A letter to my daughter's birth parents

November is National Adoption Awareness Month, and every year, I think about posting something different on the blog than the following paragraphs.  But every year, I keep coming back to the fact that this is some of the best, most raw writing I've ever done, and this is a story that needs to be told.  So, once again, I'm posting this letter to my daughter's birth parents that I drafted over four years ago. 

Though we have an open adoption, we haven't had contact with Piper's birth father since 2013, and we only connect with her birth mother a couple of times a year (on her terms).  Despite rarely seeing them, the feelings below remain the same.  We will always love Piper's birth parents for choosing life for their daughter and choosing us as her mom and dad.

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national adoption awareness month

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Dear Amanda and Conner,

I have no idea if you'll ever read these words, but I have to write them.  I have to hope that, even if you never stumble across this blog or open the card that we sent on your court day, you somehow know the way that we feel about you.

I remember getting the call that you were at the hospital, Amanda.  It was June 28th, the day that we would meet our girl.  I had simultaneously anticipated and dreaded this day since May 16th, when I first heard your voice on the phone.  Although I was grateful to be allowed in the delivery room when Piper was born, I was also unsure of myself.  

Would I say something stupid?  Would I pass out at the sight of a live birth?  Would I be able to convey my excitement about bringing home Baby Girl without rubbing salt in your wounds?

 At least our case worker would be there to help us know how to navigate this situation that most people never face...

Except that when Andrew and I arrived at the hospital, you only wanted the two of us back there with you.

 Panic.  

I was honored that you and Conner trusted and loved us enough to let us experience something so special, but up to this point, we had depended on Bonni to help us know what to say to you and how to act.  Andrew put his arm around my shoulders, and I quickly prayed for the kind of strength and wisdom that could never come from me.  

Please don't act like an idiot, please don't act like an idiot.

When we walked in the room, my fears were gone, and I immediately felt at home.  "Hey guys!" you grinned.  Even in labor, you were beautiful and calm.

In a few minutes, the nurse came in to check you.  She looked at Andrew and me, hinting with her eyes that we should step out.  We took the clue and started to leave the room when you, Conner, stopped her and said, "No, it's okay.  They're family."  

I wonder if you know how much those words meant.

Time seemed to stand still as we spent the next hour or so talking with both of you and trying to wrap our minds around this huge thing that was about to happen.  Though we had met you before, those moments in the delivery room were especially precious to me as we actually got to know the parents of our little girl.  In the moments away from the agency, the paperwork, and the caseworkers, you became my friends and not just the couple who had chosen our profile book.   

When the nurse came back later, it was "go time."  Andrew and I stood awkwardly at your head and stroked your hair as we tried to think of something to offer other than, "You're doing great!"  Conner, you were a natural.  You knew exactly what to say and do to help your girl.  And Amanda, wow.  You made labor and delivery look like a walk in the park.  I honestly expected so much anger and frustration, but all I saw in that situation was love.  

I wish there was a way for you to have stood back and watched the scene like we did.  Your relationship with each other is inspiring, and your affection for a baby who you bore for someone else is, frankly, earth-shattering.  Those words that Conner whispered as you pushed, "Come on, Amanda, this is the last thing we can do for her," melted my heart in more ways than you'll ever realize.

Just 30 minutes after you started pushing, Piper was here.  I cried the happiest tears of my life as I took in her thick hair, her chubby cheeks, and her perfect little body.  Then I watched as the two of you held her, and my heart broke.  

This was the reason why I had been so afraid of our time together in the hospital.  You clearly loved her as much as I did, yet you knew that she wasn't yours to keep.  

You said that we deserved her, and I knew that wasn't true.

The nurses came in and out to check on Piper as the four of us bounced back and forth in our conversation between the trivial and the significant.   Andrew and I left for about an hour to pick up some food and to give you two time alone with Piper.  We got back to the room and ate dinner together, and I found myself wishing (though I knew the impossibility of my idea) that there was a way for the five of us to be the little family who lived happily ever after.

