Most people go on their first dates and talk about movies, their likes and dislikes. Maurice and I talked about wanting children on our first date. Granted, we weren’t 25 anymore and we both had a previous childless marriage as experience; nevertheless, this is how we started.
Eight months later we got married and started planning for a family right away. The initial excitement soon turned into anxiety and stress. After a year of trying on our own with the help of books and fancy ovulation gadgets we decided it was time to seek professional help. We picked a fertility specialist and started with tests and drugs. All the test results indicated that we were both “fine” but we simply didn’t conceive. The fertility drugs in the meantime made my body crazy– up and down mood swings, stomach cramps, and a general feeling of exhaustion. Soon I had enough of this, and Maurice and I decided to go the “for sure” route- adoption.
Not knowing what we were getting ourselves into, we first decided to educate ourselves a bit. We went to a few open houses at local adoption agencies and started talking to friends and family about our plans. My father told me about the son of one of his closest friends who had recently adopted a baby. This couple used a lawyer that they liked very much who was located in Los Angeles. We knew that either way we went, meaning adoption agency or adoption lawyer, on average the cost would be anywhere between $25,000 and $35,000. We quickly drew up some tentative numbers and, since we had a personal recommendation, we decided to go with this lawyer in Los Angeles. We contacted him and he sent us a video and paperwork pertaining to the process. It all seemed very organized and thorough. For starters we had to fly to Los Angeles and subject ourselves to an 8-hour interview with the lawyer and his staff for profiling purposes. During this day we talked to a “sample birth mother,” a psychologist, the lawyer’s assistant, the lawyer himself, and viewed several videos. Of course we were charged for this day even though nothing was committed yet. We returned to Houston, thought about what we had experienced, and decided that if a lawyer is as thorough in checking adopting parents he must be just as thorough in checking birthmothers, so we accepted and sent him our first retainer check. This check was for the purpose of him starting the search for our birthmother. We then waited for about a year. It was understood that the moment we get the call, we basically had to drop EVERYTHING and fly to Los Angeles to meet the potential birthmother.
For almost a year our lives were again on hold, keeping the cellular phones at hand at all times, not planning vacations, not spending money. Just working and hoping, working and hoping. The call came on a Friday afternoon. The lawyer gave us a quick “run through” of the birthmother’s information– she was 32 years old, this was her 7th pregnancy, she had given up her 5th child for adoption, kept her 6th child, and now again needed to place her 7th child due to financial problems. She was located in Phoenix, AZ. She was not married, but all her children were from the same “live-in husband,” who was currently without a job. During the interview and profiling, they had indicated that they would need living assistance for two months because they had lost their home. They also wanted some help with maternity clothes and medical co-payments. All in all, pretty good as far as birthmothers go, so we were told. We agreed to meet with her and fly to Los Angeles. If a flight can be an omen to what was coming our way, we should have listened! It was a flight from hell. We were bumped at every stop and arrived in LA exhausted, very late at night. Once in LA, we simply grabbed our rent-a-car and went to the hotel. We needed a good night’s sleep to prepare ourselves for what was coming the next day at the lawyer’s office.
Monday morning we arrived punctually at the lawyer’s office. We were asked to sit and wait for a while and then we briefly spoke to our lawyer who had to be in court all day. He introduced us to a young lady who had recently started working for him because his assistant was on vacation that week. The young lady was supposed to coordinate the day for us and introduce us to the birth parents. An hour or so later we were introduced to the birthmother, her live-in husband, and her last born child, about two years old. It was an awkward, surreal experience. The birthmother came across as a spooked gazelle, only concentrated on the two-year-old, and never even made eye contact with us. The birthfather on the other hand was friendly and talked about his extended family and the future work projects that he had planned but hadn’t come through yet. With our naïve and inexperienced minds we ignored all warning signs and trusted our lawyer who had picked this couple for us. We decided to move forward with strong encouragement from our lawyer who told us that these situations are always difficult because you are often putting together people of very different socioeconomic and educational levels. At that time we had to pay the second retainer, plus money for the birthmother fund and all travel expenses for the birth parents. We were left in the room to further “bond” with the birth parents for a long time. No true connection ever really happened between us.
