Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Whew... also: ALLELUIA!

Relief is sweet, but the joy of motherhood is sweeter. The long, dreadful, wracking, agonizing, uncertain, plodding, itchy wait is over, and adoption is reified. It's no longer the secret we hold close to our vests. I can talk about it now, everywhere, and I do, though I suspect that will slow as it becomes less a recent happening and more a fact of our lives. I feel relieved of my burdens, of the wait, of the disappointments, and I never knew how heavy those were until I laid them down. I'm bursting to tell it from the top of the world, to shout every last one of the alleluias that are elbowing each other for space in my heart.

So, the quick version? There isn't one. I've been more moved by this process than I ever anticipated, and I expected roiling passions of joy, fear, pain, anticipation... and I tried to leave room in my expectations for the unexpected, too. This all started two years ago when Rose and I decided we wanted to have kids. Or, rather, to act on that decision. There were those weird, tentative conversations where we asked each other who wanted to carry the baby, and those odd visits to the sperm donor followed by even more awkward weeks of waiting to see if it had worked. And always the disappointment followed. The crushing, hope-stealing feeling that accompanies the first cramps when I got my period instead of a positive pregnancy test. And the weariness that settles in when a year has gone by and you're still running on that hamster wheel.

Then you suddenly have white lab coats in the middle of your most personal business, people contact you about financing procedures and whether they can fax or e-mail your test results. And some go on like that for some time for good or ill, but Rose and I did not. We might have, but I got some really great advice from my awesome middle sister. With the threat of mitochondrial disease soon to be confirmed in the family tree, she recommended adopting. Rose and I hadn't really considered adoption yet, but from our first conversation, it quickly became center stage in our world.

I racked up heaps of 2 AM bedtimes researching agencies that work with gay couples, international adoption, domestic infant adoption, foster adoption, financing adoption, bonding, and attachment disorder in adoption. I had fun with it, in a harrowing way. It's like trying to pick a college: I knew it was vitally important to pick a good one, but it was all so detached, none of it real or personal yet, and even the mountain of rejections was just water off the duck's back. It was all glossy brochures and slick websites at that point, nothing in it to prick the heart.

By January of this year we had found two agencies to investigate. In April of this year we chose our agency because their financial policies worked best for us. It sounds callous, but so much of what these agencies do is regulated by the state, the chief differences among them are the ratio of placed babies to waiting families and how they manage the money. Hope Cottage is where those glossy brochures started their slow transformation into our baby.

After we chose, we had to be screened. And we were screened like the janitors at CIA headquarters. There were fingerprint cards, and questionnaires. We explained ourselves, our families, our childhoods, adolescences, adulthoods, how we became who we are, how we found each other and become us. We were interviewed separately and together, our home was inspected, we provided photographs and floorplans, immunization records for our dogs, blood tests and Tuberculosis tests, cholesterol measurements... It was as thorough an application process as the Air Force Academy's, and they screened me like a patio door, as I recall. All that took us to early August, and then we were "on the list" and waiting.

I just don't know what to say about the wait, because "it was hard" is the best I can do right now, and it's woefully inadequate. It's something like the dead tedium of sitting in the kitchen in the cold dark, waiting for the coffee to percolate, and screaming at the stove to hurry. Nothing is happening as far as you can tell, but every once in a while, that splash of almost-coffee up into the percolator lid lets you know that soon, good things will arrive. Those little splashes of coffee in the percolator lid came in the form of phone calls from the agency, asking if we wanted to be referred, to have our profile shown to someone looking for parents for their baby. Over the four months, we got two of those calls, and neither of them worked out, but they kept us focused on the percolator for signs of action.

Nearly two weeks ago now, Dec. 10, we got a referral call full of more promise. A hospital referral has always been my preference, and this was one. A baby girl had been born in the wee hours of the day and needed a home. Her birthmother was well and healthy, she was well and healthy, they were going to discharge her from the hospital the next morning and show profiles to the birthmother. Did we want to be shown? Rose was out of town but I didn't even need to call and consult her. This was our perfect situation, and our social worker thought it looked very good for us, something she'd never told us before. Four months of waiting were no competition for the intense anticipation crammed into that one night, wanting so badly to hear the phone ring, dreading that it would fall apart just like the others.

The next morning, I was a zombie with a phone-shaped dent in my cheek, but calm. Rose was pacing her hotel room in Austin like a cranky old lion in a zoo who knows someone is about to chuck a steak over the wall. At 12:30 Saturday, our social worker called to give us the news... we'd been selected, would we like to see photos of the baby? By then, Rose had gotten too impatient to sit alone in her hotel and had checked out and loaded up. I was gripping my heart hard with both hands to keep from throwing it to this child I'd never met. Uncertainty made our path slippy, kept us fearful and guarded, but joy bubbled up at every turn. We still had to wait for the birthmother to relinquish the baby, but we had the promise of pictures, the hope of a meeting with her if the foster mom was available.

