Story of the Kid, Part 5: Reflections, or How to Become a Parent in 48 Hours

Writing Elijah’s story has offered me space to reflect on the frenzy between the night of March 29 and the morning of April 2. I know that with parenthood the frenzy does not stop, but how our son came into the world and into our home seems to me to be an account worth recording and sharing. While the posts have been long, I have left a lot out because some of the stories are not mine to tell. Carey and I also believe Elijah needs to be the first person to hear certain details and, well, his language faculties are not that strong at this point. We are working on his spelling.

We adopted Elijah on April 1, 2012, Palm Sunday. The fact that we adopted our son at the beginning of Holy Week rings with significance for me. Beginning with Palm Sunday each year, the Christian Church remembers the events of a week that culminated in Jesus’ unjust death and glorious resurrection, changing the world forever. We remind one another that death and evil never have the final word. We remember God’s great power is seen not only in the ability to orchestrate events, but more in God’s ability to take the worst humans can do — executing an innocent and holy man — and redeem it so that it becomes the means of salvation and reconciliation for the whole world. A hateful crime is transformed into the most loving act ever known. We celebrate redemption and resurrection. Elijah’s young life is a resurrection story, full of surprise and grace.

I mentioned in the first post of this series that our Christian faith greatly influenced our decision to adopt. Adoption stories are often significant in the history of God’s people (e.g., Moses, Esther). It is hard to read the Bible without seeing a command to care for the orphan (see this list of verses for examples). Yahweh is described as “the great God” who, “who executes justice for the orphan…providing them with food and clothing.” (Deut 10.18) Because caring for children who need homes is central to God’s character, it is also central to who the people of God are — it is not an extracurricular activity. Finally, I have to see that I too am adopted, for the Bible speaks of God’s people as adopted children. Paul beautifully writes about this reality in his letter to the Romans:

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. (8.14-17)

From the perspective of the Bible, adoption is a picture of grace. God takes people who are not in God’s family and welcomes them as sons and daughters. I have to remember that I was a spiritual orphan, without family or home until God welcomed me as a son. As people whom God has adopted, Carey and I believed we needed to extend that same love to a child who needs a home.

As I said in the first post of this series, Carey and I have wanted to adopt even before we knew each other. Adoption played a significant role in each of our families’ histories. The adoption of Carey’s great-grandfather changed the trajectory of his life and created a legacy of higher education in her family — Carey attending college and becoming a physician can be traced back to that adoption years ago. Elijah represents at least the third consecutive generation in my family to have an adopted child. Adopting on my mother’s side is as common as eloping, also on a three-generation streak. In our family we do more than merely accept adoption as a reality, we embrace it as a beautiful way to grow a family. The adopted children know as much of their stories as possible from an early age. I have never seen any of my adopted relatives treated differently and I am so thankful that this has been my experience.

Although I knew my faith and family history prepared me for adopting a child, the great joy and love I have felt in the past week and a half has surprised me. I knew adoption was good, but experiencing its sweetness firsthand as a parent has caught me off guard. I find myself speechless, full of gratitude that can only be expressed in tears as I hold my son, feed him, pray for him, tell him his story, read to him the biblical accounts of Elijah and Jesus’ resurrection. Carey remarked last week that she could not remember the last time she saw me so happy and I have to agree with her. When we met Elijah on April 1, he was a stranger to us. In a short time we realized he was the child, the exact child for whom we prayed and wanted. We did not want to adopt just any child, we wanted to adopt Elijah specifically — we just did not know it until we met him.

Many people have wondered what it is like to become a parent in 48 hours. It was not easy, but the anxiety I felt is slowly melting away each time I hang out with my son. I know we made the right decision. I was so worried that we did not have the infrastructure to care for Elijah. Usually when families go on the last-minute parent list, our agency requires them to provide proof that they are ready to bring home a child at any time. Because we were not officially on the last-minute list, we did not have to provide similar proof and were caught off guard. The generosity of our families, friends, and co-workers has humbled us greatly. People have given us so much stuff that we started returning things we purchased. The grandparents stayed with us, supported us, and gave us great parenting lessons. The meals from friends and friends of friends remind us of God’s providence. The prayers and congratulations have encouraged us, especially as we feel the cumulative effects of interrupted sleep and the stress of constantly looking out for the needs of a helpless infant. While I would not recommend every adoption happen so quickly, we have seen God’s blessing and love expressed in inventive ways.

