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Welcome to the Family!

After discouraging our family from traveling to be there when our daughter was born, I mourned their absence at the hospital. Enter her birth relatives.

by Sarah Barthel

Going into an adoption, there are some things you think you want, and some things you never expect to want. My daughter's birth family gave us both.

Over the two years we waited for our baby, my husband and I welcomed two nieces into our extended family. For each, we picked out gifts, attended showers, and shared in the excitement of gaining new family members. The excitement always culminated in rushing to the hospital with other relatives, where I took dozens of photos capturing our darling nieces and the festive atmosphere. I love those memories.

A Different Set of Memories
When we chose to grow our family through adoption, we knew our experience would be different. Our placement call came early in our birthmom's pregnancy. From that moment until delivery, we exchanged e-mails, sharing our hopes for the baby and our mutual surprise when we discovered it was a girl (we were both sure it would be a boy).

We didn't meet in person, but about a month before the due date, Lucille's birthmom and I began to talk on the phone. When I think of those calls, I can still feel my legs shake with fear that I'd say something wrong and ruin everything. But we got along, and I learned a lot about the wonderful woman who was making our dreams a reality.

After Lucille's birthmom called to say she was in labor, we drove 14 hours to meet our daughter. We walked into the hospital room at 2 A.M. and saw her trying to nurse. Lucille's birthdad picked her up and whispered, "Your parents are here." I'll never forget that memory, which still gives me goose bumps.

I also remember the loneliness I felt hours later, as I sat in our private room, rocking our baby. We had discouraged our family from traveling to be there because we wanted time to bond with our daughter. They wouldn't meet her until the ICPC had cleared and we were home. Our hospital room wouldn't be filled with flowers or people taking photos and gushing over this baby. It wasn't until Lucille was in my arms that I recognized how important those moments would have been to me. My heart mourned the memories we were foregoing.

Unexpected Visitors
The following morning we were surprised by a knock on the door. I opened it to find two visitors. "We were told Lucille was in here," gushed her birth-uncle and birth-grandma. They came in, made themselves at home, and held our daughter. Moments later, another knock, and Lucille's birth-grandfather and birth-step-grandmother entered, with flowers and glowing words about our baby. Lucille's birthparents heard the laughter and came in from the adjacent room. My heart swelled. Within a few moments, six new family members, who seemed like long-lost cousins, came into our lives. Merriment surrounded our daughter and soothed my aching heart.

When I recall those days in the hospital, I see Lucille gripping her birth-grandma's finger, her birth-uncle gently cupping her head, and her birthmom beaming with pride beside me. I did my best to take photos of every visitor, so Lucille could look back and see how she shares her birthmother's maternal blue eyes, her birthdad's chin, and her birth-grandfather's smile. Lucille's family filled a void I never expected and brought joy to us all.

Since returning home, we've stayed in contact with the birth family members we met at the hospital. We maintain a sharesite for photos, post stories daily on Facebook, exchange e-mails, and send packages twice a year. We were blessed to have Lucille's birthmom as a guest at her first birthday party. Other extended birth relatives have contacted us to say how beautiful our family is, and to let them know if we ever need anything. Despite our contact, I've never been able to express how much I appreciated their presence at my daughter's birth, and their continued presence in our lives. Words aren't enough to convey how much their love means to me.

Sarah Barthel is a young-adult novelist. She lives with her husband, daughter, and two dogs in the suburbs of Chicago. They are currently pursuing a second adoption.

Our Time Together If you were at the hospital for your child's birth, what were those days like for you? Share your story in the Open Adoption Families group on

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