I'll never forget the first time we brought Jeffrey into our home. As I clumsily balanced him in one arm and rigidly gave him his bottle with the other, I kept asking myself at 3AM, “What have we done?” “What did we get ourselves into?” This newborn infant we adopted, all five pounds eight ounces of him, required round the clock diligence and care. I literally did not sleep the first two nights. Every cry or whimper he let out I mechanically sprang up, gaping into his bassinet next to our bed, making sure he wasn't choking and was still breathing. I was in a foggy bewilderment, still wondering if we made the right decision, questioning if this was something we'd regret the rest of our lives. In my sleepless daze I was drowning in anxiety, fighting to keep my head level and steady. My nervous fear and intimidation of this miniature person kept pounding away at me, sucking me back into the dark sea of my own insecurities. If that weren't enough, my inner demon, perfectionism, would shriek out and rebuke me daily if the time schedule wasn't meticulously followed, or when he cried for no apparent reason, or when I didn't think I had complete control. How little did I know, over time, little Jeffrey would positively transform every realm and facet of my thoughts, my life, and my world.
Jeffrey will never know the power and authority he so casually dangled over my husband and me. This innocent and utterly helpless baby had already begun to reshape and reprogram our minds. Once this baby crossed our threshold, the very first thing learned was, it's no longer all about me. Slowly and arduously we had begun the painful process of being cast and molded into something foreign to us up until then: parenthood. Our entire world and purpose was now Jeffrey. Fortunately, I was able to quit my job and be a stay at home mom soon after the adoption. Most people our age were already experiencing the “empty nest syndrome”. Not us. Here I was, now unemployed, in my forties, holding and rocking Jeffrey late at night, feeling dismayed and exhausted.
How exactly did my husband and I end up taking on the vast responsibility of a newborn at this time in our lives? We were late starters, not getting married until our mid thirties. After trying to get pregnant for the first year, with zero success, we hastily jumped on the infertility train that took us to specialist after specialist, trying every humiliating, intrusive procedure known at that time. All the doctors agreed it was probably my fault. I was involved in a near fatal car accident in my 20's and suffered severe internal damage. Miraculously, I had recovered, but was left with permanent inner scarring that interfered with my getting pregnant. All the doctors suggested exploratory surgery, but we declined. I had more than my share of surgeries and I said early on, no invasive surgery. By the time we saw our fourth and last specialist, I was feeling defeated, physically and mentally frazzled. I starred blankly ahead as the doctor sympathetically gave us other parenting alternatives, including adoption, when I suddenly burst with a well of emotion and exclaimed “Why? Why us? I almost feel like my whole purpose in life has been yanked away!” The Doctor paused, then glanced down at my personal medical records, the records that listed in detail all my life saving procedures I had years prior, and fervently said, “But you're alive!”
I fell silent and pondered that simple statement he just made. Yes, I was alive and I was healthy. But at the time, that was not the answer I was looking for. Did the doctor's statement make the yearning in my heart go away? Did it somehow fill the void my husband and I felt? Of course not. It did, however, reflect just a momentary glimmer of light in that office. Unbeknownst to us, that mere statement was the pivotal point that helped turn the focus off our unfortunate circumstance and onto something refreshingly different. I gradually learned to accept what was in front of me. If we were going to parent at all in our lifetime, we needed to switch off the panic button that had been running at full throttle since the day we said “I Do”, sit down, take a deep breath, and make some life changing decisions together.
After both of us agreeing on adoption and choosing a private adoption agency, we learned it could take two to four years for a healthy Caucasian baby. An international adoption could take anywhere from two to three years and the cost was astounding. We also learned a baby of mixed race took around a year. We did not have the luxury of waiting. Time was definitely an issue with us, as we were both in our early forties. Our primary concern regarding adoption was, would we be able to love someone else's child not related to us, who doesn't even look like us? After much discussion and thought, research and prayer, we both concluded we just wanted a healthy baby. It made no difference what the gender or race or background of the child was. The older I get the more I see, all children are precious gifts from God.
After being approved, wading through heaps of paperwork, obtaining references, a background check, fingerprinting, a home inspection and patiently waiting for about eight months, we finally received a phone call from the adoption agency. We had been chosen by a birth mom to adopt her baby boy due to be born in just nine days! The birth mom was Caucasian and middle aged. Her relationship with the birth father, who was African American, had ended and she felt she was unable to care for a child alone. We eagerly met her at the agency and agreed to an open adoption, meaning we would meet yearly at the agency and send letters and photos throughout the year, for as long as she felt necessary. Everything was done through the agency and was confidential.
