‘My girl looked at us, tears in her eyes. ‘I don’t get a baby brudder?’ My heart shattered.’: Mom details ‘adoption roller coaster’ in the wake of father’s tragic death

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“October 22, 2016, marked 24 months since we had started trying to grow our family, two years of secondary infertility. Two years of tests, IUI’s, a surgery, tears, and much confusion. With our first child, Emry, everything came so easily. I thought we were in the clear and that infertility wasn’t going to be part of our story. I was wrong.

Karl Hugh/Studio West Photography

That morning I woke up feeling different – I felt free. I don’t know what it was, but I felt like the trial of infertility had released me. I was prompted to do something that would symbolize this new-found emotional freedom, so I decided to send 24 balloons to heaven; 24 balloons for 24 months of pain, heartache, confusion, calendars, tracking, fertility drugs, long-winded prayers, and pregnancy tests. I posted a picture to my Instagram that day of my daughter and I with those balloons and the caption said this:

‘This has definitely been the hardest thing I have ever gone through and I have let it affect my marriage, my friendships, my parenting, and my spirituality. But, it has also taught me to be more understanding, open, grateful, and has made me a stronger person. Even though I often wish this wasn’t my reality, I am grateful for what I have learned and I am very aware that there are others that have it much worse. So, here’s to a new beginning of putting my life in the Lord’s hands and being grateful for what I have. And like my wise 3-year-old says, ‘sometimes you have to wait for a baby, right mama?’ You are very right Em, and wait we will!’

Little did I know that about 6 hours later, I was going to begin an even greater trial, one that would bring me to my knees feeling pain I had never felt before.

Courtesy of Brenna Burrows

That evening, I received a call from my mom. Some of my family had been at our cabin for the weekend. My husband Chance, daughter Emry and I were supposed to go spend the day up there but for some unknown reason we just – didn’t go.

When I saw my mom’s name on the caller ID, I figured she was calling to see why we never showed up. Her voice on the other end of the line was shaky. ‘Brenna, we lost your dad,’ she said. My immediate thought was that he was lost in the woods somewhere. ‘No, Brenna. He’s gone.’ I collapsed to the floor as my husband took the phone out of my hands. While I sobbed, my 3-year-old daughter gave me a loving hug then ran and hid, it was too much for her to comprehend. Chance brought her to me and pulled us all in together and hugged us so tight.

The evening of October 22nd, my dad was in an ATV accident on the way home from our family cabin. My nephew was on the 4-wheeler with him, but my dad was able to save his life by throwing him off and out of the way. My dad took his last breath in my sisters’ arms.

Karl Hugh/Studio West Photography

The days to come were the hardest I have ever experienced. Watching my mom grieve her husband, but also trying to comfort her kids was heartbreaking. My sister was going through PTSD. My nephew was life-flighted to a hospital 3 hours away. My little sister and I were taking care of my older sister’s 2-month-old twins. My brothers were trying their hardest to get to us from their homes in different states. All of this was going on while I was trying to fully understand what just happened, to process things, and trying to grieve the loss of my dad.

During the next few days I couldn’t help but think about how I had let infertility take over my life. At that time, that trial felt too hard to bear. How foolish I felt. Even though secondary infertility was hard, losing my dad brought pain and heartache like never before.

Karl Hugh/Studio West Photography

From that day on, life was all about figuring out our new normal. We spent all our time with our family as we tried to pick up the pieces and move forward. It is strange losing someone close to you. You want to be with your family, but it is so hard because they are a constant reminder of what just happened. On the other hand, when you aren’t with them you want to scream at the people around you, because it doesn’t feel okay to just move forward with life and act like my world didn’t just shatter all around me.

During those months of grieving I felt very close to my God. I think that relationship saved me. I spent countless hours pleading for strength and comfort. The grieving process was brutal, and most mornings I had to remind myself it actually happened, that he was really gone. On the other hand, I had completely let go of the infertility and felt very much at peace with that part of my life.

On November 22nd, one month to the day of losing my dad, we were approached by a dear friend about adoption. Even before the infertility, adoption was always something we had talked about, but we had never made any real plans. We always talked about adopting later on, so we didn’t know if we were quite there yet. Nevertheless, this friend of ours told us about a woman who was pregnant that was considering adoption. She told me she sat up one night and our family popped in her mind as a potential family for this baby girl. I was shocked and so touched she would think of us. This felt like a distinct sign we were supposed to start looking into adoption. I felt as though my dad was reaching out to us.

