The Hospital Stay – Part 2

November 30, 2015

I approached the ringing phone, knowing it could be Isaiah’s birthmom saying to come down to her hospital room to see him or — 

— or it could be someone else calling on her behalf to say that she had realized over the course of the night that she couldn’t give him up. We were on the precipice of something. Like the sun rising on the horizon, answering this call would soon reveal the landscape before us.

I picked up the receiver and did my best to utter a calm, “Hello?”

It was her!

I breathed a sigh of relief and replied with a cheery, “good morning.” The peace I had felt the day before returned. This was the it! The day we brought our son home. If her night alone with him had not reversed her decision, I felt fairly confident that she was planning to follow through on her plan. Not that I could blame her one bit for changing her mind after seeing his sweet face and kissing his soft hair and holding his tiny hand. I had mentally prepared myself for that possibility; but I knew the reality of it would have been crushing.

We hurried to pack up our belongings and headed to her room to see them both. I fed him a bottle and we stared at each other, deep emotions mulling in both our hearts, I think.

Soon, a nurse and doctor came in to take his birthmom’s vitals and give her some meds. I had mostly tried to tune them out when they would come in. She said she didn’t mind, but I still didn’t want to be nosy. I was quite distracted by the lump of baby in my arms anyway.

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It took me a second to realize that this time, they wanted to talk to us too.

It was about Isaiah. He was showing signs of a condition that — though not critical — would require him to stay in the hospital nursery for at least two more days…

…And up to a month. Or more even.

We were stunned at first. But the doctor assured us the important thing was that he would be okay, and they would do everything they could to get him home soon.

The optimist in me bounced back into planning-mode. It would be tricky, but we could figure this out. Tyler’s dad was coming later that afternoon with our daughter, Elise. He could bring more clothes for me, so that I could stay an additional two nights. Tyler could take Elise back home and go back to work until Wednesday, when I could bring Isaiah home too.

After making a few phone calls, everything was in order. Now it was time to focus on the present. And our time with his birthmom was dwindling, as her noon discharge-time quickly approached.

I asked her if I could take a few pictures of him with her, and she obliged. Our conversation started back up, and I tried to take a mental picture of these last moments together. As if by habit, she tugged his little yellow knit hat down over his ears over and over, talking to me all the while.

After a pause in conversation, the mood got more serious… more emotional. “I get why birthmoms change their mind,” she told me. “I thought it would be easier to just not have a relationship with him, but now I know I couldn’t have done that. I’m so glad you guys wanted to stay in touch.”

I couldn’t hold back the tears. She had no idea how much her words meant to me. Somehow over these past 24 hours, we had bonded as what I call, “sister-moms.” She knew the sincerity with which we offered a relationship, and now we knew the sincerity with which she offered her son to us. Though her role in his life would not be traditional, her meaning to all of us would be even more significant than she knew.

When her ride called, the next few minutes became a blur of activity over which I had no control. I wanted to slow time down, to cherish these final moments and make them memorable and meaningful. Instead, I watched her kiss his nose, then touch it to hers, kiss it, and touch it to hers, before being instructed by the nurses to place him in the crib. With one final kiss she laid him down. She grabbed her bag of belongings, gave us both a quick hug, and then quickly vacated the safe den where we had all four become a family.

No sooner did she leave the room than Isaiah’s cries began. It was like he knew that a part of him was being severed. Tears ran down my face, but I was given no time to grieve over the trauma I’d just witnessed… the trauma I felt I’d been a part of. Instead, we were instructed to grab our stuff and follow the nurse to the “Special Care Nursery” where they were wheeling Isaiah in his crib.

I had pictured this moment so differently. I imagined holding him and comforting him and whispering assurance of his mother’s love for him. Of all of our love for him. My feet followed the nurse, but my heart strained against the current trying to sweep me down-river as though I hadn’t just witnessed another heart battered by rock-ribbed rapids.

 

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The Hospital Stay – Part 1

During our adoption training and home visits, we were repeatedly told that the hospital-time with the birth-mom can be tense and awkward. It’s really not surprising that this would be the case. Adoption is no Facebook-garage-sale-goods-swap. This is a mother making a decision to forego parenting her infant and place it in the care of another. Every birth-mom has a different reason for her decision. The hospital brings the decision to reality for her. Then add in post-partum hormones and exhaustion. Plus the warm little lump of snuggly baby with soft, fuzzy, irresistibly-kissable hair… Nothing about her decision is easy.

