Our Private Domestic Adoption Success Story
If adoption is something you are considering, I thought you may want hear Brandon’s story…
The moment my infertility was confirmed, I knew right away that I wanted to adopt domestically. I started researching our options and persuaded my husband to attend a free orientation that was being hosted by The Cradle, a local and well-known, full-service adoption agency. The program gave us a general overview on the differences between pursuing domestic and international adoptions. We listened to adoptive families share their stories. The one that sticks out the most for me was this family with 3 adorable and rambunctious boys. The parents had conceived their first naturally and then struggled with secondary infertility. They had chosen to adopt from Russia given that was the country from where their ancestors had migrated. The main obstacle they faced was that the paternal grandfather did not support their decision to adopt. Fast forward to when they brought their almost 2-year-old son home, Grandpa was the first to hold him once the toddler departed the plane and was placed into his arms by mom. Grandpa immediately went from being dubious and uncertain to elated and overjoyed. His change of heart seemed to happen instantaneously.
When we left the orientation and got into our car, my husband turned to me and said, “I don’t want ‘A’ baby, I want ‘OUR' baby.” While I understood what he meant, I couldn’t connect with his differentiation. The orientation/genetics of OUR child made no difference to me. I felt that once a child was given to me, in whatever way that happened, I would love him/her as my own. I share this memory because I think it illustrates a very common stumbling block for many couples who endure infertility—we aren’t always on the same page. The irony is that we’ve never needed our partner’s support and understanding more!
We officially began pursuing private domestic adoption in December of 2007. My husband had obviously warmed to the idea but he still had some apprehensions for sure. We chose private as opposed to working with a full-service agency or going the International route. Personally, I felt private would enable us to adopt sooner but I can’t point to any data that could have proven my hunch and I know a lot of couples who have had a great experience with full-service agencies. It’s just what felt right at the time.
Once our adoption pursuit began, we also decided to work with a marketing agency; the agency’s primary role was to reach out to potential birth mothers. I was told when we began working with the agency that I could call for updates. And you know I did. I called every Tuesday at 10 AM. After about 4 Tuesdays, I could tell that the firm was not all that thrilled I was touching base on such a regular basis. In fact, they so much as told me that, “I didn’t need to worry because they were doing their job.” Well, you know that didn’t sit well with me. If I had to ‘pay to play’, I felt that I had every right to have full insight into how many potential birth mothers had viewed our profile and showed interest. Given that, I unapologetically, called for my updates. (I share that anecdote because you should feel good about your fertility/adoption partners. If something feels amiss, advocate for yourself and your family and DON’T feel the least bit guilty about doing so!)
30 Tuesdays plus 2 days later, we connected with our son’s birth mother. She was 5 months pregnant and knew she was having a boy. From the notes that I took on those Tuesdays, I recorded that 40 hard copies had been sent to potential birth mothers in almost as many States. I don’t have access to the online profile that was posted and therefore I am unable to share that data with you, unfortunately.
The night we connected with our birth mother was a little surreal, actually. I was in Detroit on a business trip when I got the call from our marketing agency. I was informed that a birth mother was interested in speaking with us that evening. They warned me that she had also requested a meeting with another couple so as to set my expectations. I arranged for us to be the second couple interviewed merely because I wanted to make sure that I was home and not stuck on a run-way. Before I called my husband, Brian, to inform him of the interview, I contacted our attorney to make her aware of the birth mother’s basic information (age, marital status, state of residence, etc.). Our attorney counseled us to move forward with the interview but to be mindful that this may not be the perfect fit (on either end).
Thankfully, my plane arrived on time. When our home phone rang, my stomach started doing flip-flops. I didn’t want us to mess THIS up. The conversation actually occurred between our birth mother’s mother (our son’s birth grandmother) and us on speaker phone. We chatted for over 2 hours and she finally said, “I want you to speak to my daughter. I choose you but I want her to make the final choice.” I have to say that I wasn’t feeling completely excited and hopeful when we hung up the phone though. I was fully aware that the likelihood of us ever hearing from her ever again could have been fleeting.
Thirty-or-so-minutes later, our phone rang again and it was our son’s birth mother. We chatted for at least another hour. During that call, we were told that we would be the parents of her unborn son. We discussed meeting her in person the following month. While this was the news I desperately wanted, I was skeptical. We had been through so many false starts on our own and I was fully aware of the non-completion rates in domestic adoption. I wasn’t quite ready to let my heart out of its cage and let it fly free just yet. I did start a journal that same evening though. If I really was going to be this baby’s mother, I wanted to start documenting every detail from that moment forward.
Once the connection was made (or “match” as it’s called in adoption-speak) I decided that I wanted to do whatever I could to support our son’s birth mother no matter what the outcome. I understood the full magnitude of the loss for which she was preparing herself. I couldn’t fathom the thought of giving birth to a live and healthy baby only to relinquish him/her to people whom I had only known for a short while. I felt that this was the time that God was allowing us to prove ourselves as deserving parents and I prayed that it would all work out.
