My daughter Clementine’s adoption finally became official last week. We sat before the judge for less than five minutes while I testified on record that each previously signed document included my genuine signature.
Clementine, now 21 months old, insisted on sitting in her own chair before the judge and was the first to clap when it was over. Friends attended and shed tears of joy. I’m not sure what I expected to feel but to be honest, the experience was anticlimactic for me.
Taking our “adoption day” photos was special and I plan to put them in an album for Clementine. Having friends who took time off from work to trek out in the freezing cold and stand through the long court security line to witness our brief ceremony was, and is, incredibly meaningful to me. However, now that I’ve been through the whole process, I can report that hands-down the most emotional and powerful moment of Clementine’s long foster-to-adopt process was not when I officially became her mother — it was when her birth parents surrendered their rights in court almost 18 months ago.
I think every adoptive parent should attend the court surrender process if one occurs and if the birth parents are comfortable with it. In Clementine’s case, I had to attend in order to verify and sign my intent to adopt as her parents were willing to terminate their parental rights conditional specifically to selecting me as Clementine’s mom. Each parent’s surrender process before the judge was about 30 minutes long. 30 very long, almost agonizing minutes. You know that part of a wedding when an officiant says “If anyone has any objections, speak up or forever hold you peace”? Imagine that sentence worded in 300 different ways and spoken so slowly it’s hard to remember the beginning of the question. The judge’s questions were a lot like this:
Have you received counseling?
Do you want counseling? Are you sure?
Are you sure you don’t want to postpone this and get some counseling? You’re entitled to it. And you’re not just entitled, I’ll grant it to you right now and we’ll stop, just say the word.
Do you feel rushed right now? Because we can adjourn (postpone to another day).
Are you doing this by your own free will? Are you sure? Are you positive?
Did anyone pressure you into this?
Were you coerced?
Were you tricked?
Were you offered money? Lottery cards? Bricks of gold?
Do you know you’re giving up all of your parental rights forever? I want to make sure you understand the word “forever.” You’re not going to have any rights to your child anymore. Are you okay with that? Are you sure?
Were you promised that you could get her back? Because you can’t. Not ever.
Do you want some more time to talk to your attorney about that?
Are you choosing adoption because you think you can’t afford her? If that’s the case you can be helped. I will order help for you.
You’re going to sign these papers. Do you want more time to read them? Do you want them in another language? Because we can put it in any language. Do you want time to think about your language options?
Do you know you’re not going to choose her school?
Do you know that you’re not going to choose her religion? Nothing. Do you understand? Are you sure?
I’m going to sign now, do you have any questions? It’s not too late, I haven’t signed yet. I’ll tell you when I’ve signed it.
Okay, I’ve signed it, but it’s not stamped, do you want to do this? It’s not too late.
Are you sure?
After listening to Clementine’s biological mom and dad make it all the way through the court questions while steadfastly reaffirming their decision to hand their daughter over to me, that was the day — the moment — I truly felt that Clementine became mine. Nothing else can compare to that day.
(But the one big plus of Clementine’s adoption being legally complete? I can share her picture to anyone and anywhere I want. See above!)