I am very excited to say that I recently had an essay published in Adoptive Families, a national adoption magazine and an adoption information source for families before, during, and after adoption. The original, full-length essay, which discusses the grueling waiting portion of the adoption process, is below. The published essay is a shortened version, which you can read here.
A little background info - In non-agency domestic adoption (the adoption of children from the US), which is the way we adopted Rosemarie, hopeful adoptive parents advertise themselves in newspapers, magazines, and online. They set up adoption phone lines with toll-free numbers and feature those numbers in their ads so that expectant mothers who are considering adoption can contact them. That is how matches are made between expectant mother and prospective adoptive parents. Thus, once the hopefuls are done with the certification process, much of their time is spent waiting for and receiving phone calls from possible birthmothers.
Waiting for a Girl Like You
*Names have been changed
I’m in my kitchen standing by the almond porcelain sink, the hot water warming my hands as I wash the dishes from dinner. The TV talks in the background and I try my best to pay attention. My Blackberry idly sits a foot away from me, lying on the counter next to my apple green mixer. I know I will hear it ding this close, but I can’t help but take a sidewise glance to check for the flashing red light of a new message.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have emailed again,” I think. “I’m coming on too strong.”
The phone starts to buzz and I pause, a half-soaped dish in my left hand and listen intently for the chime. It is only my calendar reminding me to bring my textbook to work tomorrow. I push a sigh through my lips and continue to swipe the sponge across the surface of the dish in my hands.
“First I call and leave a voicemail and then I email. What was I thinking?”
During the many months in which my husband and I waited for the call, my mind was often filled with thoughts like these. Thoughts that questioned whether I was being too clingy and moving too fast. Thoughts that reminded me so much of a younger me, of the twenty-something-year-old woman I used to be before I found my life with my husband, our modest home, and our fluffy, white dog.
For most of my early twenties, I was a single woman. My girlfriends and I spent our Saturday nights at various bars and clubs, laughing, dancing and perpetually searching for someone. Someone to meet, someone to date, someone with whom we could share our lives.
Now that we’re older and settled down, we often sit around remembering those years squealing with laughter as we share our memories of the men we met, our favorite outfits, and the mini disasters that occur when girls are young and carefree. It was during these years my simple friendships with these women blossomed into deep relationships and during which I had many of the most fun experiences of my life.
But the truth is these years were also filled with feelings of uncertainty, insecurity, and powerlessness. Those are the feelings many women experience, of course, in the world of dating. One summer I was seeing a friend of a friend, John*. He had kissed me against the door of my white Mercedes a few weeks earlier. In days following, he took me to dinner at a local Italian restaurant, brought me to see Mr. and Mrs. Smith, smiling when I asked for peanut M&Ms to mix with my popcorn, and sat on the couch in my mother’s basement while we laughed at Adam Sandler in 50 First Dates.
Despite the steady attention he was giving me, however, I didn’t know how he felt. How could I? Guys I dated always had ulterior motives. They may have texted, called, and asked to spend time with me, but all too often their intentions were very different than mine. And, of course, as many single men do, some chose to use the “fade-out method” as a means of ending our relationship. In general, as their calls and texts became less and less frequent, the lines of communication slowly thinned into nothingness until we no longer spoke at all.
As an inexperienced, twenty-three-year old woman, then, I thought I had no choice but to deal with this constant uncertainty and, with my girlfriends’ help, to over examine every last detail of my interaction with a guy to try and determine his feelings.
One day, my friend Patricia and I sat on the beach of the Jersey Shore. Her polka dot bandeau top stretched perfectly across her chest as she lay back on the taut canvas of her beach chair. Beside her, I wore my over-sized white sunglasses, my newly bleached blonde highlights slick in a ponytail. We dug our heels into the sand and sipped our iced coffee as we discussed my last conversation with John.
“If he called you last, why can’t you just text him?” she said.
“Because I’d rather him think I don’t care.”
“You’re crazy. Just text him! It’s one text in three weeks.”
After twenty minutes of this, she finally convinced me. I cupped my hand over the screen of my phone and found his number in my contacts list.
