“‘There is no way we are able to scan your sacrum while fully protecting your ovaries. The x-ray is a major risk to your future reproductive system.’ I was 12 years old when the radiologist technician told my mom and I this. I didn’t care, I wasn’t thinking about the need for non-fried ovaries and plus: I was going to adopt.
I was 18 — a month into college — when I landed in the hospital with bilateral pulmonary embolisms: blood clots in both lungs. They nearly suffocated me to death, blocking all of the oxygen from my right lung, with a multitude of clots ready to lodge at any point to plug up my left lung. I was poked and prodded, my blood tested and body scanned. By the end of the week we discovered I have two blood clotting disorders. I wasn’t planning on becoming a mom anytime soon, but the doctor sat me down and explained the high risk of miscarriage and stillbirth. If I get pregnant, I would need to be on blood thinners, and ASAP. Again, I shrugged it off, sure that whenever that time came, either a miracle would happen with my body or I simply wouldn’t have a desire to birth my children.
I was living with a friend when I discovered I likely have the same disease she has: endometriosis. I wasn’t sure what that meant with all the other odds stacked against me fertility-wise, but I knew if I married the man I was currently dating, he’d need to know about this. So I told him.
‘Listen, I have something to share with you,’ I slowly said during a Skype date.
‘What’s up?’ He asked.
‘I don’t know if my body can conceive and carry a baby to term. But even if I can do that, which I hope to try for one day, I also want to build my future family with adoption. And probably foster care. To be honest, the only reason I desire a biological child at all is to experience pregnancy and childbirth.’
I pulled the cup of coffee to my lips to let him think through my words. If biology was important to him, this was his out.
‘I wouldn’t marry you for your reproductive system. Adopting sounds good to me; family can look any way we want it to and there are tons of kids needing a place to lay their head as theirs.’
That was that: we would adopt, try biologically, and discuss fostering.
I ended up marrying that Bible College student, and we didn’t wait too long to begin attempting to grow our family. At the very start of our life together, we saved money from every single paycheck, sticking it in a jar labeled, ‘Adoption.’
We knew there would be fees involved, whichever route we ended up pursuing first, and we knew we’d need to save. About a year into marriage we pulled the goalie and began trying for a biological child. We assumed we’d get pregnant pretty quickly, because our God is the God of miracles and disease is nothing to Him. Plus, that would give us a bit more time to keep storing away money to cover the fees of adoption.
Seven months of negative tests went by, then 10 months, and then an entire year was marked. We had saved $2,000 in two years for adoption, figured that was enough to at least get the ball rolling in the adoption journey.
I began researching fees associated with different types of adoptions, looking into loans, grants, fundraising. From what the internet said, fees soared well into tens of thousands of dollars. No one in our direct community had adopted or fostered, so it was up to our ignorant selves to figure it out the best we could.
We hired an adoption consultant, terrified we were going to make a mistake. We chose to first pursue the domestic infant adoption route. That same week I got my very first positive pregnancy test. We danced, we celebrated, we let our consultant know we wanted to move forward with preparing to adopt but maybe wait until I was about eight months pregnant to ‘spread the babies out.’ We had just told a few people in our inner circle that we were beginning the adoption journey, and I dreaded them saying I got pregnant because of that decision.
The dread of that quickly vanished when my baby did too. My body miscarried our baby and the grief to hit was something I was not prepared for.
We announced to our small corner of the internet world that WE ARE ADOPTING! Our home study was nearly complete, I filled out the infamous pounds of paperwork, created a profile book showing our life, mailed applications to various adoption agencies across the country, and we were raising funds. A garage sale was scheduled, car washes, bottle drives, lemonade sales — our entire community near and far rallied to help us pull pennies from the corners of the earth into our adoption account.
Six months after my first miscarriage and into this pursuit of infant adoption, I had another positive pregnancy test. Terrified to lose this baby in my womb, as well as be told by adoption agencies we were no longer allowed to be ‘active,’ we only told close family and friends. Pausing our adoption journey was never in question; we had always hoped for both.
‘Maybe 2016 will be the year of the babies! Maybe we will be matched with twins and birth our biological babe! It could be like twins or triplets!’ I was cautiously hopeful, wanting more than anything for my womb-baby to stay put and for our profile book to continue being shown to moms making adoption plans.
I read as many books as I could on adoption, trauma, and transracial families. I listened to podcasts by adoptees, read articles too, and learned very quickly how ignorant I am. It was during The Wait my responsibility as a mother seeded deeply into my soul: motherhood wasn’t about me at all, and I better not make it about me.
Becoming a mom wasn’t to boost my ego or soothe my insecurities, no, motherhood was a privilege and an honor. It was a role of setting myself down and smoothing out the path for my kids, for doing everything I could to support their unique identities and selves. Article after article, podcast after podcast, I listened to adoptees and birth parents alike share grievances and wounds so deep I don’t know how they survived them.
