During National Adoption Awareness Month, I will introduce you to numerous guest bloggers, highlighting many parts of the adoption journey. Leslie Cummings and I met through the Chicagoland Single Mothers by Choice (SMC) group. When we met, Leslie was still waiting to adopt her baby girl. I knew she had been waiting for a long time and was yearning to be a mom, a feeling I remember well. I’m glad she is a mom today and hope her story touches you as it has me. Her strength is inspiring.
By Leslie Cummings
With so much adoption in my family, it would seem a natural thing for me to do: My dad, who is adopted, adopted my siblings and me when he married my mom; my sister has four adopted children and my cousin is adopted. But while I love adoption, I wanted a biological child.
With no spouse at age 39, I realized if I wanted to become a mom, I needed to consider doing it on my own. I met other women who had become single mothers by choice – by sperm donation, egg donation and adoption—who encouraged me to move forward, but I wasn’t ready. I wanted a husband, then kids—the traditional family. After several years of thinking, I decided to become a mom via sperm donation, but that didn’t work. There was a lot of grief for the biological child I would never have. But I pushed forward—I decided to go to egg donation, which was less expensive than private adoption and at least allowed me to carry a baby. That also didn’t work. More disappointment.
But even before that happened, I’d already been researching adoption agencies. So, I immediately moved on to adoption. I chose an agency that came recommended from another adoptive mom who said she’d been matched in about 18 months, which seemed pretty good given what I’d heard about private adoption and the wait for single women.
I was excited about adopting. With adoption, I would be a mom. With fertility treatments, it was a crapshoot. Moving to adoption was a relief—no more needles, doc appointments, miscarriages, disappointments, hormones. I could live my life more normally while I waited.
The agency I chose seemed enthusiastic and happily took my $9k up-front fee…. then I had no matches for one year, two years, three years…I was frustrated, disappointed, angry, sad, scared. Why was no one picking me? I knew that being gender and race-specific—I wanted a girl—might take longer, but no possible matches at all? I redid my profile several times. Some other single adoptive moms suggested I open up gender or race, but I always wanted a daughter and had known that even if I gave birth to a biological son I would adopt a daughter. Now knowing if I may only have one child, I knew I wanted a daughter—my mom and I have a great relationship and I wanted to have that, too. So at the encouragement of other adoptive moms, I signed with an adoption consultant, who gave me information on numerous additional agencies to sign with that had low-cost up-front fees. I signed up with all of them and before long I was getting calls on potential birth parent matches, but the matches weren’t the right fit.
Four months later my consultant called me about a birth mom who was having a baby girl and she was having difficulty finding an adoptive family she liked. The baby had a serious congenital heart defect. I didn’t let that stop me—I called my family practice doctor, spoke to a pediatric cardiologist and talked to some moms of kids with this heart defect. After weighing the possible challenges being a single mom of a child with such a serious health issue, I decided that this was the little girl for whom I’d been waiting. It was just a gut feeling. I was ready to take the journey with this baby girl.
I got to speak with my daughter’s birth mom and even got to visit her (out of state) and attend an ultrasound at 26 weeks. I was so excited—but scared, of course. I hadn’t planned to adopt a child with a serious health issue, which added a whole other layer of fear—what if the baby didn’t make it through her heart surgeries? Would I be able to handle that? But my instincts continued to tell me that she was the one for me. I sure did a lot of praying for her and her birth mom, though.
Gratefully, the birth mom carried her to term and I got the call she was in labor on a Thursday—I was so excited, but it felt surreal—at long last was I really going to be a mom? What if the baby didn’t make it? I was so scared and nervous. I steeled myself and tried to be detached. I flew out the following morning and got to see her—so tiny with lots of tubes and wires attached. I sort of held my breath the first couple weeks, wondering if she would thrive and make it. And there were some scary moments—waiting for genetic testing results to come back, heart procedures, opioid exposure, and withdrawals. Thank God my mom was there for me the entire time—and for the Ronald McDonald House where I stayed; it was like a home away from home.
Seven weeks later I was able to take my little girl home. Going through three open heart surgeries haven’t been easy. After the first surgery, she was gagging a lot, which is typical after heart surgeries in babies and she had to come home on a feeding tube, which she hated. Having to force feed her was one of the most awful and difficult experiences I’ve had with her. She would scream and cry the whole time. Waiting during the surgeries, wondering if your baby will survive is so scary—you hold your breath and don’t dare think the worst. The third surgery was by far the scariest—coming out of surgery her vitals started to fail and they had to work hard to get her stabilized. Those first 24 hours were terrifying – watching her heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen level, holding her hand and willing her to live.
She’s been through a lot—three open heart surgeries, numerous procedures where she had to go under anesthesia, physical therapy since the age of 9 months, but she is doing SO well. Now almost 5 years old, my daughter is thriving in preschool and more on track with her physical abilities every day.
I’m so grateful to the birth mom who trusted me to raise her little girl with this special heart.
I’m now 54 years old, although I sometimes can’t believe it, this circuitous route to motherhood is my story. But I wouldn’t change a thing—she is definitely the daughter I am meant to have. I didn’t understand this through all the heartbreak, the fertility treatments, etc., but now I know and I can tell other women going through this to follow your heart—if you want to be a mom, find a way and the little heart you are meant to parent will find its way to you.
Leslie Cummings is a Single Mother by Choice and political activist, as well as an award-winning marketing professional, who owns a real estate investing business in the west Chicago suburbs. When she’s not busy playing dolls, vet clinic or climb on mama bear with her daughter, she spends time bird watching, gardening, cooking, and canning.