Five Days in August

It’s been a while since our little blog has had anything to say.  Yes, something did happen.   And what happened after that has been hard to write about, so I haven’t, until now, and I’ll do my best.

Friday, July 30th was the day we’d been waiting 22 months for.  It was about 3:30 in the afternoon – I was at work, *A*, who has Fridays off, was taking Tucker for a walk.  My phone rang, but I didn’t hear it until an alarm let me know I had a message.  It was our adoption agency, the IAC, who was trying to get in touch with one of us, and we had to call back within 30 minutes.

In the back of my mind, an alarm bell went off – 30 minutes?  That’s how long we have to make a decision if someone’s chosen us.

Someone had.  An adoption counselor from the IAC told Angela that a birthmom in Chattanooga, Tennessee, had chosen us.  She had given birth to a healthy baby girl the day before, and all the criteria what we’d spent time sweating over in the earlier stages of this process matched.  Were we interested?

Were we interested? HA!

My 45-minute drive home took years. I had been making a list the whole time, trying to remember everything (even down to a stack of quarters to use in a laundromat) *A* was already packing suitcases when I walked in, and she’d actually spoken to the birthmom (M) on the phone for a few minutes.  M invited us, if we wanted, to come straight to the hospital, even though it would be late when we got there.

It was midnight on the dot when we pulled into the parking lot at the hospital, but we went nervously on up to the room.  We were met by M’s fiance (not the birthfather) and in the hospital room with M was the baby (!), the M’s mom, and M’s other two kids.  We spent about 4 hours getting to know them and holding the baby.  And staring at her, amazed.  And trying to figure out how to hold her and feed her and burp her and all that stuff that seems so scary with a tiny human, and we had quite the audience – the whole family. We hit it off really well with M and her family and talked a lot about open adoption, which M and everyone else seemed really on board with.  So many things seemed to be coming together – everything felt fairy-tale perfect.

Saturday afternoon, after a long, tearful goodbye for all of us, with promises to see each other later in the week, the birth family left the hospital, and we took the baby to our hotel.  I think we were in an amazed sort of shock, finding ourselves suddenly parents, responsible for this tiny 2-day old baby girl.  We weren’t unprepared, as we’ve spent 4 and a half years building toward this very moment, but we were still amazed that this was happening, finally.  Bonding happened quick.  Super, super quick.

We were prepared to stay for a while, because the paperwork M was to sign had to be sent to Nashville then to Raleigh for an interstate compact agreement (so that a child can cross state lines legally with adoptive parents prior to the adoption’s finalization). That can take up to two weeks.  More important than the interstate compact, though, was the period of time that M had to change her mind about the whole thing.  It’s three days in Tennessee, but because we were finalizing in North Carolina, we had to go by NC law, where it’s seven days from when the birthmom signs the paperwork.

My folks drove up on Saturday and spent some time with us at the hospital with M and her family, and stayed the rest of the day with us before going home to give us time to catch our breath.  We were in touch with M via text over the next several days, sending her photos of the baby and letting her know how she was doing.  She responded, telling us more about why she picked us and explaining some of her reasoning for making an adoption plan.  She reassured us several times that she wanted this and felt good about it. She thanked us for keeping in touch, we talked about meeting up later in the week.

On Monday, we took the baby to her first doctor’s appointment and apparently I gave the doctor and nurse a good laugh with my nervousness that everything be perfect (lots of very specific over-thought questions about formula and the right kind of bottles, etc).

That night, our Tennessee lawyer, who specializes in adoption, met M to sign all of her relinquishment paperwork.  She wrote a detailed biography, with medical history, and spent about 2 hours signing paperwork, reading every line. We saw that as a good sign: she was really conscious of what she was getting into and wanted to continue forward.  On Monday night, the official 7-day wait began.

In the meantime, we were hanging out in the hotel room, soaking up every minute of time with this baby.  *A* and I have had more than four years to consider names, taking it as a big responsibility to name another person.  We had noticed that on her hospital bassinet, she had already been named.  We asked M about the name, wanting to be respectful of her wishes.  I introduced the name that *A* and I liked, and it turned out that the middle name was a family name in their family, too.  It was a little awkward, but she seemed fine.  So, though a birth certificate had a different name, *A* and I gave this baby a name that means a lot to both of us, for several reasons I won’t go into here.  It fit her – it’s a beautiful name, and we adore the nickname.

