All Together Now

by Robin L. Flanigan

Robin is an award-winning freelance journalist. You can find her at her blog, The Kinetic Pen. Her story, which looks at adoption, infertility, and some inherent complexities, was anthologized in 2007.

Annalie is sitting across from me, dipping her fingers in yogurt and stacking sliced grapes on top of her grilled cheese sandwich. It’s Mother’s Day. My second one. Done with my meal, I pick up the newspaper and start scanning.

“Adoption.”

I drop the paper.

“What did you say, honey?”

She repeated herself. It sounded the same.

“Did you say adoption?”

She nods.

“Where did you hear that word?”

“The treeses.”

So the trees told her. The trees tell her a lot of things.

I ask her what the trees said.

“Annalie is adopted.”

“Oh,” I say. I nod slowly. “Do you know what that means?”

She stares at me.

“What’s adoption?”

“Um…”

That’s all I can get out. My eyes start to tear up. I don’t want her to notice. Standing up, I tell her I’m going to get her daddy.

“He would love to be here for his, okay? I’ll be right back.”

I turn the corner and blink hard, soaking my cheeks.

Almost two years ago, a friend from college sent me a plastic bottle of holy water from Lourdes for good luck. She’d picked it up from a pilgrimage there, when she traveled with dozens of fiercely Catholic relatives on behalf of her uncle, who was battling lung cancer. After praying for him she prayed for herself, that the Lord would see fit to bless her with twins. She gave birth to two girls nine months later.

My friend told me to bless myself with the water and soon I would be a mother. The bottle, half the size of my palm, looked like a tourist shop trinket. The word “Lourdes” was printed in fancy type above the head of a woman praying to a supersized Virgin Mary. The woman wore a long robe; a cross dangled from a chain encircling her wrist. Short lines representing bursts of light surrounded the Virgin, her hands also folded in prayer.

I spread a towel on the floor and lay down, the square tiles hard against my spine. Feet flat, knees propped together, I twisted off the bottle’s blue cap, hiked up my shirt and watched the cold water drip onto my skin, just below the navel.

Catching my breath, I made a sign of the cross out of the quivering pools on my belly. I’m not Catholic, but it seemed like the right thing to do.

I drag myself down the hallway and find my husband in our bedroom, folding laundry.

“I really need your help with a conversation downstairs.”

Patrick puts his hand on my arm and laughs as he heads for the door. I tell him to wait, that I need to fill him in first.

I’m not finished when he walks out and heads for the bookshelf in Annalie’s room.

“That’s perfect,” I say, realizing what he’s after. “It’s over here.”

I reach inside her crib and grab one of her favorite books, A Blessing from Above, an adoption tale about a kangaroo with an empty pouch.

Back in the dining room, Patrick tousles Annalie’s hair.

“I hear you have a question,” he says.

I join them at the table after turning the volume all the way down on a Leonard Cohen song. Annalie’s not saying anything. It’s really quiet.

“Maybe we’re making too big a deal out of this,” Patrick whispers in my direction.

A few more seconds pass and he gets right to the point.

“So you want to know about adoption?”

There it is. Right there on the table.

He opens the book and flips through the pages showing Mama Roo leaning up against a tree to rest; the baby bluebird falling down, down, down out of its crowded nest and into Mama Roo’s pouch; the two of them hugging and happy.

I say it’s like the story of the day she was born. How she was with Jessica and Peter in the hospital and then came home to live with us.

Annalie taps her palm with her fingers and rubs circles on her cheeks.

“I’m putting on makeup,” she announces.

“Do you understand what adoption is?” I ask.

She scowls and sticks out her hand, as if telling me to halt. She pumps her hand back and forth. I tell her to stop, that it’s a rude gesture.

“I’m pushing you away,” she says. Then, “Why did you adopt me?”