In fact, if a birthmom is going to change her mind about choosing adoption for her baby, it usually happens at the hospital.

When we first walked through those hospital doors, I couldn’t wait to get in-and-out and on our way home. The security and relief of carrying him to our car was 24 hours away, and after watching our best friends endure an adoption reversal (though theirs was after 4 weeks with her), every milestone towards legal adoption was another drop in statistics for reversal and another hedge of protection around my heart. Though hedges can  still be plowed down…

Yet our hospital-stay with Isaiah’s birthmom was not tense at all. That night, we all three sat next to each other, taking turns holding him and feeding him and kissing him and gushing over him. Lights dimmed, watching Ben Affleck in “Surviving Christmas” on TV, I thought about what an odd sight we must be.

During commercials, she talked about her family life growing up and the challenges she faced when she left. She wouldn’t be living on the streets, but she was home-less nonetheless.  It dawned on me that not a single friend or family member came to be with her during her delivery or afterwards. She was completely alone.

And the one person that loved her more than anything in the world —

he was lying in my arms…

Isaiah sleeping

That night, Tyler and I stayed in a hospital room at the Women’s Health wing across the long hall from the Birthing Center. The staff at the hospital were so accommodating to us… it was overwhelming. All of it — every moment of that day had been so very overwhelming.

Isaiah stayed with his birthmom that night. That was the only time that I felt scared about what the next day held. She needed that time; deserved that time. As hard as it would be to leave the hospital with empty arms, it had to be her or us… and right now, her leaving with empty arms was going to be infinitely harder. We wanted her to be sure of her decision, no matter what the cost was to us.

Still, I awoke that morning in our room feeling caged, waiting anxiously for a call that she was awake and ready for us to come back to see them both. Even watching The Food Network couldn’t distract me from my anxious thoughts. I zoned out, eyes glued to the TV, but thinking and praying incessantly, “God please be with her… Please be with us.”

Finally, the phone rang.

 

Ours

November 29, 2015

After “The Call,” Tyler and I embarked on the 2.5 hour drive to the other side of the state to meet this newborn stranger. It felt like a movie… We had gone to bed the night before with plans to bring home a Christmas tree the following day.  We awoke to plans to bring home a baby.

When we finally arrived at the hospital, our hearts were beating wildly. Over the course of our trip we had decided on his name: Isaiah Levi. “Levi” meaning “joined or attached.”

The social worker from the adoption agency met us in the hospital lobby. We (ok, I) tried to play it cool, as if we (I) were any regular-ol’ hospital visitor. We went up the elevator and took a handful of turns before walking the hall that would soon become very familiar to me. A nurse buzzed open the automatic doors and we made what felt like a very grand entrance to the birthing center.

We approached the room where our birth-mom was recovering with the baby. As much as I knew it was “our” baby, I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around how I’d earned the right to use that possessive pronoun quite yet. Not now that it was all so real. Not in the presence of the mother that carried him for 9 months and felt his kicks in her tummy and went through the excruciating pain of giving birth.

The social worker knocked on the door before ushering us into the room.

You’ve seen pictures of those moms who look stunning just after birth, right? That was not at all me when I gave birth to Elise. I think somewhere in the mix of people that bug you during labor/deliver/post-delivery there must be a makeup artist, and I was asleep unconscious when she popped in for my makeover after 23 hours of labor.

Anyway, when I saw her there, sitting up in bed, cradling a tiny swaddled bundle with a yellow-knit hat, I was in awe. No greeting seemed worthy for interrupting this sacred moment between mother and son. She adjusted his hat, pulling it down over his ears and then offered us a shy smile and “hello.”

It was obvious this was not a woman eager to pass off her baby for someone else to take care of it. This was a woman who had fallen in love, despite her attempts not to do so. I watched her touch her nose to his nose and then give it a sweet kiss before gingerly placing him in my arms for the very first time.

This… this was beauty — staggering and heart-shattering beauty. No makeup artist, no camera could have enhanced the beauty of this scene.

