Friday, May 25, 2012

Part Three: Legalizing the Heart

We stood at the end of the hallway looking out over the city…talking quietly.  We were confident, but we also knew that our level of confidence did not matter.

After what felt like an eternity, the door opened and our counselor directed us to another room down the hall.  My heart almost stopped.  What did this mean…where were we going?  I wanted to be with Cheeks…now. 

The adoption plan was still in place.  Audrey and her mom were taking time to say their goodbyes.  They were grieving.  They had been talking through their plan…reassuring one another, processing, holding on.  This night was painful, difficult beyond words, and scary. 
We talked with our counselor and then went to say goodbye to Audrey and her mom.  They wanted to leave before we left with Cheeks. 
I know how difficult it is to plan and prepare for something of this emotional magnitude, but looking back I regret not having something better to say to Audrey at our “good bye”.  She and her mom were devastated and her mom was not even able to say good bye to us.  We hugged Audrey tightly and told her we would text her when we got home.  This was a heavy, heavy night. 

As much as we were feeling joy and excitement because we were actually leaving the hospital with Cheeks…it was impossible to be happy.   A family was devastated, hurting, grieving.  Our hearts ached.  You could feel the thickness of grief swelling within our adoption triad…loss oozing from each one of us. 
I held Cheeks while our counselor sat with me and talked.  Chris went to pick up Addison so that she could bring Cheeks home with us.  We drove home in the dark.  I felt numb as polar emotions tugged at my heart.  

The next few weeks were a whirlwind.  We talked to Audrey daily and saw her and her mom once or twice a week.  We tried to do our best to support her in whatever way we could.  We saw the beauty of her and Cheeks spending time together and never doubted the overwhelming love she felt for her son. 

We were still scared to death.  I lived by the saying (thanks to Pinterest!) “Let your Faith be Bigger than your Fear”.  It was my mantra during those weeks when we were moving forward, waiting, approaching the court date that would transfer legal parental rights from Audrey to us.  She had the right to change her mind at any point during those weeks and although it was her right, it terrified us that she may decide to parent. 
We again remained confident.  We felt that our bond was continuing to grow with Audrey and her family.  We talked a lot and had many conversations about openness…her biggest fear was that we would cut off contact after her rights were terminated.  Open Adoption is based on a foundation of trust, and we all were becoming fully aware of what that truly meant. 
I had not shed one tear since holding Cheeks for the first time in the hospital.  For weeks I cared for him with every ounce of love I had in me, but something protective in me turned off my tears.  I took care of everyone, moved through the days, laughed, felt immense joy…but could not, and maybe would not, cry.

The day of the court date came.  This was a complicated day.  It was not anticipated that things would go smoothly due to some confidential issues.  As a result of these issues, in the days before the court date, we were told that parental rights would probably not be terminated at this hearing.  If that happened, the second hearing would be scheduled a few weeks later.   Regardless, we prayed.

We did not need to be at the hearing and were told to wait by our phones for news.  The counselor, with whom we had become quite close with, would call us when the hearing was over.  Chris needed to be a work, so he waited at his desk for my call.  Addison was at school and Cheeks and I were at home…waiting. 
I stayed busy taking care of Cheeks, folding laundry, etc.  Audrey texted me a few times with updates of what was happening at the court.  The last text I received from her stated that due to the complications there would not be time for her to sign papers that day and that there would need to be another court date scheduled. 

Cheeks was laying on the floor amongst piles of baby boy clothes that I had been folding all morning.  I knelt down beside him and I prayed…on my knees, I prayed. 
45 minutes later the phone rang and it was the counselor.  She told me that all of the papers had been signed and it was over.  We were the legal parents of our sweet, sweet Cheeks. 
The release, the cries, the howls of joy and unleashing of 3 years of pain was unreal.  I have never, ever felt that intense of emotion in my life.  Our counselor cried on the other end of the phone.  Through my tears, my sobs, I could not stop saying “are you serious?” and “thank you God”. 

That night we invited Audrey and her mom over to visit.  We knew they would want to see Cheeks and felt it was so important that we spend that evening with them.  I will never know what signing those papers must have been like for Audrey.  I will always be in awe of her courage and selflessness. 

Some of the most difficult parts of this journey are over.  We still await the finalization of Cheeks’ adoption which should happen in the fall, but we are confident in this final step.  Even though we are confident, we are certainly anxious to have the legal components of his adoption complete. 

Cheeks is wonderful.  He is beautiful, happy and a very easy-going baby.  He melts our hearts with his smiles and already “talks” almost as much as his sister.  We are cherishing this time with both of our children, relishing in the simple moments and finding peace as we settle into our family of four.

