As an adoptive parent, I am drawn to Joseph in the biblical story of Jesus’s birth. He is asked to raise a child who is not biologically his own in a kind of open adoption where the biological father, God, will continue to have great influence. I can vouch for the influence of biology on children as both a welcome and puzzling feature of adoptive parenting!
Waiting for a child to be born is very different for a prospective adoptive parent than it is for a biological parent who plans to raise her/his child. Although both kinds of waiting include concerns about the baby’s and mother’s health and wellbeing, the biological parents rest assured that the baby is theirs to raise if they so choose. Adoptive parents can never be completely sure that the baby (or child) is theirs until all the legalities are in place days, months, or sometimes years after the child is born. But detachment from the process is not an option for prospective adoptive parents. A child deserves to be loved, claimed, and nurtured from the moment s/he is born – if not earlier. Still, the loving, claiming, and nurturing pre-birth comes with risks of loss and heartbreak because the biological parents can change their minds.
Back in 1999, my husband John and I decided to pursue another adoption – our 4th. We posted a letter to potential birthmothers online. We followed leads that did not pan out, including a young brother and sister of an unemployed couple in Idaho, a pregnant homeless woman who decided to keep her baby, and an older, professional woman who wanted too much money. It was confusing and emotionally draining. But, as John said, “The worst thing that can happen is that we raise three great kids.” We persisted.
Then, in mid-December, we received a call from Stacy, a 23-year-old, college educated, former Marine, and professional horseback rider who chose us to adopt her baby boy due to be born in February. Our relationship to her is a long complicated story that includes flying her to Atlanta from Texas to meet our family, an emergency trip to the ER when she started having contractions, hiring lawyers and social workers in both states, costly living expenses, and drama related to the baby’s alleged father. But we liked Stacy. She was direct, not afraid to voice her opinions, worldly, bright, and articulate. Together, we agreed to name the baby Luke, and we talked or emailed daily with Stacy while we waited for his birth. We planned what would happen in the hospital, including a ritual presided over by the chaplain, transferring the baby from Stacy to us.
In early February, two things happened. I cancelled our online adoption letter to potential birthmothers and our adoption plan with Stacy began to unravel. The latter was not clear to us until weeks later when she left us depleted of all our savings and wondering what we had done wrong. In mid-March, I wrote an email to Stacy:
I’ve been unpacking the suitcase that was packed for two months and putting away the little baby things. That’s hard. But what is harder is seeing the children struggle with the loss of ‘Luke.’ Last night I was helping K.J. undress and get ready for bed. His shirt was a little snug so I suggested it might be time to give it to someone smaller. K.J. said, “How about Luke?” I said, “K.J., do you remember that I told you Stacy has decided to keep her baby? He won’t be coming to live with us.” K.J. hung his head and said, “Then I won’t have a little brother.” That was tough to hear.
…But do know this: If, after some time passes, you begin to think you’ve made the wrong decision–we are still here. The Falcos will not pursue another adoption. This is the end of the line for us. For financial and emotional reasons we can’t start over again. But we are here for your child. Remember that if you ever need us.
Surprising us, Stacy changed her mind again, and we took another roller coaster ride up toward adoption and then down into despair. I know you will understand what I mean when I say: There are times when the darkness seems to engulf you. Hopes and dreams are shattered. It is the blackest of blacks… But then you look up and see the stars and remember that there is something more, something greater than the darkness. Although the starlight does not obliterate the darkness, it offers a different perspective on it.
And so it was that in the midst of this last chaotic ride with Stacy, I got a voicemail from a pregnant woman in North Carolina named Teri who said she had seen our adoption letter on the Internet. This seemed strange to me because it had been over a month since our letter had been posted. Nonetheless, I called Teri the next day.
Teri told me that she was 32-years-old and having a baby due on May 12th. She found out she was pregnant five months earlier, but had been afraid of adoption because she thought the homes were unsafe - until she read our letter. She loved our letter and had been carrying it around in her car for a couple of months (which explained why she had a letter that was no longer online.) Her friends had encouraged her to call us.
How was I feeling? How could I consider making a new adoption plan with someone else so soon after Luke was gone, before I was done grieving? We didn’t have the money to start over. We were not sure we had the emotional strength to trust again.
But there was Teri, innocent and unknowing of all we had been through, telling me the Falcos were the family she wanted, sharing details that demonstrated how much attention she paid to our relationships to each of our children.
I went to Cannon Chapel, where John and I had been married, thinking I needed to fall apart enough to make room for a new spirit to enter. It didn’t happen exactly as I’d imagined, but I did hear two things that stayed with me: To love God, we have to love our brothers and sisters… God does not leave broken what God has made.
We took a leap of faith. Longer story short - baby Journey Leigh Falco was born on May 18, 2000 in Wilmington, NC and returned home with me to Atlanta on May 30th. The waiting was over.
I think about how Joseph might have felt while waiting for Jesus’s birth. He told God he would accept the role of father, but the days preceding the Son’s birth were bleak. He must have been feeling the shame of marrying a woman who was pregnant by another. He was poor. It was cold. And he couldn’t even find a decent room for his laboring wife to give birth. Nothing was going right… And then it did. God’s child was born. The star shone in the darkness. The whole of the circumstances – angels, shepherds, wise persons – let Joseph know it would be alright.
Sometimes things don’t work out the way we envision or plan, and it feels very, very dark. But what I think I’ve learned – and continue to learn again and again – is that if we allow ourselves to see the light in the darkness and trust the waiting, miracles can happen.
Before Journey was born, when I asked Teri about her reasons for making an adoption plan, she said this: “So that my baby can have the most healthy, balanced, and unconditional loving home possible. So he/she has the chance to know how to make it in this world. Every child deserves and has the right to be safe and feel safe and have unconditional love.”
Now that the miracle of God’s son has arrived, all that God asks from each of us, every day, is unconditional love. It is both the challenge and the promise of all that is yet to come.
Rebecca Patton Falco