It's November, and here in the PNW, the last of leaves are playing catch up, turning everything red and gold. It's also National Adoption Month! We're celebrating the stories of everyone involved in the adoption process. Last week, we got hear Jen's insider story on being an adoptee.
This week, we're chatting with Chris and Kristen and their kiddos: Mason and Olivia. Chris and Kristen adopted both of their children through Choice Adoptions, and Kristen is also an adoptee! I had a long FaceTime call to this second-generation adoption family, who is close to my heart. I had the joy of introducing Chris and Kristen to Olivia the day they adopted her! But they tell the story best, so I'll turn it over to them:
Hannah: Can you tell us a little bit about your adoption journey?
Kristen: I have the privilege of being an adoptee myself, so it’s always been very near and dear to my heart. Adoption is a language you speak, or its one you’re not quite familiar with. For me, it was already a familiar language. We went through several years of infertility and one day we were in church, and I felt like God tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Okay, that other idea you’ve had sitting on the shelf, it’s time to pursue that now.”
Chris: I was not adopted, but it was one of those decision. It came to her, and it just felt right. I think I was unofficially adopted by several families growing up. The idea that we could build our family this way seemed to fit us.
The youngest adoptee present, Olivia, wanted our readers to know about her favorite toy. We're all about letting the voices of adoptees be heard, no matter how small.
Olivia would like to add, "Ball!"
Well said, Olivia.
Hannah: Tell me about some of the highs and lows of your adoption journey.
Kristen: There were the highs and lows of the activity and silence. I wish somebody had told me, “The second you’re approved, you’ll feel like that call is going to come any second.” The anxiety of wanting something so badly…the hurry up and wait…we cranked through our paperwork, and then there was silence. Not silence, as in a lack of communication from our agency, but in my head I thought it was going to happen faster than it did. Going into it the second time, it was a lot more peaceful. I knew to enjoy life the way it was, and trust that if we were meant to partner with somebody it would work out.
Chris: I remember the first match meeting. We were so excited, and we were nervous. The birth mother met with us and one other family. We were at a church workshop and got the call that she went with the other family. It was hard, but it was cool, because we had a lot of people surrounding us. It was very heartbreaking. We actually ended up having four more match meetings before we brought Mason home. So we met with three birth moms before Mason’s mother chose us.
Hannah: I think that this part of the process can surprise waiting families. We try to prepare our families, but you don’t expect to be so disappointed if you aren't matched. Sounds like you had an amazing community around you, but did the disappointment surprise you?
Chris: It did. We thought we were ready to be all in if it happened and ready to be okay if it didn’t. We were surprised at how devastating it was to not have it work out that first time. Now looking back, we wouldn’t have it any other way. The right boy came to us!
Kristen: This is where I learned that part of adoption is beautiful and part of it is heartbreakingly hard for multiple people. And I think it was the moment that I realized that this isn’t just about us. There’s a lot of other people making really hard choices. Going in, it’s easy to think about how you want a baby. In that moment, we shifted to, “we want to partner with someone who is going through their hardest season.” I think it helped us be a little more patient. You walk through these meetings and they’re painful. Someone is walking through their deepest pain. Here’s this beautiful pregnant woman sitting with us, and we’re trying to decide if we’re a good partner for this situation.
It’s uncomfortable for everybody, and to have walked through four of those was heavy sometimes. We still remember each person we met, and we carry their stories with us. We considered it a blessing, as we moved through it, it was a blessing just to meet this woman, just to cross paths, just to be one more person praying for her and this baby, even if we’re not the right fit for this scenario. We considered it a blessing that we got to know their story and be a few more people cheering them on. Yes, adoption is a joy, but it’s also a grief. It’s every human emotion wrapped up into one scenario.
Hannah: That's a part of the adoption conversation that’s often missing, and part of why we’re doing this series for National Adoption Month. These are the experiences and details that you only get from hearing real storied from real people about adopting real humans.
Kristen: Yeah, and once you’re an adoptive family (or a foster family, or whatever part you play in this story) you also become an educator, sharing with people the terms that you use and the stories of how adoption really works.
Hannah: Can you tell us about the moment you became parents to each of your children?
We met with Mason's birth mom 5 weeks prior to his birth. We felt like the meeting had gone terrible, and we were sure she would say no. It was in a super loud diner. We couldn’t hear most of what was said. At that point, we were so stressed, the emotions were getting to us. The next day, Julie called us and said, “Are you ready to be parents? She chose you.”
Mason’s mother sent us this beautiful letter saying that she knew before she even met us that we were the right fit. I knew adoption was amazing, but after getting to walk through it with her–such an amazing woman! She kept us involved. We got ultrasound pictures! We got to be two doors down. We heard a baby’s cry. We heard the lullaby play over the intercom. Then a few minutes later the nurse (we called her the stork nurse, because she announced, “I’m a stork!”) brought a perfect six pound bundle of our little boy. We deeply, deeply admire his mom. She did everything she could to make sure that he had the best chance. She took such good care of herself and of him.