You know, *A* and I have been together for 13 years now, friends for 15, and I thought because we’ve been through so much together I knew all aspects of her personality.  But with this sweet baby, I saw a completely different side of her.  She is an amazing mom.  I loved just watching her.  Watching them together.  I was totally in awe.

By Monday, we had already figured out the beginnings of a routine, and the baby was doing really well.  For my own part, I was having a grand time.  I was a little on the anxious side, I’ll admit, because I was terrified that I would break her, but after a while it was fine. After a while, I was scooping her up without any problems.  The baby and I had worked out the kinks in my swaddling techniques and she graced me with her very first two projectile barfs (I had heard stories, but was amazed at how far a little 6-pound baby can send formula across the room!) and the first (near) blow-out. Naturally, after that episode, we also got to do the first bathtime, too.

My folks, thrilled about their new grandbaby and shouting it from the rooftops at home, came back up to visit on Wednesday, and some relatives that live nearby came to visit, too.

We spent the afternoon ooh-ing and aah-ing at the baby, and then it all changed, just like that.  I was out taking Tucker for a walk around the hotelwhen *A* picked up her phone.  It was the adoption agency calling to tell us that M had changed her mind and it was all over.

This little girl, who we had named and who had become a part of our family, whose future we’d spent five days dreaming about – her own, and ours as a family – we had to give her back.  We were just two days into the 7-day relinquishment period.

I have no idea when our extended family left. We were in a total fog. My parents drove us to the lawyer’s office, where we met with M and her fiance.  M said that it was just too hard.  She was upset; she said her decision didn’t have anything to do with us, and the reason for making the adoption plan in the first place was still there, but she just couldn’t go through with “giving her away.”

There was nothing we could do about it, no assurances we could make about our commitment to open adoption or anything else that would make a difference.  We came into this knowing that adoption is not without risk, especially a “last minute” placement, where the decision is made at the hospital and not in the months before the baby is born.  But after so many good conversations about openness and welcoming each other into our families, we were completely blindsided.

My parents drove us back to the hotel and we left the next morning, going to their house because we just couldn’t think straight and didn’t want to drive 7 hours to go home to an empty house.  I’m glad that they encouraged us to go home with them – I know now that we were in shock – shock that we found our dreams coming true after so much time waiting,  then shocked that it was all over just as quickly.

We have actually texted back and forth with M a few times – the second night, just to make sure the baby was okay, and then on August 30th, we wished the baby a happy 1 month birthday.  All contact has always been initiated by us.  M sent us a picture via text at one month, but I don’t think we can keep up contact – it’s gut-wrenching for me and *A* and I don’t know that it’s healthy for anyone, really.

We went back to work on the following Tuesday, figuring that we needed to do something to return to normal – though “normal” was the last thing we wanted to return to.  We both hated the thought of facing people who were so excited for us and have followed our story for a long time.

The raw shock has faded in the weeks since we’ve been back home and back to work, making it a little easier, though we continue to have some rough moments.  We’d been home 2 weeks when we had to go through a homestudy update visit, as our homestudy was set to expire at the end of September.  That was a little bit of salt in the wound.  But with that done, we’re back to where we were before – on paper, anyway.

The thing is, neither one of us would trade those five days for anything.    M’s story is her own; it is not one I will share here, beyond our involvement in it for those five days. We do not doubt that we do not know the whole story, anyway, nor will we ever know it.  She told us several times that her decision had nothing to do with us, that she knows that we’re good people and she hopes that we become parents, but it was just so much harder than she thought it would be.  We could see no point in trying to talk to her about our dedication to openness, reassuring her that we’ll do what we say we’ll do, or how her language about “giving her up” was all wrong – that she was making a plan that would show her daughter how much she cared, that she would know her all her life, if she wanted to.  It was too late for that.  I can’t imagine being in her shoes – for any part of this process.  She made a series of decisions that changed all of our lives, though, and we all have to move forward from that point on.  There’s nothing else we can do.

I can’t deny that we’re heartbroken.  We are forever changed, and for the rest of our lives we will wonder about the baby that, for five precious days, was our daughter.  It feels like we lost a baby, like there was a death, but there’s no closure to it.

It’s amazing how much planning and dreaming you can do in five days.  Her first trip was going to be for my birthday – she would only have been a month old, but would already have gotten to go to my and *A*’s favorite place to spend time together.  We went anyway, since *A* had planned it as a surprise quite a while ago.  It just turned out that instead of birthday fun,  we needed to spend the time together, healing.   Labor day weekend was the first time we could’ve taken her to meet her great-grandparents, who were so, so, so excited over their first great-granddaughter.  We were thinking of finding a photographer for newborn photos as soon as we got home, excited that she’d be just the right size for this little dress I had found well over a year ago and sheepishly bought, not knowing whether we’d be adopting a boy or a girl.  We thought about how she’d be about three months old at Halloween – I already had a Halloween costume picked out in my head.  Five months old at Christmas.  Too young for Santa, but oh, how grand Christmas would be.