Courtesy of Brenna Burrows

We wrote a letter, gathered photos, and sent them to the expectant mother. Days went by, and then a couple weeks with no response. To be completely honest, I had given up. One day while I was working in the studio, I got a call from one of the women who was helping with communication between us and the mother. I answered in the middle of my photo shoot hoping to hear good news. I don’t remember much from that conversation, just the phrase, ‘She picked you guys!’ That was a good phone call.

Mama was due in just a few short weeks, so we started scrambling to get all the legal requirements done. We had our background checks done and then scheduled our home study. Communication with the mother started to slow down, and we started to get worried. Our friend told us to hold off on the home study, and that’s when I knew something had changed. One week before the mother was due, we got a call from our friend. She told us the biological grandparents were making the mother give them the baby. We knew they were in the picture, but they had previously said they felt they were too old to take on a newborn baby. They changed their minds and they have that right. But still, I was devastated.

I spiraled into a dark hole of questions. ‘Why me?’ ‘Why now?’ ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ I could not figure out why God would put us in this position, why He would put something right in front of us and then rip it away, leaving us gasping for air. This mindset I was in was scary. All I could think about was myself and the pain I was feeling.

As days went on, the pain started to ease. I tried to focus more on grieving my dad and not focus on the child I had, in a sense, ‘lost’ as well. We tried to find our new normal and go about a day to day routine. Adoption would randomly pop into my mind, but I would push it out just as quickly. My heart was in no place to experience that pain again. Months went by and before we knew it, it was March.

On the night of March 20th, I got an unexpected text from my sister. She said there was a pregnant woman in Atlanta with plans of placing her baby boy for adoption. The mother hadn’t felt right about any of the waiting families her agency had shown her, so the agency was reaching out to families who had previously adopted in search of a family who the mother might connect with. I sat in bed telling myself to go to sleep, to not think about things until the morning. Of course, I couldn’t. I felt pushed to send a letter and photos right then and there. I hit ‘send’ and laid down in my bed full of anxiety. The next morning could not come fast enough.

That morning the agency called. On the other end of the line I heard, ‘She’s chosen your family.’ The feelings I had in that moment are hard to describe. I was so excited, scared, and so completely shocked. We were about to become a family of 4! Then, the next words that came out of the social worker’s mouth turned me into a complete stress case. Baby boy was due in a week, but they had decided to induce mama in 24 in hours. What were we supposed to do? We had to complete the adoption paperwork, have a home study done, drive hundreds of miles to give the paperwork to the agency, and fly thousands of miles to Atlanta. It felt impossible! The next 24 hours were a complete whirlwind and finishing everything we did can only be explained as a miracle. So many people came to our aid and helped us get ready.

Before we left for our long journey, we sat Emry down and told her about her baby brother that was on his way. The look in her eyes was priceless; pure excitement that quickly turned to disappointment. ‘But I wanted a baby sister!’ She came around though and couldn’t stop talking about her ‘baby brudder.’ Baby boy was going to make his big debut on March 22nd, the 5-month mark of my dad’s death. It felt like fate!

Courtesy of Brenna Burrows

Our plane touched down at noon and we were overcome with emotions of how real this was all becoming. We reached out to our social worker and she said that last she had heard, mom was still in labor and she wanted us to go straight to the hospital. When we arrived we were sent straight to her room. Chance and I sat on the outside of the room and just stared at each other. We were about to open a door that would change the rest of our lives. We took each other by the hand, flashed some timid smiles, and opened the door. We walked in expecting to see a woman in labor; instead we saw a woman in a hospital bed and another young girl on the couch holding a baby. Surprise! The woman holding the baby was the mom’s sister. She stood up and handed me this brand-new baby boy. All I could do was stare at his handsome face. Oh man was he cute!

As we sat there in her hospital room, we got to know the mother while she let us snuggle her precious baby boy. We felt so connected to her and felt we were doing the right thing. She told us how she had no doubt he was supposed to be in our family and how happy she was to have found us. We left the hospital that night in shock; so excited, scared, and ready to head back to the hospital as soon as we could.

