Sunday, February 20, 2011

And now?

After months and months of writing nothing on our blog, I'm finding this to be an invaluable place to store my thoughts and to process through my thoughts and feelings. Some blogs are entertainment and some are storytelling. I guess mine is therapy.

The big question on everyone's mind -- including my own -- is "now what?" The first and easiest answer is that we go back to the work of trying to become parents. I realized yesterday that part of what makes this experience so hard is that I now know what I'm missing. Before Stephen, I had a vision of what parenthood might feel like and it looked like something we'd want to do. Now that I've had that brief opportunity to be a mom and to see Bill as a dad, I have absolutely no doubt that it's what I want and what we MUST do. So it's really hard to go back to waiting when we've had that emotional and physical connection with a baby.

We didn't spend much time talking about alternatives to adoption. A few well-meaning folks suggested that we might get a *surprise* pregnancy out of this experience and wouldn't that be swell. OK, folks. I hate to be a total ass, but after three years of fertility bull$%*t, there is no such thing as forgetting my cycle or having any kind of relaxed month of fun. Suffice it to say that I lived that life for a long time and every month was agony (whether or not I was pregnant) and there's no way you can make me go back there. What I learned, though, is that I can't expect anyone else to understand this, unless they've been through it. So if you've said something like this to me, please know that I don't hold it against you. We just need to do this our way.

We had a follow up meeting with the agency last week. It was okay. They really heard us on the issues that we raised, which was good. I won't get into all of them here. Do I still believe that our agency is one of the most ethical and best in the country? Yes. Do I think there is still room for improvement? Definitely. And if you all know me, I had a lot to say about how improvements can be made. I don't know if they'll take our advice, but we'll monitor things and just see what happens.

So, for now, we're back in the pool. Waiting again. It feels incredibly depressing. I'm feeling really sad about milestones this year. I was so excited to celebrate our birthdays in April as new parents. I couldn't wait to show off our son at my 20th high school reunion in June. Christmas was going to be amazing with our nearly one-year-old. And now it's just back to some sort of normal life, with no baby.

Those that know me well, have seen that for each year of not having a baby, I seem to get a purse. It's not a baby, but there is comfort in carrying around a nice, soft, leather bag... It started with a black leather number from Coach. Then the ante moved up to a Michael Kors, then onto Tory Burch. I got a summery Kate Spade last year. Then, in January, I got the bag I was really hoping for -- a diaper bag. Sassy and fun and practical. No frills. Nothing fancy. But this was the purse of my dreams. So now, while the diaper bag waits for me in the nursery, I have to decide if I'm going to give into my indulgence again... Please, God, let me have a baby before I drop $1K on a Louis Vuitton...

Thursday, February 10, 2011


'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

So sang my dear friend Mimi, accompanied by my dear friend Premila at our wedding: November 9, 2002. Despite the heartache of the last week, I am trying to spending some time thinking about the many gifts I have.

I know that I live a very lucky and blessed life. I have a supportive and loving family, there for good times and bad and who raised me to love deeply and to approach life with an open heart and mind. I have an amazing husband and a strong marriage, built on a foundation of honesty and complete trust, and that sustains me and brings me incredible joy. I have the best friends anyone could ever want who have come out for me in a hundred ways over the last week: calling, emailing, texting, bringing by food, sending flowers and plants, giving me shoulders to cry on and ears to listen and crying with us, for our sorrow is their sorrow… I have the gift of good health and the insurance to keep it so. I have a great job with amazing and compassionate people and the flexibility to take the time to get through this grief. Yes, despite the hell of the last week, I know that in the grand scheme of the world, I am a very lucky person and I have far more than many, many people.

I also feel so fortunate to have received many gifts from Stephen in the two weeks I had with him. Quite frankly, I don’t know that what I gave him can measure up to all that he gave us. And these gifts will impact my life and the life of our forever child. Among them:

1) He brought us joy. In the two short weeks we had with Stephen, he made us incredibly happy. It was just pure joy to hold him and to feed him, to change him and to burp him, to see him smile (yes, I know that was gas, but I’ll take it as a real smile) and to hear him coo. To see how much a tiny person changes in just two weeks was nothing short of a miracle.

2) He proved that love is stronger than genetics. When we decided to pursue adoption to create our family, we had to look at some very hard issues. What it would mean to raise a child that we did not bear? Would it take a long time for us to grow to love our child? Would a child, particularly one not of our race, feel like “ours?” And we learned with Stephen that we could love fiercely from the earliest of days and that a child from adoption could feel as deeply ours as if I birthed him myself. That it was for us, quite frankly, impossible to resist loving a baby.

3) He showed me that I am ready. The night that we found out that Ying had chosen us as adoptive parents, I had a complete meltdown, terrified that we weren’t ready to be parents. After all, we had a pretty great life already -- enjoying good dinners, flexible schedules, carefree lives, fun with friends (and wine), disposable income and plenty of sleep. Was I really ready for all that to end? Was this really what I wanted all along?! Thank you, Stephen, for showing us that the answer is yes, yes, yes. We were (and are) ready to jump, head first, into parenthood.

