Search This Blog

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Gift Named Max

Linda and I got married in June of 2004.  At the time we were both 34 years old and eager to start a family.  We were living in Long Beach, California, but were readying for a move back to New England.  There were many reasons why we thought moving back east made sense, but the primary one was that we thought that with a baby being closer to our family would be a benefit to all.  It is; we just didn't realize at the time that it would be years until we found that out.

We ceased using contraception even before the wedding and wondered aloud about what would happen if we conceived on our honeymoon.  It seems so laughable a thought now since months and months of good loving passed without pregnancies.  We eventually consulted fertility doctors.  Without going into the details of the many, many explanations, tests, and information to which we availed ourselves, you'll just have to take my word that it was not a simple or swift process.  The good news is that the doctors couldn't point to a reason why we weren't conceiving.  The bad news is that the doctor's couldn't point to a reason why weren't conceiving.  They call it "Unexplained Infertility."

We went through several cycles of IUI and eventually moved onto IVF.  With the exception of one 'chemical pregnancy' (which basically means that there was a pregnancy but it was so weak other than chemical indications it wasn't really viable), each effort failed.  Between all the procedures, we probably did at least 6 fertility treatments.  (Of course Linda knows exactly how many, when they happened, and what we had for dinner those nights.)  You can imagine the hope and fear that accompanies each treatment.  Will it work?  When will we know?  What happens next if it doesn't work?  It's an emotional roller coaster no doubt well documented in countless blogs.  'It' never happened for us.  We were more than disappointed.

We eventually sought a second opinion of our medical situation from a fertility doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital.  He reviewed the reams of medical information we provided - all our tests, the history of each of our fertility cycles, the way Linda's body responded to medication, my sperm counts.  He basically said what our previous doctor said (though in a manner far less brusque).  We did some additional genetic testing which only confirmed that genetic issues were also not clearly to blame.  He then asked us to ask ourselves a question which was this:  What does it mean to be a parent?

The question cut right to the heart of the matter.  If we wanted to start a family, have a baby, conceiving was not the only option.  We'd discussed adoption in a cursory manner before, always saying that we'd be open to the idea.  Now, however, it might be the only choice for us to grow our family.  We'd already spent years trying to conceive and we were no closer to being a mom or a dad.  We weren't getting younger either.  Thankfully much of our fertility expenses were covered by health insurance (something required by the state of Massachusetts.  Had we stayed in California the costs for diagnostics and treatments might have been prohibitively expensive), it was beginning to make little sense to continue them.  After all those treatments are generally used to bypass some failing part of the reproductive process and there was nothing that those treatments were doing to address our unknown issues.  We decided to forego any further fertility treatments and to look closer at adoption.  We also believed that because there was no infertility diagnosis that there might still be a chance we'd get pregnant on our own (and certainly we are not going to stop trying for that).

I'll again spare you the many details of the long process by which we deliberated adopting.  Suffice it to say we did a lot of research.  International or Domestic?  Private or Public?  Open or Closed?  Newborn or somewhat older?  Caucasian or other?  And exactly how much is this going to cost?!  We went to adoption agencies' information sessions.  We spent the day at an Adoption Community of New England Conference going to several workshops.  There was so much information to be heard we left before the day was over, our heads already exploding with adoption information overload.  We looked at books and spent countless hours on the internet.  We talked to other people who went through the adoption process.  When we felt that we'd done our fair share of information gathering we settled on an adoption course.  We knew that we wanted an infant, a newborn.  And really the only way accomplish that was to adopt domestically.  We selected an agency that a friend recommended, Adoption Resources.  We'd gone to their information session and felt a connection to the woman who ran the workshop as well as headed the agency.

As you might expect there's a lengthly process through which one has to go to get approved to adopt a baby (ironically far more difficult than that of two teens in the back of a car seat).  We filled out dozens of forms, applications, and releases, were met several times by a social worker who completes what's called a home study (which is required for all adoptions).  We also had to make an album of our family that would be viewed by birth families to consider adoptive families.  The album was the most bizarre part of the process for me as it's essentially a marketing brochure of you!  We included a letter to the birth mother/parents and a lot of pictures of us and our family.  By the time we'd completed our home study and gotten all our background checks done and finished the album, basically marking the point at which we could be shown to birth parents, it was late summer 2007.

