It was a hot September day in 2010 and the counters in the Dairy Queen were sticky. The smell of waffle cones and sugary sweets wafted through the air as I nervously shifted in the red plastic covered booth. My husband, Chris, and I sat across from our twelve-year-old foster son as the three of us ate our ice cream. We made small talk with Nathan asking about school that day; had he made any new friends, was he sleeping okay at night, did he like his new room. As we spoke my eyes studied our foster sons face.
His green eyes were bright and seemed to twinkle when Chris asked him if he thought any of the girls in his class were cute. Nathan’s cheeks blushed and he stifled a giggle. I studied each eyebrow raise, slant of the eyes, and freckle on his sloped nose. I admired how his forehead and nose crinkled as he spoke and his timid smile made my heart swell. I took another bite of my cookie dough ice cream as my gaze moved from Nathan’s face to my husband’s. Chris and I had brought Nathan to Dairy Queen to ask him the Big Question and I was gathering the courage to begin the conversation. As I stared at this little boy who sat across from us, my mind started to wander and I began to think about the years of heartache that had led us to this day.
I sat holding the phone, my mind racing, frozen in time. This isn’t happening, I told myself. This isn’t how it’s supposed to happen. I’m supposed to be sitting with my husband, holding hands as the doctor tells us. That’s how it happens in the movies. There’s supposed to be background music and a voiceover of my future self, telling us “take courage” and “everything’s going to be okay” and some other nonsensical bullcrap that people pull out of their butts to feel better about their horrible circumstances. Instead, it was a phone call. I was home, alone.
The smell of the evening’s meal lingered in the air. I was seated on my beautiful yellow Victorian chair; the one I had picked out while I envisioned rocking my babies to sleep. This would be the chair I read bedtime stories in and now I was cradling the phone while dinner burned on the stove.
As Chris came through the front door I could hear the worry in his voice as he called out, “Selena?! You okay? What’s burning?” He came in to find me huddled in a ball. “The doctor called,” was all I could manage to say. Without saying a word, he lifted me up and placed me on his lap. Taking my place in the chair he silently wept with me as he smoothed my hair and told me everything would be okay.
Dinner was ruined, but we didn’t care. My husband carried me to the bedroom and helped me get into my comfy pajamas. Then he ordered an ‘everything but the anchovy’s pizza’ with cheesy stuffed crust and extra bread sticks. We cuddled together on the couch, ate pizza and watched You’ve Got Mail. The pairing between Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks always puts a smile on my face, and for just a little while I forgot that the doctor had called earlier to tell me the results of our fertility testing.
The following five years were a roller coaster of emotion as month after month I held my breath for three minutes waiting for two pink lines to appear on a pregnancy test stick. And every month my husband would find me crying in the bathroom when my cycle would kick in and my body would flush any viable eggs out of my body. I would sit on the edge of the tub wondering what I had done wrong to deserve this. No one in my family had dealt with infertility, so why me? Was God punishing me? I was desperate to have a baby and we could not afford medical treatments, so I made us try all sorts of natural fertility remedies. My husband wore boxer shorts and we took a variety of natural supplements to help increase fertility and conception. We drank teas filled with milk thistle, Ashwagandha, motherwort and so much more. I rubbed expensive rose oil on my abdomen every day. I even made my husband hang upside down a few times, because someone had told me that would help his “swimmers”.
As the months and years passed I grew manic with desperation and the task of conception consumed me. It was all I could think about. I scheduled sex around my ovulation schedule and I would sit with my legs and pelvis elevated for hours afterward, hoping and praying that just one sperm would make it through. One night my husband came home from a 12 hour shift and I demanded we have sex. When he groaned that he was too tired, I pointed to the ovulation calendar and insisted. We avoided acidic foods, because I was told they are bad for baby making. We ate a spoonful of honey with cinnamon every morning and avoided hot tubs like they were the plague. My husband took cold showers and we stuck to a fertility diet rich in antioxidants, protein and fiber.
Well-meaning friends and family told me to “stop trying” and I would get pregnant right away. I avoided those people. Others shared stories of women they knew who had started the process of adopting and got pregnant. I hated those stories. We went to a charismatic church and one Sunday a woman came up to me, placed her hand on my belly and prophesied that I would give birth to a healthy baby within the year. This happened several more times during our “trying period” and it made me cringe every time. Finally, one day she said to me, “You don’t have enough faith. That’s why God isn’t providing.” It crushed me. I had been praying for years, making deals with God and hoping for a miracle, but was disappointed every month. I had already begun to doubt my self-worth and wondered if my lack of belief was the reason I couldn’t conceive. I knew what the Bible said. I knew God could answer prayer. He just wasn’t answering mine and it was making me question the very core of my belief system.
Chris and I tried nearly every natural remedy, wives tale treatment, prayer circle, healing ministry. All of our family and friends knew we struggled with infertility and we had a deep desire to be parents, so every time they heard about a young woman who might be thinking about giving their child up for adoption, we received a phone call. I got my hopes up each time and tiny pieces of my heart were destroyed when four separate placements fell through. The first three were only possible adoptions that really never went anywhere; however, one young woman agreed to meet with us and seemed genuinely excited that we were interested in adopting her child. She gave us the information for her 20 week ultrasound appointment the next day. We were thrilled! It was happening. We would be parents.
