During National Adoption Awareness Month, I will introduce you to numerous guest bloggers, highlighting many parts of the adoption journey. Rachel Patten is the newest member of the RG Adoption Consulting team, but no stranger to the world of adoption. In today’s blog, she talks candidly about the journey to adopting her son – moments of joy and grief, and the overwhelming love she felt. Rachel’s adoption story, although just one person’s story, is one I could not put down. She does not hold back and provides insights you won’t want to miss. In fact, this one is a 3-part series you’ll want to stay tuned for.
By Rachel Patten
My husband and I both did fertility testing (some more invasive than others) and everything looked good. We were ready to start our family. We tried ovulation kits, calendars, fertility drugs and two rounds of IUI with no luck. I had worked in adoption for close to 5 years and knew at some point I too wanted to adopt. We had always talked about adoption and my husband and I felt strongly that it was in our future, just didn’t realize how quickly. Something inside of me, however, longed to have my belly grow, feel little feet kick me from the inside, see what the combination of my husband and myself looked and acted like. I longed to be a mother and watched many of our friends and family get pregnant over and over again (some while not even trying). I threw baby showers for them and tried not to let it affect me. Then I’d go to work where my job was to support pregnant women who found themselves pregnant, multiple times on occasion, with little effort. I continued to believe it would happen for me when it was supposed to.
My job kept me quite busy, I traveled often out of state for days at a time and while it did help keep my mind busy, it wasn’t the best for getting pregnant nor would it be suitable once we had a child. I began to consider other options and it was during this time that I was offered a position working from home that I couldn’t refuse. I adored my boss and the work I did but being in an office of all women had its disadvantages and the office drama was more than I could take most days. So it was with a heavy heart that I said my goodbyes to a great job and a group of birth mothers I loved working with.
Several of the birth mothers were upset but understood, I tried to transition them the best that I was able to. It was the women I had helped place previously that were placing again that had the hardest time, one in particular. She asked me if my husband and I would adopt her child. We were completely taken by surprise. We felt excited and scared and confused. After several heart-to-hearts with this woman, and based on her strong impression that this child should be placed with us, we nervously agreed.
We immediately felt at peace.
We had some serious work to do if we were going to have ourselves a baby in less than 3 months! We had no home study, no background checks, no reference letters, no nursery, and no baby anything!! If this was supposed to be our baby everything would fall into place, right!? That’s what I’d always told families and birth moms so I had to have faith myself.
Our birth mother didn’t know the gender when she started to talk to us about this adoption but it didn’t matter to us. We were so excited to be parents; we never cared about race or gender. We had a missing place in our hearts that longed to be filled. We started taking on the financial risk of the adoption while knowing there was still a chance she could deliver before all our paperwork was complete, again having faith it would work out. We told some friends and close family members cautiously, we needed reference letters, so at least several people would need to know.
I texted every few days with our birth mother and I knew her fairly well so I was truly never nervous about her commitment to place and it seemed so easy, maybe too easy? Things fell into place quickly with our paperwork and we started to work on a nursery for the little one. Even though we were open on gender I secretly hoped for a boy. Since we knew our child would be African American the hair part of having a girl terrified me. Boy names also just seemed to come more easily, not by much but…. We found out it was a boy and I was over the moon! It felt like the final confirmation that he was meant to be ours.
The due date rapidly approached and she was given an induction date. This would be baby number six for her and I was a bit shocked she had made it as long as she had. We booked flights and a hotel for a few days before the induction; we planned to go the day before delivery. I had butterflies just thinking of us holding this baby boy in our arms but also continued to be super cautious about getting excited (my poor husband had no idea how or what he should feel).
A Change In Plans
Within twenty-four hours of us buying tickets, I got a call from our birth mother that her doctors had to change the date because the hospital was too busy. Alarms went off like crazy in my head! I knew it; I knew this was all just too good to be true! I’d seen this soooo many times, where the birth mother had changed the date she had once given because she had cold feet. Ugh, the beginning of the end. I think she could sense my sadness and exasperation because shortly after we hung up I got a text from her asking if we were ok and if we were backing out.
Us backing out!? Ha! Hell no!
We had worked so hard to get here, we weren’t backing out for anything!! It wasn’t long after that we got our new induction date and booked last minute, overpriced tickets and threw bags together. Our baby boy was being born tomorrow – so much excitement and so many nerves (not to mention my husband forgot his wedding ring, which I was convinced would reflect poorly)! We barely slept at all and headed to the hospital fairly early.
As soon as we walked into her room, all my worries and uneasiness melted away. She greeted us with so much love and compassion, truly like we were just part of her family and I watched as my husband slowly loosened up (although didn’t budge from the head of the bed).
The delivery took what seemed like an eternity and felt so different from the hundreds of births I’d seen. I was terrified at every heart rate dip on the monitor. I saw the nervousness of the nurses from time to time as they repositioned her from side to side and the hours ticked on. When it was time to push, I held a leg for what felt like an hour with very little progress. They finally discovered he was “sunny side up.” I was so thankful to hear this, as I feared we were about to hear the word C-section. The doctor reached in with her suction cup contraption and was able to attach it to his head. On the next contraction, as our birth mama pushed with all her might, the doctor pulled with all of hers and then pop! No baby, but the suction cup had come off and the doctor flew backward to the floor. Once again she attached the suction cup and after a few more contractions and tugs, he was out.
