Editor’s Note: This is a guest post written by S’s speech therapist Michelle. She is a beautiful person (inside and out) who has dedicated her career to helping children with speech disorders. A few months ago, she and her husband Jon became parents to a baby boy through an open adoption. The story of Baby Grayson’s arrival, as told by Michelle, is very moving and speaks volumes about the benefits of open adoption (something I personally knew very little about). I hope you find this story as inspiring I do.
It’s said that no two adoptions are alike regardless of the type (open, semi open, or closed). So, I can’t promise that you’ll relate if you have adopted, or that you’ll experience the same situation we have if you are thinking about adoption. It is a story about how 2 families have become 1 through a (very) open adoption, and how our son Grayson Kent will grow up lucky enough to experience the unconditional love not only of his adopted family but of his birth family as well.
Jon and I decided in the Spring of 2010 to begin the process of adoption. We had educated ourselves quite thoroughly about this decision and had decided to adopt domestically. We researched, read books, spent time on the Internet, and met other parents who had successfully adopted domestically. We would refer to this time as the point in our lives where one plan (having biological children) was put aside, and another amazing plan (adopting a child) was warmly embraced.
There were many, many details involved in the initial steps of finding a birth mother, such as meetings with our lawyer, building our website, setting up separate phone lines, and preparing ourselves emotionally for what lay ahead. I could tell you countless stories about the many women/potential birth mothers we met before hearing from our wonderful birth mother, Kelly (*names changed). Those stories, we feel, are equivalent to a pregnant woman going through the physical labor of childbirth; it can be difficult and painful to go through but the end result–and newborn baby of your own–makes it all worthwile.
We heard from Kelly via email only 5 weeks after we officially began advertising online. She was from Tennessee and our lawyer told us, “They [Tennesseeans] like to talk a lot!” Sure enough, Kelly provided lots of information and we responded in kind.
For the next three months we talked; first every few days, then every day and then added texting and emails. We just seemed to “get” each other and found ourselves talking about everything–past and present relationships, our parents and siblings, our jobs, and most often about her three beautiful girls, Olivia age 2, Caitlin age 4 and Danielle age 17 (*names changed). We exchanged pictures, learned about each other’s friends and gave each other advice. She would sometimes put the “little girls” (Olivia and Caitlin) on the phone. I wondered, “Is she testing me to see if I can talk with children?” I was nervous. But as the weeks went by, the girls got to know us and little Olivia even started calling me “Chelle.” Jon would become her “best friend.”
The experience of getting to know Kelly was like when you are dating someone new. I looked forward to talking with her, wondered where she was when she didn’t pick up the phone or call me back the same day, and anxiously wondered at times, “Does she still like me? Did she change her mind about me? About us?” And then, like any good relationship that will last, she would always call and there would be a good reason why she hadn’t earlier. She made me feel secure in our relationship. Then I felt silly that I had even wondered if something had been amiss…just like when you start dating someone. Many times my poor husband had to deal with my emotions, like girlfriends do. Finally, about a month after we met Kelly via email she asked us to come visit her.
In October 2010, Jon and I boarded a plane to Nashville to meet Kelly and her family. It was surreal. When we arrived at our hotel, the front desk handed us an envelope from Kelly containing an itinerary, pictures and maps of the city. Could she really be this amazing? Within an hour of arriving, we decided to meet up in the hotel lobby. Coming down the elevator, knowing she was in lobby, Jon and I were a “hot mess” (my favorite southern expression!)–both nervous and excited. I’ll never forget my first look at Kelly in person–shorter than I thought, adorably pregnant, and smiling at us. We embraced as two women who had connected in a way that I had not experienced in my adult life. We were forging a bond that possibly no one would ever understand. We both needed each other and were willing to help each other. I needed her to start and complete my family, to give me the honor of raising a child she birthed. She needed me to care for this child and ease the pain of placing him.
Jon and I describe that weekend as “sliding into family.” We met Kelly’s parents, brother, closest friends and of course her daughters. We went to the zoo, the ice cream shop, Meg’s (really called the Art Intervention–a fabulous store in Nashville) and to Kelly’s house. Jon and I took Kelly out for a special dinner for just the 3 of us. At our booth in the restaurant there was a picture of Hoboken, NJ–our hometown. We felt this must be another confirmation that this was all “meant to be.” Kelly offered that we could accompany her to her ultrasound that day. So just hours after meeting in person, there we were at the doctor’s office–Kelly on the table, me next to her, Jon next to me. Seeing Grayson this way for the first time was a beautiful experience and we left there happy. On our last night in Tennessee, Kelly and I talked outside until 4am; our flight was leaving just 5 hours later. At about 3am she grabbed my hand and placed it on her stomach so I could feel Grayson move. I will never forget that moment.
