The hospital room felt unusually cold and impersonal. The dark cloud that now settled over us at the end of the maternity wing had all but extinguished the fire of excitement we felt earlier in the day.
As my wife and I sat together in stunned silence, I thought about the finished nursery that awaited us back at home. Heidi and I had put the final touches on it only a few days ago in eager anticipation of our long-awaited baby boy. I envisioned the crib sitting against the far wall decorated with new blue and brown sheets and plush, comfy blankets. I could hear the mobile softly playing its lullaby as the matching blue and brown stars danced slowly in circles. The changing table and dresser sat against the opposite wall filled with new clothes, toys, and diapers that our friends and family gave us as shower gifts.
When I considered the possibility that the two of us may be returning home to an empty nursery, a lump began to form in my throat.
Heidi just stared out the window, her face expressionless. The emotional capital we had spent throughout this process seemingly rendered both of us unable to cry.
Like many other couples, Heidi and I started our marriage with the ideal plan for having children. We knew when we wanted to start trying, how many we wanted, how far apart we wanted them, and what we would call them once we had them. We wistfully imagined having the perfect mix of boys and girls and decided it would be best to try and avoid having any two children in diapers at the same time. By our standards, we had the perfect family plan in place.
But God had a different plan.
As a young and healthy married couple, the thought of having to fight a battle against infertility was one of the furthest things from our minds. Somewhere in the midst of five years of unsuccessfully trying to conceive children (and all the medication, anticipation, and frustration that goes along with infertility), we had come to realize that we were a bit naïve to think that we really had control over our family plan.
Prayer quickly became a regular hallmark in our struggle to start a family. Eventually, we realized that the only thing we could realistically control is whether or not we put our trust completely in God and accept the fact the His plan is more perfect than ours. We decided that we would be patient and wait for God’s timing – and we definitely waited.
Back in the hospital room, I tried to ignore the growing sense of despair that I felt welling up inside me. A few hours earlier we were certain that our thousands of prayers had been answered, but now we were forced to confront the unsettling possibility that we may lose the very child who we were sure was our long-awaited answer.
I tried my best to stay positive and I kept reminding Heidi that we put this entire situation in God’s hands long ago and that he wasn’t going to bring us this far just to take everything away.
Just then, a woman walked through the door with a bleak look on her face and gave us the news we had been dreading.
“There’s been a change of plan…”
Six Weeks Earlier
My wife and I were living life just like any other couple struggling through infertility. We had already bounced back and forth between medical tests, and pinpointed the cause — my inability to create properly-formed sperm. Testosterone therapy had actually created more problems, and we were now forced to consider other options. IVF and IUI were not feasible because I had 0% viable sperm, and we were not comfortable with the idea of using a sperm donor. Adoption seemed to be our best option.
Strangely, within a few days of deciding to look into adoption, we got a call from my dad — the pastor of a church in Salt Lake City, Utah. He told us that he got a phone call from a local lawyer asking him if he knew of any couples looking to be a part of a private adoption. They had a 17 year old girl coming in a few days to look over portfolios and choose a family. In over 25 years of being a pastor, he never had a call like that. We hadn’t told anyone of our decision to begin the adoption process, so when my dad called he had no idea how we’d respond.
The timing was too perfect; we couldn’t pass it up.
24 hours later, we overnighted a Pinterest-worthy portfolio that Heidi and her sister whipped up in record time. 48 hours later, we got a call that the birth mom would like to meet us. Within a week, we were flying to Utah to meet a girl who very well could end up being an answer to our thousands of prayers.
The meeting went well and she seemed to really click with us. She said that she was also meeting with a couple that she knew from church, but that she really thought we were the ones she was going to pick. We were elated. Finally, it seemed that our struggling had come to an end.
Shortly after we returned home, Heidi’s grandfather died and she flew to Pennsylvania with her family to attend the funeral. While they were gone, I received a call from the birth mom’s adoption advocate. This was it — the call we had been waiting for. I was excited as I answered the phone.
“Hi Michael, this is Kelly, Natalie’s adoption advocate. She asked me to call and let you know that she decided to adopt her baby out to another couple. I’m sorry.”
I was floored. Even though we knew that this was a possibility, we really had the sense that everything was happening so perfectly, and that this baby was meant for us. We had been patient. We had paid our dues. This was supposed to be our time.
I thanked Kelly for calling and hung up the phone with a heavy sigh. Now I had to break the news to Heidi — two thousand miles away at her grandfather’s funeral.