Three pregnancies in one year, all through in vitro fertilization. The first was ectopic, ending when my right fallopian tube burst late one afternoon while I was watching TV. My husband didn’t answer his phone at work so I crawled to the middle of the driveway and waited. Patrick spent that entire night, before the morning’s surgery, trying to sleep in a plastic chair at the foot of my bed.

Doctors knew fairly early on that the second one wasn’t viable either. With an ultrasound showing the possibility that the embryo was stuck in my left fallopian tube this time, they advised being injected with a cancer drug to abort the pregnancy. I returned to the clinic, pulled down my underwear and leaned over an exam table for the shot. Except that it didn’t work. I went back for another round the next week.

The third loss was a blessing. It was over fast.

Soon after the last one I got a call while on vacation from my friend Janet, who had just found out she was pregnant. We’d gone through the same five years of infertility treatments together. That night I had a dream I was at a party. I had finally adopted a little girl. She measured a couple of inches and fit nicely in my hand. At one point in the evening I realized I’d forgotten to change her diaper, which made me feel like an unfit mother. Then a woman appeared and asked if she could hold my daughter. I watched as she took my little one into her hands and promptly dropped her. Suddenly transported outdoors, I searched frantically for my baby among the rocks and weeds. The woman laughed, said she had dropped her own children like that. I wanted to ask everyone at the party to stop their conversations, to help me look. But I kept quiet. My baby was gone and I knew it.

I let her father talk first.

“Jessica knew that we would love you,” he says. “When you were in Jessica’s belly, she searched the whole country for a mommy and daddy who would love you very much. And she chose us.”

“And we waited for you for so long,” I chime in. “We wanted you so much.”

“Why mommy and daddy have no babies?”

Two-year-olds are supposed to ask about the sky and bugs and whether they can jump on the bed just this once.

Images of basal thermometers and needles and pregnancy tests flash through my mind. I have no idea what to say. That miracle cures didn’t work? That medical science couldn’t deliver?

Patrick looks just as stunned. He can’t take his eyes off her.

“That’s deep,” he starts. “Well, there are many answers to that question, and you’ll find new answers every year. But one of them, one that I like, is that sometimes mommies can’t take care of their babies, so somebody else takes care of them. God makes it that way.”

The audience tearfully listened to the photographer explain his images of one dead or dying newborn after another, slowly appearing and fading away in a tangle of breathing tubes and unanswered prayers. In one photograph, a woman cradled her underdeveloped baby in crossed palms. In another, a 10-year-old boy, standing next to his mother, had dumped his head in her lap after being convinced that six hours without a heartbeat is too long to bring back to life the brother he had been holding moments before.

This was bereavement photography. Pictures that document the short time parents have with their doomed children. I was there to watch the pain, to measure it against my own and be reassured that I had not gone through the worst. Not by a long shot. That system of measurement had become an obsession, starting two months earlier when I rented a documentary about a single woman who adopted 13 children with severe disabilities. Weeks later I was at the theater for a double feature: the first film followed a blind Israeli lawn bowler on her trip to the Para-Olympics; the second was about a dwarf, the sole survivor of a family experimented on during the Holocaust by Mengele himself.

At the theater again for this lecture, sniffling with strangers, I tried to persuade myself to be thankful my husband and I lost our babies before they beared any resemblance to the smallest child up on that screen. But our own grainy photographs from the hospital flashed through my mind, images of the embryos before they were implanted, proof that I was a mother three times over if only for a couple of weeks.

I kept expecting all of this other suffering, all of this greater suffering, to ease my own. To make my struggle less valid. I had a good life.

But I needed more than one tissue when the photographs stopped shuffling, when the screen was blank and the theater was black and the audience was given a minute to recover in silence.

I’d thought starting the adoption process meant the healing had officially begun, but no crust was forming on my wounds. Some women, even those who had happily adopted, said that the sense of loss never goes away. Decades later it can smack you upside the head when you least expect it. Like when a baby shower invitation comes in the mail or you hear a co-worker gush over the birth of his first grandchild.

Decades.

