My husband and I met during college through mutual friends and our love story is riddled with quirky moments made entirely possible by our rather awkward and ridiculous personalities. I like to tell the stories of how we met, how we got engaged, etc to the high school students I teach as an example of real life, completely unscripted, and oh so wonderfully strange love. While it may not have played out as flawlessly as a romantic-comedy, our love has been familiar and easy: having established such a deep friendship before dating. We are so well suited for each other: my husband, David’s easy-going personality makes everything a bit smoother. Even throughout life’s bumps, we’ve supported each other.
We are both planners and so we did the “responsible thing” and planned for our family. We both knew we would go back to school to pursue our Master’s degrees, and then the plan was that I would be pregnant while writing my thesis. That date came and went.
Making the appointment with a Fertility Specialist was weird and hard enough. I didn’t want to admit that anything was wrong or even face that possibility but it was better than waiting and crying with the arrival of my period each month, so we did it. I vividly remember hearing the doctor explain our exact “Infertility Diagnosis.” Many of you know what that’s like, but for others who will never know, it is virtually indescribable to have someone explain that your plan, well, it’s not even possible.
Enter Plan B: IVF. My brain needed to embrace this new plan as THE plan and so I got really attached to the idea of a special story that we would one day share with our children. Something about being grown in a petri-dish and how we saw them being implanted, etc. Multiple failed cycles later, we were left with a very difficult decision: exhaust our financial resources and try one more time with a vague hope that it might just work, or switch to Plan C.
We felt as though we were in a desert; we reflected on Old Testament stories of wandering Israelite's and long-suffering trials. We hoped that as was the case with the great heroes of scripture, a Promised Land waited for us at the end of the road, something that would at last make it all worth it. The problem wasn’t the appeal of the promise though; it was the wandering. We each copped differently with the waiting. I waffled between extremes of shattered wailing dependence and bitter frustration. More often than not I found myself in the numbing apathy of doubt. Was it that God just didn’t care? Was it that he was ignoring my prayers? Was I just not doing the right thing? It just felt so mean: that God would give us such a deep desire and then deny it time and time again. We were lost in a vast desert and growing ever more weary.
As difficult as the journey was for both of us, looking back, we have been able to recognize the intentionality of God in even the most difficult of circumstances. What was our Plan C, we soon realized was God’s Plan (period). It was not by accident that I became close with a former student’s mother who had gone through the IVF process to conceive her youngest two children; it was not a coincidence when her daughter Cassie jokingly called me “Mom” one day during basketball practice because as her coach, I ended up being the one that cleaned them up, did their hair, picked up their forgotten things, etc. Even something as ridiculous as the fact that our wedding song was “God Bless the Broken Road” because we realized that finding each other as spouses meant that we had to go through some not-so-hot dating relationships. Well our journey to our son involved some not-so-hot moments too, but God Blessed our Road, broken or not.
Early in the process of infertility, my husband mentioned adoption to me, and it was probably the most upset I’ve been with him. It was not allowed to even be considered in my opinion. I had some very strong attachments to pregnancy, what it meant for me in my identity as a woman, my original plan, etc. Add all of that to the fact that the adoptions I know of within my family have almost all had some sort of terrible twist to them. I was biased and narrow-minded to say the least.
However, through the process, through relationships, through the suffering, through the waiting, through my husband’s patient support and divine guidance, I began to realize that the idea of not being able to love someone that wasn’t biologically connected to me was not up for debate. I loved Cassie and she loved me and there was no shared blood or even a connection deeper than a few years. We both have come to understand and value the idea of a grafted family, one formed through loving relationships and support in addition to bloodlines.
We raced through our home study paperwork because it felt like we had already waited for so long. Plus, it was the only thing that we could control at this point. After we turned in that last piece of paperwork and had our inspection, we knew that the dreaded waiting would begin. Yet another challenge completely unique to adoption. We had no idea how long we would wait, we knew that there was an average range and that ultimately we were going to stick it out. We had heard from another adoptive parent to get on with our lives in the meantime and so we made the “Baby Bucket List.” It wasn’t a long list and it was one with financial economy in mind seeing as we were dropping quite a bit of money for this process, but it gave us another little piece of control and a nice distraction.
