“It was after dinner on a fall Sunday night. Ryan pulled my hand gently into the nursery and the all-too-familiar lump began to form in my throat. With tear-filled eyes, I handed him a screwdriver as he hung the shelves on the wall above the changing table. For all those years of fertility treatments and our six corresponding miscarriages, we had resisted putting together the nursery. Overzealous and naive, we had purchased a few items with our first pregnancy. These things became heartbreaking reminders of what we did not have, once the nine-week ultrasound revealed a tiny babe whose heart had stopped beating only days before.
But now, at least at some point in the future, things were finally to be different. One journey had ended for us and another was slowly beginning to unfold. As a couple, we had done the late nights and themed parties. We had traveled near and far, we had our career paths, and we had begun to build a home together. Now, all we wanted in the world — more than anything else — was to become parents. Five years of fertility procedures and navigating the greatest sorrow either of us had ever known only further solidified we were ready to share our hearts with a child. Days before that final procedure, my stomach painfully dotted with bruises from injections, and my spirit growing weary, I had looked up at Ryan and said, ‘This is the last one I have in me.’ He shook his head silently and hugged me. When that procedure didn’t take, we both felt at peace with the realization the child who was meant for our hearts and home didn’t need to come from our bodies.
There we were, a little over a year since that final transfer and six months into officially waiting to be matched with an expectant mother. Our painful journey with infertility had taught us to temper our hopes so as not to be caught off guard. We had settled in expecting to wait every bit of the average 18 months to be chosen, if not more. Nack in the spring, when we had received the email that said we were officially ‘in,’ we had allowed a small piece of our hearts to soften. No matter the length of the wait, this path was ultimately one that would lead us to the child meant for our family. With that tiny softening and space for hope, we decided it was finally safe to allow ourselves to dream.
We received an email with a prospective birth mother profile. A local mom had given birth to a healthy baby boy the month before and, for reasons unknown to us at the time, had decided it was best to carefully put together an adoption plan for him. She wrote of looking for a family that greatly valued education, among other things. As I sat in my third-grade classroom during my lunch break scanning this profile, I noticed the tears that began to stream down my face.
Being a person who has always worn my heart on my sleeve meant I became emotional each time we received a new profile. The gravity of a mom making that choice was not lost on me. However, this time the tears were different. This was the fourth profile we had received and the very first time I felt like a birth mother was speaking directly to us. I felt a strange and instantaneous connection with this woman and deep in my heart, felt Ryan and I embodied what she hoped for, for her son. For the first time in years, I allowed my heart to believe maybe this was our time.
But then the week came and went. Teaching class all day felt excruciating. I kept my phone always in my line of sight and waited for an unknown number to flash across the screen.
Because I had become so practiced at protecting my own heart and keeping my realities in check, in my mind I came up with an artificial deadline. If we had not heard by this deadline, I would continue onward accepting we had not been chosen this time. One of the hardest parts about waiting to be matched is you never hear back about what happened after you receive a profile. There were no arbitrary deadlines for a mother to choose by, nor was there a follow-up email that another adoptive couple or person had been selected. After the longest work week of my life, my own artificial deadline of Friday came and passed. Saturday morning, I woke up devastated. This time, the heartbreak felt almost more unbearable than my pregnancy losses had been. With those, I had braced myself for what would likely be the outcome. But this time, I had allowed myself to hope, and wonder, and dream. I cried many tears that weekend, but I leaned on Ryan and we just continued onward.
That night, in the nursery we had so lovingly put together for our ‘some-day’ babe, I tried to remember to simply breathe. Ryan held me and let me cry big, silent tears into his chest. He whispered gently in my ear that one day, it would be our turn. We finished hanging the second shelf and I looked once more around the room, before picking up my phone to leave. However, as I went to put it into my pocket, I immediately noticed a voicemail notification, one that happened to come from an unknown number. I spoke Ryan’s name and simply turned my screen to show him. Ryan quickly grabbed for his phone, only to see the same thing. And in that moment, my breath caught in my throat. Was this actually happening?
After nearly 6 years of closed doors and disappointments, it did not seem possible our time was finally here. Not being patient enough to listen to the entire message, my eyes searched the screen as the phone worked to transcribe the voicemail. As phrases like ‘Birth mother,’ ‘Chosen you,’ and ‘Do this tonight,’ lit up the screen, we finally realized this was the call we had been waiting for.
