Journey to Madison
After three long days and two very stress-ridden nights, my partner and I found ourselves once again un-matching with our birthmother. By now we were becoming seasoned professionals at picking ourselves up and dusting ourselves off from unsuccessful matches. Waiting together in our hotel room in Portland, Oregon, we received the phone call that we had hoped wouldn't come. Karen Tirlia, our counselor, with great strength and courage, lovingly advised us to come home. She suggested that it would be in our best interest to un-match for now until our birthmother, Ann, was more certain of her decision. Difficult as it was to hear, all along Karen, though hopeful, was cautious about this birthmother's ability to place. Even though we had spent two long Oregonian nights coaching our overdue birthmother Ann through off-and-on labor, in our hearts we knew that Karen was right. Ann had exhibited indifference with us all along, even through labor. Now she was going in for a C-section and wanted to take her baby home for a while. In most cases this is a normal grieving and letting go process for the birthmother, but in this particular case it was a red flag. We trusted Karen. She was our seasoned professional with the objective bird's eye view. Monica and I were the professional roller coaster riders whose job was to get off this ride and get on another ride as soon as possible. Little did we know that the next one would be our eTicket ride of a lifetime.
We hung up the phone and had a good 10-minute power cry, and then called the airport to book our flight home. As we packed our bags and consoled ourselves, the phone rang. It was our Adoption Coordinator, Ellen. She had just heard from Karen what had happened and was calling us to say that while we were up in Oregon a birthmother had called the Center, especially asking for us. Emma had found our website through Yahoo and saw that we were signed up with the Independent Adoption Center. Ellen had to tell her that we were up in Oregon, matched and waiting for our baby, but she had other lovely couples for her to look at and could she overnight her a packet. Emma reluctantly said okay. Ellen told us that Emma was brokenhearted to find out that we were matched, because she had been searching for months for the right couple and when she saw us she just knew we were the right ones. Ellen was calling us to tell us that she had sent Emma's packet out two days earlier and wanted to know that, even though we were probably feeling a little raw, would we like her to send our letter to Emma, as well. We contemplated this for all of 10 seconds, took a deep breath and said, "okay!" Back in the Saddle Again!
We flew home, saddened about Ann but hopeful once more. After working to adopt for two and a half years, long gone was the giddy behavior that only that first birthmother call can bring, gratefully replaced with the much more useful characteristic, resilience. The next day after arriving home Emma called us. She had just received our letter and a note from Sara, the birthparent counselor, that we were available again. Emma was overjoyed. She had already gone through the letters of waiting families that Ellen had sent earlier but still felt that we were the family that she was looking for. We had a very brief but nice phone conversation, and she told us that she would be calling the adoption agency to set up a match meeting. The next day our adoption counselor, Pam, called us. She had received Emma's intake paperwork and was about to call her back. In her paperwork Emma revealed that she was keeping her pregnancy a secret from her family, admitting that should her family find out, they would make it impossible for her to place. Pam wanted to let us know this point because this could make it a high-risk match depending on the strength and conviction of the birthmother. Pam called us back about an hour later. She told us that the plan would be that we would travel to Reno for the delivery. Once the baby was born we would all head to California to sign the papers. Then Emma would head home. Our part at the hospital was to pose as Emma's relatives as a support system through her labor. Pam had assessed the situation, Emma's strength and conviction, and was convinced that if any three people could pull this off we could. First Pam wanted us to have a match meeting in person. Emma did not think this was necessary since she already felt that our hearts were matched, but would be happy to have us come for a visit anyway. Once again, we packed our bags and readied ourselves for what would come to be our first glimpse of our daughter-to-be through Emma's sweet face.
Emma called us the next day to arrange where we would meet. Of course we got to the coffee shop an hour early so we were already there when she arrived. All I can say is that after all of the previous cautious birthmother meetings I had experienced, when I saw Emma I knew this was it! We all talked with ease and a feeling that we had known each other forever. The three-hour visit flew by. At the end of the meeting we secured a rough birth plan and agreed on the next time we would touch base. It was time to say goodbye for now and walk Emma to her car.
When we got to her car we said a happy but tearful goodbye and for the first time in my 2 1/2 year piece of the journey, I was able to look my daughter's birthmother in the eyes and assure her that everything will work out fine and not to worry. We felt blessed to have her and assured her that we would give her baby a loving and secure home. In the past I had held back this feeling of confidence and conviction, but now I realized that I was holding back out of fear and a false sense of security that it gave me. Emma deserved to hear that we truly believed that everything that we had gone through led us to her and her baby. At that moment, had we been presented with a million birthmothers to choose from, without a doubt it would be Emma all the way.
We went home feeling good and with a sense that this was going to happen. We called Pam when we got home and told her that we felt wonderful about our meeting. In a few days Pam traveled to Emma's for her meeting with her. All of this happened very quickly.