“Hey, you coming down the shore tonight?”
I hit “Send” and the nerves began. My knee bounced up and down repeatedly as I drummed my fingers on the arm of my chair. As Patricia spoke about the outfit she’d wear that night and the patient who had bothered her at work the other day, my mind drifted elsewhere.
“Would he text back? If he did, what would he say?”
“Maybe he was coming down the shore, but didn’t want to hang out with me.”
“Maybe he was seeing another girl and talking to her right now.”
For ten minutes, these thoughts flew through my head until my cell phone chimed in my hand.
“Not sure yet. Maybe.”
And the conversation began again. We discussed his use of the word maybe. Was he being vague because he really didn’t want to see me? Or did he add the maybe to be flirtatious and tease me? Eventually, we decided on a response. I told him to let me know his plans. His answer? “K.” It is simply amazing the amount of time two single girls can spend analyzing a single letter.
This was how we spent much of our time back then. Talking, questioning, wondering, and deciphering.
And that is why we were all so happy to meet the men we would marry in time. When I met Anthony on a crisp October night, the constant analysis ceased. My phone rang before I went to sleep that night as I knew it would. I didn’t have to wonder what his texts meant. They were clear and their meanings were obvious. I didn’t have to tap my foot while I waited for his call. His call simply came; it always did. That constant insecurity, that unyielding sense of anxious doubt, and the never-ending feeling of helplessness were long gone. I knew he liked me and, eventually, I knew he loved me.
What I did not expect, however, was the return of those insecure feelings years into our marriage. I never expected to feel once more like a vulnerable, doubtful single woman with my husband by my side. But as we got deeper into the adoption journey, as we met more and more expectant mothers in our quest, that is exactly what I became.
I waited for our adoption line to ring much like I waited as a single twenty-something several years earlier. I felt that same jolt of excitement when the jingle began and the same drop of disappointment when I saw an unwanted number on the screen. During singlehood, as I sat on the phone with a guy I liked, I constructed my answers to be ones he would find attractive and appealing. When speaking to expectant mothers, I tried to make every word as likable as possible.
When dating I often wondered about the other women who were in the life of the guy I was seeing. While waiting, I speculated the exclusivity of my relationship with expectant mothers.
“Is she talking to other couples?”
“Does she like them better than she likes us?
“What do they have that we don’t?
In 2005, I sat on the beach with Patricia deciphering every detail of my last conversation with John. In the winter of 2011, I sat in my classroom grading a pile of tests. My cell phone began to hum against the wooden grain of the desk. The screen glowed with the name of our adoption attorney, Robin Fleischner; I lifted the phone to my ear and answered. We greeted each other casually as we had spoken so often lately.
“Okay, tell me what happened with Jaclyn,” she said.
I sat back in my wobbly wooden chair, crossed one leg underneath me, and began to relay the exact conversation I had with Jaclyn two days earlier, every last detail.
“Okay, so when you brought up the social and medical history packet I sent her, she changed the subject?”
“Right, so that’s why I don’t think she’ll send it back.”
There I was again, an insecure twenty-two year old, helplessly analyzing, with my new girlfriend by my side, to figure out a person who held all the power.
In so many ways I had become my single, uncertain self once more, and I’d dragged my poor husband down with me. The adoption process is inevitably filled with insecurity. You cannot help but doubt yourself and question whether or not you are the type of person a woman would want to raise her child. You wonder if you are smart enough, wealthy enough, and even attractive enough!
For Anthony and me, uncertainty was a leach on our skin. It attached itself to us and with every failed situation we faced, it drained a bit more of our blood, a little bit more of our hope for success.
Expectant mothers called who seemed very interested in us and excited about adoption. But time and time again, those mothers’ feelings changed, and like some single men of my past, they simply faded away.
Just before Christmas of 2010, we were contacted by a birthmother named Stephanie*. Stephanie’s medical history was not the exact type we had been hoping for, but we refused to walk away without making a well-informed decision. So we researched in every way possible. We read scholarly articles and every website we could find. We spoke to other adoptive parents on Internet forums and over email. We called our pediatricians, our friends’ pediatricians, all the OBGYNs in our area, and every nurse we know. With every piece of information we gathered, we learned that our initial beliefs had been wrong, and Stephanie’s unique history was not a reason to keep us from adopting this baby.