Through the years there will certainly be challenges, no different than anything else or any other relationship in life.  There will be times when we all celebrate and there will still be times when we all grieve.  For Audrey, we don’t know what her grief will bring or what may be hardest for her.  We only hope that we can support her and make things easier for her whenever possible.

We continue to visit and talk frequently with Audrey and her family.  We love her dearly and are excited to be a part of her life, and are of course elated to have her in ours. 

We treasure the gift of openness and always remember that this journey was truly never about us, or about Audrey, but ultimately about Cheeks, a gift to Audrey, a gift to all of us and a gift to this world.

May our son always know the abundance of love that surrounds him.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Part Two: A Birth and After Birth Story

It was a Monday and Audrey had a doctor’s appointment.  We got the call that the docs decided it was time to induce her.   She was scared, really, really scared.  Balancing emotions of joy and sorrow became a tall and difficult task for all of us.  I was protective of Audrey, guarding my own heart, and listening to my head scream, Yes, YES, YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!   We were all scared, but we were ready. 

We arrived at the hospital late in the evening.  Audrey had created a hospital plan in the previous weeks, but we quickly saw that things were not going to flow according to any sort of “plan”.  Audrey had asked that we come to her room when we arrived at the hospital.  She said she wanted us to meet more of her family.  Heart pounding, I knocked gently on the door.  Her aunt answered and we were immediately embraced by a sea of Audrey’s family.   There were 7 relatives in the room…we made introductions, exchanged hugs, gifts were shared…they accepted us, welcomed us but most importantly, supported Audrey and her decision to choose adoption.  

The medical process began.  First step…heart monitor.  Heart beats are significant to me, as it has been twice for me that a deafening silence took their place.  Time froze and everyone in the room became blurry to me.  Ba-boom, ba-boom, ba-boom.  My eyes locked with Audrey’s.  This would be the first time my raw emotion was released.  I choked on sobs.  Audrey said to her mom, “I told you she would cry”. 
The nursing staff encouraged all of Audrey’s family to leave the hospital…we were told that it would be a while before labor truly kicked in.  Are you kidding me?  We were not going anywhere!   Some of Audrey’s relatives left and a two of her aunts stayed.  We rotated between Audrey’s room and the waiting room.  Audrey was comfortable with us being by her side during labor.  We gave her space when she needed it but were thrilled to be given the opportunity to spend those laboring hours with her.  My eyes were glued to the monitors and my favorite place was sitting next to Audrey’s bedside talking her though her contractions.  We shared a lot in those hours and days; it was intense and beautiful, peaceful and loving, emotional and exhausting.

Labor was not easy for Audrey…long and hard, painful and scary.  Once again we sat in awe of her bravery, of her determination, of the love she showed for her son.  It was difficult to wait and it was difficult to watch her go through all of this…we were humbled by her strength. 

Chris and I were waiting in the hallway while the nurses checked in with Audrey one more time.  We knew it was getting close…it was almost time.  The nurses emerged and gave us the thumbs up…it was indeed time.  “And”, the nurse said to me, “Audrey is thinking that she would like to have you in the room during the delivery”.  WHAT????   My heart just about jumped out of my chest…I could not believe it.  I talked with Audrey and reminded her that this was her time and wanted her to be sure she really thought about having me in the room.  I did not want her to have any regrets about her experience, and although being there would be amazing for me, I wanted her to be sure.  She was sure.  I was ecstatic. 
Pushing began and when our son entered the world I was there…next to Audrey…counting, encouraging…taking it all in, memorizing as much detail as possible, silently praying. 
Cheeks ( the name I will use for our sweet boy, in order to maintain privacy) entered the world with a head full of crazy dark hair, his first cries made my heart feel things it had not felt before.  I tried to take it all in, every last detail…so much was happening and so very fast.   Audrey was still in pain and now new emotions began to flood her.  Audrey’s aunt and I cut Cheeks umbilical cord together…”cord sisters” we call ourselves.  The nurses then moved Cheeks over to the warmer where they would begin to look him over.  I went to his side…and softly whispered, “welcome to the world sweetheart”. 
There was a flurry of activity.  I was still just trying to take in everything the nurses were saying and doing to Cheeks while still being supportive to Audrey.  This was difficult and Audrey could already sense that everything had just changed.  Everything had just changed. 
Audrey wanted her mom to be the first to hold Cheeks.  She took him from the warmers and snuggled him.  He was alert, wide awake, taking in all of these first moments himself.  Then it was time…Cheeks was placed in my arms.  I can’t even write this without crying.  This moment was so powerful, so overwhelming…I knew this was different.  I sat on the couch in the hospital room, looking into the eyes of a perfect baby boy, and all I could do was sob.  I was holding my son.  