I had always wanted to adopt. I grew up saying I was going to be a foster parent, so this journey, I thought, was my destiny. But Kelly had ruined my vision of adoption (in the best possible way). I wanted to save a child. I wanted to take a child from a horrible life and love them. Kelly was an amazing mother. I watched her parent for 3 days straight and saw the love she had for her girls and the love they had for her. Kelly’s family was accepting and amazing. They were all kind, beautiful people. Grayson would be loved if he stayed there. So I felt like I would be taking Kelly’s child away, not saving a child. I felt literal heartache at the thought that I would return next time to see this boy be born and then leave with him. This was not how I thought adoption was supposed to be. No one I spoke with had said it would be like this…but then again I was reminded that every adoption was different. Since I felt so close to Kelly, I told her how I felt. And her responses not only comforted me, but also confirmed what a strong, amazing person she was and how lucky we were to be chosen by her.
After our visit to Tennessee, Kelly and I spoke every day. We talked about everyday things as well as about the baby. Kelly asked if she could make a blanket for him, and of course we said yes. We wouldn’t have it any other way. We talked about how I was planning to decorate the nursery, and I shared pictures with her. I even told her about and showed her pictures of all the cute clothing I was buying. I was shopping a lot! No one told me I wouldn’t know what to do with myself during the months I waited for his birth. I wasn’t pregnant, I wasn’t feeling a baby moving inside me, I wasn’t gaining weight and having friends and family ask how I am feeling. So, like many woman I turned to shopping…but for a baby boy I had only seen once on a screen and whom I felt move just once.
I arrived in Tennessee in late December, several weeks before Kelly’s due date of January 17th, 2011 (her doctor thought she might deliver early as she had done with her three daughters). I left with one suitcase for me and one for Grayson. In her typically generous and loving way, Kelly had offered to let us ship our stroller and car seat to her house. Jon stayed behind and planned to fly down either when Kelly went into labor or for Christmas- whichever came first.
For the next several weeks I lived alongside Kelly’s life in Tennessee. We shopped, ate lots of Mexican food (a favorite by all of us!) and played with her girls. Jon flew down for a few days over Christmas and we celebrated with her family for three days. We slept over at Kelly’s house on Christmas Eve and helped her put together the little girls’ baby doll cradles that night while they slept. She bought us all stockings, including Grayson. We exchanged tons of presents- some that made us cry. Her family bought us gifts and included us in all the holiday festivities…pretty special for a Jewish couple! Jon returned home after Christmas and we all continued to wait for the Big Day. I went to Kelly’s doctor appointments and helped her take care of her girls. I learned my way around Nashville, had a discount card at the grocery store and learned more southern lingo. I slowed down for the first time, which was an awesome feeling for a native New Yorker. I was actually late to things which was a personality impossibility prior to my spending time in Tennessee.
At Kelly’s next to last doctor’s appointment, her doctor told “us” that Kelly could be induced the following Thursday if “we” wanted. He knew the “situation” as some people referred to us as and therefore addressed both of us. The week before Kelly was to be induced- a decision we let her make- I spent each night at her house in case she went into labor. I think we both needed to be together a lot as the very emotional day quickly approached. We knew it was going to be hard, beautiful, sad, and bittersweet. We spent that week shopping–she bought for Grayson, I bought for her girls. I helped her take care of her girls in the evening while she was breathing through normal pregnancy discomforts. I reassured Danielle, her eldest daughter, that she would be part of her baby brother’s life.
The night before the induction was quiet. We watched movies. We fell asleep the same way we had for the previous week, with four-year-old Caitlin sleeping on me and Olivia sleeping on her. This was how close we’d become. I know Kelly had her tearful moments while in another room (I learned that her cheeks turn red when she has been crying) and I had mine. That morning, I felt numb. Kelly cried as we left her girls and went to the hospital. I worried that Jon wouldn’t make it on time due to snowy weather and flight delays. I stayed by Kelly’s side during her whole labor, except when she received the epidural. I could hear her screaming and that was by far the worst part…for me, and probably for her, too, of the labor. Kelly’s parents were at the hospital too, and thankfully Jon arrived in there in time. Although I felt so close to Kelly and her family at the hospital this day was different. I needed Jon there- to be there for me. Kelly’s family would ultimately be there for her.