I tucked his body against mine and studied his sweet sleeping face: his flat baby-nose and his teeny little chin framed by round, chubby cheeks. Was he okay about having us for parents? Would we be all that he needed? Would he resent us for taking him from her? How could we take him from her? The questions kept racing.

My mind felt like a pinball machine – flipping and spinning and bumping with worries and thoughts until suddenly the ball was lost, because the baby in my arms opened his eyes and looked at me —

–and every towering doubt instantly evaporated into a still and gentle mist. Tears trailed down my face, and I knew it was my turn to kiss him. Somehow in this foreign version of “family,” there was room for more than just one or two parents. I didn’t know what any of that would look like over the next hours or months or years,

but I knew that

he

was

ours.

 

 

The Call

My phone rang at 8:00 that Sunday morning. I shot straight up excitedly — hands shaking — trying to muster the coordination and mental acuity to answer the call before it was too late.

But in my sleepy fog, I had mistaken my alarm for The Call.

I looked over at Tyler, sound asleep with the bedspread neatly covering him up to his nose. On my side of the bed, the pile of supplemental blankets – messy as they looked – called to me to settle back down into their warm den. I obliged, burrowing into the embrace of covers that comforted my disappointment.

I closed my eyes and tried to re-orient my emotions. Patience had never been a strength of mine. We had hoped and waited for three years before finally getting pregnant with our daughter Elise. Now we were waiting for our second child. A boy. Due any day now. And instead of eagerly longing for my water to break, we were waiting for The Call.

Infertility had once chained me in a cell of despair. Though I’d desperately strained against its bonds, it seemed that nothing could set me free.

But I was wrong. Months after finally getting pregnant, God taught me that infertility was not a curse, but a commission. It was not a chain to hold me back, but a rein to guide me forward. Before our own flesh-and-blood baby girl was even born, God stirred our hearts for a child that was not “our own.”

Huddled in my bed, I began praying for this baby boy we now waited on. I prayed for his mother, who had chosen us to be his parents. I prayed for a safe and healthy delivery. For God to comfort her as she gave a piece of herself up to us. I prayed for both of their futures. This brave woman who selflessly chose life and adoption and this baby boy who deserved all the love of a family.

I fell back asleep praying for them both.

At 8:20, my phone rang again. I reached for it to swipe off the “snooze,” but soon realized that it was not my alarm. It was the social worker from the adoption agency calling!

I fumbled to answer it, shaking even more this time than before. Her words made me gasp and sob:

“Are you ready to come meet your baby boy?”

Without knowing it, at the very moment of his birth, I had been praying for him. God had woken me up, prompted me to pray for him. The Father who cares so deeply for the fatherless, wanted to make sure our son’s life began with a reminder that he has never been unloved or unknown by God.

For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

– Psalm 139:13-14

Still in awe, we hurriedly packed our bags and headed to the east side of the state to meet

our son.

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Another Hot Date in the Books – “Lion”

Dinner and a movie. Might be “standard fare” for most, but for us it’s a hot date.

Go out? Hold hands in the dark? Only share our food if we want to? Not have to do dishes?

That’s the type of wild night I anticipated when we sat down in the movie theater.

I had no idea that “Lion” would leave me with hot, wet tears soaking my scarf like a baby bib. Why did Tyler do this to me??!!

I’m pretty sure I would have cried through it no matter what, but as adoptive parents, this true story did more than just tug at heart strings.

Unlike Disney orphans, “Lion’s” protagonist Saroo — an adorable and brave Indian boy who gets lost from his family at the age of five – does not have his “happily ever after” once he is adopted and given a good home with a loving family.

Because at the age of five, he was lost. He was alone and missing his family. He was terrified. Terrorized. Taken from place to place by people whose language he didn’t speak and whose intentions were unimaginably sickening.

Often we glorify adoption as this beautiful event where a child magically finds their forever-family and lives happily ever after. It makes for a great feel-good Hollywood storyline.

But in a perfect world… children wouldn’t need to be adopted. No child would be lost, unwanted, unaffordable… On the contrary, each child would know their value and their belonging and never question the love of his or her parents. Never wonder if his or her parents are also grieving their separation.

Adoption comes because of heartbreak.

