Last year I posted the story of our adoption journey in a series of posts leading up to my son’s birthday. Since we have so many new readers I wanted to repost it this year and add some updated pictures.
I struggled with telling this story, in the sense that to really tell it properly, I had to be more open with the details of my life then I would normally be on “the internet.” To truly appreciate God’s faithfulness; though, you need to understand the struggle of my journey, gritty details and all.
My adoption journey began on January 21, 2004.
My life up until that point had pretty much been about me. Focused and driven, I had conquered college and medical school. OB/GYN residency was hard, but I had given it my all and was doing well. I loved my career choice and knew I was following God’s calling for my life. As I went through training, our desire to have a child grew stronger, so in my 3rd year I got pregnant. We had always wanted kids in a kind of vague way, not really sure what to expect.
Then on January 21, 2004 Ryan was born and my life has never been the same. Holding my son for the first time was truly an amazing experience. In those moments, I realized that this little guy had suddenly become the center of my world and my heart.
Over the next few weeks, I felt depths of emotion that I had never felt. Joy that seemed almost palpable. Even during the sleepless nights, I knew one thing for sure: I couldn’t wait to do this again. I would make mental notes of parenting techniques that worked that I could use “next time.” I carefully saved every item of clothing, in overly organized bins for use with the next child.
The first year of Ryan’s life was a challenging year for me, I had to work a lot, and it broke my heart to be away from him so much. But I cherished every moment that I got to be with him. Even now as I write this, I begin to cry as I think of all the special moments of that first year: first smile, first giggles and all the grandparent visits.
When Ryan was 18 months we moved to Tennessee where I began private practice. While my schedule was still busy, it was nothing compared to the rigors of my residency. I was finally able to spend more time with my son and be closer to family. Life was good. After awhile, we began to think about #2.
On Christmas day 2006, I opened an e-mail. It was a test result that essentially told us that having additional biological children was not an option for us. I heard Sally Fields voice in my head from Steele Magnolias, “It’s not that she couldn’t have a baby, but that she shouldn’t. While I hadn’t “loved” pregnancy like some women do, I didn’t have a terrible pregnancy either. Despite my discomfort, I still worked 90 hours a week, right up until delivery (including 12 hours the actual day I delivered). While the morning sickness did stink, I loved the bonding of feeling my baby wiggle inside me.
There was time of mourning in my heart as I realized that pregnancy would not be an option for us, but then something awesome happened in my heart. The desire to be pregnant was completely lifted and the desire to adopt a baby was overwhelming. As Russ and I prayed, we felt strongly that we were supposed to adopt domestically. So I went out and bought a zillion books and called every adoption agency in our area.
I remember being so excited and peaceful about our decision. As we began to research the process, I really felt like God was saying that our adoption would be “an example.” Great! I thought. It will be an example of how smoothly things can go, and how we can disprove all the adoption myths.
After we decided on an agency, the next step was to get a home study. Before we could get signed up for a home study, we were required to go to an “Adoption Orientation.” Sounds like a good idea I thought, then I noticed the date: an 8 hour class on a week day, with no childcare available. Hmmm. Well. OK. So I cancelled my office for that day, located a babysitter and went to an 8 hour session on adoption. This was my first clue that it was not going to be an easy process.
The class was really helpful. It talked about the process and tried to prepare you for all the unknowns. It also made me realize that adoption is far too much like a real estate transaction. As adoptive parents you fill out pages of questions about what type of baby are you willing to adopt: Different Race? Special needs? Twins? What if the mother smokes? Drinks? Drugs? It feels a little weird to go through and check those boxes. Then you make up a portfolio that is given to the birth moms that they use to choose you, kind of like a house showing. The portfolio has pictures of your life/home/family and a letter you write to her about why she should give you her baby. No pressure there!
They also discussed open adoption, where the birth mom has continued contact with the child during his life. There were several testimonies from families who had open adoptions. I think most prospective adoptive parents go into the process thinking open adoptions are less desirable, but after the orientation I realized how this can be truly beneficial for both the child and the birth mom. He can grow up with a biological connection. The child can always know that his birth mom did not in any way “give him up” but instead loved him so deeply that she choose to give him to family who could give him a life that she couldn’t provide.