We quickly dialed our agency back and got about three more minutes of information before taking the leap and saying yes, we were ready to welcome this four-week-old baby boy into our home. The details of the particular circumstances surrounding this situation are not ones I will ever divulge, out of love and respect for both Sterling and his incredible birth mama. Those details are their story to choose to keep private or share. In a matter of fewer than five minutes, our world had been turned upside down in the best possible way. Never before in my life had my heart gone from utter sorrow to excited anticipation in such a short snippet of time.
Here is the harsh reality of adoption. As I was about to rush off to prepare for what was to be the most pivotal moment of my 31 years of life, another woman was preparing to create a plan for a couple she only knew on paper. A plan to raise a child she had carried for nine months and lovingly doted on for another four weeks earthside. Another woman loved her baby SO much she wished to give him every possible chance in his one precious life, and in order to do that, she was willing to make her greatest sacrifice. While I knew my dreams were about to come true and I was so incredibly filled with excitement and gratitude, I was also already grieving for this woman whom I did not even know. Adoption is completely tangled with both profound joy and devastating loss. It is simply not possible to have one without the other.
The rest of that night was a complete whirlwind. So much so you would think the events might have all begin to blur together. But that could not be further from the case. Even now, years later, I can still remember with precise detail exactly how it all unfolded. As I am sure so can Sterling’s first mama. We frantically cleaned the house, we raced to Target, and then only a couple of hours after receiving that life-altering call, we walked through the doors of our agency, understanding another woman was about to place her most precious gift into our waiting arms.
During those first few moments of our meeting, I had to will myself not to look at Sterling. My mind knew there was a chance circumstances could still change, and my heart seemed to acknowledge I should be fully present for his birth mother. She deserved and needed all of me. In what seems strange to admit now, my nerves all fell away within a couple of minutes of sitting down. My love, concern, and focus on this woman before me, was all that mattered. I was ready to fully show her who I was and felt prepared to authentically answer any question she might have. I have never been more present or fully engaged in a single moment as I was during that hour of my life. Nothing else that was happening in the world outside of these four walls seemed to matter.
After an hour of heartfelt and raw communication, and another hour waiting in a back room as the openness and communication agreement were crafted and signed, one of the counselors came back and told us everything was complete and it was time. I have never experienced a more profound, heart-wrenching, and powerful point in time. Sterling was placed into my arms and I forced myself to look deep into the eyes of someone whose world was upending and to verbally promise them I would love their child with my entire being and provide the best life for him that I possibly could.
Now, three years later… my love and gratitude for a stranger’s trust in us grow greater by the day. No words are deep or profound enough to express the radical gratitude you contain for the human being who allowed you to become a mother. I am forever humbled she chose us. As the years have played out, we have had the privilege to get to know E more and more. Aside from being Sterling’s birth mother, she is also simply an incredible human being. E is bright and funny, and a huge champion for human rights. It also turns out Sterling resembles so much of her, both in appearance and personality. It took me becoming an adoptive mama to realize how deep some inherited traits can run. Rather than it reminding me of what Sterling and I don’t share, my heart skips a beat with love for her, that she might still show up forever in these beautiful parts of him. I have immense gratitude for the incredible ways she and Sterling are connected.
Sterling is our everything, the reason our entire journey makes sense. It turns out our bodies, hearts, and souls were simply waiting for him all along. And to love him is also to know and love E as well.
Friends, life is complicated and messy and flawed. But amongst that heartache can grow the purest and most tender joy. My heart is so very grateful for each step I took in life that has brought me to get to be living out this imperfectly beautiful story of being Sterling’s forever mama.
About twenty minutes after I finished writing out this story, a birth family profile came through our email for a ten-week-old baby boy. Still overwhelmed with emotion from reliving the evening we learned we had been chosen to welcome Sterling into our lives, Ryan and I carefully read through the profile and replied we desired to have our profiles included for the birth family to consider. We then spent the day playing and doing house projects and trying not to dwell on the fact that somewhere in Oregon, a tiny babe was waiting for his forever family. Then as we sat down for dinner, an unknown number lit up our screen, and we once again learned the time had come to grow our family. We will go to pick up our second son tomorrow and the way it has all played out can be described as nothing less than serendipitous. My heart is so full.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Alexandra Warren. You can follow their journey on Instagram. 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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