Love Not Blood: Our Adoption Journey – Part 2
By Kristen Hand, CPA
Author’s Note: This article has not been easy to write – it is not a narrative about our experience navigating infertility and adoption; it is my daughter’s story, one she has yet to decide if she will share, and it is an intimate look at our family’s creation at the expense of a young woman’s pain and sacrifice. I’ve struggled with decisions about the level of detail to include, but ultimately the misconceptions surrounding adoption are too widespread and important to ignore. To protect the privacy of my daughter and her birth mother, I have omitted my daughter’s name, the state she was born in, and will refer to her birth mother as “Jane.” I have underlined the proper adoption terms.
In case you have not had a chance to read Part 1, here is the link Love Not Blood: Our Adoption Journey – Part 1
At 5 am, we walked into the hospital and immediately ran into Jane and her cousin. Being so early, and so far, deprived of caffeine, I was overcome with gratitude at having gone through the awkwardness of meeting and small talk the night before. We were escorted to Jane’s room in the maternity ward. While the nurse set Jane up on the monitors, completely unaware of who we were, she informed us we needed to go elsewhere, as only two people were allowed in the room. My husband and I, not knowing what to say or do, went and stood in the hall. Moments later our ears were met with a loud, rhythmic noise. We stood, completely transfixed at the sound of our daughter’s heartbeat. Shortly after, the nurse realized who we were, apologized, and kindly showed us to our room at the other end of the hall. This room was designed for two patients and thankfully included two beds. Even more thankfully, it was a room the hospital provided at no cost. After getting our things settled, we visited with Jane while the butterflies in my stomach continued to multiply exponentially. As we approached 7 am, we began hearing loud screams from another room every few minutes. The obstetrician came into Jane’s room, with blood on his scrubs, apologizing that the c-section would have to be delayed due to a mother in active labor. Disheartened by the delay, we left Jane to get some rest and left to get something to eat. We picked up breakfast for ourselves and Jane’s cousin and ate with her in our room since Jane couldn’t eat. Afterwards, we tried distracting ourselves as each minute dragged on. What seemed like days later, a nurse informed us the c-section had been scheduled for noon. As only one person was allowed back in the operating room with Jane, Kenny and I waited in our room, anxiously pacing. Finally, at 12:26 pm, we were escorted to the nursery to await the arrival of our newly born daughter.
At 12:32, the nurses wheeled in a baby with a very healthy set of lungs. If you’ll recall, we had been matched with a child that was partly African American (this match involved a white birth mother and a black birth father) – but this baby looked white. We looked at each other unsure if this was our child. We later learned that most pigmentation is not present at birth. Beckoned forward by the nurses, I watched them measure and weigh my daughter – my beautiful, red-faced, screaming baby. I remember standing by her side while they took her vitals, tears streaming down my face as she grabbed my extended finger.
Jane privileged me with the initial skin to skin time, an honor I was overwhelmingly grateful for. The nurses sat me in a wooden rocking chair and brought me my daughter. My eyes overflowed with joy as I held my daughter for the first time. I wish I could say she settled in my arms as easily as she settled in my heart, but she was hungry (a trait that has not diminished in the years since). The nurses brought me a premade bottle of formula, and she immediately quieted, eager to eat.
Our social worker did an amazing job of preparing us for what we could expect at the hospital, but the rule of thumb was the birth mother runs the show. We were given examples of adoptive parents saying the wrong things and were encouraged to involve the birth mother as much as possible, and to remember she’s a person facing an incredibly difficult loss, despite our overwhelming joy. We had about 45 minutes with Baby A before Jane wanted to visit with her. We reluctantly parted with Baby A and went to the store to get Jane flowers and a card. Imagine our surprise when we couldn’t find one that adequately said “Thanks for your baby!”
Baby A stayed in our room and care, but Jane spent a lot of alone time with Baby A and had visits with us throughout the following days at the hospital. The second day, Baby A’s birth father visited (it was a very complicated relationship) and they had Baby A in Jane’s room for more than four hours. I was a mess. I wondered each time I was away from Baby A if Jane would decide to parent Baby A instead of placing her for adoption. Jane had various visits from several members of her family throughout the course of our stay at the hospital, and we too also visited with them. On day three, Jane was visited by one of the social workers from the local agency. She needed to speak privately with Jane, and we invited a few of her family members to wait with us in our room. Jane’s aunt admitted she had been firmly opposed to the adoption, but after meeting, spending time with, and seeing us with Baby A, she knew it was not only the right thing, but the best thing for Baby A.
Although the first two days of our stay at the hospital were hectic with a steady flow of visitors to see Jane and Baby A, the last day was relatively peaceful. We enjoyed a lot of one-on-one time with Jane, and I bonded with her in an unexpected way. I was witnessing a young woman who, despite poor decisions, selflessly carried a baby to term and was placing her in the arms of virtual strangers, knowing she was unlikely to see her again. I often saw the conflicting emotions battle upon her face and, while contractually we are only required to send her letters and pictures until she is 18, we set up a private email account to more regularly and directly communicate with her.
I will never forget the morning we left the hospital. We put Baby A in her carrier, and like most first-time parents, triple checked everything before carrying her through the hospital alongside Jane and the social worker. The social worker stopped us in the lobby and said, “I have to be the one to take her out of the hospital and then legally place her into your possession.” It was a formality, but I remember thinking how odd the significance of moving Baby A through a set of doors was. We followed as Jane and I cried and held hands. I felt the weight of her sacrifice and was overcome with emotion at her loss.
