My husband Kevin and I got pregnant with our son Josh in 2006. We had no trouble conceiving and the pregnancy went pretty smoothly until right about 29 weeks. My hands, feet and face swelled over Memorial Day weekend 2007 and when I went to my usual midwife for a Monday appointment, my blood pressure was soaring and my kidneys were starting to suffer. I was admitted to the hospital, put on total bedrest and told I would be staying for at least five weeks. Five days later, our son was born via emergency C-section because my blood pressure was just getting worse and blood vessels in the placenta were starting to burst. Our boy weighed 2 pounds, 10 ounces, but he was a fighter and managed to be taken off the ventilator within 12 hours.
Josh spent the first 2 months of his life in the neonatal intensive care unit, growing, developing, and basically doing what he should have been doing inside my uterus for the third trimester. We started a blog to post photos and progress to all our family members and friends. He came home near his due date, and for the first year of his life, we were extremely careful to keep him away from sick people or little kids. I stayed home with him all the time, and it was very isolating. By the time he was two, most of this had faded in our memories, and we started talking seriously about having a second baby. I had been exercising a lot, and I thought that if I was in better shape, we wouldn't go through a similar experience with life-threatening blood pressure in a second pregnancy. So we tried for about three months. And every time my period arrived, I felt sad but also relieved. Finally, I sat down with Kevin and said, "I don't think I can handle being pregnant again. We have Josh now; if I have to go on bedrest earlier or I miscarry, I don't think I can get through it. Not with a toddler. The stakes are different now."
I suggested we take some friends to dinner and discuss adoption. They had a son who was Josh's age that they adopted privately, and they had had a wonderful experience. We knew they were preparing to adopt again, and we didn't have a clue where to begin. We had dinner and dessert with them right away and talked for almost four hours. They had wonderful advice and were very forthcoming with answers to every question, including ones about our fears of feeling differently about an adopted child compared to how we felt about our son Josh. We decided to go on our planned vacation and start the process when we returned a week later. We sent out a little email to a lot of our friends to tell them we were thinking of adopting.
As fate would have it, we got back and heard from some other friends that had just moved to Florida with their baby boy. Like me, the wife of the couple had had some complications with pregnancy and didn't want to do it again. They were pursuing an adoption of a Native American child because her husband is Native American and that made them eligible. They had read our email about wanting to adopt and welcoming any information about how to start the process, and this couple had some very useful info! They told us to call an office in our state capital about the background checks we would need, and that we could obtain numbers for adoption lawyers and agencies from there. Sure enough, we found a great adoption lawyer this way, who in turn, helped us find our agency here in New Mexico. And this same lawyer is the one who emailed us the information on our daughter's birthmother only two months after we submitted our application.
That application was crazy! It was 88 pages long, and by the time we had put in our answers, our completed packet was 110 pages long. We had to submit financial records, tax returns, exhaustive medical histories, the vaccination records for our dogs..... you name it, we had to submit it. Then there was a home visit by our agency's social worker to make sure our home was fit for children. Then the fingerprinting, the criminal background checks, the references. Getting this application done thoroughly and quickly became my new full-time job! When we were cleared by the agency to start receiving referrals, we prepared an elaborate profile of ourselves, full of information on our family life and many, many photos of us with Josh and our pets. It was in essence a marketing tool. And we discussed with our accountant how we were going to pay for all of this plus any other costs that might come with it, like hospital bills if the baby had issues or living expenses for the birthmother.
We were amazed when after only three months and a few referrals, a birthmother chose us. We had received her information first and were very excited--she was in her early 30s, in good health, had not taken drugs or smoked cigarettes or used alcohol during the pregnancy, and had a pretty uneventful medical history. We mailed the profile packet off to her adoption agency right away, and in less than a week, we got the call that she had chosen us. More information came, including pictures of her two other children and her parents. She was due December 5, 2009; this call came November 3. I was taking classes part time and Kevin was working a lot. Josh had started attending daycare two days per week. We had a month to get ready, get our schedules rearranged, and figure out how to get round-the-clock care for Josh for at least a week. We could hardly believe what was happening!
Our birthmother's story was really touching. She was a single mom from Puerto Rico, raising a teenager that was born when she was still in high school, and a little girl from a later relationship. She was on disability for a partial paralysis she has had for her entire life, due to some birth trauma she suffered when her mom birthed her. She was keeping the pregnancy a secret from her children by living in Philadelphia with a cousin or family friend, and her children were with her parents back in Puerto Rico. She was missing them terribly, but she didn't want them to know what had happened, and she was also not telling the birthfather or identifying him to anyone. Her only friend was a counselor at her adoption agency in Philadelphia who could converse with her in Spanish and try to help her with the emotional issues of her situation. Yet this incredible woman reached out to us and asked if I would be present in the delivery room and if we'd both come to Philadelphia for Laura's birth. We were in awe of her.
Laura didn't arrive on December 5 like we thought she would so we got on a plane on December 6 and decided we'd go wait it out in Philly. My mom stayed with Josh at home in New Mexico. We booked a suite at a hotel and waited for the call. Two days passed; we saw movies, visited museums, went shopping, and looked for a special gift for our birthmother. Then we were playing cards in our hotel room after dinner on December 9 and the phone rang telling us that she had been laboring all day and was getting close. We grabbed a cab and headed to Temple Hospital. The whole situation felt unreal; the cab ride was endless. We told the cabbie why we were headed there; he gave us his card with his number and said call if we needed a ride home and wished us luck. (I saved that card for Laura's baby book).