The process of adopting Elijah has also turned my mind to societal and more controversial matters, namely abortion and the difficulties facing parents who want to adopt. Elijah’s birthmom found herself with an unintended pregnancy and knew early on that she did not want to parent him. So many similar cases end in abortion in the U.S. Make no mistake, the circumstances leading to abortion are often the same circumstances leading to placement for adoption. Half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended and half of those end in abortion, meaning there are 1.3 million abortions a year. According to a Child Welfare Information Gateway study done in 2011, only 135,813 children were adopted in the U.S. in 2008. I mourn the fact that adoption is not seen as a reasonable option either for women who find themselves with unintended pregnancies or for many prospective parents. I cannot now imagine a world without Elijah and it frightens me to think that if he had a different birthmom, he may not be alive today. I am so grateful, eternally grateful, that Elijah’s birthmom chose to bring him to term. What an incredible act of love.

Having heard the stories of birthmothers who have placed their children for adoption, I know that it is not an easy choice. I also know the way our society views the participants in our situation discourages women who do not want to parent from placing their child with another family. Adoptive parents are often seen as heroes, rescuing innocent children from the jaws of poverty and neglect. A birthmother is viewed as immoral and unfit and clearly does not love the child growing in her womb because no good, loving mother would never abandon her baby. Birthfathers are talked about even less and are seen as deadbeats at best. Abortion thus becomes a more attractive option because it can be done with greater secrecy and seemingly with less societal shame. But the stereotypes of birth families are not based on much reality. The fact is Elijah has been surrounded by love his entire life from his birth family to his adoptive family. His birthmom and birthgrandma made sure he received his prenatal care. Carey’s colleagues worked hard to keep him and his birthmom healthy and safe. This is not to make adoption a pollyannaish process, but to say that though this situation was born out of difficulty, the people involved truly love Elijah and express it in unique ways.

Having gone through an adoption, I can say there are many disincentives for adoptive parents along the way. Private adoption, either domestic or foreign, is expensive. We were subject to background checks, financial checks, fingerprinting, and home inspections. All of these are reasonable, but as we proceeded in the process, I kept thinking, birth parents never have to do any of this stuff. A pregnant couple’s custody of their child does not depend on correctly answering questions about their philosophy of discipline or making sure all their medicine is in a locked box. Adoption agencies are non-profits and ours certainly earned their fees, but I could not help thinking that while adoption was an excellent use of our money, a good portion of our fees could have started a college fund for my child. In our research of which adoption route to take we also looked into the public foster-adopt system, which is even more difficult to navigate. There are similar background checks and home studies. While it is less expensive, the bureaucratic maze is worse than the private option. There are mandatory classes held over several weeks, each offered only once a year, meaning it could take years for parents to be considered ready for adoption if their schedules do not line up with the local government’s. There are groups in America working hard to ensure abortions are available regardless of ability to pay. I wonder why there is not a similar cry for making adoption available regardless of ability to pay. How many incredible parents are out there who would gladly adopt a child who needs a home but cannot because they are unable to afford the high costs? Health insurance plans often cover infertility treatment, but offer little help with adoption. With the large amount of kids in foster care and the continuing high percentage of unintended pregnancies, why do we not support adoption and adoptive parents with more resources?

The day we adopted Elijah I turned 33 years old. It was, as many people have stated, the best birthday present I could imagine. And as someone who has studied Christian theology, I take great comfort in the fact that no one has ever accomplished anything of importance at the age of 33. Wait a minute.

Story of the Kid, Part 4: Paperwork, a Name, Friends, Diaper Decisions, and Home

Then came the numerous meetings and reams of paperwork. The gears of the adoption machine went into full speed and did not stop for hours. As various forms were handed to us to sign, we continued talking with the birthgrandma. Together we visited the nursery so we and the birthgrandma could get footprints of the boy.