From the hospital, we went to a hotel in a town nearby where we lived for over a week. Not having things like a rocker, swing, or changing table made things a bit complicated, as did worrying about the occupants next door hearing her wailing at 2 am. Being several states away, it was just the three of us in that small room for well over a week. We became so bored that we would put her in a stroller and walk around the hotel parking lot because there was nothing else to do in that tiny town. People have been baffled at how we could be bored with a newborn, but I wasn’t recovering from giving birth and Baby A was a really fantastic sleeper.
Every state has its own laws surrounding the rights and termination of rights for birth parents. This particular state required several days to pass after Baby A’s birth before Jane could sign away her parental rights. After she signed, she had 14 business days to revoke the termination. We drove an hour and a half to meet Jane at the adoption agency to sign our custodial agreements as she signed her paperwork.
The Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children (ICPC) establishes rules regarding the transportation of children between states. We could not legally leave her state of birth until the ICPC cleared in that state, and we could not enter North Carolina until the ICPC cleared here. We got the call that we cleared the birth state at 3 pm and immediately packed up the car. We couldn’t wait to get out of that hotel room. We thought, if we have to stay at the Virginia border, so be it. Fortunately, we were cleared to enter North Carolina the next morning. Traveling with a newborn presented challenges. We tried timing diaper changes with feedings and filling up the car, but as any parent knows, babies don’t care about your plans, and our trip home took much longer than the trip there. We ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I made in the car for lunch and dinner to spare whatever expense we could since her adoption and hotel stay had depleted a lot of our resources.
When she was a newborn, I couldn’t believe how many complete strangers would ask me if I was breastfeeding. Given the circumstances, I couldn’t, but they made me feel as if I was already failing her. I’ll never forget a particular sick visit with a doctor at her pediatrician’s office. He asked if she was breastfed or formula fed and I responded with “formula because we adopted her,” adding “I thought I needed to qualify the answer because I felt like I was putting her at a disadvantage.” He shut his computer and, looking squarely at me, asked me if she looked disadvantaged. He told me I gave her one of the biggest advantages possible when I opened up my home and my heart to her. I cried and thanked him, never having considered it that way before.
Since we adopted Baby A, we’ve been overwhelmed with the misconceptions surrounding adoption, but I would like to address what I consider the two greatest:
- A woman who chooses to place her child for adoption is selfish. To the contrary, she is selfless. She is choosing others over herself. Jane could have legally terminated the pregnancy, but instead she chose to carry the baby to term and created a family. Her sacrifice is something I will never be able to repay or match in magnitude. Through the email I established, I have been able to give her more updates and pictures than through the agency. In the past she has emailed me updates about her life, she’s wished Baby A happy birthday, and has said she misses and loves her. Additionally, if or when my daughter asks, “why didn’t my birth mother love me or want me?” I will be able to show her those emails and prove otherwise.
- Jane is Baby A’s real mom. I have nothing but gratitude and appreciation for Jane – Baby A’s birth mother. I cannot count the number of times I’ve had someone ask about her “real mom” or “why didn’t her real mom want her?.” What is a mom? In my eyes, a mom is the woman who is waking for midnight feedings, enduring sleep regressions and teething, holding them when they’re sick, celebrating their successes, and helping them learn from their mistakes. I have found it interesting that while occasionally someone will ask about “the dad,” the focus is often solely on the birth mother.
Baby A knows she is adopted. American Adoptions did a phenomenal job coaching us both pre- and post-placement. One of the things they emphasized was to not hide Baby A’s adoption from her – being adopted has always been part of her story, it will never be something that will suddenly be attached to her. It’s not been easy to find the right words, but I have and will always be honest with her. When she was young, we talked openly about her adoption in front of her. She was two years old when I first attempted to define adoption. Tarzan had become a regular movie in her rotation, and I was grateful for the central theme – Love, Not Blood. One afternoon, I asked her if she knew what adoption was. I illustrated that Tarzan had two moms, his birth mom who had died, and Kala, his forever mom, the one that chose to love him. It was a short conversation, and I’m not sure how much attention she was paying or understood, but it was age appropriate and a correlation I thought she may possibly grasp. As she’s grown, the explanations and our conversations have evolved with books and using examples from my sister’s pregnancies. She often comments on how she has two moms, and I am encouraged by how comfortable she feels with being adopted. Every year we get the family together to celebrate her “forever day,” the day her adoption was finalized. I want her to know how loved she is not only by us, but also our families.
My daughter just turned seven and has yelled the “I hate you” retaliatory remarks you hear from kids, but I dread the day she tells me I’m not her “real mom.” We haven’t figured out how to inform her about her half siblings, the specifics surrounding her birth parents and the adoption. As she grows older and her world gets bigger, we have had to find ways to explain the differences between her adoption and foster care. She has asked a few times to meet her birth mother, which is something that neither we nor the agency think she is old or mature enough to understand or do. For now, I brush it off with comments like, “maybe one day.”
Though she doesn’t share my blood, Baby A is my daughter. I tell her all of the time how lucky and happy I am to be her mom. However, I fear the day a child asks her the highly insensitive questions that I’ve faced – specifically, “why didn’t your real mom want you?” I implore you to discuss adoption with your children and help overthrow the misconceptions portrayed in movies and television shows. Adoption is a beautiful and remarkable thing. I hope that my fears will be unjustified, and misconceptions extinguished, but we don’t live in an ideal world. One person may not be able to change the world, but we have the ability to start conversations with our kids, with our families, and with those around us. And, just maybe, those conversations can change the world for one little girl.