Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Oh February, You Were Such a Difficult Month

I have not written or spoken much about our February because I am just now in a place to do so. I write about this experience because it is now part of who we are as a family. It is part of our story.

Normally, February is all about Maggie's birthday, Valentine's Day (one of our two anniversaries), and the beautiful memory of Maggie's adoption. Not this year. In 2011, we were looking at adopting our second child from a birthmother in Louisiana.

We were expecting the birth of our son on February 7th, so with all the excitement that soon-to-be parents have, we went out and bought everything we would need for a new baby. The nursery was fully decorated, the baby's name on the wall, and we were packed and ready to go.

At the request of our birthmother, we headed to Louisiana a week before the c-section date to keep her company and to help her around the house. It was the least we could do since this woman was about to make our dreams come true with a second baby. We had been matched with our birthmother for 4 months, and we had visited her over this past Thanksgiving.

So off we went in our car jam-packed with all our belongings and all the stuff a new baby would need. We had a lot of stuff because we didn't know how long we would be holed up in a hotel room before the adoption powers that be would give us permission to take the baby home.

Maggie, our 6 year old daughter, was with us and she was so excited to be adding a baby brother or sister to our family. We tried our best to explain to her that we didn't know for sure yet that the adoption was going to happen (all the while we were so excited because we felt so certain that this adoption would happen because the birthmother was so committed to the adoption plan).

We finally reached the evening before the baby was to be born. We had dinner with our birthmother and her boyfriend who was not the birthfather, and everyone was feeling a mixture of excitement and nervousness about the next morning. The birthmother was afraid because she was having a c-section, but she was also excited to have her pregnancy over because it had been a very difficult one. We took some photos after dinner, and agreed to be back at our birthmother's house in the middle of the night to take her to the hospital.

With only a few hours of sleep on everyone's part, we arrived at the hospital to be checked in and to wait for the morning c-section. The hospital was nice enough to give adoptive parents their own room, so we set that up too. Our birthmother decided she did not want to see the baby after it was born, at least, not at the hospital. She thought that would make it easier for her, so we agreed to the level of contact she asked for.

After about four hours of waiting by our birthmother's side at the hospital, her phone rings. It was a guy named Mike who wanted to come up to the hospital. At first, I didn't think anything of it since the father of her first child is named Mike, and I assumed it was him. With 30 minutes to go before the c-section, everything seemed to be going perfectly. Wrong.

A nice-looking gentleman who looked like he had been out the entire night before shows up and says "if this is my baby, I may or may not sign the adoption paperwork." My whole world crashed in on me. After hearing our birthmother and this gentleman exchange many cuss words with each other, I had to go tell Lisa what was happening, as she was preparing to go into surgery for the c-section with our birthmother.

I can't tell you all the emotions running through my body. I'm the one who is good in a crisis, but this one was a massive one. I did my best to hold it together. I spoke to Mike, and told him about our family, our adoption plans, and tried to determine what he meant by maybe he would sign the paperwork, and maybe he wouldn't. He wasn't clear by what he meant because he really didn't know what his plans were if the baby was his. This was a young man struggling to take care of himself without any income, a significant criminal history, and was actively addicted to prescription drugs.

At this point in the process, we literally had 4 attorneys, 3 adoption agencies, and 3 social workers involved. Everyone was giving us advice. All I wanted to know was what should I do to protect my daughter in this situation since she was in the waiting room waiting for what she hoped was her baby brother to be born. Finally, my Georgia attorney said to get her out of the hospital and take her back to the hotel room. Since it was just the 3 of us, that meant leaving Lisa at the hospital for the c-section and birth of what may or may not be our son.

In a slow-motion panic, I swooped up Maggie and told her we have to go back to the hotel room. She knows this is not part of the script as she knew we were waiting for the baby to be born. I hadn't thought everything through, so when she asked me why we were leaving, I LIED and told her we weren't sure everything was okay with the baby's health, and that Mia (her name for her other mom) was going to stay and see how the baby is doing.

I could barely drive us back to the hotel. I was in another world, but Maggie needed me to be her parent. Fortunately, after a few questions, my no-napping child fell asleep on the way back (the advantage of being up since the middle of the night). I carried her up to the hotel room and put her on the bed. I cried, made some phone calls, and cried some more. After talking to some friends, I realized I couldn't leave Lisa at the hospital alone, even though I was very concerned about Maggie's well-being if she saw the baby.

