Sunday night, Marcie couldn’t sleep. At 3:30 in the morning she went out to the couch. She was groggily trying to set the alarm on her phone when it rang. I found this out minutes later when she shook me awake to tell me who called: Open Adoption and Family Services. They wanted to know if we would adopt a baby who had been born hours before, outside of Seattle.
The first flight out of Minneapolis we could get was at 12:50 pm. We used the morning to clean the house, arrange for dog care, and tie up loose ends with work. I should have been terrified. We were about to become parents. Everything would change forever. But I was weirdly calm. If the call had come last year, or the year before, or the year before that, I would have been terrified. But by now, we were more than ready.
Up until eighteen months ago, we were living in Portland. During a couple years of unsuccessful fertility treatments, we learned about open adoption from Dan Savage’s book The Kid. For those who may not know; in open adoption, the adoptive parents are the parents, but the birth parents are part of the family. They visit regularly, and the child knows about them from the beginning. It may sound scary, but it’s clearly better for the child than wondering where he came from or why the birth parents chose adoption. And it’s better for the birth parents than wondering what became of their child. And it’s also better for us, knowing from the beginning that the birth family is as committed as we are to us being the parents.
We went through the training with OA&FS, had our home study done, our backgrounds checked, our fingers printed, built our autobiographies and photo collages, and attended monthly support groups for waiting families. We met lots of wonderful people in the waiting pool and formed some lasting friendships. The average wait is 12-18 months, but the actual wait time is totally random; it just depends on when a birth family chooses you. For the first year, we didn’t sweat it. We were still new to the pool, and parenting was still a scary prospect. We spent a lot of time with friends who had small children, picking up whatever practice we could. As the second year wore on, we started to get demoralized. All of our friends from our initial training had adopted, and we were thrilled for them of course, but becoming anxious for our turn. The wait is a strange period of zero feedback. Birth mothers may or may not be looking at our file, and they may be strongly considering us and choosing someone else based on the tiniest random detail. We don’t know. It feels like being stranded on an island, contemplating the vast odds against anyone receiving our message in a bottle.
Right around the two year mark, we moved to Minneapolis. We felt confident it was the right career move for Marcie, and that a new adventure would be good for us. We could stay registered with OA&FS. Most of their clients are in the Pacific Northwest, but our counselor told us that waiting families outside the region get chosen all the time. It’s just impossible to predict who gets chosen and why. Living in the Midwest might reduce our odds, but we couldn’t make a decision on the move based on the entirely unknown preferences of our entirely unknown future birth family.
Our file was put on hold until we could complete a home study for our new home. In the end it took six months, and much more money than we expected, to get ourselves in accordance with Minnesota’s requirements. Marcie’s relatives in the Twin Cities and our many new friends gave us great support, but we still found ourselves in culture shock. And we got here just in time for the worst winter in 30 years. We couldn’t help but feel that moving far away from our adoption agency had torpedoed our chances of being chosen.
In June, it had been three years since we entered the pool. It was starting to feel like our time was running out. We had always wanted to adopt an infant, but we started to seriously consider adopting older children through the state. We planned to attend an informational meeting about state adoption in mid July. A week before that meeting, we got the call.
We didn’t know how long our stay in Washington would be. Our agencies in Washington and Minnesota would have to complete an interstate compact before we could take the baby home. Early in our training, we were told of the possibility of placing outside our home state, and living in a hotel for a week or more while the papers finalized. We packed a lot of clothes, wrapped the car seat in a giant black garbage bag, and went to the airport.
Checked in and past security, we took some time to assess over lunch. The one thing we really needed was a name. We’d talked about names periodically, more often in the first year of our wait. Usually it was me suggesting some outlandish name and Marcie vetoing it. But now the pressure was on. We pulled up a list of baby names on Marcie’s phone. A handful jumped out at us. It would take us until the following morning to officially settle on Wyatt. That name never came up in any of our prior searches, which is nice. It kind of feels like it was his name all along.
We made it to the hospital around 5 pm on Monday. A counselor from the Seattle office of OA&FS met us in the birthing center lobby, and informed us that the birthmother had already left. She was struggling with some things and decided to leave the hospital as soon as they would let her go. We don’t know a lot about her, but we know she was committed to an open adoption, and we know she overcame significant obstacles in order for us to adopt her baby. We are maintaining open lines of communication, and we hope to meet her when she is ready.
Wyatt was sleeping in the nursery. There were two cushy recliners next to his cradle where we could sit and hold him and feed him. We stayed in the hospital the first night. The nurses made sure we ordered food before the kitchen closed. They had a room for us– a nesting room normally used by parents who had just given birth. As far as the hospital was concerned, new parents are new parents. Now, it’s not like we’ve been shunned or oppressed based on our choice to adopt, but somehow the attitude at the hospital was really refreshing. It also brought home the reality that we were now parents.
At 48 hours old, Wyatt was discharged from the hospital, and we all moved into a hotel a block down the street. At this point we determined to shamelessly use our story for added sympathy from any and all service providers. It turned out the hotel had a discount rate for people coming from the hospital, and they left a small gift basket in our room. They also provided a pack’n’play, but it wouldn’t stay assembled, so we just let Wyatt lay on one of the beds.
The hotel offered breakfast every day. For all our other meals, I walked across the street to a slightly divey family restaurant for take-out. We thought we’d be able to just kick back and bond with the baby during our hotel stay, but there were endless amounts of stuff to do, largely due to the fact that it was a last minute placement. And of course, the adoption happened at the yearly peak of activity with Marcie’s company. Even though we didn’t sleep a whole lot between feedings, it was a relief to close down activity for the night.
Marcie’s Mom drove up from Salem and stayed one night, and a friend from Portland took a day off work to drive up. We would have loved to introduce Wyatt to all our friends and family in the area, but there just wasn’t time. In the end, we were only in the hotel for three nights. Our friends at OA&FS and Adoption Minnesota worked hard to put the interstate compact through in record time. On the fifth day after learning of Wyatt’s existence we were taking him on a plane home.
Everyone in the airport had the same reaction. First, they gushed about how small and cute he was. Then they asked how old he was, and were horrified that we were taking a 5 day old baby on a plane. Then we told them about the adoption, and they were overcome with joy.
Some people tell us we’re being courageous for adopting, as if it were a kind of charity action. That’s a nice sentiment and we appreciate the goodwill behind it, but it’s really a misinterpretation. We are not rescuing this child. We had a need, the birthmother had needs, the child had needs, and we made an agreement that helps us all. If anyone acted with courage, it was Wyatt’s birthmother.
We’ll make sure Wyatt knows that as he grows up.