Published May 2015
By Maureen Kelly, Cradle Staff
Sixteen-month-old Charlotte is one busy baby, as she has recently learned to walk and run all over. In this happy family setting, for her Cradle parents, Jeremy and Amber, the question, "What if?" looms large.
"What if we had said no?" Amber wonders. Jeremy, the more emotional of the two, has tears in his eyes at the thought. "We would have missed all of this. It's hard to even imagine."
Jeremy and Amber chose adoption like many couples who turn to The Cradle. They had been through years of infertility treatments that had left them drained, emotionally and physically. For a year, they put off the idea of having a biological child to grieve. Then, they decided on adoption with fresh hope. They powered through the paperwork in just a few months, were approved and got on the waiting list. Then: nothing.
"Our first year went by without a single call," Amber remembers. "After a while, you can't help but wonder, ‘what is wrong with us?’"
Open adoption, where the birthfamily chooses the parents who will raise their baby, has so many benefits for everyone involved. But one of the challenges for prospective adoptive parents is that they often wait to be chosen. When the wait goes on longer than they hoped, it's hard to not take it personally.
"We tweaked our profile a lot," Amber says. "But ultimately, we had to just accept that the whole process is really out of our control. We had to just let go and trust that at some point, our baby would find us."
Unfortunately, the family also experienced a change of counselors during their wait. Not ideal. However, their new counselor, Dori Fujii, took the opportunity to help the family assess their current situation. "Dori was wonderful!" Amber exclaimed. After getting to know them and empathizing with their struggle, she helped them re-evaluate the criteria they had established for medical risks they would be open to in a child.
"When we started the process, like most couples, we wanted a healthy baby, so we were not being shown to as many birthmoms," Amber said. "But after a year, we decided to open up some of our criteria and we were shown a lot more often."
Over the next two years, the family was presented more than a dozen times to birthmoms, but each time another family was chosen.
"We tried to keep the emotion out of it, and just realized it meant it was not our baby," Amber says. "We have a wonderful support group in our church, that is all adoptive parents. We prayed a lot, and relied on the support of our families and friends."
The couple also kept living their lives, which they credit for helping to keep their sanity. They traveled to Greece, Hawaii, took road trips all over the United States, and just enjoyed time as a couple.
"I can't imagine how much harder our lives would have been if we had just sat around waiting, feeling sad and sorry for ourselves," Jeremy says.
One of their most adventurous excursions was a mission trip with their church to volunteer in a hospital and orphanage in Liberia. It was a Friday in February 2014, the coldest Chicago winter in years. They looked forward to getting out of the cold. Tickets were booked, immunizations complete and bags packed, full of donated supplies for the orphanage. Then they got a call.
"Jeremy was at the hospital visiting his father, who was very ill," Amber says. "Dori called to say she had a situation to tell us about and there were a lot of risks, but since we were, at that point, the longest waiting family, it was our decision." (The Cradle's policy is when a birthmother declines to choose an adoptive family, the baby is placed with the longest waiting family who is open to the baby's medical issues.)
The baby was born and was in The Cradle Nursery. There were medical concerns. Dori sent Amber and Jeremy all of the baby's medical and nursery reports.
On paper, it was everything Amber and Jeremy said they didn't want in a prospective adoption situation. The baby spent her first weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. There were some legal issues that made the adoption riskier than the "ideal placement" that the family had imagined. They had the weekend to make their decision.
"We went from having absolutely no control to having complete control of this situation, which was very overwhelming. We spent the weekend going back and forth, sitting with excitement that this could be our baby one minute, then sitting with the ‘no, we are going to decline’ the next minute," Amber said, her voice shaky at the recollection. "I just so desperately wanted a clear answer: What was right for this baby? What was right for us?"
After a long and sleepless night, the family went to church on Sunday morning. Arriving late, they had no choice but to sit in the front row. It was there Amber got the clarity she had so desperately sought.
"The whole message of the sermon was about taking the leap of faith, out of your comfort zone and doing what you are being lead to do," Amber recalls with emotion in her voice. "We were sitting right in the front row, and the speaker pointed to us and said, ‘Your answer is yes!’ Jeremy and I were bawling, but I felt such a sense of peace. Whatever came of this, I knew the answer for us was yes."
The next day, Monday, Amber called Dori to tell her their decision. Jeremy called the Liberia mission trip to let them know that instead of getting on an airplane to Monrovia, the family would be home with its new baby. Jeremy and Amber met their baby on Monday afternoon and visited on Tuesday. They brought their baby, whom they named Charlotte, home on Wednesday, February 26. They have never looked back.
"We were just elated. Those first few days, we were running on pure joy and adrenaline," Amber says. "We would fight over who would get up to do the midnight feedings."
"The Cradle prepared us so well for taking care of Charlotte. The Nursery staff were so protective of her, they told us exactly what kind of swing to get, exactly how to swaddle her," Jeremy says. "We just followed the routine, and she did great."
Fifteen months later, Charlotte is thriving at home. Jeremy is the stay-at-home parent, working on his web-design and marketing company in the evenings. Amber, a corporate event planner, cut back her hours and travel to spend as much time with Charlotte as possible. Early Intervention Specialists gave Charlotte a rave review: She is developmentally on track, curious, pulling up on furniture and exploring—but always toddles back to check in with Mom and Dad. Their days are filled with swimming class, music classes and play dates (Jeremy would love to connect with other stay-at-home dads!).
Amber and Jeremy’s advice for other waiting parents? "Find support, reach out to others in your shoes, keep an open mind and most of all, live your life!"
"We know how hard it is when all of your friends are having babies. It's normal to ask yourself, 'What's wrong with us?'" Amber says. "Attend The Cradle support groups, share these feelings with other people in your same situation. Your baby will find you. We learned so much about ourselves going through this process, and we are so much more prepared to be parents after waiting three years."
"I believe people are put into our lives for a reason," she says continues. "We ended up with the perfect baby for our family."