A few weeks ago, we got THE CALL: our home study social worker, Debra, called and said, “I think I have your match!” She explained that our match was a woman, who I will call "Sarah," who was in rehab for opiate use, who didn’t know that she was pregnant for 24 weeks, and was clean as of the moment. Sarah's mom also wanted a partially open adoption and wanted to talk with me via phone that day. The baby is a boy, she is here in the state (as opposed to China), and she was due in just 8 weeks!
At first glance, I am sure this seems pretty darn scary to anyone that has not entered into the adoption process (and for many who ARE in the process as well). However, my husband and I had done a great deal of research and had decided several things:
- We are open to a child who has been prenatally exposed to drugs. While it is really, really bad to use drugs during pregnancy, some drugs are worse than others. In this case, we were assured that she had only ever abused pain pills, which are pretty much blocked by the placenta. Because of that, the chances of major damage to the child are the lowest of any drug. (Alcohol is by far the worst!! Please do not drink or do drugs during pregnancy, even "lower risk" drugs!!)
- We are open to kids with medically treatable special needs (for instance, with prenatal drug exposure, you can be dealing with things like learning disabilities, ADD, and more). We feel like we can handle a lot, giving an awesome life to a child that might otherwise not be adopted.
- We are open to a completely open adoption in the right circumstances. A completely open adoption is one in which the biological mom/family knows your name, where you live, and even meets the child once a year (or more, in some circumstances).
- As we have figured out, the right circumstances for an open adoption are very specific: You want a biological mom who is mature enough to handle that arrangement and see you as the parents of the child. In addition, she should not be a drug user or a criminal.
Given our parameters, this situation didn’t seem too bad. Of course, it also helped that I am naive enough to think that she must have been having a menstrual period every month while pregnant (which is rare, but does happen), so that was why she didn’t know she was pregnant for so long.
In addition, the biological father was signing to terminate his parental rights the next day, so we assumed he was totally out of the picture—we figured that was a good thing and one less complication.
Now, while we are open to an open adoption, we wanted to hold back some information until we were 100% sure that the situation was such that we were comfortable with our identifying info being released. One (major) bit of info was released before we entered the situation: Debra (who has a heart of gold), was trying to tell the girl what a great, stable couple we are, and told her the specific place we live. Unfortunately, because it’s not a big town, you could easily find us by just knowing our first names and wandering into a few stores and restaurants. I wasn’t thrilled about that, but I figured it was going to be okay and proceeded.
In order to protect our privacy a little bit, I did buy a “burner” or “pay-as-you-go” phone. While I felt like a total drug dealer buying it, I decided that I needed to listen to my gut instinct that we should have it. I’m glad I did.
The very day we got the call, I had a conversation with Sarah's mom, who I will call “Mary.” She asked everything about our spiritual beliefs, thoughts on education, and background, which I answered as honestly as I could. We seemed a match, so it was arranged that the next week we would talk with Sarah via phone.
At this point, I decided not to tell anyone about our potential match; after all, we’d already been through one tough situation. I wanted to KNOW this was going forward before we broke the news.
Sarah called the next week, and we chatted away for an hour. I liked her; she was honest about her pain pill addiction and said all the right things about wanting to stay clean for the baby and turn her life around. When she said, “Thank you for not judging me.” I just about melted. Why would I judge her? Anyone who thinks they could never end up in the same situation is delusional…we all have things that break us sometimes, and drugs or alcohol are often used to numb that pain.
At the end of the conversation, she said, “I want you to get excited. You are exactly what I was looking for in parents for this child!” I got teary and walked over talk to my husband. “We’re having a baby boy!” I said, falling to tears.
With this, I finally allowed myself to get excited, and we ordered all our “baby stuff” that night. The next day, we called our family and started telling our friends (keeping all information about the birth mom private—I firmly believe that is private info, and you do not want a child stigmatized by the circumstances prior to their birth). They were all overjoyed! It was so exciting to share this with those we loved.
Even better, Mary called me out of the blue that week to give me an update on Sarah’s doctor appointment that day: “She was 31 weeks along, and they had taken 9 vials of blood—the baby is totally healthy!” While on the phone, we also arranged for all of us to meet the next Saturday. I couldn’t wait to meet them!
We also chose a name for the little boy that would be coming into our lives so soon. Putting a name to him made it so real…I could see, hear, and feel him in our home. I loved him already.