The next morning came slowly. As soon as visiting hours started, we jumped in the car and headed back to the hospital. We spent the entire morning with him. We fed him, snuggled him, changed him, and snuggled him some more. He was so calm and content! As time went on, things started to feel different with his mom. She told us about how his dad had contacted her and that he had changed his mind about adoption. We could sense fear in her, and it was clear he had some kind of hold on her. It was heartbreaking to watch her go through that. The dad had told her he wanted to make sure the baby wasn’t his before he let her ‘sign him away.’

It was evident how stressful this was for her. Even though we had only known each other for a short time, it was hard for me to watch her go through that. I could see her voice being taken away. She had told us about how unhealthy her relationship with the father was. I could tell she was very worried about disagreeing with him. We decided to leave so she could have some time to herself to think. Deep down, I could feel that things were not going to end the way we had hoped.

We couldn’t bring ourselves to leave the hospital, so we sat in the car in the parking garage waiting to hear from her. I remember staring out of the opening of the parking garage at the surrounding buildings. I could see cars driving, people walking, life moving by. As for me, time seemed to stand still. We were getting constant texts from our family asking for updates. All I could tell them was, ‘Things are not going well. Please pray for us.’ I texted my sister and told her I thought the mom was changing her mind. Writing that text out was so painful. Up until that point I had only thought it, writing it down made it seem much more real.

We received a message from her asking us to come back to talk. As we entered her room, I could feel that something was off. About 30 seconds later there was a knock at the door and in walked the father and his sister. Everything about the mom changed from the second he entered the room; the way she held herself, spoke, and even her facial expressions were different. As soon as he started to talk, she didn’t say a word. It was as if she wasn’t allowed to speak.

He didn’t waste any time as he began telling us his side of the situation. It felt like my heart was going to jump out of my chest. He told us he had only entertained the idea of adoption because he never thought the mom would go through with it. He told us how he isn’t in a place to raise a child, but that his sister was. As the father spoke, his sister would jump in and finish his sentences, and she really led the conversation. The two of them looked us straight in the eyes and told us they would never let this baby go if he was ‘blood,’ but that if he isn’t ‘blood,’ then we can have him. They finally paused long enough for us to get a word in and all I could say was, ‘we don’t care whose ‘blood’ he is. We are ready to love this child like our own.’ Tears shamelessly fell down my cheeks. Once again, my world felt like it was crashing down around me, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it.

We left the hospital that night feeling very empty. There was still some hope, but we could sense the way this was going. We got to our hotel room and were greeted by my confused mother-in-law and a toddler who couldn’t stop asking to see her ‘baby brudder.’ At that point, all I was feeling was anger. I was angry this was happening to us. I was angry every time I would get a text from someone asking me to update them. I was angry when my mother-in-law would ask us what was happening. I was so angry. All I wanted to do was runaway and act like none of this had ever happened. Chance snuck me away for a drive. We stopped the car and we prayed harder than we ever had before. Chance asked God to help us accept His will and the decisions of others, and to help us do what we could to help that baby have a happier life. I didn’t want to hear that. I think part of me knew what was going to happen, and I wasn’t ready to deal with that kind of loss, again.

We woke the next day with no texts or missed calls from the mother. There were two texts though – texts from both of my brothers in our family group chat with the wonderful news that both of their wives had delivered their babies. Those texts broke me. I cried loud and hard. I felt like there was no way out of that darkness; no escape from the pain.

We spent the next 24 hours sending texts back and forth with the birth mom. There would be some glimmer of hope, and then we wouldn’t hear from her for a few hours. We decided to call the hospital to see if she had been discharged. If she had, we were going to move forward. The look on Chance’s face as he spoke with the hospital was all I needed to see. We booked our flights, canceled our hotel, and headed to the airport. Besides feeling like we had lost that little boy who we were ready to accept as our own, the hardest part was telling Emry and watching her experience the loss of her baby brother. She looked at us with tears in her eyes and said, ‘I don’t get a baby brudder?’ My heart was shattered.

If anything, we did leave Atlanta with the feeling that by sacrificing so much to be there for that little baby, his family had to step up and fight for him. Chance spoke with the birth father’s sister, who is now the boy’s primary guardian, and she really did seem committed to caring for him. To our knowledge, they are doing well. They also decided not to have a paternity test done, so I hope in the end it wasn’t only about ‘blood.’

