I am writing this final chapter of Riley’s story in my new dining room in my new house—the house I wasn’t looking for and didn’t know I needed, the house that is blessing our family immensely.
A few feet away from me sleeps a baby I could say similar things about.
I am still getting to know this house, and I am still getting to know this girl. But what I do know about her is this:
- She has a great smile.
- She has the most peaceful temperament of any baby I’ve ever met.
- She is immensely loved—not just by us, but by her biological family, by her extended family, and by her spiritual family of friends and family—and their love for her is a beautiful reminder of what is good and right in this world.
- She was meant to be ours.
I will back up a little now and finish the story. But I just had to say this first: in case anyone else out there finds themselves in a situation, wondering what is God doing??!!
He is doing something good. That verse that says He works all things for your good? It’s true.
And I’m learning that you don’t have to understand it all. You just have to thank Him for what you do understand, and let your faith in His goodness carry you through the parts that don’t make sense.
Back to our story…
We got to the hospital around 4:30 pm on June 21. Riley’s birth mom, “P,” had been induced the night before, and we were all expecting a baby to come that night.
We spent hours that night with the birth parents and the biological grandmothers, chatting as P had contractions. I challenged myself to stay present and tried to soak each part of the conversation into my memory so that if this baby came home with me, I could tell her details about her family…but I have to admit that my impatience was getting the best of me. I just want to meet this baby. Why is it taking so long? I asked God.
Around 10 pm, I left the room to go to the bathroom. The birth dad’s mother followed me out and there, under the dim lights of the hospital hallway, asked me a rapid-fire series of questions about myself, David, our faith, adoption, and our hopes for this baby. We talked for almost thirty minutes and wound up hugging and crying together.
“I thought you were the right ones for this baby when I read your profile,” she said. “Now, after meeting you both and hearing your answers to my questions, I have no doubt. You are the family God picked for this baby.”
At this, I decided to pipe down my inner Thomas and trust God’s timing. I was not going to ask Him one more question. I was going to enjoy this ride!
David and I wound up spending the night at the hospital, as the doctor said that if anything changed, they would have P begin pushing right away. P had invited us to cut the cord and catch the baby—a tremendous honor and an opportunity we were not going to miss. We got a few hours of sleep on a combination of a borrowed hospital bed and the vinyl family waiting area couches. No baby came.
The next morning, we were exhausted. We couldn’t imagine what poor P felt like, and so we were relieved for her when the birth dad came in and told us “they are doing a C section, starting now.” The time? 8:30 am.
(Guess when my Bible study had already decided to corporately pray for a safe delivery for P? 8:30 am.)
At 8:50 am, a beautiful little girl entered the world. At 8:54, we were invited to gown up and head into the infant nursery to meet our daughter. We actually ran into her on the way into the nursery.
I instantly burst into tears.
“She’s so beautiful,” I said. “She’s so beautiful.” It was all I could say as I looked at her, thinking of our journey to get here, thinking of how much I had longed for and prayed for this baby.
My mind sped through the past I looked at her thinking, this is happening in the present—in MY present. There is a baby in front of me and she is moving, squirming, looking around, and these nurses are calling me “mom.” I am crying and feeling real tears fall on my arm. I just drank a large coffee so I know I’m awake! This is not a dream!
Amidst the exhaustion and unplanned C-section, I didn’t bring my camera into the infant nursery, so this crude cell phone picture is the only picture I have of our first thirty minutes with Riley:
After a while, I was reunited with my camera. A nurse took a few photos for us:
We invited the birth dad and biological grandmothers to come in for a while to see her while the nurses finished cleaning her. Then, the nurses told us to go to a private room to spend some special bonding time with the baby. We couldn’t believe that we were getting this privilege as adoptive parents.
As each moment passed, we fell deeper and deeper in love.
As the day went on, we learned that the birth parents wanted me to stay in the hospital and begin caring for Riley right away. The nurses gave me a room, ordered meals for David and me, brought me towels and shampoo (I hadn’t showered since Sunday night and it was now Tuesday afternoon) and generally made everything lovely. For the next two days, I stayed in the hospital with Riley while David went back and forth from the hospital and caring for Zoe.
A few times a day, we’d truck down the hallway to P’s room. It was beautiful to watch P and Riley’s birth dad interact with her. I don’t feel comfortable sharing a lot of details of their story or their time together, but I have a beautiful set of photos that I will show Riley someday. She is a profoundly loved little girl.
