DWLA is sharing the adoption story and interview of adoptive mom Kate Donovan Hodgkins in several parts–here is the first installment.
by Kate Donovan Hodgkins
In January of 2002 we signed up with an agency in California and began the wait to be matched. In the eleven months we were with them, we were constantly advised to offer more money for “birthmother support.” Then we were told that because we were in New England we would be very hard to match. And that we would have to fly to Texas before we would be able to fly home to Connecticut with a baby and that we would have to fly back to Texas to finalize the adoption.
In addition, we had little contact from them and could not get our calls returned to have questions answered. They put up someone else’s picture with our profile and it took quite some time for them to correct this error. They lost not just one, but two of our photo albums. In the eleven months, we did not get one call about a possible match. At that point, we put our contract on hold and started to look elsewhere.
After more research we found a referral agency and signed up with them. Then the whirlwind began.
At 6 PM on December 16, 2002, we got a call that a possible birthmother wanted to talk to us by phone from Utah. At 8 PM she called and we had a conference call with Nichole. We talked to Nichole for an hour, and it felt like we were instant friends.
We hung up after the call and asked each other, “Do you think she liked us?!?” The answer came in less than 5 minutes when the social worker called us back and told us that Nichole had asked if she could keep us.
That was when she told us that Nichole was in the hospital and our son was about to be born. After the initial excitement the panic came: what do we pack, who do we call, are we prepared enough to bring a baby into this house immediately. A thousand thoughts raced through our heads, and I don’t think either of us stopped smiling that night.
After getting the packing done, we started to call family and friends to say we would be leaving in the morning for Utah and had no idea when we’d be home, but most likely not for Christmas or New Years. Nobody complained about the late night calls–everyone was as excited as we were. I don’t think my mom slept for the 2 ½ weeks we were gone; she was so excited to have a grandbaby boy coming. At 79 years of age she didn’t think she’d have another grandchild, let alone a boy (she had two granddaughters).
We got the call at 3 AM that Chase was born, weighing 5 lbs 7 oz and 18” long. He was 6 weeks premature and they had to induce labor because his heart rate was dropping. At delivery they found he had the cord wrapped around his neck. Chase had premature lungs and was immediately moved to a larger hospital’s NICU where he would spend the next 2 ½ weeks.
Our flight left Hartford, CT on time and arrived in St. Louis, MO on time. However, shortly after landing, severe thunderstorms closed down the airport and we couldn’t get a flight out until morning. This delay was also a blessing in disguise. During the past year of adoption research, I had made friends with a group of women across the country who were all also adopting. One couple, had just adopted their daughter three months earlier and lived in St. Louis. They came out to the airport to see us before we flew out to Utah.
Finally at 2 PM on December 18th we arrived in Salt Lake City, Utah. We followed our social worker to the hospital, where we immediately went up to the NICU. There we found Chase’s birthmom, Nichole, sitting on a stool watching over Chase until we arrived. Nichole and I locked eyes and both started to cry and hug each other. I knew at once that our family had just increased by two, not just one. My husband, in all his wisdom, took a picture of Nichole and I with Chase as soon as we met–tears and all.
We could not hold Chase because he was on a respirator, but we could touch him and talk to him and love him. I’ve never seen so many wires going into a child and so many beeping machines keeping track of all his vital signs. But it didn’t faze us at all, neither my husband Tom, nor I had any fears after seeing Chase. Somehow we both knew he was going to be fine and we had no concerns at all about his health. Hard to put into words, but we both felt very calm and at ease when we met Chase even with all the beeping and the noise of the respirator.
We stayed with Nichole there at Chase’s bed for a couple of hours, then we all had to pry ourselves away. We took Nichole out to dinner, then went to the agency’s office together and signed all our paperwork and cried some more. Afterward, we took Nichole to her apartment and stayed into the wee hours of the morning chatting and laughing and crying and looking at pictures of her family. When we left to go back to the hospital at 2 or 3 in the morning it was a bittersweet goodbye. Nichole was flying back to South Carolina in the morning, and we were very sad to see her go, but so thankful for the gift she had given us.