I’ve always known that I wanted to be a dad, but now I’ve experienced it, and I want it more than ever, and want more than ever for *A* to experience being a mom.  I don’t know why this happened to us, and I probably never will.  But we don’t want it to be the end of our parenting story.  We know we’re good parents. We can and will dream new dreams for the baby that will become our Littlest.  We won’t ever forget this baby girl, but we have to move on.

So – here we are.  As of today, September 24th, we’ve been waiting for two years to adopt.  We want to share our lives with a child.  We are not willing to give up.  We’re still waiting, and we’ll keep on waiting until it happens.  We’re trying our best to be hopeful, reminding ourselves that finally, finally, someone chose us.  After 22 months without anything, feeling so invisible, someone chose us.  It didn’t work out, but maybe someone else will find us, and it’ll work.  We have to cling to that hope.

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25 thoughts on “Five Days in August

  1. Hi Ethan and Angela. I just wanted to reach out because I have been silently reading your blog for a while now. It has provided me with great support and hope, as my wife and I are also going through the adoption process. Actually, we have been on a very similar path, as we will reach our two year mark next month. Why I felt the need to reach out now is because last July (2014) my wife and I experienced something very similar. It was so heart-wrenchingly devastating, hard to explain to others, and difficult to even understand ourselves. You have described it brilliantly with saying you had a feeling of being in shock for both almost becoming parents (well, actually being parents for just a few days) and having that fall apart so quickly. A year later we still think about the little guy we cherished in our arms and send well wishes out into the universe for him and his birth family. While I understand how difficult it is to be hopeful right now, I admire your ability to keep moving forward and finding the positive in this situation. We try everyday to do the same. I will continue to read your blog, gaining inspiration and hope to continue on this journey. And if you are interested in reading my account of our situation, please feel free to reach out to join our blog (https://sproutinginourhearts.wordpress.com/). Actually, I have not written since that day, but you have inspired me to begin again. Thank you for opening yourself up and inviting others in to such a personal journey.

    • Hi there,

      It’s hard to write about something that hurts so much, but for me, when I can do it, it seems to really help. It doesn’t make everything better, but it helps me get it out there – outside myself, I guess. I am an introvert, so it doesn’t always come naturally to be so open. Many, many times before and after I click that “publish” button, I worry that I’ve shared too much, it’s too personal, it cast a light on someone else that I didn’t intend, and in this particular case, that this story is not happy – should it be here? In the end, it’s part of our story, it hurts, and it might help someone else like I’ve been helped by someone sharing their story. I’m glad to hear that it has prompted you to get back to writing. Even if it’s only for yourself, to me, there’s just something important about getting your thoughts down in a tangible (more or less) form.

      It’s hard to stay positive. Period. But we want to be parents more than anything, so we find a way. Most days. Other days, we just have to work on it.

      We’d actually not heard about another adoptive family that had custody for a decent length of time when the birthmother changed her mind. We’d heard of folks who’d matched with someone for weeks / months / even a last-minute placement and the expectant mom or birthmom changed her mind, but the adoptive family never had custody. For all the pain since those five days, though, our time with her was worth it. So worth it.

      Thank you for following our blog and for letting us know that sharing our story has helped you – we really appreciate that and we hope that parenthood finds both of us – for keeps – very soon. I’ll definitely send a request to check out your blog – I look forward to getting to know you!

  2. I was so hoping that this was finally “good news” for you guys because I have been following your blog for a while….I am so sorry this happened to you ……prayers sent out into the universe that that “special baby” will be on its way to you soon..

  3. Oh my, I am so sorry for you. I appreciate all your blogs, especially this one which is so open and honest about the very hard parts of adoption. I cannot imagine how you both must feel. I will pray for you and your baby to come. I know there is light at the end of this tunnel for you.

  4. Ethan and Angela, my heart breaks for you. I can’t even imagine the pain you’re going through. But please, keep sharing it all. The hard times we all have endured in this process reveal more of our character than the happy times. I remember going through the same struggle of what to write and how much to share. I wrote a post about how hard the waiting was and our daughter’s birth mother specifically referenced that post when we first met her. Sharing the challenging parts will help you heal, help you connect with other people going through the same pain, and will help you connect with the person who’s going to help make you parents. There are a lot of people thinking about you and we’re all awaiting the day the Littlest comes home!