The next day she called us as we were on our way to the appointment. I answered the phone with an excited “Hello? We’re almost there.” She stammered through an apology of sorts and explained that she had changed her mind and terminated the pregnancy that morning. The news hit me in the chest and a hot flood of anger rushed through my body. I went completely numb and handed the phone to my husband.
After that I stopped speaking about adoption. I avoided stores that sold baby items. I couldn’t be around babies. I wasn’t rude or hateful to people who had children, but I had a difficult time being happy for people who were getting pregnant and already had children. We were in our mid-20’s and it seemed like everyone I knew was getting pregnant. I could not attend baby showers and I felt like a terrible friend and person. Our friends and family avoided telling us they were expecting for as long as possible because I was overly sensitive.
The day my sister-in-law called to tell us she was expecting I answered the phone and she immediately asked to speak with my husband. I handed him the phone and said, “She’s calling to tell you she’s pregnant.” I just knew. He took the phone and then gave me an affirming look. I went into the bedroom and wailed like a mad woman. I destroyed pillows and threw things around the room. I did not care who could hear me. I was unhinged and I knew it, and I didn’t care. My husband came in and held me in his strong arms as guttural sobs wrenched from my body. He later told me he was terrified when he came in to find me like a feral animal. He had never seen me “lose it” and said it was as if all my primal instincts had taken over, and he didn’t know what to do. He also told me he had considered calling a doctor and admitting me to the hospital, but decided against it when he reached out to my mother. My mother told him, “She’s hurting. The pain she’s experiencing is deep in her heart. Just love on her and pray for her. Surround her with support. You’ll get through this.”
I blinked and looked down at my ice cream. The cookie dough chunks had begun to settle at the bottom of the cup as the vanilla ice cream melted around them. Two years had gone by since my feral-like panic attack and so much healing had occurred, and yet I was still afraid. I was afraid of Nathan rejecting us; rejecting me. I was afraid of having my dream of motherhood shattered once again. Too many times we had seen this window of hope shut on us and I was scared to put my heart out there again. Nathan had only been with us for a short time, but I loved him more than words could express. I knew my mother’s heart would fight for him, protect him and love him forever. I had known from the first moment I saw him, he was my son.
Our first visit with Nathan had gone smoothly. He was a perfect gentleman and on his best behavior. My husband and I took him to Dairy Queen for ice cream as a sort of “get to know you”, and then swimming with a few of our close friends. We grilled hamburgers and hotdogs, and just spent time playing in the pool. For many people this might have seemed an uneventful day, but it was a glorious day for my husband and I. After we dropped Nathan off with the foster family he was placed with and said our goodbye’s my husband and I sat in the car and had a three-line, life-defining conversation.
“Well, what do you think?”
“I think that is our son.”
That was it. We called the child placement agency that night and made arrangements to meet with Nathan again so we could offer him our home. We had been nervous even then because the situation was a little unorthodox and we had no idea how he would respond. Rarely does a foster child get to decide what happens to them. Nearly all placements happen in emergency situations where a child needs a place to go immediately for safety reasons, and the child has zero say over what happens to them. This time Nathan held some of the power over his life. He accepted our offer and moved in on July 8, 2010.
A few months later and we were sitting at Dairy Queen again waiting to have the Big Conversation that might lead to his adoption. We didn’t know how he would react. If he would shut us out, run away or embrace us with love. We had already discussed his biological mother and her lack of progress with her program during the weeks he had been with us. His caseworker had been out to the house to tell Nathan that his mom was refusing to work with Child Protection Services again, and that it didn’t look good for her, or him. He wouldn’t be returning home like he had hoped and would be entering his fifth year in foster care in just a few months. He had been holding tight to the one unraveling thread of hope and it had been taken away. My heart broke for him. I dried his tears and comforted him while he sobbed that night.
“Nathan, have you thought more about…you know… what we talked about last week? I know you told your caseworker that you wanted to wait for your mom to get her stuff together…” I halted. The courage that had propelled me to begin this conversation waned a bit and my chest grew heavier with each word. As I searched my mind for the next words to speak Nathan looked up at me. Eyes brimming with tears he said, “I would really like to be adopted if you’ll have me as your son.”
My heart nearly exploded with happiness as tears spilled onto my cheeks. I tried not to seem too excited as I said, “Absolutely. If that’s what you really want.” After all, this was a big decision; a big, life-altering decision for him. He later told me he had wanted to ask us to adopt him the day we met, but was too afraid we would reject him. He had been praying for a new family for a long time, but didn’t think God was going to answer his prayer. He had told his caseworker he didn’t want to be adopted in order to spare his mom’s feelings. Then he met us. He said he knew we were the right family because we made him go to school even when he didn’t want to. To him it was proof that we wanted what was best for him. Apparently his mom had never made him go to school and his other foster families thought it was too much trouble to make sure he went, so they would just request he be moved to another family. He said everyone else had given up on him. He could tell we were genuinely interested in seeing him succeed and he was excited to be part of a real family.
Nathan’s adoption took place on January 24, 2011, just six months after we met him. The three of us took a trip to Dairy Queen after the court ceremony. We sat in the same booth, ordered the same ice cream and celebrated being a forever family; mom, dad and son.