The hospital prepared a room around the corner for Andrew, Piper, and me, and we slowly collected our belongings to spend our first night as a family of three.  Before I went to bed, I walked down the hall to refill my water bottle.  Your door was open, and I stopped.  Conner, you were headed out for some fresh air, so I sat down in a chair next to the bed for some "girl time."  Amanda, as I listened to you share your hopes and dreams, as you talked about your friends, and as you revealed your plans for college in the fall, I felt connected to you in a way that few people will probably ever be able to grasp.  

Though we didn't always talk over the past nine months, we were in each other's hearts as we shared this journey.  We have a unique bond: I wanted so badly to be in your place (to be pregnant), and you wanted to be in mine ("established" enough to raise a baby).  There is no way to explain those feelings to anyone else, but I think you know.

The night passed uneventfully, and I began to think about how the two of you would be going home to a new "normal" in just a few hours.  I started dreading those last moments in the hospital.  Finally, around 2:30 the next day, both of you came down the hall.  This was it.  Andrew and I stepped out of the room to give you the space that you needed with Piper. We held each other tightly and prayed for the words to say as we waited for you to come out.  About five minutes later, the two of you entered the hall with Piper, and all the tears that I had been holding back came flooding out as I looked at your faces.  

 I never guessed that goodbye would be so hard.

Amanda, I've thought that you are unbelievably strong throughout this entire journey, so seeing you dissolved by emotion was almost unbearable.  It would have been wildly inappropriate to take pictures in the moments that followed, but the scene will forever be captured in my mind as you handed Piper to me for the last time and as you, Conner, hugged my husband like there was no tomorrow.  In those moments, every word I had rehearsed was gone.  Each of us knew that there was nothing to be said which could possibly convey the feelings we had.  In shaky voices and through blinding tears, we all said how much we love each other.  Amanda, you asked me to "take good care of her," and I promised that I would.  Then the two of you went around the corner and back to your lives.

I still cannot fathom how a day can be so joyful and so gut-wrenching at the same time.

Andrew and I walked downstairs to the hospital's chapel, where I buried my head in his lap, and we both sobbed.  I had thought that I would be filled with guilt when you two went home without a baby, but really I was overcome with profound sadness.  I was sad for you because of the difficulty of your decision, and I was sad for us because I felt like we had just lost two people who, in a matter of days, had come to mean everything to our family.  

"Be still and know that I am God," the walls of the chapel read, and this is ironically the verse tattooed on the wall of our bedroom at home.  Both of us found it difficult to "be still," because our hearts were so heavy for you.  We prayed over and over for God to give you peace, and I still pray every day that you've found it.

As I got ready to go home the next morning, I burst into tears all over again, and I wondered how many days would pass before I woke up without crying for you.  In the weeks since we have been home with Piper, time has slowly eased the hurt, but I don't think of you any less.  I have never once doubted that you would change your minds about the decision you made, but I have felt an unexplainable stillness in knowing that if you did, I would be okay because as much as I care about Piper, I care about the two of you equally.

Every night before bed, we tell Piper how many people love her, and the two of you are always at the top of the list because you will always be her parents, too.  

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I can't wait until she is old enough to ask questions about the picture of the four of us on the wall in her room, until she wonders how she got her beautiful black hair, and until she makes the connection that her middle name is the same as her birth mother's.  I can't wait for that day because then I get to tell her, once again, the story of two people named Amanda and Conner who loved her so much that they made the greatest sacrifice two people could ever make.

People say that you can't understand true love until you have a baby.  Although I don't fully agree with that statement, I do believe that I've experienced a fuller and deeper kind of love because I met you.  In your words, Conner, this situation was just "meant to be."

Through our whole adoption journey, I have been the most worried about our relationship with our child's birth parents, and that has actually come to be the most beautiful part of it all.    

You named our sweet girl Grace when she was with you for nine months, and grace has absolutely been the theme of our song.  "Thank you" seems so inadequate for expressing the gratitude we daily feel for your selfless gift, Piper.  Somehow I hope you know just how much you mean to us, not just for giving us a daughter who we could never have on our own, but because of the truly strong and special people that you are.  I love you and respect you both, and because of you, my heart is full for the first time in years.

Love,

Mary Rachel

On Telling My Child That She Is Adopted

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For weeks now, we have been attempting to prepare our daughters for another little person's entrance into our household through foster care this fall.  None of this has had any effect on Caroline whatsoever, except that she now gets to share a room with her older sister (which she thinks is awesome).

