“‘Your daughter is so lucky to have you,’ is the typical response from people when I share that I adopted her from foster care. And while this may be true, if people knew my entire story, they’d realize I am the lucky one. I feel incredibly grateful for the opportunity to adopt and raise my daughter.
I was always a happy-go-lucky girl with a plan; a typical one consisting of college, marriage, and family. I always strived to be ‘perfect‘ – whatever that meant – and tried to make good decisions. Today’s reality is nothing how I planned, and I am entirely okay with that. My past has been an amazing journey leading me to where I am today, and I have a great life! Through heartbreak came strength and growth, all of which I needed to get here.
My first heartbreak came on September 1, 1998, when my father passed away after suffering injuries from a work accident involving a fire. I was just about to start my junior year at Marquette and had to decide whether or not to stay to grieve with my family or go back to school. Something inside me knew my dad would want me to go back to school, so I returned just days after the funeral. Perhaps as a coping mechanism, I threw myself into my studies, achieving Dean’s list honors and taking additional classes to graduate a semester early.
After both my boyfriend and I graduated, we got married. I realized that at 21, I was young, but I was a homebody and settling down seemed so natural for me – and was in line with my plan. I loved being married! With his encouragement, I decided to pursue my law degree. Upon graduation in 2005, I secured an in-house counsel position with an insurance company, precisely the job I thought I wanted. I was thrilled with how my life was playing out and decided I was ready for the next phase – starting a family.
Heartbreak came again when my then-husband of 7 years told me he didn’t want to have kids. I was utterly shocked and confused by this revelation, as we discussed having kids before marriage. We wanted two boys and had already started saving for their education. Over the next year, I contemplated my choices, none of which were part of my plan. Life without a family didn’t make sense to me, but divorcing someone I loved didn’t seem fair. And absent this issue, we had a great relationship. So many people encouraged me to get pregnant and told me he’d change his mind, but I couldn’t take that risk. The risk that he would resent me for becoming pregnant and wouldn’t change his mind.
After much consideration, I decided to ask for a divorce. Even though we were incredibly amicable, the divorce devastated me. I was not only sad for us, but also for our families. We had been together for ten years, and I loved our life, but I didn’t love our childless future.
Life Following The Divorce
For the first time in my life, I lived alone and was responsible for everything. I hated every minute of my new life and felt selfish for deciding to divorce. So I focused on my career to divert attention away from my personal life. At this point, I had left my previous position and was working as a contract attorney in hopes of gaining knowledge and skills as an eDiscovery attorney.
Over the next five-plus years, my hard work paid off. I began to advance in my career. But unfortunately, my personal life, or lack thereof, was a disaster. I was unhappy when I wasn’t working and had time to think about my life. I isolated myself from everyone who cared about me because I didn’t want to spread my misery, and I didn’t want anyone to worry about or feel sorry for me. I was depressed but strived to make everyone believe I was okay.
In 2014, I became severely depressed as I thought about how my desire to become a mom was why I divorced. Still, I was not taking any steps to fulfill this desire. I started to regret my decision to leave someone I loved to pursue a desire that may go unfulfilled. This was my darkest time, and I knew I needed to rewrite my plan and go after the life I wanted.
Finally Pursuing Motherhood
Once I concluded I was strong enough to be a single mother, and truly believed I would be enough for a child, my happy self started to return. I chose to pursue adoption because I thought if I became a mother to a child who needed a family, this would dissolve my feeling selfish about my decisions. However, I didn’t feel traditional adoption was a good fit. In addition to adoption being costly, I was concerned that I, as a single mother, would not be selected over a two-parent family. Further, many couples’ rationale for considering adoption stems from issues conceiving, and I thought that motivation was more worthy than mine. Then I discovered foster care to adoption, and I instantly knew that was my path.
In Illinois (and most states, I think), social workers assess the possibility of reunification for children entering foster care. When reunification seems unlikely, the goal is to place that child in a home that would also like to adopt, attempting to avoid multiple placements. After attending an informational session, I immediately started the process to become a licensed foster care parent, consisting of an extensive background check, home visits, and training classes.
The training classes were 6 to 8 weeks every Saturday. I did not enjoy them as I thought most of the information discussed was common sense. However, they did get me thinking about my support system and my plan to manage my demanding career with a child.
Welcoming A Baby
I became licensed in December of 2014. Since I wasn’t too familiar with caring for babies, my preferred age group was 3 to 6, with no preference for race. As I waited for a call, I checked websites and inquired about children awaiting adoption. Unfortunately, most of the children awaiting adoption were older, and some of their stories were horrific. I cried many times reading the brief history of the events leading up to the termination of parental rights. I did receive some calls, but nothing seemed to work out. I was starting to get discouraged, and then in June of 2015, I got a call! A healthy baby was born, and the mother decided she could not care for him at the last minute. He was not going into foster care, but since there was no adoption plan in place, it came through my agency, and they called to see if I was interested.
Without hesitation, I agreed to move forward with the process. I submitted a family book to the birth mother for consideration. A few days later, they notified me I was selected and they would deliver the baby to my house the next day! Since this was not the age range I had planned for, my best friend and I went on a speedy shopping trip to pick up all the baby essentials. Her husband spent the evening assembling the various baby items, and then I went home and waited. Sure enough, a beautiful baby boy arrived at my house the next day, and I instantly fell in love with him.
