I’ve never been someone who demanded a lot of attention on my birthday. And when I turned 40, I really began to regret the day. I hated turning 40. I didn’t expect it to hit me as hard as it did but the day I woke up and told myself I was 40, I got really pissed off. Part of it, though not all of it, was because I was 40 and not yet a mom.
That feeling about my birthday changed on October 15, 2012 when we got the phone call, on my birthday, that we were finally going to be parents.
We are your classic “waited-too-long-to-have-a-baby couple”.
I’m a planner. I wanted things to happen in the order someone or something instilled in me: high school, then college, career, marriage, house, kids, retirement… The problem with following this plan was that I was 35 when I got married and 37 when we bought our first house; I was in the geriatric stage of fertility when the plan progressed to having kids. My physician had for years warned me about waiting too long to have kids. Every year at my physical she checked in about it. She did it in a very caring way, gently pushing me to hurry up if we intended to have kids. But I just wasn’t ready. When I told her we were finally trying, she suggested we both submit to fertility testing because, “why not”? Our health insurance would automatically cover it since we were over 35 and she would hate for us to try for a year and then find out later we had fertility issues related to our age.
So we did.
And we had issues.
We totally skipped right over trying to get pregnant on our own and moved straight to IVF. After 3 failed attempts and absolutely no hope for a better outcome, we were left finding a new way to bring a child into our family. For a hot minute we considered an egg donor. But I was NEVER excited about being pregnant. I just wanted a kid. And selfishly I yearned to see which pieces of me and which pieces of my husband Kevin our kid would end up with. But really pregnancy was merely a means to an end and I was not excited about experiencing it at all. And then there was breastfeeding. Ugh. So why would I move forward with an egg donor to birth a child that genetically wasn’t going to be mine anyway? Ok, so the baby would be genetically my husband’s and that would have been cool. But in the end that really didn’t matter enough.
Adoption was the solution for us.
It didn’t take long for me to get excited about adoption. The moment we decided to move forward with that, I was 100% on board. And I was 100% past the whole genetic thing. But that is me. I’m not one to wallow in sorrow for long or spend much time worrying about things I can’t control. I know I’m really lucky this way.
Onward with the adoption process! We found an adoption agency and got started with the application and home study right away. We didn’t want to waste any time. I knew the process would be long and I was tired of waiting! I was ready to be a mom… like yesterday. An adoption application asks you to identify which gender, age, race and medical histories you are willing to entertain. It’s interesting how, when adoption isn’t real for you, you think, “Of course I’d be open to any gender, age, race or medical history”, but when faced with actually committing to such a thing, it begins to feel different. And there is real shame that came with that for me.
From the beginning, my husband was open to any race or medical challenge but it took me a lot longer to get comfortable with those things. I think the best advice I can give someone starting their adoption process is to be honest with yourself about what you can handle or embrace and don’t make any apologies along the way. Limiting your search to just one race doesn’t make you a racist. Not being open to adopting a child with special needs doesn’t make you a heartless person. Stretching yourself beyond your comfort level is not fair to you or the child that joins your family. But know that sometimes, along the way, your heart and your head become more ready for the challenge. And that happens when it happens. And that eventually happened for me! The family portrait I kept imagining was becoming more colorful.
It’s also helpful to take advantage of support groups for parents waiting to adopt. We met another couple who have become great friends of ours and having someone else who is going through the same thing as you is so helpful. It would have been a much lonelier and confusing process along the way if it weren’t for them. And now that we both have children, it wouldn’t be nearly as fun as it has been with them in our lives. As our kids grow older and adoption begins to mean something more to them, having each other to bounce ideas off of and to get support will be so helpful.
So we submitted an application that was open to any race and knowing how things typically work out, we were fully expecting to adopt a child who was not Caucasian. We were excited for that adventure. We attended workshops on adopting a child from a different race and we learned about caring for black hair (so intimidating). We talked to other families and really began to fall in love with the idea of being a multicultural family.
We spent about a year with our chosen agency, but little opportunity was presenting itself. We became frustrated and grew tired of waiting. We decided we needed to branch out and work with an additional agency to maximize our opportunities. Luckily our first agency was supportive of that and they provided a lot of advice and support regarding the second agency we chose. After receiving a referral to another agency we made the call to start the process with them. The good news was that they worked quickly and I wouldn’t be waiting long. At this point, money didn’t matter. I didn’t know how we would figure it out but I just knew we could if we needed to. The very next day I called the agency!
The following Tuesday, just four days after my first phone call to them, and before we even submitted an application, they called to tell me they had a potential birth mom profile to float our way. I couldn’t believe it. Holy smokes! Four days! They encouraged me to get our application in so we could be considered and we rushed to complete it. Anyone who has ever completed one knows these things can take weeks to get through. We had it done in like three days. A week after our initial phone call, we had a birth mom profile sitting in front of us.
It was finally starting to feel real.
I knew not to get too excited, that many opportunities don’t work out. I was prepared for that and I was OK with that. In fact, that is exactly how the first opportunity panned out. The birth mom decided to keep her baby and we knew going in she was probably going to choose that. We were sent several other profiles in the weeks to follow but just none of them seemed to feel quite right and we passed on those opportunities. It’s hard to pass on an opportunity, not knowing how many more will come your way but if it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t right. I maintained hope and belief that in the end, there was a baby for us.
And there was!
