Emily called the agency less than two months ago, but sometimes it feels like I have been with her much longer. Lisa, my assistant, got the first call and was quite concerned for Emily. Although it was already late in the day, we both agreed that I should travel to the other side of the county and see her tonight.
When I arrived I was greeted by a young mother who was raising three small children all on her own. Her children, a son 9, and two daughters 8 and 3 were running and playing about. A neighbor was kind enough to watch the little one so Emily and I could talk. As she began to tell me her story and shared where she came from and how she got here, I was sure I was in the presence of a very strong woman. Each young woman I work with has their own unique journey and a distinct path that leads them to consider the loving, unselfish choice of adoption for their child and Emily had faced many challenges. She lost her mother at a young age and had just recently begun to repair her relationship with her father who was mostly absent as she was growing up. She also lost her grandmother who raised her after her mother passed. At 29, she has been a mother for nine years and done this job mostly on her own. Emily loves her children more than anything else in life and has had to fight for them on numerous occasions. But, when allowed to dream, she remembers the young girl with “wonder lust” who planned to discover exotic destinations as a flight attendant. Instead, Emily has dedicated her career to helping others with disabilities.
As we chatted that first day in her kitchen, interrupted often by her children needing permission for this and that, I discovered that Emily and I were destined to meet. She showed me a packet from another adoption provider on her table and said, “I waited for you”. I did not quite understand this and asked her to explain. Emily said that she had contacted someone else at first, over a month ago, and all they did was send a packet for her to fill out. This was very confusing and overwhelming for her. When she spoke to the folks at this office they told her that she could not have an adoption with visits and that she might be able to see her son when he turned 18 if, and only if, he wanted to. She stared crying when I told her that was not the case with my agency. I explained that we honor the birth parent’s wishes for openness and only work with adopted parents that share this philosophy. While visits are not right for everyone, if it is right for you, we do our best to find a family that will embrace this level of contact. Emily’s relief was profound. She explained that she had to wait for my ad to run again, because she threw out the paper and had to wait a whole week to find my number again. But when she read it the first time, she knew that I was the person to help her find a family that would allow her to visit her child. She then explained that she knows that she cannot provide for him the way that she would like, but to place him and think that she would never see him again would be agony.
Although Emily was already 30 weeks along, she had not yet gotten her Medicaid squared away and prenatal care started. She was relieved to know that we were able to help her with these things. In just a few days, Lisa had her Medicaid approved and we were off to her first OB appointment. I love to attend these appointments with my expectant mom’s. Emily had a sonogram on her first visit and although this was very exciting, it is also sad because seeing the baby makes it real. We found out she was expecting a boy, another difficult bit of information because this is what she wanted for her next child. Although emotional, Emily remained committed to her plan and now began the difficult task of choosing adoptive parents. But before she could do this, life sent her another curve ball. At approximately 31 week, her membranes began to leak. This was a very scary phone call for me and I can only imagine how petrified Emily was. There was only one hospital in our county that was prepared to accept an expectant mom this early in her pregnancy and it was nowhere near Emily and even worse, her OB did not practice there. It was a horrible night for Emily who visited a total of three different hospitals and finally ended up on the other side of the county, away from her children, family and friends.
Ruptured membranes are tricky. Sometimes they can, sort of, seal themselves back up and the fluid will replenish itself. (This is social work talk…I only play a doctor on TV…LOL!) But, worst case, Emily was going to deliver a 31 week old son before she had a chance to select adoptive parents. Needless to say, she was freaking out. The hospital was treating her for a potential infection and giving her steroids to help the baby’s lungs mature. All hands on deck at this point!! It was under these conditions that Emily had to select a family for her son. Out the window was her fantasy of long relationship building chats before delivery…he needed adoptive parents and he needed them now. But how was she going to find a family that wanted an open relationship AND was prepared for a premature infant. That was where God came in, no other possible explanation. Emily chose Sharon and Greg, a nurse with a neonatal background and a pastor. They were a perfect match. Prematurity did not scare them a bit and they came to us only wanting an open relationship with their birth mom. But that is simply where the divine influence begins. Emily was able to go home from the hospital on bed rest, in time to spend Mother’s Day with her children, and carry her son to almost full term.
