I’ve never been a big believer in “signs from above” or cosmic signals or any of that flimflam. But the package I saw on my doorstep on Jan. 6 gave me pause: a free sample of Enfamil formula.
It was the day that my wife, Rachel, and I were going to meet the birth mother of a tiny preemie in the neonatal intensive-care unit of a local hospital; if all went well, our lives would change forever, as we would be meeting our new daughter for the first time as soon as the following day.
We hadn’t signed up for any mailing lists while we were “in profile” (that’s how prospective adoptive parents describe the time when birth mothers are reviewing smiling images of the two of you cooking, traveling and looking at autumnal gourds). For the life of us we couldn’t figure out where this box that said, “Hello, Mom” on the side came from.
“How did they know?” I asked Rachel when I showed her the package when she came home from work. Rachel is more of a believer in otherworldly nudges, but still couldn’t believe the package I was showing her. It was as if someone somewhere knew that the meeting would go just fine. We didn’t have much time to contemplate that, though, as we rushed out the door to one of the biggest appointments of our lives.
Luckily, the meeting did go well. We met an intelligent and artistic young woman whose reasons for doing the placement were well thought out, and she found us charming enough to text our agency’s casework supervisor her wholehearted approval of us soon after she left. So the next day, after frantically trying to finish up our work, we were to take the 45-minute drive to the hospital to meet our tiny daughter for the first time.
I never thought I would be a dad, for a lot of reasons. But after I married Rachel, the idea of being a parent began to grow on me. We started looking into domestic open adoption in 2011, not because of infertility, but because of our age and some health issues Rachel has that could have made any pregnancy risky as far as her well-being was concerned. We knew it would be a long process, and we would both be into our 40s by the time we got a placement, but little did I realize how long it would actually take.
It was mostly our fault. It took us a long time to get out of our own way and stop dragging our feet as far as completing the paperwork, home study and all of the other preliminary stuff was concerned. At one point, all of the other couples in our preadoption support group had suddenly either gotten babies or were close to getting babies, and my wife and I were still wrangling over the legal language of the agreement with our primary agency. This is what happens when you’re married to a public-sector lawyer who is well versed in family law, and maybe what happens when you’ve both led independent lives for so long, and can’t let go of a fear that you won’t know what to do with a baby once one arrives.
We found out about the possibility of adopting this little girl over the holidays, while we were having a very empty and unsatisfying vacation in Cape May. We were heartbroken over turning down a possible placement over the summer, and during the intervening six months we didn’t hear a word about other possibilities. It’s hard to enjoy the childless life of nice dinners, wine tastings and brewery tours when various birth mothers are looking at your smiling mugs and saying no, and you’re waiting on a child that may never come.
The baby who is now our daughter was in the neonatal intensive-care unit, born at 28 weeks gestation at an almost impossibly small weight of one and a half pounds. The insurance coverage for her birth and NICU stay wasn’t settled. And, after the birth mother reluctantly identified the birth father, he refused to sign away his rights, despite the fact that he had never visited the baby (he was later served notice that those rights would expire in 20 days if he raised no objection). There were a dozen reasons to shy away from this placement, too.
But the thought of this tiny girl – who was up to a “hefty” two and a half pounds – sleeping in an NICU without anyone to hold her was too much for us to bear. When we finally saw her, this bitty thing in her Isolette with a red bow on her little head, pasted on by the nurses, all of the worries about the birth father, her preemie status, our age and even that we were doing a transracial adoption immediately melted. We could tell she was the fighter and “rock star” that the agency’s case worker had said she was.
Now she is Evyn Carla Grace Keller, our little peanut: Evyn, ostensibly a form of the boy’s name Evan (one of its meanings is “young warrior”); Carla, the name her birth mother gave her; and Grace, a name Rachel has always loved. Soon, she will come home, Rachel will go back to work, and I will become her primary caregiver, working as a journalist from home.
This is going to be a hell of an adventure.
Oh, and we figured out where that package came from: When we submitted our profile in April, we started a registry with a large baby item retailer. Even though we said we were adopting, they still asked us to fill in a due date. Not knowing what else to put, Rachel randomly entered “January 2015.” So now I’m starting to wonder what she knew that I didn’t.