There are no words to describe the devastation I felt when the birth mother changed her mind and decided she wanted to raise him five days later. I needed to say goodbye to him. Heartbroken and discouraged, I redirected all my anger to exercise and took a small break from looking at websites and waiting for calls.
Being with the baby did change one thing – I now had baby fever and changed my desired age range to infant up to 6 years old. I was aware the chances were low of an infant placement and this change could increase my wait time, but I decided to go for it. I also decided to look into artificial insemination with a sperm donor to hedge my bets. Unfortunately, at 37, almost 38, I was automatically considered high-risk and needed to go through IVF treatments to try to become pregnant. I tried artificial insemination twice, and both times were unsuccessful.
Meeting My Daughter
What happened next turned out to be everything I wanted. I was traveling back to Chicago from a job interview in Minnesota. While waiting for my flight, I received a call from my caseworker. A baby girl was born and needed a home. Also, considering the birth mother’s history with the foster care system, parental rights were likely to be terminated. She then asked, ‘Are you interested in having this baby placed in your home?’ I immediately began crying but managed to say, ‘Yes, and thank you!’
My daughter was born on the same day the doctor had called me to notify me my second attempt at getting pregnant failed. Although she was healthy, she was born with some drugs in her system and weighed a little over 5 pounds. She spent a week in the hospital before I could pick her up to take her home. The timing was almost a year from the failed adoption, so I already had a lot of baby essentials. I was ready.
On June 16th, my best friend drove me to the hospital. At the hospital, I encountered a couple in the elevator and had a hunch the woman was the birth mother. She had a black eye and was very skinny. Not wanting to make any assumptions, I kept my mouth shut and exited the elevator at my stop. After waiting 30 minutes, my caseworker greeted me and notified me the birth mother was also there to say goodbye to the baby. She told me the birth mom wanted to meet me. I am not sure I had an option to say ‘no,’ but this was not something they mentioned in training. Meeting the birth mom was very emotional for me. Still, I am sure it was nothing compared to the emotions she was experiencing. I was so thrilled to have this baby girl placed with me and was thankful to her for bringing her into this world and, at the same time, very angry with her for not taking care of herself and protecting the baby during her pregnancy. Although I have some family members with addiction issues, addiction is still something I cannot fully grasp.
The meeting with the birth mother went as well as I imagine it could have. She was the same woman in the elevator with me, and the man she was with was her boyfriend, but not the birth father. She was so young and seemed sad but thankful for my ability and willingness to care for her baby. She also seemed confident she would regain custody of her daughter, so her staying with me was temporary. Her confidence made me extremely nervous about having a repeat of the failed adoption. Still, I knew the risk and refused to let that fear top my feeling of excitement.
Meeting my beautiful daughter for the first time is a memory I will never forget. At that moment, it was just her and I, and I felt a connection immediately. I knew my life was going to change for the better and I would do everything I could to keep her happy, healthy, and safe. The birth mom didn’t want us to leave. So while the nurses and caseworker distracted her, hospital staff directed me to a back way out of the hospital. I am not sure if all pick-ups go that way. It did seem more dramatic than it needed to be, but all that mattered was my daughter was home!
Fighting For Custody
After that, we didn’t hear much from the birth mom until my daughter was about six months. The caseworker called to tell me the birth mother faced significant jail time. She also said the court might request my daughter routinely visit her birth mom at the prison. This seemed ridiculous because there was no contact during the first six months of my daughter’s life. The birth mother was completely MIA. So now they wanted my daughter to travel more than an hour away to visit her? Thankfully, visitation at the prison did not happen. However, the mom was now at all court hearings.
During one hearing, she told the judge her boyfriend, the man from the elevator, was my daughter’s biological father. The judge ordered a paternity test, proving he was not the father, which also delayed the process. She started writing letters to my daughter, and I answered them and sent back pictures. I was nervous about the relationship they might establish. Still, I thought it was in my daughter’s best interest to know I tried to maintain a connection with her. She contested the adoption, but eventually, her parental rights were terminated.
Finally, in April of 2020, when my daughter was almost four, the adoption was finalized. I had planned for a HUGE celebration, but due to COVID, the court hearing was virtual, and the party was minimal. Nonetheless, it was a happy day! I finally let go of the fear I may lose custody one day.
Soon after the adoption, I found out my daughter’s birth mother was released from prison when mail was returned to me with no forwarding address. My caseworker was unaware of her release, and no mailing address was provided. I did find her on Facebook and discovered she had gotten married and was expecting another child. When the baby was born, my caseworker reached out to let me know the baby was with the paternal grandmother.
I know my daughter and I will face additional challenges. But, together, we will work through them. While being a single parent is tough, when you want something enough, it doesn’t seem as challenging as one might think. I didn’t consider the amount of stress single parents manage, knowing the buck stops with them. Yes, you can ask for help, and I am so thankful to my family and friends for their support. Still, you are solely responsible for your child, financially and emotionally, and that pressure alone can be overwhelming. Being a single mom was not my plan, and neither was adopting from foster care, but I love our story and I wouldn’t change a thing. Our story is so much better than my plan.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Nicole LeBeau. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her website. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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