Every Christian who has had any experience with an adoption will tell you that God will work all of the details out, and that is definitely the case with Kate's adoption. Let me start at the beginning, but first let me warn you that this will probably be very long. So, be prepared!
Kevin and I began our adoption journey by filling out a preliminary application form (which was just a few pages long) and attending a 1 hour class with Bethany Christian Services in January 2011. After all that we've experienced, we cannot say enough good things about Bethany. If you're considering adoption, I'd highly recommend them so consider this our "plug" for Bethany. We encountered some pretty awesome people and were more than pleased with our adoption workers in both SC and in NC. If you'd like to know more specifically about the offices that we dealt with, feel free to email me (Kelley) at email@example.com
So, back to the story. We attended the class in January 2011, liked what we heard, and after some discussion decided that we wanted to proceed with the next steps. Bethany then sent us the formal application package. Let me tell you. It was a THICK package. We each had to answer about 7 pages worth of questions. And, I'm talking about short-answer questions. These were not questions that you could give a 3 word answer to. I think my final packet of questions ended up being about 21 pages long. Kevin's was about the same. Plus we had to complete a package with financial information, job history, etc. We had to be fingerprinted and had to have a background check run through SLED. We also each had to have multiple references send in letters of recommendation. Oh yeah, it was a mountain of paperwork and we were relieved when we finished it. I am a tax accountant and since it was January/February when we were working on all of this paperwork, I was especially relieved when it was finished. It felt like coming home from work to work on homework. :)
After sending off our paperwork, we were able to schedule the next step- an all-day adoption training class. We learned a LOT about adoption. We learned about legal risks, what is involved in finalization, we heard from families who had recently adopted, we saw a couple of videos where adopted children answered a lot of questions relating to their adoption, and we learned about open vs closed adoptions.
The whole open/closed adoption issue was a big eye opener for both Kevin and me. Closed adoptions are where the birth parents are not involved at all after the adoption. The adoptive parents and birth parents never meet, they never have contact before or after the birth, and the birth parent never has any future contact with the child who was placed for adoption. Open adoptions take a multitude of different forms, and there are varying amounts of openness but in short it just means that there is some type of contact/communication between the adoptive family and the birth parent(s). This could be as simple as each family (adoptive and birth) setting up anonymous email accounts and sending picture updates a few times a year, or it could be a whole lot more involved than that. Each open adoption is unique and boundaries are set up for each specific situation separately. There isn't a cookie cutter open adoption.
Because neither Kevin nor I have had a whole lot of experience with adoption, we just assumed that most adoptions were closed adoptions (where the birth parents are not involved at all after the adoption). We just assumed that was the type of situation we would have with our future child's birth parents. The all day class that we attended really opened our eyes and made us think about things.
Before attending the training, if you'd have asked us if we were comfortable with an open adoption, we would probably have said no. It sounds scary. It sounds dangerous. It sounds like the birth mom or dad can get the child back. They can't. It's actually a very healthy situation, and after Kevin and I talked a lot about it, we really HOPED that we would be able to have an open adoption with our future child. (PS- we do have an open adoption with Kate's birth parents, and I'll talk more later as to what that means. Each open adoption is very different.)
One thing to point out is that when you adopt a child through Bethany, you (as the adoptive parents) get to decide the degree of openness that you would be comfortable with. Bethany doesn't pressure you into choosing one vs the other (closed vs open) but they want to make sure that they educate you on what an open and closed adoption actually is before you make your decision. So if Kevin and I had decided we definitely were not comfortable with an open adoption, that would have been perfectly fine with them.
After the training, the next step was to schedule our homestudy. Bethany has 3 offices in SC but our local office is pretty small, so there was only 1 adoption worker to complete all of the homestudies for the 6 waiting couples in our area. They generally only have 2 homestudies going on at a time and each homestudy could take 2+ months to complete, so we were prepared to be waiting a while to even START on our homestudy. Not long after we got back from the training, our adoption worker (Jane) contacted us to say that since we were one of the first few couples in our area to turn in our paperwork, we got to go first! Good news!
