Friday, November 29, 2019

Adoption Story: Marc and Sarah

If you've ever wanted a detailed, honest, and raw glimpse into the road to adoption; this is a beautiful one. Today Sarah is graciously sharing their family's journey of becoming a family of five. It includes honest, heartfelt prayers, questions from little boys wanting to become big brothers, candid insight into the effects of the wait on marriage, and what it looks like to have a relationship with a birth family. Sarah unpacks the holy and hard spaces of adoption, the wonder and often anxiety-producing wait for a child, and the beauty of learning that God is the author of good stories...

For years we waited, believing another was meant to be part of our happy, sometimes chaotic, always loving family. Until Ella Grace’s first parents chose us! We are humbled by their sacrificial decision made out of love – a gift we couldn’t repay in a hundred lifetimes. This is our story…

Until God opens the next door, praise him in the hallway.

They were years of hard: pregnancies with unending nausea, difficult deliveries ending in c-sections, a heartbreaking miscarriage, and then we lost our three-year battle with secondary infertility. Our fertility efforts stopped with I was matched to be a potential donor with a national marrow donor program. Agreeing to the donation process required me to not be pregnant and not get pregnant. How’s that for timing? We were asked to potentially save a stranger’s life. But, it required us to cease trying to create life – desperately wanted life.

All this was followed by an arduous adoption journey that started as a small glimmer years earlier. In April of 2016 a friend agreed to meet with me to discuss her family’s adoption journey – she told me about Christian Adoption Consultants (CAC). In February 2017, we met with Susan with CAC, and came away with reassurance on moving forward. Although, it still took us a little more time. Leaps of faith are hard.

In November 2017 we were finally ready. Or as ready as we were going to be. We signed papers with CAC and began our home study. Thank goodness for a very kind and understanding home study provider, because our first visit began with our son Hudson (age 6) asking how babies are made and ended with our son Beau (age 5) stating his favorite thing to do is “go potty outside.” Well, that went well. 

We were home study approved in December 2017. By the Spring, our family profile book was ready and we started applying with agencies. Even after we got started in earnest on our adoption journey, the wait was over a year. God has been trying to teach me patience for a very long time. 

Every situation we saw, I devoured in detail and carefully considered. When one felt right, I would discuss it with Marc to see if it felt right to him too. Our rule was that if we were to present, we both had to be all in. Throughout this process, I was very purposeful, but also very analytical. Regardless, how we got to the adoption agency we ultimately matched through – well, that can only be described as God stuff. More to come on that.

One night I laid in a tiny twin bed snuggling my 5-year old as he not-so-quickly-or-easily drifted off to sleep. As I so often did with both my boys, we talked about another baby in our hearts and also in our home someday. We talk about all the things big brothers would need to teach to a little sibling, what we would name him or her (Bacon was thrown out as an option, but didn’t make the cut), and how happy we would be. In a nudging I can only explain as God talking to me, my heart knew there would be another baby and that baby would come from “up north.” That didn’t make sense since every agency we were registered with was south of us. 

And that brings us back to how we found our adoption agency. One day on the way to a fertility appointment in an area I know well, I inexplicably took a wrong turn. I stopped to check my phone for directions and looked up to see I was parked in front of an adoption agency. What are the chances? It’s not like you see those on every corner. Oh, and as I redirected and pulled into the fertility clinic parking lot that day “Tomorrow” from Annie started playing. Huh. Anyway, although a small local agency, it’s name kept coming up in conversations. I felt a strong pull to it. And, hey, it was up north, if only a few miles north. Applying was a more laborious process than it was with the other agencies we were with, including an interview and being presented to their board. 

And then, we were declined. Because of their size, they did not feel they could meet our needs in the timeframe we desired. The rejection stung. I was confused. *Meanwhile, that very week, a little soul was conceived somewhere much farther north.* The little local agency recommended another agency, and so we applied. 

