I'm open to new opportunities, and I tend to believe that things happen for a reason. This is how I found myself sitting at an O'Charley's in rural Indiana, asking a teenage girl to give me her baby.
My husband and I weren't actively — or even passively — seeking to adopt, even though we definitely wanted kids someday. But several years into our marriage, a steady stream of birth announcements and baby shower invitations flooded our mailbox with alarming regularity, and our laid-back approach to family planning was beginning to wear thin. So when Lisa, a social worker acquaintance of ours, timidly approached us about the possibility of adopting a newborn baby, we took it as a sign. Maybe the time was now, and adoption was the way.
The mom-to-be was a 19-year-old named Rachel. She made a detailed list of what she wanted in adoptive parents, things that our social worker friend apparently saw in us. We were to submit our "story" in writing and then meet for an interview. Rachel would then make her decision within a couple weeks, and if she selected us, we would proceed with a closed adoption.
We'd witnessed enough friends navigate the arduous, emotional, often confusing and always costly road to adoption to recognize that this was a rare opportunity. It was entirely possible that in just a few short months, we could bring home a precious baby without ever having to deal with the years of paperwork, home studies, fundraising, hoping, waiting, waiting and waiting.
I spent days writing and rewriting our story, trying to sum up our entire lives in a couple of pages. I filled an album with carefully selected photos, communicating just the right message. Our wedding photo (see how in love we are!), us on vacation (we're adventurous!), our house (we have jobs, and a home!), us with our nieces and nephews (kids love us!), us with our dog (animals love us too!), our dog with our nieces and nephews (he's a friendly beast who is unlikely to maul your baby!). All of the pieces were assembled. Next was the interview.
It's one thing to interview for a job, to try to persuade a company to pay you money in exchange for performing actual tasks, but we were trying to convince this young girl to entrust us with a human. Her human. How do you dress for that? What kind of body language communicates that I can keep a child alive, and also love it most of the time? What type of references should we get?
I, naturally, spent the most time fretting over my outfit. I needed to communicate that we were young and hip enough that we would be hands-on parents who would expose the child to new, exciting opportunities, but also responsible enough that we would remember to feed it and not let it run off with the circus at age 8.
In the end, my outfit didn't matter. We sat down with this scared, heartbroken young woman and listened to her story and told her ours. As my husband waxed philosophical about our view on spanking — apparently, we have a view on spanking — I realized I wanted to do anything I could to help this girl. I wondered, momentarily, if we could just adopt her and get the baby as a natural byproduct.
We spent the next few weeks waiting for her decision. Despite my better judgment, I cultivated that small seed of hope. I started compiling a list of names, scoping out cute baby bedding online, remaining noncommittal on any summer plans. I told myself most parents have nine months to plan for a baby's arrival, and all of the ones I knew still seemed wildly unprepared when the kid showed up. We were down to four months, so we needed to get to business.
The call came late on a Tuesday evening. My hands shook as I fumbled to answer the phone. From the second Lisa uttered the words, "Rachel has made her decision," I knew it wasn't us. Lisa explained that, at the last minute, another couple offered Rachel the opportunity for an open adoption, and that she could be as involved in the baby's life as she wanted.
I hurried to get off the phone, collapsing into my husband's arms and crying for the better part of the night. A few weeks before, we weren't even sure we wanted a child, and now it felt as though, for a few brief moments, we had one. And that child had been taken away from us.
A couple weeks later, after the heavy fog of disappointment lifted and reality set in, I wrote Rachel a letter, thanking her for the opportunity and affirming that she had made the right choice. I knew it had to be the toughest decision she'd ever made, and I hoped to assuage some of the turmoil and doubt that might be plaguing her.
A few years have passed, but every July on Rachel's due date, I think about her and her child. I wonder where they both are and how they're doing, and I feel a slight ache for what could've been.
And in those moments, I choose to reflect on what has transpired for me and my husband in the past few years — a dream European vacation, relocating to a new city, a new job, a big promotion, sleeping in on Saturdays — and believe that everything did work out exactly as it should.
The names in the story have been changed.