So after our orientation we filled out a ream of paperwork, got background checks and letters of reference from just about everyone we’ve ever met. One of my favorite stories involved getting fingerprinted (for our FBI background check). There are only a couple of places in our area that do official fingerprinting and only during weekday business hours, of course. The closest place to us was a 30 minute drive away. By the time we got there (after getting lost 3 times), Ryan had fallen asleep in the car, so Russ went in first to get his, while I stayed with Ryan. He came out 30 minutes later, told me where in the building to go and we switched off. I waited in line for about 30 minutes. When it was my turn, the lady closed the door in my face. Closed for lunch she said. She was essentially the live action version of Selma Bouvier. But I’m next in line…. AND THERE’S NO ONE BEHIND ME! She just shrugged, pointed to clock and said come back in one hour. Seriously? So, we did.
Additionally, we were required to read several books and attend a 12 week class that met one night a week for an hour and a half. It was a good class, but again we had to get a babysitter and my call coverage switched each week. As we went through the process, we began to pray about the different options. We felt open to adopting a child of a different race. So, we took additional classes on interracial adoption. On a positive note, with interracial adoption the wait is usually much shorter, only 4-6 months on average. Awesome, we thought, we should have a baby by next Christmas.
The final step was the actual home inspection, which was not that big of a deal. From what I remember, I was pretty nervous that first time (I think we’ve had a total of 5 home visits now). I cleaned the base boards and bleached the bathtubs. Our social worker was great and overall the visit was fairly painless. She made sure there was no hazardous material sitting around or no meth lab in the garage. She checked to see if we had baby proofed and that we had enough room for another child. Our house was deemed acceptable.
We finished our profile, turned it in and became an official “waiting family” in July of 2007.
One of the things that adoption books advise, is to share your desire to adopt with all your friends and family, so that they can help network for you. So we did just that. However, having all those people ask weekly if you heard any news can be quite frustrating.
Our wait was three years…. But I’m jumping the gun a little bit.
After the first couple months we began to look back fondly on the home study days. At least at that stage there was something to DO: paper work, classes, books, homework. There were tasks to accomplish towards our goal. Now there was nothing to do, except check our messages.
We had great support from our Life Group (what our church calls their small groups). Dave and Jessica were our life group leaders and every meeting they faithfully prayed for us and encouraged us. After awhile, I felt lame presenting the same prayer request time after time after time, but they always prayed without ceasing (yes, the whole 3 years).
We continued to live and enjoy our lives. Work was going well. I felt like God helped me to understand my infertility patients on a whole new level, as I myself was going through this journey of waiting for a child. Over time it did become increasingly difficult to not get frustrated with patients who weren’t happy with their pregnancy or got disappointed in their baby’s gender. I wanted a child more than anything, there was nothing worse than listening to people complain about being pregnant.
We continued to cherish our time with Ryan. As he got older, his requests for a sibling became heartbreaking.
Our lives were tinged with a constant sense of uncertainty. As we would plan vacations, we would wonder, but what if we have a baby then? Holidays were challenging. That first Christmas we bought new stockings with an extra blank one for the future baby. After Christmas, I bought these really nice Christmas cards on sale, with the plan of sending them out next year with our family picture in them. I just knew we would have a new baby by then! I spent a lot of time scripting in my mind how I thought our adoption journey would perfectly play out.
About a year into our process we matched with a birth mom. We were beyond ecstatic. After calling all our friends and family, we quickly set up the nursery and gathered up all our baby stuff. She was a month from delivery, so we didn’t have a lot of time. Everything was falling into place.
Hours before she delivered, we found out that because of a legal glitch involving the birthfather, it wasn’t going to happen. We were devastated. The loss was gut wrenching. It made no sense whatsoever. We mourned. If there was any doubt in my heart that I would be able to genuinely love a child that wasn’t from my uterus, it was completely dashed. I had already fallen in love with the idea of this child and my heart was utterly broken that he would not be ours.
As a step of faith, we left the nursery set up, and prayed that soon our child would be in our arms.
That May I got the privilege of delivering Jessica’s daughter Hope, who is a miracle baby as well. A few months later Jessica approached me with the idea for writing a pregnancy book. “Sure, why not?” I thought. We can at least do a proposal right? Seems like a good idea. I figured it would be a good distraction from the process.