Back from Atlanta, we picked ourselves up and tried to move forward. After going through the last 5 months, it’s all we knew how to do. The agency felt horrible for what had happened, and I could tell they wanted to do all they could to make things right. They kept showing me potential birth moms, but my heart couldn’t take it. I looked at a few profiles, but then I asked them to stop. I felt like I needed some time. They gave it one last try and told me about a woman who was due in two weeks. She had entrusted the agency to pick the adoptive family. The agency didn’t feel right about any of the other families for this baby. They were hoping a new one would show up that they felt right about before she delivered. They went on to tell me that it was a little girl, and they felt we would be a perfect fit for this mother and baby. I could not get this baby girl out of my head.

After losing my dad, I had a strong impression we were going to add a girl to our family soon, and that I should name her Wynn, after him. I couldn’t help but think this must be her – this has got to be our Wynnie. So, we jumped back on the adoption roller coaster. We did things differently this time though. We kept it to ourselves. Watching Emry and our families lose that baby boy did a number on us. There was no way we could go through it again.

Courtesy of Brenna Burrows

‘V’ was due in two weeks. Those two weeks moved so fast, yet so slow. They were so stressful, yet so calm. Did I mention that adoption is a roller coaster? If we hadn’t just gone through what we did in Atlanta, we would have spent those two weeks preparing for that sweet baby girl. Instead we didn’t do anything to get ready. We bought nothing, told only those that needed to help with Emry when we left, and didn’t even set up a nursery. It is still hard thinking that we missed out on the enjoyment of that time. We didn’t get to be excited about this sweet baby, because we were scared she was never meant to be ours. We didn’t get to have a baby shower, set up her crib, or buy her first outfit. It was so hard, but I guess that’s adoption.

On Tuesday, April 11th I got a call with the news that V had boarded her flight to Utah. She decided to deliver in the same state as us to make the adoption go more smoothly. As soon as she landed, they would take her to the doctor to see how she was progressing. The next call we received was to inform us she would be induced the following morning at 6 a.m. I know it’s hard to imagine, but try. Each call I got that day brought us closer and closer to that moment we had been praying for. The phone was glued to my hand as I waited for the calls from our social worker. I could not believe what was happening. But, as excited as I was, I still tried hard to protect my heart. I was terrified that we were walking down the same road of loss.

We packed up, dropped Emry off at our friend’s house, and drove 3 hours north. At this point, Emry still didn’t know anything. She thought she was going to have a sleep over with a friend while her mommy and daddy went on a little trip. Only a handful of people knew where we were heading. We weren’t going to tell anyone until it was official.

It was April 12th, and we hung onto each text from our social worker updating us on V’s labor. When we read ‘6lbs 12 oz, 18 inches,’ my heart was racing. She was here, she was healthy, and she was absolutely perfect. It took everything in me not to sprint to the hospital. Instead we waited patiently in a hotel room across the street. We could not wait to meet her.

Our case worker asked us to come to the hospital a few hours later. On that windy April day, we walked hand in hand into that hospital knowing we were, again, about to begin a new chapter of our lives. We knew things would never be the same. We were about to meet a little girl we hoped would make us a family of four. We were about to meet Emry’s sister. The excitement was unreal, but we were still feeling so much doubt and fear. Again, we missed out on some precious moments because we were guarding our hearts for what could potentially go wrong. Adoption is not easy.

We walked into the nursery and there she was – sprawled out relaxing under the heat lamps with her long pointy feet. She was so fresh from heaven you could almost see the angels around her. There are no words to describe the way we felt in that moment but the closest is, joy. I couldn’t hold back the tears. I knew things were all going to be okay. I knew if she wasn’t going to be able to stay with her biological mother, she was meant to be with us.

Courtesy of Brenna Burrows

The hospital let us use a private room off the nursery to get some alone time, just the three of us. As we sat in that tiny sterile room, we both starred at this little girl in awe of her beauty and sweet presence. Chance suggested we say a prayer and thought I should be the one to say it. We bowed our heads over baby girl and had a beautiful conversation with God. We thanked Him for such an incredible blessing and asked Him to give us guidance as we raise her. I asked Him to thank my Dad for whatever part he had in bringing her to our family. Without him, I don’t think she would be in our arms. It was a very emotional prayer and the room was filled with the most peaceful spirit. It was a moment I will never forget, and one that solidified she was supposed to be in our arms. We spent that entire evening holding and snuggling her.