After we had agreed to adopt their baby, the tone in the birthfather’s voice started changing a bit. Basically they wanted to get out of the lawyer’s office as soon as possible and not without a $2,000 check to pay for the hotel in Phoenix the family was going to move into. The check had to be cut by our lawyer who was in court all day, so we had to wait around. It was a strange waiting time. We kept trying to get through to the birthmother who was still very shy. She did speak a little but never really paid a lot of attention to what was going on around her. The picture album we had prepared for her was looked at quickly and then left and forgotten on the couch she was sitting on. But it was all signed and done, and we now had birth parents. We flew back to Houston and proceeded with our lives as well as we possibly could. Then the phone calls started. We were told that we were expected to check in with the birthmother about once per week to see how she was doing– and for further “bonding.” We didn’t have to worry, though, because the “shy gazelle” turned into quite the busy dialer. The birthmother started calling us almost every day. One day she needed extra money for a cab fare to the doctor’s office, then she needed extra money for clothing, food, storage for her furniture, cookware, and the list grew and grew. The lawyer kept telling us to direct those money calls to him, but it didn’t do any good. If he didn’t react fast enough to her demands, she would call us to get on top of him and the stress continued. We ended up paying three months of rent, plus living expenses when we finally started waking up and smelling the coffee!! But even though we had a funny feeling in the stomach, we proceeded because we had invested so much, not only financially but also emotionally, and we were truly still hoping for a good outcome.
Then one week while attempting to reach the birthmother I got the birthfather on the phone instead. I asked how she and the baby were doing; I asked how his new job outlooks were doing and chatted with him. He was very friendly, and I will never forget how he even called me “hon” and told me that everything was just great. The next day we got a call from our lawyer. He had been contacted by the doctor in Phoenix that was taking care of the birthmother. She felt morally obligated to tell him that the birthmother didn’t only sign medical releases to us but also to another five other couples around the country. I felt like the Hulk had just punched me in the stomach. We immediately withdrew funds from the birth parents but as there is no law to protect prospective adoptive parents, we had basically lost all that time and money to this con-artist couple. I notified the authorities both in Phoenix and in Houston, but nobody reacted to my numerous calls, nor did anything happen. It was basically all our loss. Our lawyer in LA kept telling us that “these things happen” and there are “no guarantees” and we were told this from the beginning. Never did he admit to any fault by his office in not being thorough and pushing us towards a situation that they themselves weren’t sure about. They just wanted to make sure all expenses were covered. So we stepped back, decided to cancel our contract with the lawyer, even though we would not get much money back, and take a break from all of this.
It was a sad time. We felt really taken advantage of. Our hearts were aching, and we had no plan. We decided not to pursue any other adoption avenue until the beginning of the next year. We wanted to give ourselves a break and enjoy life a little. We needed to charge our batteries and bank accounts. Several months later in October, I received a call from one of my best friends. She told me that a friend of a friend had a friend that was working with a pregnant teenager and that I really should talk to this friend of her friend about this teenager. I was completely confused and also turned off. What could possibly come out of this friend-relay service? But my long-time best friend is very pushy and convincing so I gave in and called her friend’s friend, Stephanie.
Stephanie introduced herself as being herself a mother of an adopted child. She also told me that she remembers how there was absolutely no help out there for her when she went through the process and how lonely and desperate she had felt at times. She decided then that when the time came, she would pay her adoption success forward and help a lost soul in need. I liked Stephanie very much; we connected on a level that only two people with similar experiences can connect on. I agreed to send her our picture album that the previous birthmother had tossed aside. Stephanie gave the album to her friend that worked with the pregnant teenager. A week or so later I received an email from Tiffany, the pregnant teenager. She loved our book, our dogs, and our house. She knew from the moment that she found out that she was pregnant that she would place her child for adoption because she wasn’t ready to raise a child herself and she was a Christian girl. It all sounded too good to be true, so I didn’t let myself believe any of it. I corresponded with Tiffany via email for several months and then we decided that it was time to meet her and her parents.
So on December 22, 2007, Maurice and I drove to Austin, TX to have lunch with Tiffany and her family. We were all very nervous, but we all immediately took a liking to each other. It was a very emotional lunch, and we all shed some tears and hugged. I especially remember Tiffany’s dad telling us that he came to the meeting expecting to hate us and that even though this was all very difficult for him, he really took a liking to us. As our relationship progressed, I still didn’t let myself believe this was all happening but kept telling myself that if nothing else I was helping a teenager through this very hard time by talking and writing to her.