That was a tough call to make.
A day later, Heidi was back home and we were back to square one on our family-planning journey. Our hearts were heavy with disappointment. We talked about how it seemed clear that adoption would prove to be every bit the roller coaster ride that infertility had been. One thing was for certain: we had learned a poignant lesson on guarding our hearts.
A day or two after our “guarded hearts” conversation, Heidi got a text message from Natalie asking if she could call us. We said yes. When she called, she explained that she hadn’t been able to sleep since making her decision and told us that the only reason she picked the other couple was that they pressured her and she caved. She knew she had to follow her heart, and she was calling to set things straight.
“I want you two to be the ones who adopt my baby,” she said.
Heidi and I just looked at each other, dumbfounded. The emotional roller coaster had pulled back into the loading station, and we were taking our place in the front seats.
Sunday, June 1
“There’s been a change of plan…”
The baby had been born earlier that afternoon and Heidi and I had spent about 15 minutes holding him before they took him into the nursery to warm up under an infant heating lamp. Natalie seemed comfortable with us being there and was very accommodating with allowing us into her room to meet the baby, but we had already encountered a few roadblocks.
Originally, we were supposed to get the second medical bracelet that allowed us access to the nursery, but Natalie’s mom, who had nothing to do with her during the pregnancy, had suddenly shown up and somehow convinced Natalie to give the bracelet to her instead. Fortunately, the nursing staff was aware of the subterfuge by the magically-appearing birth mom’s mom and made an exception for us (with Natalie’s consent, of course).
We allowed Natalie’s mom to have her time with the baby in the nursery, but eventually Natalie’s dad (who was her sole support during the pregnancy and who was also an advocate of adoption) talked his ex wife into leaving the nursery so that we could have some time of our own.
That time was particularly special for Heidi and me. For about an hour, we had the chance to hold him, give him his first bath, and I even fed him his first bottle. We took pictures. We marveled at his tiny toes, and smiled as he clutched my finger in his little hand. We held him up proudly to the nursery window so that my parents could see their first grandbaby. For that hour, we were supremely happy. Then they took the baby back to Natalie’s room.
Later that afternoon, when Kelly told us about the change of plan, we knew it wasn’t good news for us.
“Natalie wants you to know that she is still 100% confident in this adoption,” Kelly explained, “but she wanted me to ask you if you would go home now and let her have one night with him instead of him staying with you in the nursery like we originally planned. Then, tomorrow morning you can come back and she’ll sign the adoption papers.”
We both got the knot-in-the-pit-of-your-stomach feeling as we once again began experiencing the familiar pangs of fleeting hopes. We didn’t like this change of plan one bit, but what could we do? This was still her baby. If we wanted any chance of adopting this child, we needed to follow Natalie’s lead. So we did.
Continue reading Part II of “There’s Been a Change of Plan”
Monday, June 2
The next day, we arrived at the hospital around 8:00 in the morning. While it was difficult to have to leave him overnight, we felt good about allowing Natalie to have the time she needed with the baby. Giving a child up for adoption is such a huge sacrifice for a birth mother; the least we could do is be sensitive to Natalie’s separation process.
The second day was similar to the first. We spent a few hours in the nursery and in Natalie’s room just talking and holding the baby. My mom also came with us and got to hold him for the first time. When the hospital photographer came in to take his first pictures, she asked Natalie what sort of photos she preferred. Natalie just pointed to us and said, “Ask them, they are his parents.” Things seemed to be going well, and we were confident that Natalie was going to sign the adoption papers that afternoon as planned.
But we were blissfully unaware of the storm clouds that were beginning to gather again.
Natalie’s mother was always around, but would never talk to us or even stay in the hospital room when we were there. Kelly told us later that the mom had actually been sowing some seeds of uncertainty in Natalie’s decision to adopt. She would say encouraging things like, “I’ll help you raise this baby. We can do it together,” or she would try to make her second guess our fitness as parents by saying things like, “How do you know that they won’t abuse this baby?”
After Heidi and I returned from lunch, we were asked to wait in the waiting room while Natalie and her family said their goodbyes and she signed the adoption papers. After waiting for about an hour, Kelly entered the room with the same uneasy look she had about 24 hours earlier.
“Ok guys, there’s been another change of plan,” she started.
We stared at her in disbelief.
“Since she won’t be discharged until tomorrow morning, Natalie would like to keep him for one last night, and then you can meet us here tomorrow, she’ll sign the adoption papers, and you can take the baby home. She’s still 100% confident in this adoption, she just wants to spend a little more time with him.”