Courtesy of Brenna Burrows

The next morning came quickly, and we patiently waited for her mom to make her final decision. I felt so much peace that day. I had a strong impression that everything was going to work out the way that it should. Whether that was us going home empty handed or not; it would all be okay. At exactly 4 o’clock my phone rang, and our case worker was on the other end. ‘She is officially yours,’ she said, ‘congratulations!’ It felt as though my heart was going to burst. I couldn’t believe the little girl in my arms was my daughter; that God trusted me to take care of her, love her, and witness her beautiful life. I also couldn’t believe that another woman trusted me to do what she couldn’t at the time, to mother her. That moment was an all-time high, but also an all-time low. What I had just gained was all because someone had experienced great loss. What a complicated road adoption can be. It will tear at your heart strings and make you realize how such a gift to one family is often accompanied by such pain for someone else.

Courtesy of Brenna Burrows

I was overwhelmed with so many emotions during those 24 hours; love, fear, excitement, recognition, pain. It was incredibly hard knowing that one of the best days of my life was another woman’s hardest. I know what labor is like, I understand what a sacrifice it is to carry a child to full term. I don’t, however, know what it’s like to kiss that baby goodbye and send her to be with another mother. I was also overtaken by thoughts and feelings for this little girl’s future; so heartbroken for the pain she would feel one day, and the confusion and the questions she will have. I knew it was something I could never completely understand.

During those next sacred moments, we gave her a name and celebrated our growing family. Wynn JoAnn, Wynn after my dad (EdWynn) and JoAnn after my grandmother. We called friends and family and surprised them with the news. The love that was shown to us was indescribable. So many people had been praying for this.

The second we were released from the hospital we took the three-hour journey home to surprise big sis! The look on her face when we placed her in Emry’s arms was priceless. She was so excited to have a baby sister and even more excited that her name was Wynnie after her grandpa.

Courtesy of Brenna Burrows
Courtesy of Brenna Burrows

Looking back to that day in Atlanta, I remember leaving the hospital the first time we met that baby boy feeling conflicted. I couldn’t figure out if it was because we had just held ‘our’ baby and then left him in the hospital with his mom, or if it was because he was never meant to be ours. I was so confused but pushed the confusion to the back of my mind and tried to move forward. I know if he had come home with us, we would have done our best to give him a good life. But after seeing Wynn for the first time, I knew this was the child we were supposed to raise. There was no confusion, no lack of recognition, and there was very little fear of it not working out. It is funny how clearly you can see things when you look back. That experience in Atlanta, although so hard, was an experience I wouldn’t change. It brought us to Wynn, and for that I will always be grateful.

Courtesy of Brenna Burrows
Courtesy of Brenna Burrows

The road that led us to our Wynnie girl was all worth it. That said, when we were in the thick of it, I never thought things were going to get better. I couldn’t see past our trials, and it was so heartbreaking. I believe that part of our journey in this life is that we are meant to feel immense pain so that in contrast, we can feel immense joy. I know we haven’t reached an end to pain and trials, and that things aren’t going to be easy from here on out. But because we are able to look back on some really tough times and know that we were able to feel such joy again, I know we will be able to get through even the hardest of times.

Courtesy of Brenna Burrows

Wynn, if you read this one day, please do me this favor – when you feel sad and wonder ‘why me?,’ remember that you were chosen. Not by me, but by her. Your mother chose to keep your tiny body growing inside of her. She chose to carry you through pregnancy. She chose to give birth to you. She chose to give you a mother and a father. She chose you! And as for me? I chose to adopt, and that choice has given me one of my greatest blessings. I believe we were not plan A. Plan A was for you to be with your biological mom and dad, but because God is a good God, He presented a wonderful plan B.

Courtesy of Brenna Burrows

You are chosen, so wanted, and loved more than you know. You brought so much light into our life after some very dark days. You are our rainbow after the storm, the sunrise after the long dark night. You are our Wynnie girl.”

Courtesy of Brenna Burrows

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Brenna Burrows of Qingdao, China. You can follow their journey on Instagram, her blog and YouTube. 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.

Read more inspiring adoption stories here:

‘She was HIV+ and we knew she was our daughter. Time stopped when we saw her. She was absolutely beautiful and perfect, but her oversized clothes hung loosely on her tiny frail body.’

‘My birthmother went into labor. Her secret would soon be out. Lying on the floor, she called her sister in pain. ‘What’s wrong?,’ she frantically asked. ‘My baby is coming. I need the hospital.’

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