We took some pictures with the baby and his birthgrandma. She took a picture of us as a new family.

(Yes, I’m wearing a Star Wars t-shirt. No, that was not intentional. It was just one of my only clean shirts. Deal with it.)

The birthgrandma wisely asked if we needed to have wristbands so we could see the baby and make medical decisions for him. A hospital social worker went to find the paperwork to make that happen. It became apparent that she had not dealt with many adoptions before and so Tina did great work helping the hospital find the correct forms. After signing more papers, custody of the child was given to us. In an oddly quick turn of events his birth family now had to receive our permission in order to see him or be admitted to the Mother/Baby Unit. The only thing I can relate this sudden change to is getting married in which two people arrive single and legally unattached and then in just one moment they become a lawfully, wedded couple. With a few signatures we received responsibility for this child’s welfare. The birthgrandma and birthaunt said goodbye to us. As social workers and nurses flew in and out of the room, Tina went to check on the birthmom. When she returned, we learned that the birthmom had discharged from the hospital after she received word that we would adopt her son. The birth family went home to recover from the delivery and to begin a new chapter in their lives. While we celebrated this joyful gift, they would likely experience some grief, which is natural for any family who has placed a child for adoption. Tina left us after a long weekend of navigating legal minutiae and calming two nervous families.

For a brief moment Carey, I, and the baby were alone. Nobody asked us questions. Nobody handed us papers to read or to sign. Nobody called or texted. Just the three of us, a new family, hushed in a cloud of grace. That tiny room with hand washing instructions posted on the wall and books with titles like, Chicken Soup for the Nurse’s Soul and Hugs for Nurses, sitting on a shelf, became sacred space for us. Just moments before we agreed to open our hearts to a wonderful baby boy and now we were resting in that decision. I unceremoniously interrupted the silence by taking lots of pictures.

(“Who are you?”)

At about the same time Carey and I realized we still had to give the kid a name. As Carey held the baby in her arms, she said, “So, ?” We looked at him and knew the name fit. Elijah means “Yahweh is God,” or “Yahweh is my God.” In 1 and 2 Kings, the prophet Elijah calls the people of God to return to allegiance to Yahweh when worship of Baal is in vogue. When people encounter Elijah, they often come to the conclusion that Yahweh is God. As we remember our son’s story, we clearly see Yahweh’s involvement and power. Our son Elijah’s story is one of love, protection, orchestration, and resurrection. Atticus comes from the character Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus Finch stands for what is right and just despite the popular opinion of his views. He loves his children fiercely. He teaches them not merely tolerance of others, but respect and empathy. Atticus means, “Man from Athens,” but that is not very significant to us. Watson means, “Son of Walter,” implying that at some point in my ancestry there was a guy named Walter and he had a son, and that child was known as his father’s son.

Then meetings and signatures continued. The hospital social worker entered and exited, finding new forms for us, or new places to sign on forms we had already signed. Nurses brought us supplies and gave us a crash course in infant care. The pediatrician spoke with us candidly and encouragingly, giving Elijah a clean bill of health. The hospital eventually moved us to a birthing room since the nursing staff would need their office back for the shift change and we needed a place to eat — they did not allow food or drink in that office. We were not thinking about food for most of the day and suddenly discovered we were famished and very thirsty. Carey walked to the cafeteria and used her employee discount to purchase us lunch. The hospital wanted to discharge Elijah that day, but when they learned that we only owned a toy monkey, they agreed to let him stay one more night so that we could collect and buy things necessary to bring a child home.

In the new room, eating a chicken quesadilla a salad, we realized we wanted some friends to celebrate this wonderful gift with us. Carey called her ob/gyn colleagues who were working that day, inviting them to come meet her son. She said they sounded unfazed, so we thought the hospital rumor mill was in full swing and they already heard the news. When they came into the room they were surprised to see Carey actually there, actually holding a baby. Until they saw the bands around our wrists, they did not truly believe that we had adopted Elijah. One of the doctors admitted he thought she was making some April Fool’s prank. Then he could not stop laughing with joy as he held our child, congratulating us every few seconds. Because our step into the adoption process was so recent, Carey had not been able to tell all the physicians in her practice. Nurses and hospital staff who knew Carey came by to meet Elijah and offer their congratulations.