It was happening again, and again we swallowed back the sense of uncertainty that was rising up inside us. We left the hospital and returned home empty-handed for the second time in as many days.
Tuesday, June 3
The next morning, as we were pulling into the hospital parking garage, my phone rang. Kelly’s name was on the caller ID. Heidi and I looked at each other, both with a glint of dread in our eyes. I answered.
“Michael, are you and Heidi at the hospital yet?”
“Yes, we just parked the car and are about to head up to the room,” I said.
Kelly paused. “Ummmm…don’t come up,” she said, her voice obviously full of pain and frustration for having to deliver more bad news. “Natalie is planning on taking the baby home with her. She wants to take him to her sister’s graduation and let her friends see him.”
“What is happening here, Kelly?” I asked with a mix of despair and frustration. “Is she deciding to keep this baby?”
“I really don’t know, Michael. She keeps talking like adoption is still her ultimate plan, but she keeps doing things like this that will only make it harder. I can tell you that she’s having a very hard time letting him go. I am doing everything I can to remind her of the original plans we keep making and changing, but in the end it has to be her decision. I can’t force her to go through with it. I’ll keep trying to reason with her, and I’ll be in touch as soon as I know anything new.”
“I’m so sorry about this,” Kelly added. “I know this has to be heartbreaking for you two.”
She was right — we were heartbroken.
We drove home in silence, both painfully aware of the empty baby seat sitting in the back of the car.
When we got home, my parents met us at the door, excited to see the new baby. When they saw the expression on our faces my mom asked, “What happened?”
All Heidi could get out was, “She took him home,” before she broke down for the first time in this entire process.
After all we’d been through, the idea of Natalie taking the baby home with her seemed like a deal-breaker. Despite that, Natalie still committed to signing the adoption papers at the courthouse the next day, then giving the baby to Kelly who would bring him to us. All we could do was hope that this plan was the one that would succeed.
Wednesday, June 4
Kelly always called my cell phone when she had bad news.
“Michael, I just left the courthouse,” she said. “The judge asked Natalie if she was ready to sign the adoption papers, and all Natalie could do was sit there and cry. After a few minutes, the judge said that he could not continue with the adoption paperwork unless he was certain that the birth mother was ready to do so. So basically, we still don’t have a signature, and Natalie is taking him home again.”
We both knew it was over.
The rest of that morning was a blur of depression and sadness for all of us. Though the weather during the previous week had been sunny and pleasant, a dark thunderstorm rolled into town as if to punctuate our dreary experience with the weather to match.
Later that afternoon, Heidi’s phone rang. It was Kelly.
“Heidi, I know today has been very tough for you, but I just talked to Natalie. She wanted me to call and see if you would be willing to pick the baby up from her house, keep him overnight at your house, and then bring him back at 10:00 tomorrow morning. She hasn’t slept well in a few days, and she just needs some time to rest and to think this whole thing through.”
“I really don’t know if I can do that,” Heidi said, her voice shaking. “I can’t handle all of this back-and-forth. I’ve eaten nothing but dry toast and mint tea for three days, my nerves can’t take much more.”
“I know what you’re going through,” Kelly said. This wasn’t just some clichéd response, she really did know what we were going through. Many years ago, she and her husband were in an adoption where the birth mom had a sudden change of heart and left them with broken hearts.
“Before I call Natalie back, I want you and Michael to take some time to think and pray about this. I really believe that Natalie needs some time to think, and she can’t do that with an infant. You guys can give her a break and also show her that you are confident and capable parents.”
Heidi hung up the phone and we discussed our options. While we really didn’t like the idea of rubbing salt on our already-frayed emotional wounds, we decided that if this 17 year old girl needed a free night in order to make the right decision for her baby, then we would give it to her — even if it meant that we might still fly home to an empty nursery.
When we arrived to pick the baby up for the night, Natalie asked us if we would bathe him because she didn’t know how. He was still in his hospital onesie, and we placed him gently in our car seat because Natalie didn’t have one of her own to let us use.
Despite the frustration we were feeling, we both had tremendous sympathy for this girl. She obviously wanted the best for her child, but she didn’t have the experience, resources, or support to do it by herself (and the mom who caused so much uncertainty at the hospital was, ironically, nowhere to be found). Even if she decided to keep him, we realized that what we were doing that night was a worthwhile thing to do — if only for the sake of helping a young single mom who was hurting.