Our second adoption was very different. We got an email that there was an urgent situation, and an adoptive family was needed to be chosen that day. There were some health considerations for Baby, and we were supposed to text Julie if we were interested. We talked to a nurse friend of ours about the medical situation, and she said, “You’re good. You should pursue this.” We talked about it together, and then her little picture popped up, and we were done. It was over for us. We were in love. We sent the quickest yes we’d ever sent! I think that was five minutes after the email. Then we got a phone call saying, “How soon can you get here?” The first time, we were a little too ready. We had the nursery ready, the carseats installed, we made the mistake of going all in. This time, we thought, “We’ll prep when it happens,” not knowing that we would have an hour! We threw in an empty diaper bag with one outfit, and we figured it out. Our tribe here sprung into action. They cleaned our house, decorated our nursery. They crawled in our crawl space and got our totes of clothes and baby stuff. They ordered our carseats sent to the hospital. We got to the hospital and walked in and met the cutest little girl in the whole world.
Hannah: Kristen, I hope you know that I quote you all the time. When you walked into that hospital room, and I placed that sweet girl in your arms, you two were so excited to meet her. After you’d spent a few minutes with her I asked, “How do you feel?” And you looked me at me blankly and said, “I was making a lasagna an hour ago.” As an advocate, I have done a lot of last-minute emergency placements. I’ve walked a lot of families into that room. It’s a lot to take in, this is not how they thought their day was going to go. And every time, I remember Kristen and her lasagna.
Kristen: I just abandoned it. I was like, “Be free lasagna!” And I went to go pack my nonexistent diaper bag.
Mason would like our readers to know that he vividly remembers this experience and expressed concerns for the executive decision to abandon the lasagna in question.
Hannah: Adoptions like Olivia's are what we call a “last-minute emergency placement” (adoptions in which Baby has already been born, sometimes in adverse circumstances, such as substance exposure, and a family is chosen day-of). These adoptions can be really intimidating and overwhelming. What was most helpful to your family through that process?
Kristen: You guys! You’re so good at what you do. You just bring peace to the room. I walked in a nervous wreck, so having you guys there was huge. You took pictures and did the things I was forgetting to do. What I wish I’d known, is that an emergency placement moves so fast, when I look back I realize I missed the first moments of eye contact with her, the first picture and the first video. You can’t get that moment back, but you can always get information later.
I got there, and I was in go-mode. I had a lot to figure out, but it all got figured out. I wish I had slowed down and took a deep breath and savored that moment. It’s so tempting to lean into the panic and everything you have to do. The truth was, there was a little girl who had been through a lot, and she needed some steady. I wish I could go back and tell myself, “Just go savor her for a moment. The to-do list will get done.” The surprise of it knocked the wind out of me. I wouldn’t change one part of her story, but it did catch me off-guard. What I wish I had known is that the adrenaline gets you going. When you get there and you meet them, stop and savor them.
Hannah: You mentioned walking through the different health conerns and prognoses for Ollie. What do you wish you’d known? And what was helpful through that process?
Kristen: Our first time adopting, we said no to any substances. It’s common for first-time parents to find that scary. With Olivia, it was like the story shifted. There’s a sweet little girl that needs a family. No matter how a kid comes to our home, we’re not guaranteed health. Take a deep breath when you read that profile, because kids are so resilient! If we’re agreeing to adoption we shouldn’t be agreeing only to a perfect baby. Adoption is not a getting. It’s a partnership. The doctors had a lot of prognoses for her, and she has beat down every single one of them and then some. Every time we take her into her doctor, they’re like, “Is this that same baby?!” She’s so far ahead of all her milestone.
Hannah: Kristen, were there any particular moment that stood out to you, as an adoptee? Any moments that felt like full-circle moments?
Kristen: I definitely think about my birth mom and what she had to do. She really had to fight for it. Back in the '80s adoption was not treated with the dignity that it is now. Experiencing it from this side, the expectant mother should be treated with absolute dignity. I feel heartbroken at what my birth mother must have experienced, and I'm so thankful for what she went through. She was sixteen. She wasn’t ready to parent. She advocated so strongly for me in a time and place where that wasn’t always comfortable. Experiencing the full circle has been very healing for my story. One of the reasons we went with Choice Adoptions is because you guys were up front about, “We want you to know that we absolutely advocate for birth mothers first.” And we thought, “That’s perfect.” That was one of the huge reasons we chose to go through Choice. Because it was so important to us that things were handled ethically, and that birth moms had dignity and were treated with compassion.
Hannah: Is there anything that you would say to families who are waiting to adopt?
Chris & Kristen: Keep living your life while you’re waiting. It’s easy to throw all of your energy, mental, marital, whatever energy you have–into the waiting. You would be giving your future child the best gift by continuing to live your life. Keep working on yourself. Keep working on your marriage. Bringing a child home changes things. Make sure you’re emotionally ready and your marriage is ready. The first time, it felt like we put our life on pause for a year. The day will come. It will. The right story for you will come. Pray, pray, pray.
Our interview finished, Olivia rushed the phone and booped my nose over FaceTime.
I have been blessed.
Thank you, and goodnight.