I began speaking to our son’s birth mother on a very regular basis. We did not formalize the number of times that we would connect but let it happen very organically (as hippy-dippy as that sounds). The funny thing is that I am not loosey-goosey at all. I am extremely regimented and I like lots and lots of order. I literally let myself be guided in a way that I had never allowed myself to be ever before. Strangely enough, it felt totally natural at the time.
My biggest concern was that our birth mother had the emotional, financial and physical support that she needed to carry her baby/our son. In the beginning of our relationship, I really just tried to get a general sense of whether the decision to give her baby up for adoption was truly her own or if she had been coerced/influenced by others. Much of what we talked about in the beginning of our relationship had to do with her everyday life. I was surprised that she didn’t barrage me with a multitude of questions like how we planned to raise her baby or who we were as people or even as a couple. In retrospect, the profile that we provided gave her the preliminary information and beyond that, she was probably just giving it up to God. I was told this would be the case by other adoptive families but still found it perplexing. I allowed her to take the lead. I realized that once the baby was born, she may begin to feel a tremendous loss of control. My goal was to give her as much power during this stage as I possibly could.
I flew to meet her and her extended family 2 months before our son was born. We met at her doctor’s office. I still remember what I wore—a cotton burnt red sundress that was smocked at the waist. My hair was twisted in a bun. I wanted to look attractive yet casual. Most importantly, I was hoping to portray someone who would be a loving mother. I was so anxious as I sat waiting to meet her. I checked my cell phone compulsively just to be sure she wasn't trying to reach me to call off the whole thing. When she walked in the door, I knew it was her from the photos she sent the first night over email. I stood to greet her and she extended her hand. I threw my arms around her and hugged her immediately. I wanted her to feel my warmth and appreciation right away. I realized that my eager gesture may have been premature and even unwelcome. On the other hand, I felt that anything less would have been disingenuous and insincere.
The high point of the visit for me was when she allowed me to sit with her during her ultrasound. It was a very intimate moment, as you can imagine. Here we were, having been strangers a few months before and now we were sharing this wonderful and emotional moment. When I saw our son on the screen, he was sucking his thumb and his heart was clearly beating. The majority of my previous ultrasounds had ended in tears and confusion. I was beyond elated to see this healthy fetus up on the monitor. I worked hard to keep my emotions in check for fear of spooking this amazing woman who held my happiness in her belly. It was really difficult. I could also tell that the nurse administering the ultrasound had never participated in this type of moment between an expectant birth and adoptive mother. There were all sorts of intense feelings flying about that room on that particular morning.
That first trip to meet our birth mother was both exciting and heart-breaking for me. On one hand, I was growing confident that I would likely be a mom in a few short months. On the other, I struggled with how the birth of my future child would affect his birth mother in the long term. As she and I grew closer, I encouraged her to work with a counselor or therapist but she was not in favor of doing so. In a way, I had become almost a parental figure to her but I had to respect the obvious line between protector and independent party. That was one of the most difficult aspects of this experience for me. I felt a need to support her but knew that I had to stick to my role and not deviate in a way that could ultimately harm her. The night before we left, I gave her the journal that I had started the night we first spoke. I told her that she was welcome to read the entries that I had written to Brandon (my husband and I had chosen his name at this point and our son's birth mother was aware and had embraced it). I also invited her to write a note to him if she wished. The day we left, she returned the journal to me. She and her mother had both written entries. (Recounting that memory is very emotional for me, I must say.)
As time drew closer to our son’s birth, I continued to speak with our birth mother almost daily. She invited us to participate in his birth; her offering seemed to drive home the reality that we were REALLY going to be parents in the coming weeks.
Exactly 2 weeks before his birth, I was chatting with her and asked about her birth plan. I wanted to make sure that she still wanted us to participate and, if so, to what degree. She mentioned that she would like to take Brandon (she referred to him by the name we had chosen) home for 1 night. ZOIKS! My heart began to race. I suddenly felt that my precious child was slipping away from me. Immediately, there was a pit in my stomach and an internal philosophical struggle started to play out in my mind. My brain told me that even though I loved this human that another was carrying, I had no right to claim him as my own. I was abundantly aware that the person with whom I had grown so close had the absolute right to keep her unborn child. My heart started to crack at this point. I/we had so much to lose and I was frozen with fear. I was having difficulty forming words or even breathing, for that matter. When I hung up the phone, I admonished myself mentally for having asked the question that produced an answer that would be left hanging until it wasn’t. Terror and dread were what swirled in my head.
I didn’t sleep for the 2 weeks leading up to our son’s birth. On one hand, I couldn’t wait to meet Brandon (the son who we already named). On the other, I had a feeling of utter dread. I spent hours crafting my impassioned plea to his birth mother over and over in my head. I was noodling with every word so that whatever did manage to fall out of my mouth would assure her that we were absolutely the perfect parents for Brandon. Oh, those were long and worrisome nights.
The day before our son’s due date, we flew to his expected birth place. His diaper bag was packed with adorable outfits, diapers, bottles and pacifiers. It was late when we finally made it to the apartment we rented for a month. We tucked ourselves into bed as birth mom was scheduled to be induced at 5 AM the next morning. The night consisted of us tossing and turning and not sleeping a wink. We didn’t speak; we just counted the hours, minutes and seconds until we could leap out of that bed, shower and drive the short distance to the hospital.