Then a few months later, we met birth mom #2. We were more guarded this time after our recent loss, but she seemed very sure of her decision to choose an adoptive plan for her baby. When she was about 5 months pregnant and began feeling the baby move, she changed her mind and decided to parent. We were disappointed. However, I had not let myself get as attached this time and we had only told a handful of people.
It was getting hard not to become frustrated and impatient with the amount of time that had passed.
That Thanksgiving at church, I very specifically remember Nate and Sarah Sallie giving their testimony of their journey to have their second child. She talked about how God had told her to “contend to be content.” I knew as soon as she said that, it was a word for me, as well. I clung to it. It was NOT easy. I was not content. I wanted another child, like REAL bad. My job was to help other people have babies, it seemed cruel sometimes to always have that it my face. I so very much wanted to focus on the future baby, but I realized that I needed to focus more on my relationship with God and on being content with all the many blessing I already had. This was in no way going to be accomplished by my own efforts, but through His grace and mercy.
That fall we decided to put our house on the market. We were hoping to need a bigger house someday and thought we would take advantage of a buyer’s market.
We were 2 years into the process, and it was about this point that people began to make lovely suggestions: “just go to China”, “get a second medical opinion” “try another agency”. Anytime we would pray about what we should do we continued to only feel at peace with domestic adoption. So we stayed the course.
Christmas was hard. Seeing the blank stocking at the bottom of the pile made me want to vomit. But, I didn’t. I contended to be content. I enjoyed every minute with the blessed family I did have.
In spring of 09 we were matched with another birth mom. There we no birth father issues, she was sure of her decision, and she was 3 months from delivery. Oh, and by the way did I mention she was having twins? We were so happy! So, this was why we had to go through the other loses…because God wanted us to have 2 babies, not 1! Shortly after being chosen by the twins’ mom, we got contacted by our agency that there was a different baby available. She was already born and we could essentially have her right away. We were torn. We had already told this birth mom yes, but this other situation was a “sure thing.” After a lot of prayer, I really felt like we were supposed to stay with the twins’ mom. After making this decision, I felt a genuine sense of peace.
A few weeks later we bought a much larger 5 bedroom home and began boxing up our things. We read books on having twins, bought a double stroller and picked up some girl clothes.
Then we got the 3 am call: she’s in labor. We were there to witness their birth. They were perfect and healthy. Being premature, they went to the NICU, where we were by their side for the first week of their tiny little lives.
When they were a week old, the birth mom changed her mind and decided to parent. It hit me like a ton a bricks. After getting the news, I was so upset I couldn’t drive home. Even now, it’s difficult to think about that time. With the move only days away, there wasn’t really time to process.
I returned to work a few days later after reopening my schedule at the office (I had previously blocked my schedule for a maternity leave), and moved into a very big and very empty house. Jessica and Donna (Hawkins) were kind enough to come over and box up the baby stuff so we didn’t have to go through it. And that’s where it remained: in boxes.
The hardest part was going back to work. The babies were still in the NICU… at my hospital… yards away from where I stood. I had to pretend they didn’t exist, while I sat and listened to all my pregnant patients complain about their back pain and yeast infections. I ‘happily’ delivered other people’s babies, while all the time my own heart was broken.
Time, prayer, and Hope slowly began to help me heal. Instead, of resenting the new house, we loved it. It was our proverbial “dream home” and we kept busy decorating and meeting the new neighbors (who we neglected to mention our whole adoption drama to). As the months went on, I truly forgave all those involved in our previous hurts and losses. I had never “blamed” any of our birth moms, but there were supporting players in the various dramas who I realized I was still harboring resentments against. Slowly but surely with time in the word, prayer, life group support and running (lots and lots of running), I finally grasped contentment. Not always. It was a daily decision. Sometimes it escaped me, but more days then not I was content…. Well, until kindergarten.
When Ryan started Kindergarten that fall, it was difficult on many levels. I had never, in my wildest dreams thought we would not have another baby at home by then. For Russ, it was difficult for additional reasons. As a stay at home dad, he essentially lost his job when Ryan started school. While he had other projects which kept him occupied, the uncertainty was frustrating. I cried the first week of Ryan’s kindergarten. On my Mondays off I missed Ryan, but soon Russ and I came to realize that we had a unique gift: time. A balance was reached of expectant faith while still enjoying getting to spend extra quality time together.