A few days later, our first hint of trouble ahead came in. That Friday, we received the contract from the attorney, and it showed birth mom expenses that were about 4 times as much as would be “reasonable and customary,” as defined by law. If we agreed to that, it would be baby buying. My husband and I decided that if that was what was required for this, we’d have no choice but to walk away—we had chosen adoption to change the outcome for a child, not to buy one.
I called the attorney, trying to sort this out. She explained that was what they were asking for, not what they would actually get. A judge would have to agree to it, and there was pretty much no way a judge would agree to that much money for the required 6 weeks of post-birth birth mom expenses. I explained that regardless of what a judge might agree to, WE wouldn’t agree to that. She assured me that it would never be close to that amount.
While it was a bit of a red flag that Sarah and her mom were asking for SO much money, I also figured that it was Mary’s way of trying to get the best for her child. Wouldn’t any mom who had a daughter in this situation try to ask for as much as she could for her child? It made sense to me that she would.
So, we decided the adoption was going forward, and we met Sarah and Mary the next day for lunch. We all got along wonderfully. Sarah seemed very strong in her desire to start a new, sober life after the birth of the baby, and was totally committed to staying clean for the rest of the pregnancy. Both of them assured us that the only drugs she had ever used were pain pills. We were also told that the only people that were allowed to take her our of rehab were her mom to take her to the doctor and her dad to go to Lamaze classes. All good.
To my surprise, Sarah also expressed that she wanted us at the birth of the child, and that she had heard from another girl that we could have a room next to hers at the hospital. I was touched by this; I hadn’t imagined that we’d be there for the birth, and I quickly agreed, letting her know that we were there to help support her as well.
It all seemed great, so when Mary asked about our last name, I ended up giving it. While we were worried that we shouldn’t give it in a situation with a drug addict, we had been counseled by our home study social worker that she felt that it was okay and wouldn’t be a problem. I had some anxiety about it, but I figured that we all got along so well and Sarah was so committed to being clean that we’d be okay.
We left with hugs all around.
Two days later, our next bit of trouble came in: I got a call from Debra. “Well, Sarah wants the biological father at the birth as well.” Now, from everything we had heard over lunch and from the attorney, this guy is a serious drug user that was completely focused on “how much money he was going to get” as part of the adoption. Worse, he was clearly not out of the picture, although he had signed away his rights.
Needless to say, we had to expect that he would try to extort money from us; I could imagine him saying, “I want X dollars or I’ll tell Sarah not to sign the baby to you” (birth moms have 48 hours to change their minds on adoption plans). This was not a situation we wanted ourselves in; my husband was adamant that if he was at the birth, we should not be. I wasn’t sure what the heck to do…I wanted to support Sarah, but I also did not want to be dealing with this kind of person or potential situation at the hospital.
I didn’t have to ponder it too long. The very next day, I got another call from Debra. “Well, I’ve got bad news and I’ve got a gold lining,” she said. She went on to explain that Sarah had left rehab the day before with a friend of the biological father; she was supposed to head to the doctor for her check up, but instead went to the biological father’s apartment where she found him passed out on the bathroom floor. She stayed there all day, missed her doctor appointment, and fell asleep during a counseling session upon her return to rehab. Suspecting drug use, the rehab took blood; she tested positive for cocaine use.
That was obviously the bad news; the "gold lining" was that because of the documented drug use, the Department of Children’s Services would be called in and the baby would have to be placed for adoption. In other words, we would now be able to go forward with confidence that we would be bringing a baby home from the hospital; Sarah’s drug use took away her ability to make a choice.
At first, I figured we’d still be okay going forward with the adoption; again, rather naively, I figured one use of cocaine wasn’t great for the baby, but it also wasn’t horrible. In fact, there is a huge amount of research that the effects of even heavy cocaine use can be negated by placing the baby in a stable, loving environment; we have such an environment, so it would probably be okay, especially if it were a single use.
However, it quickly dawned on me that it was unlikely that she went out and, 8 months pregnant, used cocaine for the first time.
So, I googled her name. To my shock, mugshots showed up. While the very presence of mugshots is concerning, what was more so is the presence of worsening acne through the years; when we met, she had told me that the acne was the result of the pregnancy. However, the amount (all over), kind (scabby), and duration (years of it!) of acne I was seeing was indicative of long-term cocaine and/or meth use.