The months went by. About three months before Tiffany’s due date of May 13, we decided that it was time to involve a lawyer and see what we had to do to cross all our t’s and dot all our i’s. We picked a local lawyer that Maurice had done some work for, and she started guiding us through the process.
I started making plans with Tiffany to go to the doctor with her, and also to tour the hospital where she would give birth. It all went without a hitch. Time kept ticking by and my heart was still on guard.
When Tiffany was about four months pregnant she had asked us what we would name a boy or a girl. We told her that we wanted to name a girl Mia Elisabeth and a boy would be Luke Maurice. As soon as she found out that the baby was a boy she started referring to him as Luke. We all did. And then we got “the call” on a Friday morning at 2 AM on May 16. Tiffany’s father called to tell us that she was in the hospital in labor. We jumped out of bed and drove towards Austin from Houston as fast as we could. I had already purchased a baby seat two weeks before and had it installed in my car, and we had packed bags ready to go as well.
The ride to Austin was nerve-wracking. Was this real? Was this really happening? I still couldn’t fully believe it. We arrived at the hospital around 5:30 AM. Tiffany’s grandmother received us with open arms, calling us “mom and dad.” She told us that Tiffany was in the delivery room resting and that we could see her later. She sat down with us and chatted and a few hours later Tiffany’s dad came out of the room and sat down with us and chatted as well.
Then the nurse came out and called me into the secured area. She asked me to sit right outside the room because Tiffany was not ready to have me in the room yet. So I waited outside and listened to the noises in the birthing room. My heart pounding, I lost track of time.
The door opened, and the nurse asked me to enter the birthing room. She asked me to sit on the couch that was opposite to the hospital bed. Tiffany was in good spirits and surrounded by her grandmother, stepmother, doula, nurse, and doctor. They were all coaching her during the contractions and making little jokes during the breaks. And suddenly little baby Luke started crowning. The doctor said, “He is crowning!” …. and I lost it on that couch. I couldn’t stop sobbing; it was loud. I lost control of my body. Right at that moment Tiffany’s contractions were at a break so she lifted her head and looked at me and said, “Hey, you are not supposed to be crying! I’m the one delivering the baby!” We all burst out laughing. And the next contractions came and soon Luke’s head was out and then they asked me to get off the couch and stand next to Tiffany, so I did.
Standing there, looking at Luke coming out was the most overwhelming feeling I had ever experienced in my life. The nurse and the doula were not only consoling Tiffany, they also started consoling me! Immediately after Luke came out of the womb, the doctor clamped his umbilical cord and asked out loud, “Who is going to cut the cord?” And Tiffany, who just gave birth, lifted her head and said, “Claudia, Claudia is cutting the cord!” So I took a deep breath, tried to pull myself together and shakily cut the cord that attached Luke to his birthmom, the most symbolic moment of our entire experience. Then the nurse took Luke to the side room to clean him, weigh him, and test him. In the meantime Tiffany’s family surrounded her to console her. I was shepherded into the side room with the baby. Luke did fantastic in all his examinations and weighed 3407 grams. I am telling you the grams because as it happens that is exactly our home street address number! Funny and cute coincidence.
During his examinations I was leaning over him and had a direct view to Tiffany’s bed. She was looking at me as well and our eyes locked. I blew her a kiss from my heart and she gave me the most lovely and tender smile that I will always remember. Then the nurse bundled Luke up and without much warning put him right into my arms and told me to follow her into the nursery. In the meantime Tiffany’s dad, grandfather, and Maurice were allowed to enter the birthing room, and Maurice got to see his son for the first time as well. While Tiffany’s family was surrounding her, we left the room and walked to the nursery. There I held Luke for four hours and just watched him, gave him his first bottle, and changed his first diaper. I have to selfishly admit that even though Maurice was at my side the entire time, I did not let him hold the baby. Not on purpose, but simply because I couldn’t put him down. I just needed to hold him.
As I am writing this, Luke is right beside me on the couch and he is now 11 weeks old. I want to put every memory down on paper so that I can tell him everything as it happened when he is old enough. Tiffany had a talk with us before he was born and told us to make sure to never push the issue onto him. She was going to be there for him if he wanted to, but didn’t want him to feel like he had to contact her. I tell people that ask how the adoption went that putting all my fears and anxieties aside, this was the most beautiful adoption in the world. Luke is a very lucky baby for having had such an angel for a birthmom, to give him life, and now we are here to guide him through life. We feel truly blessed; he is our little miracle.