We gave up. Truly, that’s what happened in the spring of 2011, when we finally hauled a truck-load of cardboard boxes containing baby & child clothing, toys, lamps, books, bedsheets, and comforters to a shelter in west central Georgia. We turned the bedrooms which were once lovingly decorated in anticipation of children into a guest room and an office. We resigned ourselves to the idea that we would embrace a life with just the two of us and that it would be more than enough to fill our aching hearts.
So, I focused on my new job at Callaway Gardens and Josh, my husband, went to warrant officer candidate school. I stopped logging onto my blog because seeing encouraging comments from wonderful well-meaning people from around the world made me feel as though I’d somehow failed them. Through the magic of the internet, readers often read the excited posts penned when our hallways echoed with the laughter of four foster children and never made it to the heartbroken posts detailing the corrupt foster-to-adopt system in Georgia or how the children we thought we could adopt had to be returned to their abusive biological parents. We never wanted to be foster parents and we knew we weren’t emotionally able to handle fostering. From parent visits to witnessing first steps, court dates (which the children’s attorney couldn’t be bothered to attend) to soccer practices, and from dance recitals to eventually packing up the children to move on to the next stop on their timeline, the role of a foster parent is filled with soaring highs and crippling lows.
We first picked up our sibling group of four in a borrowed van with teary eyes and joyful hearts on December 3, 2008. Our social worker called us just an hour prior to tell us that she’d found four children ages 6 months to eight years who were legally-free to adopt and were absolutely perfect for us. We brought them home and told them that this was going to be their forever-home. We told them that there would be no more foster parents or packing their belongings in black trash bags or saying goodbye to foster parents (they’d already been to six different foster homes in their short lives). The only hiccup? Some other social worker lied to our social worker and the children weren’t legally-free to adopt but there was hope. This was the fourth time the children had been removed from their biological parents, so according to Georgia’s “three strikes” policy: the children were going to be placed on the list for adoption. Of course, they weren’t put up for adoption and after seven months in our home, they were returned to their biological parents.
In the weeks that followed, the children’s rooms remained frozen in time: sheets tossed back and rumpled from snuggling with teddy bears, toys scattered near the toy boxes but not quite in the the toy boxes, and dressers littered with hair bows. This may have been when the “giving up” phase began. We were lost in our sorrow. Defeated. Deflated. Inconsolable.
Years passed and we learned to pretend that we weren’t still angry or heartbroken. There’s an expiration date on sympathy. Did you know that? After a while, people expect that you will just move on with your life and that the pain will go away. Let me tell you, friends: the pain worsens and instead of moving on, you learn to hide the anger and sadness. If you are lucky, you learn to hide it from yourself, too.
Skip ahead to the summer of 2011. Josh was in SERE school and I drove into Columbus, GA for groceries after a long day at work. In need of coffee, I pulled into Starbucks just as they were closing. From the parking lot, I saw the glowing Waffle House sign along Veterans Parkway and made my way over. Once inside, a sweet young waitress took my order while I clambered onto one of the barstools. Since the place was empty, I began chatting with the waitress and cook. Much to my delight, both were friendly and engaging young women who took a great deal of interest in hearing about my little farm in Harris County with dairy goats and chickens. All of a sudden, the waitress’ eyes widened and she said, “Would you like a baby?”
Without missing a beat, I quipped, “Sure, and I’ll also have a piece of pie.”
We all laughed but then she explained that she was pregnant and looking for someone to adopt the baby. I remember very little about the rest of our conversation except that we made plans for her to bring her toddler out to pet the goats and tour the farm the following Monday (her day off). I did not let myself dream that she would actually give her baby to us. Those things do not happen outside of Guidepost stories. Instead, I looked forward to meeting her toddler and seeing her again.
A few days later, she pulled into our driveway in a creaky sky-blue Explorer with an excited blonde little boy squealing from the backseat. We had a grand time exploring the barn and chicken coop, petting the horse and goats, and giggling when the chickens fussed at one another or fought over the cherry tomatoes in the chicken-garden. When we finally made our way in the house, she asked me which room would be the nursery. It was in that moment that I let myself imagine adopting the baby but quickly squashed those thoughts. Instead, I decided that I would help her. She needed good food, encouraging words, and friendship. Those were things that I had in spades so whenever she mentioned adopting the baby, I said things like, “That would be amazing” or “Well, we’ll see how you feel in a few months.” I talked about the adoption much the same way that people discuss what they would do if they won the lottery or became an overnight celebrity or other things that are fun to think about but would never happen in a million years of wishing.
