Two years ago, my mother and I were stuck in a dingy motel suite in downtown New Orleans, eating take-out dinners and canned goods. Though we longed to be at home, she and I agreed it was one of the best Christmas seasons either of us had ever celebrated.
We were in the Crescent City to pick up my newborn daughter, who popped into the world a few weeks early. Her arrival sparked one of those classic misadventures as I set out by car, after midnight — a comedy of errors involving a flat tire on a frigid night, a wee-hours rescue by an old friend (thanks, Jim!), and hours of pacing at Hartsfield-Jackson airport before I could procure a flight to New Orleans.
The high (or low) drama all proved worthwhile. My daughter had arrived at a perfectly healthy, if tiny, 5 pounds 15 ounces, with a set of lungs in no need of repair. Her smushed little face reminded me of an old cartoon character, "Atom Ant." I thought she was beautiful.
My adoption story had begun a little more than a year earlier, after a decade of dawdling had finally forced me to make a decision: Do you want to forgo the opportunity to rear a child, to know the peculiar joys that only motherhood can bring? Can you do this alone? Are you ready for the challenges, the sacrifices, the upsets? Are you too old for this?
I called my mother and asked her to have her prayer circle pray for me as I searched for an answer. She said: "Do it!" I said: "Don't you want to pray about it first?" She said: "I will. Do it!" My mom had only one grandchild then, and she clearly wanted more.
My next phone call was to friends at Families First, a premier Atlanta social services agency. Founded in 1890 to run an orphanage for homeless girls, the charitable organization has provided a range of services to families since then, including home studies for adoptive families. I was sure its experts would bring me to my senses. Instead, I met nothing but enthusiastic support.
I needed it to navigate the adoption landscape, which has changed for the better since the old days of scandal, secrecy and sealed records. Not only have more lenient sexual mores eroded the sense of shame about out-of-wedlock pregnancies, but American culture has also expanded its definition of "family." Adoption has become a legitimate route to parenthood for older couples, gay couples and singles, as well as traditional couples who want to exercise that option.
Young pregnant women who are seeking stable homes for their birth children have more options, as well. According to Chuck Johnson, a spokesman for the National Council for Adoption, most domestic adoptions these days are at least "semi-open" — meaning the birth mother and adoptive parents have exchanged some identifying information.
As I started the process, social workers advised me to put together a short but photo-laden scrapbook to introduce myself to young birth mothers. I did, and I used various agencies and contacts to circulate my self-portrait. By late August, a private agency called to say a birth mother wanted to talk to me over the phone.
I bonded with K., a friendly and appealing but impoverished 20-year-old who already had a toddler. I flew to New Orleans to accompany her on a visit to the midwife, where I heard the baby's heartbeat. I was in love.
There were a few hurdles — the private agency proved less than forthright, the birth father proved uncooperative — that I cleared with the help of an able adoption attorney. Still, a low-grade anxiety accompanied me for months: Will the baby be healthy? What if the birth mother changes her mind?
There were phone conversations that I spent reassuring K. — who was getting grief from several family members and friends — that she was making a courageous and loving decision. She cried. I fretted.
But everything worked out well. The day after my daughter was born, a nurse at University Hospital put a tiny bundle in my arms and said, "Here's your baby doll." We're celebrating her second birthday, but I'm the one who received the awesome gift.
© 2010 Atlanta Journal-Constitution