Our four-year-old, though, is full of questions, particularly about how this child is coming to be a temporary or long-term part of our family. 

"Is it going to be a boy or a girl?"

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"Is it a baby?"

"How long is she going to be here?"

"Do you have a baby in your tummy, Mommy?"  (Ouch.)

"Was I in your tummy, Mommy?"

Piper knows the answer to the last question, but sometimes I think she asks it simply because she wants to hear the answer again.    

People often wonder if Piper understands that she is adopted or if we plan to tell her that she is.  Though the conversation has gone differently at various ages, we've been telling her every day since she was born.  

During her first year of life, we prayed for Piper's birth mom aloud with Piper before bed and named "Ms. Anna" among the lengthy list of "People Who Love Piper".  When Piper began to talk, I asked her why she is special and taught her to answer, "Because God made me.  And I'm adopted!"  Now, she is at the age of obsession with baby dolls and actual babies, so we discuss whose tummy held which infant for nine months.  Always, we've celebrated "Gotcha Day", the day that she officially took our last name and became a part of our forever family.

I have no idea if we're doing any of this "the right way," but we're telling her because we think it's important that she knows.  If we want her to trust us down the road, we are committed to building trust now - in the big things, the little things, and everything between.

"Don't ever tell her that she's adopted," advised the ten-year-old during one of my afternoon tutoring sessions.  "Kids are mean," he said.  "They'll make fun of her."

Kids are mean.  Adults are mean.  Kids don't learn The Golden Rule early in life, and the adults who have learned it forget.  However, kids are mean about anything.  They're mean about adoption, but they're also mean about wearing glasses, having the wrong haircut, and bringing lunch from home instead of buying a school lunch.  I'm hoping that we can teach Piper to choose friends who will love her for exactly the adopted Piper she is.

People have also recommended that we wait until Piper is older to talk to her about adoption because it is too painful and messy to deal with now.  

It is painful and messy.    

The truth is, in a perfect world, there would be no need for adoptions.  There would be no abortions, infertility, miscarriages, abuse, or poverty.  We are not in a perfect world, though; we are in a broken one, so there are messes everywhere.  Like an open wound, painful situations do not disappear when they are ignored.  They might keep from worsening for a time, but eventually, wounds fester and ooze out even more gunk than there would have been if they were properly treated initially.  

So we will tell her.  Now.  As much as her little mind can handle.  We will tell her until she can tell the story, too, and then we will keep telling her after that.  

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We will tell her about how God used years of infertility, tests, and surgeries to mold our hearts and bring her into our family.

We will tell her about a brave 17-year-old who chose life and chose us.  From the Internet.  Because she loved her growing baby more than she loved herself.

We will tell her about the envelopes with money that anonymously appeared on our doorstep or under the windshield wipers to help finance her adoption.

We will tell her about my coworkers bursting into tears in the office when I got the phone call that we had been picked to be her parents.

We will tell her about the many people who walked with us and prayed for her for months before she was born.

We will tell her about the overwhelming love we felt from the moment she appeared in the delivery room.  And the overwhelming hurt we experienced when her biological parents left the hospital the following day, empty-handed.

We will tell her about how every detail of our lives was laid bare before the adoption agency and the judge, and somebody decided that we "passed inspection".

We will tell her about the day that her entire "new" extended family came to court and watched her take our last name.

We will tell her why her middle name is Anna and the significance of the fact that Anna means "Grace," the name she was called on her original birth certificate. 

We will tell her how she got her awesome Mexican hair and her amazing brain that memorizes entire books after reading them only a couple of times.

We will tell her about her biological half-sister, who is Caroline's age and lives with Anna.  

We will tell her about how her adoption has opened doors for us to tell others of the goodness of God, and how her life has made us believe in his goodness again, too.

We will tell her all of these things because they make her who she is.  Because she deserves to know.  And quite frankly, we'll tell her because the story of her adoption is a good, good story to tell.

National Infertility Awareness Week: Our Story

1 in 8.

That's how many couples struggle to build a family.  I never thought that we would be one of them.  

This is our story of infertility.

