By Meika Rouda
As an adoptee, I never felt like an outcast until I started attending adoption conferences. It seems silly that I, an adoptee and adopted parent, would feel like an outcast; I am intrinsically ingrained within the topic of adoption. But when I attend these conferences, I am chastised for not seeking out my birthmother and having a “reunion” with her. I have friends who haven’t spoken to one of their parents for years but no one is on their back for a “reunion”. I am even more judged for not having an open adoption or communication with my children’s birthparents. I am neither for nor against open communication, it just didn’t work out that way in our adoptions.
So, I just got an email announcing a new adoption conference called “Adoption: A Lifelong Journey”. I was immediately put off. Why does adoption have to be a lifelong journey? It sounds awful, like a condition one suffers from. Again I feel myself, alone, beating my own drum, saying “Get Over It. Adoption is natural in many ways and has been in almost every culture since the beginning of time.” I realize some adoptees have had difficulty with their adoptions, never felt one within their adopted families and yearned for their biological mother. I know this can be very real, it just isn’t real for everyone and the idea that it is, that all adoptees will have a lifelong journeyis not true. Everyone I know is on a lifelong journey, whether adopted or not. And to quote George Bernard Shaw, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
The journey part is one thing but then the conference really took a turn for the worse when they described the breakout sessions including choosing the right school for your adopted child. What? How is it any different to choose a school for a child who is adopted than for one who is not? Apparently this session focuses on how to tell if a school will be “adoption friendly”. I don’t think adopted children are any different than any other child and should never be made to feel that way. In my son’s public school classroom, there are, coincidentally, four adopted children, almost a quarter of the class. It would seem to be an “adoption friendly” school but frankly it is just the local public school down the street from our house in the suburbs.
I know these conferences have good intentions, but I think they miss many of the potential issues in adoption by not addressing all sides. I have offered several times to talk on one of the panels, to provide a different and positive view on adoption but the organizers have always declined. I guess I don’t fit the mold. Talking about adoption and the positive effects it can have on a person and a family just isn’t as interesting as choosing a school for your adopted child. Now, if you will excuse me, I have to get back to my lifelong journey and pick up my son from his adoption friendly school.
By Meika Rouda
Lately I have been posed with the Do I mention my kids were adopted or not? quandry. I was at the dentist the other day and my hygienist who I have been seeing for the past few years was looking a little round in the belly. She is a little younger than me, smiley, always cheerful and I wanted to ask “are you pregnant?” but knew better. Maybe she had a huge lunch? Isn’t that what the celebs complain about when Star magazine says they are pregnant but really they just had a bowl of pasta and are bloated? Anyway, while my mouth was hanging open, I noticed the engagement ring on her finger and managed to say “You are engaged; congrats!” She smiled and said “and I’m having a baby in May.” She rubbed her belly. “I noticed you were a little rounder but didn’t want to say anything just in case.” She laughed. “I have had the strangest cravings! Licorice, something I don’t even like usually, I just can’t get enough. It is so strange. I feel like my body has been invaded.” She is talking to me while poking at my gums. I can’t say anything because I have a suction tube in my mouth so she continues. “And apples, this baby, oh he is a boy, he just loves apples. How were your pregnancies? Did you have any strange cravings?” This is when I have to think, do I just say “my pregnancies were easy”? (which they were since I never was pregnant). It is a half-ish truth but evades the issues. Or do I just say “I never was pregnant, we adopted both of our kids.” As is my tendency, I went with the latter. She looked at me and said “Oh- I forgot, you told me that before. So you did have easy pregnancies then!” And then inevitably the conversation switched from pregnancy to adoption. How long it took. How she knows a friend who has been waiting forever for a baby. How she knows someone who adopted form China. I wish we could just talk about pregnancy and not worry about that fact that I didn’t give birth. It isn’t a delicate subject to me but I can’t really explain that to my hygienist.
Later that same day I was at school picking up my son who I have mentioned before is tiny. As he was playing with another boy from his class on the playground, the boy’s mom said to me “he is so strong for being so small.” Kaden has mastered the monkey bars even though he is the size of a 3-year-old. It is amazing to watch him. “Yes, he is.” She turned to me and said “Well, you and Chris are tall so he will have had a growth spurt. At least you don’t have to worry.” Then of course I just had to pipe in and say “Actually, he may be small. Both of our kids were adopted and his birth mom was only 4’11″. ” She looks at me wide eyed and I realize she is shocked. It just never occurred to her that he was adopted and why should it? I didn’t mean to be so forthcoming; it is just the truth and I know my son will be in school with these kids for the next eight years so why not be straight up? Plus if I am coy about adoption that makes me feel like there is something to be ashamed of and I don’t feel that way. I feel like it is something to share and celebrate. So I am going to tell. Even if it makes people uncomfortable, that is their issue not mine.
