Sitting on the couch, watching reruns of an old mindless sitcom while wrapped in an afghan, I watch midnight tick by on my phone.
I breathe a little sigh of relief, and feel a pang of grief hit my gut at the same moment. I kiss the four-week-old baby laying on my lap and head upstairs to put her to bed. My vision is blurred by tears. I love this sweet child so, so much, and until this quiet midnight moment I did not know if she would be my daughter. I met her at minutes old and have been up with her for a month of sleepless nights. Her spit-up decorates the shoulder of my top, and her adorable little face decorates the lock screen of my phone.
This is adoption, or at least our family’s story. A popular quote in adoption circles is, “If you know all about one adoption, then you understand one adoption.” Every story is unique and different, every story is rooted in deep loss as well as deep love. My family was formed by the unusual path of adopting four infant children straight from the hospital, and maintaining open adoption with their biological families. We did not set out to specifically follow this path, and were licensed foster parents at points along our journey. We were open to older children, sibling groups, many scenarios. But this is the path through which these little souls found their way to us. This is their story, or at least the parts of it I am willing to share on their behalf.
Every state has different adoption laws, very little is federally regulated in adoption. Our oldest and our youngest child, ages 6 and one month are biological siblings. So are our middle children, 4-year-old twins. Our twins were born and adopted in Ohio, and when consents to adoption were signed by their mother at five days old, they were essentially irrevocable. It took six months to finalize their adoption, but by a week old, we relaxed into parenthood with Ezra and Naomi.
Eli and Naarah, our oldest and youngest, were born in Pennsylvania where we also live. Pennsylvania has very different adoption laws than Ohio, and than many other states. When consents to adoption are signed by parents 72 or more hours after birth, a 30-day revocation period exists. During that month, if for any reason the parents change their mind about placing their child for adoption, they can revoke their consent and take their child back home. I believe this law is good, and right. I believe every state should have this grace period as a mother recovers from birth and makes huge heartbreaking decisions about her child. I am thankful that I can tell our children that the decision to seek a family for them was not taken lightly.
It is also heart-wrenching to parent in the thirty days.
Most of my closest friends are adoptive and foster families. I have friends that have waited years to find out if a child is staying with them, and many friends that have said goodbye to a foster child reunified with their parents. Loving children whose future hangs on the decision of judges, lawyers, advocates, parents, and psychiatrists is a leap into the future, sight unseen. My beautiful friends love well in this chaos. They speak with grace about their foster children’s parents and handle the ups and downs with poise that I do not possess. Whining and griping about our short thirty-day wait feels silly to me sometimes. Yet, at the same time, it is a different kind of wait than the wait in foster care.
In foster care, the lengthy waits and futures in limbo rest mostly in the hands of judges and caseworkers. External forces deciding what they think is best for a child. Such a subjective idea, what is “best,” but that is their job. Hearings and reviews, interactional observations with psychiatrists, and service plans with a set of goals for biological parents are all par for the course in foster care. I have serious admiration for my beloved friends who have been through this dozens of times.
Our thirty days, it is different. It is a private decision in the hands of a mother (and in many cases a father. If identified in an adoption, the same timelines apply to fathers). It is their time period of reflection, processing, grieving, and coming to a conclusion about their child’s future. There is no input, legally, from anyone else. There is no service plan. No goals to be met. No doctor assessing their bond with their child. No gavel coming down and making a decision for them. The choice rests solely on the mother, and the heart-shattering decision before her. They are owed every one of those 30 days. All 720 hours. All 43,200 minutes. I would stand up and testify, I would protest, I would rail against the powers that be if our state tried to change this time period.
When midnight passed on day 30 with our oldest, I felt immense relief coupled with an unexpected crushing grief. Because this child was now on the path to become my legal son, at the loss of another mother.
And yet, for that entire thirty days, for all 720 hours, for every one of those 43,200 minutes, I did not exhale. With our first child, I was home with one infant all day. I prayed, I obsessed, I cried. I smiled with joy holding this sweet boy, and panicked each time my phone rang that it would be the call to end that joy. My family “babysat” me many days — trips to the store or out to dinner to fill the day and distract my mind. It didn’t really work.
When midnight passed on day 30 with our oldest, I felt immense relief coupled with an unexpected crushing grief. Because this child was now on the path to become my legal son, at the loss of another mother. I did not know her well at that point, but my heart ached for her. She is the only other person in the world who loves my son the way that I do, with a mother’s love. It was nearly ten months later when a judge finally signed that official adoption decree, but that night is when the weight of her decision sat squarely in the middle of my chest.
Over the nearly seven years since he joined our family, we have build a beautiful open adoption with his first family. The same is true for our twins’ family. We consider our children’s biological parents and siblings an essential piece of our family, and treasure the relationships that we have build with them.
So, nearly seven years later, when we were asked to adopt the biological baby sister of our oldest, the dynamic was wholly different. Uncontrollable circumstances and the general brokenness of this world had brought us all to this same decision ground again, but now we were not strangers. I won’t speak to her feelings because that is not my story to tell, but I was watching a beloved family member, friend, sister go through this heartache all over again.
I would give their mom that time again, a thousand times over.
Our sweet fourth baby came home from the hospital to us late this summer, and life with four kids under 7 barrelled forward at an intense pace. I didn’t have that many moments to sit at home counting down those minutes, but it was never far from my mind. As with our eldest, I didn’t hold back an ounce of love or affection. She deserved, and got, all of me. A dozen times throughout each day, though, the wind would get knocked out of my chest as I looked down at her and felt the weight of the the limbo we were in. Up for midnight feedings, rocking her in the dark, I would silently cry as I felt her snuggle into my chest. Then the alarm would go off, the whirlwind of getting three kids off to school would begin, and I would forget for a while. Hours later, panic and worry would wash over me again.
I would give their mom that time again, a thousand times over. My anxiety and worry were my own to handle, and don’t negate for one second how vital I think our state’s adoption consent revocation period is. Now that it is passed, and we wait for the paper chasing legal machinations to occur that move us towards legal adoption, I can reflect. My journey to motherhood wasn’t typical, but I would not change a thing. I can never fully separate my joy in mothering from their other mothers’ losses, but I let that dichotomy strengthen and grow me.