A Few Thousand Diapers Later: A reflection on my daughter's adoption

When my oldest daughter was ten months old, I bought diapers for her for the very first time.    

Ten months!  Do you know how amazing that is?  I'm not even sure that I do.  We never paid a dime.  Her diapers were gifts.

More so when she was an infant but even now, too, Piper's teachers comment on her cute outfits and extravagant hair bows.  

"Where do you get all of her clothes?" they ask.  Well, let's be honest.  They come from her grandparents.  They come in big brown boxes on the porch from her family in Texas.  They come in little pink bags, tied with fancy ribbons and a note that says, "Just because," from coworkers and friends.  

I rarely buy her clothes, and her closet is still overflowing.

I was humbled as we began the adoption process, when money would literally just show up on our doorstep or in our mailbox.  There were days when I would find myself in tears, unsure of how to respond to such generosity but very sure that we didn't deserve it.  Almost a year after bringing Piper home, I was once again overcome by the goodness of our loved ones.  I know that diapers are seemingly insignificant, but I also know that most parents don't wait ten months to buy them.  We were, and still are, so blessed.

The night that Piper was born will always stand out to me above all others for many reasons, but one thing is still particularly striking.  My parents had already waited for hours to see her, and when they finally were able to come upstairs at the hospital, my mom burst into tears.  In fact, I don't think she really stopped crying all night.  At one point, I said something like, "Mom, this is a happy day!  You don't have to cry!"  She responded,

"I know.  I have prayed for so long that I would love her just as if she were your biological child, and I really, really do."

She was always meant to be part of our family.

I knew it during the adoption process, I knew it the moment she was born, I knew it when I was buying diapers for the first time in ten months, and I know it today as she is opening her weekly mail from her family in Texas.  As her parents, we would love Piper regardless of any circumstance, but the continual outpouring of kindness from those who are dearest to us has proven to me that she belongs.  She's our daughter, but she's also a granddaughter, a great-granddaughter, a niece, a cousin, and a friend.  She is partly loved by others because we are special to them, but she is also loved because she is special to them.  

Whenever we tell people our story of infertility, we often get responses such as, "That must have totally sucked.  I'm so sorry."

Yes, it did "totally suck", in more ways than I can begin to articulate.  But no, I'm not at all sorry.  Had I become a mom at 22 like I wanted to be, I would not be a mom to Piper.  The timing of life events is commonly beyond our grasp, but it is always perfect.  Somewhere in Oklahoma in 2012, a teenager had to become pregnant, and simultaneously, we had to be waiting for a child instead of already holding one in our arms.  The waiting was excruciating, but I do not have an ounce of regret in retrospect.

Biological children are wonderful, cherished, and exciting.  I know this because I have one, and she is everything I had hoped she would be.  But there is something unique about adoption.  Piper is loved from so many angles, and it is precisely because her birth mother loved her so much that she was able to put her into another woman's arms.  I hated the writing of her story as we were going through it, but now, I'm so grateful that the Author penned it the way that he did.  Not everyone gets to experience the beautiful gift of adoption.  We did, and we will never be the same because of it.

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

A Case for Domestic, Open Adoption

Adoption isn't for everyone.

That isn't what this post is about.  You need to do what's right for your family.

When others find out that we've adopted, we get lots of questions.  Sometimes these questions come because one spouse secretly wants to adopt and is afraid to mention the idea to her partner, because people are trying to decide between international and domestic adoption, or because a couple has talked about adoption for years but has never known where to begin.  Whatever the reason, I'm going to attempt to debunk a few of the myths I've heard (and believed myself) about domestic, open adoptions.  Adoption is important, and I think that more people would do it if it wasn't so intimidating.

Myth #1:  Adoption is too expensive.

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Okay, let's be real.  Adoption through an agency is expensive.  But it's not too expensive.  Our daughter's adoption cost more than we anticipated (over $18,000), but we made it.  We aren't millionaires; our combined incomes are far less than even six figures.  Whether or not you read anything else on this point, please read the following:

If you wait until you have all of the money to adopt, you'll never do it.

 We are very blessed with supportive a family and friends who supported us tremendously, but adoptions are still possible without those things.  There are adoption tax credits, employee adoption grants, odd jobs, savings accounts, low-interest adoption loans, garage sale fundraisers, reduced trips to Starbucks, grants through adoption agencies, and other options.  Normal people (not just wealthy people) can adopt.

Throughout our adoption process, I was in tears, humbled by the grace of God and the generosity of others in helping us bring home little Piper.  We certainly found it to be true that "He can do infinitely more than all we ask or imagine."  

And in case you were wondering, our little girl is more than worth every penny.

Myth #2:  The birth mom will change her mind.

