As a potential adoptive parent, your mind harbors several scary secret fears that you can be afraid to articulate out loud. Yes, you will worry if you can be a decent parent or if your bank account can withstand the impact, but that’s not what I am talking about.
Biological parents literally push mini versions of themselves out of their bodies everyday. They look at the bald little creature in the goo, see themselves and cry passionately about the love of their lives entering the world. Instantly, they know that they will love this child through anything.
As an adoptive parent, you secretly worry that you will not love or connect with your new child or worse, that your new child will not connect to you.
In adoption training, I remember sitting there trying to pretend that I was believing what they were saying. The counselor was talking about being in the hospital and meeting your child for the first time and how wonderful that would be. Of course, most of the talk was not about that magical moment, it was focused more on how not to tick off the birth mother and make her change her mind. The birth mother is in full control of the hospital situation. You are just along for the ride.
I worried daily that my child would feel foreign to me. That I would hold him in my arms and he would become scared since he would not recognize my voice. My thoughts wandered over into even darker areas about that moment. Once I dreamed that I would instantly dislike my child and find ways to get out of having to take him home. This child came out of someone else’s body listening to her heart beat and her voice. How will he ever connect with me? Would I ever have that magic moment that biological parents have?
You must know something about me right now to put this next part into perspective. I am a fiercely logical person. Sometimes I find myself leaving situations because they suddenly feeling too hippy dippy for me. Hearing someone tell me that I was going to connect instantly with my child when I met him made me shut down and pretend to be listening because that could not be possible. Love that lasts is not something created in instants, but over time when the child sees me always showing up when no one else will. Yes, I played along, but my heart was not buying it.
On the day that my son was born, I was in the act of giving up. Mentally, I had been thinking about giving up for several months. I was tired, physically and mentally. My depression was becoming too hard to hide from others. I passed the one year mark meaning that I had to do all my of my adoption paperwork again. On December 21st, I called my adoption counselor to let her be the first person to know that I was going to walk away. She convinced me to go through the holidays since nothing happens anyway and schedule a talk in the new year.
My brother was coming to town with his kids that evening and last minute, they had to stay with me since my mother was sick. I came home early to prepare my house for five visitors. The baby slept in my room to allow me to “practice” waking up with a little one. I didn’t have the heart to share my plans to quit so I agreed. When my little nephew woke in the night, I did not get the bottle prepped in time and his mother had to help me. In the morning, they got ready while I went for a run. During my run, I could not get my lack of ability out of my mind. Maybe this is happening for a reason to show me that I should not do this.
My friend Joann who lived about an hour away wanted to have a single girl’s holiday with no kids just alcohol, great food, a movie and a visit to a local bar with fantastic Christmas decorations. I agreed immediately and brought the dessert. I remember standing in the upscale bakery near my house full of cake stands. My life seemed decadent. I could buy expensive cake and go out of town on a moment’s notice and enjoy rich things without a child holding me back. Quitting seemed so realistic.
It was December 23rd. By noon, I was heading to my friend’s house with expensive cake and going out clothes. By 4pm, she was making us turkey (my favorite) and asking me questions about quitting since I shared my conversations with my counselor. What are you doing to do instead? My answer was thought out over several runs - sell everything I had, give my cats back to their foster mother, secure online teaching employment and move to France. There, I would drink wine and live outside of the lavender fields in the South of France. I was done with this life and excited about another.
It was at this moment that my phone began to ring. I ignored it convinced it was my family wanting me to feel guilty for skipping a family dinner. It rang again. They are persistent. I stayed strong. It rang again. Joann and I looked at each other. Something must be wrong. I remember having to hunt through my purse for the phone. When I looked at the caller ID, my heart stopped. It was my adoption line. I answered it.
One of the adoption counselors was on the other line. I will confess the conversation was a blur. Joann put paper and a pen in front of me to take notes to help me stay focused. A young woman in her 20s entered a hospital that morning and gave birth to a little boy at 10:08am. She told the hospital upon entry that she was going to give the baby up for adoption and they called my agency. By early afternoon, she was looking at adoption brochures of families. Within an hour, she chose me as her top candidate. By 4:30pm, I was contacted with 20 minutes to make a decision.
