Our birthmother match and my daughter's birth were picture-perfect. But after years of grappling with infertility, I could only focus on what might go wrong.by Billy Cuchens
My wife and I admitted defeat the day we visited a fertility clinic. Until that point, we'd always believed that life would work itself out. College is followed by marriage, then a house, and, ultimately, babies. The process had worked for everyone we knew. So Laurie and I weren't prepared when, month after month, we endured another heartbreak.
I learned from observing other couples at infertility support group meetings that grief changes your outlook on life. People who have to deal with devastating news on a regular basis view the world differently. When minor things in life don't work, they start to get magnified and exacerbated by the big thing that didn't work out.
Our fertility journey lasted just over a year, but the psychological effects lasted far longer. It felt like the rug had gotten pulled out from under us, and for years we struggled to regain our balance. We had to grapple with hard questions, like what our marriage was supposed to look like without children, and why God would give us a passion to be parents and not provide the kids.
These questions haunted me even after we decided on domestic adoption and began the process. When our agency called to tell us that a birthmother had asked to see our adoption profile, Laurie went to work rearranging the nursery we'd prepared years earlier. I, on the other hand, fumed: "Why did they tell us we were being considered? Why not wait until we get selected? What if she doesn't choose us?"
Two weeks later, we learned that Maria* had selected us. I watched from the couch in our study as my wife held the phone, crying. "Uh huh," she said. "Uh huh…uh huh."
"What are they saying?" I whispered. What could be going wrong? My mind raced through the possibilities. Would the baby have special needs? Was the birthfather contesting the adoption?
Finally, Laurie hung up the phone and said, "We're going to have a daughter."
I struggled to be happy but couldn't concentrate. "But what did she say?" I persisted.
A nervous wait
The agency arranged for us to meet the birthmother a few days before she was due. As the meeting approached, Laurie bought pacifiers, charged camcorders, and packed suitcases. Meanwhile, I spent that week waiting for the phone to ring, for the call to tell us that Maria had backed out or miscarried.
The call never came, and Laurie and I soon found ourselves sitting across a table from Maria. It felt like the job interview from hell. But, as we talked, we realized that she was as nervous as we were. She wanted nothing more than for us to like her enough to agree to parent her daughter. The way she explained it, we would be the caretakers of her reputation to this little girl.
"This is your daughter," Maria told us. "That's why I haven't named her yet. She's yours and I want you to name her. I want you to be there when she's born." She looked me square in the eye and said, "I want her father to be the one to cut the cord."
We met Maria and her family at the hospital on the morning of induction. Our agency had told us our little one would someday want to know about her story, including every detail of that day: what happened in the news, what we watched on television. My wife and I waited with Maria and her family for nearly four hours, watching sitcoms and crime dramas and making awkward small talk, but I retained none of it. I was too busy running through all the worst-case scenarios in my head and concentrating on hiding my fear from everyone else.
Our daughter emerged just after noon. One minute, there were nine people in the room. Then there were ten. The next thing I remember is voices shouting at me, "Dad! It's time to cut the cord."
A nurse cleaned off the baby, swaddled her, and brought her over to Maria. She shook her head and said, "Her mother should hold her first." When it was my turn, I took the baby in my arms and looked at her, forcing myself to believe that this was my daughter.
After Maria and her mother held the baby, a nurse took her to the nursery. As Laurie and I walked the halls of the hospital, I thought about the next two days. The state of Texas mandates a 48-hour period before a birthmother can terminate her parental rights.
Those two days were eventful. The baby spent her birthday being ushered in and out of Maria's room. We all took pictures, changed her outfit, fed her, and took more pictures. Laurie and I spent some time with Maria and her family, and we were allowed to be alone with the baby in the newborn room.
On the second day, the baby spent the entire morning in Maria's room. The agency had prepared us for this, saying that Maria needed time to say goodbye, but it made me uneasy. I imagined her holding the baby, apologizing, and saying she couldn't go through with it.
Just after noon, a worker from the agency entered Maria's room with the termination papers. Laurie and I waited in silence. Fifteen minutes passed. Then 30 minutes. I felt that my fingernails had grown an inch by the time the worker finally came back. I couldn't believe my ears when she said, "She's all yours."
In a haze, we snapped more pictures, said our goodbyes, and drove off with our daughter.
One year later
Looking back on my daughter's adoption story, I find new things to reconcile: How did I allow the fear of not having children to distract from the joy that came from my daughter's birth and adoption? I didn't miss out on the special moments, but on the happiness that should have accompanied them. I remember meeting Maria for the first time. I remember my daughter's birth and the two days we all spent together as one family. I remember bringing our daughter home. I remember my daughter's first smile, her first tooth, the first time she slept through the night. And when I think about the milestones, I tell myself, If I'd known this wasn't going to fall through, I would have enjoyed it more.
But I can attest to the fact that healing comes with time. We recently celebrated the first anniversary of our daughter's adoption finalization. We spent the day at the mall, where we ate lunch, built her a teddy bear, and shared a large sugar cookie with "Forever Family" iced on.
That night, it struck me that I hadn't let any grief or fear ruin my day of celebration. The idea that something could go wrong never entered my mind. And I rejoiced in the knowledge that I'd finally let myself believe that sometimes things do work out.
Billy Cuchens lives with his wife and children, Isaac and Vivianna, in Texas. He blogs at goggycoffee.blogspot.com.
*name has been changed to preserve privacy.
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