Then we waited.  The adoption agency said a match can take anywhere from 6 to 16 months - on average, sometimes shorter and sometimes longer.

Adoption Resources, like many agencies, doesn't necessarily tell adoptive parents when their albums are being shown.  No sense in getting us all excited before a birth mother selects a family.  It makes sense, but to not know at all when you might get a call is hard.  It was something somewhere on our minds from the moment we were ready to be presented until we got 'the call.'  In our application we listed some of the criteria that we'd accept in a birth mother.  There's a comprehensive list of things to consider - so many in fact we consulted a pediatrician to help us determine which medical items were inconsequential and which things might be more worrisome.   In the final analysis, we were interested in what would give us the best chance of a healthy baby.  And because we were open to a baby of any racial/cultural background we were in the 'non-traditional' pool.  In theory this meant we might be matched sooner rather than later.

Sometime around the middle to end of October, Linda got a call from our agency.  A match between a woman and an adoptive family had fallen through and they wanted to know if we would consider this woman.  The birth mom was past her due date and the agency was looking to find a new match quickly.  The match had fallen through because the birth mom wanted to have an open adoption specified in the adoption agreement (something she'd failed to make clear beforehand to the adoptive family).   Because Linda and I said we were amenable to an open adoption, they called us.  There were some medical items we were concerned about but after consulting with our doctor and a long weekend's private deliberation, we said we would like to be considered.

We met the birth parents at a 99 Restaurant in Billerica (Great Meal, Great Deal, Great Babies?!).  In what was no doubt the strangest gathering I'd been to, we met the birth parents (mid to late 30s, unmarried, poor, hard luck cases) along with our Adoption Resources social worker.  We stuffed ourselves in a small booth and I was convinced that every other patron there was aware of the nature of this gathering.  The birth mom was bursting at the seams, now several days past her due date.  As awkward as it was for Linda and me, it seemed equally so for them.  How could it not be?  Only the the social worker seemed accustomed to the bizarre scene.  After discussing the nature of the open adoption and getting to know each other over a small meal they left, later confirming that they decided that we were a match for them.  Apparently the relief of having found adoptive parents was what she was waiting for.  She gave birth to a boy at Winchester Hospital later that same night.

Birth parents must wait four full days after delivery before they can sign surrender documents.  Linda and I spent several hours the first day in the hospital, as we were advised and as we desired.  We got to know the birth parents a bit better and while we didn't have anything in common, we found common ground.  We could sense the pain they were going through in electing to give their baby up for adoption (they each already had children).  Our social worker told us that she saw some red flags and was leery that they'd actually go through with the adoption.  (It's not uncommon at all for birth parents to change their mind after giving birth.  It's a trying time for both birth and adoptive parents.)  And while Linda and I tried to steel ourselves in the event they did change their minds, we had to proceed with the hope that they wouldn't.  We spend several hours at the hospital everyday.  We ran to Babies 'R Us to get supplies.  We confided the news to friends who unloaded their attic of a car seat, bassinet, and other assorted things newborns need.

The day before the fateful day we were to bring the baby home, I installed the car seat; I even had the local fire station inspect it for safety.  The next day we nervously drove to the hospital and met with the birth parents, for what would be the last time.  We talked candidly with them and shared our concerns with the social worker.  She in turn spent many, many hours with the birth family.  It was late afternoon, almost evening by the time we were told what we now expected:  they were leaning toward parenting the baby.  They wanted the weekend to think it over carefully.  Instead of the baby coming home to us, it would spend the weekend in temporary foster care.  (We offered to be that foster care, but said we only wanted to do it if they felt there was a reasonable chance that they were going to give the baby up for adoption, something that was not the case.)  We left the hospital with an empty car seat and heavy hearts.  We'd been warned that this could happen, even before we met this family.  By a few days after that boy was born, we were fairly certain that the birth parents would keep him.  None of that quelled our hurt in that moment.  It was not meant to be.  That boy was not meant to be our boy.

