The Unexpected Family

new baby holding father's finger

Eleven years ago, I was in the midst of my first pregnancy.  Each week that passed was joyful.  I practically skipped to work from the bus stop and shopped for maternity clothes the minute my belly popped.  On the weekends, my husband and I took walks through Lincoln Park, our Chicago neighborhood, and we talked about our hopes and dreams for the baby.  It was one of the happiest times of my life.

One November morning, my husband turned to me as we walked and said offhandedly, “There’s something wrong with my eye. I see a splotch in the middle of my vision.”  Mildly concerned, I suggested he call the eye doctor for a check-up.  He was able to schedule a visit the next day.  At work, I kept an eye on the clock, knowing what time his appointment was, eager to hear from him.  An hour passed, and then another.  I felt a wave of uneasiness.

When he called, he explained that the doctor found a problem with the optic nerve, that he would need a spinal tap, an MRI, an urgent visit to a neurologist.  The next few weeks were hell.  I broke down into tears and sobbed to my coworkers, terrified that my husband would die and I would be left alone to raise the baby.

I remember one of my visits to the obstetrician.  She asked how things were, noting my quietness and tension.  I explained that my husband was having a medical crisis and we weren’t sure yet what was going on.  “I’m glad the baby is healthy,” I told her, “because there is no way I could handle a rough pregnancy right now.”

There was chaos and uncertainty for a while, as the doctors tried to figure out what was going on with my husband.

In the end, he recovered, with the exception of a permanent loss in the field of vision in one of his eyes.

It was the baby who died.

Unbeknownst to all of us, the baby was the one who never stood a chance.  Matthew’s autopsy showed that his deadly kidney disease was genetic, specifically autosomal recessive, which meant we had a 1-in-4 reoccurrence risk for every pregnancy.  All my ultrasounds had looked fine.  Looking at the little guy happily sucking his thumb, there was no way to know that he was so sick.

Our grief was horrible. When the shock of all that transpired had passed, my husband and I chose life.  We were a home that needed a baby.  It was time to find a baby that needed a home.  Fragile, hopeful, we started the adoption process.

There was a steep learning curve as we gingerly stepped onto the roller coaster of trying to adopt. Oh, the decisions to make!  Domestic or international; private or agency; infant or older child—the considerations were endless.

Our initial plan was to adopt a newborn.  We wanted a chance to experience what we had lost . . . the miracle of birth followed by the exquisite happiness of taking a healthy baby home from the hospital. That was our plan.

Plans are a comical formality, however, when you enter the adoption process.  Opportunities to adopt fell through left and right.  Some birthmothers did not choose us because we were Jewish; others did not choose us because they chose to parent (a choice I absolutely support every woman’s right to make, even late in the game, no matter how hard it is for adoptive parents); yet another birthmother brought us to the brink of adopting and then we discovered she was a fraud—she was not even pregnant.

And then a birthmother in severe crisis called us.  Her two children had been removed from the home months before and were in foster care.  The birthmother was seven months pregnant with her third baby, and DFS intended to take the baby at birth and also place the baby into foster care.

The birthmother wanted to make an adoption plan for the new baby.  She did not want her baby to bounce from foster home to foster home. We knew this baby was the one for us.

It was complicated.  This was nothing at all like our plan.  But with the help of a wonderful guardian ad litem, many social workers, fourteen trips via airplane to the birthmother’s town, maddening court hearings and continuances and finally, oh finally, legal clearance, the baby came out of foster care and into our arms.

My husband and I both flew in for the transfer of custody.  He stayed for a few days and then had to return to work.  I remained in a hotel with the baby, waiting for Interstate Clearance to leave.

I remember the flight home with my beautiful daughter.  Midway through the flight, the pilot came over the PA and announced, “We have a special guest on this flight.  There is a baby girl in row 13 who is flying home to be with her new family for the first time.”

The plane erupted in clapping, and when the seatbelt sign went off, people streamed over to me, marveling at my sleeping new baby’s beauty, offering their blessings and prayers for our family.  I wept then.  I weep now, nearly a decade later, as I recall our journey home.

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