We rushed up to Labor and Delivery, and we were told that our birthmother was being prepped to go for an emergency c-section because the baby was starting to show signs of distress. We couldn't be in the room. We sat. We waited, gripping each other's hand tightly. The L & D nurses at the waiting room desk watched us but didn't say anything. And then their desk phone rang, and one of them answered and listened and then smiled and told us that our daughter was born and that mother and baby were OK. We waited a few more minutes before we were invited back to hold our daughter for the first time.
She was just in a blanket and hat, rosy pink but just wiped off. No bath yet, no diaper. She was quiet and looking around. We held her and talked to her and marveled at her dark eyes and fuzzy hair. We knew the name we had chosen was the right one. She would be Laura, named after my grandmother, who was also dark-eyed with dark hair. After a bit, the nurses took her back to the nursery, and we wanted to see our birthmother, but she was exhausted and in pain, and it was not the right time. We said we'd come back the next day. We returned to our hotel, too giddy for words, and we celebrated with desserts and a bottle of sparkling wine in the hotel bar. We told all the wait staff why we were celebrating, and they were really happy for us.
The next day, we visited Laura and our birthmother in a hospital room. We got to hold Laura and give her a bottle. We finally introduced ourselves to our birthmother and talked with her a little in Spanish. It was mostly small talk, and the birthcounselor who had befriended her was there to help translate. We only stayed about 30 minutes.
We returned the following day and were instructed beforehand to bring the car seat and go to the nursery. We were flabbergasted; would we be able to have her with us this soon? It turns out that the agency was shorthanded on foster parents that care for surrendered babies ready for discharge, and that we were allowed to take her back to the hotel with us and wait for legal paperwork to clear before returning home to New Mexico. Our birthmother arrived at the nursery after a short while. She seemed tired but resolved. She spoke with us briefly, then held Laura for a moment or two and gave her a kiss before giving her back to the nurse. We gave her a gift--a gold necklace with a jade pendant, symbolizing unconditional love--and she thanked us and hugged us. Then she left. She was so stoic, so strong. I cried and cried throughout the whole thing, overwhelmed by her graciousness and strength and love for the baby that was going home with us that day. The nurse asked why I was so sad, and I tried to tell her that I wasn't sad but just completely blown away by what this woman had done for this baby and for us. The nurse just nodded and helped us bundle her up for the ride home.
We waited. And waited. We visited the Philadelphia adoption agency after our birthmother had signed her half of the papers, and we signed more. We visited a local pediatrician for a newborn check-up and a note that authorized us to fly with such a young baby. We rode the trains, walked the underground shops, and hung out in our hotel suite with our new baby. Most days it was too cold to be outside for more than a minute or two. We showed her to the bartenders at the hotel, the store clerks at Whole Foods, and the transit cops at the subway. All of them were charmed by her little baby face. We posted photos of her on our blog to update family and friends, and we did video chats over our computer with Josh and Grammy back home. We began to worry that we were not going to make it home for Christmas with Josh, especially since a major snowstorm was being predicted for the Northeast. Finally we got the OK. We changed our plane tickets, packed everything, and lugged all our stuff and new baby to the train station at 4:30 in the morning. We rode the train to the airport watching the snow get heavier and heavier. We waited on our plane for it to be de-iced twice before they cleared us for takeoff. And somehow we got out of Philadelphia about an hour before the entire Northeast was blanketed with 20 inches of snow, four days before Christmas. Little Laura slept snuggled against my chest all the way, waking only briefly for feedings and diaper changes.
When we got to our house, our little Josh had a blanket and a balloon for his new baby sister. Grandma, Grandpa, Grammy, Uncle Bill and Aunt Heather were on hand to meet her. Josh was glad to see us and curious about Laura. The dogs sniffed her endlessly. Our Christmas a few days later was quiet and very special.
Our girl is now approaching three years old. She and her brother play together often but bicker and are jealous of each other like any siblings. We have storybooks that discuss adoption, and Josh will tell you that his sister grew in another lady's belly but then came to be part of our family and that families are made in lots of different ways. Laura is not quite old enough to know what adoption means, but we talk about it and celebrate Adoption Day every July 27. July 27, 2010, is when we conducted a videoconference at a local Fed Ex-Kinko's with a court back East to finalize all the legal aspects. Each kid gets a gift and we have a cake, and Josh says that it's the day we celebrate that he and Laura get to be brother and sister for forever.
Every year around her birthday, I gather together a collection of photos from the previous months and write an update on her development and our life with her. I mail these things to the adoption agency in Philadelphia and ask them to save them for her birthmother in case she wishes to know about how Laura is doing. Our birthmother does not want contact with us; she obviously went to great lengths to conceal her pregnancy from her other children for a reason. We hope she changes her mind later on. When Laura is older, if she wishes to find and contact her birthmother, we will help her. We would also like at some point to visit Puerto Rice and see where her birthmother grew up and lived. We don't ever want Laura to feel that her birthfamily is something to be ashamed of or hidden. We pasted the photos of her half-siblings and birthgrandparents in her baby book alongside her adopted family tree.
Every so often, my husband and I will watch our kids together and exchange a glance that means, "How did we ever get so lucky?" Our original fears about having different feelings for Laura than we have for Josh were completely unfounded. She is our daughter in every way. She is smart, funny, beautiful, feisty, and challenging. She makes our hearts sing and our heads hurt! Our family is so much more than we could have possibly imagined, and in a strange way, even our difficult experience with Josh feels like a blessing now. If we hadn't had a preemie, we never would have considered adopting. They each have their own special birth story, and we have our own special family history that just keeps getting better and better.