I love birth stories. In those waiting years before I became a mom, I loved reading stories of how moms became moms and babies entered the world and created families. To say having a birth story to tell was something I longed for myself would probably be an understatement. And to say I was overjoyed when it finally happened, many years later through the miracle and heartbreak of adoption, would also be an understatement.
My husband and I were similar to so many couples nowadays. We got married and spent a few years finding our feet, making a home and figuring out what we wanted to be in our careers. We didn't ever think we'd encounter fertility problems, but after a few years of trying, we were sent down the road of fertility testing. Meanwhile, it seemed like every single person we knew started their own family with no trouble at all. It was not an easy phase in our lives. We didn't feel comfortable talking about it (in part because everyone we had to talk with had a baby in their arms); it was isolating and lonely and sometimes felt hopeless.
After we married, we'd moved to Dublin, Ireland, where my husband grew up. We loved it and worked hard to make a home there, traveling around the country and around Europe whenever we could. We never imagined we'd have to leave in order to start our family. When we had initial fertility testing and were advised we'd have to undergo IVF, we immediately began discussing adoption as a different avenue. IVF just didn't sit right with us at the time; I knew my personality and my state of mind might not be able to handle the uncertainty of such an expensive lottery ticket.
A quick google search told us adoption in Ireland was functionally impossible. We'd always said we'd like to adopt one day, so we were crushed to find that adoption wouldn't be a viable option for us in the place we'd made our home. The vetting process took, and still takes, between 2-4 years, and the only options for adoption are through a small handful of different countries. Only one program (ironically, adopting from the United States at a price tag of almost quadruple the fee we paid) allows adoption of infants; the rest allow for the adoption of toddlers and children, most of whom come with some level of medical need or disability. In Ireland in 2017, 12 children were adopted domestically in the entire country of four million people. Forty-one children and babies were adopted from other countries.
So we decided we'd take a giant leap of faith and move 4,000 miles away to adopt. We were never more grateful to both hold American passports, which made our 'Adoption sabbatical' possible. We figured that even if our wild plan didn't work, we would have had an adventure in a city we'd never lived in before. We chose Houston, Texas, because we had family friends there who had worked with an adoption agency, and because Texas happens to be a very adoption-friendly state.
My husband took a career break from his job and I packed up my computer, ready to freelance wherever we landed. We arrived in Houston in August of 2015 with just two suitcases. We found an apartment and set about finding furniture for it. We found a church just six blocks away, and quickly made friends with the baristas at the coffee shop down the street. My husband found a job at a charter high school nearby, continuing his career as a guidance counselor. And I took on the part-time job that is adoption application paperwork. We took CPR classes, photocopied a million pieces of paper, and asked our closest friends and family for references.
Just five weeks after we arrived in Houston, after a few false alarm calls about babies or foster children who never materialized, we got a call from our agency one sunny Wednesday morning. I had just finished making the bed and weirdly, something had stirred in me that morning and I knew something was coming. I had felt God's reassurance, "She's here." I thought He meant like out there in the world somewhere, I didn't think it meant she was waiting in the hospital and we would meet her that night!
But that's exactly what He meant. Kim, the head of our agency, said, "There's a baby girl, we think she's your daughter." They explained briefly the situation and said, "Get to the hospital, they're anxious for her parents to start holding her." It was an excruciating six hours later before we could walk into that NICU room and finally lay eyes on our baby girl, our daughter, the beginning of our family. My husband hadn't yet explained to his new school why we were really in Texas, and didn't feel he could leave early (he also processes news like this more slowly than I do and I think he needed a few hours to get his head around the news). We also had a very important finger printing appointment scheduled for that afternoon, and we couldn't take her home from the hospital without that done.
So I spent the day in a daze. It's hard to even explain what it felt like to know that I had a daughter, but that I couldn't get to her for several hours. It was like walking around in slow motion, sort of feeling like I was going to fall over from the sheer weight of it all. It felt like the afternoon would never arrive. So I went the gym, showered, and tried to choose exactly what I wanted to be wearing when I met my daughter for the first time.
At that point, we had approximately zero baby things in our house because, superstitiously, I had refused to buy a single thing until I knew for sure we were going to be parents. In retrospect, I probably should have bought a car seat and a crib before I was paralyzed by indecision in the face of becoming a parent in several hours. Instead, I wandered Target in a haze, trying to figure out what on earth we would need for a 6 pound baby girl. I left with a handful of swaddles and a few pairs of baby pajamas, still utterly unprepared for what we would need in the days to come. But of course, we really didn't need any of it anyway. We loved her with all our hearts already, and we'd figure out the logistics of all the stuff later. And we did.
When we finally got to the hospital (after many wrong turns and a hefty dose of silent road rage on my part), I made my husband stop at the bathroom in the lobby to brush our teeth. Why I thought that was essential, I'll never know, but we do laugh at it now! We rode the elevator to the NICU floor, holding hands and feeling like we were about to collapse with anticipation, excitement and nerves. Our dear friend had arrived a little before us, ready to take a video of our first moments seeing our daughter. She'd arranged our name tags so we could walk in as quickly as possible. I still have those yellow NICU name tags with 'Mom' and 'Dad' written under our names.
I dropped my bags of baby blankets and clothes at the door and we walked into a dimmed room full of nurses. Wrapped up and tucked in tight in her NICU warmer was our daughter. She was perfectly still and quiet, fast asleep with her little hospital-issue baby hat with a bow. She was and is utterly perfect. I only watch the video of that moment once a year at her birthday, and I laugh every time that my first words were, "Can we have her?" I meant could we take her out of the bassinet and hold her, but I also meant can we have her. Was she really and truly ours, was this perfect little bundle ours forever?
She was, and she is. We spent the next few hours holding her and snuggling her, FaceTiming our family around the world with the best surprise news we would ever have to share. We took off her hat to reveal a full head of dark hair. We named her Maya Catharine, which had been at the top of our baby name list for years. It suited her perfectly. She opened her eyes for the first time and we nearly fell apart all over again. We fed her a bottle for the first time, and I still remember feeling like I had no idea what on earth I was doing, but I was so proud of how brave and earnest she was in every moment.
After a few days, she was discharged from the NICU with a clean bill of health to our still-stunned selves. The first drive home from the hospital on an 8-lane highway driving our ancient Prius was nothing short of terrifying. But as soon as we crossed the threshold into our little Houston apartment, we finally exhaled and started to soak in what had really happened. We were parents, finally, and we were a family. Our wild plan had worked, and we were so grateful.
Maya's birth mom had left the hospital before we arrived, and it would be another 15 months before we had the only contact with her that we might ever have. For 15 months, I wished almost every night I could have thanked her for the gift of making me a mom. I wished I could have told her how I wished this wasn't her reality or Maya's reality or even my reality, but that we would make the absolute best of this heartbreaking gift. I wished I could have told her how loved her daughter would be for the rest of her days, that we would honor her birth mother forever as the woman who made us a family, and who chose life for her baby girl in the best way she could.
Fifteen months later, we finally did. It was the second most monumental day of my life, meeting the woman who grew my daughter for nine months, who shares her DNA and spoke to her in Spanish while she was in her belly. While we may never meet again, I was able to thank her for our Maya Catharine, and to memorize her features and affectations so I can share them with my daughter one day.
Now we have moved back to Ireland, and today she turned three. We're still a little stunned that our plan worked, that we have a daughter, and that she is the most perfect little package we ever could have imagined. We are the lucky ones.