By Natalie Sullivan
Our child is crying and she’s holding him the wrong way. He’s only two weeks old, but already we know that he doesn’t like to be held on his back like a baby. This is the first time she has had the chance to hold him, and she’s holding him the way she can only guess he might want to be held. For my husband and me, it’s our last time visiting with our son’s birth mother before we leave the state with our newborn son to head home many long miles away. It’s the last item on our “to do” list and her first and only precious time with her son.
Sitting in the Santa-Fe inspired lobby of our agency, I realize it’s the most uncomfortable couch I’ve ever sat on. My arms, filled for the past two weeks with our seven-pound child, now sit uselessly in my lap, with my hands neatly folded in front of me like I’m at my first job interview. My urge to reach out to my son is overwhelming, but it wouldn’t be right. We feel so awkward at this moment, even though we’re so intimately linked. My husband and I smile like proud parents as we tell his mother what our child has been doing in the past two weeks. Our child -hers and ours.
She pats him so differently than I do and bounces him faster than I do to try and soothe him, but I can’t bring myself to tell her what he’s used to. We don’t know how long we’ll be here, but my husband and I agree, with a wordless glance, that it’s not our place to end her only visit with her son. At a moment where mother and son stare deeply into each other’s eyes, I snap a picture to help him remember, and so that she- and I- will never forget.
I call her his mama, and she calls me the same as she finally passes him back to me. I lean over in her direction, using my voice for his, the way people do with babies and pets. “Tell Mama you love her,” I say, meaning her and not me. We fail to escape the brand of awkwardness as we pose for a group shot- me holding our son and his mother leaning in to the two relative strangers who will share a lifetime with her child.
As we sit in the desert-themed room, I want nothing more than to scoop up my child and head for home. Now, when it is time to leave, my heart starts to ache and the idea of her never holding her child again becomes too much to bear. We hug her. We tell her we will take care of him. We love you, we say. You are our family now. And then we leave, carrying this beloved child into our eagerly awaited future together and out of her life forever.
By: John Jericiau
I’ve never been good at waiting. I wake up at 4am on Christmas morning because I can’t wait. I packed up my spouse’s apartment while we were talking about moving in together because I couldn’t wait. I sometimes eat dessert first because I can’t wait. So when I’m waiting for something as important as the sight of my son emerging from the hospital room where he and his birthmother are spending what’s turned into hours of alone time, it’s particularly excruciating. As I sit in the hospital lounge, my mind goes back and forth between thoughts of despair and feelings of que sera sera. First it’s “There’s no way she could say goodbye to such a beautiful baby.” Then it’s “How lucky that Devin is getting to feel the love she has for him.” Then “Maybe adoption wasn’t meant to be for me,” followed by “This woman is an angel with a heart of gold and she should have as long as she needs.”
I was deep in thought when the hospital door creaked open and the bassinet started its journey out of the room. Devin was in it, all swaddled in his blanket just as we had left him. His birthmother walked slowly toward us and I tried hard to read her face as she got closer. I tried not to shake as she gave Devin to us, smiled and said “Thank you”, and then gingerly walked back to her room and closed the door.
No, thank YOU. Thank you for the greatest gift … making us a family through your loving and selfless gesture. If Devin holds some of the qualities that we have seen of yours in these last few days, we would be so happy. We feel so blessed and honored that you have chosen us to raise this boy in a safe and loving way. You have been so honest and truthful during this entire experience, and we would do almost anything to help you through this painful time.
We brought Devin home and he looked fantastic in the crib we had waiting for him. We enjoyed every minute of feeding with those small formula bottles from the hospital, and changing his size 0 diapers, and rocking him to sleep. I tried to relax, but in the back of my mind I kept thinking about how we still had to make it to the adoption agency with the birthmom to sign the relinquishment papers before getting her to LAX for her flight back home. Would she sign those papers or change her mind?
I won’t keep you hanging this time. It all worked out. Devin and Papa stayed home while I took the trip to the adoption agency for what turned out to be anticlimactic. After the paperwork we went and enjoyed lunch at The Cheesecake Factory. She seemed refreshed and ready to get back to her son and her life. I really admired her, and I honestly missed her as she walked through security to fly home. We had agreed that she would contact us when she was ready, and we would send pictures whenever she asked. Devin would learn all about her as he got older, and she was open to meeting him someday.
The next week or so was a sleep-deprived blur. Feed, burp, sleep, repeat. Every day became a Saturday, and the nights were just darker days. On the 11th day of Devin’s life we found ourselves cuddling together for a much needed nap – Papa, Daddy, and son – just like any other family. The phone rang and I reached across the bed, grabbed the phone, and put it to my ear. I looked into Alen’s bleary eyes as I listened, and Alen could already tell what I had heard. It was the IVF doctor. We were pregnant with our second child!
How can I wait 9 months?