When my husband and I got married in 2009, we had a grand plan to wait five years before trying to have children.  A year into marriage, we decided that we were ready.  My cycles had always been normal and painless, and Andrew didn't have any known issues.  So when we began actively trying to conceive in October 2010, I was already dreaming about how we would announce my pregnancy to our immediate families at Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving passed, and so did Christmas.  

"Normal couples are able to conceive within six months to a year," my doctor said.  "Not to worry.  Come back and see me in a few more months."

"Not to worry."  Of course I worried.  When it seemed like every woman around me simply had to look at her partner in order to get pregnant, I began to wonder what was wrong with me.  

I did go back to see that doctor in a few more months.  I went through a whole gamut of blood and hormonal tests and then started taking drugs for our "unexplained infertility".  These did nothing but make me an emotional mess.  At this point, my husband was referred to a specialist for further diagnostic testing.

There were major issues.

The surgery required to repair the problem only had a 50 percent success rate.  Desperate, we proceeded with the surgery and waited for the results.  

It didn't work.

I remember sitting on the edge of our bed, month after month, with a negative pregnancy test in my hand yet again, and sobbing.  I prayed, I yelled, and I questioned.  Mostly, though, I just cried.

One month, there was the faintest blue line on the test that would have indicated a positive result.  I didn't dare to hope that it was real, and sure enough, I started a new cycle within the week.  An early miscarriage, I think.  This never happened again, and I never spoke of it with anyone.

In 2012, my doctor wanted to do more invasive testing to determine our next steps.  My tubes were blocked.  More devastation.

Fortunately, surgery was able to repair my tubes.  Still, with our combined issues, the doctor's prognosis was that a successful pregnancy was "highly improbable."  More tears.  

We chose not to attempt IVF, the only other option presented.

My husband and I grieved separately throughout all of the months that turned into years.  Cracks began to form in our marriage, which all but disintegrated over the course of our infertility struggle.

In June 2013, a brave birth mom gifted us with our firstborn through adoption.  Piper is perfect, and we both bonded with her immediately.  I eventually made peace with the likelihood that we would never have biological children, but I knew that a part of me would always desire one and wonder why we couldn't.

After Piper's birth, Andrew and I began discussing adoption again.  We weren't ready right away, but since adoption can be a time-consuming and expensive process, we wanted to have a plan.  

As Piper grew, I couldn't have loved her any more than I did.  Yet I still grieved and became depressed.  The addition of this child to our family did not fix our marriage or remove my questions.  

We never stopped trying to build our family biologically, so each month continued to pass with a tinge of disappointment that we could not.

Then, when Piper was 17 months old and completely out of nowhere, I got a positive pregnancy test.

I was convinced that it wasn't real, and I wouldn't let myself look at it.  But the blue line was unmistakable this time, and a second test confirmed that I was expecting.

Caroline, whose name means "joyful song", was born on August 4, 2015, after over four years of infertility.

Our family is perfect, and looking back on our story now, I never would have written it a different way.  Adoption has forever changed our lives for the better, and I can't imagine having any other child instead of our Piper.  It pains me to think that she would not be my daughter if I had gotten exactly what I wanted, when I wanted it.

Caroline is a joyful little toddler.  Every day, she reminds me that I serve a God who is the Master of all types of "highly improbable" situations.  Our marriage has been made new, but that was not the result of having a biological child.  That was Him.

Even with two beautiful girls and an amazing husband/dad, I will never forget the years of sorrow that we endured as a result of infertility and loss.  In my journal in 2012, I wrote, "Every day when I wake up, the whole world feels dark."  I didn't write again for years.     

Our story ended with a pregnancy, but many stories of infertility do not.  I want to remember this.  

And I want to keep telling this story, because 1 in 8 couples deals with infertility, but far less than 1 in 8 actually talk about it.  I've never felt lonelier in my life than when we were walking through our story.

If you aren't dealing with infertility, someone around you is.  Be sensitive.  Be aware.  And heed some of my favorite advice: "Better to be silent and remain a fool than to speak and remove all doubt" (Abraham Lincoln).  Your friend needs your presence, not your platitudes.

If you're in the midst of infertility right now, I'm sorry.  I'm so sorry.  It's horrible.  Know that people will say all sorts of ridiculous things to you, and that well-intentioned friends can never fully understand until they've been where you have.  

You are not alone.  

1 in 8.