We called and texted some friends who live in the area. Nelson and Angie, Jim and Meghan came bearing food and gifts.
They held Elijah, we laughed, we told his incredible story, and we expressed our awe of God. People kept saying they could not believe how fast everything came together. Everyone was so happy for us and so grateful for Elijah. We all stood amazed by the generosity and humility of his birth family. Jim also brought this poster as a birthday gift for me/decoration for the baby room. It is all kinds of awesome in that Spinal Tap meets Star Wars kind of way.

Other friends, Robert and Tracy arrived with their daughter to take us out to dinner at Smokin’ Okies, a barbecue joint near our house. We carted Elijah back to the nursery and said good night to him. While we were exhausted and knew we needed to make some basic preparations to bring him home, we nevertheless felt strange leaving him at the hospital without us. At dinner we recounted the crazy tale again, basking in Jesus’ odd timing and surprising creativity.

After dinner Carey and I made our way to Target to buy the necessities like formula, diapers, clothes, etc. We were so tired we just stared at all the varieties of baby formula, feeling ill-equipped to make a choice. Finally we grabbed one after we realized they were all fortified with iron. Diapers proved to be no easier with the myriad choices available to us. I called my mom, who, in a heartbeat, agreed to drive up and help us out the next day. As we made it home, our friend Barry was waiting for us with a car seat and other baby supplies like an infant bathtub. He helped us install the car seat. As we put away our new equipment, I teared up thinking about our friends’ generosity.

The next morning we headed back to the hospital, car seat in hand, ready to bring our son home. We sat in the nursery feeding Elijah, signing even more papers, and getting all our ducks in a row so we could legally change his name. Another social worker from the hospital spoke with us. She meant well, but clearly had little understanding about or trust in open adoption. She gave us some strange advice, revealing she thought we had no idea what we were doing. I am so thankful that the social worker who knew and recommended our agency was working the night Elijah was born. Without her guidance, I do not know if he would be with us today.

While we were preparing to take Elijah home, Tina, our social worker was meeting with the birthmom to sign her relinquishment of parental rights. I cannot imagine the strength and grace it takes to make such a decision, but I am so thankful that Elijah’s birth family found it within them to do so. Their love for Elijah and continued commitment to him through open adoption humbles us. They have been a godsend.

Back at the hospital, we showed the nursing staff our car seat, buckled Elijah in, and walked him downstairs with an escort who brought a wheelchair for Carey, which was nice, but unnecessary seeing that she was not recovering from a delivery. We brought Elijah outside for the first time in his life, set him in the car, and drove him home.

I shall end the narrative of Elijah’s adoption here. I will have one more post with my reflections on the experience.

Story of the Kid, Part 3: Señor Mono, Introductions and Pastries, and the Decision

Sunday morning, April 1, Carey and I “woke” to go to the hospital to meet the kid, his birthmother and birthgrandmother, and Tina, our social worker. I didn’t really wake up because that would require first falling asleep. Even though we were exhausted from all our travels, I lay awake a good portion of the night. Still, I was so thankful for an extra night before meeting the birth family and baby. I was a mess in the airport the previous day. I think I felt more overwhelmed than Carey did by the possibility of being parents in less than twenty-four hours. I vacillated, worried, and simply freaked out several times. My lack of preparedness was slapping me in the face. What little rest we did get on Saturday night energized us just enough to engage in conversation as moderately normal adults. We showered, dressed, packed some photo books we made of ourselves, and grabbed the one item we owned for a baby: the stuffed monkey Carey bought in Costa Rica we named, Señor Mono.

(Señor Mono)

We drove to ShaadZee Bakery, bought breakfast pastries for everyone we were about to meet, and then headed to the hospital. As we sat in the parking structure, we said a brief prayer, thanking God for this opportunity and asking for a clear sense of whether we should go through with the adoption. While we were in Costa Rica, we agreed that if we were going to adopt this child, we had to be on the same page — we gave each other veto power if something did not feel right. We decided to leave Señor Mono in the car because we did not want to communicate that we would be adopting if we truly were not. It would have been too painful to look at that monkey if we brought him in thinking we would give him to our child, but in the end did not actually adopt that boy.