We agreed from the beginning that we wanted to have an open adoption with Nichole, not something we had really thought we’d want until we met Nichole and Chase.
For the next two and ½ weeks we were pretty much permanent fixtures in the NICU. We gave Chase most of his diaper changes, feedings, and all his baths. The hospital allowed us to stay in a house across the street. We only had to walk out the front door, cross the street and walk in the back door of the hospital. Right inside the hospital was the cafeteria and by the time we left we didn’t even have to tell them what we wanted for breakfast, we’d get to the counter and our bagels would be ready. The people that worked in the hospital were about the nicest, most compassionate people we’ve ever encountered.
The third day we found something missing in Chase’s area. No more respirator! He had been taken off the respirator and his nurse was there to met us and tell me I could hold my son for the first time! You talk about an emotional moment! Picture this, me holding Chase with tears streaming down my check, my husband taking pictures with tears on his face and our son’s tough male nurse crying right along with us.
His nurse gave us a picture he had taken for us while the respirator was being taken out, it was Chase with his middle finger up, telling the world what he thought of that machine. It was the most amazing thing to finally be able to hold my son and I never wanted to put him down again.
Now Chase could be fed! But it quickly became evident that Chase was not able to take a bottle. He didn’t have the suck swallow breathe reflex yet. So for the time being I fed Chase through a tube that went in through his nose into his stomach. The nurses would set up the end of the tube for me with a syringe of formula and I’d slowly push the plunger and feed Chase.
Before we knew it Christmas was upon us and although several of the wonderful people at Heart to Heart had extended invitations to us to join them in their homes for the holidays, we opted to spend the holiday with Chase. We decorated his area with Christmas cards and the hospital staff put up a sign with Chase’s name with Christmas decorations on it. Tom and I headed to BabiesRUs and bought the Eddie Bauer stroller/car seat combination.
Soon Chase could start wearing his own clothes and since none of the clothes we brought with us (newborn clothes and 0-3month) would fit, we were off to buy preemie clothes.
We spent Christmas dinner in the hospital cafeteria with another couple we met whose daughter was also in the NICU.
On New Year’s Eve, my husband and I went to dinner at a Japanese steak house around the corner from the hospital. We hadn’t ventured out much beyond the NICU and our room and decided a nice meal out was in order. We had a wonderful time, sitting with a family who so excited to hear about Chase. Being in Utah was a very different experience then living in Connecticut. The people are very very friendly and just think the world of anyone adopting. We were treated like royalty wherever we went.
We were at Chase’s bedside at midnight toasting with plastic champagne glasses filled with sparkling cider provided by the hospital staff. We rang in the New Year with Chase. Everyone in the NICU milled around and visited and took pictures. Definitely a New Years we’ll never forget. We even have a picture of Chase holding one of the champagne glasses.
That night, Chase began taking a bottle, after days and days of trying. On New Year’s Day, they tried Chase out for twelve hours in the car seat, hooked up to monitors. This is a common test for premature newborns leaving the NICU and even more so with a travel across the country ahead of them. Chase passed the test with flying colors and had surpassed the five pound mark. That meant he could leave the hospital and fly home! He was released from the hospital at 10 AM on January 2, 2003. Two hours later, we got a calling telling us that the interstate compact was done and we could fly home.
I never really knew what it was going to be like to be a mom. Now I can’t even imagine life without being a mom.
Chase is very fortunate to have a very loving birthmother in Nichole. Chase calls her either Mama Nichole or MaCole. We send her pictures and we do phone calls. Chase loves to talk to her and we are so blessed that she choose to do what she believed was best for Chase. Open adoption isn’t always right for everyone, but we have truly been blessed to have Nichole in our lives.
Watch for the next installment of Kate’s story next Friday, June 14!