The common thread was the way adoptive parents failed to hold space for the grief in adoption, as well as dismissed the very important roots of their children by dismissing their birth family and culture. I would not do that. I would not make my motherhood about me, I would learn to listen and hear and see and create so much space for all the loss that these little people were inherently born into.
Every week we were emailed a few different ‘situations.’ Essentially we’d receive a bunch of intimate information about a woman preparing to place her in-utero child for adoption and decide if we wanted to ‘present our profile’ to her. It felt odd and unnatural to sift through these women’s histories, substance uses, reasons for planning to place, and then determining if she was a ‘good fit’ for us. I wanted to say yes to every single situation presented to us, because I knew I would love any baby and any mama who trusted us with her baby.
October, November, and December were full of no’s. But I knew that meant someone else got a yes, whether another family hoping to adopt or that baby’s biological mom. My soul longed to know who our future child or children was, who their birth family was, and how long would we need to wait? I hoped we would be chosen before I gave birth, so we could have solo time adjusting with a baby who didn’t know us.
January 2016 arrived and I was at the halfway point of my pregnancy. My stomach was covered in bruises from the twice-daily blood thinning injections keeping us both alive, and I was sure we would be meeting our baby soon. Not a single expectant mom making an adoption plan wanted to call us or interview us, though I was sure every situation was going to be it.
January 6th around 7 a.m. I checked one of the agency’s websites and saw they had listed a baby born that morning. The fees for his adoption were absurdly high and there was no way we could swing that; I didn’t even think we could be approved for a loan half the amount. I showed my husband and he shook his head no. We walked outside, took a 20-week bump photo, and I headed off to an interview. This job as a barista would be solely for the adoption fund.
Our adoption worker, Emilee, was texting me around midnight asking if I had seen the posting for the baby boy born earlier that day. ‘He really needs a family,’ she texted. ‘His mom is struggling to connect with any of the profiles we are showing her. She wants a young family, and I keep thinking of you guys. I can’t get you guys out of my head.’
I wanted to vomit, because I wanted to just say yes: why in the world would money be the only reason to stop our two families becoming family? ‘Is there any way to extend the due date for the fees? We have this much saved, and need some time to raise the rest or get a grant or loan.’ I texted back, anxious.
‘I don’t know… we’ve never allowed that. Can you see if any family members can help?’
‘I will call everyone I can tomorrow.’ I rolled over, closed my eyes, and woke up to her calling me at 6 a.m.
‘Did you figure it out? Can I show R your profile?,’ Emilee asked.
‘I want to say yes so badly, but I am terrified: what happens if we cannot come up with the funds?,’ I asked.
‘That hasn’t ever happened here; fees always get paid.’
When I dropped my husband off at work that day, I told him I thought that baby boy born the morning before might become ours. He gave me a look that said I better not be stupid, but I told him with my words that I needed him to join me out in the scary waters of faith. We would be the ones missing out, if we didn’t let Emilee present our profile.
I called our worker to ask how R was doing. She shared that R had looked through countless books, still no connection, no feeling it was right. I asked Emilee, ‘Would you consider letting R know we aren’t totally sure we can afford the fees, but IF WE COULD, would she choose us?’ Emilee said she wouldn’t normally do that, the emotional turbulence is so much, but she said she’d talk to R anyways. Before I hung up with Emilee, I said, ‘Be sure you tell her I am pregnant. I am 20 weeks pregnant yesterday and due the end of May. I want her to know that. That’s really important.’
One hour turned to two and it felt like an infinity. As I drove the trafficked Portland commute, I sobbed. I gripped the steering wheel yelling at God, ‘God! You better come through if R says we are her son’s parents! I don’t want to be made a fool for trusting you. I don’t want to be made a fool for having too much faith. We need you. And if you aren’t going to pull all the pennies together, then don’t let her even look at us. Don’t let her see us and don’t let her choose us.’
I parked just as Emilee’s name popped up on my phone. ‘Hello?’
I could hear Emilee’s smile through her words, ‘Natalie, I didn’t even show her your entire profile book. I showed her the photos you texted me last night and the moment she saw your faces her entire demeanor changed. She said, ‘That’s them. That’s my son’s parents. That’s who I’ve been looking for.’ And then… I told her you were pregnant.’
There was a pause that felt like an eternity. There could be two ends to this. She continued, ‘When I told her there was a catch, that you were pregnant and due in June, she lit up even more and said it solidified her decision. She wanted her son to have a brother close in age. She told me to tell you to get over here.’ My whole world spinned and froze as I heard her say the next life-altering words. ‘Natalie…you guys have a son waiting for you in Utah if you think you can pull together the fees. Can you fly out tonight?’
My hand flew to my mouth as a gasp of air escaped and a sob caught in my throat. Stunned, tears stung my eyes, and I breathed deeply. ‘Yes. Yes. I will figure it out. Let me call my husband.’
