The Best Valentine's Day Gift, Ever!
My first adoption story begins in 1983. I had been married to my high school sweetheart for seven years. We had been actively trying to get pregnant for about two years and we began to investigate adoption, but were feeling pretty defeated in this endeavor. We were told by one agency that - if and when they accepted our application - it would likely be three-to-five years before we would actually be able to adopt. We didn’t want to wait that long and were so ready for a baby NOW.
I overheard a coworker on the phone one day. It seemed like she was speaking to an adoption agency. I took a chance and asked her about it once she was through. She told me about Bethany Christian Services (an agency) that was in the process of opening an office in Oak Park, Illinois. She shared the phone number with me and our adventure began! We applied with the agency prior to their opening and started getting all the paperwork together that we would need to submit. It’s a very involved process and can be frustrating at times. But, we knew that the end result would make it all worthwhile.
Filling out the paperwork was also very heart-wrenching. We were asked if we would accept a child with physical or mental disabilities. I wanted a baby so badly, I really hated to count any possibility out. But, after much soul-searching, I realized that I wasn't asking for any more than a pregnant woman would want — a healthy, happy child to raise. So, we opted for a baby with no known disabilities, crossed our fingers, and hoped for a quick outcome.
After we were accepted into the program, we began meeting with a social worker on a weekly basis. We informed friends and close family about the upcoming adoption. (We were told that it would take about a year to a year and a half from the time we submitted our initial paperwork to the time that we would receive our child). Not bad — close to the time it takes to go through a pregnancy. We were made aware when we applied that Bethany Christian Services was only handling the adoptions of children from South Korea. This didn’t faze us in the least. There were some friends and family that were not so accepting of this fact. I recall being asked, “Don’t you want a white baby?” I told them that I would be happy to get a blue, green, or purple baby — I just wanted a BABY. Luckily, this was never an issue once we received our precious baby boy.
As this was our first adoption with the agency, we could not choose whether we received a boy or a girl - not unlike a pregnancy. We were told that South Korea was a primarily agricultural country, so more girls were given up for adoption than boys. Boys were kept to help take care of the family farm while girls tended to go into prostitution. We had already chosen possible names for our new baby - Ryan if it was a boy and Amanda if it was a girl. Ryan was the name of a red-headed, freckle-faced toddler that I had previously taught at a nearby nursery school. Amanda was the name of a great, great aunt on both sides of our families. At this point we were anxiously awaiting word that our son or daughter had been born and was waiting for us.
We received a phone call that we needed to come to the social worker’s office a week prior to Christmas, 1984. She was going to provide us with information on a child that was available for adoption. I was in the church choir at the time and the morning that the social worker needed to see us was the same day as our Christmas program. My mother was in the choir with me. We decided that we wanted to surprise our families with the information on our new son or daughter.
So I had to tell my mom a ‘little white lie’ as to why I couldn’t be at the program that morning. I knew she’d forgive me later when she knew the real reason! We received a picture and background history of a beautiful baby boy that had been born on November 13th. He was born in a clinic in Seoul and was left there by his mother a few days after. He was currently being cared for by a foster family (by a local church). We signed all the papers and excitedly left her office with pictures and information about our new son that we couldn’t wait to share with our family and friends! We were going to be parents!
Now the long wait for him to come home to us began. The agency needed to secure a passport, visa, and plane ticket for him which could take a few months to achieve. We were informed that we would be given about a week’s notice so we needed to be ready!
I received a call at work on February 7th, 1985 that our son would be arriving at O’Hare airport the following Thursday, February 14th - Valentines’ Day. The whole process had taken a total of 13 months. That day I told my coworkers, including a great friend, who planned a surprise baby shower for me the next day. It made a wonderful send-off for my last day at work! We also told all our family and friends our wonderful news. We made plans to meet at O’Hare airport to welcome our son home.
We ended up with a group of about a dozen friends and relatives waiting together at the airport. Once there, I was taken along with the other adoptive mothers, onto the plane to pick up our children and bring them into the customs area. We each had to locate our child by their wristbands - one with our family name and address and another with his or her Korean name that had already been provided in the initial paperwork. Once we found our child, we undid the airplane seatbelt and walked down to the customs waiting area with the child. The international terminal was laid out a little differently at that time, so while we were waiting we were able to look up into the area above us and wave at our friends and family with our beautiful children in our arms. Once the paperwork was processed, we climbed on the escalator and went up to join our families and friends waiting for us on the next floor. It was truly my best Valentine’s Day ever and just the beginning of a wonderful life with Ryan.
Dear adoptive mother,
Please don’t get discouraged as you wade through the paperwork jungle otherwise known as an adoption. Everything needs to be processed as a safeguard for you as well as your new child. Know that it is all worth it when you finally bring home that wonderful, beautiful child that will soon become ‘your’ child! Be patient and use the time to prepare the nursery or room that the child will occupy. You can also use the time to get yourself ready for the changes that are about to take place in your life. The quote by Elizabeth Stone is so true: “Making the decision to have a child...is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body...” Once your child is home, everything is different. You will be able to look at the world through your child’s eyes. Your life, your time, your world is no longer your own. You will be part of a ‘family’ and that is the best feeling you will ever have. Adopting a child will change your life in all the best ways possible!
Sally Zies Stearn
PS. If any prospective adoptive parents would ever want to chat or ask the "hard" questions, I am available to have a conversation with you at any time.