Any parent who has been through a “traditional” matched domestic adoption will tell you that the time in the hospital is a roller coaster. You are falling in love with and caring for a baby that you aren’t sure you will take home. You are interacting with biological family members who are on their own roller coaster. You are aware that you are constantly being watched; that every action has a potential impact. My desire for this time was to show the love and unconditional acceptance of Christ to the family—not to manipulate anything and not to worry about the outcome. I wanted our time together to leave an impact on the family whether we took the baby home or not.
Throughout our stay, God was faithful to encourage me that this was happening. In one of my favorite moments, the birth dad’s mother pulled me aside on Tuesday and said that our conversation the night before had encouraged her more than I could know.
“I had to leave the hospital on Monday afternoon because I was so sad thinking about saying goodbye to the baby,” she said.
“But I made myself come back to meet you. As I drove away last night, I called my mom and said ‘now that I’ve met them, I have total peace about this.’ You guys are wonderful and so loving, and I know you’re going to raise her to know the Lord. I don’t look at this as a loss anymore. I think of it as the joining of families. I’m not saying goodbye to her. I’m saying hello to an expanding family. I love you guys and am happy to have you as part of my family.”
THIS is adoption at its finest, is it not? I was so joyful.
But as I described, it was still a roller coaster. In Florida, the birth parents sign their parental rights away, thereby placing the baby with you, 48 hours after the baby is born (the birth mom also has to be painkiller free for 4 hours prior to signing.) This would put our signing on Thursday morning.
For most of our hospital stay, I felt joyful and at peace. But on Wednesday night, I felt like a wreck. I was exhausted. I was alone in a noisy hospital room with a baby that was having some feeding issues (since resolved) and that may or may not be mine. I felt sad for P. I felt the reality that P could choose not to sign; that this could be my last night with Riley. I felt the temptation to detach. I felt the weight of the failed adoption. I felt alone.
I said into the darkness, I am not alone.
And I began talking to God about this baby, my feelings, all of it. It wasn’t coherent or organized. It was a jumbled prayer of fatigue, my desires, my questions, and my reality (honestly, I think this must be His favorite kind of prayer.) I talked through our journey with Him, asking again, what was any of this? If this was supposed to be my baby all along, why did all of that happen? Why did I feel that call to adopt in October? It was so random. This baby probably wasn’t even conceived then!
And in that darkness, I almost felt His chuckle. “Really?”
I pulled out my cell phone calendar. My hands began to tremble a little as I counted backwards.
Sure enough. Riley’s due date had been July 9.
This meant that the week that David and I had started praying hard about adoption together—the week that he had said “I am actually really excited about the possibility of a newborn”—the week that we decided that we felt called into the action of pursuing adoption—the week that we started praying for whoever our future baby would be—was the week Riley was conceived.
We had been praying for Riley since she was conceived. We just didn’t know it.
And there, in that darkness, I relaxed into this truth: this was our baby.
I don’t always understand how God works. I don’t. I don’t understand why a good and loving God wouldn’t just give me my baby without the painful loss preceding it. But He gave me a baby, y’all. Hallelujah! I also know that God doesn’t allow useless pain, and I also know that He gave me the encouragement that the situation with Zoe’s birth mom wasn’t about us. Through our experience I’ve grown, I’ve been humbled, I’ve learned to understand others better, I’ve learned more about life and grief and marriage and parenting and faith and friendship, and who knows what He’s done with it in others that I don’t know about? Would I trade all that for no pain? Probably. I’m weak and human. But I can also say “thank you” for the pain.
Shauna Niequist writes, “This is the work I invite you into: when life is sweet, say thank you, and celebrate. And when life is bitter, say thank you, and grow.”
Adoption offers plenty of sweetness and bitterness. LIFE offers plenty of both. And God is in both of them. And, like this dining room I’m writing in, His work might be unexpected…but it is always good.
I look at the baby sleeping next to me, and I listen to the early morning singing of my other baby in the next room (I’ll need to get her soon!) and all I can say is thank you to the One who has given this life to me.
I don’t deserve it. But I hope to steward it well.
For reasons I do and don’t understand, I’ve felt called to share our story with you along the way—the good, the sad, the ugly. I hope You see Him in it.
It is all Him.