Emma told us that even though the doctors told her the baby's due date was at least three weeks away, Emma knew her body and believed that Madison was going to come sooner so be prepared. That conversation happened on the first Friday following our meeting. On Monday morning Emma called again and told us to get ready, she was experiencing some labor and the baby could come at anytime. Having become professional last minute packers, we didn't panic. We reasoned that we could throw a few things together when she gave us the call. Having given birth to my oldest daughter 22 years ago, I was sure I would handle the call with calmness and maturity. WRONG!
The next morning Emma called and said (very calmly) that she was pretty sure that she was in full labor and was going to her doctor's. She would call us in a few hours to let us know the status of her labor. We all agreed that we would all head to work and wait calmly for her call. Any semblance of calmness that I pulled off with that phone call swiftly faded as soon as we hung up the phone. The scene now strangely started to resemble that classic episode of "I Love Lucy" where Lucy goes into labor and everything that Ricky, Fred and Ethel had practiced for months all went out the window. The only thing that I could think to do was run around the house with a Safeway bag stuffing it full of underwear. It didn't get any better when I got to work either. Fortunately it was a temporary case of insanity and two hours after arriving at work we got the call from Emma to head to the hospital. I grabbed my trusty bag of underwear and was off.
Monica was waiting for me with her own bag and we headed out. We arrived at the hospital around 8:20 pm. Emma's contractions were fifteen minutes apart and the nurses felt that it would be quite some time before she delivered and left all of us alone for a while. This gave us a chance to get grounded a little. Emma loved the names that we had picked for the baby. She told us that her work was covering for her in case her mother called. The story would be that she was attending a three day seminar. Our plan seemed to be right on track. Then the nurse came in and checked Emma and told her that her body hadn't made much progress with the labor and they might have to send her home. With this statement it's as if Madison heard what the nurse said and decided that this didn't suit her plan at all.
Within fifteen minutes of that statement, Emma's contractions jumped from fifteen minutes to seven minutes, then 3 and finally 1 minute apart. We screamed for the nurse who didn't believe us. When the nurse appeared Emma asked if she could have something for the pain. The nurse checked her and said, "I'm sorry sweetheart, I can't give you anything because your baby is coming right now!" With that, it was like the clock struck 12 on a fancy Swiss clock. All of a sudden things dropped out of the walls. A doctor fully scrubbed popped up out of the floor, and a spare nurse appeared from the side closet. Oh boy! It was time to push!
With Monica bracing one of Emma's feet and me at her head, we pretended to assist Emma with her labor. We were providing emotional assistance possibly, but anyone having the privilege to observe this incredible life experience realizes right away that nobody but Emma's body will escort this baby into this world. Watching Emma give birth to her baby, our daughter, was the most reverent moment in my life. If you had the privilege of knowing Emma, you would know that she performed in labor much as she does in everyday life, with strength, courage and grace. She wanted nothing but the best for Madison, even if it meant allowing two old broads, almost total strangers, into her labor room so the first voices that Madison would hear were those of her parents. Then all of a sudden, there she was! Popping into this world, voicing her arrival, what a joyous sound. Now it was time to cut the cord.
After they cleaned Maddie up and checked her out, they wrapped her in a warm blanket and handed her to Momma. Since our true identity was on the hush hush, we waited for the room to clear, then we all hugged and kissed each other. Then Emma handed Madison to us. It felt real and surreal all at the same time. It felt real because you can touch, smell and feel this beautiful baby, but it felt surreal because the sacrifice that you have just witnessed and the gift that you are about to receive is so incredible that it's hard to believe that it's really happening.
We stayed for a few hours then reluctantly headed for our hotel to get some sleep. If Emma and the baby checked out okay in the morning she could check out of the hospital in the afternoon. After a sleepless night we drove back to the hospital first thing in the morning. Pam, our counselor, was there with us every step of the way via cell phone, giving us advice and support throughout the morning. We had made several visits to Emma and Madison, now it was time to lie low until Emma gave us a call on our cell phone to come and get her. At 4 p.m. we got the call. Pam's advice was for only one of us to go in and help Emma check out with the baby while the other waited outside. This all went smoothly and after a tense moment of getting the car seat placed right, we drove off to California where we all spent the night together. In the morning, we did our paperwork and then we all got in the car and drove Emma home. By far the most heart wrenching moment in this process was dropping Emma off. The enormity of what was actually taking place overwhelmed all of us. With strength, grief but most of all love, we all hugged each other, kissed and cried. Emma whispered words in Maddie's ear, then we forced ourselves to part with the promise that we would call her to let her know that we all got home safely. Madison is four years old, and we have a very good open adoption relationship with Emma and her mom (Emma's mom later found out about Madison and was very supportive after all!). Much like the difficulties I experienced during the nine months of carrying my first daughter, the trials and tribulations, the pain and the struggles that we experienced on our 2 1/2 year Journey to Madison became a faded memory, and without question, we would do it all over again.
Some people say that it takes a village to raise a child. We believe that it took our own special village, of which our open adoption specialists played a critical part, to bring us this beautiful child.