By Terri, OA&FS Adoptive Mother.
The week prior to Labor Day, teachers are madly preparing for the upcoming school year. It was no different in 2001. That Thursday, I came home defeated. I’d have to go back to work on Friday as my new chalkboard was still unassembled and papers not yet copied. My partner, Mary-Pat, excitedly greeted me at the door. “We just got the call!”
‘What call?’ I thought. ‘The call for more work?’
“It’s a girl,” she said, “and she was born at 5:15 this morning!”
Because our counselor from Open Adoption & Family Services recommended we keep busy during our wait in the pool (we’d added a deck in the back yard, started a fitness program that included local races and triathlons, and I started a Masters program), I’d forgotten we were actually waiting for the phone to ring. And I certainly didn’t expect to get “The Call” after the baby was born. We’d expected a leisurely two to three months to form a relationship with the birthmother and to get ready.
Instead, it was 5 p.m. and the rush was on. In the next few hours we needed to change the TV room (once a nursery) back into a nursery. We needed diapers, bottles, a crib mattress, a car seat, and most of all, a gift for the entrustment ceremony.
At 6 a.m. the next day, Mary-Pat and I left Seattle and headed for Vancouver, Washington, with little sleep behind (or ahead of) us. Mostly we talked about our baby’s name. Her birthmother had already named her Aaliyah Michelle – neither of which we’d considered in our years of family planning.
“This baby is beautiful,” were the first words we heard from Gillian, the OA&FS case worker, as we entered the hospital. The same words were echoed by the hospital social worker, Donna. Truthfully, I’d never seen a “beautiful” baby and was worried that they kept saying it.
During adoption planning, our daughter’s birthmother sat on her hospital bed, quiet and stoic – tears streamed down her face as she told us she’d chosen us because we were teachers. What a tribute to those unnamed teachers who must have nurtured her as a child. And indeed, the baby was beautiful: shiny dark skin, a mop of black hair, tiny ears and a sweet pink tongue.
Before we knew it, we were rocking our sleeping baby in the hospital nursery, waiting for legal documents to get settled while the nurses tried to put together the pieces of this White-Lesbians-Adopting-A-Black-Child puzzle.
The excitement leading up to a three-day weekend tends to make people rush. The hospital staff was no exception. In their dash to get us on the road, they forgot to share some key details with us, like feeding, bathing, and umbilical cord stump issues (it falls off, you know). In fact, we later discovered there’s a whole bag of hospital goodies given to new parents that was overlooked in their haste. Needless to say, the first time we pulled over to change the diaper was somewhat of a surprise, but we’d heard about meconium and assured ourselves this was it and not a time to panic. There’d be plenty of time for that later.
As we pulled up to our house, there was our family eagerly waiting on the porch. “They’re here, they’re here!” we heard. A huge banner hung from the house – “Welcome Home Baby Girl,” made by her cousins. Throughout the weeks to follow, we were inundated with food and baby necessities. We kept our daughter’s name because it felt right after hearing her birthmother say it. We did change Aaliyah to Alea, so she could learn to spell her name before she turned 13.
This year, our daughter will celebrate her third birthday. She wants a skateboard. Yeah right, like that’s gonna happen. We’ve lived through first shots, ear infections, pink eye, colds, colds, and more colds. We’ve survived vomiting, teething, splinters, toileting and sleeping issues. We’ve also doubled over in laughter at her Elvis face, her living room ballet shows in tutu and rain boots, and her tales of an imaginary friend, Coken, who lives in a jungle with aunts Sissen and Oaken.
Of course we worry about the Lesbians-Raising-A-Black-Child issue. It’s why we took a class on hair care for white people raising black children. (Yes, there is such a thing.) More than anything, we want Alea to experience endless possibilities for herself in the world – and yet most toy aisles and clothing catalogues don’t reflect her beautiful brown face. These are issues all parents raising children of color face. Last week we received some vintage Fisher-Price cars we’d purchased from eBay. We put the black chauffer that came with them in her toy airplane and told her it was a pilot named Kiesha.
As far as having two moms (I’m Mommy; Mary-Pat is Mama), Alea’s buddies at preschool seem to think she’s pretty lucky. One kid said, “Two moms? Cool!” Probably they’re imagining their own moms cloned and delight in the thought.
When people ask us what a last-minute placement is like, we tell them it’s exciting. And it is. Yes, we experience bouts of envy when we hear about adoptive family/birthparent bonds developed during lengthier mediations. (Alea’s birthmother moved and has not communicated with us for almost two years.) But we loved the joyful surprise of Alea, who this very minute is taking off her shoe and handing me the grape she found inside.