Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Our adoption journey

Because I've never actually put it all in one place before...I think it's about time...

Andy and I were high school...friends. Not sweethearts by any measure. We had a large group of friends (the band nerds) who hung out together and we just enjoyed that. We laughed, we did stupid things...we had fun. High school ended, college started, and even though we both lost touch with most of our other friends, I never could write Andy off. He was the nicest guy I had ever met, and no matter how bad he was at returning phone calls (and still is) I really liked having him in my life. Anyway, after being good friends for six years, we suddenly looked at each other and thought, “Wait a minute!” and were married six months later. We should seriously have a romantic comedy based on our story.

One thing I knew about Andy going into our relationship was that he couldn't have kids. He had battled leukemia in his teens and the radiation had left him unable to father children. This was the only thing his family saw him cry about in the four years of treatment for his cancer. They told him when he was 15. Even then, at that young age, he had a strong desire to be a dad and he was heartbroken thinking it might not happen. It would take him a few years to realize adoption would still give him a deep, loving bond with his children.

I, on the other hand, had been raised with adoption as a way of life. My dad is adopted and my oldest sister adopted three kids, so it was a “normal” thing for me. I fully intended to adopt kids if I could; I felt it was a path I was meant to tread. By the time we were married, Andy's mourning was over and we were able to embrace adoption together. I remember being so excited and nervous about it; Andy was mostly nervous. It was a roller coaster ride, but we held on to each other and  screamed when we needed to. We had two long years of waiting for our first child, Nate. Those years taught us patience and trust in God, things we continue to work on today.

Nate came out of the blue. I had signed us up for an adoption profile site—one of the first ones to be in existence as far as I know—and I got an email one night about an agency looking for parents for three babies. I responded, saying we would be interested. I didn't think anything would come of it. That was a Wednesday night. Thursday morning, our profile was forwarded to the agency. Friday morning, I was on the phone with the agency director and we were told a baby boy, three months old, was waiting for a family in our own little town. Were we interested? Um...yeah! We met our Nate for the first time the next day (nine years ago on Saturday!) It took two weeks to get the red tape out of the way; he came home Valentine's Day weekend. We were, and still are, head over heals in love with this gorgeous, happy baby boy. Andy would hold him on his chest and cry over him, “My son...my son...my son.” He was a dad at last, and it was everything he had dreamed.

A semi-open adoption (pictures, letters, phone calls, but no identifying information) was pretty progressive back then and that's what Nate's birthmom asked for, so that's what we agreed to. I remember writing her our first letter when Nate was six months old: “Hello, we are the family who adopted your son,” was how we started our relationship with his brave Mama, Mama L.

In the ensuing years, I watched my dad search for and find his biological family. I was so thrilled for him when he finally found his older sister. Andy and I promised each other we would do all we could to keep another sibling group from experiencing the loss and sorrow of being separated by adoption; so, when it came time to start the adoption process again, we signed up for a foster/adopt program and hoped for a sibling group. It only took four months. And it was nothing like we were expecting.

It was another email.

“L is here at the agency. She is due next week and asked if you could adopt the baby. Are you interested?” Um...yeah! We had ten days to prepair for a baby instead of the older sibling group we had been expecting. One of the agency case workers told us it was a boy.  When we got to the agency, we were told that not only was Mama L having a girl (oops!), but she wanted us to meet Nate's brother. A brother?! We had no idea.

Two days later, we met Elizabeth Hazel (Elizabeth for my sister and Hazel for my dad's birthmom) for the first time. She was just 24 hours old, with enormous brown eyes that met mine as soon as I spoke her name. “Look how she already responds to you!” Mama L said joyfully.

That day, we also met A, who was five at the time. A and Nate were immediately best friends, from the moment they laid eyes on each other. All the parents in the room (adoptive and birth) shed a tear of gratitude that we were able to bring the three of them together: Best buddy brothers and precious baby sister.

Our relationship with A and his family has grown and blossomed over the years. Adoption brought us together to make a new family, and we love them so much! L now gets pictures with all three of them together, grinning just the same smile. A's mom is like a sister to me and we call and email often. Andy and I kept our promise: A group of siblings has been kept from the sorrow of wondering where their siblings were, we insured that bond was safe.

I think the lessons we've learned from adoption are 1.) Life doesn't turn out the way you plan. Sometimes, it turns out much, much better! 2.) The promises made in adoption are sacred, and you're held responsible for them. We promised to save a sibling bond, and we were given that opportunity. We don't think that was a coincidence. But, then again, we don't think anything in adoption is a coincidence.

I cannot lie, the adoption process has much to be desired. But, adoption itself can be wonderful and joyous for everyone involved; it is also heartbreakingly hard for everyone involved. But, the hard times make individuals, couples and families stronger if we let them.
Nate is now nine and Lizzie is five. There is no doubt in our minds that they were meant to be together. To hear them laughing as they play in the backyard with the dogs or climb all over their dad is the most beautiful sound I've ever heard. No, our adoption journey didn't take us where we expected! It took us where we were supposed to be. 

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