From Monday to Friday: Four Days to Adoption
How fast can parenthood happen? It only took us four days… or six months… or two years, depending on how you look at it.
Pan in on a couple sitting across from each other at a table decorated with two margaritas and a centerpiece of guacamole. Their conversation is hushed, but from the look on their faces, serious. The man pushes his phone across the table. A single glance is all it takes for the woman’s eyes to brighten like a sunrise and then moisten like incoming rain.
The camera focuses on the phone’s display. The picture is of a newborn brandishing a contagious smile.
I like to think the movie of my life will start at that moment. Aged 41, happily married for 18 years and unknowingly passing a picture of my future daughter across the table to my wife.
Monday. The email spelled out the details: a newborn just three weeks old up for adoption. Most adoption opportunities presented themselves when the birth mother was in the last month of her pregnancy. In this instance, the birth mother had walked into the hospital and stated her intentions right before giving birth.
The emails from the adoption agency often included a picture of the prospective birth mother, but this one included a picture of the newborn. Baby Girl was her official name (and continued being her official name until the adoption was finalized after six months).
How could I possible describe that photo of Baby Girl? Love at first sight? She beamed. She had big, wonderful, innocent eyes; black hair falling out of a skull cap; and the mischievous smirk that would become such a common expression on her face as she grows older.
I couldn’t wait to surprise my wife with the photo that night. Of course, we’d been through this circus before on many occasions. First, we get the email. Then, we get our hopes up, Last, there’s the “Unfortunately…” phone call.
Later that night, when my wife’s eyes lit up so brightly upon first glance at Baby Girl, I knew she was feeling the same as I. There was something delightfully special about Baby Girl.
Tuesday. Honestly, I can’t remember Tuesday. It was… ordinary. Here I was just three days until holding my daughter in my arms and my day could only be described as uneventful.
In the movie version, this is where the time-lapse collage with uplifting music is inserted. They’ll probably alter it to have me painting a room pink or installing baby-proofing throughout the house. If the time-lapse were accurate, there would be a lot of scenes with me sitting at the computer typing, punctuated with the drinking of several cups of coffee. Perhaps one such scene would have me holding the still-steaming coffee between my hands, breathing in the aroma while having an epiphany about how my life is about the change. In truth, I don’t like to hold my coffee cup in both my hands. It’s hot.
Wednesday. I may not remember Tuesday, but Wednesday night will always be etched into my brain. My wife was at an after-work event. She’d been at her new company for just five weeks now, and four of those were spent training in Florida. She called to let me know she had a message from the adoption agency and it was too loud at the bar for her to call them back.
I didn’t think much of it. First of all, if it was important, they would have tried me after failing to get hold of her. In fact, I was usually the first call. I phoned back and left a message.
What was I doing when I received the greatest news of my entire life? I was playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Not the new one. The original.
My phone rang with the adoption agency in the Caller ID. Expecting a quick call informing us that we had not been chosen, I ran to a corner of the map and hid hoping none of the enemy players would spot me.
“Hi Daniel. Good news!”
Time is quite malleable. We don’t need Einstein’s theory of relativity to tell us this. We only need to experience those moments in our life when the time between two heartbeats goes from .6 of a second to around six minutes or so. There’s a feeling of not being able to breathe, but oddly, there is no major anxiety about it. It’s natural. Like you are underwater but you know you are OK because this weird between-two-heartbeats version of yourself can spontaneously grow gills. It’s like a super power.
And then time catches back up, but when time catches back up, it actually hits fast forward. At least, that’s how the movie version is going to depict the rest of the phone call because I honestly can’t remember it. I was still stuck on “Good news!”
Needless to say, I quit out of Call of Duty.
Thursday. I like to imagine the normal parenting process. The 9-month slow-roll towards welcoming a new human into the house. The first months while you are just crossing your fingers hoping everything is going to be fine. The months where you are going to start that book on parenting “tomorrow” only to find that “tomorrow” really means two weeks before the due date. The baby shower. The purchase of a crib, the painting of a room, the competing versions of “advice” from families and friends that have “been there.”
Our preparation amounted to a mad dash to Babies R Us where we calmly and coolly asked the lady at the front what the hell we were going to need because we were having a baby the next day. To give her credit, she didn’t even glance at my wife’s very-not-pregnant belly as she ticked down the list of essentials: diapers, powder, baby formula (do we want powdered or liquid?), a stroller, a pack n’ play that would double as a crib for the first few months, a few sets of clothes and a car seat.
I’d like to think we’d have been able to handle the list even without the help of that kind lady who happened to be standing at the front of the store and didn’t actually work at Babies R Us, but I’d be lying. We’d never even heard of a pack n’ play before! (Also, that’s the movie version again. We weren’t quite that shellshocked as to ask a random stranger for help. But the movie needs a bit of comic relief.)
