‘It all seemed wonderful. We’d found the birth parents of our future child, and then lost them. The birth father told his mom about the baby, and she decided to ‘come for a quick visit.’

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“We met on Yahoo Personals eighteen years ago – back at the dawn of internet dating. After several months of exchanging emails and talking on the phone, we finally met in person and knew instantly we’d met ‘the one.’ We both dreamed of being parents, so when the time felt right, we started exploring how to add to our family.

Married men stand smiling in suits
Courtesy John Petersen and William Kinnane

Like the adoption journeys of so many others, ours was a roller coaster. We can still vividly remember the excitement we had when signing the contract with our open adoption agency. Knowing it wasn’t a matter of ‘if’ we’d be parents, but rather just a matter of ‘when.’ We’d had a ‘friend of a friend’ who signed with the agency on a Monday and had their twins in their home by the end of the week. While we knew that wasn’t ‘normal’ the thought that at any minute our baby might be with us was practically overwhelming. The following week we attended a ‘weekend intensive’ – a sort of orientation where you kick off the paperwork and learn every detail of the adoption process. I recall the counselor going over a list of the many less than ideal experiences we might encounter – long waits, scammers (both emotional and financial), unmatching / disruptions, and the most dreaded, the reclaim. A reclaim was where a potential birthparent changes their mind and decides to parent after the baby is in your temporary custody. After explaining all these scenarios, the counselor noted we’ll likely experience some scammers, but beyond that the other issues were fairly uncommon (at that time). A couple months later, all the paperwork was done and our agency was actively sharing our information with potential birthparents.

Right away we started experiencing scammers. Financial scammers were the most frequent – but the easiest to manage. They were fairly easy to spot after the first couple of calls. They were always seemingly kind women who found themselves in horrible financial situations, that needed immediate resolution. They wanted to place their unborn child with us, but before they could focus on that they needed to fix their financial situation (often to keep from being kicked out of their home). On more than one occasion, we wanted to help. The stories were compelling, but luckily law and agency policy were on our side. As you may know, most states have very particular rules around providing financial support for a potential birthparent. Our state was fairly strict, and the agency insisted that any request for money went directly to them. Most of the time the scammers were already identified, and if not, the agency was able to quickly discern they weren’t in fact pregnant or they’d refuse to speak to the agency (a big red flag).

Then came the emotional scammers… they were harder for us to handle. They just wanted to talk. They’d call with very emotional stories. Often with details of abuse or rape. They’d share lots of detail and talk until their phone battery would die. While the agency had explained that someone calling and sharing lots of detailed, personal information in the first call is a warning sign, our policy was that we’d treat every call as if it were real until it was proven not to be. I remember one woman we chatted with for nearly five hours. In the long run those calls represented not only lost time, but were also extremely emotionally draining. We came to believe many of the stories were true – just not the part about them being pregnant and considering adoption. Again, our agency was critical in helping us navigate those calls.

And so, our life became the normal day to day life (work, vacation, etc.) with the added responsibility of fielding calls from potential birthparents. We averaged eight calls a month, the vast majority of which were scammers. We tried to console ourselves with the fact that if the scammers were finding us so easily, that must mean that potential birthparents were seeing our info as well. This phone call fielding and waiting to find the birthparents of our of future child was hard, but manageable. The excitement of our future family easily outweighed any of the ‘stuff’ we had to put up with.