Since Carey works in the Labor and Delivery unit at Kaiser Walnut Creek, she is especially familiar with the hospital and she led us up to the Mother/Baby unit. Tina met us in the hallway and brought us into the room. There we met the birthmother on the hospital bed, recovering from her C-section, with her mother, grandmother, and aunt surrounding her. A hockey game — Peguins vs. Flyers — played on the television, though no one paid any real attention to it. I forgot to mention in my last post that in her great wisdom, Tina recommended one of us speak with the birth family on Saturday. Carey called them while we were at the airport, breaking the ice. When we entered the room, we already had a foothold of relationship, however small, to begin this journey.

Everyone acted cordially as we introduced ourselves to each other. A palpable nervousness hung in the room. We were all wondering if Carey and I would adopt the child or not. The birth family questioned whether we were safe, if we would include them in the child’s life, if the baby would know them. They did not know much about open adoption, which gave us the opportunity to talk about why we chose this route. We want our child to know where they come from and how they were placed for adoption as an act of great love. In our reading about open adoption we have become convinced that this process is very healthy for the child, the adoptive parents, and the birth family. The child will always know why he or she was placed for adoption. They will know who they look like. The adoptive parents will be able to answer the many normal questions adopted children ask. Birth families know that their kids are safe and loved.

We showed the birth family some photo books that we had made, giving them a better sense of who we are. They passed them around and looked at pictures of our lives the past few years. We asked the birthmom why she chose us and she said when she saw our profile she sensed we were close, that we would be together a long time, and she liked that we go on adventures. The family reiterated that she made the choice by herself, but they all supported it.

After some time together, the birthmom solidified her decision for us to adopt the baby by looking at her family and declaring, “Yup, they’re good.” She then asked for the baby to be brought in. A few moments later the birthgrandma wheeled into the room a beautiful, healthy, redheaded boy. We were immediately gobsmacked. The birthmom invited us to pick him up. It was an act of amazing generosity, a tiny gesture symbolic of her magnificent gift to us. We continued to speak, answering questions. We explained in clear detail that we are Christians and will raise our children in the faith and will love and accept them even if they choose to walk away from that faith at a later time. Carey also gave some disclaimers that she worked for Kaiser and previously knew the birthmom’s story having consulted with her colleague about the birthmom’s care, but Carey made it clear that she never saw her chart. The birth family said that when they showed our profile to the hospital social worker, she said, “I know them and can’t say anymore,” so as to not influence the decision. They quickly deduced that Carey must work there. This is the social worker who first recommended the Independent Adoption Center (IAC) to us so many months ago. Once again we sensed God at work or play, take your pick. Not only did the birthmom deliver where Carey works, she also spoke with the one social worker in the hospital that knew our agency and could recommend it. Of all the social workers to be on call, she was on duty. Of all the agencies to recommend, she referred them to the IAC. Of all the families the birthmom could choose from the IAC, she picked us.

We excused ourselves with Tina and the birthgrandma so that we could give the birthmom some space. The hospital moved us into the nurses’ office where we conversed for a few more minutes. The birthgrandma left us to talk alone. Tina asked us what we were thinking. As we held the boy who would soon be our son, we looked at each other and without needing to discuss anything further, we agreed to adopt him. I remember the growing peace I felt as we spoke with the birth family, which is a great surprise considering how stressed I was the day before, how little sleep I had the past two nights, and how awkward I usually feel meeting strangers. But I had a prayerful sense that this boy we were holding was in fact our son — the child who we had prayed for and desired. We knew when we met him that he was the one we wanted.

After saying yes to Tina, we took our first pictures of our son who still had the name his birthmom had given him. We sent this picture to our parents with the message: “Say hello to your grandson.”