Friday. There are many ways in which adoption and parenting through traditional conception are quite the same. In fact, mostly they are the same. One thing that was vastly different for us was transportation. My wife and I have long had a deal when it comes to the driving duties: I drive us there, and she drives us back. And I fully enforced it on our trip to pick up our daughter. But to be fair, she’s a far safer driver than me, and if I was going to put my daughter’s life in the hands of anyone, it would be my wife’s hands.
We were lucky that we were dealing with a full-service adoption agency. Not only did they hand us a beautiful baby girl after we signed the check, they showed us the essentials. You know. How to change her. How to feed her. How the hell to get that car seat strapped properly to the back seat of the car!
I imagine those typical parents come home to a house filled with relatives and good friends. The in-laws are there to help out with any major parenting emergencies like “poop” or burping. We came back to a house that was… empty. My mother didn’t live near near us, and my wife’s parents still worked. So for the first few hours, we did what any brand-spanking-new parents would do in the same situation: we took selfies in the mirror!
Afterward. My wife took a week off to welcome our Baby Girl to our house. A new employee at work, she wasn’t eligible for maternity leave for six months. They did grant her that maternity leave, and we had a grand ole Christmas, but after that first week, it was just me and my baby daughter. As a freelance writer, I can work from home and set my own hours. This gave me the flexibility to be a stay-at-home dad.
I admit, I was always a little anxious how it would all work out. I was anxious the first time my wife said, “I’m pregnant.” (And elated. And transformed. And freaked out.) I was anxious after several miscarriages led to us turning to adoption. Of adoption, I remember thinking… wow. It’s going to happen. Trying to get pregnant was an “if the fates so will it so it shall be…” affair. Both in our early forties, it was a roll of the dice, and the percentages probably weren’t on our side. But with adoption, it would eventually work out. At some point, we would have a baby.
When we first arrived home with Baby Girl and placed her in the basinet that came with her pack ‘n play, I remember thinking, “now what?”
The truth is that “now what” turned out to be amazingly… natural. Easy, even. I must admit, we have an easy kid. She’s rarely sick. She started sleeping through the night around month five. She’s always had a calm temperament compared to other kids her age.
But I’ve never found being a dad to be that difficult. In fact, the hardest part is dealing with the worries we all have as parents. Is she going to be safe doing this, is that high temperature a sign of something worse, etc. But parenting itself, especially during those first few months, has been amazingly easy.
Let’s be honest. Newborns aren’t that hard. They can’t walk. They can’t even crawl, so you pretty much know where they are at all times. They eat. They sleep. And so long as they do both of those things perfectly fine, your job is mostly done. Things may get a little more difficult when they begin to crawl, and then talk, and then walk, and then… but that’s when our movie begins to scroll the credits and show old home video footage of those first steps and that sweet “da da” that isn’t so much a word but an accidental repetition of meaningless syllables.
Here’s one thing I’ve learned about adoption: it’s not uncommon. I can’t count the number of times we’ve met other families only to find that they adopted, or one of them was adopted, or one of them has a sibling that adopted, etc. It is amazing how much more common it is than you might know when you first start looking into adoption.
And those common adoption fears? If you are contemplating adoption, I can safely say most of those are… bullshit.
You are going to love your adopted baby as much as any biological baby. Absolutely. Without a doubt. It is simple math. Love for a child is infinite. And an infinite number is equal to any other infinite number. Even if it is infinity plus one.
No, you aren’t going to “know what you are getting.” There’s something about genetics that makes us feel safe as if our kid is going to turn out much like us. But the truth is that becoming a parent is always a roll of the dice. And while genetics may play its roll in how our kids turn out, so does how we raise them.
In fact, my daughter and I look amazingly alike. We have different skin color. And different hair. And there’s nothing about our nose, ears, eyes, chin or cheeks that makes for an easy comparison. But the way we smile, and gesture, and laugh and even our sense of humor… the same.
And if you are worried about how to have “the talk” about adoption, don’t. Have an open discussion. Our daughter has always known she was adopted. We let her guide the conversation by asking questions. Sometimes, they are easy. “Was I in your belly?” Sometimes they are hard. “Why did my birth mom give me away?” Always, we answer truthfully.
Adoption will always be a special type of parenting. This can be especially true if your adopted child is visually different than you. “Does she know who her real parents are?” will become a question you dread. “Yes, they are sitting right fucking beside her,” you don’t answer because you are a nice person and drawing more attention to the wrongness of the question doesn’t do anyone any good but goddamn it feels good to think it very loudly.
But this is the beauty of having the adoption always be an open discussion. It helps eliminate (or at least reduce) the question marks that pop up during life.