‘300 plus families passed on a baby boy.’ What would happen to my son? ‘Are you interested in special needs adoption?’: Moms discuss open adoption journeys, ‘We really are a family’

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“First, Sarah is going to share, then I will share.  We have been wanting to do this for a very long time, and I am SO excited to finally bring our stories together!!

Sarah’s story:

In 2012, I was visiting a friend in Corpus Christi, Texas and I started having severe back pain. My friend told me I was 6 months pregnant. I was like, ‘Umm… are you nuts!? There’s no way!’ When we went to the ER, I had a SEVERE kidney infection. They admitted me and then … they came in with a fetal monitor for the baby. I was like, ‘What is that?’ although I knew what it was. I was in shock and disbelief. They said I was pregnant.

They sent a caseworker in for me because they could see the emotions on my face. I asked for adoption pamphlets because I KNEW I wasn’t prepared to take on a baby. I wasn’t stable in my life. I found an adoption agency and started going through life books of families. I found the perfect family.

The mom and I began to talk almost daily. They lived in California and had the perfect life. They had good jobs and really wanted a baby. I was so happy with my choice!

On September 3, 2012, I was laying in bed and my water broke. I knew I was preterm because the doctors said I wasn’t supposed to have the baby for at least another month. I ran around the house trying to throw a hospital bag together while dealing with the contractions, which hit hard and heavy as soon as my water broke

I got to the little local hospital soon after my water broke.  The doctor came in to see how things were going.  He said he could not feel a head when he checked me. They did an ultrasound and saw Noah was breech. So, they decided to do a c-section.

Everything was suddenly happening so fast. I mean, I had really just found out I was pregnant not too long ago, now I was having a baby, and a c-section on top of everything else. They gave me something to calm me down and did a spinal block really fast.

Once Noah was born, I knew something was wrong. He cried, which is what I was longing to hear, but the whole room was creepily quiet all of a sudden.  I had told the doctors before the c-section I wasn’t going to be ready to see Noah or hold him after he was born. I just wanted to hear him cry, then I wanted them to take him to the nursery to wait for his parents to come.

I knew something was wrong though.  Everyone started being weird and everyone was so quiet.  They stopped smiling at me.  I kept asking what was wrong. At first no one would tell me, then finally one of the doctors said, ‘It looks like the baby may have Spina Bifida.’

For some reason, that actually calmed me down. He would be OK. He just had Spina Bifida. He was alive, and everything would be fine. I assumed they never saw it before he was born because I was so far along when I had my first ultrasound.  Though, I do know missing Spina Bifida happens more frequently than people realize.

The hospital I delivered at was very small. They didn’t have any way to care for Noah, so he was air-lifted to Dell Children’s hospital in Austin, TX.  It broke my heart to know he was going to have surgery all alone.  They said his surgery would happen within about 24 hours.

Courtesy of Sarah Boatman

It was 3 a.m. when he was born. I got ahold of someone from the agency and told them what was going on. I told them the baby was born, he had Spina Bifida, and he was going to another hospital. I also tried to get ahold of the other family, but I couldn’t get them on the phone.

I kept trying to call the other family all the next morning and into the afternoon. It was very strange to me that they weren’t answering. I was starting to get a little panicked. Now, my baby was in a different town, I was in pain from my c-section, and I just wanted to know what was going on.

Someone from the agency finally told me that the family I had picked out, the perfect family with the nice house and cool jobs, the family I had poured my heart out to for weeks didn’t want my son. They wanted a healthy baby, and my son had a disability.  They backed out of the adoption.

I felt so angry. I felt so grieved. My heart was shattered. I felt rejected and scared. What would happen to my son? Maybe adoption wasn’t a good idea. I knew I wasn’t in a position to give him what I wanted him to have, but the family I thought would love him didn’t even want him because he wasn’t perfect.

The agency tried to help calm me down, but I was devastated. They said they had another family who might be interested but they wanted to know more about the prognosis.  Prognosis?!?! Its Spina Bifida! Didn’t they know anything about Spina Bifida? I mean, usually, it means wheelchairs and catheters and all that stuff. I was now angry and annoyed. I talked to the mom on the phone but I just didn’t have a good feeling.

It didn’t surprise me when this family ultimately decided they also did not want to adopt my baby. When I found out, I basically decided I would have to go get him. He was alone, and no one wanted him. My hopes to find a stable, loving family to care for him and provide a good life for him weren’t possible. I have never felt so angry and rejected. I cried more than I ever thought possible.

The lady from the agency was trying so hard to give me hope. She said she had found another family, and they were so amazing. They weren’t actually a family with my adoption agency, but they were interested in special needs adoption.

She started to tell me about them. At first, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to hear it. How could I offer my perfect, beautiful, amazing son up again only so another family could say he wasn’t good enough?

