On May 3, I was stuck eating crab cake sliders at a bar in Newark Airport en route home from a work trip when I got a call from my husband, Chris. Our adoption agency had emailed saying that a fourth birth mom had chosen us, and had I seen the email?
When we started our adoption journey in October of last year, I knew the road would be long, but I wasn’t prepared for the roller coaster of emotions that we’d face every time a birth mother would choose us, only to change her mind. Even though it wasn’t personal, I couldn’t help but take every rejection as an attack on what they thought I’d be like as a parent.
So when we got contacted by our fourth birth mom, reason would tell me that I should be weary – that we had been chosen before, and just like the others, it wouldn’t work out. But when Chris called me that night, and when I read the email saying that a woman in Kentucky was pregnant with a baby girl and due in three weeks, I knew in my heart that this was our baby. I immediately called my mom, and she said she felt the exact same way.
That week, Chris and I drove down to Kentucky to take the birth mom, “C”, and birth dad, “D”, out to dinner. They wanted an open adoption, and wanted to ensure that they could not only see us as the baby’s parents, but as an extension of their own family. “C” gave us a sonogram that night. The baby already felt like ours.
After that dinner, Chris drove up to Columbus to gather stuff from family and friends – stroller, car seat, bath tub, bottles, bassinet, boppy, and a ton of clothes; anything we’d need for the first few weeks of life – and the next morning I flew back to Chicago so I could be at work that day.
On my way into work on the train from the airport, “C” called me.
“We thought about it overnight, and we want you to be the baby’s mom and dad.”
It is the single greatest honor for a mother to say to another woman, “I want YOU to raise this child.” I can’t say much about that phone call or that day because it was probably the single greatest moment of my life up until that point and words can’t actually describe it. In fact, about an hour after I got to the office, I had to go home – I was just walking on air, and couldn’t comprehend what was happening.
The next three weeks passed in a blur. We let ourselves get excited and ready, but still protected our heart. At that point, anything could happen. While we had collected a bunch of stuff for the hospital and the first few weeks after we brought her home, we didn’t allow ourselves to decorate a nursery, for example. We needed to keep our hearts open, but protected.
A few days before the due date, we drove down to Kentucky to wait. It was a blessing that we had great friends who lived nearby – we could stay at their house while we waited, and have a comforting ear to listen and absorb our anxieties. We didn’t know that the bed on which we slept in their basement would be the last good night sleep for several weeks (and let’s face, months/years).
On May 23, “C” asked if I wanted to accompany her to a Dr. appointment, and after, we could have lunch with her and “D”. Halfway through the lunch, “C” started to feel some pain. That morning, the Dr. said she was still awhile from giving birth, but out of an abundance of caution, we drove her to the hospital she was registered to give birth in, just to make sure there was nothing wrong with her or the baby.
Shortly after we got there, the Dr. on duty said that the baby was not ready to meet the world just yet, but that they were going to keep “C” for a few more hours for observation. A few hours after that, the Drs. made the decision to officially check “C” in – it would be awhile before baby, but they figured they would just keep her there until that time.
By that point, Chris and I didn’t want to leave “C’s” side – and she felt the same, begging us to stay so that I could be there in the delivery room. It was so important to her that I would be there, and able to bond with the baby immediately. As is typical for adoptive parents, the hospital got us a room down the hall from the maternity ward, and we went to sleep. “C’ was still only a few centimeters dilated, so we knew we would get some shut eye. Still, we stayed up late and talked and dreamed about our life with baby girl.
Around 5 a.m. the next morning, May 24, we were jolted awake by a call from the nurse – “C” was fully dilated, and they were laboring down. I had no idea what that meant – I basically blacked out at that point, but I’m pretty sure I had to Google it – but we got our stuff together and headed down to the delivery room.
I’ll spare the details of the following hours – in a nutshell, we were very quiet, and we waited, and we waited, and we waited. I was still with “C” in the delivery room, and would be there until the baby was born. We made small talk, but mostly, our nerves silenced us both.