On January 13, 2011 after just one and half pushes, Grayson entered the world with a good scream and beautiful, alert blue eyes. Two weeks earlier Kelly and I had talked about who would hold him first. I felt she should. She felt I should. We decided we would just see how it went. Her doctor firmly said, “Michelle get a gown” and even though I tried to tell him Kelly should hold Grayson first, the doctor insisted I take him. Suddenly Grayson was in my arms while I stood by Kelly. I felt numb. I handed him to Kelly and then he was taken over to the other table to be cleaned. I hugged Kelly and said thank you. We were all crying. I had to be pushed over to see Grayson. It may sound crazy but because of my special relationship with Kelly, in a way I was more concerned about her than the baby at that moment; I needed to know she wasn’t hurting too much. Kelly’s parents and eldest daughter arrived and we all held the baby and took pictures before I brought him to the nursery.
We were provided with a room across the hall from Kelly where we could spend the next two nights with Grayson in our room (something I can’t imagine happening in NY!). Our time in the hospital was amazing because Kelly, Jon and me took care of Grayson together all day and night. WE fed him, clothed him, watched him in the nursery and loved on him (another southern expression).
After leaving the hospital two days later, Kelly went home to her girls and Jon and I went our hotel where we lived with Grayson for those first two weeks. Here’s a lesson that everyone with a newborn should learn: you really don’t need anything but the bare essentials! We continued to spend many days with our new “family”–who incredibly and generously did things like sterilize bottles and cook us dinners. We were touched by how they welcomed us into their lives.
We, in turn, introduced Kelly’s younger daughters to Grayson. “What a sweet baby,” and “I like this baby,” they said (they will learn when they are older that he is their biological brother). We were comforted knowing that with each day Grayson spent with his birth mother and her family, we would be able to tell him someday how much we all loved him and cared for him together. I knew it was important for Kelly to be able to tell Grayson that she took care of him and it was just as important for me to fulfill that wish. He had his first bath in her kitchen sink and she showed me how to make his bottles. She watched me change diapers, feed him and soothe him without any judgement or interference, even though as a brand new parent I am sure I was doing things wrong. She trusted us and that meant the world to us.
Each day in Tennessee was wonderful but we both knew the day to leave was quickly approaching. It was bittersweet. Jon and I discussed that I simply could not ask Kelly to give me Grayson when it was time to leave. I needed her to hand him to me so I knew it was “OK” to go. Our last night was full of emotion. We stayed at Kelly’s and Grayson fell asleep on her chest. Around 3am, Kelly’s young girls called our for me and then curled up asleep next to me, while Kelly slept with Grayson. There was no need for words–this said it all. We were now part of each other’s families and would always care for each other and all of the children.
At 4am we finally left. Kelly and I cried and hugged. I wanted to let her know that I knew how hard it would be for her to see us walk away with Grayson. All I could muster through my tears was “I’m sorry”. She told me to never be sorry and that I was not to feel that way. Once again, I could not get over her strength. That morning was the hardest day of my life and the pain of that night is still heartbreaking four months later.
Since returning home to New York with Grayson, our friends and family have been stunned they are that we were able to have such an open adoption. Most ask me if I was afraid that Kelly would change her mind. The truth is that I never once was fearful that Kelly would exercise her option to change her mind (something she could do until Grayson was a few weeks old).
While it seems like only Kelly and I can truly comprehend our relationship and how well it works, I’m learning to be OK with that. She and I continue to communicate frequently–at least every other day. We send packages for the kids and e-mail pictures over the phone. I tell her about how Grayson is growing, even though I know sometimes it’s hard for her to hear. Some days are difficult–for each of us–but other days feel “normal.” Either way, I wouldn’t change what we have because I feel that my son has the best situation. Grayson Kent (named after Superman who was adopted and had the best of both worlds- his biological parents and adoptive parents) will grow up knowing he was adopted and from whom, know who he looks like, know his sisters and the rest of his Tennessee family. He will know Kelly loves him unconditionally. Jon and I felt from the beginning of our journey that a child can never be loved too much…and wow, how our son is loved!