About ten months later, the ‘work’ seemed to pay off. We were contacted by a very nice, young lady in the Midwest who was three months pregnant and happily worked with the agency. After exchanging several emails and talking on the phone we proceeded to ‘match’ (where the birthparent agrees not to consider other potential adoptive parents, and we agree not to consider other potential birthparents). It seemed like a match made in heaven. She was wonderful… we all just clicked. We flew to meet her in person and attend some OBGYN visits with her to see the sonogram and hear the baby’s heartbeat. It was amazing. Each trip, we bonded more and more closely. We met her family. It all seemed wonderful. On our third trip (which was a month before the baby was due), we were supposed to meet the potential birthfather. They weren’t currently in a relationship and as she told it, he had begrudgingly agreed adoption was the best choice. The evening we were supposed to meet him, he didn’t show up. It was supposedly a work-related issue…. It was the first and last warning sign we had for that match. We flew home the next morning, and per usual sent an email that night (we exchanged emails daily) saying how fun it had been to see her, how big the baby was getting, etc. For the first time since her first email, we didn’t get a response within a few hours… then a day past without a response, then two, three… then a week. We made a few attempts to call and got her voicemail. We let the agency know. They reached out to her, but never heard back. The agency said, that brief periods of no response were not uncommon (which made perfect sense given how emotional adoption is), so we hung in there. After three weeks of no contact the agency advised us it was time to move on… so we did. We went back to looking for potential birthparents, and never heard from her again. We had been ghosted.

Back to the new, old normal of fielding phone calls… once again, we had plenty of people (scammers) calling. Some months later (we can’t recall exactly how many) we had a near match. A couple called from Florida. The potential birthmother in this situation was again, a wonderful, strong, young woman. We exchanged several calls, and emails and we got along wonderfully. She was eager to match with us, and had her doctor send proof of pregnancy immediately. Early on we’d explained to her (at that time) the state of Florida did not allow gay men to adopt. She explained that wouldn’t be an issue because she actually planned on moving to our home state (for unrelated reasons) as soon as financially possible. That was a ‘risk’ we were okay with, so we told the agency we would like to match as soon as possible. Due to the political and legal climate the agency had – rightfully so – some serious concerns with proceeding with the match. The birthparents financial situation was precarious and moving is expensive. They likely wouldn’t be able to move in enough time, without some sort of financial assistance… and that’s where it got really grey, really quick. If we helped pay for their move, then we’d be entering into – at the very least – a legal grey area… and it wasn’t one the agency felt comfortable with. We went around and around with the agency for several days. We contacted lawyers and other agencies. We almost contracted with a second agency that was willing to work with this ‘situation’, but in the end the legal advice was that it could erode the legality of the adoption. We had a very tearful call with the birthparents to explain… everyone felt horrible. While that was technically not a match… it felt like one. It ended up being over three weeks of feeling like, again, we’d found the birthparents of our future child and then lost them.

Once again, we had plenty of people (scammers) calling. Some months later, we received a call from the agency telling us that a potential birth family was in the office and wanted to talk with us. We rushed home and immediately called the agency who put us on speakerphone with the potential birthparents. We talked for an hour – they were young, living with their parents, and she had about a month and a half before the baby was due. Somehow, she’d managed to keep the pregnancy a secret from the parents… she knew they’d disapprove, but also knew they weren’t ready to be parents – ‘we’re still kids’ we can remember her saying. After the call we discussed the situation with the agency. While it was definitely not ideal they were keeping it a secret from the parents, they seemed to be, otherwise, very mature and truly confident in their choice of adoption. When they proposed a match, we gladly accepted. Because she was starting to show, they needed to find a place to stay – so, via the agency, we paid for temporary housing. We chatted on and off, over the next couple of weeks, creating a birth plan, etc. and then we got THE CALL. She had gone into labor about a week early. We got on the next plane and were there about 7 hours later. When we landed, we got a text from the birthfather explaining a healthy baby boy had been born and was in the nursery waiting for us. We ran off the plane, got our rental car and – literally – raced to the hospital. We checked in with the birthparents quickly, and then got to meet ‘our little boy’ for the first time. He was beautiful and – most importantly – healthy. The next hours are a little bit of a blur. For some reason the hospital wouldn’t release the baby at the same time as his mother. The birth mother was released, and we’d be able to take baby home the next day. That night, we’d all agreed to have dinner together. They picked the restaurant, and we met there at the allotted time. It was a pleasant dinner. She was – rightfully so – tired, but seemed happy to be eating good food. He was happy as well. We talked mostly about their future plans (they were going back to college), and our excitement about starting our family back at home. After having several courses, we were in the process of saying our goodbyes (we knew we’d see them again, when they signed the final paperwork in about 24 hours), when the birthfather mentioned that he’d decided to tell his Mom (who lived out of state) about the baby, and she had decided to ‘come for a quick visit.’ We got in the car and immediately called the agency… this was definitely a warning sign, but we were advised to proceed with caution.