The dull lights overhead had begun to flicker and I couldn’t even deal with that.

Annalie points to a vase of flowers on a Mexican cabinet behind me.

“Are those good flowers or bad flowers?”

I look at the bouquet. We tell her they’re good.

Next, she points to the Christmas cactus in the middle of the table and says she wants to bring it over to the good flowers.

Patrick unbuckles her booster seat. She hops to the floor, rounds the table and asks me to get up so she can use my chair to get the plant. I rise and she kneels on the seat cushion to reach the cactus.

She extends her arms toward me.

“Can you hold this while I get down?”

I set the plant on the cabinet.

“Is this how you want it?” I ask.

“Yeah.”

Annalie looks at the tall crystal vase and the short terra-cotta pot beside it.

Then, with authority, she makes her pronouncement.

“Adopted.”

I look at my husband, mouth agape, and silently give thanks that our daughter is making sense of her world.

She feels safe and protected and loved.

She belongs.

And so do we.

Open Adoption: A Birthmother’s Story

My name is Laura Gladden. I am 20 years old. I placed my daughter, K, for adoption in July of 2012. My pregnancy was very unplanned and unexpected! I am so grateful for it though, and I’ll tell you why.

I found out I was pregnant when I was 18 years old.  It was 5 months after I graduated high school and 4 months into dating my boyfriend at the time. Shortly after finding out I was pregnant, my boyfriend broke up with me and told me he didn’t want to have anything to do with me or my pregnancy. I was now alone and left to parent my baby alone.

Being 18, I only had a part-time retail job at a clothing store and a part-time job at a realty office. I attended a university and still lived at home, very much dependent on my parents. I feared my baby would grow up poor, without a daddy, and not have all of her necessities. I’m religious, so I prayed about my situation and had an inspiration about adoption, although I didn’t know how it worked, who to contact, or what it meant really. Plus I didn’t want to give my baby to another family. I loved that little baby even though I couldn’t see or feel it yet.

I did some research and found an agency–LDS Family Services. I contacted the local case worker and met with her. I wasn’t sure if I was going to choose adoption, but I decided to consider my options and see what it was all about. I made my decision to finally place my daughter when I looked at adoptive couple’s profiles on the agency website.

There were so many amazing couples who were in need of children, but their bodies didn’t work to be able to create life. All the families were married, had great job situations, and so much love. They had everything I wanted for my baby. I always pictured my children growing up with nice things, things they needed, and most importantly–both a mommy and a daddy. All of which I couldn’t provide.

I picked the family I found fit to care for my baby and love her as much as I do. I met them a few times and called, texted, and emailed them for weeks and weeks before I finally picked them. I have become so close with my daughter’s adoptive family and I consider them family myself.

When it came time to give birth, I called them and they traveled from Utah to Colorado to be at the hospital and see her. They brought gifts and hugs and love when they came.

Placing my daughter in their arms forever was the hardest thing I have ever done. It is a pain indescribable. My heart ached and still aches with pain of loss and grief, but it is filled with love and blessings at the same time. I am sad that I can’t be there every second to see my daughter, but I am overjoyed that she has the best life ever. I love my baby girl so much that I gave her the best life and future possible.

I have an open adoption and am able to contact her adoptive couple 24/7. They send me pictures, videos, and updates weekly and I am able to visit her every couple of months! It is definitely hard to know I can’t hold and kiss her everyday–but it makes me happy to know she is happy and being well taken care of!

Looking back at my decision–I am still at peace with it. It makes me sad and sometimes sick to my stomach to think of how her life would turn out if I decided to parent her. She wouldn’t have a stable home to live in. Her grandparents (my parents) would have to provide most of her things, she wouldn’t have a daddy, and I truly think she wouldn’t grow up to be the happiest she can!

As a birthmother, I can see that all 3 of us (my daughter, her adoptive couple, and me) are and will be blessed forever!