I was nervous about the homestudy. I'm not sure WHY because we didn't have anything to hide, but I was nervous all the same. The first part of the homestudy was a joint interview with Kevin, me and our adoption worker (Jane) at our home. Remember that this is busy season for me? We generally keep our house pretty neat and clean, but I was stressed out about getting the house REALLY clean for our first visit. We had scheduled our interview for a Monday morning, so I had anticipated spending Saturday night getting everything cleaned and straightened. I got home at a reasonable time (probably 5pm) and walked in the house to find that Kevin had spent all day cleaning. He was even "dusting" the house (baseboards, fans, and all) with his shop vac. :) Probably not how I would have done it, but still effective. AND, it meant that I didn't have to do it. What a great husband, huh?
Jane got to our house at 8am Monday morning and didn't even walk through our house. She came into the living room, and that's it. So all that cleaning was for nothing, but at least I got to enjoy a super clean house. We didn't realize it at the time, but Bethany had just changed their interview format. This was the first of TWO times that Jane would be coming to our house. Needless to say, the interview was a breeze. It wasn't even an official interview anyway. It was more of a "getting acquainted" time. She might have been here an hour.
Then we each had to do separate interviews with Jane at Bethany's office. We scheduled them back-to-back one day. I went first because I had to head to work after mine was over. Again, remember the whole busy season thing? Anyway, the interview was really easy. Jane asked me about my family, plans for child care after we were placed with a baby, etc. Nothing was a "surprise" question, and it was more of a discussion than a interview where somebody is grilling you for answers.
After our separate interviews we scheduled our actual joint interview, which took place at our house. This was the meeting that everybody thinks of when they think "home study". This is the one where the adoption worker checks out your house, opens up all of your cabinets and drawers, checks for dust, and basically sees if you're a good housekeeper. NOT. Again, we of course cleaned our house all up for Jane to come over, and again she barely checked anything. She did a quick walk through of our house, and then we settled into the living room for our final interview. The main part of this time was to determine the things that we were or were not comfortable with. We ended up talking mostly about adoption of a bi-racial baby or a baby of a different race than us (which we were completely comfortable with), and the degree of openness that we were hoping for (which was pretty open). She made notes of everything and then was on her way, after we gave her a big check for the homestudy portion of the adoption fees. The remainder of the fees wouldn't be due until after we were placed with a baby. Again, this meeting lasted about an hour, maybe an hour and a half.
After that, we (I) worked on finishing up our profile book and getting our "Dear Birthmother" letter ready for Bethany's web page. I used Shutterfly to make our profile book and I think it turned out really well. I included pictures of our house, our family, our dogs, things we liked to do, places we liked to go, etc. It really showed a lot about who WE are. It seemed like it took FOREVER to put this book together, but since this was basically what our birth parents would be using to select us, it definitely deserved a lot of time and attention. I'm just grateful that we had TONS of recent pictures to use.
In the meantime, our adoption worker was busy finalizing our homestudy. She let us know on April 4th, 2011 that we had been approved and were officially waiting to be placed with a baby! Our profile was also posted to Bethany's webpage that day. How exciting!
That night, Kevin and I were talking about what it meant to be officially waiting. We decided to each guess dates when we thought this would all happen, meaning, when we thought we'd be placed with a baby. Kevin decided to be EXTREMELY optimistic and picked a date in May. I wanted to be optimistic too, but also more realistically optimistic. I picked August 8th. We both knew that neither of our dates would probably be anywhere even in the ballpark, but we just did it for fun.
We know we could be waiting for another year, or possibly even more, so we didn't get our hopes up too much that anything would happen any time soon. Bethany has two ways of matching birth parents and adoptive families. The first is when a birth mother comes in and says that she wants to look at ALL of the adoptive families. In this situation, Bethany gives the birth mother a big book with all of the adoptive families' pictures and a 1 page sheet with some basic information (jobs, hobbies, etc). It doesn't contain any identifying information. Not even our names. The birth mom could then say "I want to see THIS couple's profile book" and then Bethany would show them the books and they could decide if this is the couple that they choose. If so, Bethany calls the adoptive family and tells them about the situation (without any identifying information) and asks if they would like to be matched with this birth mother. If so, it's a match! This is how we were chosen. (I'll get to the details of that later.)
