By: Wendy Rhein
Over the last week, I’ve been somewhat passively observing a list serve dialogue among single mothers by choice (SMCs) talking about the pros and cons of adding a second child to their families. I am a single mother of two, though the “by choice” element in that nomenclature always causes some pangs in me. Yes, I chose to have my children while I am single but single by choice? That’s another blog …
The emails being circulated focus on the impacts having a second child will have on the mother’s life, the life of her child, how it will impact them emotionally, financially, romantically. I find myself nodding, and smiling, and even crying at some of these posts when I see the desire and longing for a larger family swelling in the words. I also find myself outraged by some of the rationale employed to not have a second child – you won’t be able to take that annual cruise, or retire at 50. All of this has caused me to reflect on my quest to have a second child.
And a quest it was. After Nate was born, and the initial panic and sleeplessness of new motherhood wore off, I knew pretty quickly that I wanted another child. I am one of four kids, and I cherish my siblings and our interwoven history. I wanted that for my son. And I wanted the experience of being a mother to more than one child.
Step 1: Pregnancy. When Nate was 16 months old, I went the IUI route and tried to get pregnant using anonymous donor sperm that a friend had leftover from her attempts to become a mother via pregnancy. Talk about a gift! Bet most of you have never gotten a gift of little wigglers on dry ice! After several attempts, drugs and ultrasounds, pregnancy didn’t take.
Step 2: international adoption. I have always been a strong believer in adoption but frankly, domestic adoption scared me. I also knew, or thought I knew, the hopeful angst of long-to-be parents putting their names and family books out into the world of domestic adoption agencies only to be told it would be years before someone considered them. Don’t believe everything you hear about that, single moms and single dads to be. More on that later.
I started to pursue international adoption and quickly found that there were very few places from which I, as a single woman quickly kissing up to 40 with another child, could adopt. I got involved in list serve, I asked for advice. I called adoption agencies for Ethiopia, a very promising option. However, the timeframe, costs, and fickle adoption laws overwhelmed me. I would lie awake and ask myself about my motivations – is this about giving a child the best possible start in life? Do I want to parent a child or raise a child from infancy? If what I wanted was the chance to parent a child who needed a parent, and if that was the true parenting motivation, why not look at the children in my own community who need a better start, or a mid-childhood do-over?
Step 3: foster care adoption. I entered that scary muck pit of the foster care system with dreams of adoption. Never one to shy away from a challenge, I attended the classes, submitted the medical, financial, social, and professional references. I was fingerprinted and got a 5-year printout of every 911 call I had ever made. I went through the multi-step home visits that took months to schedule, not to mention complete. I included Nate in the whole process and he decided that he really wanted an older sister. He liked the idea of still being my baby and of having someone to play with and later, to take him places, he said.
Throughout the process I defended my choices to those who said I was crazy to parent two children. It would ruin my family, emotionally cripple Nate, and send me into a therapeutic tailspin. I would never recover financially. How could I give each child the attention they deserved? Who would ever want to date, let alone marry, a single mom of two? (I admit it, that one hurt.) Depending on the messenger, I took the concerns into consideration. I renewed my focus – my family – and steered clear of the negative opinions. My choices and decisions were never meant to ease the fears of others. They had been, and would continue to be based on what I knew in my very core I wanted and could do.
On December 10, 2009 I was approved by the State of Georgia to be a foster parent and pursue adoption of eligible children in the system. Finally after more than three years I could move forward with adding a child to my family. I was a woman with a plan.
Step 4: Open window. Throw out plan. Enter Sam.
On December 14, I read a Facebook post from a friend asking for prayer that an adoptive family come forward for an African American infant boy, yet to be born. His birth mother’s adoption plan had fallen through and he was due in early February. Within two days, I had spoken to the birth mother’s sister. Within six days, I was on the phone with a birth mother who asked me if I was ready for a newborn. Because she wasn’t. I said yes. I found myself giggling and crying for days on end. What was I thinking? I had decided on an older child! I had decided to not go through all that newborn drama again! All of those decisions were gone and I was operating straight from my heart, straight from a loud and sure voice in me that said that little one was my son. I recall telling my mother. You know that approval I have for a single female child, ages 5-12, from foster care, who might be placed with me sometime in the next year? What would you think of a newborn African American boy in the next 6 weeks?
I had the incredible fortune of getting to know my son’s birth mother over those few weeks. She let me meet her daughter. She invited me to medical appointments. She handed me the ultrasound pictures, saying I could keep them as his first pictures. I took a dear friend with me to meet the attorney who would manage our open, third party, domestic adoption because I knew I wouldn’t remember anything. Daily, I reminded myself that she could change her mind. I didn’t buy a crib or have a shower. I reminded Nate that the baby may not come to live with us and that we would have to wait and see.
And then she called me at work one day and asked me to take her to the hospital. On February 2, Sam was born. And I was there. I stayed with him from the moment they let me in the nursery. The hospital staff didn’t know what to do with me since I was not in a maternity ward room. I sat in an upright desk chair at the nurse’s station, day and night, feeding him, changing him, holding him while he slept. The days and weeks that followed were harrowing as I dealt with a potential challenge to the adoption by a potential birth father never moved beyond threats into action. I spent days weeping and vomiting, terrified that I was going to lose my baby. I got through by remembering my goal in this whole process – to give a child the best possible start in life and love him for as long as I could. Even if that meant only for a few days. Those days turned into weeks, and then into months. Later that year, Sam became a forever part of our family in a short ceremony in a judge’s chambers. The years of ruminating, thinking, wondering, planning, and trying were all captured in one moment by Nate, who stood at my shoulder as the judged signed his name, “so we get to keep him forever?!”
Yes, we get to keep him forever. We talk about Sam’s adoption openly and with enthusiasm, recognizing that we are the luckiest family to have gone through the labors and pains it took to become who we are to one another. When I think of what my life would have been like these last two years if I had said no to the trials, the sacrifices, the sideways steps along the way that eventually led me to my younger son, I can’t catch my breath.
Maybe I will go back and comment on that single mothers dialogue after all.