When I took the job as an adoption caseworker, I didn’t really understand the raw, emotional nature of adoption. I didn’t know then that I would witness the best and worst emotional moments in people’s lives. Or that I’d have to deal with how those best and worst moments often occurred at the same time.
In one room I would hold a crying birth mom after she has made the bravest and hardest decision of her life. I would try to give whatever comfort and reassurance I could, but in most cases, the best I could do was to cry with her. I would then leave and go down a short hallway, or sometimes even around the corner, to another room and tell a couple that the wait is over, they’re taking home a child.
I found I had to learn the art of transitioning from weeping to rejoicing in the blink of an eye. I was the harbinger of all good and bad news.
Although there are moments of rejoicing in adoption, case work is mostly grief counseling. Every adoption plan has an element of grief. Whether the adoption plan is completed or not, it is either a loss for a couple or a loss for a mom. Two sets of hearts yearn for one child, and only one set gets to take her home.
But sometimes, in spite of this overtone of grief, the adoption process reveals some rather lovely, bright moments. Quiet moments that seem to transcend the noise of all that came before or will come after. These moments are sweet pauses that soak in the joy that life will never be the same, in the best of ways.
This is one of those moments.
Nate and Kathy had been waiting for a baby for a while. Their road to adoption was a common tale: infertility had made their own birth plan impossible.
Most adoptive parents don’t wait nine months for children; they wait for years and years. They have made the journey from the desire to have children, to discouragement, and then to the brave choice to adopt. From that point they begin researching adoption agencies, finding an agency, getting approved and then being matched with an adoption plan, and then waiting again. In total, most couples wait 5-6 years or even more from the point they decide to have children to the point they take a child home.
After so much time and discouragement, some parents make the decision to wait until all the paperwork is done and signed before purchasing any baby items. There is no need to keep an empty crib in the house. One marathon trip to Target can get you what you need.
Nate and Kathy had been matched with Jessica, a birth mom who was in jail. Jessica was a good mother of two who had made some bad choices. She got out of jail for her delivery. The couple got to meet Jessica and her family, and they quickly bonded.
Then Jessica delivered.
The signing of adoption papers in the state of Florida is final and binding. Once the birth parents sign that paperwork, there is no revocation period in Florida. Paperwork is signed once the birthmom is medically discharged from the hospital or 48 hours after she delivers.
So after a delivery and before the final decision there is…a wait.
During this wait, Jessica struggled with her decision to sign the paperwork. She had always been positive about her adoption plan, but, in those 48 hours, she was re-thinking her options. Nothing seemed set in stone, and in truth, during this waiting period, nothing is.
Jessica had had her C section at 5pm, making the 48th hour at the end of the day. It was a long day for everyone, and Nate and Kathy waited on pins and needles.
Finally it was time for the signing of the adoption paperwork. With the support of her family, Jessica signed. Her mom and sister were sitting on either side of her with their arms around her. She wept, signed the paperwork, and then the three of them collapsed into a hug.
After Nate and Kathy finished all of their paperwork, they came to say goodbye to Jessica and her family, and it was a few more hours until the hospital finished with all the discharge procedures and the birth family could leave. Finally, at nine o’clock that night, the birth family said their goodbyes. As the agency representative, I had to stay until the baby’s discharge, which was scheduled for later that evening.
Nate and Kathy got to look at little Sophia for just a moment, and then she was taken off to get her hearing tested.
And then, all at once, the couple was alone…with me.
The door shut and they stared at each other in disbelief. It was done. She was theirs. Kathy threw her arms around Nate’s neck and they cried.
I tried to occupy myself with something in the corner. I just felt like I should look away. There was something sacred in that embrace.
They collected themselves and sat in the two rockers in the room. Back and forth, back and forth they rocked.
Kathy bit her thumb with a faint smile and Nate just rested his head on the back of the rocking chair.
“We could get the red stroller,” Kathy said quickly and quietly, like the idea had just spilled out of her mind, which was now swirling with possibilities she hadn’t let herself entertain all those years before. “And we could get that monkey set for the nursery.” Kathy smiled and they began planning.
The chairs quietly creaked back and forth in the pauses of their conversation. The Dad smiled and gently shook his head side to side, as in awe or disbelief. He just kept encouraging his wife in the same relieved and excited tones.
“That’s great honey.” Back and forth. “You get whatever you want.” Back and forth. “That’ll be great, Sweetie. We can plan the whole thing now.”
Back and forth, he took her hand and shook his head again. “Get whatever you want, Honey. You get whatever you want.”
It was as if they had held their breath for a hundred years, and now they exhaled to the swinging of the rockers. I could see in their eyes the stretching of a road for miles, with monkey-themed birthday parties and ballet recitals.
And there I sat peeking in on their forever.
I dealt with a great deal of tension and grief as an adoption caseworker, but on my bad days, I would remember the joy of that mother, the relief-filled muttering of that father, and the swinging of those rockers – back and forth, back and forth.