By: Meika Rouda
The most difficult part of adoption for most people is waiting to be matched. For my husband and me the waiting was excruciating. I felt that once we decided to adopt, the process should be quick and easy since we had already waited so long to become parents while trying to get pregnant. Even so, we still had to wait longer that I ever thought. Matches are made in many different ways. Most often in domestic adoption, a potential adoptive family places a profile on a website that a birthmother sees and pursues. My husband and I used a lawyer who matches families with birthmothers as opposed to having the birthmother review profiles and choose. Others use ads, like in the back of the penny saver. (I have friends who received many calls doing this- it isn’t just Juno!) Or the rare instance of hearing about a baby through a friend of a friend. I even know of someone who was standing in line at Starbucks in front of a pregnant teenager and her mother. When he ordered the last bagel the pregnant girl sighed since she had her eye on the bagel. He saw she was pregnant and gave her the bagel instead. They started to talk and lo and behold, he and his wife ended up adopting her baby. Stranger things have happened.
These are all instances where matches happen, adoptions go through and families are created. But then there are the amazing people who don’t get matched after years of waiting. People who have several near placements that all end up with the birthmother changing her mind. Each time another heartbreak while being so close to parenthood. I can’t even imagine how difficult this must be for people, to have so much hope and then so much sadness and disappointment. I know a woman in this same situation. She and her husband have been waiting 3 years to be matched. They are in their 30′s, successful, kind, and loving people. She is a preschool teacher. What could be more perfect?! And yet they aren’t getting matched. I have no idea why. When I asked her if they had particular criteria that might make them hard to match she said “No, they were open to sex and race and would consider other factors, smoking etc.” They are focusing on open adoption and are happy to have visits with the birthmother. It seems they are having a horrible case of bad luck.
Or maybe the right baby hasn’t appeared yet. That is what my mother would say. She believes that things happen for a reason, that fate and god have a hand in everything. I don’t necessarily believe that but when you need hope, it is comforting to think that there must be a reason for the pain and heartache. That there will be a happy ending at some point. I don’t know how to keep my friend’s spirits up, I almost feel guilty that I have two adopted children that came very easily to us. Our daughter we didn’t even expect, she was just a call from our lawyer a week before she was born with the question “How do you feel about having a baby girl?” But I believe in adoption and I know a baby will arrive for my friend. I don’t know why it is taking so long and it saddens me to know that she has had not one, not two, but more than three birthmothers change their minds at the last minute. But she is optimistic and taking it all in stride. She has strength and a positive attitude that I don’t think I could muster if I were in her situation. Meanwhile, I have been frequenting Starbucks and keeping my eyes peeled for pregnant teenagers in line. You just never know.
By: John Jericiau
The weekend before Monday’s induction had arrived and time ticked by ever so slowly. We enjoyed the time we spent with the birthmother, and tried to learn more about her as we hopped from restaurant to restaurant and tourist trap to tourist trap. Do you like salty or sweet foods more? Salty. Do you have any hidden talents? I’d like to be on American Idol some day. You’re not going to change your mind, are you? Definitely not! I tried to picture the serenity of our son safely home with us, but thoughts of disasters like any one of the previous adoption attempts crept into my brain.
The plan was that when our son was born (in our presence) at Santa Monica Hospital we would immediately take him off the maternity ward, but that some time prior to discharge the birthmother would spend some time alone in her room with her/our son. Then upon discharge we would drive to the adoption agency (Vista del Mar) to sign the relinquishment papers, and then drive immediately to LAX for her flight (alone) back to her home. It seemed like there were so many possible glitches in the chain of events ahead of us. It was the day before the induction and the weather was glorious. We decided to get off of our feet (mine had even started to swell) and catch a movie at the 3rd Street Promenade. We suggested Shrek 2 – the first Shrek was so light and hilarious – but why didn’t Alen or I check the movie synopsis, which in part read: “Troubled to learn that not only will Shrek be compelled to rule Far Far Away, but that he and Fiona are also expecting a little ogre.”? As we watched Shrek go through the process of first coming to terms with being a parent and then by the end being head over heels about it, my peripheral vision was not keen enough to check the birthmother’s emotions, but one glance at Alen was enough for me to learn his: sheer horror. I tossed and turned all that night, and before I knew it Monday, May 21st had finally arrived and I found us bleary-eyed at the hospital for our 6am induction. Of course with all the procedures/paperwork the induction didn’t officially get underway until a couple of hours later, but we were there for the duration. Periodic visits by the ob-gyn let us know that progress was being made, and the birthmother was a trooper. I genuinely felt her pain, and wanted to minimize it, but she was adamant: no drugs! We assured her that the drugs were safe, but she didn’t want to take any chances of harming her/our son. I worried that she cared this much because she had changed her mind in the 11th hour, but then realized that 11 was our lucky number and the worry was gone. The day was