At around 8:45 a.m., everything began. The contractions close together, the racing of the heart, the understanding that any minute from then, our lives would change forever. And at 9:48 a.m., they did. Our girl, our daughter, was here. She screamed her way into this world, and I was the first person, other than the L&D doctor, to see her. While I never got to experience the miracle of giving birth, I got to experience the miracle of seeing our daughter being born. I couldn’t breathe. I just sobbed, uncontrollably. It was the happiest I had ever, and will ever, be.
While “C” had asked that I be in the delivery room alone while Chris waited outside, she quickly changed her mind after the baby was born and asked me to bring him in to help “D” cut the umbilical cord. It was a moment Chris will never forget.
The next 30 minutes were a blur. “C” was adamant that I be the one to experience all the firsts – the first snuggle, first diaper, first bottle. It was the greatest gift she could have given me, other than the baby herself. She knew it already, but I whispered, “Baby girl, I’m your mama.” And I was. She was mine. I was hers.
And she knew.
The story I can’t share is the horror that was the next 48 hours as we waited for the birth parents to sign the paperwork for temporary custody. “C” had not anticipated growing attached, especially as she had me next to her every step of the way, but as the drugs wore off and the hormones kicked in, everything changed. While a few people closest to us know the full story of what happened those two days, today – the day we finalize her adoption – it seems to matter no longer. She’s ours. She always was.
And I always have to remember that no matter how bad those two days were for us, and they were our literal hell, I can’t imagine being the birth mom and facing the decision she was facing during that time. I just can’t imagine it.
When you adopt a baby in another state, you can’t leave that state until your paperwork has cleared both the birth state, and your own. A process that can take three days, or two weeks. And so when we left the hospital with our temporary custody granted, we headed to a tiny hotel room in Northern Kentucky that would be our bunker for the next week and a half. While our families came to meet Lily, it was mostly just the three of us going through the motions of a newborn’s early days – bottle, diaper, sleep, repeat. Over and over and over for days on end, in a small room with nothing but a microwave and a TV.
But what’s funny is that as isolated as we felt at times, that week and a half in a small hotel in Northern Kentucky was one of the most precious times for our little family. It was the three of us against the world. We were learning her, learning how to be parents, learning how to function without sleep. We wore the same thing every day, and lived on Kind Bars and Easy Mac. I hold those early memories so close to me. Nothing has been as easy since.
We got the all clear about 10 days after she was born, and, along with my sweet mom, made the drive back to Chicago as a family of three. To where our life would really begin.
And, you all now know most of the rest of the story. I think one of the reasons I share so much on social media is because I think, maybe deep down, I’m trying to make her more real. Prove to her, and everyone, that she’s ours.
But the reality is, she was ours the minute we got the call from our agency that we had been selected. She was ours the minute we met “C” and “D” for dinner that one evening. She was ours the minute I had her in my arms, and Chris in his, and whispered, “Baby girl, I’m your mama.” She was ours the minute the social worker walked into the Bob Evans as we waited for the birth parents to sign the paper work, and she told us they had. She was ours the minute we brought her home.
And, we’re still learning. I’m far from being a good mom, and she’s far from the easiest baby. Three weeks is not enough time to learn everything you need to learn to be a mom – though, one could argue, neither is nine months – so the adjustment has been difficult. There are days when I still feel like we’re coming out of the fog; that I’m still not used to the drastic turn our lives took overnight. Adoption aside, the past six months have been some of the hardest of our lives, but alternately, the most rewarding. My heart has expanded in size a million times over, and it grows every day.
Still: I’m not doing great, but I’ll be ok.
And today is a day of mixed emotions, really. While today is the day she officially became a Garbe, today is also a day of loss for Lily in the grand story of her life. It’s the day she’ll always have to come to terms with as she grows older and understands what it means to be adopted.
But the other part of her story is one of unconditional love, from both her birth parents, who selflessly placed her in our care, and from us. We are her parents, but then again, we always have been. And always will be.
She’s ours. She’s ours. She’s ours.
And she always was.