On the other side of that hospital room door was Christopher…pacing back and forth.  So much had happened inside that room that I did not realize how much time he had been waiting out there.  A doctor came in to tell me that he would love to know what was going on.  Of course he would!!  This part of the experience was very, very hard for Chris.  Although he completely respected Audrey and her need for privacy, it was hard for him to have missed Cheeks’ birth and to not share those first moments with me.  When I opened the door, he was there.  I sunk into his arms and cried that Cheeks was perfect.  Chris needed to know that he was healthy.  He was. 
Cheeks birth day was one heck of a crazy day.  Audrey wanted to be surrounded by family and friends and she encouraged us to have our family come and visit too.  So we did. We also went to pick up Addison from school and brought her to the hospital too.  She took everything in, cautiously, she thought he was cute but our little girl needed more time to figure out how much of her heart she was willing to give.

That night it was decided that Audrey’s mom would go home and I would stay with Audrey and Cheeks, and Chris would stay in the waiting room down the hall.  It seems like me staying with Audrey might be awkward, but it wasn’t.  It was natural and almost like a transition for Cheeks.  To be loved and cared for on your first night of life by the woman, your birth mom, who you have been with for the past nine months along with the woman who would be your mom, is something I hope he sees as truly beautiful one day. 
The next morning we all woke early.  Audrey was feeling better but was tired, overwhelmed and ready to go home.  She and Cheeks were supposed to stay one more day, but per her request, the hospital gave the ok to try to release them both that night.  WHOA!

It was a crazy day, tests, pictures, family, nurses, doctors…in and out…and of course Cheeks!

It was time.  Everyone was cleared to go.  Leaving the hospital is such a huge emotional piece of the adoption process, for everyone, but most especially and significantly for the birth mom/family.  It is the first goodbye that Audrey would need to get through.   We knew this would not be easy.
The counselor from the adoption agency was there.  Paper work needed to be filled out, discussions needed to be had…they had to be sure that this was still what Audrey wanted, that adoption was still her plan. 
We were asked to leave the room while the counselor talked with Audrey and her mom.  Cheeks was in Audrey's arms when we closed the door behind us.  There was nothing more we could do.  We tore ourselves away from the door, walked down the hallway, and did what we do best … waited

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Part One: Changed Luck

It is a tradition in our house that we order in Chinese food on Valentine ’s Day.  This Valentine ’s Day was no different…or so we thought.  After dinner the fortune cookies were handed out and we each read our fortune aloud.  Chris’ read, “Your luck has been completely changed today”. 

The next day, after Chris and I spent a wonderful day volunteering at Addison’s school, we were all in the car driving home.  It was a gorgeous day.  The phone rang…it was the adoption agency. 
That night we ran around like crazy people.  I went to get a last minute haircut (always a bad idea), we picked out what we would wear the next day and arranged child care for Addison.  We explained, cautiously, to Addison that we had been chosen again by a mom who wanted us to take care of her baby, and this time we were going to meet this mom.  This was not something we had done before.  We knew from the beginning that this time was different…we just didn’t know how different yet.  We were nervous from the second I answered “hello?”.  What if she doesn’t like us in person?  What if we dress to fancy…or not fancy enough?  What if she changes her mind before we even get there?  As soon as you answer that phone call you become vulnerable. 
We pulled in the parking lot…early.  As we got out of the car I said to Chris, “No matter what, it is always you and me”.   We have taken to comforting each other with those words throughout the last few years.  We took deep breaths and went inside.  We waited in a conference room while the counselor met, in another room, with the woman that would change our lives.  I have no idea what our counselor said to us as we waited…my stomach was a mess as I tried to muster up the calm to be as normal as possible...or maybe “normal” is not what she is looking for…wow…this is what endless waiting does to a person.
She and her mom walked into the room.  She was already crying.  My tears closely followed…more so for her than for me.  What must this feel like for her?  What a brave, brave girl.  We talked for a while.   She said she knew as soon as she saw our profile book.  She said the baby kicked when she looked at our picture and she said it was like he chose us.  He chose us…imagine that.

I felt like I knew her…I connected.  My heart immediately attached to her.  Ultrasound pictures were shared…more tears.  Audrey (her name was changed to protect her privacy…Audrey means “noble strength”) brought her own baby pictures for us to look at…adorable.  It was then we learned that her sweet baby was due anytime…holy crap. 
“Anytime”, turned into 3 weeks.  It was an extremely short amount of time to prepare for a new baby, but as waiting adoptive parents, every second longer that we had to wait was excruciating.  What we did not realize in the moment was how very critical those few weeks were.  Critical to us bonding with Audrey.  Critical to Audrey learning to trust us, and us learning to trust her. 