The next morning the precious baby boy was released into our custody, and we – with the parents blessing – had named him Griffin. The birthparents hadn’t signed final paperwork yet but would do so shortly. For the next couple of days we cared for the little boy out of our hotel room. It was both wonderful and nerve racking. We took him to his first well visit, and had the local pediatrician forward the records to our home town pediatrician who reviewed them and spoke with the local doctor. Everything looked good… but the paperwork hadn’t been signed yet. Then, on the afternoon of the third day, the birthmother called and explained the birthfather’s mother, aunt, and sister were in town and wanted to take the baby for the night. They assured us, it was just their way of saying goodbye and the baby would be back with us the next morning. We called the agency and again were warned it wasn’t a good situation, but if we refused that might force them to ‘change their minds’ and that facilitating a healthy separation was in everyone’s best interest. After all, we were doing an open adoption, so this would show great faith to all parties that we were genuine in wanting to maintain a relationship.

So, that evening we packed up the baby with all the necessary accessories (car seat, diapers, clothes, formula, etc.) and went to their hotel. We met the grandmother, aunt and sister…everyone was pleasant. We agreed to call in the morning to agree on a time to pick up Griffin, we kissed him on the forehead and left. We nervously went back to the hotel. We both said something didn’t seem right but encouraged each other not to worry and that there was nothing we could do except hope for the best. We ate dinner and tried to go to sleep early; hoping sleep would pass the time faster.

The next morning, we woke early and called them at 8 A.M. as agreed. No answer… just voicemail. We left a message saying  we’d hoped they’d had a good night, asking how Griffin was, and just to call us back and let us know when we should pick him up. We waited an hour – no returned call. We called the agency in a panic. They suggested we call again, and if we didn’t have an answer, we should call them back and they would call. We called again… straight to voicemail. We called the agency. The agency called – straight to voicemail. The agency said they would keep trying. Several more hours passed. We decided to go to a movie, in hopes it would at least partially take our minds off the situation, or at the very least give us something to do other than stare at the clock. More hours passed. We spoke to the agency again – no response from the birthparents. We considered going to the hotel, but all agreed that could make the situation worse. We had dinner… no call. We went to bed early, again hoping that sleep would pass the time faster. At a little after 11 pm our phone rang. It was the birth grandmother. She calmly explained that, after much thought they’d decided they were ‘going to keep the baby’ and she went on to explain they were ‘very sorry… and have you explored surrogacy? [Her] gay friends had used surrogacy to get their baby.’ We explained we had looked into it, but felt open adoption was the best plan for us. We made some comment about being surprised they’d decided to parent since only three nights ago they’d talked so surely about their future plans, and how they were certain they’d made the right choice. We don’t recall her response, except she asked how much the car seat cost, because she’d be sending us a check to cover that… we told her the cost of that, as well as the couple thousand dollars we’d spent housing and feeding them for the last month and a half… we don’t remember her response to either. We thanked her for calling. Hung up the phone and hugged each other as we both cried. We were in the dark… we’d never even turned on the light when answering the phone. After a good cry, one of us called the airline while the other packed our things. We were on the next flight back to our home without ‘our’ son.

The next few months were the hardest. We went right back to the new, old normal of fielding phone calls… once again, we had plenty of people (scammers) calling BUT for the first time our excitement had really been shot. After two and half matches, and nearly three years of ‘waiting’ we were wondering if ‘when’ our baby would come, might really be an ‘if’ the baby would come in our lifetime, and more importantly if we could continue to handle the emotional roller coaster. Friends, again, started to offer to be surrogates – and we started looking into surrogacy costs. For the first time we started discussing if there would be a cut off date for the adoption process. We noncommittally said if we reached the four-year mark, it was probably a good sign we should explore other options. And, life continued. More calls, more scammers; month after month.