Seconds after her baby is born

Laura kissing her baby

Laura kissing her baby

Playing with baby K

Playing with baby K

Laura with her family

Laura with her family

Placing baby K

Placing baby K

Laura with the adoptive family

Laura with the adoptive family

###

You can continue to follow Laura’s story at her own blog.  Thank you so much for sharing your story with DWLA, Laura.

A Dad’s Perspective: Our Journey Through Open Adoption

Andy at Our Life in 3D wrote an article about the adoption of his children, which was published by  his (and DWLA’s) adoption agency, Bethany Christian in their national magazine, Lifelines.

***

Open adoptions seem to be the adoption of the future. Really, there is no better way. If you have ever heard stories of adoptions gone bad I think most of them revolve around hiding the truth from the kids. When the kids find out later in life or from someone other than their parents, feelings get hurt, confusion sets in and then anger.

But I’ll get off my soap box before I really get started. If you are interested in learning about how open adoptions operate and our story specifically read on. And thanks! This is really a big deal to me because of the two wonderful families that have allowed us to have our own family.

A Dad’s Perspective: Our Journey Though Open Adoption

My wife, Sabrina, and I got married in 1996.  About eight years later, we wondered why she had never gotten pregnant, so we went to a gynecologist and found out it was impossible for us to conceive naturally.  Undaunted, we went down the uncertain road of IVF procedures.  Anyone who has been down this road knows how emotional the trip can be—with extremely happy highs and tearful lows, not to mention the agony of giving your wife shots a few times a day.
Feeling frustrated amid our third IVF attempt, we attended a local adoption information meeting.  Sabrina felt we were meant to adopt; I wasn’t so sure.  Call me crazy, but as we left that meeting, I saw a rainbow in my rearview mirror.  That was my sign, and so our adoption journey began.

We researched adoption programs and agencies and chose Bethany.  We went to meetings, paid the fees, got our physicals, and completed the paperwork. We were ready to start our family!

Probably the best advice we got along this journey was not to paint the new baby’s room just yet.  It was a year later when we got our first call that some birthparents wanted to meet us.

Sabrina and I were nervous before our first meeting, but it left us more worried than excited.  One of the birthparents had some emotional disorders that we knew could emerge as their son got older.  With no training about or prior exposure to these disorders, we reluctantly decided this was not the adoption for us.  We wondered, Was this part of God’s plan or did we just sabotage it?  We had waited so long!

Our First Adoption
A month later, we received another phone call.  We met a quiet, pretty young lady.  The meeting went smoothly with the help of the adoption specialist.  We really liked the expectant mom but felt like we had botched the interview.

A few days later, we received a second phone call saying that the expectant mom wanted to meet us again.  That meeting went fine, and we laughed and cried together.  Her reason for getting together was to establish ground rules for an open adoption.

The expectant mom wanted us to send her photos frequently.  She was a sweet, Christian young lady, and she needed to be sure that she was making the right decision.  If all it took to realize our dream was to e-mail some pictures, it was an easy decision for us.  What ever it takes, we thought.

Some people ask us why we said yes to an open adoption. We say, “Why not?” Try to put yourself in the shoes of the birthmother.  To say this is a “life-altering” decision is an understatement.  As I see it, adoption is an act of love and selflessness for these women.  They love their children more than they love themselves.  That’s what great mothers do.  If we were to ruin that equation by being selfish as adoptive parents, what message would that send to our kids?

Have I told you how wonderful our two daughters are?  We adopted our second child through open adoption in 2010 from another special young lady.

All that waiting.  All those tears.  It all was worth it.  What a wonderful plan God had for us.  Our daughters are awesome!  Each day we tell them how much we love them and thank God for his gifts.

The More Love, the Better
Our journey continues to evolve.  We feel like we expanded our family twofold, and the girls are the benefactors.  Can you imagine growing up with four grandmothers?  What could be better to a child at Christmas?