And the grown Saroo made it through most of his life showing no signs of trauma, his world was jolted when his college friends probed about his childhood and family of origin. The pain he’d suppressed broke through and his fresh experience of loss compelled him to search for them. This began a downward spiral of obsession and isolation as he (quite literally) navigated his past in hopes of reunion.

His depression is crushing to his adoptive mother, who doesn’t know why he has pushed everyone away. But I held back sobs when [spoiler alert], in a deeply emotional scene, the grown Saroo tells his mother, “I’m sorry you couldn’t have your own children. I’m sorry we aren’t blank pages for you.” To which she replies, “We could have had children, but we wanted you. We chose you.”

I’ve said it before, but it becomes real to me the more and more: children are worth our heartbreak.

Any of our children could be traumatized at any day, and we would urgently get help and seek restoration. Sure, it’s much less likely that they’d be traumatized here in the U.S., versus in India where 80,000 children are lost from their parents , 11 million children live on the streets, and countless are forced into prostitution. And it feels different to sign up to bear such a heavy load — parenting a child who has undoubtedly experienced trauma.  Adoption – especially of an older child is not for the faint of heart, right?

But tell me, then who is really strong enough to carry a child’s heavy burden? To persevere with a child who has emotional scars that cannot be erased? To openly offer support to a child needing answers or resolution with their family of origin?

Very few I think.

I know I’m not that strong. Not on my own.

But I know a God who IS. Who can take every ounce of rage and grief and despair and offer Hope and Peace and Strength and Love.  Who gives value to our past by redeeming it with our future.

And who implores us to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). Not just cheer each other on. But to help take some of the weight of another’s crushing load.

Friends, could you choose heartbreak, for the sake of a child? Could you choose to have your family’s life trajectory disrupted so that a child’s life trajectory could have hope of restoration?

Maybe it’s through adoption or foster care. Or maybe through child sponsorship or supporting overseas orphanages or even just supporting another adoptive or foster family.

I highly recommend the movie “Lion” (though there is non-graphic, but mature thematic material implied). It’s a true story, and it feels incredibly vulnerable and genuine and eye-opening. And though it’s a tough story, it does have a good ending. If you are considering international adoption, it’s a must-see.

Though maybe from the privacy of your own living room where your tears can shamelessly soak through a box of tissues.

Just don’t expect it to kindle any flames of romance. At least not in the typical sense of the phrase.

One Year Ago

We’d put our names in to be considered for twenty different babies. And twenty different birth-moms had chosen someone else. We knew it would take time – that there were plenty of very worthy and equally eager families waiting to be chosen. Average wait time was a year to year and a half. We’d only been waiting 6 months. But the misleading mantra, “you never know” still played in my head… played with my heart. I was inebriated by a cocktail of hope, insecurity, and rejection.

On top of it, work had been hectic – to say the least. I’ve always struggled with anxiety, but never before was it so bad that I dreaded having people in my office for the corresponding panic it evoked in me. Every interruption felt traumatic, because it either distracted from or added to my workload. I felt physically sick, mentally over-loaded, and emotionally drained. I didn’t feel like myself at all. I began to long for this adoption to happen, just so I could go on maternity leave and escape the stress of work. But instead of escaping, I (needlessly) wallowed in shame as I called my doctor to ask for anti-anxiety medicine.

Finally, after three months of working 50+ hours/week under immense pressure to perfectly execute my job duties, I passed a rigorous inspection – the culmination of the past quarter – with flying colors.  Tyler and I celebrated with a weekend getaway to Traverse City.

It was a disappointment to come home, but a relief to return to a much easier work situation. It was a Monday – and a fresh start. I felt revived, like I could breathe again.

That is, until the phone rang just as I was getting ready to go home for the day. My heart raced when I heard our adoption worker utter the words, “You guys have been picked.” Her calm voice made it nearly impossible to believe I had heard right. I started to shake uncontrollably and couldn’t quite catch my breath well enough to form proper responses for the remainder of the conversation.

As soon as I hung up with her, I tried to call Tyler.

He didn’t answer. So I tried again. And again.

Of all the times I needed to talk… why couldn’t he sense the urgency of this ringtone?

I had to wait half an hour before he called back. I don’t know how I made it that long without spilling. And I honestly don’t remember how the conversation went, but I’m sure I was in hysterics.

We were going to have a baby! Elise was going to be a big sister! And God had delayed it all for just the right time.

