It’s almost Teddy’s first birthday. We’re planning a small-but-sweet party with a kiddie pool and a cake covered in flowers. I am quite certain that at least twice on that day I will weep with joy and gratitude.
Often, we don’t know how heavy a weight we are carrying until it’s lifted. I’ve been thinking a lot about how difficult the B.T. period was – by B.T., I mean Before Teddy, and specifically the nearly three years between when we attended our first adoption information meeting in September 2013, and the day Teddy came home in July 2016. That was almost three years of heartache, excitement, tears, hope, despair, and woes. It was extremely difficult and totally worth it. And I think I am just beginning to understand the complexity of that experience.
The Adoption Wait Logistics
We attended an information meeting with the adoption agency in September 2013. A few weeks after that, we started gathering paperwork to submit and completing tasks (physicals, fingerprinting) so that the home study process could be initiated. We then completed a home study (lots of paperwork, family interviews with a social worker, many really personal and borderline offensive questions from agency reps), which took several months. We made an adoptive parent album – a Shutterfly book telling birthmothers who we were so that they could consider us as adoptive parents for their child. We were officially approved and on the wait list by April 2014.
Then, while we were waiting, we’d be periodically contacted by the adoption agency when there was a birthmother who would be looking at our book. (We weren’t always contacted; sometimes our book was shown without our knowing.)
The first call was in August 2014. The last call was in June 2016.
Each time we were contacted by the agency, no matter how hard I tried not to, I got swept away in a whirlwind of hope and fear and fantasy. I’d get a strong sense of purpose – I’d start taking care of myself better, trying to get a good night’s sleep and making sure I was exercising, so I’d be feeling healthy and strong whenever the answer, yes or no, was delivered. I was preparing myself for motherhood and bracing myself for disappointment. But during these times, I was usually filled with optimism and hope that This Baby would be Our Baby.
Only to be crushed when I found out that the baby we were waiting to hear about was, once again, not Our Baby.
Holidays & Fantasies
We spent approximately two years on the Waiting Adoptive Family List – two years waiting for Teddy. That was two Christmases, two Thanksgivings, two birthdays. Much as I tried to live in the moment and enjoy our time without kids, my mind, body, heart, and soul were all ready for motherhood. And I wasn’t a mother.
That pretty much sucked.
One of the worst moments was Christmas Eve 2014. We’d gotten an e-mail about a baby girl who was in the hospital and would be ready for placement soon; this was a week or two before Christmas.
I mean – come on. With my rich imagination and propensity for fantasy, you can predict what happened next. I spent two weeks living out a Lifetime movie in my head. Our Baby would come home ON CHRISTMAS DAY. Wrapped in blankets with a bow on its head. The Facebook post was practically writing itself in my head. The joy of that imagined Christmas day was almost tangible.
Of course, that’s not what happened. I spent Christmas Day 2014 in a bit of a depression because we found out (sort of) on Christmas Eve that This Baby was not Our Baby. Fantasy crushed. Holiday spoiled.
I spent the 2016 holiday season with Teddy in my arms, experiencing flashes of gratitude that this holiday season was one of warmth and celebration and not just another string of events to survive. How horrible those days would have been if Teddy hadn’t come home yet. The anguish of being a mother without a child, and the self-esteem hit I’d take every time we weren’t chosen to be a parent to a child who needed a family – I was so grateful that those experiences were behind me.
One of the silliest and sweetest moments of the 2016 holiday season was during our Thanksgiving trip to Vegas. (EVERY BABY SHOULD SPEND THEIR FIRST THANKSGIVING IN VEGAS. It’s a thing.) As per usual, my family spent a chunk of the day re-watching all the Thanksgiving episodes of FRIENDS – the one with Brad Pitt, the one where they play football, the one where all the potatoes are ruined. My family loves FRIENDS. It’s not Thanksgiving without someone adding “YAMS!” or “potatoes are ruined, potatoes are ruined, potatoes are ruined” or “these are my Thanksgiving pants” into the discourse.
So we were all half-watching, and trying to make Teddy smile, and chit-chatting, when I realized we were halfway through the episode when Phoebe, Rachel, Ross, and Joey are all late to Thanksgiving. And Monica and Chandler are angry with them. And it’s all hysterical. I’ve watched FRIENDS so many times that I usually start laughing nonsensically about ten seconds before a funny line is said.
While we were sitting there, about ten seconds before it happened, I suddenly realized that the phone in Monica and Chandler’s apartment is about to ring. It’s going to be the adoption agency telling them that they’re getting a baby.
I gasped a little, remembering and thinking to myself that I was not emotionally prepared for what was coming. I think my sister realized it at the same moment. Then Monica hangs up the phone and cries out, “We’re getting a baby!”
WATERWORKS. Tears streaming down my face as I cuddled Teddy to me and Tee and he looked at us with wide and smiling eyes. I hope I never forget the ridiculous silliness and joy of that moment.
The Adoption Wait & Grief
Throughout the two years of waiting, I frequently found myself comparing the adoption wait to the first year after my dad died.
They were very different experiences. One was dealing with a hole that had been left. The other was about a hole I worried would never be filled. They weren’t the same experience – not even close. But there was at least one common factor: my answer to the question “How are you?” during this time period. Because the answer was often “fine ” but never quite”good.”
I was confused when my brain started making connections between these experiences. The adoption wait is not the death of a parent. However, I think there was crossover in the fact that each experience involved a dull ache that was only understandable to others who were going through it. For several years, I always always always had an undercurrent of sadness involved in everything I did. And while my experience of grief is that it gets microscopically, incrementally easier with each passing day – my experience of the adoption wait was that it grew harder and harder the longer we waited.
