After compiling our paperwork and completing our homestudy in a whirlwind three months, Tony and I began our anxious wait. Many prospective adoptive moms have trouble trusting that they’ll be given the green light to be someones parent, and my past mistakes and troubled teenage years made it especially hard for me to believe that an expectant mother would choose me to raise her child. I knew that those years were not relevant now, but the shame of being less than perfect weighed me down. Still, we chose openness, knowing that only complete honesty would work.
Melissa’s* first e-mail came at the beginning of December. I replied immediately and held my breath. No response. Not wanting to appear desperate, I let a week go by before following up. Her reply was, “What e-mail?” My message had gotten lost in cyberspace. We began to e-mail back and forth, but it still felt impersonal. Any real connection would begin only with our first phone call.
First Round of Interviews
We spoke for an hour the first time she called, several weeks later. Dreading awkward silences, I did my best imitation of my mother-in-law, a master at filling dead air. She must think I’m the biggest dork ever, I’d say to myself, then jump in with a comment about the weather or another light question, to which Melissa gave another one-word answer.
I can still feel the incredible stress of those first phone calls with an expectant mother, of being interviewed for the job of parent. I feared saying the wrong thing or giving a wrong answer. After getting off the phone with Melissa, I’d call my husband and replay the conversation, quickly giving in to self-doubt. Did she mind the fact that I would be a working mom? Did she want a family who was more religious? Did I tell her too much?
To Tell or Not to Tell?
The last question haunted me the most. I had spent a lifetime, it seemed, trying to come to terms with a deeply troubled childhood. Years of therapy had helped me see that my mistakes as a teenager were, for the most part, completely predictable and, more importantly, not my fault.
So I was brutally honest with Melissa. When she asked about my family, I told her: about my troubles with my parents, my teenage struggles with drugs and alcohol, and my long road to healing, which began with drug rehab at age 16. I built my story gradually, adding a little more each time we spoke, waiting to see how she’d react. Luckily, I had much in common with this young woman, who had also walked a rough road in life. I thought then (and now I know for certain) that my openness about my past was what caused Melissa to choose us over the nine other couples she considered.
Slowly, Melissa opened up as well. She told me about the time she and her mother went without electricity for weeks before they were finally evicted, during a cold northern Ohio winter. She described her difficulties as a teenage mother and told me why she couldn’t parent another child. She opened her life to me and I listened, never criticizing or judging, trying only to understand.
The third week in January strengthened my faith. Melissa flew from Ohio to California to meet us. My heart raced as I waited outside the gate at LAX for my first glance at the woman who might bear my child. How would we find each other? We hadn’t talked about that. She knew what I looked like, but all I knew was that she had brown eyes and brown hair.
Melissa found me right away. I’m not a physically affectionate person, but the moment I saw Melissa’s smooth, lovely face, I felt a strong urge to hug her and not let go.
We spent the visit traveling around southern California, getting to know each other by filling our days with talking, laughing, shopping, and eating. I taught Melissa how to drive a standard-shift car. Later, she said she knew I would be patient with a child because of how calm I was when the car bucked and stalled, over and over again, until she got a feel for the clutch.
Trusting our Instincts
Melissa was unlike anyone else in my life. She wasn’t related to me by blood, but she was like a kid sister. She wasnt really just a friend, either, because I had trusted her with more information than I ever had with any other friend. It was as if we both knew that we needed to get this right, that we were about to do something with lifelong consequences. We had to trust one another, and the visit confirmed our instincts. Melissa wasn’t perfect. Neither was I. But we were both just right for the job.
Before our daughter was born, I found it hard to believe that some adoptive parents wanted more contact than birth parents could give. I now understand this from the bottom of my heart. We stay in contact with Melissa through e-mail, cards, and occasional phone calls, and are hoping for a visit from her this summer. Today, my husband and I are the proud parents of Natalie Marie. Melissa gave us a treasure, and I thank her every day for her gift.
*Name has been changed for privacy.