4) He gave me a fierce determination to be a parent. He showed me that Bill is going to be an incredible father – loving and engaged and joyful. He showed me that I am going to be a great mother and that I can learn to put aside my micro-managing of all situations so that Bill can have his own relationship with our child. He showed us that Bill and I are great as a team – we each fed, burped, changed and held him and passed him back and forth seamlessly in our time with him. He showed me that being a parent is as incredible as I could ever hope it to be and he left me knowing that it is what I am meant to do.

Thank you, Stephen, for all that you gave us in our short time together. You have given us the strength to continue our journey and whether it be one month, one year or five years, we WILL be parents.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Goodbye, Stephen.

While Bill tells our story so eloquently, I wanted to express our experiences in my own words as part of my own healing process.

On January 5, we were matched with a local birthmom. On January 13, we met her. On January 19, her son was born. I held birthmom's hand for the c-section. I was the first to hold him. I was the first to feed him. We named him together: Stephen Chanon Walker Murray. Stephen is my father's name, Bill's middle name, and the middle name of two preceding generations of Murrays. Chanon is the name that birthmom chose. She is Thai and it means "thirst for knowledge" in Thai. Walker is my mom's maiden name. He was born at a healthy 8 lbs. and 20.5 inches.

We spent every day, all day, at the hospital with birthmom and Stephen. While her friends and family came and went, we were there to care for her and to care for baby. To get her water when she was thirsty. To make a McDonald's run when she was hungry for non-hospital food. To comfort her when she was in pain or feeling sad. She was reassuring, wanting us to know that she wasn't changing her mind. She had been working with the agency for about seven months, and was confident in her decision to make an adoption plan.

She chose us because she wanted an open adoption. She wanted to visit Stephen and we wanted that, too. We wanted an involved birthmom. One who would help our child to understand the unique story that brought him to us. One who would help connect our child to his cultural heritage and biological family history. One who would be an extended part of our family -- "the new American family" as I joked in the hospital. We all laughed.

Because of DC paperwork, Stephen had to go with one of our agency's foster families before he could be in our custody. Marilyn and Chris and their niece Colleen took exceptional care of Stephen. He was loved, held, fed, washed and kissed. And we visited him nearly every day. It was more than an hour for us to go to the Virginia town where they live (and much more in traffic), but no distance was too far. When we were there, we fed and diapered him. We held him while he slept. We played with him and cooed with him when he was awake. We fell madly, wildly, head-over-heels in love with him. We may have been separated by genes, but we he was as much our child as if I had given birth to him myself.

I sent photos of him to birthmom and we exchanged texts often. We were setting up her first visit to see him since his birth. She was preparing to go back to work.

My friends threw me the most amazing, joyous baby shower. Friends sent boxes of their own children's clothing. We set up Stephen's nursery: crib, changing table, book cases. We renewed our Costco membership and bought wipes and formula. Bill installed the car seat. We reorganized our kitchen cabinets for all the bottles. We were ready to bring Stephen home.

And then, the call.

Birthmom changed her mind. She wants to parent the baby. An outcome that was so wildly beyond our imaginations, given the "perfect" situation and relationship that we had with her. With assurance from the agency that she was "doing well" and "looking forward to going back to work." Which may have been exactly what she was telling them, but clearly what wasn't going on in her mind.

Having never been able to make it beyond seven weeks of pregnancy myself, I can't imagine the onslaught of post-pregnancy hormones. And as someone who has done everything in her power to try and become a mother for the better part of the last five years, I can't imagine having to make the decision that the best option is for another person to raise your child. So I can only pretend to know birthmom's anguish. Her vulnerability. Her emotional pain, resonated in the physical pain from her c-section.

That pain was powerful. And timely. At her most vulnerable moment, she was influenced by family that it was best to keep him in the family. A changed financial situation gave her options that she hadn't had before.

I have a million questions. What happens to us? How will I ever move beyond this grief? Will he be okay? Will his mother, who shares an apartment with two other women, make sure that he has male role models? Will she end up raising him or will she feel (as she originally felt) that being a parent is too much? How long will it be before her financial support dries up? What will become of him then? Will any other child ever be so beautiful to us? Will we be able to keep our hearts open for another child after all we have been through? Why does the world hate us so much, preventing us from being parents at every turn? How do I forgive her for stealing our family name – the only boy’s name we ever chose, with connections to my family and to Bill’s?

Last Wednesday, at 12:00 noon, we said goodbye to Stephen Chanon Walker Murray. Our almost son, who will be in our hearts forever. I wish for you a life of joy, opportunity and meaning. Wherever you are, know that you are deeply loved.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Adoption Fail

How to even start this. I apologize because this is going to be crappy, choppy writing. It is totally stream of consciousness and I don’t have the inclination to edit. This will be repetitive for some of you but I’ll start at the beginning of this story. As many of you know, we were approved (in Virginia) to adopt a little less than a year ago. We have been planning on an open domestic adoption. On January 5th we received a call from our Agency that a birth mother had picked us and that her due date was January 17th. So we scrambled to get things together, which we managed to do mostly because of the generosity of you all and many others. We met the birth mother (Ying) on the 13th and had, by all accounts, a wonderful meeting with her.

