I can remember being a child and thinking that choosing adoption was the most altruistic thing that anyone could do. That is, anyone but me.
You see, I didn’t set out to begin motherhood by choosing adoption. In fact, I was really upset with my body because I felt it had failed me and that I, in turn, had failed my husband. I was 32 when I met my partner and 35 when we married. I knew that getting pregnant was going to be challenging for me because I had been diagnosed with early menopause or as the Internal Classification of Diseases code read, “ovarian failure” (why can they not rename that horrible diagnosis code?)
Nevertheless, we tried and tried and tried to get pregnant and carry the pregnancy to term. I couldn’t accept that I wasn’t fertile. I felt “normal” and I felt healthy. I would get pregnant and then I would lose the pregnancy. I went to see many different complementary practitioners, including the healer featured in the book “Eat, Pray, Love” when we were vacationing in Bali. My husband and I still laugh about that one – our treatment involved being covered head to toe in leaves and natural balms and skin medicines. The healer was lovely and she gave us amazing care and treatment, but it felt like an extreme thing to do – to seek out a healer thousands of miles from our home.
In hindsight, I guess I always knew that I wouldn’t be able to carry a baby in my womb. It just wasn’t meant to be.
My journey through infertility was a painful, emotional, and lonely six years of my life. After the failed second attempt to conceive with my sister’s donated eggs, I gave up. I was at my lowest point and I knew it was time to fill out the adoption papers. On a stormy sailboat ride across Lake Champlain in June 2010, I began filling out the paperwork for Lund Family Center. I didn’t know it at the time, but taking that first step would bring such joy and happiness to me and my husband. As they say, hindsight is 20/20.
When I finally opened up my heart to choosing adoption, it allowed me to experience the joy that was eluding me when I was trying to make something happen that just wasn’t meant to be.
My adopted children are the children that were meant to be in my life, I have no doubt about that.
My son, who is 9, was placed gently in my arms when he was four weeks old, a tiny, blue bundle of sweetness. We adopted our son through private adoption and Lund Family Center managed that adoption with a sister agency in Pennsylvania. When we got the call that we had been chosen by the birth mother, we were over the moon and very unprepared! I had one layette that I had sheepishly bought at Macy’s and I had one baby blanket a friend had given me as a gift. That was it!
Some people have showers during their “paper pregnancy” but I was so saddened by my failed attempts at pregnancy and I was truly not 100% sure that I would be chosen by a birth mother, that I had done very little to equip a nursery.
To add to the uncertainty, our adoption counselor said this was a “high risk” adoption – meaning that the birth mother was not sure she wanted to choose adoption for her baby.
My husband and I spent eight restless and exhilarating days waiting for the final answer of whether or not the birth mother was definitely choosing adoption for her baby. On November 1st, we got the call – she was definitely choosing adoption and she wanted us to raise this precious little soul!
The night before we left to drive to Pennsylvania, I spent hours packing two bags – you see, I was doing international consulting and in the adoption process, the counselors tell you to go on with your normal life, take a vacation, schedule those necessary business trips to BOTSWANA! I was to leave Vermont on a Saturday to arrive in Botswana by Sunday. We received the call from Lund on Wednesday and it was way too late for me to renege on the consultancy that I had committed to. So, as I frantically packed a bag for Pennsylvania and a different bag for Botswana, my husband and our dear friend spent 3 hours trying to decide on an infant baby seat and stroller at Babies ‘R Us. Our friend who had three grown daughters was amazed at the vast array of choices in car seats that there were in 2011 compared to the 1990s! (We still tell this story every time our families get together and it still brings great memories, tears, and laughter!)
On Wednesday, November 2nd, my husband and I left our home in Vermont in the middle of the night, drove to Pennsylvania, and at 11:00 a.m. on Thursday, November 3rd, we met our son.
All the stress of the past week melted away when the adoption counselor opened the door of her office building. She stood there at the doorway with a soft, tiny bundle in a baby blue blanket – so tiny I couldn’t even see him! The adoption counselor gently placed the baby in my arms as soon as we entered the building and all I could do was stand there and cry. That was it! After trying to get pregnant for so many years and having been on the adoption waitlist for 18 months, there we were – a family.
On Friday, our interstate adoption compact was expedited by the amazing staff at Lund and we were able to cross state lines and bring our son back to Vermont. The whole experience was thrilling and sad and stressful all at the same time. My husband and I kept thinking of our son’s birth mother as we left Pennsylvania and drove back to Vermont. What must she be going through? On Saturday morning, 32 hours after meeting my son, I was at the Burlington airport waiting for a flight to take me to Botswana. I cried half-way to Botswana – tears of joy, tears of sadness, and tears of fear. I had waited so long for this child and now I was leaving him with a very unprepared father for a week! That week seemed like an eternity but my adoption experience made for quite a story to share with my colleagues on that consultancy!
When our son was three and a half, we got a call that a baby girl was being placed in our care through the foster care system.
She was only 6 weeks old at the time and tinier than our son had been at 4 weeks old. We met her at a hospital where she was being discharged. With our son, we had several days to get used to the idea of having a child in our home. With our foster daughter, we had less than 2 hours. It was my husband’s birthday that day and I had arranged for a babysitter so that I could take him out to dinner. Well, we had to postpone the dinner date and we had to ask our sitter to try to explain to our son that we would be bringing home a baby!
I honestly believe that we have had the best scenario we could have had for a foster-to-adopt experience – my daughter’s birth mother and I got along, we connected and we had the interest of the baby at the forefront. We wanted so badly for this shared daughter to thrive in life. Even with this better-than-average foster care situation, the whole process took a huge toll on everyone’s emotional health – birth mom, foster family, and most importantly, our foster daughter. After nine months, my daughter’s birth mother chose to relinquish her parental rights. She chose adoption for her daughter. We were so happy to have our daughter join our family permanently!
Both my children have open adoptions which means from the beginning, adoption has been part of their story and we have contact with their birth families. Fostering was tough and very unlike what we had experienced with private adoption in many ways. First, I have never met my son’s birth mother in person. She and I write each other letters, we share photos of our families and we even message each other on Facebook. With foster to adopt, I have spent significant time with my daughter’s birth mother. She and I took my daughter to the doctor together, we meet once a year in person and sometimes more than once a year. We even sometimes bump into each other in our town. This can be surprising and awkward but this is life.
My children are now in school, and they have friendships and relationships of their own. They have their own identities. I need to remind myself that their stories are theirs to tell.
For a long time, I kept thinking, “My kids are different – they are adopted.” Guess what? They are different. They have birth families and adopted families, we don’t quite know what they will look like when they grow up because we can’t say, “You have grandpa’s eyes,” or “Aunt Kathy’s toes”; They are unique, they are resilient, and they have experienced profound loss by the fact that their birth families chose a different way to raise them.
Many friends have said to my husband and me, “Your kids are so lucky, you are providing them such a good home”. Our response is always the same – “No, we are the lucky ones.” I feel like I love my children even more (than if they were my biological children) because by choosing adoption, I had to work so hard to get them.
These precious, tiny souls were placed in our care and each day, I try my best to provide them what they need to be the people they are intended to be. One lesson that I intend to teach them is that there are many paths to achieving your dreams.