The second way Bethany matches adoptive couples with birth parents is through an email system. Normally, this type of match occurs when there is some type of "red flag". By that, I mean that there is something in the situation that may cause the adoptive parents to have worry. For example, the birth mother may have been on drugs or abused alcohol while pregnant. Or, there may be a legal risk where the birth father cannot be located so his signature will not be present on the adoption. Some adoptive families may not be comfortable with this situation. So, Bethany uses the email system to avoid a birth parent looking through the big book and picking out a couple, and then that couple saying that they're not comfortable with the situation. By that, they send out an email to ALL adoptive families outlining the situation, and then they show the birth mother only the profile books of the families that have said they would like to be considered.
We were pretty open in our "preferences" for our adoption, so we received numerous emails over the remainder of April, May, and June about potential adoptive situations. We were told to respond if we would like to be considered as adoptive parents for the child involved in the situation. We did respond with a "yes" to some of these emails, but not all. Some of them were situations that we were not 100% comfortable with. We were not selected through any of these emails, however on a Friday in early June we received an email about a baby boy that had been born that day. The mother was making an adoption plan and we were to respond THAT DAY if we wanted to be considered. The family that the birth mother had chosen was to be notified on Monday morning. The situation seemed almost ideal, so we responded YES. The baby boy was half hispanic and half caucasion. I was so excited, because only 10 families had responded "yes" to this email. We had a 1 in 10 chance of being parents in just a few days!
We realized that we COULD be parents a lot sooner than we expected. So that weekend we went out and bought paint for the nursery. I believed the color was called Jalapeno Jelly. Obviously, we were not chosen to parent this baby, but the whole situation gave us the kick-start we needed to get things ready for OUR baby. We knew now that we might not have a year to get ready!
On Wednesday, June 29th, 2011 I was at work. I came back to my desk to see that I had a missed call on my cell phone. The number looked familiar and I had my suspicions, but I didn't want to get my hopes up. I checked my messages, and sure enough, it was our adoption worker from Bethany Christian Services! Jean said "Kelley, This is Jean. I have something that I wanted to talk to you about, but really want to see if there is any way for you to get Kevin on the phone. Please give me a call." Ahh! Yes, this was THE call. This was the call we'd been dreaming for!
Since I sit in a cubicle at work and I'm surrounded by co-workers, I decided to walk out to my car for a little privacy. I first called Kevin. I got him on his cell phone but he was at lunch. It was loud and crazy and we don't know how to do 3-way calling on our phones so he told me to just go ahead and call Jean back myself. So, that's just what I did.
(Please know that I'm not including ALL of the details, for our birth parent's privacy reasons and because there are just some parts of this story that need to be OURS.) Jean told us that there was a young couple in Raleigh, NC who had selected us to parent their child! They were having a baby girl and she was due at the very end of August or first of September. They wanted an open adoption, and would like to meet with us in Raleigh before she gave birth. Jean asked if this sounded like a birth family that we would like to be matched with and if we wanted to go to Raleigh to meet with them. I already knew our answer but of course said I needed to talk to Kevin first. I immediately called Kevin and told him everything I could remember, and then I told him to call Jean back and have HER tell him everything again (in case I forgot something) and tell her we wanted to meet with them! We were so excited. Our baby girl was due in just 2 months (or so we thought)!!
The next day, our adoption worker called us back and said that our birth mother's due date was not the END of August, but the BEGINNING of August. More specifically, her due date was AUGUST 8th!! When I heard that, I was speechless. Remember, this was the date that I'd "guessed" back in April. Now, instead of having 8-9 weeks to prepare, we actually had only 5 weeks! We scheduled our visit with the birth parents in Raleigh for Saturday, July 9th.