And Stephanie kept in touch with us all the while. She emailed us just to say hello and expressed how happy she felt when she saw our website. She stayed on the phone for forty-five minutes or more and texted us paragraphs that covered three messages in length. This one felt right. As long as our research continued to give us positive feedback, this was our baby. This would be our son. After a few weeks, though, it was always I who was emailing first or I who sent the first text message of the day. The fade out had begun.
On a Saturday afternoon, I texted Stephanie asking how she was feeling. I expected to receive a long, wordy response, the kind she always sent. When my phone whistled just after I stepped out of the shower, I smiled at myself in the steamy mirror. I quickly rubbed my hands on a towel and flipped open the phone.
“I’m doing well. Thanks.”
There it was. John’s “K” all over again. I continued to text her and crossed my fingers each time I hit Send waiting for lengthier, more enthusiastic answers, but the longest text was only five words. I felt her fading away from us, and though I stretched my hand as far as I could and tried to hold on, there was nothing left to touch. My last text was unanswered. I called the following day and left a voicemail trying to sound normal, but she never returned my call. She was gone.
How, then, as hopeful adoptive parents, can you ever be certain, for even when an expectant mother seems completely serious and committed, she may walk away.
Well, just as I finally found a truly committed partner in Anthony, I did eventually find a birthmother who did not change her mind.
In the end, our adoption was more like an elopement in Vegas than a prolonged relationship. Rosemarie was born at three am and three hours later, we received our first call from her birthmother, Marissa*. After calls to our lawyer and pediatrician, we booked a flight, packed our bags, and took custody of our daughter 36 hours later.
Although we did not have much time to doubt ourselves, although something had felt right from the moment I picked up the phone on Thursday morning, we needed to feel apprehensive. We needed to doubt this adoption for fear that what we were feeling was a trick.
The moment we walked into the Labor and Delivery Ward of the hospital, the nurses exclaimed, “Mommy and Daddy are here!” And even though those titles sounded right, we couldn’t admit that to ourselves just yet. When we met Marissa, she sat down next to us asking us questions about us and showing us tons of pictures of her blue-eyed extended family. She seemed so confident, so settled on her decision, but we just couldn’t believe that yet.
When the nurses led us to our own room in the maternity wing and rolled Rosemarie’s bassinet in behind us, it was too scary to realize that this could be our family. And when I held Rosie in my arms for first time, when I placed the miniature bottle to her lips, and changed and dressed her tiny body, I couldn’t admit how naturally my hands moved, how it felt as though they’d been waiting to care for this baby my whole life.
The following day the baby was discharged from the hospital and we took her to a nearby hotel. The hearing to terminate Marissa’s parental rights was scheduled for 2:00 pm and in the hours that passed while we waited to hear from our lawyer, I experienced the most insecurity and helplessness I had felt through the entire process. Once 2:00 hit, I paced back and forth across the rust-colored carpet. Rosemarie lay sleeping surrounded by pillows on our king-sized bed, but I found it too frightening to even look at her. At one point, I lay down with my back on the floor, my knees bent toward the ceiling, swaying my legs back and forth and tapping my palm on the stiff carpet. Eventually, we got word from our attorney; Marissa had signed. Anthony wrapped his arms around me and we sobbed on each other’s shoulders, releasing all the tension that had lived in our bodies for the past year and half.
So, despite all that fear, when Marissa formed our family with the stroke of her pen in an Oklahoma courtroom, my constant anxiety came to an end. Then, as Rosemarie lay in my lap and I stared into her dark blue eyes, I was finally able to feel the same relief I felt upon meeting Anthony. I could finally think the thought that I’d been holding back since that first phone call. The thought that just as I knew he would someday be my husband, I knew that she was meant to be mine and that we were meant to live our lives as mother and daughter.
This time, it was my doubts that faded away only to be replaced by the purest gratitude and truest love.