We are incredibly blessed to have had a relatively short wait. We were at a friend’s house for our church small group meeting when our social worker left the message to “give her a call back.” I went outside to return her call, and I quickly realized that this was not just a “checking in with a quick update” kind of phone call so I ran back into the house, signaled my husband (not discreetly) and we talked with the social worker outside on the curb. “There was a birth mom and she wanted to meet us!” There were no words …
The social worker prepared us that this would be the most awkward first date we would ever go on. We were terrified. What if she didn’t like us? What if we said or did something offensive? What were we even supposed to do? What would we do if we had nothing to say?
We had lunch and I walked out I was overwhelmed. It was awkward don’t get me wrong. What do you say to a woman who you just met but might be the woman who decides to place her child with you? I was taken aback and almost wordless because I had this feeling that “this was it” but all of our family-planning up until this point had prepared me to keep expectations low and my heart guarded and so I was terrified to actually admit that I felt like we had just met the birth-mother of our child, so … we waited for the agency to call.
That phone call was one of the most surreal moments of my life. We fell to our knees and cried. Next to hearing our son’s first cry through the wall of the hospital waiting room, there is no other sound that has had as much impact as the social worker’s declaration that we were “matched.”
We have since learned that our birth-mother left our first meeting with similar feelings. Yes, it was awkward and unbelievably hard to think about the actual adoption moment, but there was something about that lunch that gave her a feeling of affirmation. That something was God working his plan.
The phrase “Adoption is Love” is thrown around a lot. It’s even a hashtag, but I think it’s actually so much richer than that. Adoption is the love process that restores lives.
A truth I’ve grappled with accepting throughout this process is that in every story of adoption, there is some brokenness on every side. It’s true, but it hurts to admit that. I want to go back and wave my magic wand and make it all easy from the start, but as my husband reminds me, if I did that, I would get rid of our son, and that is simply impossible.
After our son was born and placed with us, our first Father’s Day in fact, we found out that the birth-father was most likely going to contest the adoption. I remember speaking with the social worker and attorney on the phone and she, as she was obligated to do, asked us if we wanted to proceed with the process of a contested adoption. Without thinking or consulting, my husband and I knew that we would do anything for our son. We loved him before he was born and the moment we first held him cemented that relationship. Thankfully the adoption was not actually contested. After a long wait, the paperwork was never filed and so we were able to petition the court to terminate based on inaction. For us, this was yet another emotional moment when we realized the depth of our love for our son. Technically we were (and I guess still are, pending finalization) his foster parents, but that title was so far from accurately describing the bond and love we have for and with him. He is our son - that’s it. And as any parent would do, we would do and give anything for him.
The contested adoption process was yet another emotional journey, but also another piece of testimony to the fact that Adoption IS Love. We were, of course, concerned about the possibility of losing our son, but we were also absolutely heart-broken over the possibility of dragging our beloved birth-mother through a terrible process. From the moment we met her, she impressed and inspired us. She is not a woman who made a bad choice and was looking for an out. She is brave, loving, and sacrificial. Her love for our son is the greatest gift she can ever give him and ever give us. We are all better people because of her love and sacrifice. I regularly pray that our son will grow up to be like her. I am so glad that she is and will be in his life to teach him and model her courage, her kindness, and her uncompromising compassion.
When our first plan didn’t work, I decided I needed that “special story” to make the pain worth it. Well, it turns out IVF and that whole mess is just part of the rather dramatic, but completely awesome story that ends with our very special and completely irreplaceable son. It’s not a story I would have ever imagined or even chosen for myself, but it’s our story and we would never change it! While our road has been broken and marked with suffering, and there remain triggers even today that almost without notice send me right back to the vulnerable pain of infertility, the ache of my empty arms is filled with a beautiful, happy boy whose laugh can resurrect my soul from the darkest of places.
Since becoming a parent, my love has only increased. I love my husband in a new additional way, as the father to my son. I love my son more than I could have ever imagined. He is worth every sleepless night, frustrating no-nap kind of day, and even every poopy diaper change. I love our birth mother. Adoption isn’t a band-aid for infertility, a Plan B or a Plan C. It’s the grafting of many branches together to create an even more elaborate and unique network of love and family.
Yes, there is loss in infertility and adoption, but there is also gain. Adoption is about the “AND.” We are incandescently happy and blessed AND we are still working through the grief and bad habits developed during our infertility. We are not biological parents AND we are adoptive parents. Our son has us as adoptive parents AND he has a birth mother to shower him with love. We have cried AND we have experienced true joy!
Adoption is the story of love AND restoration.
Isaiah 51:12 (MSG) “You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past. You'll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again.”