Except for one thing: she didn’t change her mind. Instead, she sent me ultrasound pictures and invited me to go to doctor’s appointments with her. I still never told her that I would adopt the baby. In fact, I couldn’t tell her anything for sure until my husband returned because he was completely out of communication while in the school and I was convinced that the offer would be off the table by then. It wasn’t until he stepped from the bus into the blistering heat of Fort Rucker, Alabama upon completing SERE training, that I felt the fear lifted from my chest. As I told my husband about meeting a waitress at Waffle House, her visits to our home, and her wish to give us the baby growing in her womb… I knew that no matter what he said next, our lives would never be the same again. He looked at me and said, “Of course. Yes! Absolutely, 100% yes!” I called her right then and put her on speaker phone so that Josh could hear her voice and she could hear our excitement. This was real. This was happening.
That evening, we met her at Jason’s Deli in Columbus (right around the corner from the Waffle House where I first met her) and she gave us a gift bag with baby clothes, a framed ultrasound picture, and a card with a typed letter for us to read later. Josh met her son and another little boy who she’d placed with a dear family friend. We were welcomed into the fold and it felt like coming home. We had hope, which we knew was dangerous, but we decided that even if things didn’t go to plan: she was worth it. That’s right. We decided that no matter what happened, the sweet courageous (and very pregnant) young woman from Waffle House would be part of our family.
Soon after that night, she began spending most of her time at our house. I cooked for her and looked after her son so that she could rest. Josh began flight school at Fort Rucker and I worked on coordinating background checks, getting a home study, and finding an attorney to handle our unusual private adoption. Meanwhile, everyone thought we were crazy and likely going to get our hearts broken but said nothing because they saw that we’d already accepted that possibility. Josh drove up for her doctor’s appointments and got to hear the baby’s heartbeat. I resigned my job and spent the next few weeks taking her to and from the hospital OB unit due to false labor. Finally, her water broke in our hall bathroom shower and the baby was officially on the way.
While Josh drove up from lower Alabama, I walked the halls of the hospital with her and we spent a lot of the time giggling. The staff didn’t know what to make of us and frequently tried to send me out of the room. She insisted that I stay by her side. She corrected the nurses, doctors, and midwife each and every time they referred to her as “mom” which seemed to frustrate all but one kind-hearted LPN.
He was born in the early morning hours. I held him first and Josh cut his umbilical cord. She smiled when she saw the family she created, the courageous young woman with the biggest heart I’ve ever known. We thanked her and thanked her all over again as we rocked our little boy with his ten tiny fingers, ten plump toes, dark hair, and long eyelashes. I held her hand as she slept and I thought that she was the most beautiful person I’d ever seen. I still think so.
Because the military doesn’t recognize adoption until it is completely finalized (which happens months after the baby is born), Josh wasn’t authorized leave or extra time off. He was forced to return to Fort Rucker that Sunday. I can’t imagine how painful that drive must have been for him. I stayed in the hospital until everyone was released and drove us all back to our house in Harris County. Those were very happy days and I became incredibly grateful for Smartphone technology. She and I sent Josh pictures constantly.
Finally, the military recognized that we were, in fact, parents and found us housing on post at Fort Rucker ten weeks after Caleb’s birth. Caleb and I moved from our little Georgia farm to be with Josh as a family. Caleb’s beautiful birthmother returned to her apartment and started her dream job. We drove to Columbus regularly to visit her — not because we were required to — but because we wanted to see her. She’s an amazing person and the strongest woman I have ever known. Every single day, even though we now live thousands of miles away, she is in my thoughts. I hug my sweet little boy and I whisper into the sky, “Thank you, my friend. Thank you for making us a family.”
Some of you may be wondering why I have not referred to Caleb’s incredible birthmother by name. We respect her privacy and love her boundlessly. We felt that this story needed to be shared so please enjoy it, pass it on, and simply see her as we do: heroic and brave.