This is what I remember about the day I found out I would become a mother for the second time: the sunshine streaming through our windows while I fed my 22-month-old lunch. When I think back nine months to that moment, the memory is bathed in that late summer/early afternoon sunlight.
I was looking forward to J’s post-lunch nap with anticipation, it had been a busy morning and I thought she’d crash pretty hard once her tummy was full. I was standing near the counter, cutting up some fruit for her, when our landline phone rang. I almost didn’t get it. Given the time of day I assumed it was a telemarketer, but I thought what the heck.
“Alissa,” the voice was vaguely familiar, a woman with a gentle Southern accent, “This is Debbie from (adoption agency). Z had her baby. She is ten days old.”
A little back story — my husband Andrew and I adopted our first child in fall of 2009 through domestic infant adoption. We had wanted an open adoption, but our daughter’s first mom chose to have a semi-open adoption instead. This meant that we sent regular updates, photos, and letters to her through the adoption agency. If she ever wished to send something to us she would also use the adoption agency for communication. She thought that perhaps later she may be interested in more direct contact with us, but a couple years in our communication was still one-sided from us to her.
At the end of 2010 we applied to adopt for a second time. This is a process that takes some time and we stretched it out as much as we could. In all honesty we were still waffling on whether or not we wanted a second child — but we knew that if we did have another we wanted our kids to be close in age. Adoptions don’t happen quickly, so we figured better safe than sorry. At least, they usually don’t happen quickly.
In the beginning of 2011 I found myself thinking more and more about J’s first mom, Z. The more I thought about her the more I realized how little I knew about her. I had been afraid to ask many questions when we had gone to Georgia to pick up J. But I had some wonderings, things I wished I had asked someone about. So I decided to set up a phone call with Debbie, the social worker in GA who spoke the most often with Z. I told Debbie that I was just going to ask her the questions that kept coming up for me, and I asked her to let me know what the appropriate boundaries were — to tell me if I was straying into territory that wasn’t my business, or that J’s first mom wouldn’t want me to know.
The pertinent thing I learned was that Z was pregnant again, and while she had not decided what to do she was considering relinquishment.
I learned a lot from that phone call. Most of it isn’t my stuff to tell. But the pertinent thing I learned was that Z was pregnant again, and while she had not decided what to do she was considering relinquishment. Debbie was under the impression that she had just found out about the pregnancy which meant she was due sometime mid-to-late fall.
Because of when you are reading this, you probably are able to guess the end of the story. But I want to be clear — I did not at that moment, or even afterward, assume that we would be adopting Z’s baby. In fact I worked pretty hard not to assume it. As spring turned into summer Z stopped calling Debbie and picking up photographs. Then in July Debbie emailed me saying that maybe Z wasn’t pregnant after all, that she really thought she would have heard from her if she was. I put it out of my mind.
So when I heard Debbie’s voice on that late August afternoon I had no idea what she was talking about. I have never been less prepared for news in my life. Z had been pregnant, and further along than any of us knew. Her baby girl was born full term mid-August and a few days later Z made the choice to relinquish. Debbie calmly explained this to me and then paused expectantly. I believe I eloquently replied “Oh no!” It’s the only phone call in my memory that made me feel physically dizzy. I suddenly had to sit down.
“Do you want to adopt her?” Debbie said finally, after listening to me hyperventilate for a little while. I looked over at J sitting calmly in her highchair, stuffing pear into her mouth.
“Yes” I was trying hard not to cry in front of my toddler. “Yes yes yes yes yes.”
I stood up, my brain starting to function again. “We have some stuff to figure out, what is the timeline?” Stuff to figure out was a rather gross understatement, but I knew we could get it together if we had a few days time.
[My husband] was not lukewarm about this baby, our daughter’s biological sister. I told him what was happening and heard him take one short breath before he simply said “I’m in.”
Adoption laws vary from state to state, and in Georgia there is a ten day period after a mother signs away her legal rights during which she can change her mind. Z’s baby was still in the waiting period, so it would be at least a week before we could travel to get her, provided Z maintained her decision for an adoption plan. I thanked Debbie, hung up the phone and started making a mental list of what we needed to do between now and then. I put J down for her nap, and called Andrew at work. He had been rather lukewarm on the whole second-baby front, and it briefly crossed my mind that perhaps I should have waited for his input before giving Debbie my unequivocal “yes.” But he was not lukewarm about this baby, our daughter’s biological sister. I told him what was happening and heard him take one short breath before he simply said “I’m in.”
So we scrambled and waited all at once. The family providing care for the little one emailed pictures and put up with me calling every day for updates. I tried to keep perspective. This baby looked so much like my J, I felt so connected to her already. It was hard to remember that she wasn’t yet ours.
But the days passed, Z did not revoke her relinquishment, and we were on a plane as soon as Debbie gave us the green light. Our sweet sunshine baby, Salome, was in our arms on her 21st day of being in the world. She is Z’s daughter, our daughter, and J’s sister in more ways than one.
Eight months later S is darling, sweet, so different in some ways from her older sister and yet there are moments when they are eerily similar. I think about Z a lot, I always will, and continue to write and send photos regularly, hoping she will be able to reciprocate with more openness someday.
I am keenly aware that no adoption happens without something in the world going wrong, but looking at my daughters it feels infinitely right that they are together. So we are doubly, triply, infinitely blessed. J and S grow up together. I get to be their mom. It’s overwhelming and amazing.
I read, and hear, a lot about birthing babies from the internet and from my many friends who have experienced pregnancy and childbirth on the road to motherhood. Sometimes I wonder what it is like to make a specific plan for how to bring your child into the world and then attempt to follow that plan. I know sometimes the plans work out wonderfully, and other times things change.
In contrast, while adoption involves a ton of planning and paperwork it is, from our side of things, a choice to completely abandon any pretense of a plan for the specifics of how your child lands in the world. You fill out endless forms, pay fees, provide personal information and then just wait for the tiny human whose conception and nurture to this point has taken place completely independently of you and your plans to show up and change everything forever.
I love to remember that sun soaked afternoon when my everything changed forever. At this point in my life I can’t imagine wanting it any other way.