We arrived at the hospital at 4:59 AM on the dot. When we got to birth mom’s room, she informed us that her labor started at 3 AM. The Pitocin was administered about 5:30 AM and I was fully expecting Brandon to be delivered in no less than an hour.
22 hours later, our son was born just after 3 AM. There was some drama that occurred during those hours. There was a moment right before she began to push when I thought, “Uh-oh, here we go—we are NOT going to be parents…” The drama was brief and it really boiled down to a very long and drawn out labor. We stood in the hallway outside of her room while conversations were occurring behind the scenes. We were invited back in and once the pushing started, everything seemed to be back on track.
When Brandon FINALLY made his appearance, I was elated, concerned and overwhelmed. Our birth mother insisted that I cut Brandon’s umbilical cord. Nervously, I agreed. The doc started to holler at me because I wasn’t doing it fast enough. I had to holler back at him because Brandon’s little fingers were in the way and I wanted to avoid cutting them at the same time.
Brandon was whisked away to be monitored, poked and prodded and in that moment I had an out-of-body experience. To my left, was my precious little baby undergoing blood tests. To my right, was the amazing woman who had just endured 24 hours of labor and was planning to give us our most beloved gift. My instinct was to go to birth mom. I couldn’t abandon her; I wanted her to know how much we deeply cared about her. I sat next to her and held her hand. Brian went to be with Brandon.
Reluctantly, we left the hospital around 5 AM. On our way back to our apartment, we called our close relatives to share our joy. We hadn’t slept in days and desperately needed some rest. Our slumber was brief. We excitedly headed back around 9 AM to see our sweet little guy.
That morning, we brought our birth mother flowers and Krispy Kremes. When we stepped into the flower shop, I remember wanting to do something so much more for her. Showing up with a bouquet of flowers and donuts just felt like an insanely inequitable gesture; it certainly couldn't begin to demonstrate our deep gratitude for the unbelievable sacrifice she was about to make--her greatest loss was to become our most beloved gift. The bottom line is that there are strict legal limitations on what adoptive parents are allowed to give birth mothers/families and we were bound by those very same rules.
That afternoon, I stood by our birth mother’s bed and I asked her how she felt. Her first response was quite casual and I realized that she hadn’t taken the question the way I had intended it. A second later, she looked at me as if to understand and began to cry. She asked if she could take Brandon home for the night. This time, I was looking her in the eye and I couldn't avoid her request. Inside, I began to panic. I tried my best to look as composed and deliberate as possible. I told her that Brian and I were going to go out for about an hour so that she could spend some private time alone with Brandon. I said that upon our return we would like to speak to her further about the plan.
Once we were in the rental car, our hearts and minds were racing. We both knew that our future as parents would be decided in the next 2 hours. We went to a fast-food restaurant, ordered, sat down and inhaled our meals without uttering a word to each other. I recall it being the most bizarre and harrowing thirty minutes of my life. Our fear was so palpable that we were both rendered mute. My motor skills were diminished by lack of sleep and the horror of having to walk away without my living/breathing child made it nearly impossible for me to put one foot in front of the other. I dropped my phone as we were getting into the car and I watched it happen as though it was in slow motion. Every time I looked at the scars left on that phone, it conjured up all of those uneasy feelings of those frightening moments.
When we arrived back at the hospital, we entered the parking garage to find our birth mother and her friend taking a stroll. I really couldn’t believe I was going to have to have ‘the talk’ in a parking garage but that was the scenario we had been dealt and it seemed to make the precarious situation even scarier.
We got out of the car and walked up to our birth mother and her friend. Here is what I remember of our conversation after we made idle chit-chat… I looked at our birth mother and said, “What has been my biggest concern since we met?” Our birth mother looked at me but did not respond. I said, “Your well-being. Do you feel that Brian and I are meant to be Brandon’s parents?” She started to cry and so did Brian. I reached to hold her and she allowed me to do so. She responded by saying, “Yes, I knew from the moment we met that you were meant to be his parents. I just wanted a little more time with him.” I then said, “You are bartering with me the way I would barter with God if I knew he was getting ready to take someone away from me who I loved more than anything. If you trust that we are meant to be Brandon’s parents, we need to be able to start bonding with him and taking on our roles as his mother and father. This is where our paths have to start moving forward. Will you allow us to take him tonight?” She agreed.
Our adoption remains open and we both feel so unbelievably blessed to be Brandon's parents. Brian's original disinclination to adopt has been replaced with his infinite love for our son. His devotion to Brandon is unwavering. The song that always takes me back in time to those early days after he was born is, I can See Clearly Now, by Johnny Nash.
In our case, I feel that the relationship that we fostered with our son's birth mother was what allowed her the assurance of knowing that she was making the best choice for him. We respect and cherish her and we have such gratitude that she allowed us to participate in his birth.
If you feel adoption is your path to parenthood, here is a link for further resources Adoption Resources Information.