We were her parents for 45 hours until they told us we couldn’t be.
I (Rachel) don’t remember when I first felt called to adopt, but my family encouraged it. The day my dad saw The Blind Side, he called and told me he couldn’t wait to see what my family Christmas card would eventually look like.
Before Justin finished training as a pediatrician, he traveled to Central America and Russia on medical and humanitarian missions. Part of each trip involved time in orphanages, and he told his parents several times that he had found a little sibling to bring home. After having two boys biologically, we agreed the time had come to start the process of adding to our family through adoption.
Our adoption agency required a two-day orientation, during which they explained adoption laws in Texas: if a woman wishes to place her baby for adoption, she can only do so 48 hours after giving birth. Other laws and protections exist for a birth mother, but few for adoptive families.
In a logical sense, I understand the necessity of protections for a woman who might later regret her decision.
In adoption circles, stories of a birth mother choosing you to parent her baby before she gives birth, only to have the birth mother change her mind, circulate frequently. While I cognitively understand and support laws for birth mothers, the idea of taking a baby home, caring for and bonding with a newborn, and enjoying those first few days and weeks of peaceful, sleepy-eyed wonder only to have to return him or her would be devastating. Our orientation opened our eyes to both the wonder and pain associated with adoption for everyone involved.
So, we knew the risks, but the chances seemed so slim.
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When our agency called only weeks after we submitted our completed application, we cried tears of joy—a birth mother chose us for a semi-private adoption. Open adoptions happen much more frequently in recent years, so choosing a semi-private adoption should have raised a red flag. Other red flags popped up along the way, yet our excitement blinded us.
On April 4, sweet Adeline, our almost daughter, entered the world. Shannon asked me to stay in the room for Adeline’s birth, and I washed Adeline’s hair for the first time. Then, monitors started to beep, and nurses swarmed. Adeline struggled to breathe, and they rushed her to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
As a doctor, I (Justin) know that time in the NICU passes slowly, watching and waiting for any improvement. This allows for a lot of time to bond with a baby, and as adoptive parents and a pediatrician dad, I wanted to soak up every minute and hear the reasoning behind every decision. The more time we spent with Adeline, the more we bonded with her, and we couldn’t wait to take her home.
More warning signs appeared on the second day, and these we noticed.
We overheard one of the nurses saying that the birth mom requested a pump for breastmilk. Another time, we walked out of the NICU to see Shannon’s mother coming to see Adeline. Both meant that Shannon also bonded with Adeline, not preparing to say goodbye.
On Friday, April 6, Rachel and I left the morning visiting hours in the NICU to find our social worker waiting in our room with devastating news. Shannon decided to parent Adeline, and we needed to leave. Rachel turned on her heel, marched to Shannon’s room, and demanded to know what we had done wrong. Shannon kept repeating, “It’s just too hard. I just can’t do it.”
The last time we saw Adeline almost broke me (Rachel). I stood on her right, Justin on her left, her fingers wrapped around each of ours. We prayed for her, weeping, and left a Bible in her bassinet on our final trip out of the NICU. We headed for the elevator, our hearts as empty as our infant car seat.
Most of April exists as a painful haze in my mind’s eye, but I remember somewhere in those first few raw hours, playing with our boys and thinking I couldn’t give these boys up, either.
I think that’s when I began to heal.
I (Justin) knew the process of adoption involved a lot of trust. Trust in an adoption agency to do its best to help things go smoothly. Trust in a birth mom who promises she has chosen you, the best parents for her baby. But, ultimately, trust in God to protect you and the baby no matter the outcome.
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We did eventually successfully adopt our (now) daughter, Hannah, through an open adoption, and Hannah’s birth family feels much like an extension of ours. For that, we remain grateful, yet no one could ever replace Adeline.
While I (Rachel) sometimes find myself looking for my fourth kiddo while counting heads at an amusement park or getting into the car, life goes on for us with three kids instead of four.
Fortunately, stories like ours happen rarely. Most adoption stories involve less tragedy and have happier endings. Yet, the road we walked taught us so much—lessons in trusting God that we might have otherwise missed. And, on this side of a failed adoption, we can confidently say we would go through it all again for those 45 hours with our sweet Adeline.