Lisa Henderson and her husband decided to adopt in their home country of America, this is part 3 of their incredible story.
The 4th of July for us in Washington DC and Northern Virginia is traditionally an insanely hot, sticky time, full of cold beer and bbq’s, outdoor concerts and hanging out with friends that haven’t escaped the heat. This holiday weekend was going to be exactly that for us – we had planned to take our boys camping, we had tickets to an outdoor Doobie Brothers concert and we were going to be back to back visiting friend’s back yards for good ol’ American burgers. I was excited.
It just took one phone call to change all that!
It was Tuesday before the July 4th when my adoption buddy from Atlanta called. She was the lone person manning the phones over the holiday week and had been one of the first people to be notified. A baby boy, two days old, had been put up for adoption the night before in Nevada. The Birth Mom had signed off her rights and he was available immediately. I heard the excitement in my buddy’s voice. She couldn’t say “YOU HAVE TO DO THIS” but I knew her well enough to know this was what she was thinking. I heard her voice tremble “Is this something you would like to pursue?”
I asked about the medical report. The wee guy had been born three weeks early, coming in at 20 inches long, a hefty 7 pounds 8 and a glowing health report – all the details of this birth were exactly – EXACTLY – the same as my eldest son. I had to call my husband, who was in Kentucky at the time.
We had 12 hours to make the decision and commit to this baby we knew nothing of, other than the medical report showing a healthy, bi-racial boy. All we had wished for was a healthy baby. We truly did not care about the race or the sex. We had decided from the get-go, that just as you “get what you get” when you conceive a baby traditionally, we wanted to throw it out to the universe and trust that we would get the baby we were supposed to get. We had asked for a healthy baby and this one from all accounts couldn’t have been any healthier.
Of course there was only one option – we sent our confirmation we were on our way to go get him.
We swung into action. I rang a dear family friend who lives in Atlanta and gave her the news. She knew we had no one to care for the boys in order to go and get this new baby. Without hesitation she said: “I’ll come”. Next, we had to organize our Social Worker to visit in our new home we had moved into three weeks earlier (uh huh, we were still knee deep in boxes). She was due to go away for the holidays but still went out of her way to drive two hours to our home. The State of Virginia requires a full report on the home to ensure all health and safety requirements are covered, and she had ours filed that night (Wednesday).
Each State has different requirements to fulfill the adoption process, and adopting in Nevada from Virginia, well – is challenging. We could well have been adopting in a different country. In all our frantic conversations with our Social Worker here and the Lawyers and Social Workers, we realized late on Wednesday night that Nevada requires a local police check (in addition to the Child Protective, State and FBI checks we had already done). Getting this done basically just means going down to your local Police Station and paying $10 to be finger printed for a back ground check to be run. Easy. However finding this out at 9pm the night of July 3rd the 4th of July is the one-day of the year where every Police Station is closed and every Policeman and his dog are in a parade. I was stuck. We had to fly out to go get this baby, yet I was so worried I’d get caught up in an administrative nightmare on the West Coast and not be able to get back to my boys in Virginia. The lawyer in Nevada called me with advice. He said, If need be, we will courier your fingerprints back to your local police station for the report. What is more important is you get to that baby urgently and start bonding with him.
This was a massive leap of faith. I kept giving my husband the opportunity to back out, and he gave me also – but we kept looking at each other and saying, “I’m in”. It was time to tell our son who was four at the time. Thankfully he had been blissfully unaware of all our failed adoptions, although we had talked a lot about one day we hoped we would get another baby. Telling him, I thought it would start to feel real.
It was exciting telling him, but for me it was more surreal at that stage. So we booked the flights to fly out later that day. We had to fly through Phoenix Arizona to get on a connection to Reno Nevada. As we were about to board our first flight out of Washington DC, my husband said “hey, that’s Snoop Dog isn’t it?” Sure enough, I found myself sitting directly behind Snoop Dog (who actually goes by the name of Snoop Lion these days). As we were waiting for our connection out of Arizona, (it was 2am in the morning), it became apparent we were going to have to change planes as something was up with this one. Snoop started making a scene and threatening to write a song about it. I had one of those life moments where I simply could not believe where I was. NO ONE knew where I was, or what I was doing. I wondered if I told anyone, “I’m in Arizona on my way to pick up a baby in a few hours that I’m about to adopt, but in the meantime I have to listen to an ad hoc reggae rap about a dodgy piece on a plane that fell off”, would anyone actually believe me?