My gut was screaming at me: She wasn’t just using pain pills; she’s been using heavy, heavy drugs all along. Suddenly, her lack of awareness of her pregnancy for months became clear: she was on serious drugs the whole time and wasn’t sober enough to notice she wasn’t having a period and was gaining weight.
On top of it, she was not showing very much for a woman so late in pregnancy (you could barely tell she was pregnant). As if knowing we were concerned by this, we were told by Mary that she had also been very small during all her pregnancies (so we assumed that was why Sarah was). However, the combination of all of these elements meant that the risk of extreme medical issues in this child was very likely.
It got worse. I noticed the biological father’s name was noted as being arrested at the same time as Sarah during the most recent arrest (about the date she checked into rehab). I clicked on his name, and even more mugshots showed up, many for cocaine and meth possession, but even more concerningly, several for burglary.
Looking more closely at the most recent burglary arrest, I noticed the charges had been dropped in 12 days. Obviously, this had to be someone they knew—after all, who else would drop the charges?
My gut instinct was confirmed in my next conversation with Debra: they had broken into a dying relative's home and stolen a bunch of stuff. She went to rehab as part of the agreement of the charges being dropped.
My heart sank. Now we have to face the fact that two drug-using felons have our name (including last name) and where we live. Remember how I said that is the exact situation that should NOT be an open adoption? Yet, here we were.
We now have to assume that they will show up at our door asking for money (likely within a couple of weeks of us taking the child), or, later on, show up at our child's school to do God-knows-what. They will certainly reach out to us when they need more money, and with drug addicts, they always need more money. It could be in a week, a month, a year, 10 years...there would be no telling.
On top of it, we found out that even the health information on the baby could not be trusted; while Mary had told us that she was the one taking Sarah to the doctor, the truth was that Sarah was actually going with the biological father to the appointments. The health information about the "9 vials of blood" had been given by Sarah to her mom, and from her mom to me. Since there had been many misrepresentations so far, we could hardly trust that anymore.
In discussing all of this new information, my husband and I had to face the fact that we would never have a moment's peace with having a connection to them; we would always be looking over our shoulder, worrying about if and how they will show up. We realized that the only way that we would feel okay about this is if we basically went into witness protection and moved somewhere else—and really, is that a reasonable way to start a life with a child?
Worse, we had to face the fact that the best-case scenario for our mental wellbeing would be for them to both overdose a couple days after the baby is placed with us, and that is a pretty awful thing to have to hope for (and definitely not something either of us wanted to have happen—actually, we were hoping for the opposite—that she would get clean and move on to a happy life where we and our little boy could have a relationship with her).
And, we had to acknowledge that while we believe whole-heartedly in open adoptions, a connection to this biological family was not going to be positive for this child. He was better placed in a closed-adoption situation.
With all of this, we could not go forward with the adoption. It was truly awful. I had to call family and friends as my heart was breaking. Thankfully, everyone was 100% supportive of us, and many pointed out that we weren’t actually making a decision to walk away; rather, the decision was made for us by the actions of everyone in the situation.
While that did make me feel a little better, I truthfully just cried for about a month after we had to walk away, and worse, I was so worried about this child, but couldn't do anything for him. I wanted to KNOW he was okay. I wanted to KNOW he wasn't being exposed to any more drugs. I wanted to KNOW he was going to be placed in a wonderful family that would give him everything he needed in life.
I had nightmares about it for about a month as well; I kept dreaming that terrible things happened to him and I couldn’t save him. The saddest dream I had was of seeing moments in his life with us with him, finally ending with him as a senior in high school accepting a basketball award with us standing by his side. It was a vision I wanted so much. I woke up in tears.
That’s the hard thing about these situations; you LOVE that child immediately. You envision your future with him, helping him to become the individual he is meant to be in this world. You are attached to him with all your heart and soul, and having to detach from that is beyond painful.
I am finally starting to feel better, and, as I say, decided to share our stories to hopefully help and inform others in this process. I especially want to help those who have faced similar heart-breaking decisions to know that others understand what you’ve been through. It sometimes feels like you are all alone in this adoption journey; I just want you to know that you are not alone. It is really important to know that.
Do you know someone who has faced similar challenges? Or, do you know some adoption stories with happy endings? (I could use a few of those!!!) Please share in the comments below!
Read about the Child We Couldn't Adopt.