I listened to the lady talk. The more she talked about this family, I started to feel a small bit of hope. ‘OK,’ I agreed, ‘I will read their book.’ ‘Great!’ she said, ‘I will email it right over.’

I will never forget Jerene’s face in that first picture. She looked just like I imagine Anna will look in 10 years. She was young. She had a bright smile, cute little glasses, snuggled up next to her man… the kids were all there too, smiling away.  They looked adorable and happy.  There was Adam in his wheelchair, right in the middle of everyone.

When I read what Jerene had written, I felt totally different than I had before. This woman was speaking straight to my hurting heart. She was such a mom. I knew she was absolutely perfect for my son. I was bawling reading her email. The pictures were adorable. The words were soothing.

One of the things that really stood out to me is how Adam was included just like all the other kids. In every picture, they were all there together, laughing and playing. You could see that they didn’t see him as their disabled son, just their son. After having been rejected so many times, this really made my heart happy.

I called the agency back and told them I wanted to speak to this mom before I made any choices, but that I was hopeful. The next morning I spoke with Jerene on the phone for the first time. She was different. She wasn’t pressuring me into anything. She told me she wanted me to be 100% sure. She had just lost a daughter and was honest about her fear that I would change my mind. She said if I wanted to parent, she totally supported me and would support me.

What I wanted was for Noah to have a safe, stable home with parents who adored him as much as I do. It seemed like I had found the perfect fit. I was so excited to call the agency back and tell them this was the family!!

Throughout this time, I kept calling the hospital to check on my son. It still killed me he was there alone. I was overjoyed to hear a few days later that Jerene was there with him when I started calling to check on him. The lawyers brought over paperwork, and I confidently signed it.

The next time I called the hospital the nurse told me, ‘Well, MOM is in there nursing the baby. I can no longer give you information.’ What? I WAS the mom too!! What was happening?? What did she mean she couldn’t give me any information anymore?! I suddenly felt like all the wind was knocked out of me. I felt sick. I just wanted to know how my son was.

Apparently, Jerene found out what happened. She called me soon after that and apologized over and over. She said she told the charge nurse not to ever assign that nurse to us again and told the hospital they had better answer my questions. It was an awkward conversation. My trust had kind of been rocked. I was still hurting.

The next few months were insanely hard. I cried all the time. The pain of the c-section wore off, but the pain in my heart didn’t. I knew he was safe and loved, but I missed him more than I even thought possible. My close friends and boyfriend encouraged me to call and check on him less. They said I should try to move on. He was in a loving family, isn’t that what I wanted? Why did I keep calling Jerene so much?

So, I tried to call and text less. I tried to forget and just trust that Noah was loved. I still called, just not as often. Every time we hung up, I would just bawl and bawl. It was so hard to miss him. It hurt so so much.

After a while, I decided this wasn’t working for me. I started calling Jerene more. We talked about our baby, but we also talked about other stuff too. She would tell me about the rest of the kids. We started talking about her impending divorce after a while. We talked about her having to move because of it. I felt like we were starting to become friends.

I was so so angry at her ex-husband for leaving them. I had trusted them with my baby, and now, he was going to grow up in a broken home. That wasn’t what I wanted for him! That wasn’t the family I picked out for him! I knew Jerene was hurting too, and that also hurt me. I still struggle with angry feelings toward him, but honestly, Ryan is so amazing it’s hard to stay mad. Ryan is the best thing that could have ever happened to Noah and Jerene.

When Noah’s first birthday was coming up, we decided to meet up. It was such a beautiful trip. Jerene brought all the kids and stayed at my house. We even took Noah for his first haircut together! When the kids were in bed, we sat on the porch and talked. It was like, we weren’t even just friends anymore. We are family.

Courtesy of Sarah Boatman

Now, we talk all the time. Most of the time it isn’t even about Noah. We just catch up. Noah video chats me now. He also tries to text me, even though he can’t spell yet. He also sends short little voice clips to me throughout the day. He calls me his ‘mama friend.’

Courtesy of Sarah Boatman

I cannot believe how amazing our open adoption is. Noah is almost 8 now, and he and I get to have this wide-open relationship. Jerene has never tried to keep us apart. She encourages him to send me pictures and video chat if he wants. He is getting to watch his baby sister grow up. She is there for me if I am having a bad day and just wanna talk it out. I love the other kids so much too. We really are a family. I never dreamed it could be like this!!

And now for Jerene’s side of the story!:

I will never forget the day I got the call about Noah. I was cleaning out my Tahoe in my driveway in the blazing hot Texas September heat. I NEVER answer the phone when I don’t know the number. It is some weird PTSD thing that cropped up after loosing Charity. I think I couldn’t handle any bad news. I could not handle not knowing who was on the other end of the phone and what information they might need. It made me so anxious and fearful.