Then we got an email from Riley’s mom – she was only eight weeks pregnant. It was a long email, and it shared lots of personal information… and while that’s sometimes a warning sign, in this situation it seemed normal and appropriate. We responded immediately, and after a month of emails and talking we matched. We would have matched sooner, but Riley’s mom needed to get to the doctor to provide proof of pregnancy, and other responsibilities prevented her from getting there any sooner than her next appointment. After that we traded emails almost daily for the next seven months. She was exactly the birthmother we needed. She’d had personal experience with adoption and had a daughter who was just about to go to college. She’d learned early on of our previous unmatches and reclaim – and she went out of her way to let us know she would not be changing her mind.

On a Wednesday afternoon about a week ahead of her due date, we got the call advising that her doctor said she was already two centimeters dilated and that the baby ‘could come at any moment.’ She went on to say that if she didn’t go into labor before Friday, the doctor had said she would induce her as Riley was clearly ready to meet the world. For a few moments I think I probably stopped breathing. As we were only a week out from the due date we’d told ourselves it could happen at any point, but hearing the words really hit home. I asked her if she thought we needed to take a flight out that night, or the first flight the next morning. She said the next morning would be fine, we discussed where we’d be staying and we both said how excited we were to meet in person for the first time.

I took a deep breath and called my husband who was still at work. ‘Hello – what’s up?’ He said in a tone which stated he knew there was only one reason why I’d be calling him at work at this time of the day.

‘Tell your co-workers you’re going to be out of work for a little while.’ I said.

‘Really? What’s the story? Is everything okay?’ he said. I went on to explain to him what she’d said; that everything was okay and that we needed to get out there ASAP. Then I jumped onto the internet and bought our flights, changed the dates for our hotel and called my boss to let her know I’d be leaving a few days earlier than I’d expected. The rest of the evening was spent running around the house not really doing anything, but seeming really busy.

The following morning at the early hour of 3 am we woke so that we could catch the first flight out to LA. Between waiting for the bus and waiting for our car to be ready it probably took close to an hour and a half. I don’t think I’ve ever waited that long for a rental car in my life (which is a bold statement considering I traveled for two years for work). While waiting we called Riley’s birth mom to let her know we’d arrived and would be headed her way as soon as we could. She advised she’d had a few contractions during the night, but she was feeling well and was looking forward to meeting us. Meeting Riley’s birth mom in person was amazing. We’d seen many pictures of each other, but she was even more beautiful in person and her calm demeanor and welcoming smile made us all at ease. Without even asking she quickly reassured us she was feeling wonderful both physically and emotionally and that seeing us in person just made her feel even more confident in her choice of adoption. We all went to lunch and talked about general things; our families, etc.

We’d also brought a small gift for Riley’s birthmother. In anticipation of the birth we’d had two identical lockets made and engraved. They were simple lockets that had the words ‘Love Is There’ engraved on the front. We believe that adoption, and particularly open adoption, is all about love. I won’t go into all the details of the labor beyond sharing it was a) long – basically 12 and half hours, and b) the most amazing and beautiful thing we’ve ever seen. Riley’s mom allowed us all to be there for every minute of the labor and birth. About half way through some of Riley’s mom’s friends showed up and stayed the entire time to help. Her friend has a child of her own and having gone through childbirth herself, really helped us know what we should be doing.

And so, at 12:37 a.m. Riley was born.

Newborn boy lay on his back yawning who will be adopted by two men
Courtesy John Petersen and William Kinnane

Riley’s mom asked we be the first to hold and be with Riley. We stood over her as the nurse cleaned her off, smiling, crying tears of happiness, and thanking her mom. It was an almost surreal experience. I kept looking back to her mom to see her calming, confident smile. She asked the nurse to give us both the hospital bracelets so that we would have constant access to the baby, and then asked to go to another floor so she didn’t have to be in postpartum with other mothers. We were taken to our own room on the pediatrics floor where we spent the next 48 hours caring for Riley. As the pediatric floor didn’t normally see newborns (and especially not newborns being adopted by two men) we were quite the celebrities. I think every nurse came in and introduced themselves and gazed at the beauty that is Riley. At one point we had an entire class of nurses in training stop by. There was, of course, a nurse and orderly specifically assigned to us. We were particularly pleased with the day nurse and orderly. Not only did they do everything they could to make sure that Riley was safe and adapting to life outside of her mother well, but they also hooked us up with all the supplies we could dream of for our hotel stay.