We told a few people about this possible match, but since we hadn't even met with the birth family yet, for the most part we tried to keep the news to ourselves. The Friday night before our trip to Raleigh, we decided to make a trip to Clemson to visit the campus and eat at Cook-Out. My sister went with us. It was a nice distraction and a lot of fun. I'm a Clemson graduate and we get to go back for a few football games a year, but a football Saturday in Clemson is a LOT different than just a normal day. We had a lot of fun. We got home around 10ish, and walked into the house. Everything seemed normal. Then I tried to turn the TV on. It didn't work. Weird. Tried to turn on the other TV's in the house. They didn't work either. And then we noticed that it was kind of hot in our house. The A/C wasn't working. We were so confused. Then we realized that while we were in Clemson, there was a VERY big storm in our area. Apparently our house got hit with lightening. Great. Since it was already close to 80 in our house (and much warmer outside) we knew we couldn't stay at home. We were planning on leaving for Raleigh very early the next morning, so we debated just going ahead and driving through the night and getting a hotel room on our way. Kevin's parent's were out of town so in the end, we just decided to stay at their house and stick with our early morning plan for Raleigh. (If you want to read more about our lightening damage- click here.
We woke up Saturday July 9th SUPER early and drove all the way to Raleigh. Our appointment wasn't until about 1 or 1:30 (can't remember exactly) at Bethany's office in Raleigh, but we ended up getting there around 12. We decided to get a quick lunch at McDonalds since it was really close to Bethany's office and we had no idea where we were. Before we knew it, it was time to meet Kate's birth parents!
The birth mom and birth dad were there, along with a counselor, and our NC adoption worker (Erica). We talked for a very long time about everything you can imagine. The birth mom had prepared a list of questions she wanted to ask, but we really just ended up having a conversation. I'm not going to say that I wasn't nervous, because I was, but at the end the birth mom said that SHE was really nervous. They gave us a blanket for Kate and before we left the birth mom told us "I'll see y'all in 5 weeks!". So, we were matched! We all hugged and then it was time to go home. If you want to read about our side trip while we were in Raleigh- click here.
After the visit, we immediately called our parents. We were still very cautious because we knew the risks. The birth mom or the birth dad could change their minds at any time. Plus, with this being a NC adoption, they had an additional 7 days after the baby's birth to change their minds. This is called the revocation period. So although we were matched, we were still TRYING not to get our hopes up too much.
To me it seemed like the next 5 weeks went by SOOOO slowly. During this time period, we talked to Erica multiple times and we picked a name- Kate. Also during this time, our birth parents had made a hospital plan. At first, they did not want us to come to the hospital and they wanted the baby to go to interim care for the first 7 days, which would mean that a family associated with Bethany Christian Services would take care of the baby during the 7 day time period when the birth parents had to change their minds. We kind of wanted to do this because it was another layer of protection for US. Can you imagine the heartbreak if you had your baby for 7 days but then the birth parents changed their mind? We did NOT want this to happen.
Over the next few weeks, they gradually changed their mind. They didn't want Kate to go to interim care. They wanted her to come home with us. We really struggled with this. It was risky. It was opening ourselves up to being hurt. But the more and more we thought about it, the more and more we WANTED those first 7 days. So, for a while the plan was for us to NOT come to the hospital since this was the birth parents time with Kate, and then we would take Kate home from hospital.
Also during this 5 week period from being matched to Kate's birth, we set up an anonymous email address and we were able to email the birth parents back and forth. This allowed us to get to know each other a little better, and we've continued doing this even now. Kate's August 8th due date was drawing near. We knew that if Kate wasn't born by then, the birth mother would be induced on August 11th, which just so happened to be mine and Kevin's 4 year anniversary!
August 8th was a Monday and the day came and went with no baby news. We made plans to drive to Raleigh on Saturday or Sunday since we assumed the birth mother would be induced and have Kate on Friday, and then Kate would be discharged on Sunday.
Well, on August 10th (Wednesday) I got to work and started checking email when my phone rang. It was our adoption worker, Jean. She just wanted to let us know that our birth mother had gone into labor at 3am the night before and was at the hospital. Kate was on her way!
