By: Wendy Rhein
This week marks the second anniversary of Sam’s adoption. I had started the story of how he came into my life several months ago, ending it with my leaving the hospital with him, uncertain about how long he would be a part of my family after a potential birth father vowed to challenge the adoption. I revisit that awful, sleepless, cherished time this time of year, and am so grateful and humbled for the experience.
The facts: Sam’s birth mother lied about a potential birth father because she knew he was against the adoption plan. As I was preparing to leave the hospital with Sam, only two days old, her mother burst in, having called the potential birth father’s family, and told the attorney and birth mother that the adoption would be challenged. I sat in the nursery, Sam in his going home clothes, joyfully waiting to put him in his car seat and take him home to meet his big brother, when my attorney came in and advised me to leave Sam at the hospital until all of this could be sorted out. She said the adoption was likely to fail and I needed to move on. I made two frantic phone calls, prayed, and made the best decision I could and would ever make. I put Sam in the car and drove home in the February sleet.
The reality: For the next four months I cried every day. Sometimes the wailing, uncontrollable, choking cries of desperation. Sometimes the silent, constant tears of overwhelming sadness. In the middle of all of this, I found myself suddenly unemployed, the soul financial support of two small children, wondering every day if that was the day I became the mother of one, not two. Each time my attorney called my soul froze. She kept me informed: she spoke with the potential birth father and he said he wanted Sam. He said he was lied to; having thought the birth mother had had an abortion. He gave an address at which we could mail all the documents. He was served by mail and had 30 days to respond. I waited. I hired a private investigator. He was served in person by a sheriff and had another 30 days. I waited.
As I waited and waited, Sam grew. I was now home with him all day as I looked for work. We bonded. I held him and cried. I held him and tried to memorize every detail of his scrunched up face and silky black hair. I talked to Nathan, a pre-schooler who loved his little brother and would tell anyone who asked (and often those who never asked) about his little brother that we were going to love him forever but his birth mom might need him back. I think it helped him to say it out loud. I know it helped me to hear it. We settled into a rhythm of feedings, sleeping, taking walks, and crying. Both of us. I talked to him all day every day. I was sleep deprived and holding on to my sanity by a thin thread. In retrospect I know that Nathan saved my life during that time. I stayed grounded because of him. His joy, his every day-ness, kept me present and focused.
We got a court date for the end of May. Still no answer from the potential birth father, I was cautiously hopeful. I continued to interview for jobs all over the eastern seaboard. I needed a change. If we lost Sam, I needed a change. If Sam stayed, I needed a change. There was so much change going on and the only thing I felt I could control was where we were going to live. I had no control over what happened to my sons. But however it turned out, I could make my family safe, whether it was a family of three or a family of two. So I focused on that. I could provide a safe home where strangers don’t try and take my children away.
During all of this, Sam’s birth mother disappeared. I had tried to contact her in the first few weeks, wanting her to talk to the potential birth father and beg him to let Sam stay. Tell him I’m a good person, that Sam is safe and well cared for. That we all love him. I cannot imagine what she was going through in her own recovery and grief and anger. She was also a parent to a small child. She had to be present for her daughter. I hoped she was. And I was so angry at her. So very angry.
The court date arrived and we all went. Three dear friends joined me, my mother, Nathan, Sam, and my lawyer at the court house. One of the first things my attorney told me upon arrival was that the birth father could still show up. He had the court date. We were not done yet. I recall very little from the morning. I remember Nathan in his first suit. I remember the small talk we made in the hallway as the documents were reviewed. I remember sitting across from the elevator bank, watching for the birth father’s arrival. I remember that Sam fell asleep on my shoulder just before the judge invited us into chambers. I remember that the judge gave Nathan his gavel to keep him occupied and he took a strong whack on the glass top conference table. I remember answering some brief questions with Sam’s drool soaking my dress, his warm little body sleeping through the most important moment of our family’s life. And I remember the judge congratulating me and Nathan suddenly grabbing me and Sam and saying “so we get to keep him forever now?” Yes my love, we get to keep him.
The last week of May is family week for me. It marks my brother’s birthday, Nathan’s birthday, and Sam’s adoption day. The whole week reminds me of our connections through love and commitment, a family that will literally go to the ends of sanity for each other and reel in the ones who are at the edge. The last week of May is the week that made my life.