Adoption and the loss of a child are two topics that tend to shut people up or make them weigh each word very carefully before they speak. My husband and I adopted after the loss of a child, and though it may seem dramatic or even dark, it has been the most incredible journey of our lives.
My husband and I got married in August 1994 and two baby boys, Grant and Joe, soon followed. Being only 18 months apart, my boys were more like twins, doing everything together and even dressing alike (my doing). By 2002, my husband had a job he enjoyed that also paid the bills and I loved staying at home. But something was missing. I loved my boys, but I yearned for another child – a girl.
I was so determined to have a girl, I charted my ovulation by temperature. After two tries, we were pregnant.
We took the boys with us for the ultrasound, confident that they would get to see a little sister on the screen. But there it was – the baby’s manhood in fuzzy black and white.
I wept. My husband ushered the boys out of the room and explained to them that I was just so happy to see their little brother on the screen that it made me cry. But the truth is I was deeply disappointed, as much as it shames me to admit it.
But when little Ward was born, he was plump and gorgeous and perfect in every way. I was in love.
Our family felt complete, and my husband got a vasectomy. Knowing that Ward would be my last child, I bathed in the delights of his baby milestones and toddlerhood. He became my little sidekick.
Then in 2005, the unthinkable, the impossible, the horrible thing that happens to other people, happened to our family. At three years old, Ward walked down a steep wooded path at my mother’s lake house and jumped into the lake by himself. He was in the water for just a few minutes, but I was unable to revive him before the ambulance came.
To say it hurt is an almost laughable understatement. It felt like someone had grabbed the front of my throat and ripped downward, yanking away my lungs, my breasts, my stomach, my womb, and leaving me with nothing but horror and pain.
Every inch of our home moaned with the absence of Ward. I couldn’t sit on the couch without feeling the emptiness on my lap, devoid of my silken-curled little love who used to clamber up with a book. I couldn’t be alone without listening for his footsteps or his voice.
About four months after Ward passed away, my husband got his vasectomy reversed. We wanted to hear the laughter of a baby again. I wanted to watch a little person grow up and relish all the fun kid stuff along the way. I briefly wondered if we were just being selfish because we wanted to have the joy that another child would bring. Was that reason enough to have a baby?
I think the people who make the best parents do it because parenting makes them happy. They do it because they love being around their kids and would happily do whatever it takes to help their kids be healthy and fulfilled. It’s not a chore; it’s a pleasure. And we wanted to do it again.
Two months after my husband’s surgery, I got pregnant. Then I lost the baby at about seven weeks, my first miscarriage. We tried again. I got pregnant again; everything was great, the baby was growing just fine and we sailed through the treacherous first trimester. But when we went in for the ultrasound to find out the sex, there was no movement or heartbeat. The doctor’s best guess was that a freak cord accident was responsible.
We tried for another pregnancy for a few more months without success. An analysis showed that the vasectomy reversal had closed up with scar tissue.
Next up was IVF, which, in case you didn’t know, is a pain in the ass – literally. You get a million shots, and some of them hurt like you wouldn’t believe. We only produced two viable embryos, which resulted in a single pregnancy that lasted a couple of weeks. The clinic encouraged us to try again.
But while we very much wanted another child, it had all been too much. Too much invasive medical stuff, too much money down the drain, too much shattered hope. We cut our losses and walked off the fertility playing field.
So, adoption, huh? It was kind of intimidating. Sure, there are all sorts of wonderful stories, but aren’t there horrible ones, too?
We were fortunate in many ways during the adoption process. The social worker at our agency helped us complete our home study, a process that involves a medical, financial and criminal background check, lots of paperwork and plenty of interviews to prove parents are ready to adopt.
All the grandparents were fully on board, and we had friends who were adult adoptees as well as friends who had adopted – all great resources. Things happened fast without any glitches.
I agonized over whether to include information about Ward in our profile letter. Would prospective birthparents think we were still heavily grieving? Would they be afraid we would compare the new baby to him? Our social worker said, “Well, they may be afraid that the baby will drown.”
As difficult as it was to include the details of our son’s death, we did it and I’m glad we did. We wanted to lay everything on the table for the potential birthparents, and, after all we’d been through, though we definitely wanted another baby, had it not worked out, we would’ve been OK.
We completed our home study in the summer of 2008 and the baby’s birth mom selected our profile just a few months later. The social worker described her as infectiously happy and outgoing.
We went to the last three of her OB appointments, and I had my arms open for a baby of either sex, trusting the universe to give me a gift I would love.
It was a boy.
Oh, man, I love boys.
When she went into labor, we flew to her state immediately. I chased the bassinet down the hospital hallway and was in the nursery with baby Frank for his first bath. His birth mom signed papers indicating that we should be allowed to feed him (I was attempting to breastfeed) and hold him whenever we wanted while in the hospital.
I will not sugarcoat the anxiety of the waiting period for domestic adoptive parents. First there’s your home study (all that paperwork!) and the wait to get chosen. Then there’s the wait during the pregnancy and the wait for the birth parents’ rights to be terminated so the baby can be legally yours. It’s all difficult, but the outcome is well worth it.
We have a good semi-open relationship with Frank’s birthparents. I mail them letters and photos and hope someday to see them again. They are now in our family forever.
Baby Frank is now a toddler, a happy, brazen, beautiful boy. He cherishes our dogs, his monster trucks, and, of course, his big brothers. He is fearless and darts away from me, laughing and daring me to chase him. In fact, I just bought him a toddler leash. When he was a wee little thing, I was so scared of SIDS, choking, weird allergic reactions and random accidents. I still have fears aplenty, but they are manageable. I do my best to convert them to preventive planning (how can I stop these terrible things from happening?) and then release them from my mind.
Some of the dark wisdom one gains after the loss of a child is that no matter how much you adore him or her and no matter how careful you think you are being, lightning can and does strike. But hand-in-hand with that dark wisdom comes a dazzling truth: Every day we get to be around our children is a gift, one more page in a very happy story.