In the beginning of October, less than two months after my first phone call, we were asked if we wanted our profile presented to a mom who just gave birth to a 5 pound, full-term, healthy baby girl. She appeared at the hospital, completely unaware she was carrying a child, complaining of food poisoning. She thought she had eaten bad Mexican food. Can you believe that? Isn’t the power of denial amazing? To think that little taco rode around in that belly for 9 months completely incognito. What a strong little fighter she must be. I wanted her.
The baby was Caucasian, and even though we were not on that wait list, we were being offered this opportunity because it was a high risk situation. They weren’t sure if the mom would follow through with an adoption plan and not all families were willing to put themselves in that situation. We were totally open to that gamble. I was so hopeful this was my child. She was beautiful.
Tina Jean was born in August and went into foster care upon release from the hospital. The adoption agency encouraged mom to take some time to think about what she wanted to do. She didn’t name a father or give any information about him and in Texas, after 30 days, the father’s rights are terminated. By the time we learned of this opportunity, the 30 days had passed and the only challenge left was whether mom was going to follow through with the adoption plan. She traveled for work and wasn’t available to review the family profiles except on the rare occasion she traveled through town. So the process dragged on a bit.
When we flew to Austin, Texas mid-October to visit my husband’s family we knew we were one of three remaining families in the pile of profiles the birth mom was considering. They told us they would call us on Monday, October 15 with her decision. Monday happened to be my birthday. You know, that date I hated so much. It was late in the evening when the call came. My husband showed me the phone and it said “Dallas, TX”. It was them! He stood up and walked to the back of the house. My heart sank to my stomach. I felt like throwing up. I just looked at my in-laws and said “oh, my God. I don’t know what I want the answer to be”. Because as much as I wanted a baby and as much as I loved that this baby was here and healthy and beautiful, the thought of raising a child and having my life change dramatically was so scary. I was freaking out. A short time later, Kevin walked back into the room and said “we’re going to be parents!” We all cheered and cried and toasted glasses of wine. It was an amazing birthday present. We couldn’t believe it was happening.
But oh my God, we needed twice the amount of money we had saved and borrowed from family members. And we needed it in five days. All I can say is thank God for awesome family members. Even my own father, who keeps a pretty tight hold on his money, willingly offered up whatever we needed. That problem became not a problem in about 15 minutes flat. We learned that day just how much grandparents love their grandchildren. Pretty much nothing stands between grandparents and their grandchildren!
So the next day we flew home to Vermont to gather the money, assemble a nursery, tidy up things at work, make arrangements for the dog and share our good news. We turned around and flew right back to Austin three days later and then drove to Dallas to meet our new daughter.
We met the birth mom and her parents and the baby at the adoption agency. The social worker introduced us to the foster mother who had cared for her for the last two months and she gave us some advice on how to handle the meeting. I can’t begin to tell you how emotional it was preparing to walk into the room and meet the woman who was giving us her baby! The enormity of that is just beyond belief. Someone was giving us her baby! What a ridiculous gift. How could we be so fortunate? And a baby! An itty bitty baby.
All of those fears were quickly squelched the moment we walked into that room and saw the birth mom holding our baby. She handed her to me and said smiling, “congratulations”. We cried. It was awesome. She was so sure of her decision, it didn’t feel weird at all. Her parents were the sweetest, most amazing people and we instantly all felt like family. I don’t remember what my first sentence was to my new baby but I do remember one of the first things I said to her was “I don’t have a clue what I’m doing so help me out, ok?” Everyone laughed and the foster mom shared some stories about what it has been like to care for Ayda. Ayda is the name we chose for her. Tina Jean was just not a name we could fall in love with. But we did keep Jean as one of her middle names out of respect for her birth family and so she always has a part of them with her.
If you have ever had to put together an adoption profile, you know how hard it is to figure out how to, well, basically market yourself. What pictures do you use? What do you say about yourself? What would be attractive to a birth mother? What if she doesn’t like dogs and our dog is a big part of our story? What if she thinks I’m not girly enough? Will we not “show” well in Texas because we aren’t church going people? It is a weird but fun experience creating an album that shows who you are or, truth be told, who you want other people to think you are. When we were chatting with the birth family, the grandmother told me her daughter chose us because she loved that I had a vegetable garden. Who would have guessed that would be the thing about us that hooked her.
It was hard saying goodbye to the birth family, who we believe we will never see again. Birth mom doesn’t want anyone to know she had a baby and she only agreed to us sending her bi-annual updates. She will not be communicating with us and I’m sad about that. I think about her a lot and wish I knew how she was doing. But we honor her wishes and we stick to sending our updates twice a year, always adding we would love to hear from her if she wishes.
Ayda Jean Catherine Stapleton, our little taco, is now 2 years, 3 months old and is probably just about the coolest kid I’ve ever met. That tough little fighter sleeps through the night and has from day one. She eats kale and lentils and tofu but don’t stand between her and a gummy bear. She’s a biter and she bites hard. But she entertains with great dances, “Baby Bumblee” renditions and funny sayings like “oh man, oh geeze” and “hot diggity dog!” She is a silly kid. I’m pretty sure she gets that from us. Her parents.
Best birthday present ever!
Written by Leslie
Leslie resides in Burlington, VT with her husband Kevin, their daughter Ayda and their greyhound Frankie. You’ll find them frequenting the farmer’s markets, festivals and parks which make Burlington such a great place to live and raise a family.