These additional six weeks were not only a gift to the baby, but also a gift to the families. During this time the two moms talked or texted almost nightly. They shared their dreams for this new life that is so precious to both of them. They chatted about day-to-day ordinary sfuff and also made solemn promises to each other they intended to keep. They became friends.
Then the call… Emily had called me earlier that Saturday to let me know that she did not think that she would make it much longer. I have learned to trust what a woman says about her body, especially when it comes from such an experienced mom. I was at the grocery store when I got the text and then the call. Emily was in labor and had likely been experiencing contractions for some time. The decision was made to get her to the local hospital, not where her OB delivered, because it was closer. This turned out to be a wise decision because Emily delivered 1 ½ hours after she was admitted.
I rushed to the other side of the county and was by Emily’s side during delivery. As a woman and mother this is a profound experience and I am honored each time a birth mother invites me to be with her in the delivery room. The experience defies words… Each delivery is unique and unfortunately for Emily, and in keeping with the rest of her pregnancy, her delivery did not go as she had planned. Emily had wanted an epidural with this delivery but got to the hospital too late. She got absolutely NO pain medication. I am very proud of her…not an easy thing to do.
Every mom decides on her own hospital plan and there is no right or wrong answer, just what is right for her. Emily decided to keep the baby with her during her entire stay at the hospital. We discussed this decision and although she knew that it would make it harder to place him; she also knew she would never forgive herself if she did not spend this time with him. I stayed the night with Emily and watched her care for her son. There is no difference in the love and awe that a birth mother feels for her child. She told me who he looked like and what body parts matched which relative. We chatted about the birth of her other three children, the amount of hair that each had at birth, how long they were and how much they weighed. I drifted off at about 4:00 am (as I am old!!) but Emily stayed awake, not wanting to miss one precious moment with her son.
The next day Sharon and Greg arrived and I again was able to witness the joy of a mother and father seeing their son for the first time. This meeting is filled with so many conflicting emotions. For Emily, the adoptive parents are now real and they are holding her son. She knows the joy of parenting, for them and the agony of loss for herself…all this hits at once. Emily texted me later, “how can something so good hurt so bad”. For Sharon and Greg the immediate feeling of love for their son is overwhelming, but they can plainly see the pain Emily is in. It is only through Emily’s gift and personal loss that Sharon and Greg can be parents. That is the essence of building families through adoption…love and loss, joy and sacrifice.
The time to sign the final papers had arrived much too quickly for Emily. I don’t think that she had really slept in almost three days and done a fair bit of crying too. I had visited her every day and been by the phone when needed. This was a very anxious time for Sharon and Greg as well. They were already in love with this child and could not imagine the pain if Emily changed her mind at this point. My job was to support both families and help them understand what the other family was feeling. Paperwork time had arrived and I made sure that this was still what Emily wanted to do. When I was sure that she remained committed, I headed over to the hospital. Emily has a great personality and was doing her best to find humor in the day. She joked and kidded in an effort to release some of the tension that naturally accompanies this day. Surrounded by members of the agency, who now seemed more like friends, Emily did what will likely be the most difficult and incredibly unselfish act that she or any mother ever does: in spite of her own pain she signed papers that placed her child in the arms of another family…forever. And she did this while holding her son in her own arms.
After this Sharon and Greg were told the news that they were waiting for, the baby was now THEIR son. Greg had been able to remain fairly unemotional until that point. But, after hearing that news, yes, the new daddy cried too! The families hugged, and cried together. They made plans to get a family portrait taken with all of the kids before Sharon and Greg return home. And other promises were revisited and reaffirmed.
In many ways the papers that Emily signed are not the end of her relationship with her child, but the beginning of her relationship with Sharon and Greg. She gave them a gift that can never be repaid; she made them a family. And in return they honored her by inviting her into theirs.
We Are Family……