our kids are nine years apart. We didn’t choose that spacing but infertility and multiple miscarriages and God’s plan made our family what we are today. I remember the sorrow thinking about how God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. So did that mean God didn’t think I could handle a second child (our first has life-threatening food allergies and asthma and did require lots of attention due to this) or was infertility a “test” of trust and endurance?

    We really wanted the sibling experience for our son as well – we didn’t really get that (nine years apart is sorta like raising two only-children!). But as they get older, they are becoming closer as siblings.

    And, hey, the oldest is now finishing college and we’ll still have plenty of time to save for our daughter’s college fund!

    Looking forward to the rest of your story.

    • 17 jstwndrng June 26, 2010 at 20:46

      Hi Jana,

      Thanks for stopping by and for sharing your own experience. I feel sad for you that your son didn’t get that sibling experience. In many ways, our own daughter’s psyche, at five years old, is that of an only child, which we’ve accepted. But in another real way, as you point out, siblings become (relatively) closer in age as they age, and if this adoption goes through, then many many years from now when we parents are gone there will still be immediate family for our children. To me that sense of still being part of a living family is even more important than the sibling experience as a child. That said, we recently all had a family hug and said goodbye to the “Time of Three” and hello to the “Time of Four”, because it has been a sweet little triangle we’ve had, and now that adventure ends and a new one begins.

      And yes, we are super close to sharing our fam-love with one more. Closer every minute.

      [Jana is, like me, a fan of old photos and old Seattle, and is a contibutor at http://www.vintageseattle.org. For her own blog, click on her name.]

  1. 1 Over the moon « Just Wondering Trackback on June 29, 2010 at 20:34

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