Tag Archives: adopting a child

When to Say When

One day back in the spring, driving home from work, Carrie Underwood’s “Starts With Goodbye” came on shuffle on my phone. It’s an old song and I hadn’t listened to the words in years, but that day, I caught myself listening and really hearing the words.

“It’s sad but sometimes moving on with the rest of your life / starts with goodbye.”

And I couldn’t help but think how true they’d been already that year. How true they are for any big moment in life. Whenever you step forward into something new, you’re stepping away from something old.

For me, this year, that something new has been the journey into parenting. I don’t think enough people talk about that journey, unless theirs was riddled with infertility or miscarriage. And so as someone who couldn’t even take that first step forward, much as I saw the joys of raising a child, I felt alone over those few years I wrestled with the concept. I hadn’t tried and failed; I hadn’t even tried.

But last year, a chain events set off the push I needed to step forward.

Knowing when to say “when” is hard. And it doesn’t get easier with age or wisdom or hindsight. I’ve had a couple crossroads moments in my life and each of those decisions were hard for different reasons. But for the first time, last November I found myself experiencing an all new kind of “knowing when to say ‘when’.” My husband and I had to actively decide when it was time to say “when” regarding our dog’s health.

When someone you love is dying, in all the days and weeks leading up to the end, you never know it’s going to be the last time that memory will be happy. The last time you’ll see them healthy. Until, of course, it is. You expect one more glimpse of their old ways, one more relapse, one more good day.

With Grace, our dog, I’d been preparing to lose her almost since the day I met her. Over the years, I caught myself crying over the thought of losing her, even when she was at her most vibrant and healthy. She’d stand aloof wagging her tail while James reminded me that it wasn’t her time. Not yet.

I’d tell him I already loved her too much, that I was scared how much it’d hurt to lose her. Maybe that’s what those of us do who’ve suffered great losses. We brace ourselves for a pain we’ve felt a few times before. We know how bad it’s going to hurt when everything crashes down.

When she stopped eating everything, no matter what James laid out on the floor, she lost weight dramatically. We were so focused on keeping her alive at all costs that we couldn’t see we were heading straight for a cliff where we’d be forced to make a quick decision: put her to sleep peacefully or risk waking up to find her dead one day.

I was right, of course. Few other losses have hurt as bad as losing her. For a few months, I’d be carrying about my day and feel this unshakeable sadness creep up. And then, exactly 3 months later, thinking about how we wanted to become a family of three again, I got a FaceTime call.

When I answered it, my mother-in-law was sitting on the couch next to my sister-in-law, holding a baby. I knew my brother-in-law and sister-in-law, who’d been married a decade, were in the process of an adoption, but there was no “tell us when you have a baby,” so even they wouldn’t know if and when they’d become parents. And after years watching them walk through an incredibly long season of infertility, I couldn’t bring myself to process what I was seeing on screen. But that’s what it was. They’d been handed a baby boy, unbeknownst to them, hours earlier. They were at a friend’s house playing cards and eating snacks, the friends well aware of what was about to be a life-changing moment for them, when the adoption agent showed up with their little bundle of joy.

We drove across town that night to meet our new nephew. And as we walked into the friends’ bedroom and I saw that baby boy wrapped up tight, my throat closed. I was overcome with gratitude for their story. A story they’d almost given up on, I later learned.

I stood on the sidelines in awe as they called supervisors and put emergency plans in place. They had had classes to teach, meetings to attend, and medical procedures scheduled. All of it was turned upside down.

In the weeks that followed, I watched them learn the basics of caring for a baby: swaddling, feeding, calming him down. I helped screw the crib together. I brought over a container of homemade meatballs and pasta sauce. I asked how I could help. And I felt my heart open up to a goal I’d written down in my planner just a few months before.

I just kept thinking, “What am I worrying about? They had no time to prepare. We would have 9 months. They couldn’t bear to read baby books or websites beforehand. We could learn as much as we wanted. They hadn’t bought anything. We could build a registry and shop on our own, too.”

But my fear hadn’t been about any of that. It was about all the phases of pregnancy. About morning sickness and the risk of miscarriage and the pain of labor. It was about how tenderly you have to carry a baby through 9 months and hope everything goes just right so you get to hold him at the end.

Seeing them, I knew I’d never have complete reassurance about any of that. And I couldn’t help but feel guilty to worry when I was sitting in their family room, watching them like deer in headlights, learning how to keep their child alive from hour to hour. I knew that if I wanted to take the leap, the only thing standing in the way was myself. I’d never really be ready (who is?!) but I had people around me to help figure it out along the way. No matter what, we’d get through.

Here we are. Grace will be gone a year on November 16. And we still miss her fiercely. My throat’s closing up just thinking about it. But we are learning that without losing her, we might never push ourselves into this new season of three. Even though we ached to grow our family. We would’ve kept saying, “Not yet. Soon. Not yet. Soon.”

And why? We wouldn’t have had a good answer for that.

Now, we’re over halfway through the journey. And we’re filled with overwhelming gratitude to think about how close we are to meeting our son. And in the meantime, we’ll read as much as we want and take classes and prepare because we can. For that, my heart is full.

The Shade of Love We Know Best

I want to tell you a story about a three-year-old girl. I’ve never met her, never seen a photograph of her, and I don’t even know her last name.

But her story keeps haunting me the way all real lives do, circling back to a moment when maybe it’ll end differently. Maybe the ending will be happy.

And so wait and listen and pull up chairs. Snuggle up with a blanket and pour yourself a glass of milk. But be sure to keep a box of Kleenex close by.

polaroid camera heart drawing deckThat’s how the guest speaker in my creative nonfiction class prefaced this story when he told us — all sixteen of us crammed into a biting-cold classroom in the old English building on a warm Tuesday night.

“I’m going to make you cry,” he said.

Which is quite a promise, if I’ve ever heard one.

A magician might say “I’m going to make this coin disappear” or “I’m going to unbind myself from these chains,” but never would he promise tears.

That’s where I begin—with the knowledge that real life will always be more haunting than a spectacular show choreographed for our entertainment.

He told us about his sister, a 60-something social worker living in California with her partner.

A toddler had come into the office having just lost her methamphetamine addicted, post-labor mother hours earlier. The girl, Elizabeth, was clinging to one of the workers and he snapped, told her to quit following him around. Didn’t she have something better to do?

“Why don’t you brighten your horizons?” the storyteller recounted. “That’s the thing you slap on a child whose mother just croaked?”

His sister quit. She and him operate on a pretty simple principal – sometimes God forces you into a situation and you have no option but to take it without question.

She made the decision to adopt the little girl.

She’s three-and-a-half (as all 3-and-a-half-year-olds will tell you) and walks around with a Polaroid of herself, her two mothers and the judge who granted the adoption.

That Polaroid is her reminder that someone loves her. Multiple people in fact. She keeps it close and tells anyone who will listen just who those women in the photograph are.

Just recently, the woman decided to adopt Elizabeth’s brother Juan who was born just before her mother’s death. In the middle of the street.

The mother was riding the city bus when her water broke. She got off the bus because she thought she’d wet herself and was embarrassed. When contractions became too difficult to bear, she laid down and had the newborn in the street.

“This is the picture of me and Mommy Sue and Mommy Anne and the judge lady,” Elizabeth told Juan. “Soon you will have one too.”

I may not know anything about drug addictions or pregnancy or same-sex marriage. Poverty or wardens of the state or social workers. I may not know a lot about a lot, but I do know that love, real love, comes in sixteen different sizes.

And yesterday, all of us sitting in cramped desk chairs listening to this story, were brought back to the shade of love we know best.