Through all of our agencies, we saw 138 situations total. I know this because I “controlled” something by tracking each of the situations in a spreadsheet. We tried to present on three situations, that for various reasons never happened. We actually presented on ten situations with no match. We weren’t being chosen. And all you get is something along the lines of “another family was chosen.” Why not us though? Is it because we already have two kids? Because they are bio kids? Are we too old? Too professional? Too Midwestern? Too boring? Did I not let our imperfections show enough? Too much? Too something? …Yep, it's definitely the too old thing. 

Things got hard in our marriage. We struggled. We wanted it all to bring us closer together. But, yet again, it was hard. Marc was so grateful for our two beautiful, healthy children that he felt guilty asking God for another. For me, this child was as real as our two boys. With much angst, Marc and I agreed that if we hadn’t matched by year end, we would have to be done with this process. One of our boys asked if we were ever going to “get a baby,” and for the first time, I responded that I wasn’t sure we were. 

I cried to my sister that I had another child out there and just couldn’t get to him/her. I leaned heavily on my family, our neighborhood of dear friends, and my Building Better Moms group at church. We are so grateful for the other moms and dads, who we now count as friends, who came into our lives and were willing to shine a light as we traveled this adoption path they themselves have traveled. I had hard things to work through and they never judged, but only supported and lifted up.

We loved you before we ever met you.

And then, on our eleventh presentation, we got a call…..

The call caught me completely off guard. This was the very first situation we had seen through this new agency. I called Marc and couldn’t get the words out fast enough. And then, later that night, a call with the biological mom and dad, Faith and Matt. Faith and Matt of Montana (way up north) were expecting a baby girl! They already have one little girl together, Athena, who would be only eleven months old when this baby would arrive. They selflessly wanted the best lives for both their daughters, and knew they weren’t in a place to parent a second child. They were so open during our call, so brave, and so awesome. By the end of the call it was clear: They chose us! Marc and I stared at each other in awe, unable to form words. And then we stayed up half the night talking through every detail, unable to contain our pure joy. Marc’s family has two generations of all boys. Adding a girl was literally our wildest dream. 

For the next six weeks, we had regular calls. Sometimes Marc and I would get anxious between calls. But Faith and Matt were always steadfast and resolute in their decision, which was incredibly gracious and provided us so much comfort. They told us they wanted us to be in the room for the delivery, they wanted us to be the first to hold her, and they asked us to name her so they could start calling her by her name. We named her Mary Ella Grace. 

I struggled with guilt in the days leading up to our departure for Montana. It felt unnatural. I didn’t want Faith, Matt, and Athena to suffer. I wanted Ella Grace to have her biological family. I wondered how we would all be able to do this. The day before we flew out was my hardest day. There was so much anticipation and stress, and there were lots of tears and prayers. Again, it was hard. Often, life with Jesus looks different than easy.

We met in Montana. We’re making it forever.

While Matt & Marc anxiously awaited her arrival together in the hospital waiting area, I got to be in the surgery room with Faith for the delivery. It went so fast. Faith was strong and calm. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life - watching Ella Grace enter the world. 

April 11, 2019 journal entry: Today I saw your face for the first time, and I knew. My heart knew. Baby girl, everything is going to be alright. Momma is here. Forever.

We earned ourselves forty-eight hours in the NICU with baby girl needing some extra oxygen. It was a harrowing first few hours, during which we were very close to being life-flighted to a bigger hospital. I found myself standing in the corner crying helplessly while they stuck her time and again trying to get an IV into her tiny body and start fluids without blowing a vein. She did not appreciate all this nonsense. Matt held vigil outside the NICU window, making sure she was alright. It was incredibly sweet and powerful, and still makes me tear up every time I think about it. I had to wait until late that first night to hold sweet Ella Grace. And when I did, angels sang to us. It was one of the happiest moments of my life. 

