Adopting Again - Start, Stop, Continue
In 2012, my husband, Russell, and I decided that our lives were in a place to adopt again. Our first adoption in 2006 had gone relatively smooth. Our daughter was thriving. Erin was such an easy child. She rarely cried, was gentle and loving, she was perfect. We thought the time was right to expand our family.
We reached out to our county Children and Family Services department and told them that we were finally ready to begin the adoption process again. The second time around, we only needed to attend one class, submit to a home study and inspection, and fill out the paperwork around what gender we wanted and what risk we would assume. We decided that we would adopt a son this time. Russell’s youngest son was in college. His other children were thriving with their careers and families. My mother was in re
mission from cancer. We sold our house to live with her to provide financial and emotional support. She was fully on-board with the adoption and home inspection.
The stage was set for the next phase of parenting.
We should have had an inkling that this was going to be a different journey when my mother decided, in the middle of our new home study, that she was cured and needed us to leave her home. She did this through a series of moves designed to make our living arrangement more difficult. She kicked me out of a full bathroom. She relegated Russell, Erin, and I to share a shower and powder room. She removed all of my clothes out of a closet, forcing me to share with a five-year-old. The final blow was her violent reaction to me offering to increase the amount of our contribution to the household. I came across a water bill that was double what I expected. I immediately asked my mom if we could increase our contribution by $200. She went ballistic and accused me of invading her privacy. Yep – time to go.
We paused our adoption and went into house hunting phase. Luckily, Russell found us a beautiful home in a quiet neighborhood. We moved in September of 2012 and restarted our adoption journey. It was at this time that we decided to not be gender specific. We decided that God would decide the gender of our child. Yet, we knew that African-American boys were a large population in the foster care system. We believed, with absolute certainty, that our next child would be the desired boy. We completed the formalities of the home study and inspection (which included the purchase of a $3000 pool fence).
We signed the final papers in March of 2013 and waited for the call.
I was returning from a business trip in April when I received the call. I still remember exactly where I was when our social worker called. I was retrieving my bags from the overhead compartment of a Jet Blue plane from Boston, MA.
“It’s a GIRL!”, Michelle told me in an excited voice.
I was stunned. I felt like the mom who was told that she was pregnant with a boy only to discover upon delivery that she had delivered a healthy girl. It was a shock to my mind. Wait – where was the plentiful supply of African-American boys? As my mind began to move through the shock that we were being offered a girl, I asked her for the details. What she told me left me staring out the window of the car in deep contemplation for the next hour.
I will save some of the details because they are private for my daughter to hear directly from her Dad and I when she is ready. Needless to say, unlike our first daughter, this child was not surrendered, she was rescued. Her birth mom had neither the means nor stability to take care of her or the multiple other children born of her body. This mom struggled throughout her life with many challenges. The State intervened before this child even left the hospital.
If this adoption went through – it would be very different from our first one. This time, we needed the 24-hour consideration period to decide if we wanted to hear more about this child.
Surprisingly, when I arrived home, Russell was open to the idea of hearing the details around this child. She was already three months old. She had been placed immediately after birth with a foster mother. We called the social worker and told her that we would be open to the first informational meeting.
Shock and Aww...
The conference room where we met the team of social workers, adoption workers, and case workers was just a drab and gray as the one where we met Erin for the first time. The social workers began to give us information on the baby which included a strange and unpronounceable first name bestowed by her birth mother. They provided black and white pictures of the baby sleeping peacefully.
The pictures were grainy and underwhelming. They were taken by an unsteady hand on a camera phone. I feel like a bad mother by admitting that it was not love at first sight (via pictures). This baby looked like she had already suffered. Her sleeping countenance, in stark black and white, looked strained and gaunt. Her name, a strange, twisted take on the birth father's name was written on top of the page. I struggled to find a connection to the picture and this child.
After we heard the presentation, I asked if there was a chance they had color pictures of the baby. My husband agreed. He was having an equally difficult time bonding to these pictures. The baby’s social worker, left the room to print off color pictures. We continued the conversation, discussing the known birth father (who was “indisposed”) and his relatives. None of them appeared compelled to take on another child from this man. Furthermore, his current wife was pregnant and not interested in taking on a baby. This adoption would be smooth since no one wanted to step up to parent her - or so we thought.
Would we want to be her parents?
The social worker walked in with the color pictures. She handed them to Russell and me.
Russell told them, we’re in. She’s our daughter.
There was something about seeing her in living color. She had a rosy tinge to her cheeks. Her warm caramel skin and short, black, curly hair called to me on some primal level. I wanted to protect her from the world. This is the moment as an adoptive parent that you wait for. I knew in that moment – she was ours.
The county has a prescribed schedule for acclimating a child to their adoptive family. Over the course of three days, the adoptive parents spend time with the child and return them to their foster placement. The first day, you visit with the baby for three to four hours. The next day, you spend the entire day with the child. The final day, you take them home forever. This process is grueling for the adoptive parents but necessary for the child. We decided to meet her the following day.
When we met our second daughter for the first time, she greeted us with a toothless grin. At just three months old, she looked into our eyes and gave us a look that said “I have been waiting for you guys!” It was heaven. The most difficult part was letting her go for the next two days. This period was the most difficult for Erin. She couldn’t understand why the baby couldn’t come home with us. Finally, on the third day, we arrived back at the office to finally take our daughter home for good.
Similar to our first adoption, this foster mom was about 40 minutes late to drop off our daughter. As we waited with anticipation, we shared the name we had chosen for her. The social worker seemed relieved. The original name was hard to pronounce and carried with it a legacy of pain.
This new name, chosen with care, was meant to arm her with the grace and strength of her namesake – Maya Angelou.
As we heard the door open, our daughter was rolled into the room, alert and bright-eyed. She gave us her megawatt smile again. As we lifted her into our arms, we had no idea that the battle for this child would be over more than name. We were clueless into the many conflicts we would fight to ensure that she stepped into her destiny. We had no idea of knowing that our love would be tested and pushed to the limits of sanity and reason.
The fight for Maya had just started.
To be continued…..