Our relationship with each birthfamily is unique.  One family calls and visits more often.  The other e-mails and sends gifts in the mail.  But when they send gifts, both families send packages for both girls!  These families have embraced us as parents.  They do not intrude.  They do not preach to us about how to raise our kids.  They are simply happy to be included in the process.

Both birthgrandmothers are wonderful ladies, and we feel blessed to have them in our lives too.  They love our children so much.  One of the grandmothers caught us off guard when she said, “You are like family to us now.” Wow! The more love the better!

The Future

When our daughters receive gifts and cards in the mail, we try to explain who they are from.  We save and date the cards to show them at a later time.  We tell them that the ladies who sent them love them very much.

We will explain open adoption to our daughters at the right time. To us it is not a moment but an ongoing conversation.  You answer the questions as they come up and at a level they understand. The adoptions are not to be seen as dark or dramatic moments. Its more about how God put our family together. We actually have a “Family” cheer we do at the dinner table! We speak openly to friends about adoption in front of the girls, so when the subject comes up the girls will not be unfamiliar with it.

We are not sure what the future holds. It comes on so fast and can change in many ways. We do hope to stay in touch with our birthfamilies. We want to share birthdays and milestones with them. My personal hope is that, as we get older / they get older, our girls will know and be close to each birthmom. They can be a source of “family”, moms and siblings, after we are gone. The more love the better!

We will always be indebted to our two birthmothers for entrusting their children to us.  And we thank God for our wonderful journey, and we will be sure that our daughters know that He brought us all together.

Fertile Ground for Good Theater

by Lennie Magida

“It’s a comedy about infertility.”

That’s my standard response when people ask me about the play I’m currently directing, “Expecting Isabel” by Lisa Loomer. It’s been more than 25 years since I’ve been immersed in the world of infertility and adoption: the physical travails, emotional swings, medical mumbo-jumbo, constant expense, good and bad surprises…and the ultimate joy of adopting a child. But here I am again, thanks to theater. It’s art imitating a pivotal part of my life, except that – thank goodness! – the characters in my life weren’t nearly as crazy as the characters in the play. And it really is a comedy, albeit laced with many poignant moments – as one might expect, given the subject matter.

“Expecting Isabel” (or just “Iz,” as I’ve taken to calling it) is the story of Miranda and Nick, New Yorkers nearing age 40, eager to have a baby but having trouble conceiving. Miranda comes from a financially secure but emotionally difficult background: her father committed suicide, and her mother drinks too much. (But it’s a comedy, I swear!) Her job? Writing condolence cards. Nick, on the other hand, comes from a boisterous Italian American family that has its own set of quirks. He’s the odd man out in this working-class clan because he became a sculptor. He’s generally a glass-half-full guy – a marked contrast to Miranda, who opens the play by saying, “I am not a…‘happy’ woman.”

Nick announces that he’s ready for a child. At first Miranda resists…but then, poof, she’s obsessed. They embark on an Alice-in-Wonderland-esque quest for parenthood, dealing along the way with fellow would-be parents, a fertility specialist, a therapist, a loudmouth Russian cabbie, a marriage counselor, an adoption facilitator, several pregnant young women, a nightmare vision of a girl named Isabel, and assorted others…not to mention their own families and their relationship. All told, there are more than two dozen characters (and eight actors. Except for the two portraying Miranda and Nick, everyone in the cast plays multiple roles.)

We’re doing the play at Silver Spring Stage, near where I live in the Maryland suburbs. I’ve done a lot of acting, directing and producing with community theaters in this part of the DC region, and the Stage has pretty much become my “home” theater. (I’m on the board, too.) A few years ago, it decided to focus on plays that aren’t too typical for community theaters: contemporary, “different,” sometimes challenging dramas and comedies. “Iz” fits right in. It debuted in 1998, so its reproductive-technology-speak isn’t completely up-to-date, but it’s still indisputably a contemporary piece. I mean, “Our Town” and “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” don’t have scenes in which a character does a yoga handstand “to help the sperm find their way home.”

