Author: Deena Thompson (new mother)
Last fall began for our family more or less like any other. We had just moved back to the U.S. after living overseas for two years for Matt’s career. Matt had started a new training program to prepare for our next overseas tour, and I was looking for a part-time job for the year that we would be in the U.S. We had gotten into a comfortable rhythm with our lives, which always seemed to be in transition.
Then, one sunny, late September afternoon while out walking our dog, I received a phone call that changed our lives instantly and forever. A Birth Parent Specialist from the adoption agency where we had submitted an application many months earlier called to tell us that a baby girl had been born that morning and her mother had chosen us to parent her. Knowing that she chose us is incredibly humbling and weighted with emotions that we find difficult to describe. Even though we had been in the process of completing paperwork and home studies for a while, and even though we had been informed of the possibility of a so-called “pop up adoption”, we never expected to be one of the families who would need to drop everything at a moment’s notice and travel to meet our baby and her mother. But, that’s precisely what we did, and we told ourselves that everything would somehow come together.
Our adoption journey had started nearly two years earlier, shortly after we had moved overseas and gotten settled in our new home. We hadn’t seriously discussed when or whether we wanted to expand our family until that time, and when we did, we both agreed that adoption seemed like the right path for us to do so.
The path to adoption quickly proved overwhelming. We spent several months researching various types of adoption. There were many possibilities and we didn’t even know where to begin. After speaking with a couple of friends who had adopted their children, and joining an online community of adoptive and prospective adoptive parents, we connected with a social worker experienced in helping families like ours – employed by the U.S. government but living overseas. By the time we fulfilled all of the requirements of home study abroad, we were nearing the end of our overseas tour and preparing to return to the U.S.
The social worker who had done our initial home study was not licensed to complete an update for us in the U.S. In that regard, we had to start a bit from square one. We had received a favorable recommendation for Lutheran Social Services from another family that had been in a similar situation as us (living overseas and transitioning back to the U.S.). I reached out to LSS and spoke with one of the social workers there. She assured me that she would help us as much as she could to complete our new home study as quickly and as seamlessly as possible. We tried to get a head start on it by doing everything we could while still overseas. That allowed our new social worker to visit us within days of our arrival back in Virginia. She was absolutely wonderful and helped us so much in getting our home study completed swiftly. A couple of weeks later, we were approved through LSS and officially active with our agency.
Hearing nothing from our agency immediately after becoming an active family was not a surprise to us. And while we hoped that we would receive an adoption opportunity sooner rather than later, given that we would be moving to our next overseas post again in one year’s time, we never imagined that we would receive that opportunity exactly – and only – one month after becoming an active family.
Within a few hours of receiving the phone call, we completed the required paperwork, rented a car, and began the eight-hour drive to our baby’s birth state. On the way, we talked a lot about the enormity of what lay ahead of us. Adoption prepares people for parenthood in many ways that the conventional path to parenthood doesn’t necessarily: it requires prospective parents to think very, very carefully about various aspects of child-rearing, and there are usually several hours’ worth of training coursework involved. We had spent a lot of time reading and learning about trans-racial adoption and the experiences of adoptees raised by families of races different from their own. We also took an infant and child CPR course. Yet at the same time, we were utterly unprepared in a way that most new parents are not. We had no time to process how greatly our lives were about to change.
We arrived at the hospital the morning after our baby was born. We spent the day visiting with and getting to know our new baby and her first mother a little bit. We chose a name for the baby together. It was such an emotional day, and I will never, ever forget it. There were a lot of tears, on all sides: of happiness, of sadness, of grief, of joy, of fear, and on my part, admittedly, even of guilt. Our baby’s mother was so warm toward us, and seemed so resolute and at peace with her decision in spite of her tears of sadness; yet, I found myself feeling guilty and profoundly sad that her baby would grow up with us and not with her. It is hard to reconcile those opposing feelings of both overwhelming joy and sadness, and some days continue to be difficult in that regard. We have chosen to have an open adoption and currently have regular contact with our baby’s first mother.
Although it will be up to our baby and her first mother to decide what kind of relationship they want to have as the years pass, we feel it is important to do everything in our power to encourage an open and healthy relationship between our baby and her first mother. We want our baby girl to know first and foremost, how much her first mother loves her and how brave she was to put her trust in us to give her baby a loving home and the best life we can possibly give her. We recently visited our baby’s first mother, eight months after our first meeting last September in the hospital. We look forward to a growing relationship with her over the years. The responsibility I feel toward her is enormous and goes far beyond the level of responsibility that is inherent in raising a child. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of her and give thanks for her and our baby.
Our adoption was finalized through the court in the baby’s home state six months later. In the meantime, we navigated life as most new parents typically do: long, sleepless nights; too many diaper changes to count; and never being so terrified in our lives by the idea of caring for such a tiny, seemingly fragile human being. As unprepared as we were, we figured things out and continue to do so every day.
Now, more than eight months into our journey as parents, we are so thankful for all of the support we have received. There are many different perspectives and opinions about adoption, and we have received a lot of questions from people about what led us to pursue it. While there are a lot of things I would like for people to know about adoption, above all, it is that adoption is extremely complex. Although adoption is most often associated with love, inherently, it stems from loss, and that is not something to be ignored or taken lightly. For us, adoption is not charity and it is not about saving anyone’s life. It requires being open to hearing about adoptees’ life experiences, for better or worse, and learning from those. It might mean stepping out of one’s comfort zone to provide racial mirrors for the child, or to learn a new culture or language. It might mean educating one’s family members or friends about the child’s race or heritage, or limiting contact with certain people who are not willing to accept a child of a different race or culture into their lives. At the very least, it requires deep thinking and careful consideration on the part of prospective adoptive parents before deciding to commit to adopting a child. For us, adoption has been a beautiful path for us to grow our family and to share our love with another person. Each day has been a new adventure in getting to know our sweet baby, to see her big, beautiful brown eyes grow with curiosity, to see her smile her first smile, to hear her laugh her first laugh, to watch her crawl for the first time, and to feel her tiny heartbeat when we snuggle her close. We continue to read and learn a little more each day about parenting, trans-racial adoption, and anything that might better help us to raise a strong, confident, and independent Black girl and young woman. We know we won’t be perfect parents, but we’ll always do everything we can to do right by our baby and her first mother.