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"You're Up, Dad"

The most terrifying part of adoption was having to prepare for two conflicting futures.

by Eric Johnson

Waiting to be matched is hard. You feel like you're in a holding pattern, waiting for clearance to land. The months of waiting between a match and the baby's birth are even more fraught. You must simultaneously prepare for a newborn and prepare for disappointment. You try to postpone buying things and picking out names, but you cannot help yourself. You see a really good deal on the stroller you want. Your friends have a bassinet they can lend you. The birthparents give you a baby-naming book.

Meeting the birthparents who'd chosen us was like going on a first date before an arranged marriage. You are committed to each other, but are just learning about each other. We were fortunate that our social worker did an excellent job of guiding us through the initial awkwardness. And we found we had good chemistry with the birthparents. We genuinely liked and respected them.

Liking the birthparents made things better and worse. It would be easier for us to talk with our daughter about where she came from because we knew it was a happy story. On the other hand, there was sadness for what they were going through. The positives also made it hard to not get our hopes up, to stay realistic.

Our call to come to the hospital came on a Friday morning, about a week after the due date. It was surreal. The birthmother's water had broken before she went into labor, so she was being induced and was clearly not comfortable. The birthparents had friends and family in the room with them. Everyone was polite, and the birthparents made a point of saying that they were glad we were there with them, but we were definitely outsiders. It was like going to a wedding where you know only the bride and groom, and you don't even know them well. We tried to be present, but not in the way. This was their time and we didn't want to add any sadness to what they were going through. Birth is tough enough without being reminded that you will be going home empty-handed.

After the baby was born, a nurse came to let us know. We walked into a room full of people, all taking turns holding the baby, posing for pictures, and smiling. We entered and joined the smiling. She was perfect. Everyone loved the name we'd chosen, Kenzie. It felt like we were one big, if very strange, family.

When it was time for Kenzie's first feeding and bath, the birthparents made an awkward moment easy. "You're up," they said. As I cradled Kenzie in my arms for her first bottle, I knew that I would do anything for her. That made the thought that her birthparents might still decide against the adoption physically painful. It was the first time I understood what the birthparents were giving up. Throughout the process, I had built a wall around my heart to keep from being hurt. In that moment, it was gone. I did not want to interact with the birthparents any differently, but I know I did. Before the birth, I'd thought of them simply as courageous and generous kids. Now they were that, but also a potential threat to my child.

Over the next day, my wife and I discussed the possibility that they might decide to parent. We didn't think that they would. The birthmother seemed like the type of person who would stick with a decision once it was made. But we told ourselves that, if they chose to parent, they would do right by the child. How could we not? If I didn't believe that, I could not have coped with the duality of the situation.

The time in the hospital flew by, and we brought Kenzie home, exhausted, elated, and terrified. As the days wore on, we bonded and became more anxious. Finally it was the last day the birthparents could sign the papers. As the afternoon dragged on, we got very nervous. The call came at 4:30. Kenzie was ours! I hugged my little girl, and knew I'd never stop hugging her.


ERIC JOHNSON is a technical writer. He lives in Waltham, Massachusetts, with his wife and daughter.

PHOTO: Eric feeds newborn Kenzie (U.S.) her first bottle.

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