My involvement with “Iz” feels very meant-to-be. Given my history, I was interested in directing it as soon as I found out the Stage was doing it. But it was originally slated for June 2013…and that’s when my daughter, Nina – the wonderful result of our infertility-and-adoption saga way back when – is getting married. Oh well, I thought. But the director of one of the other plays was eager to take the June slot. So we swapped, and “Expecting Isabel” will be come forth into the world on January 11. Then, on June 8, I’ll have the immeasurable pleasure of being mom of the bride for our beautiful Nina, who became part of our family as a 2 pound, 5 ounce Filipina preemie nearly 26 years ago. It all feels like part of a wonderful cycle – which, come to think of it, is an awfully appropriate context for a comedy about infertility.

The “Iz” team has a lot to do before we open. (The wedding team also has a lot to do, but that’s another post!) My terrific actors are still getting to know all their characters, not to mention their lines. We’re figuring out costumes, lights, sound – the whole usual shebang. It’s a familiar process. And, of course, it’s not unusual to find elements of a play that relate to one’s own life.

But still…“Iz” is the first show in which it’s been relevant for me to describe what it was like when my infertility surgery failed, or when a pre-Nina adoption fell through after the baby was born. Both those things happen in “Expecting Isabel.” It’s so real that it feels almost surreal.

It is, if you’ll excuse the pun, fertile ground for good theater.

A Grandfather Talks about Adoption

by Rudy Hanson

My story is about my family and how it has been greatly blessed by adoption. Adoption is a recognition of the needs of children, and I first saw these needs when I was still quite young.

Rudy surrounded by Korean children

My first recollection about this was when I witnessed poor children in Korea while I was serving with the U.S. Army during the Korean War. My mother had sent me a shoebox filled with candy, popcorn, and a Ronson cigarette lighter. The children in this old Korea had very little in the way of housing, food and other basics of life. A friend of mine and I walked over toward the children and I distributed the candy and popcorn to them. My friend had a camera and took a photo of me with the children, which I’ve cherished all of my life. For me, this is where the idea of need was born.

My story moves on to Kalamazoo, Michigan, where I married my sweetheart, Janet (Luanne’s mother and Marc and Marisha’s grandma). Shortly after we were married, the little bundle of Luanne came into our lives. When we were ready for a second child, we found out that we could no longer have additional children. We did not want to raise an only child and started the process of possible adoption. We were turned down by several adoption agencies because we had a birth child.

Fortunately, one local agency changed their policy, and we were privileged to adopt Ted when he was five weeks old. Ted was the first child in Michigan adopted into a family with an existing child who was biological to the parents.  As the children grew, we found no difference in our love for our two children.

On Ted’s 21st birthday, we had a meeting with the case worker. We were informed that they knew the accomplishments of both of our children, including Luanne’s National Merit Semifinalist status and Ted’s rank of Eagle Scout. We were instrumental in changing Michigan’s practice of not mixing birth and adopted children (when birth child was first).

Moving on, later in life, Luanne and Marshal married and waited to begin their family. At the time they were ready, Luanne had health problems and her physician recommended that she not become pregnant. We learned that they were contacting an adoption agency about possible international adoption. Through Bethany Christian Services and Holt International, they heard that a baby boy was available. Marc arrived at Detroit Metro Airport from South Korea via Tokyo when he was 3 1/2 months old. The joy experienced by Luanne and Marshal is impressed into my heart! A similar process occurred a few years later with another blessing from Korea, the arrival of a baby girl, Marisha, who was flown by way of San Francisco to Detroit Metro. Luanne’s joy was overwhelming. We were all very excited and happy!

The feelings I had for those first Korean children have extended through my life with the great joy of our grandchildren, Marc and Marisha, as well as my grandchildren Cassie and Cole. Janet and I are so proud of their accomplishments and of them just being themselves–our grandchildren! Our family’s lives have been enhanced by the opening of our hearts to adoption, both domestic and international.