I was so excited, that I tried to wrap everything up at work as quickly as possible. There was no reason for me to go home because we weren't planning on leaving for Raleigh until the next day, but I was too excited. There was no way I was going to be able to work the rest of the day. I was about to be a mommy!
I got home and Kevin and I decided to go out to eat for lunch. While we were at the restaurant, our NC adoption worker, Erica, called to let us know that Kate had been born. 8lbs 3 oz, 19 3/4 inches long and a head FULL of black hair. Kate and her birth mother were healthy and were doing well. She also wanted to let us know that there had been a slight change of plans. The birth parents actually wanted us to come to the hospital! So, the plan was to be at the hospital the next day around noon to visit with the birth parents and meet our daughter!
We got up SUPER early on August 11th (which was our 4th wedding anniversary) to head to Raleigh to meet our daughter. What a very special anniversary! We got to the hospital about 30 min early. Our NC adoption worker (Erica*) was actually getting to the hospital at the exact time that we pulled in, so we all walked upstairs together. We're glad she was there, because that hospital was CONFUSING.
She brought us upstairs and we walked into a hospital room FULL of people. Like 10 people. I'm not going to lie, it was intimidating and we felt totally out of place. We saw Kate's birth mom and birth dad and Kate was lying on her birth mom's chest, just sleeping away. Kate's birth mom almost immediately asked if I wanted to hold her, and of course I said yes. She woke up a little when I picked her up and started crying this pitiful, tiny little cry. I was thinking "Please don't cry! I'm your Mommy and there are tons of people staring at me, and I have NO CLUE what I'm doing." So what did I do? I gave her to Kevin. We got to visit for about an hour, and it was GREAT. Then we left to give the birth family some time together, and told them we would be back for the Baby Dedication Ceremony that evening.
We left to go check into our hotel. We changed, showered and got ready for the evening. While I was getting ready, I noticed that Kevin had left me a card and gift on the bed. The front of the card read "Happy Baby-versary", and he gave me a necklace. The necklace had a charm on it that had the profile of a little girl, and he said when we got back he would take the charm to have "Kate 8/10/11" engraved on the back. So sweet! I can't believe that he had time to get a card and gift with all that we had going on the past few days. A very special 4th anniversary for sure!
We got back to the hospital at 7pm and there were a TON of people in our birth mom's room, even though the hospital security said only a few were allowed back there at a time. Kate's birth father's family was there, and a lot of her birth mom's friends were there also. After the dedication service, people in the room spent time talking about what our birth parents mean to them, shared special memories, and talked about how they came to the decision to choose Kevin and me. We got to visit just a little bit longer, but visiting hours were finished at 8 so they kicked us out about 8:15. We did stay a little longer in the lobby area talking with Kate's biological grandma, grandpa, step-grandma, and aunt.
Kate and her birth mom were supposed to be discharged the next day. We got back to the hospital about 11:00 and were able to spend about an hour and a half visiting before our birth mom and Kate's discharge was final. Kate's birth parents had signed all of their paperwork that morning, and we also had to sign stacks of paper work relating to the adoption.
During this time, we also got a car seat installation instruction from a man Nazi-Nurse. Seriously, he had to have been ex-military or ex-cop, and his name was Rosie. He was very helpful though.
Before we knew it, it was discharge time. Since both Kate and our birth mom were being discharged at the same time, we were all being taken to the front of the hospital together. The "all of us" included me, Kate, her birth mom and dad, and both of their families. I walked down with Kate and the rest of the group. Meanwhile, Kevin went to drive the car around to pick us up. The plan was for Kevin and me to put Kate in our car and drive off first. Of course we knew that this was going to be an emotional moment for everyone. Our adoption worker told us that once Kate was in the car, that we should go ahead and drive off... instead of dragging out the moment.
We got to the front and Kevin pulled up in the truck. Rosie helped us load Kate into the car as everyone watched from about 20 ft away. Kate's birth mom was already crying. We went over to hug everyone quickly and before we knew it, everyone was crying. Kevin was crying so hard, he hugged a stranger, thinking that she was part of their family.
