How a second adoption led to our daughters being sisters in every way they can be

Guest post by Alissa
Salome, Jubilee, and Alissa. All photos by Jenny Jimenez.

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.

Comments on How a second adoption led to our daughters being sisters in every way they can be

  1. lovely story, and reminds me greatly of how we got my little brother when I was 7 years old. We got “the call” while we were having family breakfast on a Sunday morning. Chaos ensued, and a family grew by 1 person and exponential love!

  2. There needs to be a “tear-jerker!!” warning at the top of the page. I am SOBBING at work and it’s just awkward. I am so happy for your beautiful familiy.

    • Agree! Your daughters are gorgeous (that hair! love it!) and so blessed to have such an amazing family – birth and adoptive.

  3. My partner and I were starting the adoption process when I became, very surprisingly, pregnant. While we are still planning to adopt in the next 1-3 years, we decided to wait until Baby Milo was born to officially start the paperwork. I had been reading your blog since we first started down this path and I think that it is such a wonderful story. I am not an emotional person, but I seriously thought I was going to start crying by the end.

    I wish you and your family nothing in the world but love and happiness.

  4. I love this. So many things, as an adoptee, stood out to me:

    1) that you refer to her as her ‘first’ mother. yes. exactly how I feel about my own experience.

    2) your understanding of the complexities of adoption AND your willingness to have family preservation in a non-traditional way. I think both of your daughters are so lucky to have the opportunity to grow up together.

  5. I love those moments when you get THE CALL. I remember the one with my little bro and sis. And then the one with my two babies. We do foster care so we do the million year wait to see if it is permanent or not.

  6. What a beautiful story! I especially love how you shared the truth of your mixed emotions. Five of our kids are adopted and some are birth siblings as well. Your story brought back sweet memories for me of the Tuesday morning when we got the unexpected phone call that our daughter’s first mom had given birth to another baby girl. Two hours later, she was in our arms!

    Congratulations on your adoption!

  7. I loved this story. I don’t know how to say this, but I always thought that adopted kids might at some point question their connection to their adoptive parents, perhaps even more if they look different from them physically. I feel that by adding the biological sibling to your family, makes your family more connected as a whole. Best of luck to your lovely family.

  8. Thank you so much for sharing this INCREDIBLE story, Alissa! Thank you so much for your openness. I, too, am crying at work! My husband and I are considering adopting, and I have heard from many friends that we should look into domestic adoption. Can you give me the name of the agency with whom you worked?

    • Well, that’s a little complicated! We worked with two different agencies, one in our home state and another in Georgia. We had a great experience with both, but the agency here in WA has discontinued their domestic infant adoption program. The one in Georgia, which we worked with through the program of the one in WA, is a religious organization and has some restrictions of that nature. I use names on my blog, which is linked here, feel free to poke around there for more info!

  9. This is so wonderful. I too hope to someday adopt. If more people did there would be less orphans in the world. I also love that you were able to look past nationality and adopt outside of your race. As a black woman myself. I admire that and I am thankful that there are people like you to love and care for children regardless of color. It’s beautiful!

  10. Wow. We adopted our girl a year and a half ago…just before her 2nd birthday. Her little sister was born in September of 2010. We’re still waiting on that phone call. Your story gives me hope for my girl and her little sister (and her two older sisters who live in FL). Thank you.

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