Now, fast forward two years. Jeffrey is now an energetic, unstoppable, fearless two year old. I feel a tidal wave of relief as I just laid him down for his afternoon nap. This is my time now to get things done I normally couldn't do with Jeffrey awake. I've taught myself to use every priceless minute, to juggle two or three projects at once. My eyes scan over my once pristine and immaculate living room. I see several books strewn about, a dismantled train, toy cars and trucks, and little crayon scribbles on the wall. I look down at my feet and notice four lonely cheerios in the bed of a truck, put there for safekeeping and probably forgotten. I don't know if I should start by putting another load of laundry in, mopping the kitchen floor, cleaning the sticky fingerprints off the furniture, or collapse into a much needed slumber. Our house shares no resemblance to the house we had two years ago, when it was just my husband and me. We now have baby gates strategically set up. All our drawers and cabinets are fastened and secured. Everything fragile has been put up out of reach. The way my house is kept today would have easily sent my once anal retentive self into a fit of horror and disbelief. Amazingly, I don't have time to think about the house. I don't have time for much of anything anymore. As I engrossed myself in Jeffrey and delved into motherhood, my desire for perfectionism all but vanished with last year's 12 month Onesies.
As my assurance grew as a mother, I gradually learned to relax during the infancy stage and understand all babies do and will cry. I mastered changing a full diaper with the speed and accuracy of a conveyor robot (before Jeffrey I had never changed a diaper in my life ). My tepid heart has warmed. I learned to hold and snuggle Jeffrey, talk to him, feed him, kiss him, and most importantly, to love him. I'm no longer stiff and uptight when someone places a newborn in my arms. Now I feel free to join in conversation with other moms instead of the awkward and painful silence before. I take Jeffrey to story time at the library, play dates at the park, and trips to the zoo with Daddy. So many blessings followed the arrival of Jeffrey. Friends and family regularly showed up to visit and offer their help. I was given three baby showers. My coworkers, some I barely knew, my close friends, and my own dear sister in law gave one where even out of state family showed up. Even my husband's coworkers brought food into work and chipped in for a gift (I wouldn't dare call it a shower!). We ended up with an arm load of beautiful baby quilts, a gorgeous framed cross stitch, and so many other practical and heartfelt gifts. There's something about a newborn baby that makes people's face light up and want to celebrate!
But it hasn't been all sunshine and bliss. It's been a sacrifice unlike I've ever known, and one he may never fully understand. Monetarily, it took a sizable chunk of our savings to pay the adoption fees, the attorney fee and court costs. And the amount that used to go directly into our retirement has been cut in half and now gets filtered into a college fund. Many hours of valuable sleep have been given up for this little guy. Several times I've been woken in the middle of the night just to search on my hands and knees for a dropped pacifier. Other times it's to sooth Jeffrey after a bad dream. And at other times he's decided he's had enough sleep for the night and runs into our room at 4AM demanding we get up and play. Gone are the lounge around mornings I sleep in, so long to spur of the moment road trips, good bye to leisurely vacations, Au Revoir to dining in upscale restaurants, at least for now. I've had my hands in spit up, slobber, snot and much worse. I've been sneezed on, peed on, and barfed on, yet amazingly, I never knew it was possible to love someone as much as I love Jeffrey. I occasionally wake up with aches and discomforts. I sometimes get weary and feel all my energy has been depleted, like a cell phone that needs recharging. I am human. But now I'm living for so much more than just myself.
At two years old does Jeffrey seem like ours? You bet. He's altered every sector of our lives. Not only does Jeffrey seem like ours, he is part of us. As a family, there is no physical resemblance to one another and we occasionally get looks of puzzlement, especially from someone of an older generation. But as time passed, all that became unimportant. We saw and held him for the first time at the hospital when he was just barely an hour old. When he was three days old we brought him home to the only house he's ever had, to grow with the only mommy and daddy he's ever known. As he grows, so do we. The shackles of doubt and uncertainty have been broken. I'm no longer helpless and drowning as I was when Jeffrey first arrived. I'm swimming. I'm taking giant strokes, pulling myself forward. I'm gulping in air, expanding my lungs. I'm seeing and feeling the light of day, as if for the first time. Never have I been more energized. Never have I been more grateful to God for the awesome gift of life. Yes doctor, I'm alive. For the first time in my life, I've never been more alive!