I call him and tell him he needs to come home now and we need to pack and let’s get our butts to Utah. I text family and close friends and drive home as quickly as I can to write a blog post stating we have a song waiting for us in Utah, already born, and this was the amount we needed to fundraise. Publish.
My brother calls, he purchases plane tickets for us. Another friend brings over all the things we don’t have: baby clothes, an infant carrier car seat, a diaper bag, wipes, bottles, diapers, baby rash cream, pacifiers, blankets. We are not prepared at all, but our family and community stepped in and sent us on our way to our firstborn son as my belly rounded 20 weeks round.
We land in Utah, get to the hospital, and I’m breathing deeply, nerves on overdrive. The baby in my womb is doing gymnastics, experiencing the surge of my emotions and excitement, ready to meet his big brother.
I’ll never forget the moment of walking through the hospital doors, climbing the stairs, my legs moving my body seemingly mindlessly as my mind floated above me. The door was mostly shut, the door separating us and R and the baby we all loved so much already.
As we walked through the doorway the air became thick like molasses, my eyes survey the hospital room where our soon-to-be son sat on his mama’s bed, her staring at him with love so fierce. I wasn’t ready for the weight of grief to be this palpable, to have a heartbeat ringing through the entire room where we all stood, surrounding this little life that was changing all of us. The tears threatening to fall were commanded by my brain to stay put, to only well and sink back in, because this moment was not about me. This moment was full of grief and pain and loss and brokenness; this moment was hers and his, theirs, and we were invited into its sacredness.
The tragedy was not lost on me: that she was choosing him over herself, breaking her own already-broken heart to give him a chance at a life she felt she could not provide.
‘Here’s your son,’ she said as she lifted him to me, with a confident smile across her lips but sorrow welling in her eyes. I took that boy in my arms, my heart meshing with his, and I knew more than ever that I wanted to be the best mom I could be for him. I knew I would fight for him, stand up for him, pave pathways for him, seek out support for him, and ensure he had plenty of people in his life to help him find his way through the identity of a biracial-black boy, adopted into a white family.
We left her hospital room to give them some time together, to give her time to sign, if she chose.
In these hospital moments, before she signed her rights away, I knew he wasn’t ours. Not until she put pen to paper. I expected to feel uneasy about the limbo, to feel possessive and fearful, wondering if she would sign or not, anxious she might change her mind at the last minute — none of these fears gripped me, I felt peace and joy, hope for all of us. I knew that even if she chose not to sign, chose to parent her boy and find her way through that journey, we would be okay. He would be okay.
Hours passed. Our social worker approached us, let us know R had signed, it was time for goodbye. My gut twisted up into knots like a tangled rope, my breath constricting — did this really have to be goodbye? Would she want more contact than the stated ‘semi-open’ communication through the agency? Could I give her my phone number or email, would that be too overwhelming for her? What if we couldn’t get ahold of her? When would we see her again? My mind raced as my legs wobbled their way to her.
She picked her son up one last time, pulled him close to her face and let her tears wash over him. I couldn’t stop the well of water in my own eyelids anymore, I let them wet my face, and I choked out the words, ‘R, we will love him as though we birthed him, we will never cut you out of his life, we love you so, so much.’
Her body seemed to slowly float down the hospital hallway. How unfair it all was, that she carried this boy for nearly nine months, stretched her body wide, nourished and delivered his body from hers…only to hand him over to me, a woman she didn’t know but believed could provide a different life for him. She came to this hospital swollen and full of baby, and is leaving this hospital empty handed and full of grief.
I came to this hospital 20 weeks pregnant, arms open wide to hold my firstborn son, Sage, for the first time, the boy I didn’t birth but would raise as if I did.
Almost five months later, we bring our second-born son into the world, Ira. Their bond is one I will never take for granted — I am the luckiest mama in the whole world to be theirs.
Sage confirmed that loving is far easier than we make it out to be, that our children don’t need to come from our wombs, that bonds and attachments aren’t born through blood.
Less than two years later we accepted our first foster placement of two more baby boys under the age of two — you read that right! Four boys under the age of two. That placement was short term, only two weeks, and two months after that we were privileged to say yes to two girls who were ages four and eight at the time.
As the story goes, foster care in and of itself is a gruesome journey because of the system. I parented those two girls for as long as the system allowed me to, and it will forever be held in my heart as one of my favorite years.
Adoption and foster care have cracked me open more than any other pieces of my life. They have forced me to confront my own biases, to strengthen my advocacy muscles, and see the world through the lens of fierce, patient love.
I have loved all seven of my children, permanent or not, as though I birthed them…but also as though I adopted them all. To me, it is the same love: fierce, unending, justice-seeking love.
I will never regret saying yes to love.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Natalie Brenner of Portland, Oregon. You can follow her journey on Instagram, her website and learn more about her book here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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