There have been a lot of amazing moments in motherhood. But the moment we met our daughter was by far the most memorable.
Not having been pregnant, I can’t truly compare our experience to that of a couple having a biological child. But I can assure you there are differences that make that first “meeting” unique for adoptive parents.
In our case, we knew our little girl’s face before we actually met her. Eliza was five-months-old when we adopted her. After being matched with Eliza and her birthmother, we received several photos of a precious little girl smiling up at the camera. It was surreal looking at Eliza’s photos from afar knowing that this little person would soon be our daughter.
Due to the paperwork and waiting period involved in the adoption process, we had a few weeks between when we first saw Eliza’s photo and the day we held her for the first time. Like any expectant parents would, we spent that time childproofing our house, going out for a few fancy dinners as a childless couple, and, of course, imagining what our little girl would be like. Was she eating solid foods? What size shoe did she wear? Was she sitting up yet? What made her laugh? We had so many questions!
Then the big day finally arrived. My husband and I got in a car and drove a seemingly endless five-hours to Alabama. It was perhaps the longest drive I’ve ever endured, but not because of the miles involved. We were both excited and nervous about meeting our baby girl. In the last stretch of our drive, I started panicking. Crazy things just started spilling out of my mouth like, would I be a good mom? Would she love me? Would I love her? What if I didn’t feel a bond with her? Would she cry when I held her? I started blurting out all the fears I’d kept to myself until that moment. My husband reached across the seat and gripped my hand and sarcastically said, “It’s not too late to turn around.” As real as my fears were, when he said that, it broke the ice and I realized I was being ridiculous. There was no way that we were turning the car around. We both knew this was meant to be. At that moment, a baby girl was waiting for her mommy and daddy. Whatever happened next, we’d figure out as a couple and a family.
So we kept driving and my husband (a professional videographer) talked about how he wanted to have the camera out to capture the moment. But when the moment arrived, it didn’t happen quite as planned. Before the car fully stopped in the driveway, I opened the door and jumped out. Fortunately, my husband remembered to put the car in park, before he jumped out, too, with the camera rolling. I remember that Eliza seemed so much smaller and more fragile than the chubby baby we'd seen in the pictures. Photos don’t convey other things either – like smell or feel. I remember the smell of her skin and the softness of her dark, curly hair.
She didn’t cry when we first held her - although we certainly did. Eliza seemed to take to us right away. She actually fell asleep in her Daddy’s arms that first afternoon and gripped his fingers tightly as she slept. In our first photos of Eliza, she’s looking at us intensely with her big, brown eyes. It sounds cliché, but I felt a connection right away and all those last-minute fears vanished once we actually held Eliza that day.
We took Eliza back to our hotel room where we were finally alone as a family – just the three of us. Maneuvering the car seat, changing the first diaper and mixing a bottle of formula confirmed we were suddenly responsible for another person. But those are the mechanics of parenthood and it takes more than that to actually be a parent.
In the midst of our happiness, we felt a little sadness that all Eliza had with her that day were the clothes on her back, a bottle and a fuzzy, yellow baby blanket.
Back in our room, we examined every inch of her compact little body. We were excited to discover the mole on her big toe as if it was just our little secret. Then we put her in a pair of new pajamas and got cuddled up. That night, Eliza laid on my tummy and talked and talked. Not real words, of course, but sweet, gurgling, baby babble. It was as if she was catching me up on the last five months of her life, telling me her story. She talked into the night and eventually fell asleep on top of me. I felt so many emotions - the biggest was love – for a little person I’d met only a few hours earlier who had already changed my life forever. It’s a powerful realization that you can love a child so intensely and unquestionably. That’s what motherhood is all about.
Eliza’s adoption reminded me of something else about the power of motherhood. Her loving, kind and strong birthmother had loved her daughter so much that she made a very powerful and difficult choice. She gave her baby up for adoption in hopes of providing her with a better life. By doing that she didn't just give her child a better life, she gave us one, too.
I cried a lot that weekend both in happiness and sadness. The day we took our daughter home was the day she said goodbye to her birthmother and the life she had known for five short months. It was a happy and yet such a sad day. That's the hard part about adopting. Your joy comes at the expense of someone else's difficult decision.
That was Mother's Day weekend 2008.