We texted with her daily and shared numerous meals together.  We talked, we laughed, we cried.  We found out that she was having a boy.  A baby boy :)   We chose his name…together.  We encouraged her to take pictures of her pregnant belly.  We learned about her family.  We connected, we bonded, we asked questions, she asked questions, we all prepared, as much as you can prepare for such an event, for what was about to come…we held our breath, prayed like we have never prayed before, and surrendered our hearts. 
Life was just about to get even more unexpected.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Why do You want to Parent?

A few months ago I started working again.  I work two days a week as a school social worker at Addison’s school.  I could (and maybe will!) write a whole post on this new experience and the true blessing it has been in my life.  I love being a social worker, I love being a mom and now having the opportunity to be both at the same time is truly something extraordinarily wonderful.
But I digress…

As I was walking through the school the other day, my mind engaged in the children I was working with that day, and the plans and preparations that needed to take place, I noticed that there was new work displayed outside of Addison’s classroom.  The children had been discussing Martin Luther King Jr. and had been working on their writing by finishing the statement, “I have a dream…”  

I started reading the dreams that the children had documented.  When I got to Addison’s I honestly had no idea what was going to be written on that page.  Sometimes silliness pervades her, especially at times when seriousness is expected, and I would not have been surprised to read something like, “I have a dream to eat cookies with yellow sprinkles”, etc. 
Instead her page read, “I have a dream to help people that are sick.” 
Tears welled up in my eyes and in that moment I have never felt so proud to be this little person’s parent.  When I got back to my office I emailed Chris to tell him what I had just read.

A few weeks ago, a birth/first father “I am” wrote, on his blog (Statistically Impossible), about the criticisms he has received because of his choice, and his reasoning behind his choice, not to parent.  At the end of his post he leaves his readers with the following:
"Do you know why you want to parent? Not why society wants you to parent, not why evolution wants you to parent. Do you know why you want to parent? Have you ever asked? “
When you begin working with an adoption agency you fill out mountains of paper work and answer what seems like thousands of questions like, “why do you want to parent” or “why do you want to adopt”.  The following question and answer is an example from one of our actual adoption forms:
Why do you want to bring a child into your home?

We want to share our life with children.  We want to provide a home for a child who needs a home.  We want to watch children grow and experience life through their eyes.  We have always envisioned having a larger family.  We see so many short-term and long-term benefits of having multiple children.  We want our daughter to have siblings.  We want a dinner table full of chatty kids and a schedule full of homework and soccer practices.  We want to share our life with children.

I don’t think our response was bad, per se … however, it really, really lacks some serious depth.  Why I love reading Statistically Impossible by “I am”, is because he is so thoughtful and he often reminds Chris and I that we owe it to our future children’s birthparents to go deeper…to not just touch the surface and present answers that, although heartfelt, have a level of cheese or “we are the perfect family” feel to them. 
We want to do better than that … to be more honest and pure, raw and real.  That is what we strive for in all of our relationships and that will be no different with how we interact the birth parents that choose us.

“I am” has really had me thinking.  How does one who so passionately loves children and parenting describe their true motivations for wanting to parent without sounding like a cheese ball?

I am not sure I can do it with total abandonment of the cheese factor, but I am going to try my best.

So, standing in the hallway reading my daughter’s words helped me see some clarity in how to answer this question.  She could have written anything, well anything serious, on that page and I truly believe my tears would have surfaced.  Addison wanting to help people or help sick people is not something that is new to us.  She is a very helpful little girl and has a deep fascination and internal struggle with people who are sick or injured.  So, you see, my emotion did not stem from seeing that she wanted to help sick people.

My emotion came from the knowledge that our little girl is a happy and healthy kindergartner.  She was able to, on her own, without her parent’s help, write in her own words and in her own handwriting a dream of her very own.

That is why we want to parent. 

We want our children to become their own and we want to have the experience of watching that happen.  We hope for them to be happy and healthy so that they can be themselves and dream their own dreams.  We want to be their parents so we can help them do just that.  So we can know every step it took, the good steps and the bad, getting to that moment of being able to write that dream on a piece of paper and then being able to continue watching and being a part of every moment as that dream changes, unfolds, and morphs into the reality of what will hopefully be an amazing, purposeful, happy and healthy adult. 

As I stood in that hallway, I could feel all of the moments that led up to our little girl being able to write her dream and I could also feel the excitement of what our future will hold in watching, and being a part of, this child’s life and the other children we will be blessed to parent.  

We chose to parent Addison and we hope to be chosen to parent another child/ren.  Parenting, albeit challenging, is an honor…an honor to be responsible for and continuously present during the unveiling, emerging, and ever changing evolution of a human being.