SOMETIMES THINGS DON’T WORK OUT. AND THANK GOODNESS FOR THAT.

by Lennie Magida

Families come about in all sorts of ways, with all sorts of steps along the path. Believe me, surgery is one of the least fun steps. Surgery that’s followed by complications and then by more surgery is even less fun. But when there are infertility issues, there’s often surgery.

In my case, it failed. And 28 years later I often think: Thank goodness.

Let me explain. Back in 1984, after various tests, I had infertility surgery. My husband, John, and I were living in Baltimore, so I was able to go to Johns Hopkins Hospital—the best of the best—where a renowned specialist operated on me. Unfortunately, the results weren’t promising. OK, they were dismal. And then I developed complications from excessive scarring, wound up back in the hospital for a few weeks, and finally needed a second operation to clear the complications.

In the end, the doctors told me that I’d probably never be able to conceive normally and, by the way, I probably shouldn’t try to conceive by any means. “If you had to have a Caesarean,” they said, “it could kill you.”

It was, to put it mildly, a low point. I was sick and weak—I’d been nourished by nothing but an IV for three weeks—and I had nothing to show for the surgeries and hospitalization. My body had failed me, and medicine’s best efforts had failed me. Even worse, I felt that I’d failed John. One day I asked him tearfully, “Do you wish you’d married someone else?” Being who he is, he of course replied, “Are you crazy?”

(So far, I realize, John’s response seems like the only part of this experience that would make a person thankful. But please keep reading.)

Before long, my body and emotions healed. And in 1985, John and I began focusing on adoption. If we were going to become parents, that’s how it was going to happen. We decided to go the private adoption route and started working with a Maryland adoption lawyer. We got a dedicated phone line, ran ads, and waited.

In early 1986, a young Maryland couple contacted us. They were married with a toddler son, and they were expecting a second child. But they were barely scraping by, and they’d reached the painful decision that they couldn’t afford the new baby.

We met the sweet mom and her adorable little boy. With our lawyer’s help, we started making arrangements. But when the baby girl was born, the couple couldn’t give her up. They just couldn’t. And we couldn’t help but understand.

Still, it felt like another failure. But 26 years later I often think: Thank goodness.

Months went by, and we found out we’d be moving to Beijing in 1987 for John’s job. There wasn’t time to complete an adoption, so we stopped seeking possibilities. Maybe, we thought, we could adopt a child in China. (This was about five years before the adoptions of children from China to the U.S. began.) Or we’d wait until we moved back to the States. Another two or three years wouldn’t be such a big deal.

Then, one evening in late 1986, when I was on deadline at my job at the Washington Post, my friend Kim called with a five-word question that changed our lives:

“Do you want a baby?”

I’ll tell you the details in my next post. For now, suffice it to say I told Kim “yes.” And that’s how our daughter, Nina, came into our lives.

Sometimes I look back, and I wonder. What if I hadn’t had infertility problems? Or what if my surgery had worked? John and I would have had a biological child—or children. What would they have been like? And what happened to that baby girl in Maryland and her family? I’ve often hoped everything turned out fine for them. I’ve pictured the little girl as blonde and blue-eyed like her mom and brother. What would we have been like as that family?

Those are unanswerable questions. But that’s fine. Because I can always know this: If any of those scenarios had happened, we would never have even known about the beautiful Filipina baby girl who became our daughter.

And that’s why, when I think about the surgery mess or the adoption that wasn’t, I think: They weren’t failures. They were simply detours that led us down a different road.

Thank goodness.

***

Lennie Magida works mainly as a nonprofit development writer & consultant.  With husband John and daughter Nina (another Don’t We Look Alike? contributor), Lennie spent most of the ’80s and ’90s in Asia and Hawaii before moving to Potomac, Maryland, in 1998.  (See Author Bios for more information about Lennie)

See Lennie’s first story, “3000 Miles Away, the Stork Came Early,” here.