The baby had been born a healthy 6 pounds 9 ounces, and Lisa had him in our adoptive parent suite and was working with the nurse to do all the things you do with a newborn. I was missing everything a new parent wants to experience with their new baby.

I finally decided to explain to Maggie that the baby's health was okay, and that Mia was at the hospital with him, but that we still did not know if we would be adopting him or not. I told her while we were waiting to see if we were going to adopt him, we were going to take care of him like babysitters. Against at least one of our attorney's advice, we opted to take care of him while we sorted this all out. The hospital did not have a nursery, so there would have been no one to take care of him since the birthmother was still planning on the adoption and did not want to see the baby.

When I saw this beautiful baby, and my beautiful wife taking care of him, my heart instantly melted. Maggie jumped up on the hospital bed and wanted to hold him. We showed her how and she was so proud of the idea of being a big sister.

These moments were some of the most difficult moments of my life. How do you hold a newborn that may or may not be yours? How do you try to protect yourself and your family from getting heartbroken? I was the one often reminding everyone that we don't know if this is going to be our baby or not. Yes, I was the kill-joy, but I was trying my best to protect us all. Looking down at this angelic baby and not being able to say welcome to the world, we are your family was so heartbreaking. I wasn't sure what to tell him other than we loved him.

Believe it or not, we never saw this situation coming. We knew adoptions could fall apart, but we always expected it would come from the birthmother, not from someone we didn't even know existed. Since we knew how committed our birthmother was all the way through the birthing process, we had a hard time comprehending what was happening.

When I first met Mike, even though he was only one of three possible birthfathers, and had never been able to get a woman pregnant before, I knew in my gut that he was the birthfather. And when I saw that precious baby for the first time, I knew even more it was going to be his baby with the baby's beautiful black hair.

On the day the baby was born, we arranged to have a rushed paternity test done since that was the logical step to take. Though we paid for 24 hour results, it actually took us 3 days to get the results back.

During that time, we tried everything under the sun to get the birthfather to agree to the adoption. But, once he learned it was his and it was a baby boy, he started to become more clear that he wanted to keep the baby. He told us that if it had been a girl, he probably would have let us adopt her.

The paternity test finally came back and our worst fears came true. It was his.

By this time, Child Protective Services was involved because the baby tested positive for drugs when he was born (he went through withdrawal the first 3 days). They were fully aware of the situation and told us we could not just give the baby to the birthfather if the paternity test came back positive because of his drug and criminal record. Plus, the birthmother had decided that she wasn't going to let him have the baby, and that if we couldn't have him, she would take him. This was a big risk for her because CPS explained to her that she could end up losing both of her kids if she took the baby home.

Not knowing what to do, but definitely wanting to protect this baby in the meantime, we took him back to our hotel room.  We cried many tears. Cursed a lot when Maggie was asleep. Talked to a couple of trusted friends who understood the beauty and despair that can come with open adoption. Spoke to lots of attorneys to get their opinions.

Two out of four of our attorneys thought we should fight for the baby and that we would win the case based on the fitness of the birthparents. Another of our attorneys thought we could probably win, but asked us if this is how we wanted to spend the first year of our son's life. It was a lot to think about, and made especially more difficult by looking down at this amazing, vulnerable little baby. He was so incredibly beautiful. The face of an angel.

The baby was born Monday, and it was now Friday. We gave our birthmother a deadline on how long we could do this before a decision would be made. We had told her that something would need to be decided Friday, and if we couldn't make any progress, we were bringing the baby to her on Saturday.

Our birthmother was crying asking us what we wanted her to do. She would do anything to try to fix the situation (including at one point suggesting she could have the birthfather killed by a family member of hers--she meant this). So, we set up one last meeting with the birthfather, birthmother, and the birthfather's mother at a local I-Hop restaurant. The baby, Lisa and Maggie stayed back at the hotel. At this point, none of his biological family had seen him or even a picture.

The birthfather explained how he wanted to get back with the birthmother and raise the child together, which was a complicated proposal considering she had been living with her boyfriend at the time. They argued. The birthmother did her best to plead with him, but it was hard since she was extremely high on pain medication from the c-section. She had taken 30 Oxycodeine in 29 hours since being released from the hospital. It was a wonder she was functioning at all (I am not sure what it would have taken for her to overdose).

The birth grandmother was rational, calm, and likeable. Her son was likeable, too. She suggested that she should take custody of the baby while this was all getting sorted out. I asked the birthmother if this is something she would consider, and she said "hell no."