We arrived at Reno around 3am. We hadn’t bought a car seat with us as we just assumed the car rental company could get us one. We thought wrong. No infant car seats.
It was at this point I decided to turn this whole adventure into our very own amazing race, as I was worried the anxiety would get to me if I let such detail stress me out. We had five hours before we were meeting with the Nevada Social Worker. No problem! We headed to the hotel to check in and got maybe three hours sleep, before the Wal-Mart up the road opened. We ran inside looking for infant car seats…only to find that Wal-Mart’s in Reno are a bit like Car rental companies in Reno…they don’t cater for everyone. As I am googling more Wal-Mart locations my husband was tearing his hair out screaming down the highway like a bat out of hell. Finally the third Wal-Mart had what we were after – as I was at the check out I realized we had twenty minutes to spare. We shot back to the hotel to greet the Social worker without breaking a sweat; it was all in a days work. We signed what seemed a thousand pages of legal papers, shook hands, and were sent on our way.
It was time to go and get him.
When he had been put up for adoption, he had been put in “Cradle Care” – a foster family – instead of staying in the hospital until we could get to him. I wore my best Christmas day dress to meet him for the first time. I had always remembered my mum telling me my father wore a suit to go get my brother from the hospital after he had been born and I had thought wow, what a respectful gesture. My new son deserved nothing less.
We arrived at the door and spent the first few minutes with the usual light chatter about the weather and our flight…when I suddenly realized the Foster mother had picked him up and was actually standing right in front of me holding this tiny, delicious little guy. “Do you want to hold him?” Of course I just burst into tears.
He was perfect. I actually can’t remember the next moments, as I think I was just crying. I felt like I was in a movie. Nothing seemed real and after all we had been through this felt way too good to be true!
It was true. My husband and I decided to drive across to Lake Tahoe to have lunch to celebrate picking our dear wee Ciaran Stewart up. With all our boys, we have given them their own name, but chose middle names of significant and influential men in my life that have passed away. My first two sons have middle names of my father and brother, and Ciaran’s middle name comes from the husband of the dear friend that was back at the house looking after my two other sons. At each of their funerals, Amazing Grace was played. My father was actually a Piper and this song – especially when it is piped – holds an enormous amount of meaning and sentiment to me. So it really was befitting that as we were sitting enjoying the sun, while our new baby slept in his brand new car seat under the restaurant table, a Bag Piper would walk out onto lake Tahoe and belt out quite possibly the best version of Amazing Grace I have ever heard. I like to think this was my official thumbs up from my Dad.
With Inter-State adoptions, you can’t take the baby out of State until you have the all clear from both States; otherwise it is considered a kidnapping! So, my husband and I had all of 24 hours with our new son together, before he had to tear off to London for work. I got to have five more days of alone time with my third child before the paper work was done and I got the all clear. I flew him from one side of America to the other when he was only ten days old.
A week or two after I bought Ciaran home, we had a friend come to stay who is a great photographer. I asked for some shots of us as I am always behind the camera and never make it in with the kids. We were haphazardly trying to get some kind of shot in between the chaos, as you can expect with a 4 year old, a two year old and a newborn. I looked at the craziness before me and had an over whelming sense of “I’m home”.
For the boys, the fact they had less than a week to get ready for a new brother, was also pretty amazing. My two year old of course hasn’t questioned a thing and just adores the little guy. My four year old turned five, and he never missed a beat with getting another brother. It has certainly helped we landed on our feet with the easiest baby, with a beautiful nature and endearing smile. There has not been one ounce of jealousy, just lashings of love and a whole lot of new chaos that comes with having three boys. The very chaos we had ached for all this time.
The adoption was finalized only recently, when Ciaran was just over seven months. My five year old caught me crying as I was looking at the birth certificate. He was worried I was ok. I replied “They are happy tears darling, the birth certificate means he is officially our baby, your brother”
His first reaction made me smile
“So he is our forever family, he is ours until he dies, or gets married?”
After a little more thought his next reaction blew me away.
“ You are silly to cry over that piece of paper Mom. He isn’t going to be able to read it until 1st grade and he already KNOWS you are his mommy even though he didn’t come out of your tummy.”
Best. Mother. Moment. Ever.