No advice made it any better – it couldn’t, really. Sometimes it helped to talk with other Parents-In-Waiting. Sometimes it helped when others expressed faith that it would all work out – because my faith was running on empty. Sometimes it helped when people graciously ignored the tears that sometimes streamed down my cheeks involuntarily when someone asked how I was doing.
I’m profoundly grateful to all the souls who allowed me to just be during the wait. The ones who let me be sad, be hopeful, be angry, be irrational, be depressed. The people who reassured me that my dream would come true. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Spirituality & The Wait
I have a complicated relationship with religion and spirituality. I believe that a higher power works in my life, guiding me, and helping me to know the next right thing to do. But I don’t call that higher power God. And I don’t subscribe to any organized religion and likely never will.
However, when shit hits the fan, I pray. And I don’t worry about who I’m praying to – my dad, my nana, God, the universe, the gracious and loving force that I believe guides my every step – doesn’t matter who, I just pray my ass off.
And when I pray, I aspire to pray only for knowledge of what the universe wants and the power to carry that out.
But that’s not how the prayers usually end up coming out.
During the wait, I tried my best to pray “the right way.” Tee and I would hold hands before dinner, knowing there was a baby out there whose biological mom was deciding what family to pick, and we’d pray out loud, “Please help this baby to be happy, healthy, and to find its family.” That was the Out Loud Prayer.
But inside, I begged the universe, each time, for This Baby to be Our Baby. THIS ONE. THIS BABY. Not the next one. I’d waited too long, and I longed to be a mother way too much to wait any longer.
While waiting for Teddy, I prayed at least a dozen times for babies to come home to me and Tee who were not Teddy.
Let me repeat that: I prayed at least a dozen times for my child to be some other kid who was not Teddy.
How insane is that?!
I prayed. And my prayers were not answered – not the way I asked for them to be answered. Those babies did not come home to us. The wait went on. There were at least a dozen unanswered prayers, each of them breaking my heart just a little bit. And I got angry and frustrated and I started to think that my dream of being a mom would never come true.
This is the center of my reckoning. This is the lesson of my life. This is why I cry with gratitude when I listen to Unanswered Prayers, a country song I’ve loved since college. We don’t know what’s best for us. We don’t really know what we want or need when we pray. I try, when I pray, to just pray for guidance to do the next right thing, but I fail to do this almost every time. I have a plan, and I pray to the universe, asking for my plan to come true. And then I look at Teddy, my ever-present reminder that sometimes what we pray for is not what we need or what we want or what is meant to be. And I try to remember to trust the timing of my life.
Writing & The Weight
The wait. The weight. The heaviness of those three years of being an Adoptive-Parent-In-Waiting has been lifted, and Our Baby is home. I am bursting with gratitude and joy.
I started this blog in March 2015. At that point, we’d been officially waiting for Our Baby for about a year, and I needed an outlet – a safe space to write and to explore my feelings. The blog saved me a little every day. Writing saved me a little every day. Writing about the stupid things people said that made me cry. Writing about how bad I felt about myself every time we weren’t picked to be parents. Writing about how I worried it would simple never happen. It helped me, to verbalize my difficulties and to share them in writing.
However – there is something that worried me.
I have worried that writing about my experience might discourage someone from adopting. And that’s the last thing I’d ever want. The wait was incredibly hard, but also, adopting Teddy is one of the best things that I’ve ever done.
I stopped worrying when I thought hard about my own journey.
The story of me becoming an adoptive parent actually started a long, long time ago. I was a kid the first time I learned that there were kids who didn’t have parents. (I assume the movie Annie was involved.) And I decided that when I was a grown-up, I wanted to adopt. I have always, always wanted to adopt a child. For as long as I can remember.
But then – I was a grown-up. And Tee and I considered our options. And I knew, from my professional work, from my personal experiences, from my self-knowledge, that being an Adoptive-Parent-In-Waiting was going to be excruciating for me, because:
a) I hate waiting. For anything. I never once ate a Belgian waffle in my university’s dining hall. Because the line was TOO DAMN LONG, I was hungry, and I wanted to eat now.
b) I am extremely insecure and I think everything is all about me. I knew I would take it personally every time we were not chosen to be parents.
What saved me from myself was Tee. She wanted to adopt. And I did, too – adoption felt so right to me, more so than pregnancy, surrogacy, or any of the other ways to start a family. But I was so scared of the wait. Luckily, the universe was looking out for me. Because there was really only one thing that could keep me on the path that was meant to be – Tee wanted to adopt. She was brave, and she helped me to be brave, too. She helped me to realize that adopting was what I wanted to do, and she reminded me that we can do hard things.
The thing is – if you’re like me, and you feel called to be an adoptive parent – then you’re going to do it.
Nothing’s going to discourage you. No one’s going to scare you away. If I learned only one thing from this wait, it’s that there are mysterious forces at work, always, that are helping us to stay on our path – to follow the flow – to come home to ourselves.
If your hope and dream is to adopt a child, do it. Message me so I can tell you every amazing reason why you should.
I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while. I couldn’t until now.
And it’s still not perfect. I’ve read and re-read my own words, thinking, “No, this isn’t right. This isn’t showing how utterly joyful I am. My point is ambiguous. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Maybe it doesn’t. But the wait has given me a lot of gifts. One of them is the realization that sharing my words helps me. Even if they’re not proofread. Even if they’re not perfect. There is no perfect.
One of the other gifts of the wait is my faith. I now have an ever-present reminder that things happen the way they’re meant to happen, and that the universe’s plan is often way, way better than the plan crafted in my head.
The biggest gift of all is Teddy himself. I haven’t written that much yet about my quirky, silly, giggly, skeptical little boy. I’m sure I will write about him more as he grows. This is only the beginning. More will be revealed.