At one point after the four of us had talked for an hour, I looked across the table and felt like the birthfather was just like my brother Joe. Both very nice and likeable people, and both thinking that keeping their child regardless of the situation they were in would be the best decision.

It occurred to me that I would not want anyone to take a child from my brother if he decided he wanted to keep it, regardless of whether I thought he would be a good parent or not. I also thought about how this is not what we envisioned for our adoption. We like open adoption because people choose to place for adoption, and they get to choose who will parent the baby. Somehow we had really gotten off course. I guess holding a newborn in your arms can do that.

At that moment at the I-Hop, I showed everyone the photos of this beautiful baby I had on my phone. Everyone was so happy to see him, and so appreciative of me sharing the photos with them. The strangeness of this moment will stick with me forever. Afterall, he was technically not my baby, yet we had custody of him over all these people biologically related to him.

We left the I-Hop having changed no one's mind, and having seen that the birthfather had his mom to help raise this child. I knew this woman was a good woman who knew how to take care of a baby and had the resources to do so.

At a red light, I sent a text message to Lisa telling her to pack up our things. Unfortunately, she thought that was good news, and I had to re-text her and tell her no, we were leaving without the baby.

On the longest car ride back to the birthmother's house, she asked what we were going to do. I told her I was going to go get the baby and bring him to her. I cried. She sat mostly in silence, occasionally saying a few cuss words. I tried to keep it together, but kept losing it every few minutes. She suggested she could have another baby for us, and I could only utter out a "no."

I had nothing more to say to our birthmother because she could have prevented this from happening had she told us about this guy and his desire to parent (she knew this before the delivery day we eventually realized). It wasn't that I was so much angry with her, but more I just couldn't even talk to her anymore. The pain I was experiencing was the worst I had felt in my entire life.

I was spent. I had done all I could do to "fix" the situation. God had clearly intended for us to not have this baby, which was so hard to accept after caring for him for 5 days. His angelic face will stay with me forever.

Our emotions were at their worst, but we tried our best to keep them contained for our daughter's sake. She saw us crying again, and said she just wanted to go home. The next day was her birthday, so we agreed to get home in time for her birthday. We didn't care that we had already paid for the hotel room. We just needed to get out of there.

I called the social worker at CPS and explained to him what was happening. I wanted him to come get the baby and take him back, but he wouldn't saying something about state policy. I then wanted to take the baby to the hospital where he was born since we knew the staff there, but they would not allow us to do that either (so much for safe haven laws). Our attorney advised us to take the baby directly back to the birthmother since she is the one who gave us custody, so as hard as I knew this would be, I agreed to it.

We drove our precious baby over to our birthmother's house, crying as quietly as we could (Maggie already had headphones on watching a movie in the car). Lisa refused to get out of the car, and I definitely didn't want Maggie to go in. This was not a happy occasion. It was the hardest thing I had ever done.

As much as I tried not to bond with this baby, it was too late. I loved him like I had known him my whole life. He was a part of me, and God was making me give him back (yes, that is how I looked at it). My wife and daughter were devastated, and both needed me to help them get through this.

I gave our birthmother the things I had for him so she would have some stuff to take care of him. She said her boyfriend was at the store buying some things for him, which I pray was true.

I went back to the car and had Lisa and Maggie say goodbye to the baby. I picked up his tiny body out of his car seat and carried him into her house. I held him and hugged him, and could barely feel anything as the moment was so surreal. I handed him to our birthmother who was out of it from the pain medications she was taking, and pleaded with her to please take care of him. I glanced in the kitchen and saw the oven door was still open because this was her only source of heat on this cold day. I remember her saying how light he was, and then didn't hear her anymore.

I kissed his forehead and said "Goodbye, my angel. I love you."

And from that moment on, I cried for almost an entire month both internally and externally. I never would have guessed that this experience would feel like having a child die. The first two weeks were extremely difficult, but we are doing better, but still feeling some depression over the loss of the baby. Our six year old is still sorting out her confusion about what happened. I suppose time will help us heal.

We pray this precious baby ends up living a good life somehow, and that our worst fears for him don't come true. We spoke to the grandmother 4 days after we first left. She still hadn't seen him, but she had a picture of him that she sent us. I was relieved just knowing he was still alive. The grandmother was sorry for our loss, and there wasn't much more to be said. We don't imagine talking to our birthmother, or probably anyone from that situation again.

It is time for us to move on.

We are comforted knowing one day the right baby will find us. We pray God shows us the way.

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