We took the baby home, cuddled him, kissed him, fed him, bathed him, and put him in one of the new outfits our friends had given us as a shower gift. We got up every two hours that night to feed him, we changed his diapers, and basically lived for a few hours like any parents of a newborn would. Except this baby was going back to his home the next morning.
Heidi amazed me that night. She had gone through three of the hardest, most draining days of her life, but still jumped into the role of mother without batting an eye. She didn’t hold the baby and weep all night or walk around in a state of depression, she just mothered. And she did it with such joy and ease. She cared for this child like it was her very own, as if none of the events of the past few days had ever happened.
The only thing that wasn’t completely natural in her mothering was the way she referred to the baby. We had a name picked out for him weeks before, but Heidi never used it because he was not ours to name. He still belonged to Natalie, and she called him Abraham. Heidi simply called him, “The Baby”. Even though she was happy at being able to care for this child, Heidi was still mindful to guard her heart.
Thursday, June 5
We called Natalie at 9:30 the next morning to see if she was ready for us to drop the baby off at 10:00 like we had planned, but her phone went to voicemail. We called a few more times and got her voicemail each time, so we finally left her a message. At about 10:15, she called us back and said that we could keep him until noon and bring him back then. We gladly accepted the extra two hours.
At Natalie’s house, we talked about what was going to come next. For the first time since the baby was born, she admitted to us that she was not sure what she wanted to do. She said that a part of her wanted to keep him, but she just didn’t know if she was prepared to care for and raise a baby.
Very calmly and confidently, Heidi looked at her and said, “Natalie, I want you to know that if you choose to go through with this adoption, I am ready to care for and raise this baby.” She wasn’t pressuring her in any way, she was just letting her know that we were prepared to give this baby all the love and care we could.
Natalie just nodded, tears in her eyes.
Before we left, we gave her a hug and told her that we would pray for her as she made the final decision. Heidi and I were scheduled to fly out the next afternoon and she knew her timeframe for making a decision was diminishing quickly. She asked us if we would come to the courthouse the next day, and wait in the car until after she appeared again before the judge.
This was it. Either way, Heidi and I were flying back to Phoenix in 24 hours. Whether we returned home with a child was a decision that only Natalie could make.
Friday, June 6
At this point, we had no expectations. Our meeting with Natalie the day before didn’t give us a solid indication one way or another. The difficult five days since the baby was born had worn away all the excitement and euphoric feelings of that first day, and we now faced the raw reality that the future of this child hung between a birth mom who loves him very much, and a pair of adoptive parents who have been praying for him for years.
Whatever happened, someone was losing a baby today. And that realization made us sad.
We sat in the parking lot of the courthouse just staring out the windshield. We didn’t talk much. We couldn’t even pray. At this point there was nothing more that could be said to each other or to God, so we just sat there quietly.
The silence was soon broken by ringing of Kelly’s call. This time it was Heidi’s phone.
“She did it. She signed the papers!” Kelly said with a mix of excitement and relief. “I am so proud of her. She walked into the court room without tears and confidently told the judge that she was choosing adoption.”
This was the same court she cried in two days before and the judge wanted to make sure she was not being coerced into adoption. He asked her why she had a change of heart, and Natalie simply said that she realized how hard it was to care for a baby, and she didn’t think that she was ready to do it by herself. Confident that her answer was genuine, the judge allowed her to sign and awarded us custody of the baby.
Heidi met Natalie and Kelly on the courthouse steps. They talked for a minute or so, and Natalie said her goodbyes to the baby boy she carried in her womb for 9 months. She was making a sacrifice that no mother wants to make, but she did it willingly because she loved her child. The hell we all had to endure to get to this point only helped us realize the true cost of this moment.
Through tears, Heidi thanked her, hugged her, and promised that we would love and raise this baby to the best of our ability. She also promised that we would continue to pray for her (a promise we still keep to this day).
With that, Heidi turned toward the car and started carrying our son — Harrison — home.
You came to us at a very high price. Not a price defined by a dollar amount, but a price defined by the sheer amount of emotional and spiritual capital invested in you during the first week of your life. I don’t tell you this to make you feel guilty, I say it so that you will always know your value. We celebrate your birthday every year, but we also celebrate your “Gotcha Day”. Now you know why.
This post has been submitted to the YeahWrite #62 blogging challenge and was also part of the YeahWrite #61 hangout grid. If you are interested in connecting with other bloggers or are simply interested in lurking on other blogs, the writing grids are a great resource.
This post is also part of the inaugural running of the Dude Write bulls.