Every phone call after that was torture. We checked our e-mail for pictures obsessively, and we'd both spasm in unison whenever the phone rang. The disappointment when it turned out to be anyone other than our agency turned us snappish, but we kept coming back to hope somehow. Another night crammed full of sleeplessness and antsy conversation in the dark and checking our e-mail over, and over, and over again came and went and passed us well into the next day. To help pass the time, my awesome middle sister took me out for some therapeutic baby shopping. Rose and her sister did the same, and Rose's inner gay man, Emmitt, popped up to help them pick out a Christmas outfit for a girl we'd never even met.

Sunday evening around 6 we got word in an e-mail that the birthmother had signed the relinquishment. Unless and until she had signed that, everything was just fluff wrapped around a dream. She could choose to parent the baby and we could go back to the list and back to waiting. But she didn't. And the photos arrived, revealing one beautiful, perfect tiny baby. That was about the time my heart wriggled out of my grip and went flying to her crib.

From there, it was a whirlwind. The only obstacle between us and our daughter was the relinquishment from the birthfather, but he couldn't be found. In one conversation, we'd hear that everything looked good and placement might happen a little early; in another, we'd hear that the birthmother might be obfuscating and that we'd be delayed while the search for him continued. The timeline and the plan were doing fair imitations of Mexican jumping beans, and our hearts with them. I called my awesome baby sister and sobbed out my fear that he'd pop up at the last minute and carry our daughter away from us. And then I put my game face on and went to the agency to meet her for the first time.

It was Monday, three days after she first entered our consciousness, and we were able to arrange a visit. She was soft, and sweet, and snuggly, and sleepy, and she filled our noses with baby smell and our hearts with shaky hope. I fed her, Rose rocked her back to sleep. That hour was one of the best of my life and it went so fast I barely recall it. We took lots of pictures and asked lots of questions. The foster mother cares for infants in just such situations for a couple of agencies in town and she was just amazing. The folks at Hope Cottage call her The Baby Whisperer, and I believe she merits the name.

More phone calls, more meetings with social workers, more jumping the timeline, more palpitations and flat dread on our side, more welling hope, and we had one more visit. This time, Tuesday, we had a match meeting with the birth mother. She was so quiet, but very sweet, and she handled herself well in that gawky, tenuous situation. For the first time in my life I regret that I don't watch horror films, because that was the only thing she talked at any length about, and it was to one of the social workers who shares her appreciation for the genre. After the visit with our birthmother, we had some shared time with our daughter, and then some time with just us. It was devastating to have to walk out of there that day and leave her behind! We knew the only thing remaining was a go-ahead from the lawyer certifying that the birthfather search had been diligent enough and we could proceed without actually locating him.

A whole other kind of terror stalked that night, because with everything going so well in all other aspects of the placement, we were petrified that the birthfather would show up at the last minute and send us back to the list. I know our daughter is better off with us than with someone who didn't want her, but I struggled with conflicting wishes for this man. I wanted him found, on the one hand, so his daughter could speak to him someday, have a photograph, and know who he is. I wanted him to stay lost, on the other hand, because I didn't want him disrupting the placement. I vacillated between the two and dreaded the bad news that might come until our social worker called us at 5:30 PM.

And then the "Whew" feeling set in, because the lawyer had approved the diligence of the search, and our baby girl would be coming home with us the next morning. Everyone advised us to get "the last good night's sleep you'll get for a while" but we spent the sane hours of the evening mailing, phoning, texting, and Facebooking our news. No sleep was there to be found in our house that night. All the anxious days, the spasms over phones ringing and calls missed, the dead hours with no news were coming to an end, and motherhood was about to begin. That's where the "Alleluias" start.


Scrumhalf Connection said...

OMG, this is the cutest writeup I have ever read. Thank you so much for sharing and I can't wait to meet the little angel.

Wendy and Traci

Leslie Clay said...

What a wonderful post. I laughed (Rose pacing like a lion waiting for a steak to be chucked over the fence). I cried (gripping your heart trying not to throw it to this child you had never met). Hope Cottage is so glad to have been part of the process and I look forward to reading more about life with Miss Zoe. Good luck on your training - children do have a way of taking time away from previous pursuits, but it is all good!

Thalassa said...

Thanks, Leslie! I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Christina said...

That's an amazing story. Congrats to you both. :)

Thalassa said...

Thanks, Christina! It was a very emotional experience!

It Is What It Is said...

I know this old news and I am late to the party, but I was riveted by your telling of a riveting story.

Congratulations on your now 6 month old daughter.

Thalassa said...

Thanks! It has been quite a change, getting used to her. I'm trying now to get back to writing again...