Newborn baby lays swaddled in hospital blanket in hands of adopted parent
Courtesy John Petersen and William Kinnane

We visited with her mom, who had a bout of nausea after Riley’s birth, the next morning and we stopped by a few other times as well. We weren’t allowed to bring Riley to her (as one really shouldn’t be moving a newborn about the hospital), but we did our best to make sure she knew she could stop by and visit with Riley as much as she wanted. Her other daughter, and her friend, stopped by several times as well. It was great for us to be able to take so many great pictures.

Man sits in hospital chair holding adopted newborn in his arms as she sleeps
Courtesy John Petersen and William Kinnane

On Sunday morning her mom was released from the hospital, and Riley was released into our custody that afternoon. Although all the hospital staff had been great to us, it was such a great feeling to be able to take her back to the hotel. Riley slept through the entire ride to the hotel and I drove more carefully than I think I’ve ever driven before. The day after being released from the hospital her mom signed the paperwork required to relinquish her parental rights and place the baby officially in our custody. And so, we went about the next few days cherishing our little one and the moments that her om could spend with us. We did take her out of the hotel once to see a local pediatrician for her first follow up appointment. As expected, no issues.

Husbands stand smiling in hospital hallway as one holds carseat with adopted daughter
Courtesy John Petersen and William Kinnane

Her mom was amazingly generous with her time while we were there. Each day she would come over and spend a few hours with us. Enough time for us to take pictures and talk, and for her to get to know Riley while at the same time allowing us to take those first days to bond with Riley (even though we’d bonded basically instantly upon laying eyes upon her). We were also fortunate to have two of my long-time friends from high school stop by to visit with Riley and us.

Several days later we were given clearance to return home with Riley. We packed up our things, and her mom came by to say goodbye for the time being (we’d definitely be seeing her again in the future). She read her the book Love You Forever. It was a beautiful moment. We said our goodbyes and had a few hugs, and then we were off to catch a plane home. The flight home was uneventful – Riley slept the entire time… the perfect child from day one.

Adopted baby girl lays on her back asleep wearing green diaper
Courtesy John Petersen and William Kinnane

So… after years of waiting, Riley’s amazing mother brought us our little baby girl. She is all we could have asked for, and we’re even more blessed to have the pleasure of having her mom and sisters in our lives. Neither of us are religious, or even particularly spiritual, but the nearly four-year journey to Riley made us both sure of one thing – everything happens for a reason.

Riley fits our family perfectly. To start, our biggest fear of parenting was not getting enough sleep. Neither of us are good people when we don’t sleep, so we knew that the early years could be a challenge. We’d read at least 20 books on how to get a child to sleep through the night. We’re sure it was luck more than anything but Riley slept through the night starting around three weeks; we often joke that alone was worth four years! She’s also taken one of John’s hobbies and turned it into his full-time job and her passion. Riley will turn ten later this year, and we couldn’t be prouder of her or happier with the family we’ve become. She’s the perfect addition – everything we could ever hope for, and certainly more than we’d ever imagined. While our story might have started out with a little more drama then we’d like, it was worth every minute and we’re so excited to see where it goes next.”

Husbands stand smiling in front of chimney decorated for Christmas with their daughter
Courtesy John Petersen and William Kinnane
Little girl with two dads stand in pink dress with snakes on it with fur vest over
Courtesy John Petersen and William Kinnane

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by John Petersen and William Kinnane of Atlanta Georgia. Follow their family journey on Instagram here. Visit their website hereSubmit your story here, and be sure to subscribe to our best love stories here.

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