The hospital stay was such a time of bonding. Marc and I were grateful to have a room and to share with Faith and Matt those first precious days with our (all of our) little girl. I spent many hours chatting with Faith at Ella Grace’s crib side in the NICU, both of us taking turns snuggling her. Faith and Matt also had a private time of holding her and talking to her – I envision them whispering into her ear about who she is and how much they love her. 
The first time our boys met Ella Grace via video call, she was in the NICU and they spontaneously began singing her a lullaby. The second time was in the moments after Ella Grace was legally placed with us, and they ran around the room screaming with joy.

All the nurses turned out to see what Ella Grace’s amazing head of hair was going to do when she got her first bath. We had the best nurses …one named Mary, one who was the mama bear and was adopted herself, a sweet newbie in training who let me listen in and learn with her, one who took such good care of Faith, and the one who heroically saved us from that helicopter ride. And then there was our lactation consultant, who became a fast friend and gave me the best shot possible nursing this little one.

Discharge day was emotional. Marc walked Faith to her car and then came back to our room and broke down. We care so much about every one of these beautiful people that are now part of our lives. And we are in awe of Faith in all her strength.

There’s no place like home.

We thank the Lord for my mom, who took such good care of our boys while we were gone, as only their grandma could. Marc flew home after a week in Montana, while I impatiently waited out ICPC missing all my boys. And by “waited,” I mean I showed up at Montana ICPC with our beautiful newborn nestled to my chest, and pleaded with them to get me home by Easter. Meanwhile, our attorney was finessing things on the Kansas side. And it worked – (once they finally had all the paperwork) Montana and Kansas processed in an unprecedented four hours total. 

After ten days in Montana, the flight back by my (exhausted) self with a newborn was harder than I expected. Imagine lots of luggage and baby gear, and a mom with germaphobe tendencies (that’s me) with a newborn baby traversing through airports and on planes, and you get the idea. Oh, also imagine a giant blow-out from said baby.

We were home for Easter with our family. And our boys got their first long-awaited snuggles with their new little sister - this little sister for whom we had all longed and prayed. God is good.

Surprise! It’s a girl!

We didn’t tell many people during the 6-week match, and blew their minds when we announced that this sweet baby girl had joined our family. I posted to social media a sweet photo of Ella Grace with the caption “Some day she will move mountains.” A friend responded, “Pretty sure she already has..” Truer words have never been spoken.

On June 3, 2019, we made it official in a court of law. Baby girl, we are forever yours.

So crazy hard and so crazy good.

I nursed for four and a half years straight between our two boys, and it is a blessing to be able to nurse Ella Grace too. It turns out relactation is a rather daunting, and those with expertise hard to come by - shout out to the two who supported me in our journey. Women’s bodies are amazing and Ella Grace and I are doing it together. 

I walk around on a cloud all day with the peace that our family is finally complete. I can’t get enough of this precious child, and am so grateful of the incredible gift we have been given. Daddy is wrapped around Ella Grace’s little finger, and she looks at him like he is her whole world. Hudson remains steadfast in upholding his big brother duties, and is so sweet in making sure his little sister is always protected. Beau has zealously taken on his new big brother role, his heart having always known he would be one. He is even somewhat of a baby whisperer. Ella Grace can’t get enough of her brothers. She thinks they are hilarious. She is right. She also adores her two pups, Agnes & Bernice, and laughs with delight when they sneak in licks to her little baby fingers and toes. She is such a perfect baby  – we joke you have to go to Montana to get the good ones.

Along the way, I wanted to roll my eyes every time well-meaning folks would talk about God having a specific baby out there for us ...because “free will”, and all these decisions we are making, and control issues. But, this is the exact child that we were intended to love forever. I have received that message in so many ways so loud and clear. And, through adoption, our hearts and lives will be forever intertwined with Faith and Matt and Athena. We are all family now. It will probably be messy and hard at times. Although, not if they can help it, because they are pure awesome. But it will also be beautiful and good. So, so good. And so very worth it. This is our family. And that is how it came to be.

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