    • Thank you so much for your comments, DJ and Julie. One of the frustrating parts of what we went through in August was that M, the birthmom, had never even seen our blog. I was sure this was the avenue through which someone would really get to know us. That first night at the hospital, we told them all about it and encouraged them to check it out – I don’t know if they ever have. Still, I feel like this is the truest way that we’re out there, besides meeting us in person. It’s more authentic than the heavily edited, everybody-looks-the-same letter that we created through our agency. It’s one part of the reason that I write about the hard parts – it’s part of our story, and the Littlest’s birthmother needs to know about it to really “get” who we are. Thank you for affirming that idea in our heads.

      *A* and I really appreciate the support from you guys and other folks commenting here. It’s meant more than we can say to hear from folks that are sending good thoughts our way. Thank you so much for your kindness.

  5. You don’t know me, I have just been following your blog for a short time. I just felt compelled to say…something. There is really nothing for me to say, though, other than I am so sorry for your loss. I have thought of you many times since reading this blog entry, and each time I pause to say a prayer for your peace, total healing, and your future child, who is out there somewhere. Peace and love from Michigan.

    • Andrea, thank you for following our story and for taking a moment to comment. We’ve heard from quite a few people we don’t know as a result of this post – we had no idea our blog was so far-reaching. This whole process – especially August, but the 4.5 years it took to get there, too, has been so hard. I can’t tell you how much it means to us to have people rooting for us as parents and sending kind thoughts and prayers our way. Thank you.

  6. There are so many ways to get your heart broken – but this is surely one of the hardest. You write so honestly, Ethan – and with such courage. I salute you and *A*’s strength and durability as a couple. I lit a candle for you guys last month in church – just hoping the best for you. More prayers and good thoughts are headed your way from Portland, OR. You are not hoping in vain…your littlest is truly on his or her way.

  7. I am so sad for you and at the same time glad you got those five days and that you have hope for the future. What a blessing you will be to your future child. All the love you showed that little girl and her mother was not wasted. Can’t wait to see how your story ends/begins. Hugs to you both.

    • Hi Kristen,
      It was indeed the worst and best five days we’ve ever had – hard to explain. We don’t regret one minute of it. Thanks for commenting, and for your kind thoughts for us. Give your sweet girl and boy hugs for us! 🙂

  8. I’m sorry to just now be reading this. I’ve been taking time away from the blogs and adoption groups for self preservation in this adoption wait. I am just heartbroken for you guys- my IAC profile neighbors, favorite blog writers, and nearly adoption wait time twins. The adoption process, for all involved, is unjust. I know no one was wronged in this, but it doesn’t make the situation easier. We are rooting for you guys. Much love- Sarah (sarahandjohnadopt.blogspot.com)

    • Hi Sarah,

      I understand – we’ve sort of stepped away for the moment, too. Self-preservation, I guess. We’re pretty upset about the way the IAC handled the situation – absolutely no support whatsoever. Those five days in August – and the weeks after were hands down the roughest time we ever experienced. I hope (hope, hope, hope!) that things get better for us both, and very soon. Thanks for the love, and for rooting for us. We really appreciate it. – Ethan

  9. I am so sorry, Ethan and Angela. I don’t know how I missed your update. We interacted with 8 birthmoms over a 3 year wait before adopting our son in March. Though I don’t understand why we had to experience what we did, I do know that each interaction, each experience, each opportunity to get to know each birthmom, made our lives richer. Not easy. Not without pain. But definitely richer. Much love and light to you both.

    • It’s interesting how adoptive families’ experiences can be so different. For us, it was silence for 22 months, then 5 amazing days, and it’s silent again. In truth, because of the silence, we’re both terrified that that was our one shot. We’re clinging to our dream of being parents, and that’s what is keeping us going – sticking with our current agency (who has offered us absolutely no support in this process, but with whom we are financially committed), and sticking it out emotionally, as best we can.

      Thank you, Alexa, for your positivity and light and love – we appreciate and need it. We’ll get through, eventually. In the meantime, it helps to connect with someone who’s been through adoption trials – different, but still trials. Thank you for commenting. And give that baby boy a squeeze for us 🙂

  10. Pingback: Ready for a Do-Over | The Littlest Brooks-Livingston

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