followed by night, and the progress was good. Alen and I decided that we had to get some air and food while the birthmother slept due to an exhausting day of contracting, pushing, and screaming (for all of us). We ate at a nearby Thai restaurant, and all we could do was look at each other, shake our heads, and pray that all would go well. Would our son be healthy (since there was zero prenatal care), and would she relinquish her parental rights or choose to take him back on the plane ride home with her, leaving us empty-handed yet again? We returned to the hospital room and the ob-gyn was ready to start down the home stretch (literally). Minutes turned to a few hours of pushing and panting, and I felt like Cinderella checking her watch for the stroke of midnight. Wouldn’t it be amazing if our son held on until after midnight, thereby making his birth date the 22nd of the month just like mine (12/22) and Alen’s (6/22)? Since the induction had started early morning on the 21st, I gave up any hope of that happening. (Whereas Alen, my very smart doctor /husband had guesstimated that our son would probably be born just after midnight, and I had simply replied with a head shake/eye roll.) Midnight came and went, and at 12:06am on May 22nd our bundle of joy was born, healthy and with a smile on his face (after crying for air). We got to cut the cord and hold him, and then present him with pride to the angel who had just brought him into this world. She seemed fine as he was whisked away. We lingered so that she wouldn’t feel abandoned, but then finally left to spend the remaining time in the hospital with our/her son Devin. A few hours prior to Devin’s discharge, the social worker called to tell us that it was time for Devin’s hour of alone time with the birthmother, as we had previously agreed. I wanted this so much for her well-being, but at the same time was feeling raw and vulnerable. And as I peeked down the hall at her hospital room door and watched one hour turn into two and then as slowly into three, I had no idea what would happen next.
By: John Jericiau
We were within one week of the birth of our son. We started getting paranoid, listening during our daily phone calls for any signs of wavering from the birthmother, but she remained sure of her decision. She was 1000 miles away from Santa Monica, and it was time for her to travel to us. Unfortunately, the thought of a very pregnant young girl who has never been on a plane trying to make the trip alone was too much for us to bear, and even scarier for her. We decided that I would fly to her, spend the night at a nearby hotel, and then fly back with her to Santa Monica the following day. I was nervous! What if she didn’t like me? What if she really wasn’t pregnant? What if she changed her mind?
It was difficult for me to leave home for another reason. We were just about at the end of our calendar for round number 3 of IVF, and I was supporting my friend/surrogate as she endured daily injection and consumption of lots of funny sounding medications to help the success of the pending implantation. We planned the plane trip back east around the embryo implantation day, and before I knew it I was munching on some Southwest Airlines pretzels (when they used to give them). We left out the part about our attempt to have a child via IVF in our daily phone calls with the birthmother, which left me feeling a bit guilty (dishonest?), but we were doing everything we could to make this adoption a success and were afraid that talk about another baby would not make her feel as special as she was. Plus it was just another IVF attempt (the third!) and we were not even pregnant yet. We had even stopped giving our friends and family “status updates” (Facebook wasn’t around yet so “status updates” had to be handled in person, which is so 2007) so that there would be less stress for all involved.
I spent a fitful night in a comfortable hotel within walking distance of her apartment, and the following morning I went for a run, showered, dressed, and then cruised over and gently knocked on her door — hard enough so that she could hear it, but soft enough so that she could tell I would be a gentle father (crazy thoughts from a guy who was at this point very desperate). At least I knew that this was definitely where she lived. I had searched her address the night before and made sure that an apartment building actually existed there.
She opened the door and I was relieved to be greeted by a beautiful smile on the face of a very pregnant girl. I took one step into the apartment and gave her a hug, and as I did I scanned her apartment as quickly as you would flip through a magazine at the checkout stand to get an idea what the magazine was all about. A big mattress spanned the living room floor, which her 5-year-old son used as a trampoline as I said hello to him. The walls were bare, and there was no furniture except a television that was blaring Sponge Bob Square Pants. Her luggage (one bag) was waiting just inside the front door, and before I knew it I was one step backward and out the door with her.
Back in Santa Monica we had a busy schedule … a meeting with the attorney (and paperwork), some support at the adoption agency (and paperwork), and finally an appointment with the doctor (and paperwork), who assured us that everything looked great and let’s schedule the induction for the following Monday! Since Monday was a few days away, we had time to do the fun touristy things that out-of-towners love but we locals never take the time to do, and we enjoyed getting to know the birthmother and I think she genuinely liked us too.
Luckily pregnant women need some time off their feet, and she was no exception, which gave us the opportunity to schedule in the embryo implantation now that we were at the end of round number 3! Alen and I kept shaking our heads in disbelief at the IVF clinic, wondering how in the world this will all work out for us. Will we, come Monday, finally be fathers and fulfill a dream we have had for so long? And will we, ten days later, be pregnant with our second child?