We still knew very little about our birthmom or her baby. Her first name and her mid-December due date were all we had to go on.  But in three days we would meet her face to face.

Anxiety returned to consume my every thought. But this time it was matched with excitement. No, it was undermined by excitement. We had been praying for her since we first decided to adopt. But now, she was real to me. My prayers for her and her baby gained urgency as I pleaded for God to give her peace with her decision, connection with us both, health for her and the baby, and most of all that God would somehow use this very intimate, very vulnerable and emotional experience to show her His love.

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For Keeps

It was a Monday afternoon and I was just grabbing my purse to head home from work. Tyler and I had been gone to Traverse City all weekend, at a bed and breakfast/winery. It had been so beautiful and relaxing. I felt rested, but also restless. My body was at work, but my mind was elsewhere.

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Suddenly my phone rang, and I tensed and then scrambled. I don’t typically get calls while I’m at work. Could it be…? When I saw the caller name, I could barely feign a “Hello?” as if I didn’t know who was on the other end.

“Hi, Cheyenne?” our adoption worker asked.

I confirmed that it was me and she went straight to the point.

“A birthmom has asked to meet you and Tyler this week, if you are interested.”

My hands shook with adrenaline, and I cleared my throat to try to control the excitement in my voice.

Three days later, we sat in the parking lot, waiting for our appointment to meet the woman who was considering us to be parents to her baby. We were equal parts excited and nervous.

Talk about an important interview. I tried to coach myself:

“Don’t look at Tyler when you talk; make eye contact with her.”

“Don’t mention how far behind you are on laundry or that you love to cook but work too much to make home-cooked meals AND keep a spotless kitchen.”

“Don’t bite your lip or touch your face or cross your arms or ramble on and on…”

I was a hot mess.

She, however, was cool and calm. Friendly, yet distant. But when we got to telling her our story, I could see tears in her eyes. Sometime during our conversation, she told us she was having a boy. I couldn’t help it – I turned to Tyler and squeezed his knee “It’s a boy!” I barely choked out. He laughed at me breaking the wall of formality with my emotional and intimate exclamation of what I knew was our shared excitement.

She laughed too, and I could be wrong, but I think that sealed the deal for her.

On November 29, after 3 hours of torturous, un-medicated labor, she gave birth to Isaiah. We were out the door and on our way to the hospital as soon as we could get a grandparent to stay home with Elise.

He was sleeping soundly when we got there, beautiful and bundled in his mama’s arms. She passed him to me and I stared, searching his face for a sign that he consented to me being his Mama too. When he opened his eyes, I knew I was in love and would do whatever it took to win him over.

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The next 24 hours were spent as a proud, doting family. Three parents feeding, snuggling, and swaddling. Three parents cooing and aww-ing over his toes and his hair and his pouty milk-drunk lip.

Her good-bye the next day broke my heart.

Our emotions were high as in the next instant were asked to wheel our crying baby into the special care nursery. They had warned us that his newborn scores were high. He needed to be watched and treated until he was healthy enough to go home.

We were cautiously optimistic that he would improve over the next couple days. Meanwhile, the grandparents all came to visit and brought Elise to see her new baby brother.

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But his symptoms worsened and the next two weeks would be spent separated – Tyler and Elise at home and Isaiah and I across the state at the hospital.

It was agony to be separated, but Isaiah and I bonded during our time as just us. We had a lot to learn about each other and not a lot else to do with our time. My heart broke over his piercing cries and his stiff, curled body. And it melted over his sleeping smiles, happy sighs, and dark eyes that commanded me to hold him tight and never let go.

Isaiah sleeping

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On December 13 we were finally discharged and came home to begin life as a family.  Even though legally we had only “temporary custody” of him, we were over-the-moon with excitement.

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On February 9th, Isaiah’s birthmom called me to say she had made her decision official and signed the paperwork that would make us able to apply to adopt Isaiah. She didn’t need to do that, but we had bonded during our time together in the hospital. This woman is something else… her call meant so much to us.

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And on May 19th, Isaiah Levi became ours.

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Not, “We ‘are’ adopting him.”

Not, “He’s pretty much ours.”

Not, “We’re just waiting for it to be official.”

He’s ours. We’re his.

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For Keeps.