He was the most beautiful cone-headed baby I had ever seen, I immediately burst into tears. These weren’t like happy tears, this was like a full on come apart cry fest and I just couldn’t hold it back. I’d seen hundreds of births and got choked up at most of them, but this was something else. I tried to compose myself for everyone’s sake. They handed him to me and love poured out of me. He was perfect, everything I’d imagined and then some! I even got to cut the cord, which was an experience all on its own. We loved on him for a few hours, but then we knew we had to leave (it was nearly midnight) and let her rest and spend time with her son. He was hers, not ours.
The next day, we came back at lunchtime-ish and spent a few hours. I was head over heels for him but guarded. She spoke so naturally about him being our son and directed doctors and nurses to us for questions about his care. I wanted to be respectful of her feelings and wishes and allow her to make decisions for him but also wanted to make the decisions if that was truly her wish (and obviously would have loved to have felt some control if possible). It was so hard to determine what she truly wanted and what she was saying to try and make us feel comfortable and included.
The hospital offered us a room there, which I know families would die for but because I had seen so many birth moms deprived of their time with their children, we declined. So many times I have seen families forget about their grieving birth moms, forget that for nine months a child had grown in another woman’s body. She cared for this child, gave them nourishment, allowed her body to be stretched and pained. Sure, maybe they knew from day one they wouldn’t keep this child, but they chose life. They could have easily aborted and saved themselves the hassle of so many things but they didn’t. If put in the same position, I can’t say I would have been as brave as most of these women, my heroes – truly so courageous.
Signing day, it’s tough no matter what. From the second we walked into our birth mom’s room during delivery, until the singing, she never gave us any reason to doubt her, she was solid. Of course, she loved him and would have loved to have parented him, but she knew she couldn’t give what she desired him to have. It was a whirlwind of a day and signing was anything but smooth (1st adoption for our attorney and notary), but we made it through.
Harper was ours, we were finally parents!!
Oh if only signing day was the hardest but nope, it’s not, it’s the day after and saying goodbye. Saying goodbye to a woman that is hurting inside and out, a woman left empty and grieving after making you the happiest people on earth. We are happy right!? You question it because it sure doesn’t feel good. It’s awkward.
How can the best day of your life be her worst? It just doesn’t seem fair and the guilt is overwhelming. The love you have for her is indescribable.
We hugged goodbye and she told us to take good care of him. She told us that she loved us and knew he was in good hands. She tried to be hard and hold back the tears but a few had squeezed their way out and seeing this pushed me over the edge. Tears rolled down my cheeks as I squeezed her goodbye and told her to call anytime. My husband, who is typically always composed, carried our new baby boy in his car seat out to the car with tears falling. As we buckled him in and I took my place beside him for the short ride back to the hotel, it was silent and we both continued to fight back the tears. I stared at this perfect human who would one day call me mama and it felt like I was dreaming.
We made it back to the hotel room and I stripped him down, I wanted to see every piece of my son. I laid him on my chest and I could have stayed right there in that room snuggled together for the rest of my life and been happy (especially since we had ordered take-out Indian food, so all was right in the world). Don’t worry I did eventually give my husband a turn. I texted her again, thanking her for the incredible blessing we had received and letting her know we were thinking of her.
Life as Harper’s Mom
Once we returned home, that’s when it finally felt real. We had to get back to our day-to-day activities and live on half the sleep we were used to. It was hard to find the motivation to do more than stare at his perfect lips and beautiful cheeks. Embarrassingly, I actually started having neck pain from looking down for much of the day.
I thought of our birth mother often, I wanted to check in often. I didn’t want her to ever feel like we had forgotten her. I wanted her to know how much we loved him, and I didn’t want her to worry about him. I wanted to know how she was feeling, physically and emotionally. It took everything I had not to text her too often, but the crazy in me really wanted to. I let her know we got home safe and checked in probably a week later and a few weeks after that. Then slowly our communication moved solely to social media (her choice, not mine). My thoughts still always wandered to her every few weeks but I knew I had to let her initiate contact and allow her to grieve or move on or do whatever it was she needed. I could only imagine what it would take to get through the loss of a child.
Even though I’d been with him since he was born, I realized there was so much I didn’t know about my son. At our two-week well-child visit, I was asked for a family health history and about the pregnancy. I had very limited information, and momentarily I felt a bit inadequate. It wasn’t until several months later and probably six formulas that I learned his birth mother was allergic to milk. I was thankful to still have contact with her to acquire little bits of knowledge when possible. I always wanted an open adoption and now it was clear that the benefits were for all involved. I was a mom now yes, but I was an “adoptive mom.” The difference became clear when around friends and family with similarly aged children. One day, in particular, stands out…
I had made plans to meet some friends at a local coffee/juice shop. They all had younger kids, Harper was the oldest. The conversation started off normal, mamas talking lovey about their kiddos and what they liked/didn’t like, sleep deprivation etc. It quickly turned to delivery stories, I felt like I was able to hang in a bit since I was there for his delivery and knew all the details, but it was still a bit awkward. Things got really awkward when the subject turned to breastfeeding, something I knew nothing about but would have loved to be able to do. I’m usually pretty dang good at not letting things get to me. Once again, I was reminded that this little boy I loved with every fiber of my being didn’t come from me. I didn’t grow him in my belly, I didn’t deliver him from my loins and I wasn’t able to nourish him with my breasts. He was “adopted.” I left, I felt strange and I knew I shouldn’t, but I did. I was sad, and then mad, and then it was all ok. I allowed myself to feel the feels.
Not long after adopting Harper, we attempted to get pregnant again…
Stay tuned for Part II of Embracing the Ups, Downs and All-Arounds of Domestic Adoption: One Woman’s Personal Adoption Story.
Rachel is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker that has worked in adoption for the last fifteen years. She recently joined the RG Adoption Consulting team as a consultant. For her full bio click here.