It’s hard to think about either of my kids’ birth stories without tearing up. My kids are miracles, and the fact that they made their way to my husband and I, under quite unlikely circumstances, is miraculous.
In short, our first born joined our family by adoption just five weeks after we moved 4,000 miles from Ireland to Houston to adopt. She was a total surprise, divinely organised. Our son was no different. We had four false alarms before he arrived, and yet when I think of him, sometimes I forget he, too, was adopted.
I ordered a print on Etsy recently that reads ‘Mo Chuisle Mo Chroí,’ or ‘the beat of my heart’ in Irish. He is the beat of my heart, and now that he’s here, it’s hard to believe that he ever wasn’t. But in fact, he very much wasn’t — at least not yet — for a very long, excruciating year of searching for exactly him.
A few months after our daughter joined our family in October 2015, we received a phone call about a little seven month old baby boy who our adoption agency thought might be our second child. We had barely gotten our heads around the fact that we had a daughter, but that phone call forced us to think consider a second adoption, months before our first was even finalized.
My husband and I talked and prayed and decided a second leap not long after the first might be exactly how we would grow our family. We said yes, only to have the baby placed with the foster family’s neighbors days later. We weren’t heartbroken at that point; after all, we had a brand new two-month-old baby girl in our arms. But the situation did prompt us to contemplate a second adoption much sooner than we otherwise might have. We immediately knew that our hearts were ready for a sibling for our daughter.
A few months later, our agency asked us to welcome a temporary foster placement while they found a long term place for her. We loved her for a few weeks and then said goodbye as she moved on to another home. The same happened again a month later with another temporary baby. When our daughter was six months old, we received a different call. A mother in crisis had chosen us to adopt her baby. He was due in six weeks.
Over those six weeks, we prepared for another life to join our family. We brainstormed baby names and packed a hospital bag. His due date came and went, and the updates that had come in the previous weeks ended. We finally learned through a family friend that the expectant mom had given birth, and she and the baby were safe in a mother and baby home. She had chosen instead to parent her son.
We were equal parts crushed and thankful. A baby with its biological mama is exactly what you want, provided that it’s a safe and stable place. But a baby you dream of not arriving is still crushing. In retrospect, it’s telling that we could never choose a name.
A month later, we welcomed a foster baby girl who was supposed to stay for two weeks and instead stayed for two months. Shortly after she left, in a particularly wild turn of events, we got a call that the baby we had been chosen to adopt months previous was again back in our agency’s care and his birth mom was interested (again) in having us adopt him.
We spent two weeks in and out of hospitals and doctors’ offices trying to remedy the neglect he had faced for his first seven months of life. But he wasn’t to be our son that time either, and left almost as quickly as he arrived to live with a great-aunt and his biological siblings.
There’s an odd thing that happens when you experience what’s called, in adoption circles, a failed match. In the moment, you feel like your entire soul will fall out of your body because you’re so crushed not to get to meet the life you envisioned raising for the rest of your days. But in time, it becomes ever more clear that that life simply wasn’t yours to raise, and it becomes easier to bear the loss.
When we experienced our final (although we didn’t know it) failed match on New Year’s Eve 2016, we were exhausted. We had poured our heart into foster babies for the bulk of a year, trying to balance supporting reunification with desperately wanting to add to our family through adoption. I would recommend foster care to anyone; it is the single most transformative thing I have done in my life. But I would not recommend foster care to someone who actively and viscerally wants to grow their family. It’s not fair to you or foster children or biological families.
That final failed match was a turning point for our family and for my husband and I. My exhaustion made me want to push forward, and my husband’s exhaustion made him crave a break from the uncertainty of foster care and adoption. We sought counseling, which ultimately helped, but it was still one of the darkest times we’ve experienced in our decade of marriage.
During that time, I started to feel more and more strongly that our son was waiting for us, that if we left Houston and moved back to Ireland without him, I’d be leaving a piece of our family there. Mind you, I didn’t give a hoot whether we had a girl or a boy, but somewhere in my soul, I knew he was going to be a he.
We eventually decided to change agencies to one that only provided private infant adoption; their foster care department was separate. We’d get a break
from the emotional ups and downs of fostering, and we’d be working with an agency to bring home a baby who would be ours from the start, just like our daughter had been.
Just as I somehow knew deep in my soul that we were waiting for a son, I knew that once we changed agencies, he would come quickly. I knew we wouldn’t be waiting for the twelve-month average wait time our agency advertised. Two months after we were declared an active family with our new agency, we received the call.
We were visiting my family in Maine and neither of us got cell service out in my parents’ rural town. I’d sent a detailed email to our agency before we left, explaining that they could call my parents’ house phone if they needed to, but I never expected they actually would!
I was stepping out of the shower when my husband bounded up the stairs two at a time with the house phone in his hand. “It’s the agency, there’s a baby.” And time stopped for the second time in our lives. We learned of a baby boy who was to be born in four weeks; they had been working with his birth mom since the very same month we decided to change agencies.
Again, divinely organised.
We said we’d ring them back the next day with our decision, but our hearts knew instantly that he was our son. We said yes the next day and then boarded a plane for Ireland for a family wedding. We joked that we hoped his birth mom didn’t go into labor early, because we had exactly four days between our arrival back in Houston after our travels, and her due date.
Ten days later, I received an email as I was hopping on the train in Dublin. Book a flight, our agency said, baby is coming early! Thankfully, we had a few days leeway with a scheduled c-section a few days later. I traveled myself back to Houston; my daughter was the flower girl in my husband’s only sister’s wedding. It wasn’t perfect, but it made the most sense for our family at the time for me to travel to meet him on my own.
I’ll never forget the exact feeling I carried the entire twelve hour journey back to Houston. Two flights and a layover have never felt so long or so surreal. It was as though I held my breath from the time I left Ireland to the minute I held him in my arms. The day before I left Dublin to begin the journey to our son, we were able to settle on a name. It was the first time in all of our possible babies that we’d been able to do so. In retrospect, that was the sign that this was no false alarm.
I wasn’t in the hospital when our son was born, our agency wasn’t sure when I’d be able to see him, so they decided to wait until they received word from his birth mom that he had arrived before having me get to the hospital. I would meet him the next morning, if all went well. At dinnertime on the day he was born, when he was a few hours old, I got the call that he had arrived. Healthy and happy, 5 pounds, 13 ounces of perfection. His birth mom asked that we name him. He was our Noah Michael, he always was.
In Texas, birth moms cannot sign papers relinquishing their rights until the baby is 48 hours old, but Noah’s birth mom asked that I be able to come to the hospital and hold him from the next morning on. She was able to visit with him a few times, precious time the two of them got to spend together, for which we will forever be grateful.
It was surreal to walk into the NICU to meet him for the first time by myself, and it was surreal to spend the first ten days of his life without my husband and daughter, but in those ten days, he became even more my own heartbeat. We bonded like we never could have if I had had a toddler hanging from my ankles.
The moment my husband and daughter walked through the door and we were together as a family of four for the first time was monumental. Months of wishing and wondering whether we were pursuing our second adoption in the best way — or whether we should be pursuing it at all — all faded away in an instant.
We still exclaim to each other, “Can you believe we really did it? Twice?”