Lots of red flags were shared during this exchange. We don’t know who the birth father is so your legal process will be longer and more expensive. She received no prenatal care during her pregnancy so we don’t know what you are about to walk into here. This is a last-minute adoption with a 40% or higher reclaim rate. Joann stared at my face and reminded me that this scary stuff. My logical side heard all of this, but I could not find a “no” anywhere in my brain. Here I was about to walk away from everything when a child suddenly appeared. I said yes and waited to hear when I could meet him.
The next day, I waited until a polite time of 9am to call the birthmother and left a voice mail. The night before, Joann and I drove from fire station to fire station looking for someone to put the car seat in my car that I had been carrying in my trunk. At midnight, Joann put a gift registry wand in my hand at Target to build a gift list since loved ones will want to do something for me. I argued that this was too soon, but it turned out to be brilliant thing to do. I had no sleep, only pretend sleep where you assume the position and close your eyes, but your brain has too many thoughts.
To ease the wait, Joann and I walked her dog around the neighborhood. I remember Joann talking about something but I could not focus. I was waiting for the phone to ring. After 10am, it did ring and the birth mother asked me to come immediately to the hospital that was 30 minutes from Joann’s house.
After a brief stop at the florist to buy her flowers, I walked into her private hospital room. There was a beautiful African American woman with exquisite skin and her hair pulled up in a wrap. My heart was beating fast and I had no ability other than to stand upright and be honest. I said my name and told her how beautiful she was. She thanked me and seemed shocked by my outburst. Soon, she asked if I wanted to see the baby. She had not seen or held the baby since she wanted me to be the first one.
Here it comes. That moment is coming. My secret fears lurched around the next corner as the nurse walked me into the nursery. She directed me to wash my hands and sit in a private room. I remember sweating through my clothes and being too anxious to sit down. Very shortly, they wheeled a beautiful baby into the room.
Now, don’t laugh, but I honestly did not know. African American babies are born quite pale. So, when I saw this little guy, I did not think he was mine. I stared at him but I did not dare touch him since I did not think he was my kid. After a couple of minutes, the nurse walked into the room. “You can pick him up and hold him. He is yours.”
Ok, so I am not off to a good start. My own child is wheeled into the room and I immediately do not think he is mine. He was so small that I physically shook trying to get him out of the crib. Eventually I did and moved over to a chair to keep my knees from knocking. I held this tiny creature in my arms and suddenly he woke up and turned his face towards mine. His eyes opened slightly and his expression was like, “Hey, I know you.”
Bam. Boom. Pow. That stupid hippy dippy stuff of knowing a child is yours the instant you hold him was right. I could feel my brain rewiring itself. A nurse walked into the room and she used my phone to take our photo together. Before she walked in, I managed to take a few blurry ones of just his face looking into my face. I sang Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” to him and wiped my tears off his face. The long wait, the failed attempts to become a mother, the miscarriage, the depression seemed like another lifetime. My secret fear of not connecting to my child was long since vanished.
I spent the next several hours trying to remember my training and not ticking off the birth mother. It was Christmas Eve, the day my family celebrates the holiday together. That evening we always gather at my grandmother’s house to eat meatballs and give presents to the children of the family. As I drove back home from Joann’s house to my grandmother’s house to tell them the news, I remember wishing my car could go faster. There was something about my family knowing that made this whole crazy thing seem all too real.
When I arrived and got their attention, I finally said these words, “Yesterday, my son was born and tomorrow I get to bring him home on Christmas day.” For the rest of the night, we cried, drank and laughed about what happened. They referred to him as my Christmas miracle. To me, it’s the moment when I let myself believe that love, the earth-shattering, knock-you-off-your-socks-instantly kind was real.
So yes, you may share my secret fear. You may believe that the child you were assigned will feel foreign and strange to you. I don’t blame you. Your fears seem very logical to me, but rest assured that holding someone in your arms may just be what you need to put those fears to rest.