On paper this whole match was about as good a situation as one could ask for. The birth mom had been getting pre-natal care for most of her pregnancy, had been working with the Agency for most of her pregnancy and, we assumed, had really thought through her decision to make an adoption plan for her baby.

At our meeting we expressed to her what we hoped to name the baby and said we would like to have one of his names incorporate Ying’s Thai heritage. We walked away from that meeting so confident as did the Agency personnel.

So on the 19th we get a call from that Agency that Ying is at the hospital and would like us to be there. We arrive at the hospital and spend time with Ying in her room as she is in labor. Fast forward to that evening, and the doctor has decided that Ying needs to have a C-section to deliver. Ying tells the Agency social worker that she would like Julie to be in the OR with her while the C-section is performed. Julie suits up and is there, holding Ying’s hand through the whole thing and is actually the first person to hold little Stephen.

Because of the C-section Ying has to stay in the hospital until Saturday and the baby stays with her. We visit every day (making sure that it is OK with her) and get to spend quality time with Stephen and with Ying who was going to be part of our extended family. This was, after all, a completely open adoption and we had agreed there would be regular visits.

During this time we’re also racing to finish up some outstanding paperwork. Because we had moved to a new home in DC from Virginia, the Agency needed to update our homestudy with a visit from the social worker and we needed to get our FBI background check redone and get a DC Child Abuse database check. Now indulge me for a moment as I rant about the FBI background check. I see the purpose in this background check – no question. Here’s what I don’t understand. We had the same check done to be approved in Virginia – fingerprints are sent to the FBI to be run through their NCIC to make sure we aren’t criminals. If we had still been in Virginia this check was still valid – not like a lot of time had passed BUT states (or in this case a state and DC but it would be the same if we had moved anywhere) don’t have reciprocity. So it wouldn’t have mattered if the check had been done the week before, DC wouldn’t recognize it. Luckily we had started this process before Christmas and before we knew there was a match. So this check came back (negative of course) during the course of events. /rant. So what all this means is that until the paperwork comes through, we can’t take Stephen home – he has to be with a foster family (I suppose in retrospect this was a bit of a blessing). Now he was placed with a truly wonderful foster family who took fantastic care of him but they were in fucking Haymarket, Virginia (yes fucking needs to be part of the name). This, with no traffic (rare) is over an hour each way. Maybe the Agency didn’t have anyone closer who was ready to take a baby but maybe they just didn’t look hard enough – I don’t know and my anger is probably getting in the way here. So after Stephen was discharged we would trek out to see him in fucking Haymarket. At first every day but we realized that the foster family had a life too and so cut back our visits to maybe every other day. I was managing to still work part time and eventually went back full time so as not to blow through all my leave before we even got him home. By the way (I warned you I would ramble), once our paperwork came through we still couldn’t take him home because we had to wait for ICPC (Interstate Compact for the Protection of Children) approval, which needed to be signed off by Virginia and DC. That would only take 7-10 days, during which we would be with Stephen but couldn’t leave Virginia. Of course through all this we were also waiting for the revocation period to end. Every state has a different period of time during which a birth parent can change their mind after signing a document giving up custody of their child. In Virginia that time period is 7 days.

So here we are, visiting Stephen (Julie more than me since I am working now) as often as possible, hoping the DC child abuse database check comes in soon when I get a call from the Agency telling me the birth mother has changed her mind. I am glad she called me instead of Julie because I can’t imagine her alone while I try to race home via public transportation.

That was yesterday (Tuesday) afternoon.

This morning (Wednesday) we had to wake up, get ourselves out the door, drive to Falls Church, Virginia (at least it wasn’t fucking Haymarket) to see Stephen for the last time and say goodbye. As far as goodbye visits go, it was perfect. He was awake, happy and active. We got to feed him and change his diaper. We had him for about an hour. Then we had to hand him over, walk out the door, collect the things we had given the foster family to use like the bassinet and drive away – family sans Stephen.

Now Ying has every right to make this decision and who knows, maybe it is the right decision. But from my position it can’t be. While her circumstances have changed a little I don’t believe they’ve changed enough to make that much of a difference. Yes I’m sure I am biased but I’m also sure that I’m right. So as my brain hurts itself trying to apply logic where none exists, I am left with nothing. No good reason for any of this other than to have Stephen in our lives if only for a short time. While it is so painful now, somewhere deep down I know that this brief time makes it worthwhile.

I still believe in the Agency we’re using and wouldn’t change them but I do have questions about this situation and, at the moment, believe there were dots not connected that should have been. Topics not delved into deep enough. You can be sure my questions will be more probing and more precise next time and if I have even a hint of something that doesn’t feel right, I will run that issue to ground and to hell with anyone who gets annoyed or pissed off with me. If given any choice at all, I cannot, will not and should not trust my situation to anyone else but my family.

I don’t know anything about Stephen’s future anymore – I don’t know who exactly will raise him, what country he will be raised in, whether he will have a father figure or even if his name will remain as Stephen. All I have is my love for him and my deepest desire and fondest wishes for all the love and joy he needs for a wonderful life.