I also didn’t have my voice mailbox set up for the same reason. It was too terrifying. So, seriously, until this past year, if it wasn’t a text, you weren’t getting ahold of me.  I saw the number show up and I thought, ‘I should answer this.’ I had total peace about it. It was a total miracle I even answered the phone.

The lady on the other end of the phone said, ‘Are you interested in special needs adoption?’ It took me a minute to understand what she was saying because, how could she call me, and why would she call me, and not know enough about me to know that my whole life anymore was special needs adoption?  I remember kind of scanning the front yard, looking at my children and thinking, ‘Well, duh.’

I can’t remember exactly how I responded, but she got an affirmative from me. She said cheerily, ‘Good!! Because we have a baby boy who needs a family like, yesterday!!’ A baby boy?? This lady, whom I do not know, is asking me if I want a brand new baby boy?? Ummm… yes please!!

Let’s back up here a minute… I am not 100% sure how this lady got my number or who she was, even to this day!  The adoption agency Sarah was going through had apparently contacted every single one of their 300 plus families, and every single one had passed on a brand-new baby boy with Spina Bifida. I can’t even fathom this. I’m grateful… but seriously?? I mean… SERIOUSLY?!?!

Anyway, I remember telling her to throw our names in the hat. Sure. Why not. I one thousand percent, did not believe we had any chance in the world. For one, we had only had Adam for about 6 months, and Gideon was only 10 months old. Usually, agencies want you to wait a year between major life events before adopting again.

She asked me to send over our life book, which I did not have. She needed it right now she said. I walked into the house and frantically threw together a life book and emailed it over. I have zero idea what it said or what pictures I used, but Sarah told me later she loved it, so yay!

After the email was sent, I did my best to push this adoption possibility out of my head. Years as a foster parent and hopeful adoptive parent had taught me one thing: never get your hopes up. We had been passed over for so many kiddos I had lost count at that point.

Imagine my surprise when the lady called me back the very next morning! She said Sarah wanted to talk to me before she made her final decision. I couldn’t believe it! Could this be happening?

We talked for a while. It was pretty awkward. She was super nervous and hurting, I was scared and afraid she would change her mind. I remember thinking she was sweet and so very, very brave. My heart broke for her, having to make this impossible choice.

Next thing I knew, we had gotten the official, ‘He is yours!’ and I was headed to Austin to meet our new son!!! My ex-husband had just started a new project at work and couldn’t take any time off, since it was so last minute, so Michael and I headed to Austin to meet Noah.

Courtesy of Sarah Boatman

The following week, papers were signed. It was such a whirlwind and such an overwhelming blessing. Oooooooh was he TINY!!! He was about 4 1/2 lbs when I first met him. The staff at the hospital was overjoyed for him, and really bent over backwards to make sure we had the tools we needed to be there for him. They got the kids, and I set up in the Ronald McDonald house so I could stay in Austin and be close enough to nurse/pump.

Courtesy of Sarah Boatman

Everyone except this one nurse… oooooh she made me SOOO mad. First of all, she had a major attitude about adoption in general, it seemed. She made a point to give me a hard time about nursing Noah (even though I had been doing it for a day or two at this point since papers had been signed). She actually made a huge stink about it, and legal ended up having to come all the way down to mediate between us. Then, after that, she had the audacity to snark off to Sarah when she called to ask how Noah was doing. She was all, ‘Well, YOU’RE not the mom anymore. And MOM is in there nursing the baby right now.’ She made Sarah cry. It was horrible. Needless to say, I made good and sure I never saw her face again while we were there.

It was an extremely hard week. I had 5 kids at the Ronald McDonald house with zero help. Every 3 hours during the day I would drag everyone over to the hospital to nurse Noah and Gideon. The Ronald McDonald house is so great, but you cant leave your kids’ sides at all. Period. Ever.

Courtesy of Sarah Boatman
Courtesy of Sarah Boatman

Thankfully, child life at Dell Children’s was some kind of miracle sent from heaven above. We have been involved in a lot of hospitals through the years. They are the best, hands down forever and always. They had play rooms I could drop the big 4 kids off at when I went to the NICU. They had movie showings, art times, so many special play areas… child life is the only reason I made it through that week.

I would pump every 3 hours through the night and leave that milk with the NICU for Noah for the following evening (since I couldn’t wake the kids and drag them over every 3 hours during the night). During the day, Gideon, who was only 10-months old, and I would scrub up and go into see Noah and nurse him.  It was seriously amazing to have Gideon there with me.  Noah was so tiny and weak.  Having Gideon nurse on one side helped Noah get the let down going, which he couldn’t do on his own yet.