It was then that fate interceded (or perhaps it had already).  It turned out that prior to this birth parent seeing our booklet, it had been shown to another woman.  That woman liked us, but by the time she'd conveyed that to Adoption Resources, our booklet had been shown to the other birth parents who'd selected us.  When they decided to parent their baby, we were then 'free' to be considered by this new woman.  In the matter of little more than a week we went to being matched with a baby, not actually getting to adopt that baby, and then being matched again.  We learned on a Monday that the first birth parents had definitely decided to parent.  The next day we learned that we were going to meet with the new birth mom.  We met the following week and felt a much stronger connection to this woman.  We were to meet again sometime after Thanksgiving which was the following week.  The baby boy was due on December 15th (my birthday, no less)!

I went to work on the Monday after Thanksgiving and was just settling into my desk when I got a call from Linda.  The birth mother's water just broke.  "What does that mean, exactly?"  I asked.  "It means you're leaving work soon."  We drove out to Newton Wellesley Hospital later that day and met the birth mom and her parents (all lovely, lovely people).  By that evening, November 26th, 2007, Max was born via C-section.  We spent many hours over the next four days with Max and with the birth family at the hospital.  We were sensitive to their feelings and they to ours.  We gave each other space when needed, but also made sure to get better acquainted. We were doing our best to contain our anticipation, knowing that as close as we were, we were really no closer than we'd been before.  Given our recent previous experience, Linda and I were far more cognizant that nothing was certain until it was certain.

On the day we were to bring Max home we arrived at the hospital at the appointed hour, the birth mom and family having already said their sad goodbyes and departed.  The nurses were expecting us.  We entered the room previously occupied by the birth mom.  The bed covers were displaced from where she'd been just an hour earlier.  There were some flowers for us and a teddy bear for Max.  We spent some time in that room with Max and with the social worker.  Finally, we gathered our things and felt the heft of the little boy in the infant carrier.  We loaded him into the back of the car where Linda sat close.  We drove cautiously.  It was a sunny day as we drove north on Rt. 128 home to Salem.  Linda let tears of relief, joy, and happiness flow.  I snuck careful peeks in the rearview mirror while I quietly reflected on the enormity of this long awaited day.

It's been almost two years since that day and much has happened.  Max has become the center of our lives (much to the displeasure of our two cats).  We became parents, pretty good ones, too.  We keep in touch with Max's birth mom (and her parents) regularly.  In the two years since his birth we've met up with them several times and welcome the fact that Max is as loved by them as he is by us.  We've finally moved our family closer to our families in Connecticut.  Without the aid of fertility treatments we got pregnant last December.  Regular readers of this blog sadly know that in the 8th month, Leo was stillborn.  The only thing that served to console us was knowing that we had Max.  The immenseness of the blessing he is to us is immeasurable - just as any child is to any parent.  We still hope to grow our family, however it may happen, but we also know that if for whatever reason we only had Max he would still be more than we could ever have hoped.


Jennifer Kovacs said...

David, heartbreaking and heartwarming all at once! Congratulations to you and your wife - your son is beautiful! There is no gift greater than the unconditional (until they become teenagers) love of a child!

Ruth and Matthew said...

Overflowing, this heart of mine, with such a profound affection for you Ringers.

yvette said...

And the gift for Max are parents named Dave and Linda.

GardenGirl said...

*wiping tears from my eyes* that was beautiful. Max is so lucky to have you both - just as you are so lucky to have him.

susan weldon said...

this is something max will read someday and know the boundless love you feel for him and how it was somehow "meant" that you became his parents.

he is an extraordinary child because his birth mother and her family have provided him with good genes and certainly because you two are providing him with a home and family filled with profound love. he could not have more terrific parents.

max's entire extended family shares the blessing.