This was one of the happiest days of my life, but at the same time Kevin and I were both incredibly sad for these two people. They made one of the hardest decisions ever and were obviously hurting, but they knew that this was the best decision for their child. It was hard for them to go through as they were watching us about to leave with their baby, and it was hard for us because we still felt like we were taking their baby away from them. I know that sounds weird, but that is what it felt like. Don't get me wrong, we were happy. We were thrilled! But we were also sad, and hurting for these two very special people and their families.
Somehow, Kevin was able to drive off through the tears and we realized that we were parents- we had a baby girl. Our car was packed to the gills and we were heading to our "new" home at Embassy Suites with our newborn daughter. And just like that, we were now a family of 3. (Kevin must add that we spent our first weekend at Embassy Suites FOR FREE thanks to a caring manager named Hector who knew of our situation. For the rest of our time in Raleigh, we slummed it at a cheap extended-stay motel with no frills.)
The next week and a half was crazy and stressful. Here we were, 5+ hours from home, living out of a hotel room, with a newborn baby. Neither of us had ANY experience taking care of a newborn, and none of our family was close by for "help". In addition to that, in NC the birth mom and birth dad have 7 days to change their mind and decide that they want to parent the child. This is called the revocation period. We had to wait for the revocation period to pass, and then file paperwork with NC to get permission to travel back to SC. This paperwork was called the ICPC paperwork. We had no idea when we would be able to go home, but our adoption worker told us to plan on remaining in NC for at least two weeks.
Anyway, I won't go into the detail of what we did each day, but I will say that living in a hotel room with a newborn is hard. I'm not a complete germ-freak, but if I had been I would have had a REALLY hard time. We couldn't stay in the hotel room 24/7 so we did take her out to eat a couple of times, and we did go outside to walk around. Our sweet adoption worker's husband made us dinner one night and it was so great to eat a home-cooked meal after tons and tons of fast food.
Finally we got the call that the revocation period had expired and Kate was definitely our daughter. We were thrilled! My mom and sister came up for a visit that day to meet the newest member of the family. Kevin and I had decided that we didn't want anybody to visit us until after the revocation period was over. We wanted that first week to be just us, as a family of 3. We had a great visit, and then we were just waiting for the ICPC paperwork to go through so we could go home!
The following week Kate had a doctor's appointment scheduled for 11:20am. The night before the appointment, Kevin and I talked about how we had both been praying that we could come home that week, but decided that we needed to pray specifically for a certain day. So we prayed that God would work a miracle and that the ICPC paperwork would go through smoothly and that we'd be able to come home on Wednesday. Wednesday was the day that we had a pediatrician appointment in Cary, NC at 11:20. So, we set our clocks for 9, which gave us plenty of time to shower, feed/change Kate, and get ready to head out the door. Of course when the alarm clock went off we hit snooze a few times. :) Well, before the alarm went off again my phone was ringing. I answered and it was our adoption worker Erica* telling us that we'd been approved to go home!
We jumped up, showered and packed our car faster than we'd ever had before. And, we had a TON of stuff to pack. Newborns really don't travel lightly. We needed to check out before our Dr appointment because the Dr's office was on our way home. It would save us basically an hour and a half to check out and then go to the appointment instead of going to the appointment and then coming back to our hotel to pack and check out. We barely made it! Got to the Dr's office at 11:15 for our 11:20 appointment and we didn't waste any time!
We made it home in about 5 hours and pulled in our driveway about 5:30. We had never been so happy to be home!
And that's Kate's story, but really it's only just the beginning of Kate's story.
I'm writing this at the end of June 2012 and it is crazy to think that almost a year has passed since that day. Besides our salvation, Kate has been one of the biggest gifts that we have ever been given. We are so thankful for her birth parents who made the decision to choose life for their unborn daughter. We're so thankful that they chose adoption; we're thankful that they chose US, and that they gave us the gift of being parents. I'm thankful for the gift of infertility. Yes, you read that correctly. If Kevin and I had been able to have biological children, Kate would not be a part of our family. So, yes, I am thankful for the gift of infertility.