Ryan in Kindergarten
On November 3, 2009 as I was reading my bible a scripture stood out, actually it more like jumped off the page and screamed at me:
Heb 10:36 “You need to persevere, so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised”
Despite 3 years and 3 failed adoptions, I felt my faith soar on that day.
This was my verse. Afterward, I took our dog for a walk, praying as I went along. I felt very strongly that God was saying to me that it was time to set up the nursery. There was no doubt in my heart that this is what God was telling me to do. I hoped it meant that a baby was coming soon, but I wasn’t sure. Maybe it was just another step of faith. I came home from my walk and told Russ what God had told me. I wasn’t exactly sure what his response would be, but he said OK.
So the next day we pulled our crib out of storage and put it together. We dug out all the carefully saved bins, and sorted through the baby stuff. It was not easy. What if I was being silly? What if we were disappointed again? But the more I worked on the nursery the more I felt my faith rise. I called my mom, Donna Hawkins and AnnJanette Toth to tell them what we were doing. I didn’t get a chance to talk to Jessica that weekend to tell her.
That Sunday, one of the pastors from our church dedicated their adopted sons. When babies were dedicated at church, it was often hard for me to watch. I will admit to taking a bathroom break occasionally so I didn’t have to sit through it. This dedication was so special though because it was awesome to see how God worked in their lives through adoption. Also our friend Justine Foster was visiting us that weekend. She too was in the process of waiting to adopt a child. I felt so encouraged.
November 10, 2009 was a Tuesday. I was on ER call. That means that if a patient comes in that doesn’t have a doctor at our hospital they would be assigned to my care. I get assigned to this call about once a month. Shortly before lunch I got a call from one of the ER doctors. There’s a patient here in labor, she not from around here, and by the way she didn’t know she was pregnant.
After getting the patient admitted, I stepped out to do some paperwork. Later, as I came back to the room to check on her, nurses looked at me and one said in a very slow, deliberate voice, “Dr. Rupe, the patient wants to give her baby for adoption.” The entire room turned to see my response. The unit had watched us go through our loss, they knew what we had been through and how much we wanted a child.
At that moment I could feel my heart pounding out of my chest. I managed to ask, “Would you consider my family, we have been waiting a long time to adopt a baby?”
“Yes” she simply said.
I then turned over her medical care to one of my partners and stepped into my office to hyperventilate. I called Russ and told him about the possibility. Then I picked up the phone to call Jessica to ask her to pray (remember I hadn’t told her about setting up the nursery), and I noticed that I had a voicemail from her. Her message said, “Heather, I had a dream last night that you had a baby. You have been on my heart and I‘ve been praying for you all morning.” Wow. I was shaking as I put down the phone, tears began to flow.
After the baby was born that night, our profile was given to the birth mom by the social workers. We prayed hard. The next morning, we met with the birth mom and she told us that she wanted us to have her son. I wept. We talked for awhile and I asked her why she came to our hospital since she lived several hours away. “I don’t know,” she said, “I really had no reason to come here. I just got in my car and started driving… I drove several hours up 65 until I saw this hospital.”
Later that day we got to meet Carson. We brought Ryan to the hospital and we all held him. He was so perfect and perfect for our family. There were so many happy tears on the unit that night.
It was a life group night and we got there a little late. When we walked in, Ryan told everyone the news, “For a long time there has only been 3 people in our family, but we prayed for a baby, and now we have 4 in our family.”
Let’s just say there was great rejoicing that night.
The next day we brought him home. As we left the hospital the nurses put me in a wheelchair and wheeled me out to the portico like a “real mom.” It was so special. I could feel all the love and support. He has been our son since that day and always will be.
A few weeks after Carson was born we were at a Christmas party and I overheard someone ask Russ, “What was the biggest surprise after you got him home?”
His answer warms my heart even now, “How quickly we fell in love with him. I thought it would take some time, but it was immediate.”
So that’s my adoption story: After 3 years of waiting, a women drives for hours in pain, not even realizing that she is pregnant, to a hospital where I happen to be on call, a week after God told me to set up our nursery and a day after Jessica has a dream that I have a baby.
P.S. Three days later we got this book deal and I find out I have 4 months to write a book.
Our First Christmas