Courtesy of Sarah Boatman

He wasn’t gaining weight like they wanted, so they did not want to discharge him. I had already learned to cath him, how to handle the surgical site on his back, he passed the car seat test, he was doing well nursing… he was just tiny. Finally, the nurses cornered the weekend doctor and begged him to discharge us. As amazing as child life was, a week of hospital life with 6 kids in tow was plenty for me. Thankfully, he agreed, and we went home.

The first few months were scary for me. I was so keenly aware of Sarah’s pain in a way I never had felt before. I had tried to form some relationships with my foster kiddos families before, but they were mostly unsuccessful and extremely anger-filled (I get it).

I loved Sarah from the first moment I spoke to her on the phone. I spent a lot of those first months praying for her while I nursed Noah or changed him. She would text and get upset if I didn’t text back soon enough. Or she wouldn’t text, then beg my forgiveness for being MIA for a few weeks. I could tell she was struggling. I tried to share pictures and cute stories, but I also felt guilty for sharing if she didn’t ask first. I didn’t want to seem like I was rubbing it in her face or just reminding her of her pain if she was not consumed with it at that particular second.

I think having lost my own daughter a little over a year before this adoption helped me relate to what I assumed Sarah must be feeling.  I knew that pain.  Most days I still woke up with that pain sitting on my chest.  I knew I couldn’t actually help, or have the words to say, or have any advice to give because there just isn’t any.  Loosing a child is something nothing can ever fix.  Everything inside of me hated that she was feeling the feelings I had to feel all too recently myself.

I think those first few months of our relationship as Noah’s moms were actually harder for me than having 6 kids, three of whom did not walk. I wanted to do everything right with her, and I had zero idea what I was doing. Honestly, it seemed NO ONE really knew what to do! In every book I read about adoption, every blog I read about adoption, every Facebook group, even my own agency… no one seemed to know how a relationship like ours should go.

In the past, open adoption meant the family might send a letter or pictures to mom through their agency once a month or even once a year. That was their idea of ‘open.’ I was cautioned SO MANY TIMES not to add her as a friend on Facebook, or give her my real phone number. When I think about it now, it just makes me angry. People told me horror stories. I feel like maybe I pulled back a bit too much those first few months. I feel like I hurt her as a result of my own fear.

She has told me since then she was also getting awful advice. Friends telling her to stop calling. Stop texting. Try to just forget it and move on. I think that hurt her too. So here we were, trying to forge this relationship that, to my knowledge to this day, is so extremely rare… and we had no idea how to do it, all while getting terrible advice. Yep. Those first few months were… rocky, to say the least.

Eventually, we just got over ourselves and became friends. I think my divorce was really the turning point. I broke down emotionally in every single way. I felt like such a huge, massive failure to her, to Noah, to all my children. This wasn’t who I was. I didn’t even believe in divorce.

I opened up to her, she opened up to me… it was so freeing. It became comfortable. We were just two moms doing our best for the same son. I always had the absolute most respect for her, and I think maybe she started to really feel that from me.

As the years have passed we have grown closer. We have been there for each other for the good times and bad. She is a huge cheerleader for me. Anytime I’ve been nervous to tell her something, like btw, I met this great guy and we just BAM got married… or hey! We are adopting again! She has always been supportive.

Courtesy of Sarah Boatman

I got to be there for her when she was pregnant with her daughter with all her questions. Then after she had her baby, I was there if she couldn’t get the latch just right, or if she spiked a fever at 2 a.m. She knew I would always be there for her if she needed any kind of ‘ok… what do you think of this weird rash?!?’ help.

I guess now, I should tell you a little about the son we both love so much!! Noah is absolutely a snuggler. He is 90-to-nothing all day every day. That boy doesn’t even hold still in his sleep. He adores his mamas and loves his siblings. He is rotten like a boy should be, and annoys the snot out of his older brothers and sisters. He loves school, though his attention span is about 20 minutes long, so we do a lot of starting and stopping.

Courtesy of Sarah Boatman

Oh yeah, he has Spina Bifida. He is not a wheelchair user. That’s a whole story for a whole other time. It’s a good one, I promise! He doesn’t take care of his skin and feet like he should, and I promise this is what is going to do me in. 100%.  He is a mama’s boy through and through. As they say here in the Deep South, he is ‘all boy.’ He is just one massive ball of wild energy and oozes love on everyone around him.

Courtesy of Sarah Boatman

I love this baby with my whole heart. Noah was a blessing I wasn’t expecting. Extra goodness. I don’t even want to imagine my life without him. He is adored and loved. He is the baby boy of the family.”

Courtesy of Sarah Boatman

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Sara Boatman. You can follow her journey on her blog. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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