Honestly, she might.  A birth mom can change her mind and decide to parent up until the point when she terminates her rights (within a month after the baby is born in Oklahoma).  This has happened multiple times at the agency we used for our daughter's adoption.  Wouldn't you maybe consider doing the same, though?  All of a sudden, the baby that you've carried for nine months is very real and very beautiful, and it would become very easy to fall in love and very tough to put her in someone else's arms.  I constantly worried that Piper's birth mom would reverse her decision.  But at the same time, I knew that I would be okay if she did.

These birth parents aren't crazy.  They're pretty amazing people actually, and I care about Piper's birth mom so much that I genuinely wanted the best for her in that period of uncertainty.  

Adoption, like most things worth doing, is risky.  The birth mom really could change her mind.  And you really would be okay.

Myth #3:  The birth parents will try to take my child away.

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After birth parents have terminated their rights, they legally cannot take the child from you.  In Oklahoma, birth fathers can sign their rights away before the baby is born.  Birth mothers, as I mentioned before, must appear in court within a month of giving birth to terminate their rights.  After both of those situations have occurred, only the state can take the baby away from you, which would never happen unless they found evidence of you being abusive.  Birth parents aren't going to come knocking on your door to steal your child.  As previously mentioned, they aren't crazy.  

Myth #4:  Open adoptions are a pain and I don't want my child to be in contact with his/her birth parents.

There are varying levels of openness for domestic adoptions.  The agency that we used requires at least a semi-open agreement.  Minimum obligations are sending letters and pictures (via the agency) to the birth parents monthly for the first year, and then twice a year after that.  If you are hesitant to send letters and pictures, I urge you to consider the reasons why.  Your child will always consider you to be her parents, but the desire to know who the birth parents are is innate in every adopted child.  

You owe your child honesty.  

Put yourself in a birth parent's shoes for a moment.  If you had given birth to a baby, you would always want to know that that baby is okay.  You would probably think about him all the time and wonder how he is doing.  You would ask yourself, daily, if you had made the right decision.  

When regarding the tremendous gift that your child's birth parents gave you, doesn't it seem like a small task to update them on your child's life?  

Finally, I urge you to contemplate the caliber of people who choose to give their babies up for adoption.  While it is true that some are not excellent role models, that is not the case in most instances.  Piper's birth parents are exactly the kind of people who I want her to know.  They are selfless, brave, and generous. My husband and I are hoping that they will be involved in Piper's life as she grows.  You don't have to start off an open or semi-open agreement by giving away your phone number.  Our relationship has evolved to the point where we felt comfortable with that, but yours wouldn't necessarily have to be the same.  A healthy sense of caution about birth parents is acceptable; an irrational, judging fear is not.  

Be skeptical of your skepticism.

Myth #5:  My child's birth mom will have consumed drugs and alcohol during her pregnancy and harmed my child.

It's possible, yes.  But maybe not.  Again, there is much to be said here for being cautious as opposed to being fearful.

 At our agency, we were allowed to choose the amount of prenatal drug and alcohol exposure that we would allow for our baby.  None of the case workers made us feel guilty about our decisions or tried to force us to do anything against our beliefs because they knew that we needed to make the best choice(s) for our family.  

In the end, we decided that we had to leave Piper's health and well-being in God's hands. Prenatal drug and alcohol exposures can cause problems for babies and children; so can many other factors.

Myth #6:  An adopted child won't really feel like "ours."

We now have a biological and an adopted child, and I can honestly say that there has not been a day when Piper has felt less "ours" than Caroline does.  I can't imagine my heart being any more full of love, nor can I imagine wanting any other child in the world in her place.  She didn't have to come out of my womb for that to happen.  That's all I have to say about that.

Myth #7:  There is a greater need for international adoption than domestic adoption.

I have a hard time not getting angry about this myth.  International adoption is not "cooler," "better," or "more necessary" than adopting in the the United States.  

If you're going into adoption with the mindset that you are "rescuing" a child, I ask you to consider the thousands of children in your own state who need "rescuing" from foster care ... babies who need "rescuing" from a life of neglect ... teens who need "rescuing" from juvenile detention centers ... birth parents who need "rescuing" from the feeling of having to abort because there are no other options.

And then remember that ultimately, whatever child you bring into your family will end up rescuing you in more ways than you even realized you needed it.

I'm not trying to convince you to do something that you don't think is right for your family.  What I do know is that I believed every single one of these myths until we jumped into Piper's adoption.  Now that I'm on the other side, I can say that a domestic, open adoption is hard, frustrating, scary, unpredictable, unusual, hopeful, happy, freeing, beautiful, and worth every monetary, physical, and emotional cost.  

Adoption is joy. 

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