New Ideas

by Luanne

I’m the mother of two young adults, both adopted from Korea when they were babies.  But my relationship with adoption began much earlier.  I’m the sister of an adoptee, too.  Back in the early sixties, it was still a new idea that adoption wasn’t a secret to be kept and that an adopted child could grow up knowing he was adopted and still feel loved and accepted by others.  My parents embraced this idea.  When they started the adoption process for a boy, they explained all this to me and I thought I understood.  Yet it wasn’t quite that simple.

Sister meets her new baby brother at the adoption agency

Luanne and baby Teddy at the agency

It was a March day, when my parents and I drove downtown to pick up my brother Teddy from Catholic Family Services. We weren’t Catholic, but Mom explained that their agency was the one with the babies and we were in need of a baby.  We pulled up in front of an old house on South Street and went in. Teddy lay in a white bassinette in a small room. My parents and I encircled him, looking down at our new baby. Our case worker said, “He’s just six weeks old. Isn’t he a darling?”

Though shocked to see his face covered with a red rash, I quickly decided not to be picky since I had been waiting all seven years of my life for a brother.

A few months before, when the case worker was going to visit us for the first time, Mom and Dad had warned me that she would ask questions, and I sensed that our family getting the stamp of approval rested on me and my answers.

I kept things businesslike, asking for a brother since our family needed a boy more than another girl. Since it was 1963 and I’d never met anyone who was adopted, I assumed that kids, adopted or not, would automatically look like their parents.  I had my mother’s brown hair and blue eyes, so I put in an order for brown eyes to match Dad’s.

Now I peered closer at the baby with his frill of reddish brown hair.  “He’s got blue eyes like mine!”  I’m sure I sounded accusatory.  The case worker explained they were fresh out of baby boys with brown eyes, so they had chosen Teddy because he looked like Mom and me.  I considered the logic and figured he would do.

When we got him home, all the relatives started coming over to meet him. For two weeks, we had somebody at our house almost every day. They liked to have me sit on the couch and hold Teddy while they took our picture. Teddy felt like one of my dolls, but warm and heavier, and yet I was conscious of how fragile he was and how careful I had to be with him. Every day I rushed home from school so I could see him.  Day by day, I learned to be more comfortable with him, and how to hold the Playtex bottle with its plastic bag insert so he could get formula without swallowing too much air. I learned how to burp him, patting his back which seemed barely bigger than my hand. He relaxed and smiled at me when I picked him up, and he wrinkled his forehead when I lay him back in the crib.

I’d been in the choir at the Methodist church all school year. A group of us would walk from school to the church. We were six kids, all ages, from an afternoon kindergartener to a tall fifth grader, a girl I’ll call Jane.  Her size and confident demeanor gave her a lot of authority.

That day we decided to cut through the backfields to the church, although we usually just marched down the side of Gull Road. Jane said it would save us a lot of time to cut through, and nobody wanted to argue with her, although the snow was melting in the field, leaving ruts filled with mud.

Since having a baby brother was a new phenomenon in my life, I liked to bring up the subject–a lot.  After having been an only child, I loved the sound of the words my brother.  As we walked, I chimed in with something about my brother Teddy.

Suddenly Jane, who was leading, turned around and said, “He’s not your REAL brother. Don’t lie about it.”

My skin seemed to peel back from my limbs, and my stomach got a sick flipfloppy feeling. “What do you mean he’s not my real brother?”

“He’s ADOPTED. That’s not REAL.” A sea of bloody red anger splashed across my eyes.  Jane had no siblings and, since she was eleven, probably thought she’d never get any. But I wasn’t thinking from her perspective.  To me, her words were an act of violence against Teddy.

That’s the first memory I have of being angry.  I lowered my head, aiming straight for her stomach.  Eventually Jane and I got back on friendly terms, but I never forgot that some people don’t really understand what adoption means for those of us whose lives are changed by it.  My parents’ philosophy had become my philosophy, but I now knew it wasn’t shared by everyone.

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