Story of the Kid, Part 2: E-mails, Names, Back to the USA

We flew from Drake Bay back to San Jose on Friday. We checked into our hotel, bought some gifts for our family, and were making our final packing arrangements to fly home on Saturday, as was scheduled. We were about to go down to the exercise room to blow off some steam when I picked up my phone to check my e-mail for the millionth time that day and saw this message from Tina, our social worker:

After filling out all birthmother paperwork, [birthmom] has chosen you guys to come meet her baby boy. [Birthmom] is at Walnut Creek Kaiser. She would like you two to come straight from SFO to Kaiser. She has told me that if she is sleeping at the time she would like to be woken up. The hospital is all set up with everything they need for the two of you to go visit [birthmom] and the baby.

A little about the baby:

8lbs 10oz
21.5 inches
Born 3/29/3012 around 8am
Baby is doing well in the nursery as of 3/30.

I stared at my phone, completely dumbfounded. When Carey came out of the bathroom, she found me sitting in the chair, face in my hands, crying. I handed her my phone and both of our mouths hung open. I may have swallowed three flies. The only words we could muster were variations of, “Wow.” We e-mailed Tina a slew of questions about the timing and whether we had to be ready to take the baby home on Saturday. We went to exercise in an attempt to burn off the energy we felt and try to clear our minds.

After exercising and while we waited to hear back from the agency, we called our parents to tell them of the good developments — the hotel thankfully gave guests free international calls. Everyone was excited, offering lots of encouragement and promises of prayer. They also helped us gain perspective while we were in our stupor. This was a great opportunity, perhaps even the gift we had been praying for, but we were not obligated to adopt if it was not the right match.

As Carey and I went out to dinner at an Argentine restaurant near our hotel, I grabbed a notepad and two pens. We had decided on a girl’s name, but had not discussed boys’ names much. While we waited for our food, we each wrote down first names and middle names. Then we discussed our lists. From there, we took the top choices of each list and wrote a second list. We quickly settled on Atticus as the middle name, and had a few options for the first name. We wanted to wait and meet the child first before we decided what his first name would be. What if we really liked the name Boutros Boutros, but he just looked like a Kofi or a Ki-moon?

(A terrible picture of us at our last sit-down meal in Costa Rica. The papers with our name choices are somewhere on the table.)

After getting hardly any sleep, our alarm went off at 3am PDT. We took the shuttle to Juan Santamaria International Airport to begin our journey home. At the airport Carey found a cute toy monkey, making it not only the first thing we bought for our child, but also the only thing we had for a baby. Did I mention we did not expect the adoption to happen this quickly?

The flight to Houston was uneventful. Once we landed, we went through customs, through security again — an extremely annoying process — and then we found our way to our gate. We had a long layover and took the opportunity to call friends for prayer and and more perspective. Were we crazy for considering this? How can we make such a decision so quickly? Our friends gave us great counsel. We also spoke with Tina, who had great insight and people skills to read our situation. She could tell just how tired and overwhelmed we were — our journey home would take fourteen hours. She also knew that the birthmom would want her mother to be present, but that would not be possible if we were to meet on Saturday evening. Tina quickly called an audible and worked to arrange our meeting for Sunday morning. I was so tired I could not articulate that we really wanted to to sleep and shower before meeting. Thankfully Tina was able to read into my blathering and change plans.

The news that the delivery happened in Walnut Creek was such a blessing. Our agency works with families all over the US. We thought we might have to change directions and fly to another city once we landed in Houston. Instead, we would be able to go home. We would be able to meet a birthmom in the hospital where Carey works. We could use Carey’s parking pass and she could get us food at a discounted price in the cafeteria. The birthmom actually had her prenatal care with one of Carey’s colleagues, a doctor who went through residency with Carey, and who has been cheering us on throughout our adoption process. She wondered when she was caring for the birthmom if we would adopt this child. At first things were coming together in a way that made us say, “That’s weird.” By the end of Saturday, we were saying, “God, what are you up to? These are no mere coincidences.”

After the layover, we headed home to the Bay Area. A rainstorm hammered SFO, but we landed safely. We promptly became lost in the airport looking for our luggage. Clearly we were ready to become parents. We finally retrieved our bags and made it onto BART toward home. Our friend Barry and his daughters picked us up at the station and took us to our house. They still had lots of baby supplies and offered to loan them to us if we in fact did adopt. This was the first gesture of much humbling support we received.